How Wade Burgess is Transforming the Commercial Model to Accelerate Growth
Our team of experts from the Revenue Enablement Institute studies how leading organizations are transforming their commercial models to accelerate revenue growth. We profile growth leaders – CXOs – who are at the forefront of defining, enabling, and leading the execution of the 21st Century Commercial Model.
Wade Burgess is Chief Revenue Officer at Rev.com (Rev), a fast-growing company that provides consumers and enterprises a portfolio of speech to text services that combine human and artificial intelligence to make it faster and easier for individuals and organizations to create transcriptions, captions, and subtitles. The ten year old business has grown to over one hundred million in annual recurring revenues (ARR) and has been profitable for the last several quarters, on the strengths of its products and a growth model that up until now has been almost entirely self-serve.
The company is positioned for explosive growth in the enterprise space. To realize this potential, their leadership brought Wade Burgess into Rev in a new role – the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) – to help facilitate this transformation of the commercial model and accelerate revenue growth. In his role as CRO, Wade has an aggressive goal of transforming the commercial model at Rev from an individual consumer model to one that includes teams and large enterprises with the objective to grow revenues tenfold in a short period of time.
I asked Wade Burgess to share the keys to transforming the commercial model to achieve non-linear growth at scale.
Wade views the expanded CXO role as important to his success because growing from the individual to the enterprise market is going to take transformation of the entire go-to-market model – including reconfiguring the product portfolio and changing segmentation, channels, and linking front of the funnel market messaging and positioning to selling and supporting customers and users. “There’s huge potential to move from a self-serve high volume sale all the way through to a large enterprise purchase,” shares Burgess. “I realized that in order to maximize our opportunity, I would probably need the remit of responsibilities from top of the funnel all the way through to renewal and customer lifecycle management.”
“I’m not really into titles,” relates Burgess. “They can be misleading and often vary from company to company. But it was important to create a new CXO type of role to take the business to the next level. A lot of companies get to a certain point, and they create a CRO or COO role as a way to consolidate adjacent functions, accelerate growth, and create centralized accountability.” Rev is not alone in reconfiguring the role of growth leadership. Over 9,000 businesses have established Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) roles in order to achieve the high level of teamwork, alignment, and commercial transformation needed to accelerate growth in a 21st Century Commercial Model. “It (the CRO role) makes sense for us because my north star is to grow revenues tenfold,” he elaborates. “In order to do this we have to align a lot of moving parts and aggressively scale almost every function in a coordinated and efficient way.”
Burgess views his primary goal as CRO is to add to the valuation of the company. To accomplish this, he outlined a range of changes he is making to the product portfolio strategy, go-to-market architecture, and sales force design to facilitate the transformation from the individual to the enterprise market.
“One of the most important things I put immediate focus on was changing our product portfolio strategy to create an enterprise stack,” recalls Burgess. “When I got here the business primarily sold consumer products in bulk at a discount. Adding an enterprise stack as a layer above that user functionality allows us to go upmarket and serve larger entities. As part of that we’ve had to move from transactional sales to bundles, packages, and ultimately a subscription model with varying options.”
Burgess is making wholesale changes to the commercial architecture as well. He is in the process of changing the composition of his selling team, their role in the customer journey, and how they integrate with marketing. Burgess is also redefining the customers his revenue team targets, the ways they are incentivized, and the growth technology infrastructure that supports them.
In terms of incentives, he’s in the process of changing the way they compensate revenue teams and recognize revenues in quota assignments to facilitate the shift from transactional retroactive paid in arrears business into a proactive, upfront payment subscription model. “We are gradually moving from a transactional business to contracted revenues, something that only began 18 months ago,” recalls Burgess.
He’s also changing the roles and skills of his salesforce to better support new products and focus on customer success. “We are creating customer segments and channels, each with a specific strategy,” says Burgess. “For example, today we have a very small number of customer success managers, but CSMs are going to be critical to growing enterprise accounts. We also are creating several developmental roles and career paths here so that each member can not only succeed in their current role, but that there is a path to ongoing professional development and success for them at Rev.”
Burgess understands that to scale the business tenfold with limited resources, they are going to have to scale intelligently. And for him, that means finding ways to fuel non-linear growth with technology and insights. In his prior roles at LinkedIn, he led teams across the organization and ultimately led the line of business that was able to scale from $50mm to over $3 billion in ARR by adding sales and support headcount because it was repeatable and scalable. But with hindsight, Burgess realizes the opportunity to grow revenue at similar rates while growing expenses at a slower pace can create more firm value through margin expansion as the scale of the organization increases.
“I learned a lot about the potential of non-linear growth when I was running an organization called Talent Solutions at LinkedIn, which our team grew to what is now about two thirds of the revenue of the company,” shares Burgess. “We were able to grow to billions in revenue by adding headcount to a proven, repeatable and scalable model. And it absolutely worked. However, I’ve always wondered if our productivity per head could have increased significantly with greater automation and efficiency gains.”
“What I’m aspiring to do at Rev.com is to grow revenue faster than headcount,” shares Burgess. “And in order to do that, we have to invest in making our people more productive and putting the technology and data infrastructure in place so that we can sell smarter and automate the things that should be automated – things that create leverage and scale.”
“One of the biggest ways we will scale intelligently is by investing in advanced analytics,” Burgess emphasizes. “Investing in analytics is critical to our growth. It may not sound like a normal CRO priority, but it’s a high priority for me to get the right data infrastructure in place so that we can intelligently scale revenue growth. I think managing sales without analytics is like navigating without a GPS or without Waze. Insights to me are incredibly important. We have incredible data assets – both unstructured and semi-structured data – that’s not yet being used in an optimal way. There is an enormous amount of unstructured customer engagement, behavior, and consumption data coming from the 170,000 customers who use our self-service engine. On top of that we have a whole bunch of people who interact with us on the top of the funnel that never convert. I believe that access to customer insights and to be able to automate action against the opportunities they reveal is going to be a key for us to be able to scale rapidly and to delight our customers.”
“I’ll give you an example,” he continues. “Inside of a university, there are numerous professors who are using Rev in a self-serve way to put captions on their lectures and/or to transcribe them. But we’re likely not yet doing business with that university. Proper data insights will tell us which institutions to reach out to, the appropriate person within the organization to engage with, and how we can help them best utilize our offerings. I recently spoke to a small community college in the US that has a hundred-thousand-dollar customer. We didn’t even know it until we started connecting the dots and realized that all these users were all coming from the same place.”
“In my first year, I told the board that my most important sales hire this year is going to be a data scientist,” recalls Burgess. “We are also investing in initiatives like moving our semi-structured customer data into Snowflake, implementing analytics tools like Looker, and a series of other tools to better improve how we make decisions and interact with our customers and users.”
In order to fully realize the potential of analytics as a force multiplier to drive non-linear growth, Rev.com integrated all of the operations that supported revenue growth – sales operations, enablement, and analytics with solid line reporting to a central operations function. “A really important step was putting in place a single revenue operations team with really strong technical people from sales and marketing operations who can help us better leverage analytics to grow,” recalls Burgess. “We used to have a small sales ops team and a marketing operations team. When I joined as CRO, with sales and marketing both reporting up to me, I really wanted one person responsible for the operational tools, processes and systems that we use for monetization.”
“One reason revenue operations is important is because the revenue team uses the same data, and I didn’t want multiple sources of truth,” he continues. “I want to eliminate handoffs and finger pointing. Traditionally marketing blames sales for not converting their leads correctly. And sales blames marketing for not creating enough leads or high enough quality prospects. We’re operating as one team. Everybody knows I’m a data geek. Many of the things we have to do involve being able to look inside of existing transactional data to identify cross sell and upsell opportunities and target groups of customers who can be aggregated into enterprise accounts.”
“Analytics can also help us retain and expand enterprise relationships,” expands Burgess. “For example, if an account has X amount of revenue forecasted for the year, but they’re tracking above that number, a person on our team needs to be triggered to reach out and have a conversation with them to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful. This typically results in an add-on, upsell, or cross-sell opportunity. On the other hand, if utilization is way behind and we’re three months into an annual contract, I want customer success reaching out right away to help them get back on track. This type of proactive engagement can significantly minimize churn.”
Burgess also wants to better understand customer revenue potential and prioritize opportunities for the sales force. “We currently don’t have a good way to measure what I call size-of-prize or the potential of a prospect or a customer,” admits Burgess. “We need to better understand leading indicators and signals to help us determine if an organization is probably going to be a $10,000 customer or $10 million customer. Armed with a size-of-prize potential or lifetime value metric we can route them to the appropriate channel and engagement. This will allow us to make smarter decisions about lead routing , messaging, and everything about the way in which we interact with that prospect. There’s a gold mine of data opportunities for us to tap into.”
A final but critical element of the formula for non-linear growth is talent development. Burgess views people as his greatest growth asset. Field sales is going to be an essential channel for growing the enterprise market, and Wade believes the best way to build a high performing revenue team is by investing in talent development.
“I’m not too concerned about hiring for the next 12 months,” explains Burgess. “But in order to be successful beyond that, I really need to build a strong talent development discipline, a factory to grow and develop a high performing revenue team. There are two ways to build a team of quota carrying sales reps; you can do a lot of hiring externally or invest in early stage sales development reps and provide fertile soil for them to grow in. In my experience it is much better when you hire internally at the more entry level and let them grow into the next role. They know the industry, they know the business, they’re very scalable and have the cultural DNA that you’ve invested in. That doesn’t happen overnight, and we don’t have this fully up and running yet. But I want to put our best energy into developing key talents here, giving those people a career path through the organization, and decreasing the amount of time it takes to ramp up. Three to five years from now I would hope that we do very little external hiring at more senior roles because we have built our own version of excellence.”
Burgess believes that one of the most important final key to building a high performing revenue team is to develop excellent managers. “I think the frontline manager is actually the most important role in any organization. They have the most direct impact on the individual contributor. If we can hire and develop awesome managers, everyone will have a great experience at Rev. And if people are in their strength zone, appropriately rewarded for it and love what they do, we will build incredible products, innovate in our go-to-market opportunity, and realize that 10x was really just a state of mind. And an incredible journey for everyone involved.”
Wade Burgess is Chief Revenue Officer at Rev.com
You can learn more about the next generation of growth leaders and the state-of-the-art management tools, skills, capabilities, and practices they are using to accelerate revenue growth and adapt to the new buying reality at the Revenue Enablement Institute Website. You can nominate growth leaders for our CXO 100 list.