SalesTechStar Interview with Kevin Knieriem, Chief Revenue Officer at Clari
Kevin Knieriem, President, Strategic GTM at Clari chats about the future of revops in this Q&A:
Welcome to this SalesTechStar chat Kevin, tell us about yourself and your time as President, Strategic GTM at Clari…
Thanks, Paroma, and thanks for the question. I’ve been fortunate to be the CRO and EVP of Go-to-Market at Clari for the last five years. This is my 20th quarter with the company. It’s been a journey of growth and personal responsibility as I’ve picked up different parts of the go-to-market function over the years and defined what a CRO is: The person responsible for all revenue-generating processes, which are growing in complexity, scale and importance as more sales and marketing functions become predominantly digitally-focused. I’ve been able to help shape the category of revenue operations and really focus on the craft of sales and bringing the science to it as we engage with our customers and partners. So, I guess what I’m saying is it’s much more than a job. It’s been an experience, it’s been an opportunity to build a network and to impact the art of sales.
Exciting news about Clari’s latest acquisition of Groove, tell us about it in detail and what the future holds for the brand as the teams/units merge?
I’m excited about Clari’s acquisition of Groove for a couple of reasons. First, we got to know the company before we acquired them. Over a year ago, we replaced our incumbent sales engagement platform and moved to Groove. We immediately heard from our sales reps how much they loved the Groove solution because they were able to do the work where they spent most of their time — their inbox, calendar and obviously in the Clari platform itself. We liked the solution so much that we first struck up a close partnership with Groove and then ultimately decided we’d be stronger together, which led to the recent acquisition.
There’s more to the story, though. Two years ago, Gartner referred to our category as ‘SalesTech Mayhem’, which consisted of a myriad of players, including Clari, providing solutions for different parts of the revenue workflow. We decided then that we wanted to bring together these solutions under one platform. First, we brought in mutual action plans we now call Clari Align. Earlier this year, we brought in a conversation intelligence solution we now call Copilot. And with Groove, we have the sales engagement piece. And why I like all of these fully integrated on one platform is it gives sales reps and revenue leaders full command and control over internal revenue workflows, and the ability to extend those revenue workflows externally to prospects and customers, and actually see the intersections and know what’s working, what’s not, what’s being followed, etc.
Now that the deal is closed, we’re seeing that customers want a single platform that helps them manage all their critical revenue processes. So, the consolidation play that Clari’s now bringing to the market is really resonating.
How are revenue operations changing in today’s game and how will the impact of AI influence further change here?
It’s been interesting to watch the revenue operations role emerge over the years. At first, sales leaders were changing their title on LinkedIn to Revenue Operations because they were being asked to go deeper and wider in regard to data, especially within tech as we think about this continuous customer journey. It’s not just about selling to a customer and then calling it good. You have to find them, acquire them, convert them, make them a customer, service them, renew them and expand them. And so that really expanded the role from sales operations into revenue operations.
In terms of AI, we’re seeing the technology positively impact the role of revenue operations. Think about all of the revenue-generating processes and work streams revenue-critical teams have to manage. The enormous amount of time spent on mundane tasks is now being applied to more strategic and value-add work – they’re able to trust the machine to conduct analysis, deliver insights, take action, and suggest next steps.
AI is also contributing to huge productivity gains at all levels of the revenue hierarchy. And it starts with the sales rep. But, we’re seeing AI impacting all levels – from productivity at the rep level, to insight at the executive level. And I think the pace at which it gets applied to revenue is going to increase exponentially.
By using AI to analyze their business and their activity, revenue leaders and teams can get to a common ground of what good looks like across functions and roles within an organization, and now you’ve got a baseline from which to compare, how are they running their process? How does their business compare to another? How are they ramping against another?
The application of AI is helping level the playing field of different types of skill sets, and it’s helping people actually see where they have risk or opportunity across all of those areas. As a result, collectively, everyone gets better by having this data and insights and AI framework from which to run their businesses.
What do you feel about revenue tech today and the top features and types of tools coming to the forefront and set to impact the future of revtech as a segment?
The big theme for the next 12 months is going to be the consolidation of revenue workflows, and the application of AI at the intersections of these workflows. Additionally, we’re seeing an increased appetite among non-tech verticals – such as retail, finance and healthcare – to create more sophisticated revenue operations and processes, which presents an opportunity to further round out the usage and impact of revtech.
The application of AI to revenue platforms like Clari’s will help transform selling in these vertical markets, but in a way where they don’t have to go through what the technology sector did over the last 10 years of running rigorous sales motions and becoming experts in every step of the process. AI is going to assist in shrinking that digital evolution from what might have been a 10-year process to only a handful of years in these other industries.
Seeing some of the concerns around AI, what do you feel sales and revenue leaders need to keep in mind when it comes to using AI in this domain?
First and foremost, AI must add value to the revenue motion. To just add AI for the sake of it, because it sounds cool, isn’t going to cut it, nor will it have any meaningful impact. How is the technology making your sales reps more efficient and more focused, so they can do their job – which is to close revenue – more effectively? If you can definitively answer that, AI is an asset to your organization. If you can’t, it will become a detriment.
Five things you would share with every sales and revenue leader given today’s market dynamics?
My top advice is this:
1. Tackle the top-of-funnel challenge. Creating top-of-funnel leads in this environment is difficult, so a lot of equations for how to hit revenue targets must change. The coverage we’ve needed has changed, because the way leads move to MQLs, and to opportunities, has slowed. The buying committees are getting larger, and the bar is getting higher when it comes to justifying new spending. To this end, keep in mind it’s not just ROI we’re seeking to justify; it’s also TCO, or total cost of ownership. So, you’ve got to focus on new strategies for producing top-of-funnel opportunities, and then moving through the funnel. This includes anticipating and accommodating an elongated sales process. It also requires creating a more sophisticated sales process, and ensuring your capacity model accounts for the required selling power on the street and what it needs from a top-of-funnel perspective.
2. Understand and leverage your top-of-funnel data. First, you need to leverage data to understand what’s happening in your sales processes. It’s key to take the signals you’re getting from that data to inform and update your operating plan. If you can’t produce the funnel picture you need because you don’t have the right data, you’re going to have to make some adjustments to the operating plan of the company. Organizations need to be transparent across sales, marketing, customer success and finance in sharing data to create this complete picture, and everyone needs to review the data as a group once a week, and treat it as a shared responsibility.
Key questions to answer:
- Do you have the instrumentation in place to understand your top-of-funnel picture? Can you see the impact that’s having on the rolling four quarters?
- Do you know where weaknesses exist that you need to shore up?
- Do you have your infrastructure in such a good place that you can now start to run experiments to see what sticks and what doesn’t?
3. Proactively help customers drive more value from your solutions. It’s critical to have as much insight and intelligence on how customers are using your solutions as possible, and to be more proactive in helping ensure they’re getting value from them. At Clari, you’ll hear us talk a lot about how to “run revenue”. That’s our methodology for getting more and more of the revenue workflows within Clari, and that’s the sort of value we want customers to see. When that happens, customers are more likely to renew, chances for churn decrease, and the likelihood of customers increasing their spend with you also goes up.
You need the instrumentation to know what’s happening in the install base and what parts of the product the customer is – and is not – using to make sure they’re fully realizing this value. You need to also be able to show them, “Here’s where you are now. Here’s what good looks like, and here’s where we need to go.” Then you can be prescriptive with the mutual investments that need to be made for them to get more out of the solution. Because if you don’t do that, your chances for renewals and expansions become tougher.
4. Support your team. Most tech companies have gone through three or four reorganizations in the last 18 months, and sellers have never worked harder. We’ve thrown more change at our teams than they’re probably accustomed to handling. A lot of companies are struggling with how to efficiently enable and equip sales teams to navigate in this environment. But, we must start by acknowledging the challenge and providing the needed support.
5. Focus on enablement. Sales enablement is a huge challenge in this environment. To overcome this challenge, leaders must first focus on their teams, and figure out what their top priorities are without hitting them with too many things over a period of time. Then, set achievable and digestible goals and then practice as a team.
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