Episode #032: Amrita Gurney, Chief Revenue Officer at Juno College
A lot of marketers aspire to become CMOs, but only a few envision a CRO role. What prevents us from thinking like that? How can we as marketers move into more revenue leadership roles?
In this episode, we chat with Amrita Gurney, Chief Revenue Officer of Juno College. Prior to her current role, Arita was a revenue-focused marketing leader at high-growth startups in Toronto including CrowdRiff, Audiobooks.com, and Asigra.
We’re talking about why more marketers should go after revenue leadership roles, predictions for future CROs, how to create a top-notch community, and so much more.
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Stephanie Cox: Welcome to Real Marketers, where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness, not permission, obsess about driving results, and are filled to the brim was crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there's absolutely no bullshit allowed here. And I'm your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience, and I've pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection, I use the Oxford comma, I love Coca- Cola, have exceptionally high standards and surround myself with people who get shit done. On this show, my guests and I will push boundaries, share the real truth about marketing, and empower you to become a real marketer. We are going to talk about one of my favorite topics today, which is moving from marketing to revenue, and being a revenue leader, because there's not many of us out there that have done that. So I'm excited to dive into that topic, but before we start, I'd love to hear from you about something that few people know about you.
Amrita Gurney: Sure. So this is a very, very random one. And that is that when I was a teenager I actually sang for the Pope.
Stephanie Cox: Wait, what? How does that happen?
Amrita Gurney: I know, well, I guess the short story is I was in a choir at school and then we learned that the Pope was going to be coming to our city, and a bunch of us were asked to audition for the papal choir, which was a special choir put together specifically for his visit. And I must've had good pipes at the time, because I was picked. And so we got to sing for him. And then at one point we even were able to go and meet him. So I shook hands with the Pope, which not being Catholic myself, I didn't realize was a really big deal until I got older.
Stephanie Cox: That's a very big deal. I'm not even Catholic and I'm like, that's a big deal, I think.
Amrita Gurney: Indeed. Yeah. So most people don't know that because it happened a long time ago and you wouldn't necessarily make that connection.
Stephanie Cox: That is really cool. That is one of the most interesting facts I think I've heard when I've asked them on this. I don't think I've met anyone else that has met the Pope. Pretty cool. So that's not your day job, even though clearly you were a great singer as well, but you have spent most of your career in marketing, and recently moved into a CRO or chief revenue officer role. So I'd love to just start talking about really what that's been like. Because I think that's, similar to me, I started in marketing and then moved to leading sales as well. And there's not many of us out there that start in marketing and move over to a revenue leadership role. So how did that happen?
Amrita Gurney: Yeah, to be honest, it was not something I had planned for myself. So I had owned Revenue when I worked at a company. It was called audiobooks. com. And at the time, Revenue technically was being generated through marketing because we didn't have sales. It was a self- serve product. So other than that, I haven't really worked anywhere where I owned more than pipeline usually. Or when I did have responsibility over sales it was an inside sales team. But over the last few years, I think I've been thinking a lot about some frustration that comes up when you feel like you want to take more of a marketing led approach to the way you sell. And so I think a lot of businesses in the last 10 years of the SaaS era have really been focused on the predictable revenue model, where you hire a bunch of sales heads. It's very easy to calculate, if you dial this many calls you're going to get this many deals. And so I always felt like my marketing was being built around this existing process, and I really wanted to think about how could I move into a role where I would be working somewhere where marketing was the revenue... Sorry, marketing lead revenue function. Sorry, that's a mouthful. So I started to think about, could I be a CMO somewhere, where it is more of a self- serve product, or one where it's very much like an inbound sales model. And through that process I ended up having a conversation with my current CEO, who is somebody I'd known for a while. And she was looking for a revenue leader who had really deep knowledge of marketing, brand, and community, but could still lead a revenue function. And honestly it was just such a perfect fit that I was so excited to take this role, and very happy to be a CRO, even though that was not originally what I thought I would be doing next.
Stephanie Cox: Why is that? Why do you think so many marketers don't think that's what's next for them, and it's not something we envision? I think a lot of us envision the CMO role, but they don't really envision a CRO role. What prevents us from thinking like that?
Amrita Gurney: I think that's a few things. I think the first thing is you sort of believe what you see, and so if you don't see a lot of marketers who have become CROs, it's hard to think about yourself doing that, because you've never seen other people do that. So the fact that it's more rare is, I would say, part of it. And then I do think that marketing still struggles for acceptance and appreciation. Even though I've been lucky, I've worked for some great CEOs who did value marketing. I think that it was always seen as being a slightly maybe second player to a sales leader, because sales was directly responsible for revenue. And so I think the natural path to making somebody responsible for all revenue was always through the sales channel. And I think now that sales and business models are shifting to a more product led or even marketing/ community led model, I think more companies will consider that kind of marketer for that role. But I still think it's going to be in the minority. I belong to a group of CROs from all kinds of amazing companies, and I think I am one of the handful of women, so less than 1%, and I think I might be the only woman of color also in that group of hundreds of people. So yeah, it's an interesting point of time that we're in, and I hope that more marketers do take this path, because I think we have a lot to offer.
Stephanie Cox: No, I think you're right. I think part of it is it's not something we've envisioned. Do you think there's a stigma that if you come from marketing and you've never carried a bag, so to say, never been an AE with a quota, that you're unable to lead a revenue team? Have you experienced that at all?
Amrita Gurney: I think there is a... I think that part is fair, because it is a leap of faith for somebody to give you that responsibility. And even as the marketer, it means that the buck stops with you. So I think it isn't something that you would necessarily do without some kind of proven ability to impact revenue. So in my case, I have worked at companies where we were directly measuring our contribution to revenue as well as pipeline. And so I could confidently say that we were not just generating leads, but we were actually making this kind of impact on the business. And then I think the other thing was just looking at the business model. So there are many companies now who really, if you have an inbound sales model, the success of your company is very contingent upon those deals coming in through whatever other channels are using, which is usually either product led or marketing led. So I think in those kinds of companies, you are looking for a marketing leader who has built that kind of demand before. And as we know, there's different flavors of marketers. So I happen to be the demand gen style marketer. That's kind of my career path. And then there's other marketers who come more from brand and communications. And I think we aren't the same, and I think that having that demand gen background was really helpful for me.
Stephanie Cox: So dive into that a little bit more. Can you talk about what in your marketing background you think has prepared you for this role? I know you've said some things have been easier than you expected, and some things that you thought would be hard have been hard. So what prepared you, and as you think about other people who might want a similar path, might be considering that, what would you recommend that they learn?
Amrita Gurney: So I think if you're going to... If you're interested or even working in a company that has traditional sales teams that are outbound, I think it's really important for you to be extremely close to that function. So I give a lot of credit to my former peers in the past who are sales leaders that were really collaborative with marketing. And certainly over the last five years prior to my current role at Juno, I was working with a wonderful guy called Mark Metsopeli, who's the head of revenue at my last company, which was called CrowdRiff. And Mark was an unusually collaborative sales leader, and we did all our forecasting together, we measured everything together. We really were joined at the hip. And because of that, I learned so much from him in terms of how he runs his sales team. And he learned a lot from me around how to really integrate marketing and sales. And so I think because of him, it gave me the confidence that I knew much more than I would have maybe even five years ago. And then in my role, I have had sales people on my team, and I think many more marketers now are running BDR teams or SDR teams. So I think that is a great first step is to have some leadership over a sales function, even if it's inbound to start off with, because a lot of the type of information and modeling, and process and tooling that you need to develop, that will really come in handy.
Stephanie Cox: What do you feel like you were least prepared for? Or that surprised you perhaps the most?
Amrita Gurney: I think that some of this came more naturally to me than I was expecting. I think I was feeling... In the past, I think I almost had a little bit of an intimidation around having that ownership. And I think the last few years gave me more of that confidence. And so I've been just really surprised that the skills that I need to be successful in this job are not maybe... They're not the same across every person. So I am not a sale... I didn't come from a path of being a sales leader. So I haven't closed deals myself, I haven't carried the bag. I haven't done some of those things, but I do feel like I've learned how to be a good coach. I've learned how to hire really good people. And I think I've learned a lot about revenue operations, and all of the tooling and data that you need to be looking at in your funnel. And I actually think that was a big part of what gave me confidence. And I would say that in the absence of having that sales leadership experience myself prior to coming here, it was really important that I worked with people who had that themselves to really round out my own experience.
Stephanie Cox: So thinking about this role and really going from marketing to revenue, does that create better alignment between all revenue functions? Because if we're being honest, marketing should be contributing revenue, it should be a revenue function. Does it create better alignment that maybe other companies where they have a separate marketing team and a separate sales team and have these alignment issues, has that gone away for you, or do you have different problems?
Amrita Gurney: I think when I joined, there was some natural separation between these teams, because they individually reported into the CEO. And I think it was very easy to sort of focus on whatever's happening in your function. And I think what I have learned in my short time at Juno so far is that there is a real benefit of having somebody who has all of these functions rolling up to them, because it does make you sort of look at these multiple teams as working together instead of working separately. And so I did find that that was really useful. And I think because I was a marketer coming into this role, I didn't just naturally favor sales when I was making decisions or when I am making decisions. And I think it gave me a lot of empathy for what it feels like to be on the sales side, and then what it feels like, very familiar to me to be a marketing leader and to have the normal issues that come up. So I think it's just given me a greater degree of appreciation for the role of a CRO in general. I think it can be really helpful to a company, because you need somebody who can understand how to integrate those functions in order for them to really truly be working well. And sometimes you just need that one decision maker who can sometimes reach alignment across things that might be hard to do when you have two people who are peers trying to come to those decisions themselves.
Stephanie Cox: So now thinking about... You have marketing, you have sales, and the next group that touches a customer, because that's really what in a lot of ways you're doing is you're overseeing that customer experience. What role does customer success and support maybe play into this? Do you think that eventually CROs oversee that role too? Or is that so uniquely different in most organizations, it needs to be its own functional group?
Amrita Gurney: I am seeing more consolidation happening. So I was actually on a panel a couple of weeks ago with a woman named Jen Spencer who started in marketing, then moved to running marketing and sales, and now is running marketing, sales, and customer success. So I think again, having all revenue functions roll into one person is a very natural next step. Again, assuming that you have really strong leaders underneath you, but I think we all know that revenue does not... Or relationships that lead to revenue don't end once you make a sale. And so I think excluding customer success from the visibility of the revenue leader can be, I think, a missed opportunity. Because we know that often our best customers are the ones that are actually helping you bring in more people through advocacy and referrals. And so I think there's a nice alignment that happens. Also, something that Jen mentioned when I was talking to her a couple of weeks ago, is that it does give, I think, the revenue leader a bit more scrutiny over which deals you really want to go after, because you now are responsible for what happens after you closed that customer, where I think when those roles are very separate, a sales leader, they're just going to sell whatever they can sell. They don't have sort of a natural incentive to say no to certain deals because they may be headaches to manage later, or they may be a bad fit. So I think that is why that is a natural next step, which I imagine will just, again, continue to happen.
Stephanie Cox: I think you're completely right. Having one person that has a purview over really all the touch points of the customer is so important, because sometimes, I think even when you have alignment on brand messaging, positioning, the customer experience in theory, if marketing creates this brand that isn't carried on in every aspect of the sales journey, and then carried on every aspect of the customer success organization, your customers start to go like," Wait a second, this feels different."
Amrita Gurney: It does.
Stephanie Cox: But I also... Go ahead.
Amrita Gurney: No, I was going to say... And I think a lot of this also has to do with who your CEO is and what they want to focus on as well. And I think some CEOs themselves have come up more of the sales or marketing path. And so they tend to want to be sort of more connected to those functions. And then you have other CEOs who are just really focused more on product and engineering. And in that case, they may not be the best ones to really have all these teams roll up to. So I think some of it has to do with the structure of the organization as well.
Stephanie Cox: No, I think you're completely right. I think your background of your CEO depends a lot on kind of where that customer purview sits in an organization. So let's flip the conversation. We see a lot of sales leaders that take over marketing and become CROs, and where marketing reports up to sales. And I think in situations where I've seen in the past, part of the challenge has been they tend to favor sales on everything. And I think you're the opposite, where you said you don't immediately favor sales. How do you think about having this balanced perspective when in reality, oftentimes you are biased by your own history?
Amrita Gurney: Yeah. I feel like marketers... This is maybe my most controversial statement, but I feel like marketers are a lot more empathetic to, and aware of the needs of sales than the other way around. Because for a long time this function has been positioned as an internal service provider to sales. Sales is our client. Early in my career, that was sort of what I was taught as a marketer. And so I think there's already a great deal of understanding and empathy, and I think the other way around it doesn't happen as much where I have not met as many sales leaders who really get marketing. And I think that that's changing, but I would say it's still the minority. And so I think when you have somebody that has a very superficial awareness or understanding of your function, you're going to run into headaches. And I think, again, as a marketing leader, if you're reporting into a CRO, just like when you're interviewing somewhere where you report into a CEO, it's really important that you understand what kind of perspective that CRO has, what they actually even think marketing is. Because many revenue leaders or sales leaders think of marketing as being demand gen only. And that's a very superficial, I think, outlook of marketing and tends to be more important when a company is very early stage. But I think as we know, marketing includes brand, community, product marketing, and I think a lot of times revenue leaders don't necessarily know that, and need to be educated on that. Which can be tough if you're the marketing leader reporting into them.
Stephanie Cox: You're probably preaching to the choir to a lot of my listeners right now. So one of the things that you mentioned that I want to really start to pull on is the idea of community. So I know that's something, especially now that a lot of companies are still virtual and they're not having those in- person events or conferences like we have in the past, they're trying to create this sense of community. So how do you recreate going out for drinks? How do you recreate socializing with people at a conference? And I think part of that knee jerk reaction is to create communities. So I'd love to start with really what your definition of a community really is.
Amrita Gurney: Mm- hmm(affirmative). To me, a community is a group of people who come together because of either shared values or shared experiences. And so communities, of course, exist everywhere outside of business. You have churches, you've got sports communities, you've got a book clubs. There's lots of different ways that communities form. So I think it's a very human tendency to seek out other people who you have things like this in common with. And so I think what we're seeing now is community being applied into more of this sort of business organizational context. And I think maybe one of the biggest surprises about community that I've seen over the last many years is that I think for a long time people thought community didn't belong in a business. And then they moved to, okay, communities exist mostly in B to C because you might really care about Nike or you might be really into a certain band or maybe you really love. A line of clothing or something like that. What we are seeing though, is that communities already exist in a B2B environment as well. And in my last role, we really discovered the benefit of bringing our community together, and it ended up being a really important lever for us and a factor in people actually choosing to work with us because they were not just getting the product, they were tapping into a group of like- minded people that they could learn from. The other thing you mentioned was how do you do this in a time where you can't really meet those people face to face? And I would say it's a lot harder to do that now, because there are just certain things that you can break down barriers when you are having a meal together, having a drink together, going for a run together. But I think that in the absence of that, again, it's about just using more virtual tools now to bring people together, whether it's over Zoom or whether it's over Slack, you can still build community. You're just using a different communication channel.
Stephanie Cox: So to your point, because of this virtualness, a lot of companies have started to create communities. Some of which have been extremely successful and others have really fallen flat. So as you embark on this idea to potentially create a community, what are the questions you feel like brands need to ask themselves to ensure it's the right decision?
Amrita Gurney: Yeah. I think the first question is, are there people who are already sort of naturally forming community? Do they actually want to go out and connect with other people who are just like them, or do they feel like that isn't enough? For example, there are products that I use, I'm thinking of one called Canva, the graphic design tool. I don't particularly feel like it's a big part of my life. It's something I use for a few minutes every month maybe. So I don't necessarily feel like I need to be in a community of other Canva users, personally. Other people might, but personally, I don't feel like that. But if there's a tool like HubSpot, which I'd be using on my team a lot, certainly in the past, it would be really helpful for me to meet other people who are trying to accomplish the same things. And so some of, I think has to do with how much mind share does your company or your product have in the life of the people that use your product. And if it is a large mind share, I think you have the opportunity to actually bring more of those people together. And then I would say another really important thing is to ask yourself what you're willing to commit to yourself, because communities are not things that should be expected to deliver a revenue outcome in the near term. It's more of a retention, brand building type of investment that you're making as a company. And these communities need love and care and they won't just grow automatically on their own. So I think you have to ask yourself as a company, are you willing to put the work in to actually support the community?
Stephanie Cox: And when you talk about that work, I think that's one of the things that I've seen a lot of companies fail at. Is that a dedicated person, is that a schedule? What does that look like and your expertise?
Amrita Gurney: So I think it needs to be... It doesn't need to be a full- time person, but you need somebody who will be the defacto sort of manager of that community. So in my last role, I was a VP of marketing and community, and it was part of my mandate and mission to nurture and foster our community. So it was a part of what I thought about. I put the time in, I went to lots of meetups, I met our customers in person. So I think you do need... It can't just be shared among five people with no ownership. So you need an owner. It doesn't have to be full- time. So I think that's probably maybe one of the biggest things that people need to consider, and then it's just being realistic about how much time you can spend. So I think if you are a smaller company and you can't dedicate a full- time person to doing this, do you have a part- time person who could bring in other people in your community to help stretch your team so that you have these extensions of your team who are actually in your community, who are helping bring people together, who are speaking, who are maybe moderating certain forums. So I think there are ways that you can share the load with other people.
Stephanie Cox: What have you seen in your experience, like examples of exceptional communities, where they've really got all the tools in place to be successful and to get members really carrying the community forward after it has launched, what does that look like? Are there any brands where you say like," These are the ones doing it well."
Amrita Gurney: Well, I have to give credit to the place where I am now, Juno, which is a college of technology. And they have built, I would say, the best community for young people who are trying to get into tech in Canada, certainly. And what we've seen is that because of the care and love that the team at Juno put into the student experience, and to really help them get great career outcomes, I think that has turned into these students in turn, as they graduate and even while they're in school, turning to each other and really providing a lot of support. And so this has now turned into a community of thousands that is really a beautiful example of how communities I think can really form organically with the right kind nurturing by a company. So definitely kudos to the people at Juno, who did all this before I got here. And then another one of course I would say is certainly when you look at these tools that people are using here, I think that companies like Lessonly, which is another company which I admire based in Indianapolis, and they have a product that is around training your teams, but they've built a really amazing brand that is very long- term thinking, and they've brought together a group of people who are really passionate about helping people do better work. And so I think they've done a really nice job of creating that kind of surprise and delight and getting super creative in how they build their community. So they put so much care into everything from the way they run their conferences to the materials that they send you. It's just so different from anything you'll see from any other brand, and I think that has really made them stand out in terms of people choosing to be in a community around Lessonly, versus being in a community around some other kind of competing product.
Stephanie Cox: And are there any things that you've seen other communities do? You don't have to name any names, but where you're just like," Oh man, it would be so much better if you didn't do this." Or I wish they'd invest in this area, that really caused that community not to take off and flourish that probably the brand would want?
Amrita Gurney: So I would say I've... This company, I don't want to even name them, but I made some mistakes myself at another company years ago where we originally thought that, okay, if we put a forum together and we invite everybody to go into this forum, then we just sit back and watch this community grow. And that didn't happen at all. In fact there were crickets. And so I think it really taught us that communities do need nurturing. So that was one that certainly was like one of my early learnings that I learned the hard way, which I think a lot of people do. I do see other brands where you can tell that they're just trying to get something transactional out of their community too soon, and so you just feel like they're not being very sincere in bringing the community together. It's all about what's in it for the brand. And I don't think they do enough to think about, well, what are you giving to the people who are in your community?
Stephanie Cox: That's such a great point because I think a lot of times the knee jerk reaction is," Let's create a community, we'll get all these other people to talk and it'll help build their brand awareness," and we can use it for maybe user generated content, but they don't take a step back and say like," What is the value that the community members get from this?"
Amrita Gurney: Totally.
Stephanie Cox: Why would they do this? And I think that's one of the big misses when getting started.
Amrita Gurney: Yeah. And it's a relationship, and nobody likes feeling like they're doing all the giving and they're not getting a lot back for that. And so I think brands have to just be really careful. I think community now is seen as like the next Magic Bullet, and everybody wants the Magic Bullet that they can use to build their company. But the thing is communities, like any other growth hacks I would say, in the past, community isn't something that you can set it and forget it, or just start it and tomorrow it's going to reap rewards for you. I think it needs to be given the time and investment to really turn into something great. And yeah, like you said, it's very much about a two way relationship, and communities need to be led by people who are great listeners.
Stephanie Cox: So final question for you. If you had to tell all current marketers who hopefully eventually dream and aspire to be CROs, the one thing that you wish you would've known back when, what would that be?
Amrita Gurney: Wow. That is a great question. What do I wish I had known? Well, I guess the number one thing is I wish I had just known that I could do it. I think I kept thinking that," Oh, I can't do this job because I don't have the path of other people who did this job before me." And I think marketing is really changing. There are so many smart, amazing revenue focused marketing leaders out there, and there's no reason why you can't do this job. So I would say, just believe in yourself and look out for the other people who have come through your path and gotten this role. And I hope to see a lot more marketers in this position.
Stephanie Cox: You've been listening to a Real Marketers. If you love what you've heard, make sure to subscribe, rate, and review our podcast. And don't forget to tell a friend. All of this marketing goodness shouldn't be kept a secret.