Revenue Operations is a relatively new concept, with departments popping up in the last five years. Those of us who have been in the job market a fair amount of time believe that the definition of what RevOps is and does will continue to evolve. We'll see organization charts change over time, and eventually, a standard best practice by organization type and need will emerge.
For now, many RevOps positions are being filled by veterans of Finance or Sales, Marketing, or Customer Success Operations, and each company seems to have a slightly different take on what exactly RevOps is.
What is consistent is that Operations professionals are constantly bombarded by tactical busywork and rarely are given the time to tackle strategic projects.
"All of us have these strategic initiatives that we want to do. It's on our to-do list. It's something that we want to plan on completing in the quarter or by the end of the year. And then what ends up happening is every day, we start up our computers and have a ton of emails and Slack messages to answer. By the time you get done with your quarter—Boom—you didn't get to those initiatives that you wanted to," Siva Rajamani said.
"Ops as a function is also peculiar in that we typically only get looped into an issue when a things crop up that we have to firefight. So often, the function comes into the fold because there's something to firefight and not because Ops is perceived as providing strategic value.
"RevOps was created to ensure that a company optimizes the entire revenue cycle from marketing to sales to customer success. But what typically happens is there are many reactive issues to solve because companies set up revenue operations because there's something breaking. When RevOps is first formed, we're forced to tackle the tactical issues because the groundwork for the organization can't be laid until those issues are solved.
"We live in the world today that it's tough to say when marketing ends and when sales begins, or, for that matter, when sales ends, and customer success begins. The entire customer journey spans all of these different functions. Revenue Operations is the glue that brings together the whole customer journey and has context into what's happening in each part of the journey.
"That's super powerful because the only other roles where there's such visibility are the chief revenue officer or the chief executive officer. There's no other role in the company that has end-to-end visibility of the customer journey as much as we do. RevOps has a very strong understanding of what's involved in a leadership position because we participate in discussions around annual planning and how that translates into the company's operation. At the same time, we're grounded in reality. We don't only look at the company at the 30,000 feet view. We know what will and won't work practically because of first-hand knowledge.
"As a founder of a SaaS company, the last few years of my journey as a Revenue Operations professional set me up in such a good position in terms of understanding how to go about setting up functions across the customer journey. I owe it all back to my revenue operations role and being able to transition to that strategic perspective in Revenue Operations. There will be more CXOs from RevOps functions."
RevOps is typically spun up when there's a problem in the organization. One of the go-to-market functions isn't hitting their number, margins are too slim, customers are expressing dissatisfaction, or a combination of problems are ripe for solving.
Because we're brought to fix a problem, go-to-market teams are naturally suspicious. They think we're there to identify problem employees and spy on them. We're not saying we don't look at the metrics and report when people are out of bounds. Still, we're mainly there to identify what's repeatable and sustainable in the hopes more mediocre sellers can become excellent sellers.
"Sales has an inherent bias. They think RevOps will scrutinize them, and RevOps will complain about people to the leadership team. They think we'll get them in trouble, so they don't want to share insights or issues with the CRM setup, the product they're selling, or anything else," said Adithya Krishnaswamy.
"To be successful, you must break this barrier. But how?
"Build a relationship with them. For example, if you analyze the territories and see an imbalance, advocate for the people who don't have enough accounts in their market. Make sure the quota makes sense. Too often, finance, sales, and marketing teams meet and choose quotas to evenly split among teams. Asia Pacific is not like Africa, which is not like EMEA. Even in EMEA, you'll have significant fluctuations in territory potential.
"Get involved in the quota assignment process. Make a case to the leadership team because the best way for salespeople to trust you is to bring their problems to the leadership's attention. Sales managers tend to assume that salespeople are all going to complain to reduce their quota. As a neutral third party, you can make a stronger case for sales when things are imbalanced.
"The second big way to build a relationship with sales is to hold the product team accountable for delivery promises they make to sales and customers. You can add some product data to the opportunity process to help track what product is committing to on a deal-by-deal basis. Show the sales team that you can use that data with the leadership team and that it will help avoid unfair churn that gets sales reps de-motivated.
"The business as a whole wins from this strategy because the product team is held accountable. In addition, as a neutral party, our feedback is more credible because the product team knows sales will be biased toward the account issues in their patch.
"The third way is to implement a lead scoring model that is frequently measured to ensure it is working. Once you see some successes, you can get marketing and sales to trust the data and use it more in their process. It's a great way to improve the quality of leads being routed to sales and make the sales process more efficient."
Once you build relationships with the teams you support and learn the common roadblocks and issues in your organization, you can move on to scaling. Here are some common examples of improvements RevOps departments can make as they onboard additional resources.
"There are a lot of classic cases where we spend too much time on something that started as a one-time exercise and then ballooned to a weekly or monthly process. For example, managing sales data, maintaining your CRM records, or ensuring proper quota is assigned to people. If it's not automated, it's a lot of time wasted on it. People get used to something, and maybe a spreadsheet has been in place for years, but when you look at how much time you spend on researching sales rep reported issues and communicating, a lot of that can be fixed with a system," said Adithya.
"Two more classic examples are the quoting and the approval process. It's essential to have a QVC workflow. In one of our previous regions, one of the customers was told they could get a refund on licenses if they didn't use the product. It was a new region, and we didn't have enough standardized templates or documents that salespeople were required to use. So sales spun up their own documents, made edits to the existing language, and gave some customers some unreasonable SLAs.
"It took us almost two years to even out all the billing issues for the first customer example, and we spent a lot of time trying to get them to pay out a portion of their bill. This isn't something you want to deal with. Put standard language in place. Come up with a discounting policy. What does a normal quote look like, and how much are people allowed to deviate from the norm?"
As we saw with a lack of standardized quote and order forms, salespeople can get very creative when they're just short of their quota.
Put a sales policy in place that outlines what your organization will and will not allow when it comes to all things sales. As Adithya said,
"One thing I've learned is that when it comes to policy documents, salespeople don't require fairness. They require consistency. They want to know that if they follow certain processes, they will get paid for the deal no matter what happens. Ambiguity is a terrible thing for morale."
If you have rules about what kind of accounts a salesperson can sell, limitations on what kind of products they can sell, or are worried about poaching in another territory, make sure all of those things are clearly outlined in your sales policy.
Remember, your sales policies are only helpful if the sales leadership and finance teams will enforce them in every case.
If a salesperson doesn't get a response from RevOps immediately, it's not uncommon for them to escalate to management. The manager may suspect they're unreasonable, but they're often also annoyed with RevOps. They don't want to be bothered by the issue.
Develop a reasonably detailed SLA response. For example, when they send an email to a queue or you receive an internal email, you can set up an autoresponse that summarizes your SLA policy as a reminder.
"If the sales reps complain about your response time or escalate to leadership, you're going to spend a lot of time tracking down an issue," said Adithya. "If the expectation is already set, you don't have to worry about an escalation."
"This is one of the most important things I learned," said Adithya.
"Ad hoc reports are often a salesperson's attempt to confirm their bias. They have an insight, ask for data, and then use the data point that confirms their suspicion and ignores the rest. It's better to wait for the issue to bubble up or dig into it more deeply if you suspect a problem and give the whole story to the leadership team.
"Whenever you get a request, go back to your main mandate. Ours was to ensure we improve revenue and focus solving for GTM efficiencies. If a request doesn't fall into these categories, it probably isn't worth doing."
Once your company gets to the size where people begin to specialize in specific disciplines, these specialists are far more equipped to handle tasks in their wheelhouse quickly than a generalist.
"I love spending time on reporting or fixing my CRM as much as possible," said Adithya.
"But at some point, you have to realize an analytics person with proper BI and tools training is going to have a completely different level of efficiency compared to an operations person. We are always going to be involved in both tactical and strategic work. So handing off the specialized work, like managing a database, maintaining reports, and updating the visualizations, makes sense.
"We don't have to be experts in Salesforce to excel in RevOps. We can understand the basics. But some people spend their careers on becoming Salesforce administrators. Giving the experts the CRM update requests will free up a lot of your capacity to focus on different areas of the tech stack and stay on the cutting-edge of RevOps best practices."
"As RevOps, your job is to figure out and stay on the cutting-edge of different tools or products that you can implement to solve from a business use cases. But solutionizing them and implementing them can be outsourced. When it comes to the reporting hours, shift your focus to which metrics the business needs and define them. That's something you can't afford to concede. But move the reporting itself to the specialists. If there are reporting requests or changes that need to happen, let them take that up. It's okay to concede on these things so that you can focus on the bigger issues."
Check out the full recording for more on creating value through strategic meetings and who to hire in your growing organization. Looking for more great content on all things RevOps? Check out our blog and join the community.
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