How to build and scale your RevOps team
Liz Christo: A great rev ops person is trying to think about," How do I make this entire job simpler to elevate the person to do more critical thinking rather than how do I build a process that makes them work in a rote way through all these things?"
Devin Reed: This is Reveal: The Revenue Intelligence Podcast. Here to help go- to- market leaders do one thing, stop guessing.
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Devin Reed: And I'm Devin Reed, coming to you from the Gong Studios. You've likely heard the words revenue operations or rev ops thrown around a lot lately, especially in the SaaS space. While it's a fairly new title, it's one that is critical to your go- to- market success. But let's be honest, if it's so critical, why doesn't every organization have a rev ops team today? That's where Liz Christo comes in. Liz is a partner and go- to- market advisor at Stage 2 capital, a VC firm that specializes in early stage B2B software companies. Liz is passionate and super knowledgeable about all things rev ops so she's going to give us a crash course on what exactly rev ops is, how you can build out this function at your organization, and how it may already be happening at your company just under a different name. We are here to talk about how to build and scale your rev ops team. Now, I'm excited for this because I've been in sales. I've been close to sales ops but I've never really worked closely with a rev ops team before. I know it's a somewhat newer function but I'm excited because I know you're going to school me a little bit and share some of your knowledge on what exactly this function's all about.
Liz Christo: Well, it's kind of funny. I first wrote about rev ops but under a different name, probably over a decade ago. I was trying to call it biz ops at the time and that has since gone away and everybody is calling it rev ops and just coalesced around a name that I did not glam onto first. But I do think the concept of rev ops is super interesting and the idea that you can consolidate and align all of your revenue generating functions and customer facing teams around one set of systems and processes and structure and get everybody marching in the same direction, that to me is just a core of what we're looking at here.
Devin Reed: Okay. So when you said I wrote it under a different name, I thought maybe you had a different name. You penned it, you weren't under Liz. You were like, I made a-
Liz Christo: Well, I was also Liz Kane. I changed names too.
Devin Reed: I was so unsure that I went under a different name. But no, that makes a lot of sense. So, okay, that's a good point because sometimes we're talking internally and we'll say biz/ rev ops, are those not the same? Should we just cut biz and go rev ops?
Liz Christo: No. I just think most people are calling it rev ops now. It's just actually people have accepted that this is a thing and it is a consolidated function. But there's still plenty of companies that haven't actually put these functions together and have individual sales ops, marketing ops, product ops, CS ops reporting into functional leadership. This is about consolidating functions that already exist in a lot of places.
Devin Reed: That's a good place to start. So maybe let's go a little deeper, what problems exactly does rev ops solve?
Liz Christo: Rev ops is bringing together the operational and backend functions of your customer facing team. So generally, that's marketing, sales, and CS ops. Depending on the size of the company, you might also have an account management team separate from CS or sales, maybe that has its own operations function and product ops sometimes falls under it too depending on the go- to- market motion. But within that, each of those functional areas has tooling, data infrastructure, they're thinking about attribution, they're trying to get dashboards and insights from that data, they're defining the processes that each person on the team needs to follow or that their tooling needs to follow, they're trying to automate and deleverage different parts of the process, they're probably enabling individuals, onboarding new people. Probably one of the original core functions of sales op was something like deal desk, like just help this sales rep get this deal booked and that takes sometimes a person and ideally, less of a person's time over time. So I think of what each of those individual tasks and functions, some really strategic, some really tactical and execution oriented, getting all up together and being handed to this rev ops function and saying like," Solve all the hard parts of this."
Devin Reed: Okay. I like it. This makes a lot of sense. Let's talk about what does rev ops specifically not solve? What should they not be tasked or expected to accomplish?
Liz Christo: Where I see this go wrong tends to be, you have a sales leader or a marketing leader who's being tasked with big, hairy goal like we don't have enough pipeline and it's like," Oh, we need a rev ops person. We definitely need rev ops." It turns out, bringing in rev ops doesn't magically create pipeline. It doesn't build a sales strategy. It doesn't figure out how to take you to market. It is actually creating the process and structure and reporting on your go- to- market strategy and on your go- to- market engine. And so, when I think about rev ops here, I think of them as the layer that helps you get things done better, faster, more efficiently, not necessarily the decider or the doer of strategy and pipeline. They may be critical in helping you execute it but they are not going to be the overnight snap your fingers solution to actually getting sales done.
Devin Reed: Well, that makes a lot of sense. There's also, at least in my experience, no magic bullet for a pipeline overnight either way so good to know it's not rev ops either so we're still on the hunt for that. What's the risk if a company doesn't get rev ops in place? The answer might depend on the maturity of the company, but I guess, what's at risk if you just ignore this function overall?
Liz Christo: I definitely do think it depends on stage but I think that there's two things that I tend to lean back on. The first one is alignment between the teams. And so, I'll throw myself to way back when working with a company where I remember the CEO asking me a question of like," How much revenue did we book this month?" or," How many leads did we create this month?" You go to your marketing leadership and you ask that question and marketing's going to say like," We got 400 MQLs," and then sales is going to be like," We only got 270 and only X number of those became opportunities," and you end up with four different answers to the same question depending on who you asked. What ends up happening is, people are pulling that data from different systems. You have your marketing automation tool, you have your CRM, you are going and looking in different places and with the rise of a more self- service and product led motion, you have this whole other set of tools too, which we can talk about. But I think the key here is, you're having one individual person or one team responsible for looking across the entire customer facing function or funnel to help answer some of those really critical business questions to get the entire team aligned around the data and then therefore, the systems and processes to back it up. And then, I think the second piece of it that I kind of come back to of why rev ops is so critical is just constantly looking for ways to make the entire team more efficient through automation and that comes back to the tooling side of things. In a world where now, I think, we have just every individual person is logging into so many software products every day. I think the average, I'll take sales is the example in this one, the average SDR sales rep starting at a company probably gets handed 10 logins on day one. In theory, it should make their job easier but I think often, it's a lot of process glommed on top of a lot of disparate systems and a great rev ops person is trying to think about," How do I make this entire job simpler to elevate the person to do more critical thinking rather than how do I build a process that makes them work in a rote way through all these things?" So alignment on one hand and automation on the other are the two things I come back to.
Devin Reed: That definitely makes sense. Having sold to sales ops, that was something I heard a lot which is like," How do we get this tool inside of Salesforce?" and I'm like," Why is that so important?" It's like,"Because I don't want more tabs. I don't want more places where my people are working."
Liz Christo: Or another place they can get locked out of.
Devin Reed: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Also true. And of course, as the rep trying to get a deal done, I'm like," What one more tab really going to do?" But to your point, yeah, I've talked to sales reps especially the SDRs, you're absolutely right. I think there's so many tools out there and they're a little bit more niche so you need a video tool if you're going to do prospecting. But then that fits into your prospecting tool, does that talk to your CRM? Before you know it, there's so many different things it's hard for reps to know where to start and where to spend their time.
Liz Christo: And am I looking at my dashboard in Gong or am I looking at in Salesloft or Outreach or am I going back into Salesforce? And now, I've got three different places where somebody's trying to coach me and which one is even true?
Devin Reed: Well, let's dive in a little bit more here because you are a partner at Stage 2 Capital so you get to see under the hood of countless companies. What are the most common misconceptions about rev ops?
Liz Christo: First, it probably comes back to this idea of what it's going to solve and that it's like a lightning bolt or a magic bullet that's going to solve some really critical business issue. It's really helpful and you should have it and you should build it early and you should scale it with your team but I don't think it's this overnight great success that solves all other challenges in a business. And then the second, I think, comes down more to how you start to think about building the team. Often, I find that people look at," All right. I'm going to go build rev ops and so I'm going to take the best BDR we have," probably 22 or 23," We're going to promote them and we've got our rev ops person," and I share that because that was my path. I started in sales operations way back when but I remember I was really young. I didn't really know what I was doing and somebody was like," You're now responsible for the operational components of the sales team." Not to say it's always a mistake, but I think you got to get the right infrastructure in place to support that person. Often, these people that are in rev ops roles have only seen it in maximum one or two other companies so they don't know what they don't know and so figuring out how to help them fill that gap. Rev ops is not the same at every company. The fact that somebody saw a great function somewhere else doesn't mean that's what you need today.
Devin Reed: I think you've mentioned it a couple times where people just assume rev ops is going to solve this big problem and I think it's because people don't really understand what rev ops does. You know what I mean? If you understand what marketing does or what their job is, then you know what goals they're going to accomplish and what they're not. Rev ops is, by the way you're describing it, a bit of a cure all by the way it's perceived but obviously not in reality. I've worked with a lot of ops folks. I'm very grateful for all of them. They're always pulled in a million different directions so how do you prioritize what to do, what to say no to, what to say later to, do you have any maybe advice there?
Liz Christo: I might split this up into two. I think first, it's like if you are new in a rev ops function joining a company, it's really easy to start by being reactive to all the stuff that is thrown at you. If you're in your first couple of months, there is a backlog and years of debt that you are dealing with and if you just start like taking those down in order, you are not going to get anywhere. I think for the new rev ops person joining a team, really taking time to take stock, figuring out who your key stakeholders are, what are their biggest business challenges, and making sure that you're solving for what does success look like, I don't know, 3, 6, 9, 12 months down the road, pick your number, and actually tackling some of those big strategic problems at the same time you're working on the quick wins is really important. You have to have a longer term plan. And then similarly, if you are a team of rev ops people sitting in seat, there are two parts of your time. There's the," What are we trying to get done over the next quarter?" and biting off some of the bigger projects which is really relentless prioritization. And then, there is figuring out how to tackle the one offs that do come up. I think one of the key challenges of rev ops is like you could spend your entire day or week on go fetch missions. Devin, you've worked in sales. People are asking questions all the time," Where do I find this contract? How do I use this system? What's the number of leads we got this week? How do I access this?," and if you get stuck in that pattern, it's very hard to break out of it. So I generally tell people to try do that sort of time analysis of where do you find your spending the most time and that can be a really good guiding force for where you think about trying to automate things next. It can be indicative of where somebody needs enablement and can be indicative of where you need a dashboard or to automate some of the reporting that's happening and sending it out on a regular basis. But if you're looking at the inbound stuff, it's often a good indicator of what needs to happen next on a strategic priorities level.
Devin Reed: So you had mentioned your first role. Were you joining an existing rev ops team and company or were you the first person? The reason I ask is I imagine folks might be wondering," When is the right time to invest in rev ops?"
Liz Christo: My example's probably not the ideal one. I was an acquisition of a smaller company into a public company that had very distinct marketing versus sales versus CS versus services operations teams and I was sort of the cross functional person supporting one subsidiary so probably not what people are going to be doing. Yeah. But I do think that question is the right one which is like," When is the right time to invest and what does that really look?" I will honestly say, I think this needs to be a much earlier hire. I'm looking at it as early as you brought your first sales leader in and have a few reps in seat. You have your first two marketing hires generating leads, thinking about systems. The way that it usually comes about is somebody early on in the business is doing this function or doing some of these tasks whether or not they're actually calling it rev ops, right? Someone's time is we need to set up HubSpot, we need it to talk to these other systems, we need to make sure that we're telling our investors how many leads we've created and what the funnel looks like and what channels are working best for us, those things are happening. What I tend to find is that the right thing to do is to bring in some sort of outsourced rev ops service earlier in a business. You don't need a dedicated rev ops person but you'd really benefit from learning from a whole bunch of these implementations over time. You've used Salesforce. You've seen how badly it can be implemented, how badly most people implement it. So what if you got somebody who's seen it hundreds of times to help you see around the corners and minimize some of those mistakes? I think about it as, as early as possible, ideally in a fractional way to learn from the mistakes of others and get some of the best practices in place. And then, I feel like there's a tipping point where you're realizing that you have bigger projects to tackle and you feel like it can be a force multiplier for the other leaders in your business. That generally is either going to happen when your marketing leader isn't spending as much time as they could or should on actual marketing activities and is instead buried in the systems or similarly, your sales leader is. I think one of the two of those is going to be the tipping points. It's like," Okay, we actually need somebody thinking through the systems, the data, the insights that are coming out of what we're doing to help guide us."
Devin Reed: I know on the marketing side, I think we got Kyle who's our marketing ops guru. I think he was the 6th, 7th marketer, definitely very early on who taught me to always keep operations happy because they make all things happen so that makes a lot of sense. I don't remember when we got our first sales ops person but I want to say it was around maybe a dozen or so reps.
Liz Christo: Devin, I also do think it's happening earlier and earlier. So even if I look at five years ago, it was very different than now. I think it's just moving earlier in the life cycle of a company.
Devin Reed: Check this out, 40% of organizations report misalignment between their go- to- market teams and Liz has shared with us how rev ops can play a massive role in bridging that alignment gap. But this requires time and maturity, it won't just happen overnight. How many organizations have already embraced rev ops? According to a report from Sales Hacker, there's a 55% year over year growth in organizations that have a dedicated rev ops team. And with the majority of organizations surveyed also reporting that consistent revenue growth as a challenge, it's only a matter of time before rev ops is a standard function especially in scaling SaaS organizations. Now, let's hear more from Liz on exactly how to hire and scale your rev ops team according to your company's current stage. Does it matter if you go from that fractional approach to full- time employee like manager level, director, 20 years in the game? I don't mean to go title because I know that can vary, but you know what I mean? At what kind of level would you recommend?
Liz Christo: I tend to think of this in terms of jobs to be done and it takes a lot of time and effort to do this well. Rev ops isn't just rev ops. You need to sit down and detail out what are the biggest priorities for the company right now. You might sit down and do that and say," The most important thing for us to have is attribution of our marketing channels, a clear dashboard for the activities of the sales org, and deal desk." Another business might sit down and do that and say," Hey, we're onboarding 20 reps in the next few months, we need really strong enablement and the processes and systems that allow them to be successful." Those people don't look the same. I think the expectation that every rev ops person should be able to do all of those things is a trap a lot of people fall into. And instead, if we think of it as this job to be done or like what success looks like 6 or 12 months down the road, we can find someone and build around them. I generally see the first hire being somebody with mid- level experience. You probably can hire a few people under them. Maybe they grow with you, maybe you bring in someone more senior to take over more functions over time, but sort of not so junior that they haven't seen it anywhere else and not so senior that when you think about the many things I just described, they're like," Okay, we need to hire three people to do those," because it's not the reality of an early stage company. And then secondarily I think I come back to, if you've been outsourcing some of this or you have this fractional support, it doesn't necessarily mean you turn them off. You can think of that as sort of supplement, right? Or compliment where you have a rev ops person that's going to own these three functions and maybe they're going to project manage an outsourced resource who's only working four or five hours a week to make sure that the data insights are really crystallized in the dashboard for everyone or that they're writing apex of it like the Salesforce workflows work. You can pick what thing you need to outsource but you don't need everybody to be able to do every single part of this.
Devin Reed: So for companies or leaders who are at companies who are maybe larger and more mature and they might say," Hey, we've got this whole engine going but we don't have rev ops as part of it," that might be even more intimidating or seemingly more challenging because you've already got this big engine humming or at least working. What's your advice for those folks? How do you get started with rev ops when you're in a more mature, larger organization?
Liz Christo: I guess I have to imagine that it's happening, you're just calling it something different. Because when we think about all the types of tasks and projects and strategies we've described so far, you probably have somebody reporting into these various functions who's taking care of a lot of it. You didn't get to be a big company by not having someone thoughtfully implementing your technology. Someone is asking someone for data and insights, someone is helping to onboard the sales team, somebody is helping marketing, and when you do it that way, I think it's more a question of like," Is there benefits to consolidating those functions or not?" I think the pros and cons that come up there, one, I think rev ops often gets kind of lumped into sales ops and gets put under the sales leader or CRO. If that's the case and then marketing is sitting as a peer to the head of sales but marketing's operational resources are reporting into sales, it can feel like this beg, borrow, steal, like I still don't have the support I need, and that doesn't feel good. So if you're going to do it, particularly in a more mature company, you're going to start consolidating those resources. I think it's a really positive thing to do and creates better alignment. But the way to do it is to give the rev ops leader a seat at the table who can actually be a strategic peer to your sales and marketing leader. They need to be on the same level and have a voice in the room not indirectly getting information funneled to them through one area or the other of the business. If you do have that person as a peer and that support role can actually think about aligning resources to each piece of the business, it becomes a much easier thing to bite off but it's a big investment.
Devin Reed: Not to pit marketing and sales against each other more than probably already perceived, but it can be a mediator of sorts, right? They might have a perspective that sales and the marketing leader don't see independently so it makes sense they can bring them together.
Liz Christo: Yeah. And then, layer in customer success and account management and PQL is coming from product and this new growth team that's got spun up and we've got a data analyst over here, yeah, mediator's a great word. They're the person who's sitting in the center actually getting to see it all.
Devin Reed: So whether you have rev ops today or you have rev ops today but don't call it rev ops, what are some of the pitfalls to look out for as folks are looking to scale?
Liz Christo: It's a really good question. I think one, is that piece I was describing of making sure they have a seat at the table and making sure that you have the right person who can be a peer to marketing and sales, can push back, is viewed as strategic, and is viewed as a senior leader who has a seat at the table, not someone who is taking orders from others. That shift, I think, is really important particularly as this function is growing over time. You don't want it to be the most junior person in the room or the person that everybody is telling," I need this," they need to be setting their own agenda. That's one. And then the second, I think, is you look at actually how the team builds. Rev ops, maybe more than any other function can get highly specialized over time. I mean, this happens in every portion of a business, right? Your early generalist marketer gets split into so many different things and different departments within marketing so there's a parallel here. But at rev ops, eventually, you're going to have somebody probably thinking specifically about data and insights and thinking about your BI tools, you'll have somebody who is aligned to enablement, you'll have somebody thinking about deal desk or rules of engagement, you'll have somebody focused on marketing attribution. And when you start breaking those down, you need to make sure that you're being really thoughtful with how you structure your team and really open in the dialogue of who's going to be doing what or I think you'd end up turning people over. And so, you need to make sure you understand the skillsets and where people want to go. I think those are the two biggest ones I see, is structure of the team and making sure that it's an elevated enough function and has a say in what's going on.
Devin Reed: Everyone has followed all of your advice in an ideal world, right? Now they're like," Okay, but how do I know if it's working?" In other words, Liz, how do you measure success of a rev ops team? Are there certain indicators that you're looking for?
Liz Christo: Let's start within and we'll talk externally too. Within the team, I think it's like what is the agenda you're setting and whether you call it goals, OKRs, projects, don't really care, but there should be some strategic agenda that you are marching towards, that you are setting goals for the team to deliver against. And then, there is also this reactive component to the business and making sure that you're actually staffed to respond to what's needed in real time. I think some measurement of throughput and capacity is really important, both at the strategic level and this more task management type thing so that's how I think about evaluating the team itself. And then externally, as I think about sales leadership and marketing leadership, I think like any other executive it's more oriented towards," Are those cross functional teams getting what they need? Do they feel supported and is rev ops living up to whatever the team mission is that has been defined for them at that point?" And so if I think about some of the things that could be on that leader's plate, it comes down to," Is the team delivering against the revenue number?" Similarly on the marketing front, it's providing them with the insights to make decisions that they need in order to allocate budget and manage channels. It can be quantified but it's often like a qualitative assessment between peers of," Am I getting what I need from your team?"
Devin Reed: Liz, we've covered a lot of ground. Now, there's one question we ask all of our guests and I'm going to tweak it a little bit because we talked about rev ops today. So, how would you describe rev ops in one word?
Liz Christo: Critical.
Devin Reed: Fantastic. Liz, thank you very much for breaking down rev ops, how to build and scale a rev ops team. We are very appreciative and thanks for hanging out with us.
Liz Christo: Thank you.
Devin Reed: If you want to learn more about how revenue intelligence can help your rev ops team head over to gong. io. If you like what you heard today, give us a five star review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever it is you're listening.
Without go-to-market alignment, things start to fall apart. Your business won’t be able to scale and inefficiencies will hold you back from growth. So, how can you guarantee alignment? This is a job for RevOps.
On this episode, Liz Christo, partner and GTM advisor at VC firm Stage 2 Capital, breaks down the Rev Ops function–what it is, where its important role lies, and how to scale it within your organization based on the stage your company is in.
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