Eddie Reynolds, RevOps Leader and CEO at Union Square Consulting recently spoke to Abhijeet Vijayvergiya about how misunderstood RevOps and quota attainment is. And what can be the right way to approach both, in a way that they work symbiotically.
Let’s dive in.
Sales quota attainment rates continue to drop as we speak. Digital selling has been harder for reps, exacerbated by the current market conditions when buyers have a tight grip over their budgets.
Revenue operations comes as a respite to aid this situation for businesses. But terms like quotas are often misunderstood. RevOps is still fairly new to help sales teams succeed better in uncertain times.
We spoke to revenue expert Eddie Reynolds on what he thinks of the two facets independently, and together. He busted some myths around quotas, sales productivity and our favorite – RevOps.
Read on to hear what Eddie has to say about the selling world today, rep productivity and what areas of RevOps he is really passionate about.
If you’re short on time, here is a quick summary of the conversation.
If you enjoy our discussion, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can follow on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the episode.
Revenue Operations is Beyond Just Setting Up Tools
Abhijeet: Hi Eddie. Love what you’re doing at Union Square and I think it’s great to see your focus on revenue operations. It’s so exciting.
Eddie: Yes, it is exciting! I’m very passionate about this topic. A big part of revenue operations is setting up tools, but something that I’ve always been so passionate about is all the other areas of revenue operations.
How do you take these tools and turn them into part of an overall revenue engine that ultimately drives revenue and provides visibility to leadership on what’s working, what’s not, and what direction you’re headed in? And that’s something I’ve been very passionate about, probably since the first moment that I ran into Salesforce and even before, and trying to think, okay, as somebody who’s actually selling every day:
- How can I use this tool?
- How can I use the data in this tool?
- How can I build a better process so that I can sell more, market them or serve customers better?
It’s really interesting to see how much revenue operations has grown in the last few years, where a number of years ago you didn’t even hear that term. And now you hear it everywhere. And I think it’s a really amazing thing for business in general.
Abhijeet: I love the fact that you’ve been an operator yourself. You’ve sold, you’ve been into the weeds. So you understand it quite well compared to a lot of folks who are not into sales. You have that unique experience and you can appreciate what the user goes through, and you can actually bring that into practice.
Eddie: I was just going to say, I think that is a big piece of maybe not what’s missing, but challenges that folks have. And I have no issue with somebody entering RevOps that comes from a technical background, an admin background, a finance background or just starts in operations.
But one challenge is that those folks really need to sit down with the sales people, sit down with the marketers, sit down with people in customer success and understand what they do every day, what motivates them and the challenges they face.
The Link Between RevOps & Quota Attainment
Abhijeet: Definitely. The next thing I want to know more from you is as a rep, the most important thing is quota, right? I think more than half or at least half of the salary is linked to variables or commissions that are all quota.
You’ve been an AE yourself, you understand how quota is important for salespeople. And RevOps plays a very important role here. They can really create the right process, systems, tools, as well as enablement in some cases to make salespeople become more successful.
Now that you’ve been an AE, and you’re also into RevOps consulting through your company, what’s your take on improving sales quota attainment? There are reports out there which talk about the quota attainment dropping year after year. Whereas the proliferation of tools, if you look at it, they’ve grown like 7X from the number of tools that existed in anybody’s tech stack just a few years ago.
These two don’t seem to correlate, right? There are so many tools out there to help the sales people, but at the same time, quotas are abysmally low. So I’d love to hear your perspective on what’s going wrong.
Eddie: Well, in regards to the tools, they’re only as good as the team using them. You can give me Tiger Woods’s set of golf clubs and since I don’t play golf, I’m not going to perform very well.
And he could go buy a set of golf clubs at a garage sale and wipe the floor with me. It’s the same thing with any tools that you’re using, whether it’s revenue tools or any tools in life in general.
They’re not going to fix broken processes and broken strategies. Or poor assumptions on things like quotas.
The cliche is that the revenue leader says, “Well, we need to double revenue, so we need, we should just double head count.”
It’s not that simple. You have to think about:
- The amount of time it’s going to take for reps to ramp.
We have these reps that have been around for this long and they’re selling to these accounts. But just because we double headcount, does that mean we have double the number of accounts that we can sell to that are going to pay off as well?
Meanwhile, they are oftentimes at the same time exceeding the company targets. So they’re setting these quotas so high knowing that a lot of reps are not going to hit them. And then you see people complaining that quota attainment is down. It’s kind of funny to me.
Some people are arguing that it may be a play to limit the commissions that are paid, which I think is a pretty awful idea. But there’s just a lot of problems inherent in that question around quota attainment.
Sales Reps Need to Be Better Prepared to Sell
Abhijeet: I hear you. So what do you think RevOps can do? This quota attainment is so important to sales reps out there. You are talking about somebody’s livelihood and they have made financial plans based on the quota that they’re carrying.
And especially now, I think this question becomes more relevant when it’s getting so hard to close deals. There’s massive competition. B2B SaaS has entered consumerization. There are so many products and tools and alternatives out there that sales reps are competing against. Buying is more digital.
B2B buyers are doing their own research even before they talk to a salesperson. And now the downturn has just added to the complexity. Where there are crunched budgets, everybody’s cutting down, layoffs are happening. Tool investment is even tougher for anybody to consider. So with all of this into mix, I think quarter attainment will get even tougher than what it already is.
So what do you think RevOps can help reps increase their sales productivity?
Eddie: Well, first let me say, I don’t think it’s hard to close deals. I don’t know where that comes from. I think that there’s a lot of hype right now. There’s a lot of negativity around what’s happening in the economy, and there’s a lot of folks out there that were not working in 2008, 2009, when things really hit the wall.
Obviously we had a quick dip with the pandemic. But especially in terms of selling technology, things kept going gangbusters, right? So if you’re getting this from somebody who’s 30 years old, they’ve just never seen a real recession. And I think a lot of folks, especially at that level in their career, it’s not that it’s hard to close deals. It’s that it used to be too easy.
We’ve got all these tools, but now people are using SalesLoft and Outreach to just spray and pray people with templated emails. We all know that doesn’t work very effectively.
People show up to meetings and they’re not prepared. They haven’t done their research. They’re not leveraging the information they have in all of these systems to tailor the discovery questions that they’re asking. And then ultimately tailor their presentation and demonstration.
You have more adherence to things like BANT in very bad ways that are really grading for customers, where they’re trying to understand what your product does. What does it cost? How can it help me?
And you’ve got an SDR grilling them about whether or not they have budget approval. I see how often some of them, not all of them, come into these meetings, and they’re not prepared. They don’t understand what the customer does, what motivates them, and the way that they try to apply these techniques.
Instead of creating a mutual evaluation plan with a customer, they’re trying to push their agenda on the customer. They’re saying they need to close this deal by the end of the month because they need to hit their quota. And the customer’s sitting here thinking how is that their problem? They are just trying to solve their own problem. And if you can help them do that, they are all ears.
Especially if your concept of difficult to close a deal is that you have in your mind that they’re going to sign by the end of the month and they never at any point in time, give you any indication that they have even a remote level of interest in doing that. So now you’re calling them every single day trying to hammer it to them to make this decision on your timeline and not theirs.
Setting Quotas: Start With Strategy
Abhijeet: Revenue operations has that unique vantage point of a full funnel view of the business. They’re able to see the whole process from a lead to cash perspective. They’re able to see leaks across that process. They will have a lot of data around leading indicators on how reps are doing, what are they working towards, where are they spending their time?
So if you had to put that into perspective, what can revenue operations do to boost quota attainment or let’s say productivity in general across the sales organization?
So if you do your math backwards and you figure out what is our close rate or what is our sales cycle? Or if you want to look at pipeline velocity, for example, how is that going to help you get to that number? How much pipeline do you need to generate each month in order to get there?
How are people actually generating pipeline today in your organization to do that? How did it work for me as a sales leader 10, 20 years ago? How is our team doing that right now? Today? What does the data tell us?
Quantitative data and qualitative data. And by that what I mean is, what are our customers telling us? What are we hearing in sales calls? How are we capturing that information in a systematic way to understand what’s working?
And then we need to back into that math and we need to show reps exactly what’s working. So I think this is in one of the other questions that you asked. I think that reps often just hear that – You need to make more calls. You need to generate more pipeline. You need to close more deals faster.
But they are not actually shown the path to get there. They’re not necessarily seeing what’s actually working for other reps that have been in the role longer than them who are actually achieving and exceeding quota. And I think it’s on management to leverage the tools that they have to show them.
And then once you have that strategy, you need to sit down and figure out what is the step by step process that is going to be most effective. And it gets really granular. I’ll give you an example. When I worked at Salesforce, it took them years to figure this out, but they had inbound leads where the SDRs, or I think they called them, SRS at the time, would try to book a meeting on an, or, sorry, they would not book a meeting on the account executive’s call.
They would try to send an email introduction and then the AE would be chasing this person down to try to book a meeting. This is such a simple and easy change, but they just started saying – Book the meeting on the calendar of the account executive right then and there that obviously massively improves the conversion rate.
And now you see companies like Chili Piper that enable customers to do that right on the website, right? So it’s all about streamlining these processes and making it easier for reps and also easier for the customers to deliver and receive value.
So once you have that strategy and that process mapped out, then you can design the tools around it. Then you can figure out what data do you need to capture? And then it goes in a full circle.
But what many companies do instead is they develop a strategy based on our hopes and dreams. We want to double revenue, so let’s double head count and let’s tell everybody they need to generate this much pipeline because this is our historic close. And that’s it.
What Does Sales Productivity Mean for You?
Abhijeet: It’s like what you see in a sports team, right? In a high performing sports team, you’ve got certain athletes who are doing quite well, and then you’ve got other team members who are filling in or who need improvement.
But a great team manager and a coach can help drive the performance of the team up through data, through process, through systems, through rigorous feedback, as well as doing the whole game plan.
I think the role that you mentioned that RevOps can play is driving this productivity. Talking about productivity while we are on topic, what would you typically allow as key metrics to track from a web productivity standpoint? What should organizations measure?
Eddie: I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not even sure I understand what productivity means.
One way that revenue operations can help drive revenue is by clearly defining the ideal customer profile, the buyer persona, and the best path to attract them. So you can have a rep that’s really productive in terms of making a hundred calls a day, booking all these meetings, etc. But if they’re not targeting the right organizations, the right people in those organizations, and running their sales cycles effectively, If marketing’s not doing the same, if customer success is not doing the same, then they could be highly productive and very ineffective.
The classic example of this is marketing generating a thousand MQLs that convert at 0.1% because they have achieved the goal that they think this is where they need to be. But in reality, they have captured data from people that don’t have any real intent to buy and are oftentimes not the right people to buy. So they’re very productive at something that’s very ineffective.
Tool Adoption: The Role of Leadership Buy-In
Abhijeet: What about the role of adoption of these tools in driving productivity? You’ve been an AE yourself. So you’ve been a user of tools. What would you recommend for RevOps teams out there that are buying a new tool? How can they drive adoption?
Eddie: I think first and foremost you have to have buy-in from leadership. So the easiest example of a problem that inhibits adoption is that the leadership will say – Okay, we want Salesforce. We want everyone to use Salesforce.
What does “use” mean? That’s pretty ambiguous. But then I need you to fill out your pipeline report in Excel and we’re going to go to a meeting and we’re going to still just go around the room and you tell me about all your deals verbally, and I’ll just weigh in.
Well, that screams loud and clear to the sales rep. And we could say the same thing about any department on the revenue team. You are shouting loud and clear that we bought this tool and we want you to use it, but we don’t know why. And it’s not important to us.
So you start off with having leadership buy-in and honestly, like I have yet to see a leadership team commit to. Having success on Salesforce and not getting there. They might stumble a bit for doing other things wrong, but eventually they’re going to get there. And equally, I’ve not seen very many teams succeed at getting adoption of Salesforce without leadership buy-in.
But once you have that, you obviously need to then design the system around what’s right for the users, whether they be sales, marketing or service, and ultimately what’s right for your customer. And you need to balance out your requests, right?
Another thing that I see is that folks go to one of two extremes. Either they’re saying – Let’s just use Salesforce as a Rolodex and a pipeline report. So we’re going to add all of our contacts, and we’re going to have their names and phone numbers and email addresses, which is not of really any value to the individual using it, especially if they have all that in Outlook and they’re used to doing things that way.
How have you helped them by moving their data from Outlook into Salesforce? You haven’t. And then we’re just going to have a pipeline report. So people are just going to update the pipeline towards the very end of the deal cycle. So they have something to show. But they don’t want to get scrutiny early in the sales process. So they won’t put it into the system. And that’s all that’s being looked at.
Or the other extreme is they try to capture every single data point that they possibly can capture. And they turn salespeople into data entry people, which inhibits them from being able to do their job.
So you have to strike a careful balance and ask for just the critical level of data and integrate that into your process.
So when I worked at Salesforce, maybe six months in, I went to Sandler training. Before even walking in the door, I already knew at least 75% of it because it’s embedded into Salesforce’s process.
There are literally fields on the opportunity in Salesforce that ask key questions that they train you on in Sandler. So you kind of already get it because it’s not that you just go to this training for two days and you try to remember it and hopefully figure out how to apply it. Or that management says we need to do this, that, or the other.
It’s integrated into the actual CRM and every single team meeting, and every single one on one and every single deal review. So all of these things are connected. It becomes virtually impossible not to follow the process.
So I think that these things are what drive adoption of tools. In order to achieve that as an organization, you have to be really thoughtful about your strategy and process.
This also inhibits the shiny tool syndrome.
Abhijeet: I think one point that you brought Eddie was quite interesting where you talked about a balance between no data capture to an insane amount of data capture. Where you turn your reps into data entry operators in the latter.
No rep actually signs up for that. None of the job descriptions out there for account executive roles talk about this line that you need to update CRM or do CRM data entry.
I think the point that I took away from there is intelligent automation. If you can automate data entry, I think that would save a lot of time for the reps. And I think that’s where, to your point, revenue operations can add a lot of value, not just from an adoption or a process implementation standpoint, but also figuring out what’s that critical sales data or sales process.
Eddie: I can give a concrete example here. When I worked at Salesforce, any of the data that they could gather outside of a sales rep’s conversation would be gathered by someone else, by systems etc. The actual data they were asking salespeople to gather was data that was highly relevant to the actual sales process. So, it was very minimal.
It was things like – what is the close date and dollar amount of your deal? Who’s the decision maker and what is your mutual evaluation plan? For really small deals that didn’t get a lot of scrutiny. But as the deal got bigger, they started to ask for more and more information, especially as it progressed through various stages.
This is information that is part of Sandler training. Information that is needed by every manager, every sales engineer and every product specialist that’s going to work with a core account executive on a particular deal. Information that executives need to see in order to evaluate whether or not a deal actually stands a chance of being closed and in order to build their forecast.
And so what you would see happen is that from an AE manager to the AVP, to the, SVP etc., they would go through the pipeline once a week or however often. They sort the pipeline by dollar amount and close date. And they would just go through it one by one and they would look for gaps and they would say – You’re saying that this is going to close at the end of this month, but I don’t see an updated mutual evaluation plan.
This is a huge deal. That could be a quarter of your quota. It doesn’t seem like you have a clear idea of how you’re going to close this deal. Maybe it’s in your head, but how is management supposed to help you if we can’t get visibility into that? How are all of the other people on your team that you’re working with supposed to help you if they don’t know what’s going on in that deal?
And then if we lose that deal and somebody else tries to win it back six months, 12 months or18 months later, they can go back to that deal and see everything that happened and why it was lost. Then you can use automation to capture contact information and company revenue and all those kinds of things.
Abhijeet: I’ve heard you using this term mutual evaluation plan on a few occasions, and in today’s podcast. I’d love to understand a bit more about the mutual evaluation plan that you quoted, and how it is different from the mutual action plan that we keep hearing about. Or are they like one and the same thing?
If you don’t understand what those steps are, you’re not providing a very good customer experience. And you obviously don’t have any visibility into how you’re going to close this deal.
The classic case in point is you’ve given them the demo, they like it, you think you’ve won them over, but you have no idea that this has to go through legal review, procurement, security, etc. because you just never asked.
And equally for the customer. Customers don’t want to buy software. They want to have solutions up and running in place and being used by their team. Customers have no idea what it takes to get there. Because they’re thinking in their mind, Well, I’m going to evaluate this tool. I have a demo tomorrow, and then I’ll know whether I want to buy this or not.
And sure, I know that this needs to go through legal review and security. But I don’t know how long it takes to implement this tool, how long it takes post-implementation to drive adoption, how long it takes pre-implementation between signing a contract and actually getting resources assigned, and then kicking off a project.
And even on their own end, customers oftentimes don’t understand how long it normally takes to sort of rally the troops internally, get people together, and actually get a project launched and completed. So it really is a mutual plan to help the customer arrive at their desired destination at the time in which they need to arrive at that destination.
Abhijeet: What do you think the future of RevOps looks like in the next 5 years?
Eddie: I think in a lot of organizations, RevOps started many years back with admins, whether they were office managers, administrative assistants or junior people in finance. Somebody was responsible for collecting data, putting together reports etc.
And then when tools like Salesforce started coming out, all of a sudden that task fell on those folks. And now all of a sudden, you have this person that’s set up Salesforce and they’re managing it, and now they are a Salesforce admin.
Same thing happened in marketing. Lots of marketing tools, and all of a sudden you have marketing operations. But this built silos.
So we had siloed data, siloed processes, siloed systems. And so now RevOps came in to say, let’s connect all the data, let’s connect all the systems, and let’s look at this holistically. But the challenge is that you still see a lot of folks, a lot of people, and especially a lot of organizations that are looking at revenue operations folks as those who’ll help them set up all of their tools. Across sales, marketing and service.
But you have to start with a strategy. I think most of the experienced people you talk to will say the same thing. And so I think that is the shift that we’re going to see that more and more companies are going to understand.
Another thing I would add is that companies are going to be more and more careful with how and when and why they buy tools. So I think there’s going to be a strong push away from the shiny object syndrome into why are we buying this tool? What process are we gonna execute in this tool? How does this support our go to market strategy?
Abhijeet: Thank you Eddie for sharing all those insights. And good luck for everything at Union Square Consulting.
Eddie: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed this.