OpsStars 2023 Opening Keynote: Jeff Serlin with LeanData CEO Evan Liang

Evan Liang, CEO of LeanData: We want to talk about the state of RevOps: The past, present, and future. And I think it's an ideal time to talk about it because, like I said, we kicked off the journey to RevOps in 2019 and RevOps just continues to evolve, right? I think one of the terms when we were prepping for this was 'we do not think history will repeat itself.' RevOps is going forward. It's not going to go backward. And boy, has a lot changed. We've got COVID and economic downturn and a banking crisis. And to help me with that, we want to bring on three industry experts to talk about those different phases and set those contexts, and then hopefully bring us some key takeaways around where we think things are going next. And so with that, I wanted to first bring on stage Jeff Serlin, who I first got to know when we were working together at Marketo. His title, and this is a great title, is Chief RevOps Officer. That's a new title, and kind of emphasizes what we will be talking about. Jeff, please come on stage!

So, in my setup, Jeff, I talked a little bit about the evolution of RevOps and what's changed over the last 20 or 30 years. I'm hoping that you can talk a little bit about what you've seen change and what the key themes are.

Jeff Serlin, Chief RevOps Officer at Revcast: So, first of all, I haven't been doing it for 30 years. I'm not that old yet. Look, when I first started doing this, there was no RevOps. There was no SalesOps. And I'll get to this a little bit later but I was just like - why don't we track a pipeline? Somebody should do this. But I don't think there was a big bang moment in which RevOps itself was born. I think it was an evolution. And thinking about that, I think there are three things that led to this. The first is in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when I was kind of doing SalesOps on the side. A lot of Sales leaders from larger companies, PeopleSoft, Oracle, SAP, started coming to startups as they were getting to 50 million, wanting to cross 100 million, and then 200 million, and a half a billion, and move up and start selling to enterprise. Operations was done at these big companies. They had someone that helped them with their weekly forecast call and their reporting package. They had someone they worked with on comp plans and planning. So when they came to these smaller companies, they wanted that person or that skill set. So they created roles, calling them SalesOps and started hiring for this role. And I think that was the start of giving structure to that role.

For the second thing, I think what went on was around having to work with others, how to work with Marketing on handoffs. You had to work with Finance, Legal on process and deal desk, etc. So other people at those companies and leaders outside of Sales started to see the value and what Operations can bring. And in fact, some of them started hiring their own Ops folks after that.

And then I think the third thing was a whole bunch of Sales Managers and Sales Reps that became leaders, five, six, seven, maybe even eight years later, understood the value of Operations. Then when they got into those roles, they started creating these teams, larger teams, and hiring SalesOps a little bit earlier. They started thinking about revenue as more of a supply chain and started thinking about consolidating it. So it was really creating advocates and people that understand the value of it. And as those people moved up and went to other companies, they started bringing that knowledge with them. I think that was how RevOps started to get some traction in the mid-2010s.

Evan: And for many folks who are in those roles or early in their career and mid-career, talk to me a little bit about the evolution of your personal career along that journey.

Jeff: I think like any role, it's important to find a mentor, someone you can learn with. The first time I had an official Sales Operations role, I was introduced to one of those leaders that actually came from PeopleSoft by some common friends and colleagues who was looking for someone to do this. I went and worked with him. I didn't have anybody to go learn from though, there wasn't a community, there was no place to go look and get information on how to do certain things. There weren't a lot of colleagues and peers that were doing this, so I had to figure out - and so did others at that time - a lot of it on our own. Which is very fun. And it was really good because you had to learn a little bit of everything, which I think has certainly helped me. But I was a team of one. I was with him attached at the hip. He brought me into every important decision. Everything I could join except what was confidential. So I was seen as a Chief of Staff and a strategic partner to him. And he really helped position me as that person. That was pre-RevOps. But when things would get done, when we'd want to rethink a strategy, or analyze something, or get some tactics, execute it, that I was the person to go to first to help figure this out as well as work with our partners in the go-to-market organization.

After that, he became a CEO. We were acquired by Oracle. I was the first person he brought from his network. He made me a direct report to him. And anyone in the company and go-to-market that wanted to hire an Ops person had to work on my team. And he wanted that because he wanted to - and he comes from the sales world so he kind of gets go-to-market - but he wanted to be able to execute his vision of what the go-to-market strategy should be and to make sure the tactics were done. And for me not to necessarily be influenced by Marketing or Sales or Sales more than Marketing. And he allowed me to build a little bit of a team.

To me that was the start. RevOps wasn't the term used, but of having a broader span of maybe not direct authority but responsibility and involvement, and also reporting to the CEO. I know there's some discussions of where RevOps should report, and I do think it's the CEO, hence the title that I gave myself at my current company. But that was the start of it for me, of really seeing the value of not just thinking myopically about Sales. Rather, seeing it as a supply chain and everything from the data layer up to the systems to the strategies to the people working together and how it all needs to be just totally integrated and of one mind.

Evan: Very cool. Talk to me a little - I mean, I think we put the slide up there - this is where SalesOps started with spreadsheets, right? And we've gone from that to this. So tell me a little bit about the evolution of technology and how it played a role.

Jeff: I'm getting a migraine just looking at that. Technology is great. It's an awesome enabler to get things done. But, if you're buying technology and you don't know what problem you're trying to solve, you shouldn't be buying anything. So there's a ton of great things out there that I've used throughout the years, and I don't think that myself or people that do what we do could be successful or deliver as much value to the company if we don't use technology. But be very deliberate and thoughtful on what problem you're solving, what you want to solve next, what you want to solve next quarter, what you might want to solve next year and have a plan of how you're implementing it. And most importantly, have a plan of how it's going to be adopted. Buying something that can give you a value gives you none if folks aren't using it.

So it's really been great for accelerating the speed of which we can deliver value to the business, but also to the degree of value because it gives us the insights or the automation freeing us up to do the more strategic things that we can typically do.

Evan: Got it. Makes sense. And maybe also on the go-to-market side, what have been the process changes that you've seen over that timeframe?

Jeff: I think the biggest single one - and I'll start more at a macro level - is when I went to Marketo, Sales and Marketing planned together. We had a single spreadsheet, and our models were all in there. It wasn't different spreadsheets that we couldn't interpret. And Dave Cain, who some of you might know, and I would spend hours in a conference room integrating this whole thing. And we would talk through if we felt that we wanted to accelerate outbound and enterprise, and he would reduce a little bit of his spend in there. Or if we wanted to get more spend in certain programs that they were coming up with, we might make the manager ratio seven to one instead of six to one. So I think the change in process was started by the change in alignment and folks working together to think of it as a single plan. And we were both accountable to the same thing. In fact, his number was the same exact number that mine was in terms of what our variable compensation was. And I think that spawned common data models, that spawned common processes, that spawn better handoffs, that spawn leadership. Now talking about go-to-market as opposed to Sales and/or Marketing and drove a whole bunch of cool things that you can do at the process and workflow layer to again, just accelerate your growth, do it efficiently and deliver value to the business.

Evan: Perfect. Well thank you, Jeff. Appreciate you sharing your story.

Jeff: Thank you, Evan.

See the full OpsStars 2023 Opening Keynote: RevOps - Past, Present and Future

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