For our latest installment of The Revenue Leader Interview Series, we take a peek into the world of Venky Iyer, Head of Analytics, Business Planning and Operations at Facebook.
Read on to learn more about Venky’s unique view on operations and how decision-making must be powered by the data-driven stories that operators are able to tell.
Below are excerpts from our conversation with Venky that have been lightly edited for clarity.
Could you start by telling us a bit about you, your background, how you found operations, and what you are doing now?
I started my career in consulting, and that’s when I really caught a lot of interest in data analytics. I was primarily operating on the technical side, in the business intelligence space, and I increasingly got interested in strategy and ops – primarily business performance measurement and really understanding how to excavate quality insights from data and how to use that to craft business recommendations.
While doing that, I came across a very interesting role at Salesforce working for Sales Strategy for about 5 years, that was where I learned about using data to unlock business insights and help drive sales programs to boost revenue and improve sales productivity.
I was able to really get exposure to Sales and learn how Sales Operations work.
I then made the transition to a different side of Analytics and Ops, more on the product side, when I moved to Facebook in December 2019.
What I do at Facebook is leading product analytics supporting the Ads business. Primarily from a product lens, I help with business performance measurement, GTM recommendations (i.e. pushing adoption of key ad solutions/products in relevant critical markets), and setting product sales goals.
So that’s been my journey.
But to answer the question about how I got interested in the Ops space, it’s really through my interest in data. I believe the core of Operations, whatever field you are in, is anchored in data. The flavor only shifts based on which ops function you are on – whether you are curating the data or curing the insights.
I happen to enjoy the insights part a lot more and drive meaningful recommendations for the business based on the facts.
Where does Operations fit into the overall GTM strategy?
It really depends on the company.
Traditionally, I would see this role fitting into the broader BizOps realm. In my experience at larger companies in particular, Operations is basically a powerhouse for the direct revenue-generating business groups – sales, marketing, supporting orgs like solution engineering, and more.
Regardless of the business, the Ops function is the one that really drives the momentum, planning, and measurement strategy for all the GTM functions.
So I see Ops functions as central and I don’t think it will be going anywhere anytime soon; they are needed to ensure the different front-line business groups are successful.
These are central, but the way the model works differs from company to company. In certain companies, Sales Ops are slightly fragmented. Using sales as an example, each sales leader may have their own Sales Ops counterpart, but in other companies, it is all centralized with a single business planning and ops function.
The model changes but the goal remain the same.
Do you find that less centralized companies are at risk for creating silos where there is less visibility between teams?
One hundred percent.
I’ve seen it happen at some larger companies where they shift from an entirely centralized sales strategy and Ops group to a more fragmented approach.
When that happens, you start seeing analytics and Ops “palooza” hitting. When there is so much decentralized work happening, it creates a lot of overlap and redundancy. However, in this type of environment, you can come up with bespoke strategies and recommendations for your business unit – that’s the only positive, but there are too many negatives and operational red flags to make it viable.
What do you think about the shift towards moving all operations to roll up into Revenue Operations?
That’s pretty much how it works in my current role and I see it being extremely effective.
The reason being, it becomes much more straightforward for any sort of headcount planning. Centralizing all these functions really helps with streamlining the four most important prongs of BizOps – strategic initiatives, programs, core ops, and analytics.
If you centralize all of these functions, you can really cut your operational expenses and make sure that you have a very reasonably lean structure to run Ops. If you decentralize it, then you are talking about redundancies in which each team has its own agenda. However, while strategy and momentum vary across stakeholder teams, it can still be achieved with org structure efficiency.
The other thing is driving increased visibility on priorities. If multiple segments of sales or other functions have competing priorities, then it’s a centralized Ops function that will get total visibility of the end-to-end view. With that, you can really come up with a one-size-fits-all solution as well as specific, bespoke insights when needed.
That structure, to me, works extremely well.
Do you think that this kind of centralization is the best way to avoid “silo syndrome”
For sure, without a doubt.
It’s the best way and what I would recommend – centralize as much as you can.
And it’s not just Ops. In my experience, centralizing tooling and IP, as well as finance works pretty well. The more you can centralize, the more you can streamline, the better it is.
What do you think has driven the increased centralization of these roles in companies, especially under a Revenue Operations function, in the last few years?
I think the primary driver is that companies are diversifying their businesses, expanding into newer markets, and leveraging new business models.
There is a company here in the Bay Area that I am familiar with that has both a subscription business as well as a monetization business. When you have two very different businesses, you need to have two very different go-to-market strategies.
There are many examples from many companies who have a multiplicity of different sales motions existing at the same time in their business. If you have multiple Ops functions catering to these different motions that are always evolving, you will constantly be playing catchup with streamlining.
If you centralize everything, then no matter how you diversify your portfolio your basic principles remain the same and all you need to do is scale up your capacity to cater to those principles.
So the primary driver that I see is companies diversifying their businesses at an accelerated rate.
How has COVID changed the way Operations work within a company?
I would say COVID has resulted in all of the operators over-producing. Primarily organically because there is an increasing need for communication.
Think of any communication channel that a company has, there is a constant need to over-communicate because, even after centralizing Ops, silos can happen relatively quickly.
You constantly need to create a powerhouse of multiple meetings and documents. So generally, I believe operators who are in the front and center of driving alignment have a lot more work to drive that alignment.
COVID has definitely impacted productivity in the sense that operators are now trying to spend a lot more time on driving the same message versus creating new messages which are needed to drive the business forward.
So I would say that has had a significant negative impact on productivity, where you are constantly overcommunicated.
That’s just an organic result of COVID.
Inorganically, one of the lingering apprehensions that operators have is that companies have been cutting costs – what we saw in 2020 with massive layoffs, we are seeing a lot of that impacting operators.
We have seen less of that for product or engineering or sales. But in other functions, especially finance, we have seen a lot of attrition.
When that happens, inevitably they want to produce more to show how critical their work is.
So operators are generally working a lot more.
Do you see these changes persisting for whatever comes next?
A lot of these changes are going to stick.
Now that companies have learned how to operate this way, their expectations have shifted. A senior sales or product stakeholder already has very high expectations of what they can get from operators, if that gets cut down, it could result in performance conversations in which managers see a dip in 2021 as compared to 2020.
So there is that optics aspect that needs to be handled in terms of expectations.
On the other hand, I also feel that with some face-to-face interactions a lot of this is going to be streamlined, but I don’t think we’re ever going back to pre-COVID.
The impact of COVID is going to be long-lasting.
What are some low-hanging fruits that operators could use today to help empower the teams they are supporting?
You really need to base your decisions on data as much as you can. Use data to drive meaningful insights that are beyond the obvious – go several levels deeper into data to understand what the leading indicators are for specific issues that you see – what is causing headwinds, what would help make a shift in your business momentum.
Data-driven business planning is something that I would strongly push for.
The second is to have balance in the documentation – too much is bad, too little is also bad.
You have to have the right level of documentation so that you get everyone on the same page and drive alignment and visibility, but don’t overdo it to the point where there are redundancies.
You need to have very good checks and balances on documentation and what you produce.
What are ways that operations can help empower sales teams to sell more?
A few things.
You need to really prioritize specific treatments and programs. You have to first identify the gaps in the sales process and understand which teams are underperforming and why.
First, get the gaps on the table. Once you have those, operators need to pull a few levers.
If it’s a product issue, then they can act as connective tissue and give feedback to the product team to tell them why it’s not working and suggest alternative strategies.
If it’s a capacity issue, operators work with finance and act as the connective tissue there too.
So it’s really about identifying gaps. If you leave that to sales directly, you are going to get a lot of feedback in terms of gaps even when a lot of those may not be the highest priority for the company. It could be something trivial such as “I don’t know how to use this tool” – that’s not a real business gap, that’s an enablement gap that can be taken care of really quickly.
So Ops needs to take the front seat on identifying what are the biggest, most important gaps that teams need to solve.
Ops also need to drive a lot of rigor.
As much as you can help sales, it’s really sales and sales leaders who ultimately own driving accountability for their teams. You have to equip them with reports, data-driven insights on what’s going wrong, and recommendations on how to drive up their KPIs.
It needs to be very targeted directives with the help of data.