One of the most critical tasks for someone in a revenue role is to create alignment between GTM teams. This is often the mantra of RevOps, but true alignment can be very difficult to achieve.
In this Revenue Leader interview, Jen Spencer, CRO of SmartBug Media, discusses the importance of putting the entire customer lifecycle under one roof and some of the challenges companies face when they do not focus on aligning their teams.
Enjoy the interview below which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Note: Since publishing this interview, Jen has become the CEO of SmartBug Media (Congrats Jen!)
Thanks so much for joining us today, Jen! Let’s start with a bit about your background and what you are doing today at SmartBug Media.
Thanks for having me!
I am currently the Chief Revenue Officer of SmartBug Media, a HubSpot Elite Partner, and an Intelligent Inbound® marketing agency. When I joined four years ago, I was the VP of Sales and Marketing, and it wasn’t until this year that I took over client services as well. I now own the whole customer experience.
Fun fact: I was a SmartBug client and HubSpot customer at two different companies starting back in 2013.
Before working in the B2B tech space, the early part of my career was spent teaching high school English and theatre arts. I then worked for a non-profit professional theatre company (Arizona Theatre Company) running Sales and Marketing.
In my time in the startup world, I had the opportunity to help a company through a successful exit which is very exciting. I also had the chance to work for a large multi-billion dollar company, where I learned that those sized companies are just not for me.
I’ve had the opportunity to see a little bit of everything. Being a teacher prepared me for non-profit work, which helped me when I started working at startups.
That’s really interesting. What was it like to transition from a Sales and Marketing role to take on the full customer lifecycle? What are some of the similarities as well as differences?
At SmartBug, we look at our business as a Flywheel. In that model, one of the things that was really working was that there was almost no friction between Sales and Marketing because it all fell under one leader and vision; the team was built to support it being a cohesive unit.
However, there was more friction than I’d like to see between Sales and Customer Success. We had to think about how we could support customers throughout their entire journey and what needs to be in place to make that happen.
Just like when a customer gets frustrated in the marketing to sales handoff when the information they provided in the marketing process isn’t then passed to sales, so too with the hand-off from sales to success. It’s even more painful when it’s moving from sales to success because there had been a lot of time taken during the discovery process that could give the success team a ton of insight that they are now missing.
You don’t want to make your customer start from scratch.
So we started looking at how we could improve that handoff between sales and success in our organization. This initiative was something I personally pitched to my CEO.
As CRO, I now have purview over the entire customer lifecycle and own all the different levers within the organization that can impact both customer happiness and revenue growth, allowing us to affect change more quickly.
Since doing that, we’ve seen better retention, better fit, and larger deal sizes – all the metrics that matter have improved because of better alignment.
Continuing on the theme of alignment, what does true alignment look like in your experience?
At a philosophical level, your company is like a machine. Everyone plays a different part in keeping the machine humming and operating at peak performance; that’s ideal.
When you’re not aligned, that machine doesn’t function. The worst-case scenario is that it completely breaks down, while the best-case scenario is you start to build speed, momentum, efficiencies, and with that comes increased profitability.
With true alignment, the customer feels like they have a clear idea of the organization they are doing business with. It has to be seamless; it doesn’t matter if they shift from one department to another because there is a cohesive brand experience.
Internally, there are all these mechanisms to support customers without them even realizing it’s happening; any professional athlete will tell you that it takes a lot of effort to make it feel like there’s no effort. So it all comes down to the perception the customer is getting and how are your key metrics are improving.
As someone who has recently shifted into a CRO role, what do you think are the key metrics for a CRO?
We look at sales pipeline growth pretty closely. We also measure the overall close rates, which tells us how effectively sales are converting the leads generated by marketing; those different conversion points.
We also look at the customer side, both growth and attrition. Ultimately, our goal is to keep those churn numbers low and growth high.
We want to increase average deal sizes, and a strong conversion between marketing leads into the sales pipeline.
The last 18 months or so has created a lot of change for everyone, but RevOps seems to have really been put in the spotlight. How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has changed things for RevOps?
For many organizations, COVID really exposed where there was either a lack of documentation or documented processes for basic things. It wasn’t as hard to function when everyone was going to the office and could see each other every day, but once we all moved to a remote environment, internal processes started to break for some folks. This was not an issue for us at SmartBug because we’ve always been a 100% remote team, 150 people and growing each day.
The positive benefit of teams having had to work remotely is it gave them a better chance to identify opportunities for automation and create better efficiencies within their organization.
It’s interesting. I’ve previously worked in organizations where if you had a team of four people heads down working in a conference room all day, you wouldn’t think twice about it; you might say, “that’s great, they are all working together.” But if you take those four people and have them working from home where no one can see them, even if they are doing the same amount of work, all of a sudden, executives start asking what they are working on and why it’s taking so long.
The switch to work-from-home opened people up to figuring out how to use systems and technology more efficiently, which I believe is a positive outcome of an otherwise challenging situation.
Of course, the rise of RevOps was already in place before COVID.
Historically, Sales Operations existed in more traditional companies to manage lead routing, commissions, and other things that sales leaders aren’t the best fit to own but are critical to a sales enterprise. Marketing tech has also evolved and became an integral part of any company. Marketing folks can’t manage the entire marketing stack while also focusing on all the other aspects of marketing, so Marketing Ops emerged.
In the SaaS world and with the subscription economy more generally, churn is everything. It really doesn’t matter how much you sell if you are churning it all.
Revenue Operations grew into what it is today once people realized how vital the Customer Operations piece was; how critical it is to connect the entire lifecycle.
In that context, the rise of RevOps just makes sense because it’s reflective of recognizing that the responsibility for revenue doesn’t just lie with Sales, Marketing; CS is also a critical part of it.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for someone in a Revenue Operations role today?
What I see most are conflicting priorities.
You can say you have a revenue team, but if each group – Marketing, Sales, CS – has its own goals and individual leaders with compensation plans modeled off of disparate KPIs, priorities will be misaligned. It’s only natural that some things are going to be more critical to certain individuals because of the nature of the work they do. I see RevOps teams hit roadblocks when the effort to align those leaders has not been prioritized. For example, if I am integrating systems or building an automated process, I need to consider what all the inputs are and who needs to be involved – really understand how it will impact each team.
I’ve also seen organizations hire one RevOps person and think those problems go away, but they still need the strategy. If that RevOps person isn’t in a leadership role where they could dictate the strategy, there needs to be a RevOps team to help provide guidance and strategic counsel and then actually make it happen.
In your experience, what are some of the things you see people doing wrong in their GTM strategy?
One thing I’ve found is that companies wait too long to configure their CRM correctly; their one source of truth.
When companies put that configuration off, they are left with these disparate systems – customer information in one system but not in another – as they grow. When they are ready to move forward, they don’t have the data in the same place when they hit that point.
It also impacts their ability to track where their business comes from, which means they don’t really know how to prioritize and where to spend their time. If you are trying to prioritize where to focus, you need to know what impact that level of effort has on your business as a whole.
But if you are not tracking those efforts anywhere, it becomes incredibly difficult to prioritize because you really don’t know what has the most significant impact.
It can be as simple as tracking lead sources; if you get a lot of business referrals, how much revenue actually comes from those referrals? If you are getting 50% of your revenue coming from referrals, how are you tracking that? Are there individual consultants or customers that are referring you that business?
As you grow and scale, you’ll have the infrastructure in place to guide those growth recommendations. If you don’t have that in place, you won’t know where to invest time and resources.
Another thing that I see pretty often is, when a company doesn’t have a RevOps function, the individual Ops teams operate in silos. So Customer Ops will configure something but doesn’t involve the other teams in the revenue organization in the process; now they’ve just created something that will break down because it was built in a vacuum.
What does the future hold for RevOps? How will things change, and how should someone in a RevOps role prepare for those changes?
If it’s not happening already, I think RevOps teams are going to have to begin attributing revenue to their efforts.
I hate to say it, but no company likes to pay for overhead, even if you need it. What makes or breaks the trajectory of RevOps – as a profession and department – is how well they can align themselves with a company’s financial health and overall growth.
It’s what we saw with marketing over the last 10-15 years. Marketing used to be a cost center and a supportive role; in some companies, it was borderline arts and crafts. Or, it was focused on high-level branding that no one could really apply revenue attribution to.
But today, a marketer has to say that through our efforts, we generated X amount of pipeline for sales and closed Y amount of business.
And that’s what’s coming next for RevOps if it isn’t already here.