It took me several years in sales and operations to learn that revenue operations (ops) is broken everywhere.
My first two sales jobs were with companies that struggled to deal with seemingly simple operational issues. Things like clean account data, lead routing, and smooth CPQ processes seemed like table-stakes, but they were total messes.
As I spent more time in sales and my network grew, friends from other companies complained about the same issues. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that the companies for which I worked were not outliers.
My first few consulting engagements did little to change that opinion. Almost every operations consulting relationship begins with a small project and morphs into a larger cleanup and rebuild as we uncover issues.
While every company’s operations are unique, most of the companies I work with make the same few mistakes. In this article, we’re going to take a cold, hard look at those mistakes and then what it will take to fix operations.
4 Revenue Operations Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make
- Under-investing in ops experience
- Separating sales and marketing operations
- Taking a tools-first approach
- Failure to identify root issues
Wondering what’s involved in Sales Ops? Read Sales Operations Demystified: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Do It Right.
Mistake #1: Under-Investing in RevOps Experience
Many revenue leaders view operations as both a cost center and a commodity. Following this logic, the ideal owner of operations is some combination of the cheapest and easiest person available. This is often an intern, junior-level employee, or Salesforce administrator without other operations experience.
If you’ve worked in sales or marketing for a small company, you’ve probably heard some version of this conversation at least once:
VP Sales: “The sales team is growing. We need someone to own operations. Should we open up a job req?”
CEO: “Jim’s pretty good at Salesforce and he’s graduating next month. Let’s bring him on full time and let him own it.”
VP Sales: “Good idea. I can use the money we save for one more salesperson.”
By choosing not to invest in experienced operations leadership, sales and marketing leaders unknowingly open themselves up to the rest of this list. The average junior ops professionals either don’t know best practices or don’t feel empowered to challenge senior leadership. That’s going to limit Ops’ ability to impact your business.
Mistake #2: Separating Sales and Marketing Operations
Historically, Sales Operations has lived under the sales team while Marketing Operations has lived under the marketing team. This seems intuitive on the surface, but it causes a lot of problems as teams grow.
One of the reasons executive leadership feels comfortable choosing not to invest in experienced operations resources is because the sales and marketing teams already have senior leadership. Because sales and marketing leaders view operations as part of their team, they often give guidance that, while well-meaning, is based on little operational knowledge and can make a mess.
Asking a VP of Sales with little operations experience to manage an operations team is like asking a chef to manage a farm. The chef might know a good steak when she sees one, but she sure as hell doesn’t know how to raise a cow.
Mistake #3: Taking a Tools-First Approach
Tools are fun. They’re fun to evaluate and fun to buy. Knowledge of the hottest new sales and marketing software is often used as a proxy for experience in tech. It seems like every time I walk to the free snack area to get a can of Pamplemousse La Croix, I hear a group of sales bros over at the kombucha keg comparing notes on their favorite CCaaS software.
This same obsession tends to manifest in other ways as well. When it comes time to buy software, companies with a tools-first methodology often buy software for one of two reasons:
- An interesting new tool with a few innovative features hits the market, so they buy it and then try to fit it into their process.
- When faced with a problem, they immediately look for a tool to solve it before identifying and addressing the root cause of the issue.
Purchasing a tool should never be the beginning or the end of a project. Tools alone can’t solve problems.
Mistake #4: Failure to Identify Root Issues
Buying tools is not the only way operations teams address symptoms while ignoring — or never bothering to find — underlying issues. This palliative approach to operations is common in sales and marketing organizations because inexperienced ops teams struggle to consider downstream effects of their decisions.
Nowhere is this more visible than in CRMs. Most of Iceberg’s clients’ Salesforce instances are idea graveyards. We clean up innumerable fields and automation that were created to solve problems people don’t even remember.
This messy approach to systems administration, which is rarely limited to the CRM, is costly in two ways. The tangled mess of band-aid solutions make simple changes unnecessarily difficult.
Because of this finger-in-the-dyke scenario, sales and marketing leaders are faced with a Catch-22. By the time leadership realizes that Jim (see above) is ill-equipped to clean up the mess he helped to make, it’s too late to easily replace him.
How to Fix Operations
Fortunately for teams struggling to get operations right, all is not lost. A few changes can have an outsize impact on your ability to scale and make operations your competitive advantage.
The first step is to change the way you think about operations. Sales and marketing teams should treat them as business partners, not employees. If your sales and marketing leaders feel they know operations better than your operations team, then something needs to change.
Once operations is viewed as a trusted advisor, investing in a qualified central operations resource is easy to justify. The ideal resource will be able to do a few important things that an entry-level operations employee cannot do:
- Translate executive-level goals into comprehensive project plans
- Give leadership visibility into key business metrics that can feel elusive when owned by junior-level operations teams
- Hold their ground at the VP and C-levels
- Fix problems by carefully investigating and addressing their underlying cause
In the SF Bay Area, a director-level operations leader costs around $200k and individual contributors in operations cost $75-100k (not counting benefits and taxes). For companies with large sales teams, and additional $300-500k for a quality operations program is a no-brainer.
For companies with less money to spend on operations, there are companies that can help you clean your existing operations and provide ongoing RevOps support for a fraction of the cost of an in-house team. The key is to find a well-rounded operations partner, not just an outsourced Salesforce administration.
The best way to avoid the revenue operations mistakes listed above is to invest in an experienced, centralized operations resource that can function as a business partner to sales and marketing.
And it’s the only way to ensure ops aren’t broken at your organization.
Do you agree? What do you think is breaking Sales Ops everywhere, and how have you thought about fixing it?