This is a guest post written by Operations Expert, Rob Evans. Having spent the last 21 years in finance, venture capital, and operations roles, Rob collects and curates SaaS content on his blog, revhacks.com, covering building processes, strategies, and tools across various stages of scaling tech. In addition to his primary job function as a Director of Operations, Rob has raced road bicycles professionally for Team Illuminate. The COVID-19 pandemic rocked the business world, along with the world at large, in 2020. Many of the consequences to businesses became immediately apparent, but there are still long-lasting effects that we have yet to comprehend fully. One thing is for sure — revenue operations, better known as revops, has changed forever.
Whether the pandemic packed a wallop or supercharged your operations, teams had to adapt on the fly. As constant adjustments continue to be made, it helps to try to see the forest for the trees. Zooming out and gaining insights on the potential repercussions can help you make sure your revops team stays performing at a high level now and into the uncertain future.
I’ve been watching and analyzing as the pandemic has progressed and put together five key insights that revenue operations teams should keep in mind.
1. Go-to-Market Agility Drives Success Now
Go-to-market agility has always been a pillar of successful revenue operations, but now it’s more important than ever. When the lockdown first started, no one could have predicted how long it would last and how significant the impact would be. Not only that, but no one saw the rebound coming either.
In the wake of the lockdowns, revenue operations leaders had to shift their KPIs drastically and many had to adjust their compensation plans in accordance with new business conditions. Put simply, if you weren’t already a flexible company, you were blindsided.
Adjusting commission plans is tricky. Ideally, you hold the line on revenue as long as possible, using levers and SPIFFs to bridge the gap quarter-over-quarter. At Betts, we turned to communication to prepare our sales team for what would be an unstable market, letting them know that it’s ok if nobody’s hiring. We advised them to “focus on getting the meeting” and “act as a resource.” Our goal was to gather this feedback so that we could try and understand how our clients are navigating and responding to the pandemic. The incentive? For each meeting booked, we give quota credit that gets applied to their current quota achievement. This was a critical piece to our new compensation plan.
For many people in operations, one of two scenarios likely happened:
- Sales goals became unrealistic, adjustments weren’t made, the sales culture eroded, teams fell apart, and operations as a whole floundered.
- The pandemic was a boon to sales, but operations were unable to scale accordingly. As a result, tremendous opportunities were left to wither on the vine.
Of course, in some cases, companies were able to adjust as needed and capture lightning in a bottle. However, as the landscape continues to change, revops need to keep go-to-market agility at the forefront of their priorities.
2. Digital Communications Slow Down Swift Strategy Changes
The lockdown brought on a new normal when it came to employee communication. Face-to-face interactions quickly became a thing of the past. With a rapidly changing business environment, strategic and organization-wide modifications had to be made. Structural change is complicated enough on its own. Add a pandemic that takes away the ability to communicate directly and in person, and you have a perfect recipe for bottlenecks and slowdowns.
Team members in charge of change management found it difficult to make the necessary reforms, gain the trust of other employees, and get accurate feedback. Without the swiftness of face-to-face banter, making these monumental shifts and adjusting to new processes seemed like a near-insurmountable challenge.
On top of internal process issues, the general morale of office culture deteriorated. Coworkers weren’t able to have the casual “water-cooler” conversations during the day. These informal chats served double-duty as ways to socialize and blow off steam, and also talk about how new processes and implementations were going.
Luckily, video conferencing software and screen recording tools were able to step in and help bridge the gap. Even with the assistance of these platforms, establishing reliable and consistent feedback loops continue to pose a challenge for administrative teams. To keep up, remote changes and good feedback will need to be operationalized for management to keep up with the needs of their teams.
I quickly realized that creating Loom videos of process changes wasn’t enough, so I started doing a bi-weekly 1:1 with each member of the sales team. I branded the meetings “ring the register with Rob” and positioned them as “how can I help you crush your goal” instead of the typical “let’s review your pipeline with the ops police.” This was a huge success. It allowed me to dive deep into the individual’s sales process, extract best practices, bridge process gaps, and build a level of trust with the team that can’t be found in group meetings.
Ensuring employees have a way to connect with coworkers on a less formal level will also be essential. Apps like Signal and Telegram could provide the outlet teams need for general chatting. The implementation of informal team breaks could provide a way for team members to interact on a more consistent basis. In fully remote settings, management should go the extra mile to help employees build relationships outside of Slack and get to know each other better. Virtual team-building activities and even virtual happy hours can get the ball rolling on this front. For companies with a hybrid workplace, you’ll need to ensure that your remote workers feel included and welcome. Set up events and activities where they’re able to join in on the fun.
3. Email is Marching Towards Extinction
The pandemic might’ve been the beginning of a death knell for email. With the rapid growth and rise of mobile communication platforms, email became an annoyance and a roadblock to swift communication. The psychological burden of email on your teams is so real that “email fatigue” became a regular complaint. Google’s Executive Productivity Adviser, Laura Mae Martin, was quoted in a Fast Company article earlier this year stating that "email has always been a cause of stress” but the pandemic made it much worse. “We used to have a quick chat in the hall, and that’s becoming email. Email has inflated as it’s become a method of communication that used to take place face-to-face.”
In terms of external email communication, we saw data providers prove to be much more plodding than we initially thought. Bounce rates skyrocketed and IP-based intent signals crashed down to the ground. If you thought reaching prospects was difficult before, the pandemic set the bar even higher.
Revenue operations need to make sure to use their check-ins wisely to stay relevant. The outdated back-and-forth method of “finding a time that works” and wasting each other’s time doesn’t work anymore. Instead, you can send a dynamic meeting link, pick a time, and you’re set up to go. Applications such as Calendly and Chili Piper have made this type of scheduling more manageable than ever. If revops want to survive, they have to understand how their prospects want to be reached. Leverage new technology and emerging channels to save time, increase efficiency, and keep communications quick and light.
It took some time to get the team to drop the presumptive “how's tomorrow at 11 am look for you” in favor of the “book time with me” link, but once they did, we saw time-to-first meeting drop by almost two full days!
4. Time to Get on Board With Virtual Hiring and Onboarding
Ask any person that works in or alongside the recruitment industry and they’ll tell you that finding the best employees has never been a simple task. Virtual hiring, onboarding, and enablement are even more challenging — but this is the future of recruiting and so, resistance is essentially futile. The best thing that revenue operations can do is invest in hiring and onboarding platforms. Then, build a process that creates a competitive advantage in finding and ramping talent.
The sooner your HR team is trained on a solid virtual hiring platform, the sooner you can optimize the process and consistently get the best team members possible. I’ll say it again and again: virtual operations aren’t going anywhere. It’s time to embrace this, whether we like it or not.
5. Revenue Operations Takes Over the Recruiting Mantle
When the pandemic first hit, recruiting was the first department to get cut, followed closely by sales. But what nobody realized (myself included) was how fast companies would rebound — the tech industry in particular. I think it’s safe to say most of our clients over-indexed on the downside risk and didn't realize how fast business would ramp back up, and further, how they would scale up once they did. As a result, companies were left scrambling to rebuild a recruiting function and hiring process that not only looked way different, but the hiring market for customer-facing roles like sales development representatives (SDRs) and account executives (AEs) was more competitive than ever. In our latest Betts Recruiting Comp Guide, we saw a whopping 20% increase in salaries for sales and customer success from late 2020 to mid-way through 2021.
To sum up a few of the points I made earlier:
- The old way of screening, hiring, and onboarding has been thrown out.
- Reaching a good candidate’s inbox is much harder.
- The cost of hiring and keeping a great employee is higher than before.
Given all of these reasons, it’s critical to include operations in your hiring process. I like to think of it as the fourth pillar of revops; marketing, sales, customer success, and hiring.
Future-Proof Your RevOps
To stay on top of your revenue operations, you need the right tools and resources, no matter the state of the market. The new way to ensure revops’ success is to take a more holistic approach. The post-pandemic business world will see a rise and focus on the process of revenue operations. This function focuses on looking at every business layer and aligning all departments to maximize your revenue.
When you're short on SDRs, revops is there to close the gap between sales and marketing. When your top sales reps don’t see a path to crushing their numbers, revops is there to build a bridge via a flexible commission plan that retains your top-performers. When your customers start thinking about cutting spend, revops are there to show the ROI and tighten the loop between customers and customer success managers (CSMs).
From strategy to process to people, revops is the function that stands between the tank of gasoline and your business. Investing in a revops strategy will be one of the safest bets you can make if you want to be future-proof, establish flexibility, and prepare for the next wave of uncertainty.