How Acolad Is Building Its Growth Team with Chief Revenue Officer Gráinne Maycock

SlatorPod #153 - Acolad Chief Revenue Officer Gráinne Maycock

In this week’s SlatorPod, we are joined by Gráinne Maycock, to discuss her role as Chief Revenue Officer at Super Agency Acolad.

Gráinne begins with her journey studying translation and interpreting to working in various sales and account management roles, before the LSP she worked for was acquired by Acolad. She then talks about how her role as Chief Revenue Officer goes beyond sales, specifically collaborating with marketing, solutions, support, and operations to improve customer experience and growth.

Gráinne highlights the importance of creating a sense of team through a common vision, communication, shared tech stack, and Acolad’s sales playbook. She discusses the Super Agency’s approach to managing clashing sales territories and verticals.

When it comes to incentivizing top performing salespeople, Gráinne shares why they use best-in-breed compensation and best practices from parallel industries. 

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She believes that the language industry will evolve to embrace technologies like ChatGPT and large language models if they’re clever. The pod rounds off with Gráinne’s initiatives for the next year as she continues to evolve the solutions playbook, solidify and expand talent, and support salespeople with their sales academy.


Florian: First tell us a bit about your background and history with Acolad. How did you become the Chief Revenue Officer, which is obviously one of the most crucial roles at any company, with Acolad?

Gráinne: It started with a cup of coffee back before we were Acolad, one of the companies that Acolad acquired back in 2013. I had a cup of coffee in Dublin with the then CEO, and he had a growth challenge so he hired me to lead sales and account management and build out a strategic accounts division. So I did that for a much smaller company that was then acquired as one of the acquisitions, many acquisitions that Acolad have had and I grew my career from there. So, first of all leading strategic accounts, then leading sales, then taking a regional role as we became bigger and diversified, and then going back to North America, growing and building a team in North America of sellers. And when Acolad acquired us in 2020, I would have been known as a Growth Manager inside the org. so it was a reasonably natural progression. Anybody who knows me knows that growth, customer centricity, building things is part of my DNA and I did that in a few different roles before taking on Chief Revenue Officer, but all of them growth driven. And I think a big part of taking on Chief Revenue Officer was the collaboration I had cross functionally. So not just sales, but marketing, solutions, support, operations. Chief revenue goes beyond sales. So even though I’m very focused on customer centricity and growth, a very large part of what I do is collaborate across divisions to see how all of those divisions can align towards a customer experience and a growth experience for Acolad and an amazing experience for our customers.

Florian: Before that coffee, were you already involved in sales? Like, was that always your passion, like, right out of maybe uni, and it was always sales, sales, sales, or marketing or what was the background there?

Gráinne: How I selected my university course was I ticked all the boxes that said, must live abroad, must speak foreign languages, must live abroad. It seemed like a good idea when I was 16. It was like, sure, living abroad sounds like a great plan. So I ticked all the ones that said must spend at minimum a year in a foreign country and that got me into translation and interpreting. I’m one of I guess the unusual revenue leaders in our space in that I came into the industry through a direct path. So I studied translation, I studied interpreting, lived abroad, always loved languages, and from there, when I finished university, I looked at what I might be missing and I was missing technology. So I actually joined a tech company in technical support at the time to kind of fill a gap in what I perceived to be the next big thing at the time. So I supported internet support apps at the time when they were pretty new. So then I figured I needed to go back into something that I studied, something that I loved, and an opportunity came up back then with Berlitz that is now Lionbridge, and I moved into localization in a project management role, in an operations role. But I was one of those people that sales tended to gravitate towards and bring from the operations team into sales meetings. Going, well, you can actually talk about stuff with a degree of knowledge and production and operations, can you explain why this is great for this customer or for this prospect? So I was always in the room with sales and after a short period of time, I liked what they did, but I figured, why am I not doing it? So I gravitated and was very lucky, I got an opportunity early in my career to do account management, to own a portfolio of accounts. One of the, I guess, pivotal moments in my career, I was sent to the States early on to be Offshore Services Manager. So my remit at the time was, please go and tell a lot of American salespeople that you’re bringing the work offshore and you’re bringing back to Europe, so offshore at the time was Dublin. It wasn’t China, it wasn’t Vietnam, it wasn’t any offshore that we consider today. So I was on the plane going, how exactly am I going to communicate a message and make the people feel good about it while making the customers feel amazing that they’re in a different time zone? So that was for me, a pivotal moment in that it was a challenge I’d never done before. It wasn’t operations, it was a pathway into convincing people of a solution that would work for both, and from there I never looked. Then I took on account management and sales.

Florian: Isn’t it helpful also understanding the language piece when you’re talking to clients? Because in a past life I’ve also managed some sales teams and it was always a bit of a struggle to get these hard performing salespeople to really get passionate about, well, this is translation, this is language services, this is language technology. And I guess if you’ve studied it from the very beginning, you bring that passion and then you add the sales piece to it.

Gráinne: I think for me, when I look at language, it was never purely about translation. I love translators, I admire what they do. We can’t exist without the passion they have for what they do. But for me, it was always figuring out where does language fit in business? Like what is it, how do you have conversations with business people who don’t really understand and maybe don’t need to understand the detail, but need to understand the strategy of why to do X, Y and Z inside their org. for their own growth. So for me, that was hugely interesting, figuring out the role language had with translation, but beyond translation, for business, for technology, for international growth, and they’re the conversations I love having with people.

Florian: Now, I briefly threw a couple of numbers out before, now at $340,000,000. But tell us more about Acolad for those who don’t know the company as well as you do, and maybe even I do by now. Services, tech, geographies. It’s a big company now, right?

Gráinne: It is. We have over 2000 staff. We exist in over 25 locations. We have multiple offices and multiple services. So what makes Acolad a fun place for me and a place that I’m proud of is we have a breadth of services. So we look at language and we look at content and we look at what we can do to add value to that for our clients, for the translation teams that we work with and all of the services that have grown around it, make it a place where there’s no solution that we can’t provide. From digital marketing to SEO enablement across languages, to translation in different verticals. From the life science, highly regulated life science space, to the tech space, to fintech, to manufacturing, to traditional spaces. And then all of the services are from the basic translation, localization, to language quality management, to digital enablement, to technology connectivity. A huge part of what we do is taking language and making the connection between source and target language easier, that flow easier for our customers. Building workflows, doing localization engineering, machine translation, post-editing, content creation. So everything in that content flow from end-to-end Acolad has a defined solution and set of services and teams around it, and that makes it fun. It means there’s career path for people who join Acolad. Whether you’re in operations, whether you’re in sales, whether you’re in marketing or solutions, there’s a huge career path available here. And from a customer perspective, when we onboard a customer, that customer knows that I’m not just getting the service I’m asking for now. But as I evolve and people inside my own organization throw challenges at me, I’m with a partner who has that depth and breadth of solutions that will help me in my content journey. So that’s exciting.

Florian: It’s exciting, but it’s also complex, and your role as Chief Revenue Officer oversees quite a big part of the org. Can you just tell us, like, it’s marketing, it’s sales, what other components are included there?

Gráinne: Yeah, so outside of sales, it’s solutions architecture, it’s marketing, it’s sales ops, sales enablement, it’s sales academy training for all of the elements that go into building a superior sales force, and then it’s cross functional engagement with a lot of our other departments. So I sit on an executive team that has operations, that has regional management, operations management, technology management. So we as a group are collaborating to make sure that what we sell is produced well, is marketed well, is positioned well, is priced well. So I also have ownership of our pricing strategy. I also have a heavy involvement in what’s happening in our industry in terms of how we pivot, what we go after, what we don’t go after, the type of new solutions that we might go after, and the type of solutions that we might invest further in. Whether that’s multimedia, where you decide to invest deeply because certain content types like OTT content is on the rise, whether it’s AI and how that helps both internally and externally in terms of optimization of processes and workflows. Or whether it’s looking at things like speech and figuring out what do we do and what do we not do in this space? Whether it’s data annotation, what do we do or what do we not do in this space and sometimes it’s a question of we do something or we don’t do something, or maybe not now, maybe in three months or six months. And sometimes it’s an absolute we invest and we invest heavily. So it’s fun building the revenue streams based on what our customers and the industry want, because that’s a big part of what drives us.

Florian: It’s very complicated to decide which kind of new shiny object to go after, and they don’t want to miss the new shiny object if it becomes more than that. But yeah, especially now, right?

Gráinne: You have to have a focus as well. I think in order to keep an organization delivering to the best of their ability for customer experience, you need to know what you’re good at, you need to know what you want to focus on, but a big part of that is knowing what to say no to.

Florian: Indeed. In terms of complexity, Acolad has emerged from a series of acquisitions. Historically has been one of the most prolific acquirers in the market in an industry dominated by M&A generally, right? Now, on the sales side, that doesn’t make things easy if you want to create a coherent sales force across a number of different entities, geographies, et cetera. How do you create a sense of team among people that are very driven, they’re very kind of extrovert, they’re very numbers oriented, target oriented, how do you do that?

Gráinne: You make sure they have a common vision and mission. What does being part of Acolad’s sales team look like? What is the focus of what you contribute and how you contribute to the overall cohesive mission? So we might have a very large global growth target, you talked about 300 million plus. When you think about that, you also have to think about the teams that they need to connect to something that is their individual mission, their regional team mission, but also their part in contributing to a very large corporate goal. So a lot of communication is essential, that clarity of mission, that sales community, so we’ve built sales communities. We’ve used technology to connect people all over the world, where it’s celebrating the wins, where it’s sharing the challenges, where it’s interacting with case studies of what a team in Switzerland might have done that’s interesting to a team in France, that might be interesting to a team in North America. We share those case studies, those success stories, those challenges. The team are encouraged to be very open in what they’re struggling with and then we build support teams to enable them. So we have a sales excellence team who focus on compensation models and incentives. We have a sales ops team, one of the most amazing sales ops teams in the industry, who actually drive the data that will help sales teams understand their business at an individual level, at a regional level, at a management level, so that we can bring together insights, so that you can act on those insights. So making people part of that team and that vision and providing them with the support structures. And then clear basic meetings where you actually talk and listen, what’s working, what’s not working. So here’s the insights and here’s the data, but it’s only as good as how you interpret that data and how you communicate with the teams to see what you need to unblock to make them better. We also provide the team with tech stack, that everybody is using the same tools, the same technology. I’m really, really proud of what Acolad has built in terms of a sales tech stack. We’ve got one of the best tech stacks in the industry. It competes with tech companies outside of our industry in terms of the business intelligence, the feeding the top of the funnel, the business insights on our customers and what they’re using. It’s GDPR compliant for our European teams and it’s cohesive. So you can go from one end of that journey in terms of awareness to the other end of that journey in terms of what you hope will be customer loyalty and you can see insights and data throughout that whole cycle. So really, really proud of what that tech stack enables our sales teams to be part of. So they feel part of something that binds them, something that helps them grow, something they can put on their resumes and go, wow, I look back a year ago and I was here, but look what I’ve learned technology wise, process wise, people wise, career path wise, and here’s how I’ve grown. So giving people a vision as well for what they can become as part of their sales journey is important to build that cohesiveness and a culture where people are allowed to try things. Not be afraid to put their hand up and say, I’m struggling, I need help with A, B, and C, because with 100 plus sellers, there are people who can help. So that team cohesion, I think that’s a big part of what we do. So the vision, the tools, and we’ve also built, actually, and we continue to build an Acolad sales playbook. So it’s a very, very specific sales playbook with the same sales methodology, the same structure, the buyer personas mapped, the what they typically need, the what their pains typically are, and we push our sales teams to put themselves always in the mind of our customers. So if our customers are sitting around their boardroom table, what are they thinking about? What are the challenges on certain times lead to? And how do what we do and how we do it help them? So, yeah, it’s giving them something to be a part of.

Florian: How do you decide the sales territories versus like vertical sales? I remember that from my LSP days, and it’s a big challenge, right? You got the life sciences vertical, but then maybe, what about Germany, France, is it separate? How do you kind of decide or manage that?

Gráinne: For life science, it was a little bit easier. It was like, let’s take life science and make it its own big vertical business unit.

Florian: It always gets its own big vertical because it’s so complicated.

Gráinne: It really does. It’s the easier one where you don’t have those conflicts. So for us, life science is its own separate business unit headed up by an amazing life science veteran, Gina Wilson in our North American, Colorado office, and she heads up life science globally. And then for other verticals and territories, we have a mix. So we do have verticals and we do have territories, and we do have clashes from time to time. So we have clear territory management rules of engagement, where we might have a vertical, but then there’s territories that all focus on that vertical and roll up. So it’s 80%, 90% of the time super clear, but there will be clashes. Inevitably, there’ll be a passionate salesperson who wants to drive an account that already has an owner in a different vertical, but, gee, we don’t have business somewhere else. So our approach is, how would the customer want this to be run? How would the customer want the experience to be? Because a customer doesn’t care whether it’s one, two, or three. They care about the experience. Have I got clarity of the person I will contact, somebody who will look after me, somebody who will engage and connect with me? So when those clashes occur, I don’t see them as a bad thing. I see them as passionate salespeople wanting to grow and we sometimes have to make a decision that so far everybody has understood. So you win some, you lose some in terms of, no, this is going to be better for the customer, this is the way we’re going to go. But in 90% plus of cases, it’s clearly mapped out beforehand.

Florian: There’s the occasional conflict also on an account basis when you have like a huge global company. But as you just said, maybe at the end of the day, you or another sales leader makes the call and just says, well, this goes to X or to Y. On the incentivization topic, is it targets, commissions or both? Where do you stand?

Gráinne: Yes, both.

Florian: There’s sometimes like almost a religious debate, right? No, targets don’t work and others are like no, commissions give the wrong incentives.

Gráinne: No, I think for us it’s best-in-breed compensation and we look at what the best practices are not only in our industry but in parallel industries. How are the best in class account managers comped? How are the best in class business development managers comped? What works for their motivation and for company balance? And we spend time, we have a sales excellence team that look at this on an annual basis and they report up into the revenue org. and we look what needs to be tweaked, what has worked, what hasn’t worked. We try to give consistency and we might tweak it, so for example, this year we tweaked over performance. We want to pay our teams more for overperformance, so we do. So we will make minor tweaks. It’s good for people.

Florian: Is it kind of transparent or how do you incentivize kind of hiring top performing salespeople but then also nurturing? I guess, the hiring, maybe we can talk about the hiring first because that’s very, very difficult generally. I mean, great salespeople are always so much in demand in the language industry, historically have been. Maybe let’s talk about that one. How do you go about that?

Gráinne: There’s definitely a war for talent in growth functions in our space. I think what I’ve seen is an evolution of people who have grown skills that are now in demand and then a lot of people who are still in that growth journey. So for us, we look at talent at all levels. We look at entry level positions that we can train and grow, and then we look at the top end. And I think you rightly pointed out at the top end of our industry, good people are hard to move from good roles, so how does Acolad do it? We make sure the roles are good. We make sure it’s an attractive place to want to work and we’re not perfect. But from a sales perspective, when I look at our industry, there’s so much going for a sales leader in our organization. They can grow our teams geographies, verticals, solutions. They can grow in account management and strategic account growth. We have some of the largest, most complex clients in the world that drive a passion in the people who serve them and then for hunters, we tend to look at what the industry wages and pay within or above it. We tend to look more at what a salesperson will have in terms of ingredients. And I know myself, when I was a salesperson thinking about different roles, when I was approached by companies, I wouldn’t just be interested in the money. Don’t get me wrong, the money is important, but I’d be interested in how will I grow my career path at this company? Will I learn more about tech? Will I be promoted? Will I have an opportunity to learn from other great people? And I think when I think about Acolad, that’s what we bring. We give a tech stack, we give a set of verticals, a set of geographies, a set of solutions where a salesperson joining us has every ingredient at their disposal, and then on top of that, we invest. We train people in a sales academy, in a sales process. We have ongoing training, both tech, both sales skills, certifications. Whether it’s Salesloft or ZoomInfo or Salesforce, a sales leader learns so much, they look back at one year and go, wow, that felt like one month, but I learned as much as I would learn in three years. So it goes fast, it’s exciting, you achieve things. There’s a celebration of those achievements and there’s a celebration and promotion of the people who actually contribute. So there’s huge career path here as well and I think that’s what appeals as much as money.

Florian: Now you also oversee the marketing function. It’s a big challenge to cut through the noise, right? For us as well, with Slator, we cover this stuff day to day. We need to kind of pluck out what’s important and what’s not. I imagine on the vendor side, it’s even harder. How do you set the themes? What kind of tech are you using? And how do you try to cut through that noise and kind of feed good top of funnel leads to sales?

Gráinne: We have a number of ways. We take complexity and we simplify it. So we simplify it into three pillars and the programs we have under those three pillars are aligned with the customer journey. So one of the things that is at the heart of what Acolad does is genuinely, deeply understanding how customers behave. The challenges that are thrown at globalization departments, the challenges that are thrown from CFOs and management teams in our client organization, at them, because that’s what matters. How do they select a partner? How do they solve a problem? How do they scale their content? How do they enable their company to succeed in a new market? How do they reduce the noise around quality? Gee, it must be Google translated. How do I actually get metrics or data? So everything our client does drives how we set our marketing programs because our job is to empower them with content that helps them make the right decision. So when we think about that journey, we look at the awareness, we look at the consideration, we look at the acquisition, we look at the service, when they actually come on board as a new customer. That onboarding experience, how easy do we make it? Because there’s a fear. I’ve been with vendor A forever, but I’ve got pressures inside my organization to change supplier. I’m going through an RFI or an RFP, I really want to change supplier, but the sheer quantity of data out there, the sheer number of suppliers makes it hard, and now I’ve narrowed it down to one, two, three. How do I know if I select this partner that I can easily shift everything that’s attached to them? So a lot of our marketing function as well is around enabling the messaging, the onboarding, the templates, the structure, as well as driving growth programs. So the content that our marketing teams create is linked to the primary business objectives of our clients. The inbound programs, the demand gen programs, their specific functions inside our marketing team that are very measured, very laser focused on what comes in in terms of inbound growth versus sales outbound growth. And then we look at the pillars and the programs and we set a few clearly defined pillars and programs under client acquisition, existing client growth and accelerating the relationships and partnerships. So a lot of what marketing do is that but there’s a huge amount of complexity. People look at marketing and just think content or they just think leads. Our marketing function is the fuel, the lifeblood that powers sales, so it’s attribution marketing, it’s inbound marketing, it’s corporate marketing, it’s content marketing. It’s a complex team but one that’s phenomenally talented.

Florian: It needs to be aligned with the company’s strategy as well sometimes like if it doesn’t even internal people get informed by their own marketing, right, so it needs to be aligned with the internal strategy but obviously it’s somewhat differently packaged, so not easy.

Gráinne: It’s not easy at all and we’re very lucky to have a very talented head of marketing. The complexity that she manages is aligned with what we do from a corporate perspective. There’s internal corporate marketing, there’s engagement with partnerships, there’s attribution marketing, demand gen, there’s tech stacks that are managed from HubSpot and others that form part of that. And a key part, one of the things that I’m very excited about owning now is that alignment between marketing and sales. So one of the programs that we’ve built here at Acolad is a powering growth alignment and it’s taking marketing and sales not as separate functions, but as the flip side of the coin that drives that customer acquisition journey and that’s exciting.

Florian: Now, when you talk to customers today, there’s been a lot of stuff happening in, I’m not sure how to call it like the adjacency of the language industry with all this ChatGPT, language AI, large language models, like a completely esoteric term about four months ago and now it’s like in your local newspapers headline. When you talk to clients, does it come up? Do they want to know about it? Do they ask you, hey, is this something you can do for us? Are you using this? Or like, what are your conversations like with clients out there currently?

Gráinne: Yes, ChatGPT is definitely one of the more talked about evolutions in recent weeks and months. We absolutely get approached by clients from every part of that journey, so from content creation to, hey, you’ve got a content creation solution and I’m working in marketing content. What is your take on ChatGPT? Do you use it? Are you generating content from there? Is it good content? So we definitely get asked and we get asked about the services that might pop up or that exist already. When I think about the parallels, I think about machine translation years ago, where it was a way to generate content in a particular way, but it wasn’t 100% reliable, it wasn’t ready for publication, it wasn’t ready for its end purpose, it was an aid in the generation of content. And I see ChatGPT in a much earlier infancy, but a similar parallel where services will absolutely pop up and they’re already popping up in terms of editing, post-editing, validating, ensuring lack of plagiarism, ensuring accuracy, ensuring the number of apps coming out. Even in those areas to ensure that the content generated from ChatGPT and similar is accurate, is verifiable and is not plagiarized. So I think the levels of creativity that are still needed, whether it’s in marketing in the creation of content, whether it’s in localization in the end delivery of that content, whether it’s in the replacement of localization, and a lot more target language deliverables. The industry will absolutely evolve to embrace, if we’re clever, new technologies but determine their place and their use as opposed to just embrace them as is.

Florian: I think it could be a huge opportunity because, I mean, which other industry is as well suited as, I guess, legacy or former translation industry or whatever, for lack of a better term, to manage the service component of this at massive enterprise scale?

Gráinne: 100%.

Florian: Let’s give the industry another six months to absorb all of this. We’re trying to cover it in the meantime.

Gráinne: I think there’s going to be a lot more written about it. I can see, if I was to make a prediction at future events, I can see many, many tracks with this in it.

Florian: Absolutely. Well, let’s see if we can host one this year. So tell us more about your maybe kind of more near to midterm initiatives in 2023, 2024. What’s going to happen at Acolad on your side of the business?

Gráinne: We’re going to continue to evolve our solutions playbook, mapping it very carefully to what clients not only need today, but some of the evolving things they need more of. So we’re building out phase two of our solutions playbook to make sure that they’re mapped to the business objectives of our clients and those business objectives pivot in uncertain times. So while clients need a commonality of service and solution depending on the environment, whether it’s pre-COVID, during COVID, post-COVID. Growth stabilization in the tech industry, in the fintech industry, those solutions pivot to solve problems that are more urgent for our customers. So we’ll continue to make sure that we’re very close to our customers in understanding and delivering what they need in those spaces. Volume and scale in multimedia, in content that we see a shortage in our industry. We see that there’s so much media rich content, media rich services demanded, but there isn’t quite the volume of skills needed. We’ll continue to invest in that area to make sure that need is not only met for our customers, but that we’re encouraging the industry to drive more education, more companies to scale in that space because we think it will be needed and then continuing to hire more talent. Acolad is hiring. We hear about a lot of downturns in the tech space. Acolad is in growth mode. Acolad is hiring sales leaders, business development managers, heads of sales. So we’ll continue to hire near term and solidify and expand that amazing team we have. And then sales ops and sales academy will continue to be a big enabler to make sure that the sales people we bring on board are supported. They have the right content, they have the right pitches, they have the right data and insights to act and to help their customers.

Florian: And broader, for the industry, next two to three years. Let’s end on a crystal ball question like where we’re going to be in two to three years? Very, very different from where we’re now, or kind of like a more incremental iteration despite all the AI hype out there?

Gráinne: I think we always hear that the industry is going to dramatically change and I’m sure one day it will. I see an evolution more than a dramatic change. I see embracing more technology, whether it’s speech driven, whether it’s AI driven. They become a normal part, like machine translation and post-editing have become a normal part of the content space. I see them becoming a normal part. I do see a maturation of our industry. I see the roles change. Five, 10 years ago it was rare to find a Chief Revenue Officer or some of the roles we see now in our space, in technology and AI and revenue enablement. So I see our industry maturing in the next two to three years, continuing to mature alongside adjacent industries. So looking at how do we solve problems at a bigger level, at a scale level. I also see many in the industry operating in a more business driven way, as opposed to pure language driven way. They’re looking at the business impact of what they do for their customers and I see that as part of that maturing of our space. So I see it as a good thing for our clients, for LSPs, for career paths in growth and growth enablement. So that’s an exciting thing and I see technology continuing. Connectivity, technology, new players in the space, something will disrupt in a way that it hasn’t yet.