What is RevOps?
It’s a topic about which you’ve likely read many posts, tweets, and articles. In our latest installment of the Revenue Leader Interview Series, we got to the core of this question with one of the most accomplished revenue leaders in our industry – Alison Elworthy, EVP of Revenue Operations at HubSpot.
Being a “builder,” helping teams connect all their systems together to create a singular view of the customer journey, is a crucial aspect of what RevOps does.
Below are excerpts from our conversation with Alison, lightly edited for clarity.
Thanks for joining us today, Alison!
Let’s start with a bit about you, your background, your journey to Revenue Operations, and what you do now at HubSpot.
Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here.
I actually started at HubSpot with an internship between my first and second year of Business School. Before that, I was in financial services, so I wanted to try the whole tech startup thing and was totally sold by the vision and the idea of Inbound Marketing.
I joined when HubSpot was still a scrappy startup because I felt that they were really on to something big. After Business School, I tried to figure out how to best leverage my strengths and landed in Marketing.
However, I quickly realized that Marketing wasn’t where my strength lay after all.
At the time, everyone in Marketing focused on creating content, which was difficult for me.
I knew I was much more of a science and math sort of person, so I started to drift towards this idea of Marketing Operations. At the time, we were generating thousands of leads, but there was no qualification associated with those leads; we didn’t know how to understand the quality of the leads generated and how they tied to revenue.
So we formed Marketing Operations, and that’s where I fell in love with Ops. So from there, I moved over to run Sales Operations for a couple of years.
I then moved into a traditional Business Operations role, working for the Chief Operating Officer on whatever cross-functional project came our way. I worked on HubSpot’s operating system as well.
After doing that for about four years, I moved to lead our Customer Success organization, which is our global customer-facing team, supporting and onboarding customer success managers. That was a pretty significant role for me because I went from managing around ten people in Ops to nearly 1,000 in a customer-facing role.
And I loved it.
I did that for over three years and had a great time scaling that team and starting to understand our customers. In Ops, I was always one layer removed from our customers supporting our frontline teams, but in CS I was working with our customers day in and day out. What was great about that was learning to build empathy for our customers, understanding their pain points, and what worked and what didn’t.
When I came back from my third maternity leave, our Chief Customer Officer told me that HubSpot would like to move towards a Revenue Operations model and invited me to lead it.
I’ve now come full circle back into Ops and what’s kind of cool is that I’m pulling my customer success experience into it. And it taught me that the key to a great customer experience actually lies in Ops.
Ops leaders solve through their frontline functional teams, but ultimately they’re solving for the customer. I have a much better appreciation for that after having worked on the customer success team.
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What role does RevOps play in empowering GTM teams to operate flexibly but within the guardrails of an organizational structure?
In the “old world,” Sales Ops, Customer Service Ops, and Marketing Ops, all tried to support their teams to optimize their own KPIs. But the piece that’s desperately missing in that setup is the handoffs between those teams. When Ops teams work in silos, they can’t gain a view of the full customer journey, resulting in a friction-filled experience.
As an organization scales, silos become more deeply ingrained, it gets increasingly harder to get a complete view of the customer.
And typically, companies try to patch up the customer experience gaps; duct-taping them together, without structurally fixing them from the root.
What’s awesome about RevOps is that you can take a step back, look at the end-to-end process, and understand where there are significant gaps in the customer’s journey. It enables companies to build a centralized, singular unified foundation for their processes, systems, and data. You still have a Sales Ops team and a Marketing Ops team and a Customer Service Ops team, but they are all unified around a shared goal.
How do you think COVID-19 has changed the way we work, specifically for RevOps?
With the pandemic, everyone had to go completely digital. We clearly saw this with our customers at HubSpot.
When that happened, companies became even more reliant on technology for their go-to-market strategies, creating an urgent need to build automated yet personalized experiences to attract, engage, and delight customers.
I think the pandemic has accelerated companies in every industry towards that motion.
The other thing that’s changed is the way buyers expect to interact with businesses. They want the ability to interact with a company however they choose, whether that’s making a touchless purchase or solving a support question via a chat app without having to pick up the phone.
RevOps plays a significant role in how companies use systems and tools to deliver this type of automated journey, using data to build a deeply personalized experience. After all, you can automate the crap out of a process but, if it’s not personalized, people are going to ignore it and tune it out. The systems and the data are two sides of one coin.
What are the things you see companies doing wrong in terms of GTM team alignment?
I see companies spend so much time trying to figure out ways to coordinate their teams by doing things like adding more project managers or program managers to make sure everything stays on track. But what they really need to do is take two steps back and get those foundational elements in place. It’s not just about pulling all the teams together – that helps, but it doesn’t fundamentally change anything.
What needs to happen is a fundamental change from a vertical way of operating – Marketing Ops, Sales Ops, and CS Ops as separate functions — to a centralized operating model in which systems, data, enablement, and strategy are aligned around a common goal — delighting the customer.
What would you tell a new RevOps manager to prioritize during their first three months when joining a new company?
I would tell them to take time to listen and learn. It’s easy to come in with big ideas and change a bunch of things, but your RevOps teams own the underpinnings of how your entire business runs, and sometimes it can be pretty complex. So you have to take the time to unwind it and understand everything involved before making changes.
What is the goal of someone in a RevOps role?
First, it needs to be tied to revenue.
You’re there to support your revenue teams and your go-to-market teams in a way that scales. In essence, the purpose of RevOps is to create transformational scale — in other words, getting more out of your investments than what you put in, be that users, buyers, customers, or partners.
A lot of companies grow in line with their investments; headcount and customer count kind of trail together — that’s fine, but at some point, it’s just not sustainable, and it’s going to break. RevOps enables companies to create automation and efficiency that drive scale and break what we call “linear growth.”
One metric for that is revenue per go-to-market employee. This is an effective way to measure whether you’re starting to get more leverage out of the systems, tools, and processes you’re implementing as a RevOps organization.
On a more personal note, what do you feel is the most significant opportunity in your current RevOps role?
I think Ops people are the unsung heroes of our industry, they’re working their butts off, doing incredibly high-impact work, but they rarely get recognized.
RevOps gives businesses the opportunity to give their operations professionals a seat at the top table where company strategies are discussed and key decisions are made. This is not only good for the company and the customer experience, it can also make operations teams into the real superheroes they deserve to be.
That is one of my greatest aspirations for my team at HubSpot.
In the same vein as RevOps being the unsung hero, do you also see RevOps as this kind of “builder” internally, the person that connects all these tools and systems together to create a centralized operating system for the GTM org?
I think that’s the shift that is happening. Ops used to be made up of a lot of analyst-types looking at data and creating processes, but now it’s all about building systems that can support scale while also providing a crystal clear view of the customer to all teams,
Do you think there is a requirement for RevOps to have developer skills, or is the low-code/no-code movement an opportunity for RevOps to accomplish the same things without needing engineering knowledge or resources?
RevOps teams can accomplish everything they set out to do and more, even without deep developer skills. I’m living proof! I personally have no idea how to code, and I’m leading HubSpot’s RevOps team.
The key to being an effective RevOps professional isn’t the technical skills you possess, it’s the “builder” mindset you take into your work. At its core, RevOps is about taking disparate teams and tools and bringing them together to build an operating system that’s greater than the sum of its parts. By adopting this mindset and taking advantage of the countless low-code tools available today, operations professionals can transform the way their business runs even if they don’t know their Python from their PHP.
In what ways do you think someone in RevOps can help their company achieve a competitive advantage?
I think it boils down to this: Ultimately, your customer experience is what’s going to give you a competitive edge.
I always use this example of buying a mattress from a company like Casper. Is their mattress better? Probably not. But the experience of buying is so much better, and that’s why they win.
If you have a RevOps team, thinking end-to-end about the customer experience and holistically about your go-to-market strategy, you will create delightful customer experiences that will set you apart from your competitors.
I truly believe that how you organize a team reflects on your customer experience. So the more unified and aligned you are as an Ops team, the better the customer experience will be.
What trends do you see in the future for RevOps?
The entire business world has just gone through one of the most transformative events in generations — having an online presence is no longer a “nice to have,” it’s a requirement. In this digital-first world, customers expect a quick, easy, delightful experience at every touchpoint with a business. And it’s RevOps teams that orchestrate that experience. So, I think we’re going to see more and more RevOps teams having an influential voice in major strategic decisions.
I also think we’re on the cusp of a new wave of innovation in customer experience, conducted by RevOps teams. With customer expectations so high, companies are going to need groundbreaking ideas that separate them from the competition. So, as RevOps teams automate time-consuming processes and drive efficiency, they will begin to direct more of their time to experimenting with big ideas capable of wow-ing their customers in the post-pandemic world.