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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 Shareen Minor.

Shareen Minor

Shareen Minor is Chief Revenue Officer at Ontellus, a records retrieval and claims intelligence company. She is responsible for overseeing all revenue-generating processes, including client relationships, sales and marketing teams, and ensuring all of her departments work cohesively to execute the company strategy. As a seasoned insurance executive, she brings more than two decades of experience in the insurance industry, most recently serving as Chief Commercial Officer at a national professional services company where she oversaw the firm’s U.S. commercial strategy. Her leadership experience also includes executive positions with Engle Martin & Associates, NatGen Premier and Fireman’s Fund.

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

My career path started in a nonconventional way—with bagels and cream cheese. I was very entrepreneurial from a young age and used to own a bagel shop in Spokane, Washington. Executives would come in and have lunch, which steered me toward the insurance industry. At this point, I met Mike Lewis, who worked at Allied Insurance as a sales manager. He decided to take a gamble on me by offering me my first role at Allied Insurance in sales. From there, I went to Travelers, which took me to Connecticut, where I focused on personal lines. I learned so much, and that's when I really started to identify the strengths I had in leadership.

After about a decade between Allied Insurance and Travelers, I escalated my career to director of field sales for Fireman's Fund, which was later acquired by Ace. My relevant experience positioned me for my role as the Western region as Director of Sales with a team of 10. Shortly after, three of the largest insurance carriers came together as one, and I found myself at NatGen Premier as a regional VP where I established the infrastructure to launch an affluent carrier in the Western region. I was always traveling and met my now husband at an airport, which brought me to Atlanta. 

I am incredibly fortunate for the experiences these roles have provided me with, and the many mentors I've met along the way. Through their steadfast encouragement, I was able to step into my current role as Chief Revenue Officer at Ontellus.

It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you made when you first started?

When I started my role as sales manager at Allied Insurance, I hit the ground running and had my first sales meeting almost immediately. I drove for over an hour, arrived on time, walked into the client's office, and started to notice some puzzled looks from staff as to why I was there. 

I was ready to pitch the agency owner on scaling our relationship, rehearsing in my head as I sat in the chair across from him. However, the first thing he said was that the company had very recently ended our partnership entirely and he wasn't sure why I was there. 

While I had prepared in all the ways I thought possible ahead of time, it was at this point that I learned the importance of pulling analytics/sales information and knowing the status of a relationship with a client inside and out before a meeting. Luckily, I was able to pivot on my feet and turn the discussion around and address the situation and put the partnership back on the table. I ended up walking away, scaling the growth of Allied, and adding the client back onto our book of business with a larger commitment.

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

I am grateful to John Madigan, my career coach of over a decade. We were introduced through a mutual colleague, and John has played an integral role in my career path and growth. He has helped me hone my core leadership strengths, and his influence on my career journey is immeasurable. John continues to challenge my thinking and open my mind to new ideas whenever we meet. The career coaching process helped me to evaluate where I was, where I wanted to go, and how I'd get there.

John pushes me to identify short- and long-term goals, practice an elevator pitch and an effective talk track, overcome career hurdles, and personalize my career plan. He has provided honest, constructive feedback and built my skills to rise from a director to my current position as CRO.

You can have many helpful mentors and friends along the way, but a career coach is an investment in yourself and your career that will challenge you to achieve things you never thought possible. 

According to global research, the percentage of women in c-suite executive roles is woefully low. How did you climb to your position, and what was that experience like for you?

Passion, dedication, and genuine relationships have driven my career. To be successful in my role as Chief Revenue Officer, effective networking and partnerships are essential. As a leader, I work to build meaningful relationships with every person I oversee to ensure they have personalized career goals and feel motivated and inspired in their roles. I also build strong and customized relationships with our clients to make sure they feel they get the best service we can offer. 

Before joining Ontellus, I worked my way up to oversee commercial operations for a large insurance company under Vince Cole as CEO. Vince and I worked seamlessly together to set strategic direction and drive business success. The opportunity to work with Vince at a firm with tremendous growth potential was another exciting progression in my career.

To get to where I am in my career, I took it one step at a time and leveraged my experience from working in sales, owning my own business, and leading sales teams to reach the level of CRO. In my current role, I manage the top line and drive revenue growth, but those are far from my only responsibilities. I work in partnership with Vince to direct strategy, identify market opportunities, and connect with clients to drive business growth and increase our market share. Every role I have had plays a crucial part in how I approach and succeed in the role of CRO.

As a female who has climbed the ranks in male-dominated industries, I am a passionate advocate for women mentoring women. Women in C-suite roles are in a strong position to help ensure more women will be ready to take executive positions in the future. This connects back to how prioritizing meaningful relationships impacts me professionally and personally. By getting to know each person you work with as an individual, learning their unique strengths and weakness, and leading from a place of empathy, you will always succeed as a leader in business. 

What impact can placing women in executive roles have on a company? What might be the struggles, and what are the benefits?

In an ideal world, having women in senior leadership roles would be the norm. There is increasing evidence that introducing female voices into management roles can positively impact a company's performance and bottom line, as diversity in management brings fresh and often overlooked perspectives to the leadership team. In my case, I have had a non-traditional path to senior management that took me from owning my own bagel shop to sales to eventually managing large teams and running the sales organization.

Imposter syndrome is a common phenomenon in the workplace, especially for women. In acknowledging that women are often judged more harshly than their male counterparts, we must also admit that women are made to feel less capable. To advance to the highest corporate levels, women need to be supported across all levels so they can grow more confident, promote innovative strategies, and continue bringing their ideas to the table. 

In your experience, have female leaders (including yourself) done things differently from their male counterparts? What was the result?

Women tend to have a more cooperative, participatory style of leading, and men usually have a more commanding and controlling management style. Men can typically be more task-oriented and directive, while women leaders tend to encourage employees to find their own path. Women often motivate their employees by helping them find self-worth and satisfaction in their work. Both styles are valuable, but where men tend to be good at letting others know about their successes and strengths, women are more likely to be modest or silent about their accomplishments.

I am in a people business, so I listen to my teams and invest in their development. I challenge the status quo as a woman and am proactive and vocal in leadership. I want people to see what I am capable of as a business leader and mentor. Some of my core strengths as a female leader in a male-dominated industry are my empathy and ability to leave my ego at the door. As a leader, everything I do is aimed at driving positive outcomes for my company, clients, and those working under me.

Can you tell us about a project, person, or a team you led where you successfully made a big impact? What secrets can you share with us? 

When I start at a new organization, I always do skip-level meetings with my new colleagues to understand my role and the team's goals. A few years ago, through one of these meetings, I met a young female professional who was a manager. In those meetings, I found that she had so much more to offer and was being underutilized. Through our discussions, I discovered that she preferred staying in the background rather than being in the forefront, stifling her career.

I worked with her over the next few months to build her confidence by giving her projects and exposure as an expert in meetings and a magazine article. I created a position for her that used her skills and was manageable. She has since moved with me to two other companies, and I have seen her career flourish as a result.

A few of my tips for successful leadership include: 

  • Once you identify a person with untapped potential, find their language and speak to them that way. Recommend books that you have read that impacted you and introduce them to others who can help boost their confidence. It won't happen overnight, but persistence pays off! Be an advocate for them every chance you can around others in the organization so everyone can see the value that person brings.
  • As a leader, you must show your employees that it's easier to advance up the corporate ladder if people notice their capabilities. You must effectively brand yourself and tell others about your accomplishments and strengths.

What advice would you give to other women climbing the corporate ladder? In what areas would you encourage them to leave their mark?

I would advise always working hard and promoting yourself to your leadership team. Showcase your excellent work and learn as much as possible from each project you participate in. Nothing will help you stand out more than doing incredible work. Raise your hand for work that no one else wants to do. Lean on your network and build relationships that will help you as you progress through the different stages of your career. 

A crucial consideration when climbing the corporate ladder is to first immerse yourself in your current role and company and work hard, but always look ahead at emerging opportunities and the path for you moving forward.

Most importantly, knowing what you want and grabbing it with both hands is vital!

Based on your experience and success, what are your "Five Things You Need to Be a Highly Effective CRO?"

  1. Get in the trenches. Leaders typically want a 30,000-foot view, but it's important to get into the weeds and see what is really going on. If you don't understand what the root problem is, it's hard to create a long-lasting fix. I touched on this earlier, but mentorship is incredibly important to me. I once oversaw a female colleague who was struggling in her managerial role. By connecting with her and talking through the various issues she was experiencing, I was able to see that her personality was better suited to a different style of management. I worked with her to harness her strengths and position her to succeed in her managerial role. 
  2. Listen carefully. Listen to your clients and put yourself in their shoes to understand what they're looking for. It is crucial to not only think about what they want, but also what your clients don't want. By taking a 360-degree approach to client needs, you learn to answer the questions they have not yet asked and make yourself a critical part of their success. 
  3. Make data-driven decisions that enhance partnerships. Value the partnership with your clients so much that you are looking at their individual perception, not just the company's perception. Companies are consistently looking at data on industry trends, client needs, changes in product sales, predictions and more. However, there can be a barrier between departments, where executives don't realize they are missing a link because they didn't ask their sales department and product department the same questions. It's important that you foster communication between teams.
  1. Have a strategy. As a CRO, oftentimes you come up through the ranks through the sales organization. That can be your biggest strength, as you understand the company's financials, contracts, and partnerships better than anyone else. Use this information to meet with your company's finance team, take an interest in your peers' methods, and become a go-to source on effective ways to build the balance sheet. I've learned that whether you take a traditional or untraditional path to leadership, people who are curious and willing to learn are likely to find success. 
  2. Lead with effectiveness and execution. To be highly effective as a CRO, execution is at the center of your success. Ideas are great, but action will always be more important. At Ontellus, I follow the same method every time I launch an initiative:

a. Ensure your team is clear about its purpose

b. Communicate a clear plan and strategy

c. Align team members and resources

d. Define targets and set completion date

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me on LinkedIn here.

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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.