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Navigating the Complexities of Modern Revenue Operations

Mark Lerner:

All right, everybody. Welcome to the Revamp podcast. My name is Mark Lerner, and I’m your host. Today, I’m joined by our very special guest, Ines. Before we jump into the episode, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and how you came to be in this world of Revenue Operations?

Inese Pumpure:

Yeah, thank you very much for having me. My name is Inese Pumpure; I’m now senior director of Revenue Operations here at Visiting Media. I think everybody has this story by mistake. I got into revenue operations or operations, right? How did you get there? Definitely was an accident 15 years ago, almost 15 years ago. Got exposed to Salesforce Marketo first time and got hooked. Marketing was not anymore this soft thing. There was something with data associated with data. You could prove what works and what doesn’t work, and from there, it expanded. It expanded to sales operations, customer success operations, and then working closely with finance. With that said, through the past 15 years, we finally got the name Revenue Operations, which was marketing operations, sales, operations, and customer success operations. Now, we have overarching revenue operations as a name. So, it has been an awesome journey over the past 15 years exploring different companies, primary SaaS tech, and also primary startups. There have been awesome exits acquisitions. Once Cisco acquired us, other time we had private equity with over a billion in evaluation as well. Exit. The journey has been very interesting overall, but I’m still kind of hooked on the startup mode where you go and you have a chance to build it all and see this journey. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky, and sometimes it’s challenging.

Mark Lerner:

And I know that feeling, too. It’s kind of like we’re gluttons for punishment. The highs are very, very high. The lows are very, very low, and I think the bigger the company is, the shorter that distance from the high and low is, so you don’t get as low, but you also don’t get the extreme highs, and so yeah, it’s fun. And I’m interested because oftentimes, most of the folks I talked to, their background is almost exclusively directly from sales operations into revenue operations. You do have that background coming from marketing operations specifically, which gives you, I think, a unique view of this larger revenue organization that we now refer to. What do you think that has given you from a perspective background that has maybe been a benefit to you as opposed to someone who came exclusively from a sales operations background?

Inese Pumpure:

Yeah, I do challenge my colleagues who come from marketing operations to challenge themselves even more. I think marketing operations are definitely much more complex because you need to prove your impact on the business even harder. So, I think that was my journey. Actually, when I joined Checkmarks, I followed a CMO. I followed him four times, so I’m definitely a loyal person, and that was our kind of goal, going from revenue operations. At that time, we didn’t have a name for it, but I was basically doing all sales, operations, marketing, operations, and customer success, and he’s like, let’s go and prove that marketing operations can work, it can exist, we can show the impact to the business. That’s what I did at Checkmark for almost four years, and it definitely exposed me to everything. In marketing, I think the tech stack process is much more complex.

I think on the sales side, it’s a little bit more straightforward. You have your pipeline, you have your commissions, you have your bookings, clothing, and forecasts. There is its own complexity, but for marketing to show the impact on the business and show why it is important to have a much more complex Tech stack is much more complex as well. You can get away with only one thing: you definitely need to diversify. It’s never one touch; it’s always multiple, and how do you diversify and make sure that everybody has the ability to show their impact on the business? At the end of the day, everyone wants to justify why we need to keep it. It’s much harder than for sales. You make a cold call, you connect, then you create your pipeline opportunity, and you run with it. So, on the marketing side, it’s definitely much more complex, but that gave me a challenge that gave me also good visibility of where it’s coming from and how can it, and that was one of the reasons why I also wanted to make sure that in this roles where I’m joining, I can cover the entire revenue operations so that I can really poke holes where it’s needed or at least be advocate for them when you are engineering because I understand these connections, what will impact what.

So, that was definitely the biggest part for me. Why? Next time I join, I want to make sure I’m in charge of the entire revenue cycle.

Mark Lerner:

And I think that speaks to this kind of broader mission of revenue operations, which is this concept of breaking down the silos that naturally developed between some of these organizations and existed for quite a while where sales were in its silo, customer success in its silo, marketing in its silo and they would do different things, maybe measure different things and it just wasn’t aligned, and it became very clear as tech stacks proliferated and go-to-market motions became more complex that it needed to be under a single roof. So what do you think is kind of the crucial element to this task of breaking down silos? What are the things as a revenue operator that you have to look at and press on or analyze in order to meet that goal of breaking down those silos?

Inese Pumpure:

I wish I could say that I have everything already mapped, all the pathways there. I would say very tactically, what I can do is advocate for each of the teams. If somebody comes to me with this great idea of what they want to do, I can say let’s slow down a little bit because I can see how it’s going to impact the finance team or how it’s going to impact afterward, customer success. If sales, for example, don’t fill out billing information, which is part of their sales closing process, we have an issue. Finance can’t invoice anyone. Customer success doesn’t understand who they are. Onboarding all of those small things that kind of impact many stakeholders and a lot of time, you become this solution architect police officer all in one because you need to see this bigger picture. Anyone asking for one simple thing, it’s usually a new field.

You’ll immediately see, okay, who is going to fill it out? Who’s going to be responsible? So you become this advocate for all of those teams, making sure that they’re all represented. I have been in companies where everybody’s just in charge of their own things. I would say the biggest challenge in those companies is the priorities. Whoever is closer to the C level will have a little bit more leverage, and then the things that you need to advocate for you are not going to happen. With this overarching ops function, you see the bigger picture and which of these things are going to impact the revenue the quickest. So it’s not only about the relationship with the C level, but it’s really you understanding the business and being able to push a little bit more on if it needs to be developed, new process or new technology to in because we are trying to focus on one thing.

My company, for example, now puts a huge effort into outbound activity. Yes. Then, we prioritize that because we see what is happening specifically with the pipeline. We want to impact, we want to impact now, and it’s happening earlier this year. We definitely shouted out to Dil Hub that we needed to control more of what’s happening with our contracts, how we are managing price books, and how we are managing the approval process. It needs to happen. So, you prioritize those things because you can see consequences or ripple effects. If we don’t control it now, we will pay for it a little bit later.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, so many different strands to pull on there. Taking it back to the tech stack as being kind of one of the big areas in which Rev ops focus, you kind of mentioned it, but there’s this idea that everybody in every different department says, oh, I just need this one field here and whenever there isn’t somebody saying, why do you need that field? What’s the reasoning behind it? You end up with a CRM record or whatever it is, a contact record that has so many fields, and nobody knows what any of these fields do, and no one wants to delete them. They don’t know what dependency there is, and so then you just don’t even know there’s so much you don’t know what you’re supposed to do, and then somebody eventually has to go through each and every one of these and follow the string back to where it connects and reverse engineer it. I think, in some way, anyone who’s been in a sales marketing customer success rev ops role has seen this from some angle. So, from your perspective, assuming the contributors in the revenue teams are kind of your end users for whatever these tools are, how do you approach optimizing the give and take between usability and kind of user-friendliness but also being able to give everyone the ability to do everything they need to do?

Inese Pumpure:

Yeah, very good question. Definitely, one of the things that I do when I join the company is you always have your 30-60 90-day plan. When I joined here, I did inherit the team, but I also brought on a couple more people, and that was our first thing together. That’s the best way to get to know the system: just go through every single field, understand why we are here, what the purpose is, and who is going to fail. That’s enormous work. It’s a lot of cleanup that needs to be done, but that gives you the best insight. Why do we need it? If anything is new afterward, you are right. You always want to understand if this is going to be a mandatory field. If it’s not mandatory, it’s very likely no one is going to fill it out, or there needs to be management accountability for it. That’s what I keep telling my sales managers or also on other teams in CS org as well as if there’s no one accountable, it’s not going to be filled out, and then it’s like, what is the reason or its systems filled this information out or we do, but if it’s users only, very likely this information is not going to be filled out consistently so then you can’t rely on it, or it needs to be part of the process database day, almost like a checklist.

Even if it’s not mandatory, I definitely ask them to help them see if you can utilize something that’s already there and if you are really overwhelming the team here. Definitely, as in any other company, you can see every single team is saying you are asking us to do too much in the system, and then it gives you the ability to really just question if we really need it. Sometimes, in the worst-case scenarios, you put something in, and you just know in half a year, a year, you are just going to delete it. You almost mark it in your asterisk there. It’s probably not going to be here for a while, but sometimes you just need to let them do it, and then you will clean it up after a year.

Mark Lerner:

Right. Speaking of bringing the philosophy that you bring to that, are there any sort of methodologies that you apply to building the process and optimizing it, and if so, what is it, and how do you apply it?

Inese Pumpure:

Yeah. Coming in, I have already done this revenue operation type a couple of times, right? You already have your favorite tools; you already have your favorite thing, the methodology, and how you are following. Over the years, I have been used for marketing operations, and I’ve followed serious decisions quite a bit. For the past five years or so, I have been following winning by design methodology, architecture, their whole revenue, recurring revenue model for tech stack, metrics to conversion metrics, and understanding the health of the business overall. Lately, that has been where I feel comfortable, and I feel that it covers everything. It doesn’t cover only one department; it covers every single department and gives a kind of sense of stability of where we are and where we need to go coming into organizations; definitely, the tech stack is, especially as I’m joining smaller companies, you are like they probably have raised some money, now they’re ready for scale.

So you immediately just think about the overall life cycles. What’s needed for each of these teams? Marketing definitely needs something, so I can go either way with tools; I usually am technology. It’s not important for me one way or another, but it definitely makes it easy if you already have used something before the market. Is it HubSpot? Have used them multiple times, could go either way. Whatever is the best fit, right? The same. I have favorite tools. Usually, I would use LeanData for CPQ-related things. Deal Hub was my favorite. I already use you guys for three companies, so it’s like every place you have your favorite for prospecting, automation, SalesLoft, or Outreach again; either way, sometimes it’s not even about the technology; sometimes it’s about the fit-in of that specific company. My last choice was SalesLoft or Outreach; both of them are great companies, but they fit in that company. Sometimes, that’s different, so that’s what you make a judgment. The same goes for cx. You can go with the tan or turn zero, but again, you need to understand what the team has used before what they’re familiar with, and then you’ll go with the choices there. But yes, absolutely. With years of experience, you just become more familiar with the tools, and the onboarding will happen quicker, and you will see much faster success. So that’s definitely become important as well. What have you used, and what has your team used? Absolutely.

Mark Lerner:

Awesome. You mentioned earlier that the current focus right now is on outbound and enabling that and that earlier it was focused on contracts and the process there. Maybe we can double-click on that part on what that challenge was and how you approached that problem. This is not necessarily from the tool perspective, but what does good look like? What’s your ideal outcome?

Inese Pumpure:

Yeah, I think it’s always in this journey for the startups where everything is in probably Google Docs; everybody has a soft version of the copy of the template on the desktop, but what happens at the same time with the startup’s changes and as soon as you are starting to build up the teams changes happen so quickly people can’t even comprehend what is happening every single week. They’re small tweaks. So, you definitely need to figure out the best solution to make sure that you can manage without overwhelming teams. So sometimes the changes are so minor that the team does not even need to be trained too much on it. They just need to be aware. We added certain a sentence in the contract, so that was the big one. We were just overwhelmed by which contract to use and at what time. Is this the latest version?

That was always the concept, so where can I find it? So, to take that away and just use whatever you already have in Salesforce and pull it up, that was a super important approval process overall for smaller companies. When I joined here, we were like they had three salespeople. It’s easy to run to your manager and get approval, and you always know that nothing has gotten lost email because it’s only three sales reps. When you already have 10, 12, or 13, it’s not possible. Something will fall through the crux, and something will be left in emails. So, approval process, standardization, and, again, different use cases. Sometimes, it’s about the dollar value, sometimes about the product. Sometimes, it’s about giving something for free trial time or something. So, in this kind of use case, how would a salesperson remember, especially a salesperson who’s coming new to the team? It’s impossible for them to remember all those use cases when that goes just for the manager when it goes to the VP, and when it’s going to go to the CFO, right?

So, all we do is take away that complexity. We are like, yep, because of that, because of this condition, it goes here, and you immediately have visibility of that as well. And then, of course, start up again; every six months, there are new products and new services to manage that, and the price changes, again, very similar to contract templates. It’s just so difficult to keep track, and people have good intentions. They create Google Docs with different descriptions and different prices, and they just don’t stay on top of it, and then you become the person who’s trying to understand what is really happening. So, coming up with a solution that can take away that complexity from the sales was super important for us, and being able to manage it ourselves so that we don’t need a developer to go through it. So that was important when we were doing it here. I did it, and when I was doing it in the past as well, thankfully and surprisingly as well, technology has developed. There are a lot of cool things available. Everybody’s developing it, and it’s definitely impressive to see how companies are at what speed companies are actually developing solutions.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, it’s super exciting. I wonder if we could talk a little bit about the moment we’re in or how things have shifted. I think it’s been a whirlwind of a few years. We had COVID, and everything changed, and then we came out of COVID, and everything kind of changed again, and there’ve been economic situations, headwinds as a result of low interest rates, and then they increase the interest rate, and so we saw a lot of choppiness, a lot of uncertainty. One of the trends that I’ve observed is that we’ve gone from a scenario where companies were kind of allowing their individual contributors to everybody choose their own point solutions and were this massive mess of tech stacks. It seems like there’s been a consolidation attempt to cut budgets and consolidate both resource-wise and just kind of tech debt and kind of get things more aligned. Is that a trend that is playing itself out internally where in your space and B? How do you see that impacting the role of ops going forward?

Inese Pumpure:

Yeah, definitely the trend, as you said, since COVID has shifted, and I don’t know if it was much of the COVID or just the speed of technology developing overall in the industry. When I started, we were maybe 15 years ago, maybe 500 tech companies in this space, sales marketing, and now there are thousands, right? Everybody wants to be an expert in something specific, but you are right now, everybody’s trying to consolidate. My rule of thumb, where everything costs a thousand bucks per user per year, is no longer true because everybody’s trying to put on top of one thing three things. They want to become your revenue ops, like a one-stop where you have everything. Unfortunately, you are not always the expert in all of those things. You primarily are an expert in one, and then you’re trying to pull in the other things where there are other companies that are stronger.

So, if the quality is not there yet, I’m having a hard time paying the cost for all of them. So that’s why I think the negotiation is always happening. It’s like, I know you have good intentions, but you are not there yet, and a lot of teams are trying to do that. So, this whole merging of things into one is important. The other thing I think is what I keep when I’m now, again, usually first year, year and a half, two years is very in startups who have raised money, it’s very intensive because you need to bring all that tech stack in those negotiations. I always make sure that my vendor understands you are on the hook of success just as much as I am because what will happen next year? There will be a list, and we’ll need to give priority to being nice to have or need to have.

And if we can show the value to the team if adoption didn’t happen, I know everybody talks about ROI, which is, I’m not even going there, but there needs to be value there, and there needs to be that people are good advocates for that vendor as well. There is a positive association, and it is no longer good enough just to do it onboarding, and then we’ll see you at renewal that’s no longer good enough. You need to stay on top of it. You need to understand what your customers are doing. It’s hard to scale for some of them, and you can see they’re struggling with support and customer success, but the teams that are doing it well are really doing it well. They have customer success who is becoming almost like an extended team of my team, and I value that relationship a lot because definitely, on the smallest startups, you only have a maximum four people on the team, and that’s a good case. Usually, it’s only two. So these vendors are very important to us because they’re the experts there, and they can help us. I do value and appreciate it a lot. Yeah.

Mark Lerner:

Awesome. So as we round things out here, time flies when you’re having interesting conversations, is there anywhere folks at home can maybe go and learn more about some of the work you’re doing or your company or just learn more about a resource that you like to utilize that maybe might help them?

Inese Pumpure:

Again, to my colleagues in the revenue space, I would say there are now many podcasts. When we were starting our journey, there was nothing available. Right now, there are plenty of resources available, so definitely join networking groups and listen to podcasts. Methodologies, again, my now latest, what I believe and what I am implementing is winning by design and I think it’s actually across all the teams, even sales methodologies there as well. So I think it’s super cool if you are in the hospitality business; definitely checkout visiting media. Cool technology, as well. But other than that, if you want to connect, feel free to ping me on LinkedIn. Happy to share my journey and things that I’m doing when I’m starting in the new startups. Always happy to talk and share my knowledge. There are not that many of us, so we stick together.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, thank you so much for taking the time today; we really appreciate it.

Inese Pumpure:

Thank you.