In the world of SaaS and enterprise software sales, few people are as experienced or knowledgeable as Russell Sachs. Russell, who started his career as a trial attorney, parlayed his law experience into a successful sales career that spans nearly 20 years and includes leadership roles at companies like Dell, MessageOne, and WorkMarket.
He sat down to discuss emerging trends in SaaS software sales, his vision for BetterCloud, and why a CRO’s role is so critical for the success of an organization and its customers.
Russell has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Tulane University, and a law degree from the University of Miami School of Law.
Where are you from?
I am originally from New York City, born and raised in Queens and then Manhattan. I moved away to New Orleans for college and Miami for law school. During my career, I relocated to Austin, Texas for a while, but ultimately made my way back to New York.
You started out your career practicing law, but then shifted to sales. How did you make a transition from lawyer to sales, and what is it about sales that you love so much?
At its core, I do enjoy being around people and more importantly, helping people. If I think about the question, for me it really was a natural transition from law to sales. What makes a great lawyer? A great lawyer asks provocative, insightful questions to try and learn more about his client’s challenges and to uncover information about the core issues in dispute. Now, what makes a great salesperson? If you are a customer-focused sales professional and are truly there to help them, you would ask questions to help diagnose whether or not there’s a pain that you can solve for them, as opposed to whether you can simply “make a sale.” So there are lots of similarities between the two professions.
Candidly I have always tried to look through the lens of my customer for my entire career. How are we helping companies and individuals do their jobs better?
Some people think that a CRO is a glorified VP of sales. Could you clear up that misconception?
When I think of a VP of sales, and speaking as a VP of sales in the past, the primary concern you have is how are you going to get to your sales number, with most VPs focusing on revenue from “new logo” acquisition. So it’s all about who you’re signing up: how am I going to get more people, more companies, more buyers?
When I think about the CRO role, it’s a much broader scope of responsibility. Of course, first and foremost you have responsibility for all activities that generate revenue. It’s end-to-end accountability — not just for the new customers, but to your existing customers as well. You have to make sure that your customer base feels great, invigorated, and delighted every single day by your product, team, and support.
As a CRO, you also have to be able to work internally across functional areas, so you must be willing to collaborate with Product, Marketing, and Operations. It includes owning customer satisfaction, as well as coordinating internally on things like pricing, execution, delivery, and messaging. It’s a role that requires you to be a great internal communicator, to help align sales and marketing functions, to focus on data for greater insight and decision making, and to think longer term about programs and strategies. It’s much more than just, “This is my number; this is what I need to deliver.” At the end of the day, you have to really think about how all the revenue ties back to the most important thing, which is optimization of the customer experience.
Yes, it seems to be a trend now for the CRO to own the Sales and Success teams. What does that mean for our customers, and why is it important now?
Today, the modern sales organization has new functions like business development reps, sales development reps, and customer success reps. It used to be called a client exec or account manager that managed customers. Now it’s all about customer success. That word alone tells a lot. At the end of the day, if the customer is not successful using our product, then we have failed in our job.
I love the fact that it all rolls up underneath me, because the concept of churn is perhaps the most critically important metric to manage for SaaS-based technologies. Are your customers not only adopting your technology, but are they also staying and standardizing on your technology?
When you have everything siloed, where the sales team is focused on new logos only and customer success is focused on customer retention, and it doesn’t ultimately roll up under the same person, you can’t guarantee that you’ll have a coordinated effort to ensure that you are putting the customer first or that everybody is aligned with the same goals. So it’s important to have somebody at the forefront who cares about the entire lifecycle of revenue and customer experience. This way, you are always advocating on behalf of your customer and fixing problems as they emerge, so that new customers who come on board are delighted and won’t be hit with the same obstacles because you have processed and addressed any issues that might have arisen from your existing customer base.
The CRO has been called the “secret sauce” for startups. Why do you think that is?
Internally, the CRO needs to be forward thinking about revenue growth and what actions can be taken to impact revenue both short and long term, and ultimately drive integration and alignment across all revenue functions. I have heard the CRO referred to as the “revenue architect,” which is a terrific way to think of us. If done right, we can accelerate revenue and growth for the organization.
That said, I think it’s also the responsibility of the CRO to infuse the rest of the company with that singular focus of, “Why do we exist?” Well, in my world we exist because of our customers. If you, as the CRO, can take that vision and get the rest of the organization to understand and adhere to that, so long as you have a product that people want, success as measured by any metric will come.
Also, and I cannot stress this enough, the CRO needs to be a champion for its customer set. Software is going to have flaws. How you address those flaws is more telling about your organization than what new shiny logos you’ve signed. My experience over the years has taught me that how you respond to your customers in their time of need will be the difference between a “logo” and a customer for life.
What does it say to you when a young startup like BetterCloud hires a CRO?
To me, it means that we have gotten to the point where we are ready to scale, but want to ensure we don’t lose focus or make sacrifices in the process. BetterCloud is already rapidly scaling, but we’re signaling to our ecosystem — to new customers, existing customers, prospects — that we are committed to ensuring that they will have the tool set to optimize their organization if they select us. I think bringing on the CRO is part of that plan. BetterCloud has ambitious goals and a phenomenal vision to be at the forefront of helping IT make sure that they’re flawless in their management and execution of SaaS-based applications.
Are there any emerging trends in SaaS and enterprise software that you’re seeing?
Increasingly, you’re seeing organizations evaluate vendors and ask, “How is this technology going to help us achieve our business goals?” More and more, we’re seeing this alignment between the software vendor and the customer as a collaborative partnership. Customers are recognizing with increasing velocity that the “as-a-service” model can empower them achieve things faster, cheaper, and with greater efficiency. So, whether it’s IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, the “as-a-service” model is certainly here to stay. And it’s certainly growing.
Collaboration means having regular, open dialogue with your customer base to understand what their goals are, and how you are and can continue to help them achieve and surpass those goals. When you have that communication dynamic and that level of trust and partnership, execution can be a thing a beauty. I believe that the evolution of this alignment will continue to grow. As customers recognize how transformative this type of relationship can be, they will demand it of their vendors or move on.
You’ve held senior sales positions at Dell — a huge Fortune 100 company — as well as young tech startups. How do you think your experience at both large and small companies will help you in this new role?
Given that I have managed to see and operate at so many different stages of an organization, I feel that I have the ability and experience to help BetterCloud scale through the different inflection points that we will face during this journey.
For example, the set of skills that I’ve learned when I was managing a service sales team for North America at Dell, and the operational discipline and focus that was required there, is very different than an early stage startup, where there were less rules and processes in place and you just had to figure out how to get things done. Being able to draw upon past experience and help stitch together an expansion plan across the various stages during BetterCloud’s journey is certainly something I bring to the table and something that I think will enable us to grow.
What do you hope to achieve at BetterCloud?
First and foremost, I hope to help us emerge as an iconic brand that IT and other professionals everywhere recognize and trust. I think one of my proudest moments would be for people to look back and look at BetterCloud and say, “Wow, they were at the forefront of IT transformation. They led the charge and enabled true enterprise SaaS adoption. If it wasn’t for BetterCloud, we would not have been able to do the things we needed to do to scale our business.”
This all ties back to why I believe a CRO is so important! Based on what our customers and prospects are telling us, we can take their guidance and input to help refine and optimize our product, where you ultimately get this flywheel effect of consistent improvement and innovation that is calibrated against your existing customer set. So over time, contributing to a great company, expanding the culture, and obviously building a great sales and customer success organization is my main goal. If I can do that, great things are bound to happen.
What do you do for fun?
In my spare time, I love sports — anything that has to do with physical fitness, like running, swimming, and working out. I love reading and travel. I’m a big foodie; I love to eat and drink and try new restaurants and adventurous dishes. I also enjoy following venture capital and the startup scene — especially what is going on in New York City, where the software community is exploding. But most importantly, I have a wife and two children, so most of my fun is based around spending time with them!
Interested in learning more about the ways we’re innovating at BetterCloud? Read up on how we introduced proactive support, how shared ownership revolutionizes product development, or how we took advantage of shadow IT and rolled out Slack.