A CRO’s role is essential for a company's growth, taking on the responsibility for all aspects of driving revenue to the company. But across departments like sales, marketing and customer success, what makes someone an effective CRO, and what does it take to create a highly successful career in this position? To answer these questions, we had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Grothe.
Mary Grothe is the CRO at Payroll Network, Inc. and the founder of House of Revenue®. She is a faith-based leader, entrepreneur, global keynote speaker, and the host of two podcasts: ‘Revenue Radio®’ and ‘Destination; Remarkable™’. She is also currently working on two upcoming books to be published under Forbes.
Thank you so much for your time! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you tell us your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Let me start by saying that I was not set up for a successful future. I was born into a family ridden with alcohol and abuse, and as the youngest of four children, I endured endless challenges. Thankfully, I was able to start separating myself from my toxic surroundings and fully supporting myself at age 16. As I navigated the "real world," I worked several part-time jobs to make ends meet, eventually paying for my education and establishing myself as the #1 mid-market sales rep for a Fortune 1000 company.
It took years of undoing the emotional and psychological damage from my childhood after my family exiled me, but I fought through the transition and have healed. I am grateful for my past, have fully forgiven my family, and am committed to loving my husband and son in a way I never knew growing up. As a female CEO, wife, and mother turned CRO, I am helping other women rewrite their definition of work/life balance and helping them understand they can have it all.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you first started? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I am not sure any of my mistakes have been funny, but they have been memorable. In my first real full-time CRO role (not consulting or fractional), I was coming off five years as a high-urgency startup and scaleup CEO who stopped at nothing to succeed. My nature is to be a fast-paced decision maker who can pivot and lead through changes. However, that doesn’t always convert well to taking a CRO position with a larger company that has established processes, structure, and ‘ways of doing things.'
I came into the role with a lot of energy, quickly conducted my research, and started down the path of making substantial changes to people, processes, technologies, and the overall strategy. Unfortunately, not everyone, or truly anyone, in the company moves as fast as I do. Although they received me and my approach very well, I noticed that the changes I sought had multiple steps for approval and that my style needed to adapt to working for a larger company. We did all have a good laugh about my energy, passion, and speed, but agreed that I would need to approach my work differently here.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
Firstly, I am grateful for my faith and God’s guiding light in all things. I could not do this life or achieve what I am capable of without Him. Secondly, when I was 22 years old, my first manager invested in, mentored, and coached me from being a poor and abused young lady into an established, successful salesperson. I owe him so much for his selflessness and kindness. He forever changed the trajectory of my life.
I am also grateful for my coach, Doug McGhee, who has coached me through the last six years of my life and helped me unlock each new version of myself. Doug listens to me and helps me see what I can’t. He also helps me get out of my head, connect with the spirit, and lead from a place of love and light, as my whole self.
According to global research, the percentage of women in C-suite roles is woefully low. How did you climb, and what was that experience like for you?
Because of the faith my first manager had in me, I never believed that I couldn’t achieve the roles I wanted. Additionally, I was fortunate that 5 of the 8 salespeople on my first sales team were high-performing women who modeled what success could look like for me. Because of those factors, I never felt my future was an uphill battle or impossible.
My manager engrained in me that numbers and performance will speak for themselves, and that being a kind and humble person along the way will benefit me. He taught me that leadership was about inspiring others to do remarkable work, and not about managing or manipulating outcomes, or trying to make things happen. It was reaching the core of each person I was responsible for, modeling a path for them, caring for them, and ultimately inspiring them to succeed. With this, I put my head down and focused on what I could control; my performance and how I showed up in front of people.
I made a lot of mistakes as I matured as a professional, but finally got into my groove of powerful and inspirational leadership in my early 30s. My manager was right. Once I figured out the people component and combined that with my proven, consistent high-performance, doors were opened right in front of me.
When I founded my second company at age 33, I implemented the learnings from my career to that point and I ensured that my approach was people-first, and that approach has not failed me. After five years as a second-time CEO, I have hung up that hat and fully assumed a CRO role as I feel a calling in my life for a new chapter and to bring my heart, passion, knowledge, and leadership into a new organization. Earning this role was easy. I had history with the company and executives. They knew of my knowledge and leadership style and offered me the role without pause. For that I am grateful.
This might be intuitive to you, but what impact can placing women in executive roles have on a company? What might be the struggles, and what are the benefits?
Women are remarkable beings who were created intentionally and with purpose. We were uniquely made and set apart from our male counterparts in many ways. From my experience in working with a 70%+ female executive team at my company, House of Revenue, and a 75% female executive team as CRO at Payroll Network, I believe that women can lead from a place of compassion and caring that doesn’t come natural to men, which is ok. We were intentionally created differently.
I have also found that women typically have more attention to detail and can multi-task at a higher level than men, which is based on the research (by Gary Chapman) that men’s brains operate in squares, or complete thoughts, like a waffle… whereas women’s brains are like spaghetti, with multiple thoughts and story lines all intertwined without a beginning or an end. Women have a maternal instinct that creates empathy and vulnerability in the workplace, traits that are often praised by employees.
Many struggles for women are based in the wavering emotional capacity to handle high stress situations, especially those that impact people in vulnerable states, or situations where integrity is compromised, or a feeling of wrongdoing emerges.
As a CEO, I had multiple scenarios that advisors told me would not have happened if I were a man. I have encountered multiple challenging scenarios where I have felt the other party was attempting to leverage my kind and caring nature to their advantage and ‘walk all over me’ or ‘get away with something’.
An additional struggle is that women typically run their households and are the main parent for their children, their schedule, school, activities, and overall well-being. Many women have chosen between a family and a career. I chose both and I must choose both on a daily/weekly basis because the struggle never ends. I cannot be in two places at once, so I strategically choose what takes priority at any given moment. It’s a dance.
The benefits are powerful. In my experience, women-run teams and companies tend to embrace an empathic and caring culture where a people-first approach is honored and achieved. However, that is not always the case. If women are not empowered to lead as their true and fullest selves, they lead from an imposter state which typically doesn’t yield as strong of outcomes if they believed they were capable as they were.
In your personal experience, have female leaders (including yourself) done things differently from their male counterparts? What was the result?
In my experience, I tend to seek first to understand and respond calmly to situations. My nature is to quickly problem solve and move onto the next problem, but my heart often needs to understand why the situation happened in the first place and approach the solution from a kind and caring place that allows everyone to win and for a lesson to be learned. This is the same way I approach motherhood and I feel that compassion and understanding helps drive initiatives forward.
Men have a different way of processing and engaging their emotions which I believe alters their approach to leadership, accountability, and driving results. Men are incredible leaders, but our difference, to me, seems to be in the ability to hold emotional space for the people we work with, internally and externally, and that women tend to approach situations with a bit more care and tenderness. Do not confuse that with softness or weakness. Both are powerful approaches; they are just different.
Can you tell us about a project, person, or team you led where you successfully made a big impact? What secrets can you share with us?
In my current role as CRO, I was brought into the company at the intuition they had a sales problem. After one week of deep dives, audits, exploration, and asking questions, I uncovered the real problem, which was the construct of the entire revenue engine. It wasn’t a brand problem, a marketing problem, a sales problem, or a customer success problem. It was an everything problem. The revenue departments were not equally yoked. They had been built as silos, under independent departmental leaders.
Each had done a fine job and the prior revenue playbook helped the company grow revenue from $9M to $15M over a 3-year period. However, to scale from $15M to $50M, a new revenue playbook and vision needed to be born. That is the impact a real, holistic CRO can make. Within 3 weeks’ time, a new strategy was developed, the vision was casted, and the tactical execution plan was implemented.
Immediately, sales increased because confidence had been restored. The performance and metrics across marketing and sales went up and to the right, solely from a clear vision being casted and alignment being gained. Four months in, new infrastructure has been built, new technologies have been implemented, new marketing tactics and new outbound sales strategies are taking shape; all yielding cohesive results.
What is making this successful?
- Empathetically aligning with each team member to understand, from their perspective, what was working and what wasn’t. It was learning about them as people, learning about their strengths, desires, and goals. It was ensuring their feedback was taken seriously and incorporated into the new vision.
- Ensuring no stone was unturned across all of branding, marketing, sales, customer success, and RevOps. A holistic revenue strategy requires breaking down the walls and silos of each department and working together, as one, to achieve the goal.
What advice would you give to other women climbing the corporate ladder? In what areas would you encourage them to leave their mark?
This is a loaded question. First and foremost, don’t do this because you’re seeking approval, trying to prove to someone you can do it, or aiming for titles, money, fame, recognition, or any reason other than fulfilling your purpose and aligning your work with your talents. You were created uniquely; no one is like you. Use that to your advantage.
If you do remarkable work, lead from a place of love and light, take the high road, care for people even when they don’t care for you, and always believe that your impact will be because of the experience you created for others around you, you will win.
However, that doesn’t mean you should be a mushy, gushy, quiet, submissive doormat. My guiding scripture for this comes from Matthew 10:16 ‘Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.’ There will be times where you need to speak up, hold your ground, stand firm in your beliefs, and navigate challenging times. And find your people—those who will support you, mentor you, guide you, and assist in your journey. We were not meant to do life alone.
Based on your experience and success, what are the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective CRO?”
1 . You must be obsessed with data. Opinions are valuable, but data is priceless. Set up your key metrics for leading and lagging indicators across the entire revenue engine (buyer’s journey and customer’s journey) and monitor them daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. Data will tell you a story you can’t get from your people.
2 . Be holistic. Do not exude bias toward marketing or sales or customer success. A successful CRO understands that the revenue engine is dependent upon all pistons firing, across each team. One change affects another; be diligent and strategic in understanding how to remove walls and silos between departments and teams.
3 . The CEO and CFO need data, storytelling, vision, and strategy. Be their greatest asset by having an in-depth understanding of the market, the customer, the product/service, and the people. Do your research and present your findings. Create a narrative that is clear, easy to follow, and creates alignment and buy-in. Do not be a victim who doesn’t get budget and resources approved. CEOs and CFOs will find the budget and approve additional resources if they believe in you and your plan.
4 . Set the tone for whole-self well-being. As a CRO, you manage high performers who are competitive and work hard. This can easily lead to burnout. As a leader, your team not only listens to what you say, but watches what you do. If you want healthy, whole, and motivated revenue teams, be healthy, whole, and motivated. Take care of yourself, and be kind to others when you send emails, slack messages, or request for them to work. Allow your team to unplug, take time off, and be with their families. It's important to ensure they know you care for them personally and professionally.
5 . Growing and scaling revenue is hard. It takes constant attention, detail, recasting of vision, pivots, research, testing, implementing, and leading through change. Be kind to yourself and to your team. Build in margin for errors. Be kind, extend grace and mercy when failure occurs. Trust people and take care of them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
Our world is broken. People are full of hatred, and they’re divided. We don’t need any more politicians; we need statesmen who stand up for what is right. As a CRO, I lead by love and light. I care for people even when it doesn’t benefit me. My faith rests in something greater than anything of this world and from that, comes a peace I cannot comprehend, but it sustains me. We need more love, kindness, grace, forgiveness, and mercy in our workforces. Together, let's lead from that place and transform our world.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow me on LinkedIn (in/marygrothe), Twitter (@marylgrothe), and Instagram (@marygrothe). Listen to my podcasts, Revenue Radio® and Destination; Remarkable. Also read my memoir, published by Forbes Books, available September 2023.