For those working in Revenue Operations, high inflation or signs of a possible recession can be worrisome. But even during a challenging economic environment, there are steps one can take to try and ease the blow. What are the strategies that CROs and financial experts recommend to successfully navigate a recession or challenging economy? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Lindsey Scrase.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I am a learner and an explorer at heart. From a young age, I loved discovering new places and meeting new people, and understanding different experiences. During college I opted out of the typical business internships and I ended up moving across the country and selling books door to door in a new place. And I learned so much!
My goal in starting my career was to get a true general management experience, while also living and working internationally. With this aim, I joined a Danish company, Maersk, as part of a leadership development program. I then lived and worked overseas, spending time in Denmark and The Netherlands and doing business across every continent. I worked across many different functions including sales, operations, business development, corporate development and strategy and ultimately was the Director of Strategic Planning and Business Development for the Americas.
From there I got my MBA from Stanford and moved to San Francisco. I joined Google Cloud in 2012 where I built and led many teams over ten years and had the incredible experience of helping scale Google Cloud to over a $20B business. I ultimately led a global team responsible for our SMB, Mid Market, and Startups revenue for Google Cloud Platform and Google Workspace and I helped grow the business to over six million paying Google Workspace customers.
In addition to growing the Google Cloud business, I served as a leader on Google Cloud’s DE&I council and Executive Steering Committee of Pride at Google. Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion has always been incredibly important for me and being able to take an active leadership role in this was so rewarding. When I joined Checkr in September of 2022, I was excited to be able to combine my experience in scaling revenue with my commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Checkr’s mission is to use our technology to introduce and support fairer hiring practices for all kinds of businesses, from early-stage startups to the world’s largest enterprises. I couldn’t be more excited to work for a company that is able to blend hiring and social impact so effectively.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you made when you were first starting?
I can’t say I have one big mistake that has been looming over me but, like anyone, there have been many mistakes and learning opportunities throughout my career. Early on in my career, I was very focused on my team’s success and wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could to knock every metric out of the park. I saw this as being very results oriented but I was also siloed in my approach at times. I have since learned that this way of thinking is short-sighted and ineffective in the long-run.
I am now incredibly focused on product alignment and collaborating across all teams to ensure that we are not just hitting short-term results but we are setting ourselves up for long-term success. If all of us aren’t playing our positions well, then Checkr won’t have a chance at success. As I continue my role as CRO, I believe it’s part of my job to remind everyone, and myself, that it’s not just about the revenue team reaching success, but every team inside the company working to reach and find success together.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?
I have been fortunate to work for so many amazing leaders throughout my career! One of the many who stands out is my very first manager and the leader who hired me into Google Cloud - Rich Rao. He was one of several people who pushed me into a growth position that I wasn’t completely sure I was ready for, and communicated confidence in me that I would be able to succeed. In this particular instance I was running a sales team that was performing well but I was early in the role. Despite my tenure, Rich saw that I could expand my scope far beyond what I was currently doing and he pushed me into an expanded role that set me up for the learning and growth that has been pivotal in bringing me to where I am today. I remember him telling me how important it is to continuously disrupt the status quo and challenge yourself to rethink how you’re doing things - both in your team or business and also in your career. This has stuck with me over the years and I continuously evaluate how and whether I can do things differently.
Another leader who really helped me reframe my career journey was Olivia Nottebohm. I started working for her just a few months before I was to go out on maternity leave for my first child. In our very first 1/1 meeting I nervously told her the news that I was pregnant. I had a lot of fear that this would negatively impact my career and that I would be sidelined. I had never worked for a woman and surprisingly had never had the experience of any female leader above me having kids. So I geared up and told her the news and responded with pure joy, and ended up promoting me while I was on maternity leave. This was incredibly meaningful for me in helping reframe for me that I can be a mom and a successful leader while also continuing to grow my career.
Can you share a time that was challenging for your business based on external factors like the economy? When was it, how prepared were you and what changes did you make to get through it?
The 2008 financial crisis was an eye opening time for me in my career. I was working in global logistics and infrastructure development at the time. Global trade was booming and we were in a period of growth and investment to keep up with the growing demands. We were seeing strong results... then the dominos started falling and it sent a ripple effect through the financial sector and the rest of the economy. We had to make hard decisions and reductions in our workforce. Great people got let go and lives were impacted. This stuck with me and guides a lot of the growth decisions I make today.
Is there anything you would do differently in future downturns? What would be your advice to others navigating a recession for the first time?
It’s hard to predict the future, especially when it comes to the state of the economy. We’re coming off of an unprecedented global pandemic, the disruption of many industries by gig companies which has shifted the nature of work, and record low unemployment combined with stubborn inflation. Everyone is trying to figure out what is going to happen, but no one has a crystal ball.
What I try to focus on—no matter the economic climate—is ensuring that when making growth investments, they are being done in a thoughtful way. This sounds obvious but more often than not, investments in growth are done based on hypothesis vs. a clear understanding of correlation vs. causation and without a deep understanding of productivity and the levers for growth. If you have a PLG business, it can be easy to invest in the wrong marketing, or mistake marketing investments for driving demand that is actually organically driven. Or one can continue to add in sales resources for a consumptive business when actually the growth is being driven by the customers’ business and not truly being influenced by sales. Other times, there is under-investment and leaders are too conservative in expanding their go-to-market capacity and therefore miss an opportunity to gain and grow market share. It’s critical to deeply understand your business - what is working and what is not - and invest accordingly.
Do you believe that businesses can prepare in advance for such occasions? Is it about being appropriately proactive or reactive?
Businesses should focus on what they can control. During times like these, it’s good to work proactively and reactively—and what I mean by that is to have a proactive plan, but also to arm your business with reactive strategies. The economy has always bounced back from a recession, but successful businesses will have to look inward, assess business plans, and revisit goals in order to make changes during the downturn.
And while one can never be 100% prepared for any crisis, when you deeply understand the drivers of growth and the productivity of your team, you can see leading indicators much more clearly and you can react quickly to changes.
On top of this, I believe that now more than ever, you need to earn your customer’s renewal. I would emphasize the need to understand customers’ needs and ensure you’re on top of them and keeping them happy, focusing on customer retention and taking note of what they need from you and your product. In fact, it’s a great time to solidify your customer relationships and show your customers what your company is made of. The businesses that are most successful at navigating the downturn often experience rapid growth when the economy turns around.
In your opinion, what is the telltale sign that a recession is looming?
This obviously depends on the industry as some industries are less prone to recessionary pressures and others are counter cyclical. But from where I sit, there are several leading indicators of slowing growth to be on the lookout for as you plan. First, inbound customer demand is important to pay close attention to as a signal. When budgets are tightening, customers are less likely to search for new solutions or invest time on new projects or implementations and this tends to show up in your organic demand numbers as well as decreasing effectiveness of your marketing spend.
The other thing I would pay close attention to is your sales win rates and number of new customers acquired. When there are macroeconomic headwinds looming, there is inertia to change from an existing provider and more pricing pressure that makes it harder to win deals. And often when the deals do come in, the size is often smaller. And if your product is not essential, existing customers that may have used a service for many years may not renew their contracts. Everyone tightens their belts during a period like this, which usually results in slower customer acquisition.
What are your thoughts on the current state of our economy? Is there anything you’re anticipating or preparing for now?
It’s definitely an uncertain time, and it’s important to do scenario planning and also to have an agile approach as things can rapidly change. Plans laid may need to be quickly adjusted due changes in the market and your organization should be ready for this and frankly, expect it. For me, I have spent a lot of time working with my team on how we accelerate time to value. From the time a potential customer hears about Checkr, sees an ad, or lands on our website, how do we accelerate the time to value for the customer and thus the value to Checkr. There are always things out of our control in this funnel but there is a lot that is in our control and it’s important to focus on where you can drive efficiency for the customer and for the business.
And as my leadership team set out our plan for 2023, we agreed that we need to manage resources efficiently to do more with the same. We have ambitious growth aspirations and we asked ourselves, where do we need to grow? And how do we fund that growth with the existing resourcing and team? Where do we need to shift focus and where do we need to double down? And from there, we’ve encouraged everyone to think about how to be 20% more effective. That doesn’t mean work 20% more but how do we have 20% more impact in what we are doing. All of this requires tight alignment, prioritization, and focus.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five things a business should do to successfully navigate a challenging economy?
1 . Earn your customer’s renewals: Leaders need to focus on how they can delight their customers. Acquiring new customers is expensive. Take the time to listen to your customers and what they need. Collaboration between research and development and go-to-market teams is critical to ensure customer feedback is embedded in every product decision. Companies who focus efforts on creating a seamless process of internal customer feedback sharing ultimately make stronger product roadmap decisions and can easily communicate these customer-centric improvements during renewals conversations.
2. Reimagine your GTM strategy and shift towards scale selling: Organizations can no longer afford to throw resources at a single problem and instead need to think programmatically and scalably. And if you’re doing go-to-market the traditional way—enterprise, heavy investment sales approach—it needs to evolve. Think about how you can drive scaled demand generation and acquisition and invest more in programs that scale. Companies need to move in this direction before it’s too late.
3. Dig out inefficiencies: In 2023, organizations need to do more with less. Inflation is impacting costs, which can make it harder to acquire new employees. Businesses must look for every opportunity to reorganize and reduce costs, driving productivity without increasing expenses. This year may be the perfect time to invest in existing talent, which can foster growth without the high costs of recruiting and onboarding new employees.
4 . Continue to invest in connection: It may be a quick fix to cut time and budget on team connection but you will feel the pain later. Instead of cutting connection time, we invested in it. We brought my entire organization together in person in January because we knew that to execute on our plans, we had to ensure that the organization was tightly aligned on the direction we were headed, and how to get there together. Prioritizing people will help businesses ride out the storm, while businesses that don’t will take on water or capsize.
5 . Prioritize transparency: During this time, businesses need to develop trust; trust with customers and with employees. Business leaders should encourage open and frequent communication between teams to make everyone feel heard. This makes the entire team feel valued, ultimately leading to better business outcomes in order to serve the customer. It’s also important to be transparent with your teams about the state of the economy and its impact on the business. At Checkr we take the time to break down the current economic situation and explain its impact on our business. This fosters transparency and trust within our team.
Can you share a few common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind?
During difficult times, I have often seen businesses make the following mistakes:
- Put diversity on the backburner: Layoffs may result in HR and DE&I teams being trimmed or dissolved. This will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect, especially as the economy recovers. The businesses that made deep cuts to their DE&I efforts will eventually have to scramble to keep up with their competitors who maintained DE&I as a priority.
- Hesitate to make tough decisions: Businesses need to make hard calls and tighten their belts. While this can be painful, it will make you stronger and more resilient. Businesses that make the hard choices now—and make those decisions guided by data—will come out on the other side with a clearer understanding of their business.
- Not take chances: This time is an opportunity to gain market share from competitors, something that may be harder to achieve when the economy is flourishing. Businesses should not be afraid to extend their market lead or gain ground on competitors just because the market is tense.
What is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Challenging times can change the way we show up for people and bolster our teams. A leader needs to be a source of support and direction for their people. Without that feeling of support from a leader, team members will be less motivated to push through the challenging times and be transparent about what is and isn’t working. And without direction and context, it’s easy for team members to feel isolated and unempowered to help drive change.
Lastly, are there any silver linings or opportunities that can come out of a recession? We’d love to finish on a positive note!
Despite the news surrounding layoffs at major tech companies, the tech sector still has more job openings than candidates to fill them. Of all tech workers being laid off, 70% are getting a new job within three months and 50% in just one month (Wall Street Journal.) There are 11M job openings in the U.S. and only 5.7M unemployed Americans (BLS). Also, more and more workers will start doing gig work as it becomes mainstream, whether in between jobs or as a function of looking for more flexibility. There's a lot of opportunity for people to continue to further their goals and stay afloat during these uncertain times. I predict that 2023 will be a year of focusing on career growth and progression.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow me on LinkedIn to learn more about my experience.
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