SalesTech Interview with Kevin Knieriem, Chief Revenue Officer at Clari
Tell us about the journey into Enterprise Technology industry. What attracted you to join Clari?
In my years at enterprise companies like Siebel Systems, SAP and Oracle, I experienced firsthand the difficulties of running sales with very little visibility and insight, and what it’s like to be a slave to the CRM system. Sales always had a contentious relationship with CRM because the system is cumbersome and requires a significant amount of data entry before you can get any value out of it.
Clari clicked for me from day one. For the first time, I felt like there was a solution built for sellers and the teams supporting them. Clari frees up time and points everyone on the revenue team in the right direction — sales, marketing, and customer success — by showing where there are risks and upsides in the forecast. It also changes the conversations in 1:1s, QBRs, forecast calls from interrogations to having productive, data-driven coaching sessions, identifying the actions needed to meet revenue goals.
I was especially fascinated by the work Clari was doing to apply the signals coming in from other business and communications systems to improve CRM data quality — and the fact they were applying machine learning to these signals to help predict revenue.
How different is managing Revenue Operations versus Sales Operations from a technological perspective?
I define revenue operations as the full funnel process — from the first interaction with a prospect all the way through the sales cycle to post-sales and customer success. It involves multiple touchpoints that are captured in dozens of business systems — from content prospects are downloading from your website, the interactions they have with your inside sales team, calls they are having with reps, all the way to support tickets they are submitting and their NPS scores as paying customers.
Best-of-breed organizations can no longer operate the business like a disconnected bucket brigade. It’s not ok to pass buyers from marketing to sales to customer success in a disconnected way. Revenue operations is about uniting all the go-to-market teams around the same revenue goals, and giving the whole organization visibility into all that signal data. Everyone should have full transparency about the status of all deals, the pipeline, the forecast and what each team and individual needs to do to meet their commitments and drive outcomes. Revenue operations is getting everyone connected and always on the same page — we call it full funnel accountability.
How do you differentiate—customer success vs. customer experience? How have these definitions changed in the past 5 years with Sales Analytics and AI?
To me, customer success is all about the customer’s overall journey — from initial onboarding to working with them to ensure they’re getting the best possible value for their investment.
Customer experience is that plus all of the other steps in the entire buyer’s journey. From the first time, they decide to investigate a solution to better support their sales teams and start looking at what’s available on the web, to events they attend, to friends and colleagues they consult. That journey is from top of the funnel to the bottom of the funnel — their ongoing experience as a customer. So, to me, the customer experience never really ends. It just grows with time, and with the right partnership, it continuously improves.
In the past, we had no real way of checking, other than by conducting a survey, how we were doing with the customer. Also, marketing, demand gen, inside sales, sales, and customer success were disconnected silos inside a company. Each group was doing their own thing. When the deal was signed, the sales team would hand it over to the implementation team, who would then hand it over to the customer success team, and so on.
There was no common customer experience from beginning to end. We’re now moving from a disconnected to a connected experience across the entire journey and the companies that are doing that will outperform their competitors.
How do you create sales performance standards across marketing and sales? How do you align them?
You need to look at the full funnel. From the very first touch point through the execution of the sale, and then renewal. Clari provides that full-funnel accountability, but it all starts with automatically capturing all the signal data that’s coming in about an opportunity, a contact, and an account — and correlating it with actual deals.
Historically, marketing and sales have not been aligned. Today, they can be much more aligned because we have one version of the truth, one continuously updated version of the data. We have the ability to sync all of our contacts beyond what’s just historically been in CRM, allowing the marketer, the salesperson, and the SDR to be completely aligned on what to do next.
This gives you KPIs and targets set at every level of the funnel. As leads turn to opportunities and customers — or lost deals — you’ve got the ability to track everything throughout their life cycle and see what activities did or did not contribute to that particular outcome.
Are you seeing the same need for alignment between revenue operations—marketing, sales, customer success globally?
Yes, particularly when you consider regional behaviors. Traditionally, go-to-market organizations in EMEA, US, and APAC would have different operations support and cadences. They might even have a different way of forecasting revenue. So as you become a global company, it’s difficult to measure at the macro level when you’ve got businesses running differently at the micro level.
What Clari does to address this challenge is to bring a common Sales methodology and common revenue operations workflows — a common way of looking at opportunities, accounts, and campaigns across the entire organization. This way, anyone at any level of the organization can figure out what’s going on in any part of the business. Having a consistent, integrated way to run the business on a global basis will help you to outperform your competitors who are still operating in silos.
How do technology partners play a role in connecting revenue operations?
The application stack in the enterprise continues to grow exponentially. There is a wave of innovation in Martech and Salestech and an influx of new solutions being adopted by different functions inside an organization.
You have your CRM systems, marketing automation platforms, customer success management platforms, and so on. The problem is most of these departments and respective systems don’t communicate the way they should, so each function ends up with their own version of success. “Bring your own Report” is the norm.
That’s precisely why we’ve launched a connected revenue operations platform. We’ve been in the enterprise with our sales solution since the founding of the company and have seen these key revenue-generating areas across the enterprise grow farther and farther apart. They’ve all had the data, but they’ve lacked a way to unify it so everyone can work off of a single version of the truth — until now.
Why is it important to build a sales-focused culture for any business?
Because sales isn’t just about closing business. It’s about the customer’s experience from beginning to end, and how along that journey, that prospect becomes a partner of the company. That’s why Clari’s impact on our customers is really important. It helps every employee in a sales role or revenue role think about their customer in a similar way.
Clari also helps to enforce a common sales methodology — a common way of looking at the business, across regions, countries and the whole world. What makes Clari stand out is its ability to truly support global sales with a consistent selling framework. Whichever sales methodology you implement, we help you run your individual franchise of opportunities by giving you a consistent way for a manager and a rep to have a conversation about their business.
We also provide a consistent way a vice president might run a QBR or forecast call with his or her direct reports. This consistency usually ladders up to the head of sales and to the CEO, and is often part of how that CEO is communicating to the board.
So with Clari, there’s no longer hiding from the truth, or creating an alternate reality. An opportunity, a business, etc. is where it is, and it’s up to the collective people to use the information provided to affect its course.
How do you achieve this culture-balance at Clari? What percentage of this is driven by the application of technology, reporting tools, and coaching?
I would say Clari frees you up to drive a winning culture by applying analytics and AI to the sales process. Many people are familiar with the application of AI, machine learning, and big data to sports. The NFL uses it to compete, to hire, to train. The NBA uses it to figure out who’s the best shooter, on which court, and how do you defend against the best shooter. Enterprises can use it in very much the same way. Who should we hire based on the profile of our team, and how do we train them better?
So it’s interesting that in professional sports and other parts of the enterprise, AI, machine learning, big data, and analytics have been applied to increase performance, to institute a common way of prosecuting things, but it hasn’t necessarily been applied to sales and the revenue team. What Clari has done is brought AI to the sales and revenue generating process. Now everyone in the company is playing by the same rules, applied to how to conduct its business.
Now everyone can have a very similar conversation as to what you’re going to close deals. If you create a culture grounded in trust and based on winning — a culture that’s passionate about supporting customers, a culture based on achieving targets with 100% transparency — then you’ve got the formula for success.
How do you leverage AI and automation at Clari?
For starters, we use Clari to run our entire business. Clari automatically captures all the contact, business activity and prospect engagement data from dozens of business systems so nobody needs to manually enter data into the CRM. We help align all revenue-generating functions at the company through a set of applications and AI insights designed for key workflows in Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success including 1:1s, QBRs, forecast calls, pipeline reviews etc. It’s the only path to success for any company today.
Thank You, Kevin, for answering all our questions. We hope to see you again, soon.
We use automation and AI to unlock all the activity data captured in key business systems, including marketing automation, CRM, email, calendar, phone, content management, conversations and more. Clari then automatically aligns that data to accounts and opportunities, to provide visibility, simplify forecasting and apply predictive insights. The result: more insight, less guesswork, and ultimately more predictable revenue.
Clari’s Connected Revenue Operations platform is used by hundreds of sales, marketing and customer success teams at leading B2B companies including Qualtrics, Lenovo, Adobe, Dropbox, and Okta to drive pipeline, audit deals and accounts, forecast the business and reduce churn.
Kevin is Chief Revenue Officer at Clari. He brings more than 20 years of experience driving revenue growth and building successful sales teams for leading enterprise giants and high-growth startups. Most recently, he spent more than four years at Oracle where he held several leadership positions, including CRO at DataScience.com (acquired by Oracle in June 2018). In this role, Kevin led DataScience.com’s demand generation, field marketing, sales and customer success initiatives from pre-revenue through acquisition by Oracle.
During this time, DataScience.com helped define and then lead the Forrester Wave for Predictive Analytics & Machine Learning Platforms. Prior to that, he spent over a decade at SAP where he led regional and national organizations.