Interim Executives: How to Implement Them Successfully

Interim chief revenue officer. Can such a person provide a real, operational function for some companies? Or is this just an ineffective way to mitigate an inability to secure a long-term head of sales? Can an iCRO replace an outside revenue-generation consultant while a company searches for a full-time head of sales?

These are becoming important questions in light of an emerging trend in corporate America: the use of interim executives to deal with specific functional challenges that, once addressed, can create the space and stability for a full-time executive.

2012 saw the creation of an Association of Interim Executives. Ten plus years ago emerged the (unfortunately unsuccessful) interim CEO and COO. Twenty years ago saw the rise of the only interim function still thriving today in the financial function of an enterprise: interim chief financial officers. So can an iCRO be as successful and effective as other interim executives?

In my humble opinion? Yes.

But take heed: the iCRO position works only under very well-defined guidelines for behaviors, responsibilities, and expectations. It should be framed with an end date (between six and 18 months) and an end game (in most cases, the hiring of a full-time head of sales) in mind.

What responsibilities should an iCRO have?

  • Develop the strategic revenue generation plan for the company three years out
  • Determine the distribution channels to use
  • Establish the sales function framework, infrastructure, and tactical plans to meet revenue targets

Additionally, an iCRO must also establish or reinforce a sales culture within the company and position the CEO responsibilities towards revenue generation. And finally, an iCRO should drive sales, make and close deals, and secure the expected revenue for growth.

When it comes time to hire a full-time head of sales? The iCRO should participate in the interview process—this is critical to his engagement— but the hiring must be done by the company, not the interim.

What types of companies would benefit most from bringing on an iCRO? Those with:

  • Existing revenues positioned to grow at a faster pace
  • A rainmaker who is/was the founder and now must focus on other areas while maintaining control and some sales activities
  • Less than the $75 million-$100 million revenue mark

Start-ups do not need an iCRO, nor do $100 million + companies that, by that point, should already have a full-time head of sales.

Has an iCRO ever worked well for your company? Have you served as an iCRO? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

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