How Operations Builds Rocket Ship SaaS Companies

In the last ten years, there has been an explosion of data. In part, this explosion has been due to proliferation of Sales and Marketing tools. Doug Pepper, Managing Director at Shasta Ventures, has seen this explosion first hand. As the first investor in Marketo, back in 2004, you could say that Doug has been instrumental in this explosion of data and tools. 

In his 15 years of experience, Doug has seen the Marketing Technology stack move from pre-Marketo to the vast landscape of tools it is today. In his years of experience investing in early-stage startups, Doug understands not only how to build a rocket ship, but how to maintain one as well. 

So, how do you build and maintain a rocket ship? The short answer is with an Operations team. 

For Doug, Operations teams play a crucial role in both building and maintaining that rocket ship. Operations is the nerve center of every SaaS business. It’s the role that thinks, plans and optimizes workflows, technologies and efficiencies across the organization. 

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend Ops-Stars, an event for Operations professionals focused on using technology and data to make their organizations more successful. Here are a few of the learnings that I walked away with after the discussion between Doug, Jeff Serlin, Head of Revenue Operations at Intercom and Will Soupcoff, Head of CRM at Optimizely. 

The Rise of Revenue Operations

With all the tools out on the market, it can be noisy and difficult for Operations teams to tread through all the new tools and find ones that will fit their organization’s needs. But, through all the noise and tools, Doug believes that one of the most exciting roles has emerged from all of this—Revenue Operations

While Revenue Operations is a relatively new role, even for growing startups, many companies have their handle around one segment of the Revenue Ops team, and that’s with Sales Operations. It’s an in-demand role, just look at the Google Trends results for the term “Sales Operations” over the past five years. 

(Source: Google Trends)

(Source: Google Trends)

If the data above hasn’t convinced you yet to streamline your Operations team, let’s go over the learnings from first hand rocket ship builders Doug, Jeff and Will.

Operations at a Rocket Ship

“I make things better,” said Jeff when asked what he does in Operations. For Jeff, Operations at a rocket ship, or any SaaS company, is both strategic and tactical. As a whole, the Operations team strives to find inefficiencies and opportunities to drive awareness across the organization. 

While both Operations teams at Intercom and Optimizely build systems for the departments they support, they’re also solving complex problems across reporting and often facilitating cross-departmental communications. 

Operations is the team that builds great relationships with other members of the organization. They're the advocates in the organization and need to understand their company’s needs in order to be successful. 

For Operations to be successful, no matter the size of the organization, it needs to function as a strategic partner across the organization and have a strong strategic identity to get a seat at the revenue table. 

To get there, Jeff suggests that Operations should have a customer-focus, and their “customer” is their internal organization that they serve. 

Let’s go back to our Sales Operations example from above, for a Sales Operations professional, they most likely first and foremost serve the Sales department. They often handle strategic projects and tactical project as well, including: 

  • Evaluate sales tools to make their the sales job easier and more efficient
  • Sales training and enablement that gears towards successful sales cycles
  • Provide Sales Directors and Managers with the dashboards and metrics 
  • Define proper compensation and commission across the Sales team 

With all these varying responsibilities, Sales Operations has to think both strategically and tactically to be efficient in their jobs. 

Centralized versus Decentralized
When a company gets to the growth stage in which they need to think about having a Centralized or Decentralized Operations team, this is where Operations needs to play a strategy card. 

If find yourself in a scenario where you have Customer Operations and Sales Operations, and they’re both working out of Salesforce, but you don’t have consistent numbers - that’s when you need a centralized team. Operations, as a whole, exists to make processes more efficient. If two different Operations professionals are coming into meetings with divergent numbers, that’s a problem and will make things difficult to scale to reach and maintain your rocket ship. 

Prioritization is a Balance Between Strategy and Tactics
Every rocket ship has its priorities at the organization level. Underneath that, every department also has their own priorities, so it begs the question, how many priorities can one organization concurrently have? Or how many priorities should an organization have at the same time? 

For Operations teams, they need to prioritize ruthlessly. They need to balance the highest priorities for their entire organization against the department they serve. Think of it as a balance between strategy and tactics. 

During the discussion, Jeff offered a two tips on balance between the two: 

  1. Keep a roadmap, just like product, and drive organization consensus on what those top priorities are and align around them
  2. Assemble an Operations committee to share with people the available resources and what the Operations team is committing to accomplishing (dashboards and metrics, systems, training, etc.)  

Balancing priorities is tough, but with alignment and socialization, organizations will be able to stay on track and transparent. 

Reporting the Metrics

Sales Directors and Managers love consuming dashboards and metrics. For a Sales Director or Manager, Sales Operations is their ally in creating these dashboards comparing quarter-over-quarter growth, forecasting pipeline, dividing reps into appropriate territories and looking at a real-time rep leaderboard. 

dash-sales.png

But it’s not just about showing productivity and revenue metrics, Sales Operations has to convey a narrative with these metrics and show trends, improvements and the overall impact on the business based on actions. 

With that in mind, Sales Operations doesn’t just focus on the frontline managers, but works up and down the entire Sales organization from helping reps to focusing on your CEO and Chief Revenue Officer (CRO). 

High-level metrics matter just as much as sales productivity metrics. At Intercom all of Operations, Customer Success and Support and Sales reports to the CRO. That’s the majority of the revenue generating teams, except for Marketing, with that there are a lot of granular revenue and acquisition metrics to track as well. 

As a Sales Operations professional, one of the most important metrics is forecasting, and not just forecasting, but forecasting accurately. Going into a revenue meeting, you have to get this number right for your C-level executives to really build and maintain your rocket ship. 

For more content around sales metrics and dashboard creation, read our blog posts How to Choose Metrics for Your Sales Dashboard or How to Track Your Sales Opportunities.