Skip to main content

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 Paula Hansen.

Paula Hansen

Paula Hansen is the president and chief revenue officer (CRO) of Alteryx and is responsible for leading the global go-to-market (GTM) organization, which includes worldwide sales, systems engineering, partners/alliances, marketing, customer success and services, customer support functions and industry-specific GTM initiatives. With more than 25 years of leadership experience with high-growth market expansion, business model evolution, partner ecosystems and customer success, Paula will be instrumental in driving Alteryx into its next phase of growth.

Thank you so much for your time! To start, can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started? 

Yes, I'm happy to share my story. In college, I majored in electrical engineering at Virginia Tech—a decision driven by my love of math and science growing up. My innate curiosity about how things work coupled with my interest in technology led me to discover that I really enjoyed applying technology to solve business problems. After graduating, I worked in sales representative and sales engineer roles for several years. This is where I developed a passion for helping customers drive transformational results with software.

Before joining Alteryx, I led global GTM teams at both SAP and Cisco. Those experiences shaped my leadership style and approach, which I describe as tough empathy. This means I relate to people and have empathy for their challenges, but I am also very aspirational with a growth mindset and challenge people to think bigger or differently to solve challenges. Today, as the President and CRO at Alteryx, I apply those principles to how I lead the organization and how I remain grounded in customers as my true north.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?  

I grew up the youngest of three with incredibly supportive parents. From a very young age, my parents encouraged us to do whatever we want and be our authentic selves. My father would say, “Think independently and bring the rest of the world along with you.”

To this day, my two sisters remain my role models. We all share a passion for paying it forward with mentoring young women and men just starting out in their careers. 

Can you share a story about a time that was challenging for your business based on external factors like the economy? 

Today we are living through challenging and unprecedented economic times, which has forced CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and senior leaders across all industries to accelerate their digital transformation strategies.  

Historically, our target market at Alteryx was individual users or the consumers of our product—the data scientists and data analysts. However, there simply are not enough data scientists in the world to scale analytics in a way that accelerates the widespread data-driven decision-making that business leaders want to empower across the enterprise. 

Utilizing data and analytics, Alteryx evolved our go-to-market strategy based on our customers’ buying decisions in this macro-economic environment. We shifted our focus to the democratization of data and analytics to best help our customers efficiently scale analytics quickly and responsibly across their organization. 

Was there anything about the whole experience that surprised you? What was your expectation and what was the reality?  

I was not surprised to see the increased demand from business leaders to invest in data analytics as a way to increase efficiency, boost productivity, meet redefined customer expectations and improve the bottom line. The IDC found that 73% of businesses expect their analytics investments to exceed all other software investments in the next 12-18 months. However, I was surprised to learn that 9 out of 10 organizations fail to fully use the analytic skills of their employees.  

The lesson here is that leaders need the right business partner to help them mature their organization’s analytic maturity, upskill their workforce and extend the ROI of their investment. Alteryx has helped thousands of customers define their data strategy, drive effective analytics automation and scale upskilling responsibly across the enterprise. When everyone in an organization is more analytically capable, business decisions will be more data-driven – this is a key competitive advantage in uncertain times. 

Is there anything you would do differently in future economic downturns? What would be your advice to business owners navigating a recession for the first time?

My advice to business leaders is to view a recession as an opportunity to invest in future growth via digital transformation and automation. In times like this, organizations can break away from their competition or fall behind industry peers. What new market, new product or service or new business model can your organization launch right now? 

The last time we saw a similar macro-economic environment was 2009-2010. Gartner studied company performance going in and out of that crisis. They found that the companies that broke away from the competition and were most successful after the crisis were the ones that invested in digital transformation and automation. Additionally, Gartner found that digital leaders are three times more likely to achieve above-industry  average revenue and margin growth.

Do you believe that businesses can prepare in advance for such occasions? Is it about being appropriately proactive or reactive? 

In uncertain economic times, it is important for business leaders to be proactive. Despite the economic downturn, companies will push forward with software solutions that deliver efficiency, automated core processes, and minimal manual costs. 

For example, AI and ML analytic tools amplify your ability to ‘do more with less’ and free up time for data professionals to proactively focus on insights and outcomes rather than reactively cleansing, transforming and pipelining their data. Now more than ever, analytics automation helps streamline data operations while also helping organizations to diagnose and respond to risk and uncertainty, which is critical in today’s environment.

In your opinion, what is the telltale sign that a recession is looming?

We are seeing businesses and their employees continue to face the same headwinds that surfaced in late 2022: Stress of inflation, workforce shortages, supply chain disruptions and other economic factors that are out of their control. Leaders are exercising more caution than perhaps a year ago, and we are seeing more intense focus on operational excellence, talent management and running a tighter ship.   

What are your thoughts on the current state of our economy? Is there anything you’re anticipating or preparing for now? 

Many businesses are using this time as an opportunity to transform their organization, redefine productivity and become more resilient—not only to survive but to thrive during this downturn. Leaders understand the value of decision intelligence and are leaning heavily into data analytics to make smarter decisions, see around corners and stay ahead of the curve.

Based on your experience, what are the five most important things a business should do to successfully navigate a challenging economy?  

I have learned to lead with a growth mindset that delivers results at scale with a focus on identifying growth levers and building repeatable go-to-market programs and motions. In order to successfully navigate a challenging economy, I recommend that sales leaders focus on the following: 

  1. When selling technology, bridge the gap between IT and business functions. Technology implementations often create a healthy tension between business and IT leaders. Business leaders prioritize business outcomes such as top line growth, productivity and speed because they don’t want to fall behind the competition. On the other hand, IT is methodical in their approach to buying and implementing technology. For every new tool, application or platform, they are focused on data governance, compliance, security and scalability. The key to selling technology is creating a bridge between the two functions and addressing both business and IT goals.  
  2. Listen to your customers and delight them. Helping customers derive business value from their investments should be your number one priority. Once you understand customer pain points and priorities, outfit your sales organization with the resources, programs and partners that deliver value in every engagement with a customer from initial awareness all the way through implementation. 
  3. Uplevel your sales team to engage with the C-suite. During the sales process, it is critical to build credibility with the C-suite by demonstrating an understanding of their industry and addressing how technology enables their business outcomes. Focus on their KPIs and how you will deliver quantifiable value for their organization, rather than selling software licenses, features and functions. 
  4. Invest in your talent and implement ease-of-use platforms within your team, department or organization. Upskilling employees with analytic capabilities ensures they can make data-driven decisions with speed. After all, your employees are closest to customers and your business, so they are best positioned to answer questions and make decisions. Ultimately, analytics makes it easier for everyone, regardless of analytic skill level, to contribute to business outcomes, deliver value and be more engaged at work. 

The time for analytic platforms is now. For decades each department or team within the enterprise selected their preferred analytic tool. Business processes span departments and data is contained in siloed systems across the enterprise; therefore, organizations know they need an analytic platform to deliver the right analytic capability to each employee across the enterprise with the underpinning of a platform that supports enterprise collaboration, governance and scale.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind?  

  1. While many businesses will tighten their spend, cutting costs alone is not enough to help your business thrive in this environment. With investments in the right areas, recessions offer an opportunity for companies to innovate and grow even in a downturn. 
  2. Taking a narrow approach to technology investments by limiting access to critical software to one department or job function. There is tremendous value in democratizing solutions that are easy-to-use, allowing everyone to participate in solving business problems. Employees will be more efficient, more productive and more engaged with their work. 
  3. An over-reliance on error-prone manual processes such as spreadsheets – this hinders the ability to make decisions in real-time, which is what today’s economy demands. Leaders need to scale fast, but with purpose, responsibility and flexibility to adapt and iterate as they move forward. This is what will separate the winners in today’s market.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?  

Leaders must walk the talk. In challenging times, employees look to their leaders for support, clarity and direction. Leading with positivity, role modeling and empathy go a long way in cultivating a sense of community and sparking change across an organization that will enable it to weather the storm.  

Lastly, are there any silver linings or opportunities that can come out of a recession? We’d love to finish on a positive note!  

As I mentioned above, any crisis is truly an opportunity or, dare I say, a gift for individuals and organizations to truly separate themselves from their peers and solve problems in new ways. I am inspired by the innovation and game-changing initiatives that I see our customers delivering every day. I am very optimistic for the future and believe we will look back at this time as a moment where new paths and breakthroughs were born. 

How can our readers further follow your work online? 

Visit the blog page on Alteryx’s website and follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter (@pshansen2).

By Phil Gray

Philip Gray is the COO of Black and White Zebra and Founding Editor of The RevOps Team. A business renaissance man with his hands in many departmental pies, he is an advocate of centralized data management, holistic planning, and process automation. It's this love for data and all things revenue operations landed him the role as resident big brain for The RevOps Team.

With 10+ years of experience in leadership and operations in industries that include biotechnology, healthcare, logistics, and SaaS, he applies a considerable broad scope of experience in business that lets him see the big picture. An unapologetic buzzword apologist, you can often find him double clicking, drilling down, and unpacking all the things.