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RevOps Revolution: AI, Strategy, and the Future of Growth

Christopher Barnett: My name is Chris Barnett I am the founder of WORQFLOW we are a diamond-tier HubSpot Solutions partner as well as a HubSpot certified trainer, HubSpot community champion, and partner advisory council member, and we are a big HubSpot Champions overall. So we love attending Inbound, big pioneers of the platform and overall just evangelists of what Hubspot’s doing in the ecosystem

Mark Lerner (host): What I’ve been doing here over this week is chatting with a lot of folks about what I see as, kind of, the growing community of what we would call ‘RevOps users’ within HubSpot. It seems to me that the size and complexity of the use-case of HubSpot customers has increased, and that means for implementation partners and for app partners that there’s a lot more opportunity to meet the needs of those use cases, but I want to hear your take on that evolution that’s been going on and how HubSpot’s been meeting that challenge.

Christopher: So I would say that the complexity is really defined based on people, platforms, and processes, which are the core pillars of RevOps. So, it’s a matter of HubSpot focusing on connecting those pillars as much as possible through their platform, which is why they’re able to scale and solve for those complex use cases it’s a matter of how HubSpot solves for that customer within each of those pillars how do you enable the people to do their jobs right how do you solve for the platform integration that gives you the visibility how do you ensure your processes are being followed and or are automated as possible to help guide the customer to where they want to go because ultimately the CRM is the engine right it’s going to take you to where you want to go with your car and so HubSpot is really driving that methodology home through that RevOps lens 

Mark: It’s super interesting;  I think it’s interesting because a lot of times, the conversation, when I have a conversation with someone, it ends up going towards AI, even though I’m like, I don’t end up taking it there, and it just seems like it’s so pervasive. 

In all the conversations from HubSpot themselves and then just on the floor, are you seeing that and where do you see RevOps and the future of AI within HubSpot? Where do you see that landing?

Christopher: Yeah, with AI, I think if anything AI will enable the ability to RevOps your business, and so, if you’re looking to improve your Revenue operations, just optimize it as a whole, AI, is a tool to speed that up, and so we like we saw the keynote today in the spotlight from Dharmesh you know Dharmesh said AI is not going to replace jobs, but it’s going to give you a better one meaning that your time is going to be more closely focused on the things that matter more and so from my perspective, I don’t fear the development of AI in the ecosystem I think it’s going to enable the growth of businesses way faster than what we can ever think of and so even then we think about like again the three pillars of the people platforms process AI is going to streamline all three of those massively uh you know according to what Dharmesh told us today 

Mark: Yeah, I agree. 

So  I feel like there are three tiers of people I’ve come across: one is afraid right they’re afraid AI is going to take them, the robots are coming from my job, and then there are people that I think won’t use AI kind of on principle and they think that if they just take a stand eventually it’ll go away right and,  then I think there are people, and I kind of get the feeling you might be on this on the same page as me on this, that is using it to kind of really just 10x their productivity. 

I see it as just a way to increase my own productivity and kind of fill in the gaps of my own kind of skill gaps. I’m interested to see where the RevOps user takes that because I know that I’m not necessarily a developer; I’m kind of developer-curious. Sometimes I’ve used ChatGPT to be able to write little programs for myself on my own without needing a developer, and I know that you know RevOps is a pretty technical position, it wouldn’t be considered necessarily Engineers, but I’m interested to see how much that gives RevOps the ability to reduce friction maybe when needing to integrate systems

Christopher: I totally agree. I think the reduction of that friction doesn’t solely apply to the platforms either, where, if, you can have AI programs that can, you know, automate your processes or find new ways to optimize your processes. 

In addition to that, even the people aspect, right? How can AI find the right training resources or build a training program that can help enable your sales team to do the right things, or enable your service reps to, you know, do their job more effectively? 

I think AI is going to cover way more than just the integration side as well, where it’s going to streamline so much. I think that yeah, those that are hesitant with it, I mean, AI’s been around a lot longer than what everyone thinks. It’s like the Alexa and the Siri in your house or the Siri in your phone; that’s an example of AI. Maybe in a rudimentary way compared to what we’re talking about, but still, at the same time, it’s already helping people now in their personal lives outside of business. 

So, apply that same use case to businesses, and you can see how it can revolutionize the ecosystem as a whole.

Yeah, I think there is a bit of ignorance. I don’t know if ignorance is the right word, but people don’t realize how much artificial intelligence and machine learning has impacted our lives. I mean, search is essentially a form of that. We’ve all been kind of living in that world every time you type; you’re texting on your phone, and it kind of completes the sentence for you. 

That’s basically a large language model or generative AI. So, yeah, I think the fear that both the fear and the hope, both sides of that spectrum, might be overblown.

Right? I don’t think AI is going to be the thing that changes the world to this utopian future, but I also don’t think it’s going to be a dystopian future either. I agree, but I think it’s going to be very exciting times for folks like us.

Mark: So, I’m interested to know, kind of changing gears a little bit, from your perspective—this is your fifth inbound, right? 

So, A) How does this year stack up, and B) What are you either looking forward to the most or what have you seen that you found the most insightful?

Christopher: Yeah, so inbound has evolved massively over the last—let’s call it nine years, right? 

Because I think the CRM was released in 2014, and so, nine years ago. Sales Hub just got revamped; today was the release of it. So it’s a matter of HubSpot always optimizing and updating the platform because they’re listening to the feedback of the customers and the partners. 

And so, I think I’ve been most excited for that, to see, you know, inbound usually has all the greatest product updates for the year during this week. And so that’s always what I look forward to the most: what revolutionary technology or what revolutionary product updates are going to come out that can help my customers succeed more?

And so, I think in addition to that, it’s covering the sessions and the content and the education that comes from all the different thought leaders and industry leaders that are attending and speaking here. 

It’s just, you know, even like DeaHub is a great example. You guys are getting amazing exposure here, and you have a product that is going to seriously help all the customers in the ecosystem that struggle with, you know, CPQ and billing and subscription management and things like that. 

So yeah, it’s an opportunity to basically better businesses globally in the ecosystem.

Mark: Yeah, I agree. I think it’s been really exciting for me as well. So my first inbound was—the last one I went to—was still virtual, so this is kind of the first real one. And I agree with that. And I think one of the things I really appreciate about HubSpot is the focus on community. It’s been a lot of fun to see people in person that you immediately recognize their face from either a Slack community or LinkedIn.

Christopher: Really appreciate it. Yeah, appreciate it.

Mark:  All right, Christopher, welcome back. Uh, we are now a few weeks, almost two months out from when we last spoke at inbound, and I wanted to, you know, have a follow-up with you, about some of the things we talked about and how things have been going for you since then. And, some of your observations on how, you know, the, the team, the team at host bot has been rolling out some of these new features to support some of the rev ops functions.

And, and, and yeah, just get your, your view on now that you’ve digested what we went through with that, that, that long week. You know how it’s impacted the work that you’re doing.  Yeah. Yeah. 

Christopher: It’s good to be back. I’m excited to chat. I think there’s been a lot of, product updates that show that HubSpot is very serious about swimming upmarket.

And so I think that the app partners and the solutions partners in the ecosystem are going to benefit from those very, very massively. 

I mean, we have been in kind of Full development mode ever since inbound of just introducing these new functions, seeing how those apply to our current customer base, just kind of figuring out how do we train the internal team on how to factor that into their current, you know, architecture whenever we’re demoing and overall, just, you know, learning about all of the new functionality that’s coming out as well as what is on the horizon as well.

Like I’m hearing whispers of some pretty big things coming out here in Q1 of next year. And so it’s been great. It’s been very busy, but it’s been a really revolutionary time for HubSpot and for the partner ecosystem. 

Mark: Yeah, I definitely have seen very similar. So I spent a lot of time across various communities, HubSpot communities as well.

And it’s pretty clear to me by the questions being asked, that there are definitely larger and more complex use cases moving into the HubSpot ecosystem.

Do you think, well, let me ask it like this? Why, why do you think that is, what are your inklings on why that change is happening now? 

Christopher: Yeah, I think that HubSpot is, is releasing new, you know, public betas, new-like functionality just in production environments in the CRM at a very, very quick rate. And I think that it’s showing that HubSpot is built to scale at an enterprise and mid-market level. 

I think that it’s becoming a more serious contender with those, you know, larger incumbent CRMs is how I’ll phrase it. And so people are starting to realize that HubSpot’s a player in the game.

And, it’s showing through the roadmap and the quality and quantity of products being released, actively. I mean, I’m seeing stuff nearly every week, if not like every four to five days coming out. It’s great to see. And so I think that coming out of Inbound, there’s always a little bump in activity from HubSpot’s customer base.

I feel like with new business, and new hubs; this has been a serious jump with the introduction of AI tools, commerce hub, getting some big updates, and overall sales hub being revamped. That’s a huge functionality upgrade. 

And so I think the combination of those together overall is showing that they’re swimming upmarket, and they’re doing all the right things to do that. 

Mark: Yeah. I was talking to someone recently about this, and it’s funny because every one of those little changes that may, for some people, seem inconsequential; you mark a lead a different way or a prospect a different way that made somebody’s year.

They’ve been begging for that feature. Like, there’s somebody out there whose life was changed by that little tweak, and that happens over and over and over again for these little things. Each one of those, there is a portion of people out there that have been – either they couldn’t start using it because this feature didn’t exist, or they had some crazy workaround. 

And if you continue to build like that, it tends to get bigger and bigger. 

Christopher: Yeah, I agree. I think it’s – I hear the phrase “death by a thousand cuts” sometimes, and I think it’s kind of the inverse of that where a lot of people will leave HubSpot or leave other CRM platforms because there’s a bunch of little things that don’t do, but then ultimately when you have the flip side of that coin, now there’s like little things being fixed here and there gradually. 

Like it’s being optimized on an ongoing rate that ultimately benefits the customer base and attracts, you know, a lot of new business, uh, to the platform. 

And so, yeah, I couldn’t agree more.

Mark: Yeah. It’s a lot of, it’s a lot of fun watching people’s reactions and it’s a lot of fun seeing some of the non-standard use cases coming in and people asking: how do I support this? How do I deal with tracking ARR when you have a renewal deal, is it the same deal – they’re all these really kind of intricate things. 

And it’s really fun to see those things being hashed out.  

Kind of piggybacking on that, are you seeing… well, let me take a step back. 

One of the reasons I’ve heard that when I would ask somebody that was on, let’s say, a more traditional CRM, why they couldn’t consider something like HubSpot that’s at a lower price point, and it was always just kind of this article of faith that it couldn’t support their use case. 

It’s not like they had any proof of it, but it was just like, “there’s no way, only Salesforce can support this.” It seems like it’s a very sticky problem because there are people that believe that, and I don’t know how much you can prove it wrong.

Christopher: I think part of it is the cost pressure, right? 

I think Salesforce increased their prices across the board. There was definitely some buzz around that. That’s probably pushing people. I think that there are just generally budgetary issues companies are having and trying to figure out how they can get the same or functionality at a much lower cost.

Mark: Do you find that as a hurdle that you have to overcome when talking to people? 

Christopher: Yeah, definitely. I mean, especially when we have these, uh, you know, leads or customers that are bigger organizations, they, they kind of think that the natural transition starts with CRM  and end with Salesforce CRM, which really isn’t the case anymore.

And so we’re seeing that HubSpot can scale with the business through the entirety of that. You know, the company’s life cycle. 

So from one employee all the way up to a thousand employees, HubSpot is now able to do it all. 

And I think that the reason that that’s the stigma, if you will, with HubSpot compared to Salesforce is HubSpot CRM functionality is relatively new.

I mean, HubSpot didn’t start as a CRM. It started as a marketing automation platform. And so people don’t really take it as seriously compared to Salesforce, because Salesforce started as a sales-focused CRM. 

And so I think it’s, you know, an uphill battle to overtake that top slot on G2 or whatever it is, as far as the best software out there. But HubSpot has made giant improvements to get there.

And if anything, like it’s now a major contender, it’s the contender with Salesforce, like it’s in that order of operations. It’s always HubSpot versus Salesforce – you may be able to throw some other smaller ones in there, but it’s always those two pitted up against each other, which shows that HubSpot has made such giant leaps towards being able to compete against a more purpose-built CRM, even though they started as a marketing automation platform.

Mark: Yeah. They have a very interesting way of iterating their products, like starting at a very minimum viable product and building on it. And they did that for the CRM. They did it for the CMS. They did it for, kind of, everything. It’s a very interesting process that they have. 

I  wanted to switch gears a little bit; I’ve talked to a lot of RevOps folks, a lot of people on go-to-market teams over the last few months, and I am trying to kind of get a feel for the impact that some of these changes in the macroeconomic situation have had on tech companies. 

We all kind of know that there’s been a lot of challenges over the last year. But specifically from RevOps, some of the challenges they were seeing, and one of the ones that really stuck out to me, and I don’t know if you see this in your world and kind of want to get your thought on it was, there was a very long time where every company was like, “we have to be a PLG, got to do PLG,” even if they didn’t know what that meant, their investors were like, you got to do PLG, you got to do PLG.  And it was just everyone talking about it.

And then we saw this shift where the market got tighter, churn got higher,  cost of acquisition got higher. And that story that was being told about this is the silver bullet seemed to change. What I’m hearing from some RevOps folks is that’s the challenge now. They’re like, we have to do a, like a U-turn again and build in a sales-led motion at least, and not be completely focused on that.

I know that’s kind of in the weeds, but is that a trend that you see as well? Is there anything you can speak to about that? 

Christopher: Yeah, I definitely think it’s a trend. I think that, in addition to being product-led in that previous era, if you will, I think now it’s more about being revenue-led more than anything else.

And so it’s about how can we find the actionable data that ultimately leads to more revenue-focused decisions inside of the business. And so that means, going back to the CRMs –  you got to have a really solid CRM to make those decisions. And so ultimately, like I say this all the time, the best kind of data is the most actionable type, right?

And being product-led is obviously very attractive and something that a lot of companies should focus on. But, ultimately, revenue drives a business; product does not drive a business. 

So I think now the focus is, “How can I focus my business around positive revenue-driving activities on a day to day week to weekly basis overall?”

So that’s what I’m seeing in the world of RevOps.

Mark: Yeah, I agree. And I think that’s kind of globally something people are starting to catch on to. 

Like there was always this ”growth-at-all-costs” mentality, right? It doesn’t matter how much it costs to get, to acquire, a new customer, just get them in the door, and we’ll figure it out later. Obviously, that has changed considerably, and the companies that are winning right now are the ones that can, like you said, use data to identify expansions, and upsells, decrease churn, look for those signals, and be able to move quickly to take action on that.

 Not only incentivizing based on net new business, but incentivizing based on net revenue retention as an example, but it still seems like there are people who assume this is an anomaly, and that will shift back to a 2021 world of software sales.

Is that something that you see?  

Christopher: I mean, I don’t think that this is a fad. I mean, I’ve known of other fads where it’s like everyone wanted to do SEO at one point, and that’s all they wanted to do. You know, there’s always been father there, remember there was “smarketing” was a big one back in the day. And so, there’s always a fad at some point in time with RevOps. I don’t think this is a fad because now we’re focusing on how we can bring our entire customer journey together. Cause now it’s not so siloed inside of businesses where you have marketing is here, sales is here, and customer success here.

Now RevOps is focusing on that entire customer journey, right? So it’s figuring out what channels are driving the most revenue, right? How can we influence churn in a positive way through our marketing and sales efforts? And so it’s one where the revenue operations life cycle is so much more broad than just a marketing-specific function or a sales-specific function.

RevOps goes well beyond the realm of sales. It’s about the entire journey. And I think that the quicker that people realize that, the quicker that businesses are able to implement that structure, the more successful they’ll be. And they’ll realize that this is truly a methodology that they can build an entire, you know, strategy around from a business perspective, not just lean into this hot thing that everyone’s doing right now on the ecosystem.

Mark: Yeah, as a marketer, I cringe at the latest, you know, terminology some company put out there so that they could, like, win on SEO, right? I could go through a million of them. 

I agree. I don’t think it’s a fad. I think that RevOps was like the number one most sought-after job on LinkedIn last year.

Having been in this world for a few years now, watching this happen, going from people not even really knowing what this job title was to it being kind of table stakes has been really interesting. 

One of the challenges I still see is one of definition of what RevOps is, right? So it’s one of these things where like, okay, you need to have a RevOps person, but a company will hire a RevOps person, they’re essentially an admin for the CRM.

Or something like that. Whereas, I think that a successful revenue operations function and kind of mentality would mean that someone in that role would actually be strategic rather than just kind of tactical. Do you see that challenge still existing? And how do you think someone in a RevOps role could advocate to have that kind of strategic role within the company?

Christopher: Yeah, I agree that there’s, I think with something that’s still so new, if you will, in terms of how it’s defined, there are different levels to how you lean into RevOps. And so for me, it’s all about the people, platforms, and processes in a business and how those influence positive revenue towards your efforts in the business.

And so, with that, strategy should be at the heart of everything that you do in the world of RevOps. And so strategy is usually driven by data. Everyone talks about how they want to be data-driven with their strategy. So that means that the platforms have to support that initiative, right?

The processes of how you collect the data, how you enter the data, and how it is aggregated together and visualized is a really important part of it. Then the people aspect is also arguably the most important part, right? And so it’s, how are your sales reps being enabled or empowered to go and. Cell through their CRM, through their platforms.

And so I think that if you’re hiring for a RevOps role, it needs to be very, very strategic around those three main pillars of people, platforms, and processes. And I think now it’s still people aren’t quite sure on how it’s defined specifically, but they’re doing some level of it in some facet of their business somewhere.

It’s just a matter of defining it, nailing it down, and then making it more strategic so that they can see the positive impact on the business. 

Mark: Yeah, and I think that’s a really great way to look at it with those three pillars. I find that often people will immediately revert to the platform part, meaning they would, they’re looking for a technological solution to a problem without giving much attention to the process problem. 

And I find that when you do that, that just amplifies whatever the problem was with the technology. I think I suffer from this too. I love going on Product Hunt and finding the latest thing, but if there’s no strategy behind how this will be used and why you need it, then it’s just another future shelfware, as it were.

I wonder, in an ecosystem like HubSpot where there’s so many add-ons that you can, do you find that people will often focus on those without really focusing on the process problem, you know, they say, “Oh, well, I found an, I found a plugin for that” or whatever it is, but that never actually necessarily fix the problem. 

Christopher: Yeah, I  definitely think so. There’s always that shiny object attraction, if you will, to certain add-ons or new software; AI is kind of that shiny object right now, where it’s like, everyone wants to lean into AI.

It’s like, I want to automate all of my customer service to be AI-driven. And, to a certain degree, that’s very helpful. Right. And so, there are objects out there that can help your business succeed to a whole other echelon, but ultimately it’s about thinking about the end-state is a big thing that I think about with RevOps; “Is this solving a pain point now, and will this will this solution help us get to become a billion dollar company?”

And so, thinking about, are we solving a short-term solution by just patching a hole in the boat or are we actually guiding the ship to that North Star where we want to get to? 

And so I think that it’s a matter of the RevOps focus thinking about the entire journey, not just the pain point now or what we’re looking to solve.

It’s very process-driven from that standpoint, or it’s a matter of is this a short-term solution, right? Or is this one where we can factor this into the process and change our strategy to get to that North star? And so it’s a little bit about being data-driven. It’s a little bit about being focused on that North star mission and not just solving those immediate pain points.

Mark: Yeah. It’s a challenge. 

How do you weigh the immediate fire that you need to put out with the long-term vision of, you know, what you want to get to? 

And I’ve actually talked to a lot of people about the main challenges that they have. And I don’t know if there’s an answer for it as much as it’s got, you have to kind of weigh the cost-benefit of each.  

I did want to transition; we were talking about shiny object syndrome and that shiny object being AI. And that was definitely something I think we talked about at Inbound.

It was something I talked to everybody about; it was the one thing everybody brought up.  

I personally am a big fan of using large language models from a marketing perspective. I do think that there’s a lot of stuff that was essentially a wrapper for ChatGPT that came out that people assumed would solve a problem better than it actually does. 

Do you see some of that? A warning of that kind of euphoria people had, where it was just like, all I need is ChatGPT and I can run a business without anything else. You know, I can fire everybody.  Do you see that changing or are people still doing that?  ,

Christopher: I don’t think it’s changing.

I think it’s evolving to be a little more advanced than just like, you know, write a blog post for me or whatever it is.  

I’m seeing a lot more developments in the world of, like, “Help me analyze this data set” is kind of the main, like thing that I’m seeing as the new hot, subtopic in AI, because the more that you can lean on a platform like to help assist you in your job role, the better you’re going to be.

So I’ll quote Dharmesh from Inbound. He said, “AI is going to take your job and give you one that’s better.” That’s exactly what’s happening with a lot of these functions. And so it’s how can we use AI to help us better perform within the business, better perform within our job roles?

And I think that it’s becoming way more advanced than just, write me a paragraph here and there, or write my content for this podcast or whatever it is. I think it’s a matter of how can I optimize my deal data that I have right now to show me trend analysis over time and more advanced things like that, which are super helpful because it takes usually a human to run those types of reports.

And now we can have AI do it for us. I mean, that’s extremely valuable. 

Mark: I agree. I think that the value of AI machine learning on trend analysis and signal identifying and leading indicators in your data is going to be the biggest value for folks. It’s not going to be, you write me a blog post or an email cadence because  

I don’t know if other people can, but I almost always see when something is written by ChatGPT. You know, it’s like there are certain tells, and it’s just like immediately I know it was written by ChatGPT, but AI and machine learning do a fantastic job of seeing things in the data that a person might not be able to see, so I think that especially now in this moment where we’re talking about RevOps folks and the entire journey and being able to help companies get that revenue that may have been lost from churn or lower budget, be able to squeeze more juice out of the fruit by applying these models to identify potential opportunities.

I see that as the big value going forward.

Ok, so I want to imagine that we’re now a year from now, we’re just coming back from Inbound 2024, right?  What do you think will be the focus then? Obviously, AI was kind of like the big, big thing that people talked about this year.

There was a revamp of Sales Hub. 

What do you think is gonna be that for 2024? I know it’s hard to tell the future, but do you think it’s gonna be just a continuation of that or do you think there’s gonna be something more specific?  

Christopher: I think to a certain degree there will always be an AI aspect to like the product releases, especially at a big conference like Inbound.

Here’s my prediction for 2024. I think that there’s going to be some other major updates to the CRM in the form of like being PII compliant or HIPAA compliant. I think that  would be a big overtaking for HubSpot to make that kind of move in the CRM ecosystem. And so that would be very interesting to see, if the goal is to continue to swim upmarket, we need to be more vertically focused.

And that’s one of the main hurdles with certain verticals like healthcare let’s call it finance, FinTech, whatever you want to call it, is hosting that sensitive data inside of the CRM is not possible with HubSpot, but I think that they’re making some strides in secret, or hopefully they are like somewhere to make that jump in order to make that possible. 

So I think 2024 will be focused on maybe data sensitivity, or how we can aggregate data in a more flexible way in the CRM. So that you think that it’s still going to be with an eye to that growing enterprise customer base, while still being able to support, you know, the smaller, the smaller use cases.

Mark: I think you’re right. Actually, if you had asked me a year ago, what this one would’ve been about, I probably would’ve said CMS Hub, because it seemed like that was, that was something they were really putting a lot of time into. And it does seem that the AI, ChatGPT coming out kind of shifted priorities for everyone. 

But I do wonder if we’re gonna see more of that in the near future.

So as we bring this thing to a close for our second time, I wanted to give you an opportunity to like tell the audience how they can find you and hear more about what you do so they can keep up to date with what’s going on.  

Christopher: Yeah. LinkedIn is definitely the best place. You can also follow me in the HubSpot community. Just search for me on there. And I’m usually the first one; we’re always posting videos on our LinkedIn about new product updates, clever ideas, and how to use the new functionality as well and we help customers in real-time in the HubSpot community.

We have like three or four solutions architects who are always on there helping customers out. And so that’s the best way to stay up to date with us is via LinkedIn and in the HubSpot community. 

Mark: Yeah, that’s awesome. I really appreciate it. Thank you again for taking the time again and I’m going to check back in after Inbound 2024 and we’ll see who’s right.

Sounds good. Okay. Have a great day.