An Interview with Russell Webb – Chief Revenue Officer | Unily
We had the privilege of sitting down with Russell Webb, the Chief Revenue Officer at Unily, to delve into his remarkable career journey and gain insights into the world of sales leadership. From his humble beginnings in electronics sales to steering teams through hypergrowth, Russell shares his valuable experiences and perspectives on effective leadership, hiring strategies, and the ever-evolving role of a Chief Revenue Officer.
Tell us about your career to date
I’ve been in sales throughout my career, starting in electronics and selling silicon chips. I moved from working as a distributor to becoming a ‘rep on the road’. My father was in sales, so I followed suit. The journey’s had its share of ups and downs. After stints with different distributors, I shifted to working with producers for a while. But selling widgets wasn’t all that exciting, pushing me towards value-focused sales.
Transitioning to software, I joined a company that specialised in software to enhance silicon chip performance, moving away from price-based sales. I later took on a management role, setting up a team in Northern Europe for a start-up. Those years were truly enjoyable, building a team and achieving shared success.
Seeking a broader scope, I joined another company, needing interaction with both business and IT. Returning to a sales role, I gained valuable experience. The pinnacle was my 7-year stint at Adobe. I swiftly climbed the ladder to manage teams and regions during an era of rapid growth and acquisitions. This experience shaped my understanding of excellence, hiring, and fostering a positive ecosystem.
Following that, I embraced a hypergrowth phase at a new firm for 4 years, navigating its highs and lows. This phase offered insights into global hiring dynamics and unique business cultures, especially in the Middle East. Last year, I took on the role of Chief Revenue Officer at Unily, where I’m currently positioned. My journey reflects a constant search for challenges and growth, spanning electronics to software, and start-ups to hypergrowth. The connections, lessons, and accomplishments have truly made my career fulfilling.
What’s your education background?
I didn’t go to university, I went to a very average comprehensive school, then went to do college and A levels, but just decided that I wanted to go and earn money and so did not take any further education. I’ve done other things since then to broaden my career and that’s the beauty of working for big companies, they give you those options to do extra things.
What do you think makes a really good sales leader?
An effective sales leader centres on numbers as a foundation for success. As responsibilities broaden, balancing numerical goals with other aspects gains significance. Fair and supportive leadership, coupled with composure during stress, defines my approach. Adapting to the company’s phase, such as our post-acquisition growth, is essential.
Forming a competent team, collaborating within the ecosystem, and aligning everyone’s objectives are pivotal. Internal and external selling hold equal weight. Maintaining rapport, exhibiting affability while conveying resolute messages, and swiftly achieving revenue are challenges.
Importantly, the ability to connect internally is as critical as external connections, given the significant role of the internal ecosystem. Alongside this, checking in on colleagues’ situations and engaging in mutual conversations is essential. Likability facilitates smoother cooperation. Striving for timely revenue delivery poses a major challenge inherent in our role.
What is your strategy for hiring good people – what do you look for?
It depends on the maturity level you’re going through. In my world right now, it’s about getting experienced people, people that don’t need a lot of hand-holding, and the reason I say depending on what stage you’re at as a business is because the more mature your business, the bigger your ecosystem to support new people coming on board is, so you can afford different levels of experience, but the majority of sales people we hire at the moment are self-starters, they know how to get on with the job. They know how to engage with the organisation, how to build out their own territories. As we build out the organisation then I can see that we can be a bit more flexible on the types of people we need.
How have you found it in terms of salaries and benefits and expectations of sales people in your team over the past few years?
In terms of salaries, benefits, and sales team expectations, the landscape hasn’t dramatically shifted in the past five or six years. Reflecting on my hiring experiences at Adobe in 2017, we were offering base salaries ranging from 80-100k, around 160-200k annually. Currently, we’re still in a similar range, depending on the candidate’s experience. A recent scenario at Sicore, where we needed to onboard 75 salespeople in five months due to rapid growth, provided insights into appropriate compensation.
Maintaining high standards is crucial. Although timely hiring matters, it’s paramount to focus on selecting the best-fit candidates through a rigorous process. Flexibility and necessary resources shouldn’t be compromised, even in a changing market. Selecting the wrong candidates can be detrimental. While a few missteps have occurred, they were recognised swiftly, preventing long-term damage. Delayed realisation can result in salespeople underperforming against expectations, impacting the organisation as a whole.
Do you think that it’s more start-ups that are offering the huge salaries?
I think they’ve got to do more to attract people because if you’re an unknown quantity, you’ve got to attract people, so you probably have to give people bigger salaries as a consequence. I think the big difference that we’ve seen is that a lot of start-ups offer stock, and the problem with that is that stock doesn’t really mean anything. You’ve got to think, what’s more important to you; coming to a business where you’ve got a great pipeline, you’ve got great brands, good infrastructure, everything else, where you can earn a lot of money- is that more important to you, or is stock that you have no idea the value of, where you have no idea if the company is going to do anything any time soon. We don’t offer stock to salespeople. What we do offer is all those things: great pipeline, good infrastructure, great reference ability from the brands that we have.
What does a chief revenue officer do, how do you think it has come about and how do people get this job title/get to that point?
The role of Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) has traditionally been synonymous with the head of worldwide sales. The scope of the role varies based on the organisation’s size and context. In my experience, the core objective is delivering revenue while effectively communicating the company’s direction internally and externally.
Internally, I focus on conveying our strategic path to the organisation and explaining its significance. A CRO’s pivotal responsibility is revenue delivery, as this success underpins the rest of the company’s operations. This role is also about harmonizing with our parent company’s guidance and utilising their expertise to advance our growth trajectory. Additionally, I aid in developing the necessary infrastructure and ecosystem.
My responsibilities extend beyond just managing the sales team. I oversee every interaction between the sales team and other company units, ensuring alignment and shared pacing. Each department requires a unique approach due to varying backgrounds and speeds of operation. Thus, my role involves extensive internal management and communication, steering the company toward our intended direction.
Externally, I engage extensively with customers, whether it’s addressing delivery escalations or collaborating with our customer success team. Building strong customer relationships contributes to positive references, enhancing our sales team’s performance. Content customers tend to invest more in our offerings, promoting growth. Our business doesn’t solely revolve around acquiring new clients; encouraging existing customers to consistently expand their purchases is equally crucial.
You manage all of the sales teams, but not marketing?
I closely collaborate with our CMO and marketing team. My sales teams and I focus on market intelligence, strategic event presence, competition insights, and enhancing our product marketing. We evaluate our strategies against competitors and customer needs, ensuring our presence aligns with industry trends. Communication within the organisation is paramount across these touchpoints.
Data is another cornerstone, vital for visibility and predictability. I addressed this by hiring a skilled sales operations expert, providing essential insights for decision-making. This role facilitates real-time communication and data-driven actions, leading to better pipeline management. Investing in technology and cleansing our pipeline have been crucial in achieving clear visibility and actionable insights. My mornings are marked by dashboard reviews, ensuring accurate updates and well-informed decisions.
What’s your biggest achievement in your career?
My biggest achievement was when I joined Adobe. I joined as a salesperson and then moved quickly into running a subset of a team, then eventually being the marketing leader for the whole of the UK and having 92 salespeople and 6 sales directors within a 6 and a half year period.
What advice would you give to aspiring sales leaders and how do people get to that level?
For aspiring sales leaders, I’d emphasise focusing on the bigger picture and key metrics that matter to higher-ups. Align your daily tasks with CEO and investor priorities, from start to finish. Delivering on targets simplifies other challenges. Clean data, an insightful pipeline, and comprehensive business understanding are vital.
Hiring capable people—strong sales operations, BDR leaders, and sales directors you trust—facilitates smoother operations. When the team excels, your role becomes easier. Central to success is ensuring data accuracy; the role hinges on it. Distractions exist, but when the foundational number delivery is in place, the rest follows more smoothly.
When you’re a chief revenue officer, do you see the role evolving and what’s the progression from that role?
It does evolve, it’s never dull, you’re always creating more departments, hiring more people around you, building bigger teams, moving into new geographies, there’s lots of things that come off the back of starting in the role and then how that role evolves. I think a natural next step for a CRO is a CEO. I’ve spoken about how broad the role is, but also how important that role is to success and to the growth of the company. There’s a lot of things that are similar to the CEO role and I spend a lot of time with my CEO and he relies very heavily on me to be the commercial arm and the person that is driving that element. But he’s very good at the market, the products, the competition, and so it’s about how you compliment each other. For me personally I see that as the natural next step for me and something that I would like to do, but it’s down to the individual. You could be very successful just being a CRO.