Every CRO Needs an AI Strategy: Five Principles to Guide Your Thinking

By Kevin Knieriem, Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer, Clari
A man sits at a table with a book and pen in hand, thinking.

Arguably still in its relative infancy, the position of chief revenue officer (CRO) is one of the hottest new job titles to emerge in years. CROs (sometimes called chief growth officers or chief commercial officers) topped LinkedIn’s 2023 Jobs on the Rise list as companies from the Fortune 100 to startups ramped up CRO hiring and tasked them “to be disruptive, to assess how a business brings in money, and to figure out how to do it all better – traditional processes be damned.”

In that context, AI may be the single most powerful tool CROs can wield to fundamentally transform the enterprise revenue process. In fact, AI is already helping teams improve and accelerate revenue workflows, stop revenue leak – a $2 trillion problem according to Boston Consulting Group – and tackle opportunities and challenges previously out of reach for the average worker or company. 

At the same time, the concerns around this fast-moving and revolutionary technology are legitimate – which necessitates that CROs leverage AI in the enterprise thoughtfully, ethically, and with strong guardrails. That’s why it’s critical that every CRO prioritize formulating an AI strategy that delivers scale and growth while boosting employee productivity and job satisfaction – all of which are achievable.

Five Principles

Here are five principles for CROs to consider when formulating their AI strategy.

1. Companies will differentiate and win based on proprietary data and workflow integration. 

Base AI models are commodities that are now available to all of your competitors. CROs who want to reinvent the revenue process and deliver breakthrough results need to understand that the outcomes they can achieve depend upon the quality of the data provided to their AI models and how data is integrated into various revenue-specific workflows. 

2. Keep your eye on these two key outcomes. 

Job number one for the CRO is to predictably hit the company’s revenue number every time. Job number two is boosting the productivity of revenue-impacting employees – which means not just sales reps, but also RevOps, marketing, post-sales, customer success, and every other employee who contributes to revenue and retention. Organize your strategy around both concepts.

3. You own the technology stack. 

Historically, RevOps has tended to own and manage the revenue tech stack. My message to CROs: Take charge. It is a fundamental CRO responsibility to make revenue-impacting employees – typically the single largest pool of human capital in the organization – as productive as they can be, using AI and other tools. You can’t do that unless you take personal responsibility for the tech stack.

4. You don’t have to be an AI expert, but be thoughtful about the workflows you want to improve. 

AI is complex and advancing at a blistering pace. While generative AI (which answers critical revenue questions and helps reps act with speed and precision) has been in the spotlight the most of late, there are other types of AI that can be harnessed to reinvent the revenue process, including predictive AI (for highly accurate forecasting) and natural language processing AI (for analyzing massive volumes of conversations with speed and scale).

But a CRO can’t (and shouldn’t) aspire to be an AI expert. You should rely on your trusted technology partners for that expertise, while you focus on the actions your teams need to take to drive revenue. 

5. Balance human intelligence and AI – while thinking big about new possibilities. 

One of the more painful ironies of the average sales rep’s job is just how little of their overall time they actually spend selling. Salesforce research pegs it at 30%.

AI has the power to radically change this for the better – and, in fact, it’s well on its way. For example, in many organizations the monotonous and time-consuming task of updating CRM records has been offloaded to AI, giving reps back several hours every week to cultivate prospects. In addition, AI is nearly instantaneously summarizing sales reps’ calls with new leads, crafting their follow-up emails and suggesting nurture campaigns. 

The enormous amount of time humans have spent on mundane tasks can now be applied to more strategic and value-add work at all levels of the revenue hierarchy – from sales rep to manager to executive – with AI acting as a chief of staff that conducts analysis, delivers insights, takes action, and suggests next steps, all at superhuman scale.

To that point, CROs should take the time to imagine AI managing revenue-generating processes that, until now, were too vast and complex for humans to even attempt. What if your CEO could task AI with listening to all of the company’s sales reps’ calls for the past two years, and get an instant report on key opportunities, risks, and recommended actions? Without AI, we would never assign that to anyone. With AI, we can do it in a matter of seconds.

The Potential For AI-Powered Revenue Is Vast

A recent McKinsey analysis found that Fortune 100 companies that have a CRO-like role show 1.8 times higher revenue growth than their peers (noting also that startups have achieved big gains, too). That’s a compelling number. But here’s the thing: We’re just scratching the surface when it comes to what CROs can achieve when leveraging AI to reinvent the enterprise revenue process end-to-end. 

AI is about so much more than ensuring that reps hit their quotas. AI-powered revenue is about how the CRO can meaningfully increase the amount of revenue every revenue-impacting employee in the organization can generate and support – from the rep, to marketing, to RevOps, to the customer support manager. 

Can you harness AI to create “the 10X sales rep,” making them exponentially more productive and enabling a better work experience in the process? Can you meet or beat the number every single quarter? By how much?

With AI in your CRO toolbox, it’s time to fundamentally rethink your assumptions about how much revenue an individual employee can contribute. The potential gains are simply too compelling to ignore – which is why your AI strategy should be your number one priority.

Kevin Knieriem is EVP and CRO at Clari.