The wheels on the bus go round and round... and so does revenue operations, which Jen Spencer likens to keeping the wheels on a bus while the bus (your organization) gets it where it needs to go.
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So why is everyone talking about revops all of a sudden?
"It's coming to a head for us right now because marketing is just getting more and more complicated and technology is more connected....[marketers] need backup," Jen says. "They can handle the campaign strategy and execution, but when you start looking at how do our marketing efforts and our sales efforts and how our customer success efforts all integrate with each other and what does it mean for the customer, that's where revenue operations comes in and helps make it all real."
But don't expect it to look the same for every company.
"If we're thinking about a much larger enterprise, you might have a sales ops team, a marketing ops team, a dev ops team, and a customer ops team, and they might all roll up to some umbrella revenue operations group. But at a smaller organization, it might be.. here's just one or two people that are focused on revenue operations, and they didn't come out of any one of those business units."
Hear more about the power of revops, as well as book clubs, zookeeping, sales enablement, and "Swiss Army Knife marketing"—which we think should become an official industry term—on MarketingProfs' most recent podcast!
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Matt Snodgrass: Welcome to the Marketing Smarts Podcast brought to you by MarketingProfs. I am excited to have Jen Spencer with me.
Jen, welcome to the show.
Jen Spencer: Thank you. I'm excited to be here.
Matt: We're going to have a good conversation about something I know almost nothing about, and that is RevOps. We're going to get to that in a little bit. First, I'd like you to introduce yourself. You are the president of SmartBug Media, but tell us a little bit about you, about your history, and about what you do.
Jen: Sure thing. I've been a marketer for what feels like forever, but I actually started my career as a high school English and theater arts teacher, and then transitioned into B2B marketing by way of nonprofit professional regional theater.
Matt: I feel like we need to dig into this, because that is not what I expected you to say at all.
Jen: I know. It was a hop, skip, and a jump. I was volunteering for a theater company, a regional theater here in Arizona where I live, and I had an opportunity to join as an education liaison, kind of community engagement, if you will, type of role. I transitioned from there to PR, and just really made use of the fact that when you work at a nonprofit everyone has to do five or six jobs, and you get thrown into the deep end because you're that warm body with a brain and you try it out. It was definitely a lot of sink or swim for me.
I was there eight years. By the time I left, I was running all of our earned revenue, so I was responsible for a $7,000,000 earned revenue goal from ticket sales and running two box offices and a telemarketing team, and all that good stuff. I just went from teacher to nonprofit management team member.
Matt: Wow. That is awesome. I love to hear people's backstories because it is never ever what you think. Someone who has been in the industry for a long time tells you, "I came from here." I used to be a zookeeper, so I went from zookeeper to marketing. There were a lot of stops along the way. It's really cool to hear how people start off their careers.
Jen: We both have experience managing personalities. Right?
Matt: Exactly. Only yours could talk to you instead of bite you.
Jen: So, I was an early adopter of the inbound marketing methodology, mostly through content marketing and the idea of storytelling and a buyer journey, and having to be really scrappy working in nonprofit and not being able to rely on traditional paid media to hit revenue targets. I got into audience segmentation and right message at the right time. All that stuff that is now part of our day to day marketing vernacular was something new and different. When I started in marketing, in PR, I was using a fax machine to fax press releases to members of the media. It's just a different world.
My first opportunity to really run an inbound marketing program truly and build that from the ground up was in B2B technology. That's where I met SmartBug Media when I needed an agency. I needed a HubSpot agency in particular for building a website. I ended up hiring SmartBug twice over my career before deciding I really like where they're going and what they're doing and I kind of want to be part of it. That was four and a half years ago.
Matt: It's really interesting to see people who have history at nonprofits or small startups and how scrappy things are, and the tools and the tactics that you learn. I think coming into a larger organization you can tend to be pigeonholed, like this is my domain, this is the thing I work on, and I really focus on this. Whereas, as you mentioned, you had to wear a lot of different hats, you didn't have a lot of money, so you had to figure out how to do a lot of these things. I think those are skills that really help us as marketers move into a ton of different roles.
I don't want to say that we're all generalists, because clearly we're not, but I think having that view and having been a generalist is really helpful when you start to move up in your career and take more leadership positions, because you can talk about all of these different things. You may not be an expert on all these different things, but you've done them, so you have experience with them. It lends a lot of credibility to you as a marketing leader.
Jen: I love it. I love having been that Swiss Army Knife marketer. I'll refer to us that way. I think one of my favorite things was I was at an organization that was growing really rapidly, and I had a generalist marketer, and I finally was like, "We're going to hire more people. I'm going to take this role that you've had and I'm going to divide this, this is going to be three roles. What do you love to do? What do you want to do more of, since you've gotten a chance to taste a little bit of everything?" I remember she was kind of like, "I don't even know. How do I get rid of stuff?"
But to have that opportunity just to try things on for size and, to your point, not get pigeonholed. We got acquired by a big old publicly traded 15,000-employee company where people ran email for that company and they'd been doing email for 10 years, and that's what they're qualified to do, versus coming from a startup and you get to try a lot of different things.
Matt: You can clearly find what you like and what you don't like. It helps to know as you move through your career what you want to stay away from because you've tried that and you don't want to touch it again.
Matt: All right. We ask all of our guests three intro questions before we get into things. I want to know about you. What are you reading right now, what's on your nightstand?
Jen: I am listening to a book, Brené Brown's book Dare to Lead. Our internal marketing team for SmartBug has a book club that I started a while back and it's just continued under the leadership of our VP of marketing Hannah Shain. They picked book and I'm reading it along with them, and listening to it. I'm loving it. There are so many bookmarks that I have all throughout just on growing a team and communicating. I'm just really enjoying it.
Matt: How many people do you have in your book club, if I could ask this?
Jen: That's just the marketing team, so it's just four people on that team. It's funny because other people throughout SmartBug, we're almost 200 people at this point now, they're like, "How do I get in on that?" Different teams have these different bonding experiences, these things that they'll do, so we haven't really branched it out to be much bigger because it tends to be very focused on a topic that's important to that small group of people.
Matt: Right. I've tried to start a book club multiple times and I've never been able to get enough people to get it off the ground, so I'm always excited when someone else has one going successfully in their organization, especially from a marketing team. That's cool.
What about what are you drinking, what is your drink of choice right now for this holiday season as we record this? This will go out after the first of the year, so it won't be officially holiday season anymore, but what's your drink of choice right now?
Jen: It doesn't really change. I guess it does change seasonally. My day drink is Topo Chico. I'm a big fan.
Matt: I have no idea what that is.
Jen: Topo Chico is mineral water. I'm super excited right now because it's been out of stock everywhere around me, and it's finally here. It's just so much better than Perrier. I just love it so much. So, that's my day beverage. Then I'm a big red wine and scotch drinker, especially in these colder months. I'm in Arizona, so not that it gets that cold, but it's red wine season, you don't sweat when you're sitting outside. I'm enjoying some good wine and good scotch. I always like scotch.
Matt: Very cool. Final question, what are you thinking about right now from a business marketing standpoint as we wrap up 2021 and move into 2022, what's keeping you up at night?
Jen: I'm focused on how do we scale ourselves, how do we grow over the next two to three years. Because of the rapid growth that we've been experiencing and where we're going, both organically and through acquisitions, what's really exciting but all nerve-racking for a control freak is I don't know what we're going to look like. I don't know what my team is going to look like a year from now or two years from now. There will be jobs, there will be roles that we have two years from now that we don't have right now.
I don't like not knowing that, but I also know we have to get in and start doing some things and start laying some groundwork and experimenting so we can figure that out. I like to know what's coming next, I don't like to be surprised. It's just I'm living in a state of we're growing so fast that I can't have it all mapped out in my head.
Matt: I feel like we as a society, as a world, have sort of been living in this limbo for the last almost two years. No one knows what is going to come next. Just this week they moved football games around, they canceled hockey games for the rest of the week. Every week there is a new uncertainty. That doesn't sound like it's very fun for you, living with that uncertainty.
Jen: It's not. It's fun in that we get to create and invent, and it's thinking about where is the market going. Being a marketing agency where our clients are hiring us to be more knowledgeable than they are about marketing, so they know their subject area, they have that domain expertise, and this is what we do. When things are changing so fast and there's a new technology coming out every day, how do you stay ahead of all of it, how do you place the bet on this is what I think is going to be big?
If I think back seven or eight years, ABM all of a sudden out of nowhere, and that took off. We're going to talk about RevOps today. RevOps is another one. Is this a fad, is this the future, what is it? We have to put a stake in the ground here and we have to be able to say this is really critical to businesses and we're going to fund it, we're going to spend time researching, practicing, servicing.
You have a bunch of data, you have inputs, but then at the end of the day you still have to trust your gut and what you see happening in the market. That's the stuff that I don't want to make the wrong call.
Matt: Let's talk a little bit about RevOps. I'm glad you brought that up, that is the topic for our discussion today. Admittedly, I know very little about RevOps. I know what it is, but past that my knowledge is limited. That's why I was so excited to get you on the show to talk about this. I think for our audience, I'd like to treat this episode sort of as a primer.
We're going to be talking about this more in 2022 and we're certainly going to dig deeper into this, but let's start at the top here. How does Jen Spencer define RevOps, what is it, what does it mean to you?
Jen: I think about RevOps, revenue operations just to be explicitly clear, it's the people, the processes, the system, the infrastructure, the technology architecture that supports a customer journey. What I love about RevOps is there's this beautiful convergence that we've had of CRM technology and inbound processes. Inbound is this methodology that a lot of digital marketers have adopted, and some of us have built our careers on even, this idea of moving people through this journey and supporting them all along the way.
We've been talking about it as this very nebulous sort of energy, or how we approach a customer. I've heard so many people talk about putting the customer as your north star and everything you do needs to revolve around that customer at a high level methodology. Then we start talking about tactics, whether they're sales tactics for targeted outreach using intent data to help determine when is the most appropriate time to reach out to this member of your audience that you know is a good fit based off of other technology they use, or funding they've received, or team structure, and you're getting that data enriched from some kind of data source that's pulling into your CRM. All of these tactics and things, there has to be a strategy behind it.
That's where I think about revenue operations. It's helping keep the wheels on the bus and also optimizing it for speed, and for your location, and getting where you need to go. It's coming to a head for us right now because marketing is just getting more and more complicated and technology is more connected. We talked about Swiss Army Knife marketers. We have these Swiss Army Knife marketers who have been expected to be technologists over their careers.
It's at a point now where they need backup. They can handle the campaign strategy and execution, but when you start looking at how do our marketing efforts and our sales efforts and our customer success efforts all integrate with each other and what does it mean for the customer, that's where revenue operations comes in and helps make it all real.
Matt: You said that RevOps is what keeps the wheels on the bus as an organization is moving forward. You also mentioned a bit ago that RevOps might be this buzzword, it might be this thing that is real hot right now, but two, five, ten years down the line is not hot anymore. Companies and organizations have existed without this forever. What is so important about having a RevOps team and having a focus on that? What does that allow us to do that we haven't been able to do or weren't able to do before?
Jen: What we've seen in other organizations is you might have a marketing ops team, a sales ops team, I haven't met a lot of customer ops, we've seen dev ops. That's a result of different technologies or taking different processes and trying to streamline those processes and connect them back to finance as well. RevOps is coming up as a buzzword because of revenue teams.
When you think about the role, like my former position was chief revenue officer where I owned sales, marketing, and customer success or client services in our case. That idea of a chief revenue officer is still a new-ish role. It's even still getting defined differently depending on what organization. I'll talk to some organizations and it's really just a fancy sales leader title. Some have sales and they have customer success. Some have marketing, some don't.
If you have each group, if you have marketing, sales, and customer success, and they each have their own goals and those individual leaders have compensation plans that are modeled off of disparate key performance indicators, then priorities are going to be misaligned. It just kind of makes sense that RevOps comes in to align those leaders and making sure that the most critical work is prioritized.
Technology is driving this, so if we're leaning into these platforms that have the ability for you to really support your customer at all stages of their customer lifecycle, then what are you building from a technology perspective? You have to think about all of the inputs that you have, and who needs to be involved, and how it's going to impact the team. I think it's buzzy right now just because people are using that term, but I think it's really needed. I don't think it's going away, because I'm just noticing a shift in the way people are leveraging technology and what they're expecting from their technology, what it's going to actually do for them and what they're spending on it, that revenue operations is a requirement in order to make sure this is all working effectively, otherwise it's a waste of their money.
Matt: It seems like a very fundamentally sound principle. It's just we haven't really ever looked at it in this way before. I guess not intentionally in this way would be a good way of putting it.
What does a RevOps team look like? You talked about customer success, sales, marketing. Is RevOps its own team, is it more of a cross-functional team where you're pulling folks in from each of these existing team? How do we structure this and set it up?
Jen: It really is kind of its own team. It could be cross-functional. I think it just depends on where it rolls up. If you think about if you have a customer success leader, a sales leader, a marketing leader, and you look at what does success look like to each of them, how are they measured, how are they compensated, if you historically don't have good alignment there and you feel like everyone is stepping on each other's toes, then that means it probably makes sense for that RevOps team to be on their own and be communicating often with all three of those departments.
It's probably an indicator that there is some lack of alignment there, that's just something that I've observed. It doesn't work to just say, "I'm going to hire this RevOps person and they're going to report to marketing, or report to sales. We're going to hire this one person who is going to do all of these things." That's probably not the best move because whoever they're reporting to, whatever they think is most critical is what is going to be prioritized.
If we're thinking about a much larger enterprise, you might have a sales ops team, a marketing ops team, a dev ops team, a customer ops team, and they might all roll up to some umbrella revenue operations group. But at a smaller organization, it might be here's just one or two people that are focused on revenue operations and they didn't come out of any one of those business units. It just can look a little different depending on the size of the company.
Matt: As you were talking and I'm listening, I'm thinking in some organizations it might be something that almost plugs holes in these various things to make sure nothing is slipping through the cracks and make sure everything is aligned and optimized. In a larger organization, would this be a team that has oversight over those others? If you had a CRO, would they have oversight over sales and marketing, or would they be peers with your CMO? I'm thinking about from a structural standpoint how that would work.
Jen: I think a chief revenue officer typically is reporting up to the CEO. Then you might have a RevOps team reporting in to that chief revenue officer as well.
Let's get in the weeds for a second. Let's say you have customers in your database, you have prospects too. You have a subset of customers that are using a fraction of your product or services, and there is an opportunity to either educate them to get them to use more of your product or even up-sell them to use additional products or services. Do you have the infrastructure in your marketing automation and your CRM systems that would enable your marketing team to actually run those campaigns or your account management team to be servicing those customers and those campaigns? The answer likely is no.
I'm just speaking generally. We put a lot of energy into presales, then when something gets sold it gets kicked over the fence to a delivery team of some kind. Maybe they're using a project management software, or they're using other kinds of account management tools, or maybe they're not even using software at all, maybe it's some kind of Google Sheet or Microsoft Note, or some other system, or maybe a proprietary system that has been built, and that data is not necessarily getting pulled back into your CRM.
As people change companies, they leave one organization and come to another, how do you keep up with all of that? Who is keeping those wheels on the bus? That's where that RevOps person or team comes in to make sure that as a company we're able to do what we want to do. It's one thing to be in a meeting and say, "This would be great. Let's launch this campaign. We believe we could sell to 50% of our install base, we think we could sell X amount to this group."
That sounds great in theory. Who is going to actually make sure that those inputs are there so that you don't send the wrong message to your customers at the wrong time? Maybe they're coming up for renewal. Maybe they're struggling right now with something. All of that information can't just live inside someone's head. It has to be in your system if you're really going to leverage automation systems.
Matt: Your example was great, talking about customers that are only using a fraction of your tool or of your software. Before we went on air, you and I were talking about the recording software and all the things that it can do and I said I only use it for podcasts. This tool that we're using right now, StreamYard, does a lot more, there's livestreaming and there's Q&As that it can do. But again, I'm a perfect candidate for that because I'm probably using just a sliver, I probably only even know a sliver of what the technology can do. I think that's a great example and that hit close to home.
Another big buzzword that has been floating around for the last half a decade or more is sales enablement. We talk sales enablement a lot. How does that fit into the big picture of RevOps, where does sales enablement belong in there?
Jen: I think sales enablement belongs in marketing, but that's probably another episode. I think it's a component. If you think about we have this engine that's running and this machine, how are we enabling our sales or anyone in a sales-esque seat, so you might have someone who is responsible for upsells or they're held accountable to churn on the customer success side of things, how are you enabling them to be successful and what are the tools and resources that you're serving them in the best way that they work?
It's more internal, it's more of an internal activity, but I think there is a lot of crossover between sales enablement and revenue operations, for sure. Not the content part of it. The content part of sales enablement, if there are any resources that are getting developed or tools that are getting created, that's going to live probably over on the marketing side of things. But how it gets implemented so that it can be actually used and activated by the team and reported on for usage or to sense adoption, I think that's where RevOps can come in.
They're the technologists, they're the ones that are back there helping make sure that the strategy is actually functioning the way you envision it to and it's working. If we don't have the right tools as an organization, they're able to identify what the tools are that we need, whether that's a platform or that's expansion or that's whatever flavor or more tech you're talking about.
Matt: That is a fantastic segue into our last couple of minutes, because I wanted to ask about if an organization wants to start down the RevOps path. We've identified this as a weakness, we want to really focus on this, we want to put some resources behind this, both dollars and people. Where do we start? How do I start this at my organization, what do I need, what people, positions, tools, technology, where do we even start here?
Jen: I think if you're starting to get buy-in also, if you're really truly at step one, one exercise I recommend is to take a flywheel concept on paper, you can print one out. HubSpot has probably a million variations of this. This flywheel shows that you have your marketing effort that feeds into sales, and then sales feeds into your servicing, and it all revolves around that customer. The first exercise is to look at where are there points of friction for your customer in the way you operate today between marketing, sales, customer success, back to marketing.
Tactically, a great example is my marketing team is always looking for who is our next case study, who could we queue up for a testimonial. What's your process internally? Is it challenging? Do you make your prospective customer wait how many days or a week to get access to that referral because you're having internal conversations about is this person really good to talk to this person right now? Think about how we operationalize that. If you map out where your friction points are in your business, it will become really clear where you might want to be spending some time and effort. Then you can identify is this a people problem, is it a process problem, is it something that we can solve with technology.
All of a sudden, you'll start to see here's why we need to fun this role, or roles. If we eliminate the friction, what does that do? Does that speed up our sales cycle, does it increase our attach rate with our customer, do we start selling more to that same customer? You can start to then attribute other revenue metrics to eliminating that friction, but you have to know what it is first.
Matt: Identifying those friction points, identifying those points that don't feel good either internally or in the customer journey is critical here. Of course, getting buy-in. We have to get buy-in, because we can't do this in a silo, one person can't do this.
Jen, thank you so much for your time today. It's been great talking to you. As I said before, I love doing these episodes that I know very little about because I come away like I've taken a master class in 30 minutes, I know so much more than when I started this episode. I really appreciate you coming on here. Thank you so much for your time.
Jen: It was my pleasure. This is still new, we're still figuring this out. You could talk with someone else and they might have a completely different flavor, a different tone to this idea of RevOps. I'm a big believer in inbound, so I just look at how it helps me do that job better.
Matt: That's the best thing about being in marketing. There are some best-practices, but everybody puts their own spin on it, everyone has their own flavor to it. You accumulate enough of these and eventually you have your spin, you have your own flavor on it, which is what I like so much about the industry that we're in.
If folks want to learn more about you or about SmartBug Media and what you're doing, where can they find out a bit about you?
Jen: You can check us at SmartBugMedia.com. I am very active on LinkedIn and Twitter, so you can reach out to me there. If you connect with me, just let me know that you heard me on this podcast so that I have some context for our newfound relationship.
Matt: Speaking of podcasts, you're also the host of The Intelligent Inbound Podcast. Correct?
Jen: I am. What I love about that is I get to talk to really smart savvy marketers from marketing managers in the trenches up to CMOs and even CEOs of organizations about the really cool stuff they're doing with inbound marketing that is different than your bread and butter generic inbound marketing and just kind of pushing the envelope. If you want to hear about the latest and greatest experiments people are running and what they're finding success with, you should check it out.
Matt: Absolutely. I love sharing new podcasts with our audience. Folks, check out The Intelligent Inbound Podcast. Jen, thanks again for your time. It was great having you on.
Jen: Thanks, Matt.
Matt: Folks, thank you so much for listening to another episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast. Before we go, I have one favor to ask each and every one of you. Do me this solid. Find one person, just one single person who you think would benefit from what you've heard today, and share the podcast with them. Tell them that you just listened to a great podcast, a great interview with Jen Spencer, and let them know that there's a lot of good information to be had in the Marketing Smarts Podcast. With your help, we can grow this, and eventually maybe we'll take over the world. Who knows?
All right, my friends, that is it. Until the next time.
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Published on February 3, 2022
Jen Spencer, CEO of SmartBug Media, a globally recognized Intelligent Inbound marketing agency of experts in digital strategy, design, PR, and marketing automation. Jen is also an influential thought leader in the sales, marketing, and revenue operations space, regularly speaking at B2B conferences, as well as hosting The Intelligent Inbound Podcast and formerly hosting SmartBug on Tap, both regular podcasts delivering tactical advice on demand generation, digital strategies, and revenue operations.
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