Pathways to Growth: The rise of the chief growth officer


I can trace my interest in the potential of chief growth officers in accounting firms to my experience as a CGO in technology companies many years ago. Today, the CGO role is, at last, slowly making its way into our profession. Seated at the right hand of the managing partner, the CGO (or director of practice growth on the way to CGO) helps the managing partner create the vision and execution for strategic, sustainable growth.

In helping identify growth leaders, the obvious place to look for likely CGO candidates is within the firm. But I found little to work with internally. Typically, there were no sales leaders or product management specialists on staff. There are, however, plenty of marketing people around. Marketing, along with sales and product management (the “driving-demand” disciplines), are the three legs of the strategic growth stool that is at the heart of sustainable revenue growth.

Many capable marketing leaders have successfully made the transformation to CGOs. They evolved from providing visibility, credibility and relevance — which, while important, don’t necessarily grow revenue — to C-level responsibility for leading and supporting firm growth. This capacity is essential in a crowded and complex market that requires a more sophisticated approach to growth; one that focuses less on individual practitioners pursuing their own book of business, and more on leader-driven, team-based, and market-level growth.

Who ya gonna call?

As you consider what a chief growth officer might bring to your firm, look to the three legs of the above-referenced growth strategy stool (the functional disciplines of sales, marketing and product management). If you are hiring from the outside, even if it’s for a marketing position, anticipate that it will morph into a CGO role and seek someone with expertise in at least two of the three disciplines. If you are developing internally, the most likely scenario is that you will groom a CGO from an existing marketing pro. The transition to growth requires a significant mental shift, as well as new skills and proficiencies. To be successful, they will need to stretch to a C-level role that includes strategic thinking and a proficiency with the dynamics of power and politics.

To champion growth, a marketer with experience in public relations, social media and brand management must layer on new abilities in areas including sales, sales support, product marketing and product management.

While it may seem daunting to imagine a single individual with all this capacity, a managing partner provides a familiar analogy. A successful MP will likely not have equal experience in audit, tax and consulting. But strength in one or two of these areas, bolted onto a well-articulated, well-supported vision, and robust leadership skills, is a fairly good predictor of success.

The secret sauce

In addition to skillfully managing the elements of strategic growth, a CGO’s success relies on aligning and entwining the sales, marketing and product management functions. You want a marketing operation that’s anchored in strategy, a sales function connected to the marketing process, and plenty of shiny new offerings on the shelf — the product management piece.

The secret sauce is the links between these. Picture again that three-legged stool. As important as the legs are, it’s the cross bars that prevent the stool from collapsing. For example, in an accounting practice, these might include marketing lead generation initiatives connected to sales pipeline management, and a feedback process from sales to product management to ensure that the products and services offered are those that clients actually want to buy. In the product management function, industry and service line leaders must collaborate with marketing experts to create new services, and communicate and package them to scale.

It’s been rewarding to help many firms establish the successful position of CGO. The result is a beautiful alignment of sales, marketing and product management into a single, powerful framework for strategic, sustainable growth.

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