The professional guide to revenue operations

Andrew Park Tray.io author profile image
By Andrew Park

Why your operations team may be shifting to revenue operations

This article will cover how marketing, sales, and even customer teams are switching to a revenue operations model that centralizes tech stack management and data governance. It will also discuss exactly how revenue ops professionals can tackle their toughest challenges to get ahead of the game. Revops is a rapidly-growing discipline that often rolls in marketing operations, sales operations, and customer operations - any operations team that touches business revenue.

One common point among the different roles is, of course, “operations” - the nuts and bolts of processing, delivering, or otherwise managing leads for marketing, closed-won deals for sales, or sales handoffs and onboarding for customer success, usually via any number of software applications. Other common points are the strategy, planning, and execution required to ensure such mission-critical processes go off without a hitch. In addition, operations professionals are increasingly responsible for performance metrics and providing clear, insightful analytics across the full revenue funnel. Yet planning and executing are getting more challenging. Revenue ops teams need to architect a tech stack while also managing budgets, expectations, and adoption...not to mention tackling technical software-related issues.

All this software is giving rise to a more-centralized operations role. The common thread is that marketing operations is increasingly about more than just being the in-house Marketo expert; sales operations is about more than being a Salesforce admin; and customer operations is about more than managing customer accounts in Zendesk. Sure, the modern revenue operations professional often tends to be a software expert. But increasingly, revenue ops experts that manage revenue processes are responsible for:

  • Tech stack management - Revenue operations is the guardian of the tech stack. Revops manages software operations and troubleshooting outside of IT, and makes recommendations for which applications to keep, which to let go of, and which new applications to acquire.
  • Technology budget - Revenue ops teams might not always have budget authority. However, more organizations now expect revops to be both tech stack managers and tech stack accountants who track the ongoing and new costs of operations software.
  • Data governance - The process of managing and distributing data assets within an organization. Governance for revops teams can include a variety of use cases. Revops might be responsible for lead data flow through the marketing funnel, or manage a digital asset management (DAM) tool to distribute sales collateral, for instance.
  • Security - Being the keepers of the data also tends to put data security onto revops professionals’ plates. Data security measures include formal business certifications such as SOC 2 as well as more-specialized regulations such as GDPR and HIPAA (for health care).

10-XX-19 RevOps Professional Guide 01 Most organizations have already aligned, or are in the process of centralizing, revenue operations. Image courtesy SiriusDecisions

How operations professionals in different roles manage process + tech

Revenue operations professionals, and other operations professionals from marketing, sales, or customer success who are transitioning into the role, frequently manage critical processes across tech stacks and teams. (It should be noted that marketing operations and sales operations often overlap on a variety of tasks, including lead routing, managing outbound, digital asset management, and others. And since marketing operations, sales operations, customer operations all touch revenue processes, it’s also typical to see overlapping use of a CRM, as well as a variety of shared tools listed below.)

Marketing operations - The business of managing leads to capture, process, and follow up with them efficiently. Marketing ops also typically partners with demand generation to execute marketing campaigns and measure performance via the marketing team's MarTech stack.

Typical processes include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Lead Lifecycle Management: The process of recording and deploying proper follow-up when a lead engages with your company, which often consists of sub-processes such as:

    • Lead uploads - Uploading new lead lists into your system of record
    • Lead enrichment - Using data enrichment to complete missing lead info
    • Lead-to-account matching - Matching leads to existing accounts in your system of record
    • Lead scoring - Flagging the hottest leads for sales to follow up with first
    • Lead qualification - Working with sales development representative (SDR) teams to qualify leads for sales
    • Lead routing - Routing appropriate leads to your sales team
  • Marketing metrics and marketing analytics: Measuring and visualizing the performance of various marketing campaigns
  • Promotion and advertising: Promoting marketing campaigns and assets via paid and organic channels, as well as driving top-of-funnel leads through conversion rate optimization (CRO) or lead form strategy and incremental testing

Typical tech stack components include (but aren’t limited to):

For more details on the marketing operations role, see our list of modern challenges for marketing ops.

10-XX-19 RevOps Professional Guide 02 Marketing operations in specific, and revops in general, will need to focus more on data, insights, and workflow efficiency. Image courtesy Gartner

Sales operations - This multifaceted role is responsible for processing and payments for sales deals. Sales ops teams also manage sales enablement, sales data, and strategic planning for budgets and territories via the sales tech stack.

Typical processes include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Quote to cash: The process of converting closed-won deals to revenue by processing contracts and payment details.
  • Deal desk: The process of efficiently building consensus and approvals for non-standard sales deals among a variety of teams, including sales, finance, and customer success.
  • New customer handoff: The process of arranging the transition of new accounts from the sales cycle into the customer success cycle
  • Forecasting: The process of forecasting future sales based on current and future sales team capacity and pipeline
  • Territory management: The process of divvying up sales territories to assign, and manage/update, among the sales team
  • Enablement: The process of training and enabling sales with appropriate collateral
  • Sales development/outbounding: Sales operations professionals also frequently partner with SDR teams to coordinate outbound sales motion.

Typical tech stack components include (but aren’t limited to):

Customer operations - This crucial team enables customers to succeed by working closely on specific projects and troubleshooting (often partnering with solutions architects). Customer ops teams also manage the status of customer accounts for renewal, upsell, or churn via helpdesk, success platforms, and other apps in the customer operations stack.

Typical processes include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Responding to incoming support requests: Via customer calls, helpdesk tickets, or chat
  • Prioritizing helpdesk tickets: Ensuring the most important issues from the highest-priority customers always come first in the queue
  • Logging notes from customer calls and emails: Recording new issues and progress on ongoing projects
  • Coordinating renewals and upsells: Working to prevent churn and grow revenue opportunities for existing customers

Typical tech stack components include (but aren’t limited to):

In addition to these more-specialized processes and roles, operations professionals in multiple roles also frequently utilize shared tools across their organizations:

Additional cross-functional apps including (but not limited to):

10-XX-19 RevOps Professional Guide 03 There are now more than 7,000 software applications just for marketing. Image courtesy ChiefMarTec

The growing challenges of revenue operations professionals everywhere

As we’ve established, revenue operations professionals must tackle the heavy lifting of essential revenue processes using software - along with all the accompanying strategy, planning, and execution. And as we mentioned earlier, there are increasing challenges that revenue ops professionals face, including:

  • Too much software!: Revenue ops professionals already know there are more than 7,000 software applications for marketing alone. To say nothing of the many, many software applications available to handle sales and customer operations. With so many choices, it can be challenging to locate the best software to fit a specific business need, but the enormous variety of software leads to other challenges.
  • Skills gaps: There’s too much new software, each of which has its own user interface and nuances. Maybe it’s not surprising that 66% of companies report a growing skills gap. Being proficient with a single platform as a system of record isn’t enough. Revops professionals need the ability to utilize a suite of different business applications fully.
  • Lack of custom integrations: Having a varied software suite also poses problems when the apps themselves don’t play well with others. Revenue operations professionals don’t just capture lead details for marketing, or convert them to closed-won within CRM for sales, or set up their helpdesk account for customer success. They need to flow specific, mission-critical data unique to their business with no loss of fidelity across different applications. In many cases, even out-of-the-box integrations aren’t enough.
  • Lack of technical/coding ability: While all revenue ops professionals tend to be technical, most aren't engineers. Some organizations resort to using in-house IT or engineering resources to close the gaps in their tech stack. Coding in-house integrations between different apps tends to result in brittle stopgaps that don't stand the test of time. For every other team that doesn't have these resources, the options are even more limited. Revops teams either file an internal IT/engineering helpdesk ticket and wait, or come up with a stopgap, which tends to involve tedious manual work.
  • Lack of budget support: This is an age-old problem. Even though technology has become more prominent among revenue teams’ budgets, it can still be challenging to get sign-off for new tools.
  • Lack of institutional support: An ancillary challenge in operations is getting support from necessary internal partners, particularly from cross-functional teams that need new technology but aren’t interested in taking ownership of either budget or usage.
  • Lack of adoption and ownership: In a perfect world, once revenue operations teams acquire expensive new technology, their organization would immediately start using the new software to get the most out of it. The reality is that adoption can be inconsistent, and change management is difficult no matter what, especially if there isn’t any internal product owner or champion.
  • Growing ROI gap: Let’s just say that buying expensive technology that nobody uses tends to raise questions from budget owners at the end of the quarter. The issue is more significant in the marketing space, where budgets have been contracting for years, while MarTech remains the #1 expenditure.

10-XX-19 RevOps Professional Guide 04 MarTech is still the #1 expenditure for marketing teams, yet marketing budgets have been shrinking for years. Image courtesy Gartner

How revenue operations teams can tackle these challenges

Revenue ops professionals are finding success with a multifaceted strategy. The solution combines people, process, and technology to help revops teams take control of their data across their entire organization.

People: While revops teams may seem to focus on technology, smart people management is an integral part of solving the challenges of the modern operations team. Important people tactics include:

  • Building strong internal relationships with executive leadership - One essential step in securing new technology budget and driving adoption is securing executive sponsorship.
  • Building strong internal relationships with cross-functional teams - Proactively partnering with external-but-related teams such as IT procurement, legal, and data security tends to make managing budgets and security issues much more manageable.
  • Finding and training the right team members - There's more to hiring than "culture." Revenue operations leaders look for specific qualities that set great revops managers from the rest, including natural inquisitiveness, analytical thinking, and a tendency toward process improvement.

Process: It’s common for ad hoc requests to pull revenue ops teams completely sideways. Instituting processes helps revops teams prioritize inbound requests, get timely approvals, procure the right tools, and ensure the right people use them. Important process tactics include:

  • Formalized process for acquiring new tech - Revenue operations teams understand how to save themselves pain post-implementation. They use a full roadmap of their technical and business needs, involve executive/legal/security support early, and they research integration needs before purchase.
  • Formalized process for procurement - Experienced revenue ops teams know that acquiring new technology promptly and successfully implementing it isn’t easy. The process not only requires strong partnerships with cross-functional teams, but also executive budget sign-off, smart timing, and a follow-up plan to drive internal adoption.
  • Formalized process for enablement - Revops professionals understand that any new technology acquisition carries with it the risk of low-to-no adoption. Including enablement materials and training into the planning process drive adoption and helps revenue operations teams ensure that every acquisition drives ROI.

Technology: And of course, selecting the right technology helps. Yes, many software applications offer free trials or a freemium business model. However, astute revenue ops professionals understand the real costs of scoping, implementation, and post-implementation support and internal enablement. They also understand that new classes of software empower them to scale by automating manual processes and easily integrating their tech stack without having to write a single line of code. Software-related tactics include:

  • Buying for fit, not features - It’s common for business software to have a dazzling array of different features. However, astute revenue ops professionals know that the best technology purchase isn’t always the most complicated one. It’s the one that will most clearly solve for their current use cases and take away their pain.
  • Build vs. Buy - Another common dilemma for revops teams is whether to build solutions internally versus buying them. While there are many sides to the debate, experienced revops teams understand that buying solutions tends to provide better results than building internally. Internal builds require costly IT resources to initially implement, as well as to maintain (forever). They also require internal enablement and functional support (both of which also subsequently require maintenance forever).
  • Publisher suite vs. best of breed - Revops teams also frequently need to choose between acquiring apps from within a publisher’s platform suite or individually picking best-of-breed apps. While there are arguments to be made for either side, most revenue ops teams prefer a best-of-breed approach, since best-of-breed apps tend to offer easier execution and faster time-to-value.

Takeaways

We’ve covered an overview of the major issues that revenue operations teams encounter, as well as specific strategies on how to tackle them. In subsequent articles, we’ll discuss specific, actionable strategies on how to buy MarTech and other new technology for business, how to align MarTech and other new technology with the rest of your organization, and how to build an operations team. For more practical advice on how to manage people, processes, and technology for revenue operations, please see these additional articles: