Note: at the time of the interview, Joe was working at Axonify as their VP of Business Operations.
Joe Gelata has been ahead of the curve on building cross-functional, revenue-focused teams. Today it’s easy to see why – prospects buy in a very different way than they did five years ago. And while the way we market and sell to those prospects has also changed, we haven’t kept pace – not even close.
This new way people buy has left mountains of data that inform our strategic decisions – data that can help us all be revenue-focused teams. But it’s coming from every direction and no one really owns it.
I talked with Joe about this problem – using data to create revenue-focused decisions for your business. In this interview, Joe talks about what he learned building the Revenue Operations team at Vidyard, and now as the Vice President of Business Operations at Axonify, how he is using that same process to scale their business.
When we’re talking about data, Joe says there are three main threats to look out for:
- Dirty data: even if you get your data organized and flowing through your tech stack the way it should, it’s still a lie because the data flowing through your tools are filled with things like duplicate contacts and stale deals.
- Overlapping tool stacks: Your company has a lot of tools siloed throughout Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success. If you have one team managing those tools across all three disciplines, it will cost less and deliver more value.
- Lack of ownership: When everyone owns something – like data across the company – no one has a direct interest in maintaining or improving its condition.
The simple solution: Revenue Operations.
To learn more about what Revenue Operations is, how to build a team, and the biggest challenges, we talked with Axonify’s VP of Business Operations, Joe Gelata.
You were part of the Revenue Operations team at Vidyard, and now head up the Business Operations team at Axonify; what’s the difference between the two teams?
At Vidyard, the focus was to bring together Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success. Now with Axonify, it also brings additional functions like Product, Support, Professional Services, Finance, and HR into the mix.
At the end of the day, it’s the same model, but Business Operations covers more areas.
As a VP of Business Operations, how do you describe the concept of Revenue Operations, or as you call it at Axonify, Business Operations?
It breaks down to four main pillars:
Revenue Operations is a centralized way to coordinate the entire organization and ensure things are changing to facilitate growth.
Insights is focused on the data – analyzing and being intelligent about what's going on with the business through data.
Tools is focused on central management of all the tools across the organization to gain efficiencies by spreading tools across multiple teams and making sure we’re meeting all of their needs.
Operations is the quarterback to changes within the organization. They manage projects, work directly with teams, dig into what’s going on, build solutions, then coordinate with the Insights and Tools team to figure out where the problems are and implement a solution.
Enablement supports things like onboarding, constant learning, and day-to-day activities. For example, if you’re setting up a demo environment for a prospect, you don't necessarily expect a Sales rep to be able to go and do that efficiently – that’s where the Enablement team comes in.
A lot of companies today have a Sales Operations team, a Marketing Operations team, and sometimes Customer Operations operating under their respective department. What’s wrong with that model?
It’s pretty simple; why have three teams when you could consolidate it down to one?
Not only would it cut down on the complexity of your organization, but that one Operations team has the ability to work across the entire business at macro- and micro-levels and ensure everything is aligned. Having one team that has everything business wide in the same mixing pot is much more valuable than having three teams work independently and potentially running in different directions.
While you’re a smaller company – 100 employees or less – breaking down those silos is fairly easy so having separate Marketing, Sales, and Customer Operations teams is fine. Once you climb over 100, the walls get pretty thick, and that’s when I would recommend having Operations all under one roof.
On the flip side, when you’re small you may not have budget for individual ops roles. Centralizing the function allows you to share a single resource over multiple departments until you scale to a size where multiple ops people be hired.
What type of advice would you give to someone in a mid-market company trying to bring in these types of roles?
There are two really easy arguments to make:
1. Gaining Efficiencies
If you've got tools that you can share across multiple disciplines – it costs you less and you’ll get more value out of it. You gain efficiencies by streamlining those types of processes across multiple teams.
As you're building up streamlined processes, it removes friction across the funnel and makes it easier to grow. As a mid-market company, the focus is growth. That means that instead of having your existing teams focused on maintaining what you’re currently doing, you have a Revenue Operations team that is looking for new channels of growth and helping implement them.
When do you think is the right time to bring in this type of model?
Right from the start.
The first hire should be within the first 15 people in the company and focus on tools. That first hire will be spread out across the whole organization, so they need to be a jack of all trades. Once they have systems coordinated across your different teams that are generating data, then Insights is something that makes sense to add-on.
At 50 people you’ll want to start looking at someone to manage operations and enablement. Ideally you start with someone senior enough to manage the Tools and Insights positions and be close enough to the ground that they can execute operations projects.
As the company grows you can bring on more Ops and Enablement roles under this person and scale the team as needed. This strategy may vary depending on the people you have. I believe it’s critical to hire around the skills of the team instead of jamming people into boxes they may not be effective in.
What type of advice do you have for someone looking to build up a Revenue Operations team?
The first piece of advice would be to be patient. Don’t settle for someone who you think may or may not work out. Find your perfect candidate and invest in taking the time it takes to get them on the team. Sometimes that can be a month – or a year – but whatever it is, take the time. It will be worth it in the end.
Next would be to look at the candidate from four angles:
ability to learn quickly
The first two will be based on your gut, but where things get interesting is the last two points. I tend to value the ability to learn quickly over experience. Chances are that they’re cheaper, and will offer more value a year into the job if they are an effective learner.
In your experience, what’s the number one challenge when building a Revenue Operation team?
Unfortunately, it tends to always be an issue. Whether you’re developing metrics or creating a dashboard, dirty data creeps up and all of a sudden you realize that what you’re doing is inaccurate.
We’ve got a list that is always growing - it’s essentially our pipeline of data integrity issues that we are constantly prioritizing and fixing. We all understand that data is at the core of everything we do, so if it’s not in good shape, neither are we. The good news is that with Insights, Tools, Ops, and Enablement centralized on the same team - we have all the right people to quickly implement solutions to these challenges.
Data – it’s the lifeblood of business.
Taking care of it and making sure it’s flowing through your tech stack correctly, it’s accessible to the right people, and (most importantly) it’s clean – is a tough task.
Your best bet is a Revenue Operations model. To learn more, check out Lead to Revenue's definitive guide to RevOps or some of Joe’s favorite RevOps resources:
- Book: Impossible to Inevitable: Authored by Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin. Discusses the journey hyper growth SaaS companies go through as they create predictable revenue.
- 10 Laws of Cloud Computing: This is the bible of SaaS and how it operates. Written by ‘The Godfather of SaaS’, Byron Deeter of Bessemer Venture Partners.
- Blog – SaaStr: Authored by Jason Lemkin, this is one of the best SaaS resources available. It provides important benchmarks and best practices we should understand and consider.
- Blog - Tomasz Tunguz: Authored by Tomasz Tunguz of RedPoint (VC), this is another of the best SaaS resources available. He does analysis of his portfolio companies and public SaaS data to provide important benchmarks and best practices we should understand and consider.
- Blog - David Skok: Another top SaaS resource, this blog by David Skok provides great resources to understand SaaS and build a company. A particularly good article is his post on SaaS Metrics 2.0.