Nearly every small to mid-size startup has the same foundational gaps that stand in the way of RevOps excellence.
It’s not uncommon in startup sales to see a new operations hire (usually a junior sales operations analyst or manager) work tirelessly for months or years with little to show for it.
Chances are they were struggling with the downstream effects of the aforementioned foundational gaps without ever realizing it.
In this article, we’ll review three of the most common problems that stand in the way of meaningful progress. While I can’t give you a step-by-step manual for every situation, I’ll provide a framework for thinking about how to solve these problems in your own organization.
A RevOps Framework: Urgent Vs Important
Two years ago I founded a company called Iceberg RevOps. We work with small and medium-sized startups (think 3–30 sales reps) to build world-class revenue tech stacks and processes. Most of our time is spent focused on sales and marketing teams.
I’ve been involved in enough projects to see a few patterns emerge.
One thing I’ve learned, that I think is important to know, is that many operational problems fall into the Important but not Urgent section of the chart below:
Issues that fall into this second section are easy to ignore… until they’re not. When it becomes clear that one of these projects is in the way of meaningful progress, or actively causing problems, I think of something my old wrestling coach used to say: “You can pay now or pay double later.”
If your team is struggling because of a gap in the foundation of your operations infrastructure, you should consider dealing with it sooner rather than later.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the top 3 projects you should tackle in RevOps to eliminate any foundational problems you may have.
RevOps Priority #1: Lead Routing and Follow-Up
My second job in sales was with a company called LeadGenius. It was a great experience for many reasons, but perhaps the most impactful was exposure to a leader named Bill Munroe, who helped build out the sales program as interim VP Sales.
My clearest memory of working for Bill was as an SDR. He walked over to my desk and asked a strange question:
“Taft, would you throw your computer out the window?”
“Because, it’s expensive and the company paid for it.”
“The same is true for leads. You’ve got three leads in your name that you failed to contact. It’s been two days, so you basically threw them away. The average demo request costs us over $300, so you just threw away the equivalent of a computer.”
Despite the obvious hyperbole, the message resonated. If you’re fortunate enough to have inbound leads, chances are good they come from the marketing team investing a lot of time and money into generating demand.
Failure to properly address incoming leads is an issue many companies struggle with. Sometimes it’s the result of a clueless SDR failing to properly prioritize, but just as often, it is an operational gap that limits visibility into the follow-up process and results.
Sales and marketing can quickly end up at odds when there is a leak in the funnel at the point of handoff. This can also happen if the two teams lack a structured feedback loop to report lead quality in a productive way.
Whenever we start working with a new organization, we hear the same arguments over and over. Marketing says that Sales isn’t working the leads they send, and Sales says that the marketing leads suck. Without quality reporting on a structured follow-up process, it’s hard to tell who (if anyone) is right.
Fortunately, if your company struggles with these problems, you don’t need any new apps or complex processes. You just need a bit of planning and some integration between your CRM and your outbound automation software.
Here’s the high-level overview of how to work through this problem:
- Choose a single field to be the source of truth when deciding whether a lead has been followed up with or not. Lead Status is the obvious choice for Salesforce users.
- Audit your systems to make sure that there aren’t any unwanted apps editing “Lead Status” unexpectedly. A common culprit here is when old Marketing Automation workflows change Lead Status quietly without anyone knowing.
- Create a simple set of Lead Status values (the fewer the better), and train your team on what each means.
- Set up your outbound automation platform to move leads through statuses automatically (where possible) to reduce the possibility of human error.
This problem is such a common issue for our clients that I wrote an ebook that goes in depth on how to solve it — sharing step-by-step instructions for plugging this gap, including:
- the lead statuses we suggest to clients
- a flow chart diagramming the follow-up process
- a list of reports to measure rep adherence
RevOps Priority #2: Data Cleanliness
The most common complaint we hear from clients and prospects is that they’re struggling with bad data. It’s a problem I’ve dealt with over and over through my operations career, both as head of Sales Ops and RevOps.
I worked for a company a few years ago where data cleanliness was gating our ability to implement a successful account-based sales and marketing program. My most important MBO (management by objectives) for much of my time in that role was to clean the data.
We worked tirelessly to clean the data and keep it that way. We tried several things that proved unsuccessful: new software, tighter restrictions on mass importing data, new processes to control who could add data to Salesforce, and more.
No matter how hard we tried, there were always more examples of bad data in our system.
We spent months cleaning up hierarchies by hand. During the meeting where we shared our work on aligning parent/child accounts, our CEO pointed out that one of our example accounts had a duplicate record. It felt like the goalposts were constantly moving.
I was lucky enough to get some good advice from someone who has dealt with this problem before. He explained that our approach was missing two critical things: a definition of clean, and a subset of records that need to be clean.
Suddenly it all made sense. Of course we never got anywhere when we were trying to boil the ocean. It would take an army to keep the database with hundreds of thousands of records clean all the time.
The first step on the path to clean data is to decide who is responsible for it. Simply put, who gets in trouble if the data isn’t cleaned up?
Without a single owner, finger pointing and politics are inevitable.
Step two is to come up with a definition of clean that is shared across the org. I think of CRM data cleanliness along three dimensions:
- Completeness: Are all of the necessary fields filled in? For your commonly used objects (lead, opportunity, etc.), you should have a threshold for completeness. What fields must be populated for the record to be useful?
- Accuracy: Is any of the data stale? Is the record properly related to other records? This can be contacts related to the correct account or child accounts related to the proper parent company.
- Uniqueness: Is the record free of unwanted duplicates? This one requires that you define duplicate. If you sell PoS (point of sale) systems to franchises, then it may be OK to have 1,000 different accounts for McDonalds. If you sell accounting software to headquarters, then two McDonalds records may be too many.
A definition of a clean account record in Salesforce might look like this:
- The following fields are populated
- Account Status
- Hierarchy Type
- Employee Count
- Billing Address
- CSM Assigned
- The Owner and CSM Assigned are both active users, and CSM Assigned is a user with “CSM” or “CSM Manager” as their role
- Industry must be one of the current picklist options (not a retired picklist value)
- If the Hierarchy Type is not “Child,” “Parent,” or “Ultimate Parent,” then the Website field must be unique
Take note of two things about this definition. First, there are no subjective elements — each one is measurable. Second, it is binary. A record meets all of the criteria or it does not.
With an objective and a binary definition, people can question whether the definition of clean is right for your organization, but they can’t question whether any specific record fits it or not.
The last step is to decide which records must be clean.
If your CRM contains a relatively small number of accounts, and they are mostly clients or targets fitting your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile), then it’s probably a good idea to simply say that all accounts must be clean.
If your CRM has tens of thousands of accounts that have accumulated over the years, then you should probably choose a subset of your accounts to clean.
Now that you have an owner, a definition, and a subset of your data that will be kept clean, you can get to work. Thanks to the binary definition of clean, you can build a report or dashboard that highlights any records that are out of compliance.
RevOps Priority #3: Account/Company Status
For B2B companies, one of the most important fields in your CRM is Account/Company status. This field is rarely top of mind for revenue leaders at scaling businesses.
Few of our clients at Iceberg realized the impact that this field has on their ability to understand their business until we get in and start pointing out downstream effects.
Take a second to think about the reports in your sales and marketing systems that utilize the Account Status field (or a set of filters that is functionally equivalent to such a field).
Here are just a few examples of times when that field is important:
“We have a feature release in two days and we’re offering current customers a discount. How do we get a list of all current customers without including any non-customers?”
“The board asked for our current ARR. How do we get it?”
“We want to do a win-back campaign aimed at all former customers. How do we pull a list of people who used to be customers but have since churned?”
Having complete and trustworthy account status values helps all revenue teams. It allows you to quickly filter companies and people based on their relationship to your business. This is important in accurate report filter, ROE (rules of engagement), critical business metrics, and more.
The first step in setting up an infrastructure for account statuses is listing, and clearly defining, all of the statuses to which an account can be assigned. There can be no gray area when it comes to what statuses mean, and every single account within your system must fit into a status.
Many of these statuses can be automated. The easiest way to build the automation is to trigger Process Builder to update the Account Status field based on changes to opportunity records associated with the account.
When planning these statuses, your map should include all statuses and the paths to entering them. Remember that every single account in your CRM should live in one of these statuses.
Here’s what a status map might look like:
While it may be tempting to copy/paste the statuses and map above, I urge you to take an hour or two to think through whether this actually fits your business.
One size does not fit all here, so carefully consider the various lifecycle states in which an account should exist in your CRM.
Pro Tip: Resist the urge to create lots of statuses. Simplicity is your friend. You will be tempted to create multiple versions of each value to communicate more information, but that will make the map and UI cumbersome.
Ask yourself whether you actually need that info. How will having it impact your behavior? Then, if it is absolutely necessary, consider using dependent fields to communicate the more granular info (Partner Type, Nurture Owner, etc).
Having A Firm Foundation
Like I mentioned above, there is no one way to solve these problems. What I’ve given you here is a framework for how to approach them, but the details will depend on your situation.
With these foundational issues resolved, though, you’ll see massive improvements across your entire organization.
Without a firm foundation, your company will struggle to grow and succeed regardless of how much money your company throws at it. Take the time to solve these three issues, and your organization will be ready to thrive.