Ask Yourself, Chief Revenue Officers ... Do You Have a Dan?

By Lee Brown BuzzFeed Archives

The brain trust at BuzzFeed is increasingly focused on machine learning, A.I. and their implications for our business.  Jonah has long said that the content we create today only scratches the surface of what will be achieved by the BuzzFeed of tomorrow.  A.I. will be the bridge that gets us to intelligent, immersive entertainment experiences yet to be imagined.  But for the moment, we’re pretty limited to the reaches of our own minds.  And, I don’t know about you, but -- given the demands of being a CRO in 2017 -- I occasionally feel pretty f*cking limited.

The complexities of managing a global business these days are immense. The rate of change has increased exponentially and we’re constantly trying to give shape and structure to a media industry that is evolving daily.  As the saying goes, we’re all trying to build the plane as we fly it.  Add to that the need to keep connected through meetings, phone, email, text, Slack ... and our calendars (and sanity) can quickly get overwhelmed.

Until I can download my consciousness into an A.I. assistant ... or split myself in two (lord knows I need to lose the weight) ... I need help.  Really good help.

So I got myself a Dan.

It took me a minute to get to know Dan Walsh.  I didn’t point my finger at him in our first meeting and say “that kid’s a star!”  We were introduced when I led the Tumblr sales team.  When Yahoo acquired the company, Dan came aboard to work on sales ops.

When I jumped to BuzzFeed and needed a head of sales ops, Dan was first in line.  By then I knew how good he was, but I had no idea how great he was going to be.

In the beginning, it was all about speed.  I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the org in my first 90 days.  Dan required zero translation and got it instantly without having to be told twice (or sometimes told at all).  We kicked through that 90-plan in 40 days, and along the way Dan went from being feared and loathed by the sales team (they called him “Stamper”) to earning their respect and friendship.

Dan’s title is Vice President of Sales and Business Strategy, but really that’s because Consigliere/Boy Genius, Younger, Handsomer, More Affable Lee would look weird on a business card. He’s an indispensable partner to me.  He is totally unbiased and has no agenda beyond the good of the company and teammates.  He is honest and critical in pressure testing my thinking.  When we debate an idea, it inevitably comes out better.

Like me, Dan loves few things more than identifying a problem, stepping up to the ol’ whiteboard (usually with a glass of bourbon in hand) and drawing up a plan.  But when having a Dan really becomes transformational is when we leave the whiteboard and take that plan into the organization. Because I know Dan will sell it in with passion and a clear, well-articulated POV.

I am a firm believer in “having a Dan.”  It’s about a lot more than just delegation.  It’s about being fearless in empowering someone you believe in.  It’s about finding a partner who you know beyond a doubt will champion your vision.  Because a good Dan will have challenged and created that vision with you.

Everyone’s Dan looks a little different.  I’m in market constantly, so I need a partner on the homefront implementing strategy, tracking results, getting feedback and helping reformulate as necessary.  I need someone who can exercise my authority -- decisions on escalations, new hires, reporting to the Board -- and do what needs to be done in the same way I would do it.  Hopefully even a little bit better.

Of course, having a Dan requires some sacrifice on my part:  That eternally challenging act of “letting go.”  Because having a Dan doesn’t work if your Dan isn’t fully empowered.  I have to be ok with other people thinking Dan is doing the operational side of my job.  I have to be ok with not always being the first call when a fire breaks out internally.

And it cuts both ways.  The organization needs to be okay seeing Dan stand in for me in meetings when I’m on the road.  They need to trust that Dan’s decision is my decision, and that they’re not going to come to me and get another answer. 

If I’m lucky, my career will continue to grow.  And one day, I’ll be in a job where I can hire my own CRO.  My first question for any prospective candidate will be “Do you have a Dan?”  If they don’t have a Dan, I will know that they don’t have a clue.  Because, in today’s world, if a CRO doesn’t have a trusted partner to help strategize and execute, their organization will grind to a halt.  Anyone trying to do this job single-handedly will fail.

Admittedly, there is one downside to having a Dan.  Dans are inevitably destined for bigger and better things.

I’m a bit sad but incredibly proud to say that Dan is getting well-deserved promotion outside the sales organization -- a massive role within the company that is critical to our growth.  Nobody deserves it more than Dan Walsh.

Nonetheless, I do find myself with a job opening.  So, for any aspiring Dan’s out there, apply within!  A taste for bourbon is not mandatory, but preferred.

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