As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts (here and here), I’ve been talking to a lot of ops people. And something that’s really surprised me is how skeptical c-suite levels seem to be about the need for a dedicated ops person. At least in a company’s early stages, when you have an ops team of just one person, it’s pretty common for the executives to constantly be stroking their chins and asking themselves, “Do we really need a full-time ops person?”
I find it very troubling that so many ops professionals at early-stage companies are pulled away from doing meaningful operations work by the constant need to justify their existence. If you are an ops person, and you’re in that situation — or if you aren’t officially an ops person, but you’re doing ops work on the side because you know your company needs it but your leaders won’t accept the fact that operations should be a full-time job — this post is for you. Here are three talking points to help you.
This question sounds absurd. There’s only one thing your executives want the sales team doing, and that’s selling. But the reality is that salespeople spend a lot of time doing things that aren’t sales. As we show in the Frictionless Sales Certification course, the average salesperson only spends about 14 hours a week actually selling, and the rest of their time is spent entering data, prepping documents, or doing other administrative tasks. And although I don’t have a study to back me up on this, I’m willing to bet the problem is worse at early-stage companies, where each sales rep has to make things up as they go because there aren’t any standardized systems or processes to guide them.
But there’s no reason this has to be a purely academic claim. Just talk to a couple salespeople at your company and ask them what’s keeping them from selling. They’ll probably have a long list of things! Maybe it’s that they’re always fighting with a clunky CRM (or, worse, a perpetually broken spreadsheet), or they don’t know how to source leads, or they have to make all their sales collateral from scratch, or they have to write their own contacts — whatever the case, there’s a great job description for an operations person. Armed with that list, you can say to your executives, “Look, even if I don’t optimize anything — even if we keep using a broken spreadsheet to track our sales and we don’t standardize our content or contracts — just by letting me take care of all that stuff, we’ll roughly double the amount of time our salespeople spend selling. Is doubling our sales activity worth a full-time salary to you?”
What executive could say no to that? If you’ve got a sales team of five or ten sellers, you could potentially start to see the output of a team with twice that many — without having to hire a single additional sales head. Mathematically, there’s just no way you’d ever get those sorts of results by hiring one or two more salespeople. You can only get there by investing in ops.
That x could be a lot of different things. You could ask how many touchpoints it takes to close a deal, or how many bought-in stakeholders it takes, or how many days or weeks or months it takes. Chances are, if your company doesn’t have a dedicated ops person, your executives don’t have concrete answers to these questions. And these aren’t just points of curiosity — these things matter!
If you don’t know the optimal number of touchpoints it takes to get a response from a potential buyer, then your sales team is almost certainly either giving up too soon or hanging on too long. Both of these are bad news. If they’re giving up too soon, you’re missing out on important opportunities, and if they’re hanging on too long, they’re wasting time and energy that they should be investing in other prospects. But it’s a pretty straightforward matter for a good ops person to dig into the available data, pull out some patterns, and give the sales team a recipe for success. That one adjustment alone can dramatically increase your revenue. This is a favorite trick among ops people, and I’ve heard stories of it increasing total revenue anywhere from 30% to 100%. Your mileage may vary, but even at the lower end of that spectrum, that’s a significant increase that costs nothing to implement.
How about number of stakeholders? If you’re in a B2B space, there’s almost certainly more than one stakeholder on the buyer’s side in every deal your team works. But does your team know how many stakeholders they need to get bought in before the deal can close? There’s probably some intuitive sense of this inside the head of each of your sellers, but I bet if you asked them all, you’d get a bunch of different numbers. But here’s another place where the clever ops person can dig into the data and pull out amazing insights. Not just the number of stakeholders, but what their titles are, and which ones are most likely to be blockers. This, too, can revolutionize your sales process. Instead of salespeople trusting their gut on whether a particular deal is going to close, they can look at the list of key stakeholders they need to have and compare that to the list they actually have. That’s a concrete measure of the deal’s overall health, and it’ll help your sellers know where to focus their energy for each sale.
And finally the length of your sales cycle. Calculating this is useful for at least two key reasons. First, it’ll present some coaching opportunities for your team. If the sales manager knows that the best deals close in three months, but their sellers are holding on to deals that have been open for six, ten, twelve months — well, it’s probably time to have a little heart-to-heart about those deals. That’s a good reason for the sales team to track sales cycle length. But there’s another, subtler reason that it’s good for you to track sales cycle length: Chances are, you’re going to find ways to make that number go down. So if, down the road, despite all the incredible revenue growth you’ve driven, your executives start wondering if your salary isn’t worth it, you can put up a chart that shows how, when you started, it took three months for the sales team to close deals, but now, thanks to your cleverness, it’s down to two. That’s a 50% increase in the number of sales closed each quarter. Isn’t that worth the salary of one little ops person?
All of these examples focus on sales because that’s the world I live in, but the promise of RevOps is that you can go even deeper. How much should you be spending on marketing? Well, we can track exactly how many closed deals are attributed to each marketing campaign and give a rock-solid ROI on marketing efforts. And if you’re in a subscription business, only an ops person will be able to improve customer retention, which should be the biggest driver of revenue for your company. But customer retention is a thorny, complicated metric that is incredibly hard to move — unless you have a clever ops person who can untangle all the contributing factors and make lucid recommendations to the executive team. And that’s the only hope a subscription-based business has of staying in business long-term.
This is the boldest talking point on this list, and it’s certainly not a common one, but I did have the pleasure of speaking with one operations professional who used this to get her current job as head of RevOps at an early-stage company.
“Tie me to the plan,” she said in her job interview. “If we aren’t hitting our numbers, I’m not doing my job.”
I don’t know how many executives would take you up on this, but offering to be paid a cut of the revenue you drive leaves them completely without excuse. If you’re so confident you can drive the sort of results I’ve been talking about that you’re willing to forgo being salaried, what have they got to lose? And depending on what sort of comp plan you agree to, this could turn out to be a huge amount of money for you.
Again, this one’s a bit risky, and I only know one operations person who’s even tried it, but if you’re willing to throw yourself into optimizing your company’s revenue stream, why shouldn’t a proportionate part of that stream go to you? Just something to think about.