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Agility as a Core Pillar of RevOps

Mark Lerner:

Alright everybody, welcome back to the RevAmp podcast. I’m very excited to be joined today by Danielle. Can’t wait to hear about her background and her story and some of the interesting things that she’s navigated through. So without further ado, Danielle, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, what you’re doing these days, your, without further ado, Danielle, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, what you’re doing these days, and your background.

Danielle Marquis:

Awesome. Yeah, thanks for having me. Danielle Marquee. I am the VP of Revenue Operations at a company called Zappi. It’s a market research SaaS platform, so trying to bring software into the consumer insights space. It’s been an eight to 10-year journey for the company and lots of evolution. I’ve been with the company personally for five years, so I’ve seen a lot of that change. As you can imagine, with Rev Ops, we’ve approached things with very different strategies based on the maturity and evolution of the company. And yeah, I’ve been in the revenue side operations space for 15 years. I started out as a sales ops person. I didn’t even know what it was. Someone at my first company started teaching me some Salesforce. I was still getting my master’s degree. Process optimization was my surprisingly favorite class during my master’s, and I quickly learned how to apply all that to the sales process and all the stuff that my department was working on, and it just kind of was a love affair.

From there, I’ve jumped from sales operations more broadly to specifically Salesforce administration and app building for large companies and back into sales ops, introducing marketing operations when marketing automation and all that was really getting its first evolutions. I learned a lot of channel operations, which was fun. I don’t know if I ever want to fully go back to that, but, I then just worked with SaaS companies the whole time, but varying different industries. So I’ve learned a lot about different industries and different company sizes, everything from under a hundred people to over a thousand people.

Mark Lerner:

Wow. Yeah, so that’s a pretty diverse set of experiences, but I think it really sets up the conversation pretty well. So one of the things that I’ve talked to a lot of folks about, and it’s just something I think I’ve observed, I think we’ve all observed, it’s like we’ve gone through these rapid breakneck changes over the last, let’s say five years. First, it was Covid, and the world shut down, and it’s like, okay, everything’s different now where everything’s going to go out of business. That didn’t happen. Then the money bazooka was aimed at the economy, and we had SaaS companies that were really benefiting from that growth at all costs. Huge budgets were never a problem, and then at some point, that dried up, and we went right back in the other direction. And so I think a lot of us, the ground beneath us, doesn’t feel all that stable. It’s pretty clear to me that we’ve seen a bunch of companies wash out, and I think a lot of that, not all of it, but a lot of it was, I don’t think they were really considering that things change and that it’s not just a blip and that whatever strategy you’ve built, you can’t wait until next quarter to reassess.

You have to have some level of agility to change. So I guess my first question is how has it seemed from where you stand the last few years, has the change impacted the things you do and your strategies and the challenges?

Danielle Marquis:

Very much so Everything you hit on, so when I got here, the whole company strategy was very different. I knew the North Star vision, so I knew what I joined the company knowing what we wanted to be, at least to the degree five years ago we had a vision around, and then every year or two, that vision shifts a little bit. Ideally not 180 from a year where you started, but with that, I’ve really tried to focus on a balance of what we need to get business done right now, but also, how do I build it in a way we can scale into where we want to be? So I never want to take a problem and solve it for that exact problem. I always try to do a pre-mortem on every single solution we’re putting out. What can we try to think about before someone asks a question about it or before someone comes into our Slack channel It’s like, eh, this didn’t work.

And then also knowing that it could take less than a year or it could take two years to get to our end vision. So you also can’t really guardrail your solution for that end vision, right? That’s a lot of conversations I have with my stakeholders internally and my own team. It’s like that balance between building for the scalability of the future without actually shooting yourself in the foot right now. It’s funny, you can either, it’s two schools of thought where it is a balance, and I’m not saying it’s going to be perfect every time, but as much as you can come into your requirements gathering, thinking about what will get you to the future and what you need right now and just really keeping that communication and documentation around that up to date, you’re going to be in such a better place. There are so many implementations we’ve had to roll back because we built it for the requirements here and now, and the business is a completely different business four years later, and now we’re the whole thing.

So whenever you think of that solution, don’t necessarily architect for the right now or the future, but try to find that healthy balance and those areas in your solutions. I work a lot with our tech systems and integrations. I have a lot of dependencies on our product team to put certain things in place before we’re ready to speak with that data. So we might put a lot of the fields in place and make sure our architecture is set up for when they’re ready to be passing us data, ingesting data from us. Still, we don’t put the validation rules in place on our side because that way, reps have the flexibility and don’t get stuck by something that’s kind of partly built. So that’s kind of an example of how we might do that.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah. How much in your planning, I mean, I don’t know about how it was like before, but in the new world, where we’ve kind of rocked back and forth, how much of your planning is considering the most catastrophic outcome? What is our exit hatch? Does that have to be considered basically in all projects?

Danielle Marquis:

It’s a great question. I think you should always have a rollback plan; how do you unblock this quickly? I anticipate that nothing’s going to be perfect, to be honest. That could be a glass half or a glass empty, half empty, I guess. But yeah, I just anticipate that there’s going to be something we haven’t thought of, and getting ahead of that and building in for that flexibility and having a way to roll back portions at a time for the whole thing is going to help you immensely. While you need to troubleshoot or build in something you didn’t think about, you’re going to miss requirements. It’s just don’t beat yourself up. I think that’s the other thing I coach my team a lot on that is they’ll feel really bummed if as soon as it’s something they worked on for two months goes live and a rep the first week comes back and is like, Hey, I tried to do this.

It didn’t function the way you told me it was going to work. It’s like, crap, we didn’t think of that use case. We did so much discovery, so much QA and UAT, and you found a use case we didn’t plan for. Cool. The silver lining is great. We are aware of it now. No one else needs to run into it. We can fix it. And I think planning for that. So when it comes to how we look at our roadmap, I anticipate the other thing, especially revenue operations, depending on how broad your revenue operations group is, so some people will have revenue operations or go-to-market operations, and it’s just sales ops rebranded. We are truly across the go-to-market teams and stack. So our team supports sales, customer success, and marketing support. We have some special operations teams just for the market research and solutions survey side of things.

We also are really closely knit with our product team. So we have a lot of unknown dependencies and things we know we need to plan for but might not know the details when we’re building our roadmap at the beginning of the year. So our roadmap is very clear in this quarter, very clear into next quarter and then gets a little bit more high level Q3, Q4, we have very little in Q4 more. So things we are just predicting are not even going to be able to pick up by then, but aren’t a huge priority right now. And what I have each member of my team put on the roadmap is what I like to call watch outs. So we know there’s a company initiative this year and it is just getting kicked off. So we know we are going to need to spend a lot of time supporting that probably around Q3, but things could move faster or slower. So around Q3, we’ll put almost like a space saver on our roadmap. That way we’re not committing to a bunch of known projects knowing that this unknown might trump and take up our bandwidth. So that’s something we’ve done to try to help protect our own roadmap because yes, there’s always going to be several projects in a quarter that you did not have on your roadmap at the beginning of the quarter that between leadership team or customer facing teams gets the Trump on priority card.

Mark Lerner:

So there’s a bunch of strands I want to pull on, but I have to choose one. So I want to, maybe we can walk back to whatever it was March or April of 2020. Right. So you, assuming you had your roadmap planned out the next quarter or very, very diligently and all that, I assumed that once in a century Worldwide pandemic was not on the roadmap.

Danielle Marquis:

No, it did not have it on our bingo card for 2020.

Mark Lerner:

So as a leader, as somebody in Rev Ops, how did that look from your vantage point? What did you end up doing? How did you get through that? I mean I assume it was, we all kind of were trying to write our own playbooks for this, but I’m interested from the rev ops perspective, especially one where there are so many teams that are reliant on it. What did that look like?

Danielle Marquis:

Yeah, so it’s a great question because I think in rev ops it was more pivoting the types of projects we prioritize to help support honestly the collaborative nature of needing to bring people together that were remote and prioritizing more things, which are things now I tell my team to always lead with, but actionable insights. So dashboards are not enough when you’re living in a remote world and everyone doesn’t know what’s going on and psychological being is in a different state and motivation was pretty all over the place. So relying on your basic dashboards or our basic alerting just wasn’t really breaking through the noise or really getting the desired impacts we’re looking for. So we really focused on how can we push insights with actions to our teams, help them better identify moments that matter. We revisited what really motivated reps around. We even found out from a couple reps, this whole team we’re more motivated by their target achievement than their paycheck.

So we adjusted what went towards their target achievement so they could, and I say that because our commissions are paid off with a, once we have certain paperwork in hand and with the pandemic, some of that stuff slowed down a little bit. So what we did was just adjusted what went into target achievement versus the commissions. We kind of separated, obviously target achievement drives commissions, but that helped remotivate that team a little bit more by making more of a competition, but just finding what was motivating each team that they’d want to engage back with the company and whatnot when there’s obviously so many different distractions. I think that’s the biggest thing with Covid from a rev ops perspective. It was like how do you keep people motivated, focused on the activities that will actually drive the better outcomes? The other thing that benefited us is weren’t one of the companies that really struggled. We predicted for it to be honest. We went into that summer when we were like, oh crap, we’re not going back to the office, are we? This is a buckle in and wait it out type of scenario. We are also going to expect targets to stop getting achieved at these points. And we actually didn’t see as big of a hit. So some of the larger adjustments we didn’t actually have to fully make it was really about how do you adjust to the more remote world and aligning communication, strategy, focus and motivation.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah. So were you all fully in office prior to that?

Danielle Marquis:

Yeah, we were out of hub offices, so Boston, London, South Africa, and we had a hub office in Portland and Chicago. So with Covid we shut Chicago and Portland satellite offices, which had 15 people in each of those. And everyone just went fully remote. We kept Boston and London and South Africa, but any satellite offices and then we started hiring remote. We were like, okay, well now that we’re in this remote world, let’s expand the talent pool and not concentrate so much on location. What’s funny is now we’re in 2024 and it’s okay, we’re back focusing on location. We want to try to get back into offices and travel and expense once Covid lifted a bit, travel got out of control, and I think people are like, well, we didn’t really spend money for two years. So those expense policies really need some dust to blow off of them,

Mark Lerner:

And I think we’re all just craving human interaction in some way. Yeah, I mean it’s interesting because the company I was at when all this started was not optimized for remote in the least. I mean, they went from no infrastructure for remote one day to figuring it out and it was very hard. But I think there were other companies that were able to roll with the punches a lot better.

Danielle Marquis:

We were somewhere in the middle. I mean there’s definitely a good chunk of folks that were very used to coming into the office. They had nothing at home to really, they had their laptop and then they had kids or dogs crawling on ’em while they sat at the couch or the kitchen table or on the bed or whatnot. I think it was more like, so I came from a company where I had to be more remote, so I had a setup at home. So it was more like, oh crap, I’m actually going to use my home office for the first time.

But yeah, we were a little bit in the middle. I think our overall company operations really adjusted well, our tech ops and worked with finance to get home office budgets approved. We really were diligent about encouraging people to make yourself feel comfortable. We know if you’re comfortable in your workspace, you’re ideally a more dedicated worker. All the nice psychological cases on that. The other thing that I think we did really, really well, and it isn’t rev ops specific, it’s more company operational is, and it is part of our culture too. We just have a very people first mental health, first culture, and we made it more transparent than a negative thing. So we even have all hands now that came out of covid. So every Friday we still have a company-wide, 30 minute touch base. Each quarter it’s an hour town hall of the quarter performance, any other big initiative shifts or updates, and we keep that up.

We have a little resident dj occasionally I pop in there, DJ and ello, and it will just be like the first five minutes, whatever that person’s feeling for vibing music, get people all just excited. We hear from the CEO, we hear from some guest speakers and during covid in the hardest parts of covid, we’d have people speak out about their home, what’s working well and what’s not working well, and just help other people feel like you’re not alone. I think that was a really positive thing, honestly for productivity and keeping people motivated a little bit more as well.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, it’s those intangible, the things that aren’t a line item or software you buy that people forget that they have to think about the whole person, not just their productivity metrics.

Danielle Marquis:

And we have our people team is awesome. They really prioritize a lot of their investment around that space. And we have a Slack app called Spill. I should probably know that more. I haven’t had to use it anyway, but it’s like you can type into it and talk to a therapist if you want or just type a problem you’re having or So during covid that was like they invested even more heavily in the more advanced version of it. Yeah, I just think it’s, I think that’s what I say in any person I talk to that I’ve really loved about Zappy and why I’ve stayed here for five years. I mean, typically if you see my resume, I’ve come into companies, I’ve helped realign some of the piping and then around the two year mark I’m like, okay, this sounds fun. Now Zappa’s culture has just been really people first, and that’s I think something for any company to just really embrace and not make it kind of a marketing ad, but really, really invest in it. It’s funny, it’s almost like there’s some people that probably have grown out of Zappy, have been here since day one, had to wear all the hats and probably are growing out of where we are maturity wise now, but they’re like, we don’t want to leave. The culture is so good.

Mark Lerner:

It’s a good problem to have. And these days something that’s not so easy to find. I wanted to shift gears a little bit. You had mentioned the requirements of you setting up a field, but the product team needed to be involved. So is Zpi kind of a product led growth model? How does that work?

Danielle Marquis:

Yeah, I laugh because two years ago we had a big initiative that we were going to product led, product led acquisition.

Mark Lerner:

You’re not the only one.

Danielle Marquis:

Yeah, not yet. I’ll tell you the dirty secret, we’re not yet there. The biggest hurdle we’ve been going through in our evolution is turning into a true SaaS company. So Zappy was literally, it was called Zappy Store originally because it was an app store for market research. You’d come just like an Apple app store and you’d find a methodology you wanted to test your product against and work with us to get the surveys out and back then we developed our own solutions and methodologies and built out our base software platform. Market research itself is really used to working through agencies, really white glove service, longer cycles to get insights back from product innovation all the way to add optimization. So we’ve been really trying to turn into a SaaS company, which I think when you’re product led, you kind of have to nail the self-serve SaaS piece of it before you can really go product led acquisition.

So that’s where our current company focus is really hunkered down, but we keep the fact that we know we want to be that in the back of our minds with everything we’re developing. So we build a lot in Salesforce right now because our main purchasing journey is sales led, but with everything we’re building out for the sales led journey we have, it’s now an official cross-functional team called the Back Office Village. And it’s also looking at, okay, we know sales led, we have to get in because that’s what we have the here and now, but what would the product led journey look like? Then where do we need to back in? Where’s the dependencies to be able to switch that on while we’re working on instead of doing the waterfall, just trying to figure out the whole beautiful vision and build it. It’s like, okay, sales led, we know the nuances there.

Let’s nail that while we make the product led less ambiguous. So what have we learned from this journey that we need to be aware of? We have one of our biggest roadblocks that honestly anyone listening, if you have a good solution for, happy to have you reach out. But we are 95% PO based purchasers and we are switching from purely transactional consumption based to purchasing bulk credits upfront. So you can just run on your own and not have to talk to us every single time you want to run a study. And a good chunk of our customers are now on credit bundles, but if they want to top up and we want them to be able to self-serve top up their own budget, they shouldn’t have to talk to a rep to just top up their budget. We have to figure out that whole PO process, what’s the right even down to where in the platform does it make most sense once we capture it, what does finance need to know?

So just making sure you have the right people in the room so that you can start to work through all those different requirements. We are just implementing NetSuite, so talking about maturity of the company. That’s the other thing that’s really important when you are to be agile. So building for now, but with the scalability and flexibility for tomorrow is be really brutally honest with where you are in the maturity curve for the team. You’re trying to impact the company you’re at the budget you have. Because I talk about learning by failure, and I’d like to say it happened once and I learned my lesson, but it’s happened way more than that is getting too ahead of your skis on the vision of what a tool could do for team or your company and getting so excited about that. You implement it, you have all the best intentions and the reality is the users of that solution are not ready for it. So what is thinking about that almost the MVP, right? Most minimal viable product you can get out, get that adoption started, get the excitement, almost make them hungry for those additional features versus trying to give them the whole yacht and saying, have a field day.

So I think that’s the biggest, not mantra, but back of my head, whenever we’re thinking of what we need now, realistically, what are we going to use now?

Mark Lerner:

I mean it is super interesting. It sounds like there is a future state that’s kind of a goal. So there’s going to more product led or I think it’s a false binary that product led, sales led, you have to choose one. I think utilizing product signals as a way of intent while having salespeople. I think that’s just part of sales now, but you’re knowing that building the pipes so that when the water is flowing, it’s there. Also knowing it sounds like you’re transitioning the pricing model though to this bulk order or top up model while still trying to do the everyday what just needs to get done today. So when you’re doing that, when you’re doing the daily grind, are those end states part of your decision process like, well, it doesn’t make sense to do this because in X amount of months we’re going to need it to do that?

Danielle Marquis:

Always, always. And I won’t say it’s always a blocker per se, but I guess it’s my buzzword lately is balance around that. I actually had two different conversations that involved that specific decision making today. One is we’re kind of living in the pain of a current solution, and so we’ve been brainstorming ways we can optimize that knowing it’s part of this back office village, but it’s probably months away from getting actually prioritized by the full team to fix it. And so what can we do in the meantime? And some of the ideas being thrown out, were okay, we’ll do that on Salesforce, we’ll do that on Salesforce. And of all people, usually I’m super building out on Salesforce. We have a kickass developer, we have a great director that’s looking over it. But the reality is this touches rev rec and we’re in the middle of implementing NetSuite.

So if we point it towards Salesforce, because right now everything goes to Salesforce. Our Salesforce is our general ledger rev rec source of truth right now. So NetSuite ideally will be the rev rec source of truth in the next couple months. And with that, we want to take the dependency off of everything, having to go Salesforce first on the revenue side bookings, yes, they come from Salesforce, but on the revenue side, we want to get the product signals of usage, but we want the rev rec to go to the financial systems for Rev. And with that is normally I’d be so Salesforce and very bullish that we can make it happen, but it’s actually something where we’re going to be adding tech debt to something we’re already trying to roll back. So we need to think of a different approach that doesn’t involve sending it to Salesforce first. So something like that is having your future vision is really important. If you’re not thinking about where you want to be, that would an easy decision for me to be like, yeah, let’s go to Salesforce and build this out. And then eight months from now when we’re automating the rev rec side, I’m like, wow, it was a dumb decision eight months ago. Wish I could take that back.

And then the other side of it is like I was saying, there might be things we need to build in because we know our business strategy and policy is going to be that. And if you haven’t encountered this yet, anyone listening, please keep this in mind. Behavior change is the hardest part of anything you will build or roll out. It is not the tech build, it is not the rule you write down on a process stock. It is the people that have to actually change what they’re doing and how they’re thinking around that technology. So anything you can do incrementally to help bring them along, that change journey as you’re changing the process or the tech will only help the change management go smoother because it won’t feel like a big bang. And now all of a sudden I was jogging along and hit literally a brick wall. Maybe it’s a little maze they’re going through first and now they’ve gotten that path down and they know to watch out for certain things. That was a terrible analogy, but I think

Mark Lerner:

There’s so much more to cover in this conversation, but we’re actually coming here to the end, so there’s a lot to digest there for everybody, I think, me included. But before we say goodbye, why don’t you tell the folks a little bit where they can learn more about you, maybe consume some of the content you’re writing, if you’re writing any, or where they could follow you out on the social networks.

Danielle Marquis:

Yeah, so Danielle Marquee on LinkedIn, I have a very bright, my marketing team will be happy if I remember the colors. I believe it’s Mango and guava background. So it’s the brightest LinkedIn profile pick you’ll find under Danielle Marque. And that’s where I share different areas. I’m going to show up at events. I’m at Rev Ops Alliance in March and I have a bunch of videos up there. I probably should be writing more. So thank you for that little push.

Mark Lerner:

I try.

Danielle Marquis:

But yeah.

Mark Lerner:

Well, Danielle, thank you so much and I really appreciate it.

Danielle Marquis:

Awesome. Thanks so much.

Mark Lerner:

Bye-Bye.