Brandon Jones, VP of Revenue at PAAY, gave this presentation at the Revenue Acceleration Festival, March 2021
I’ve worked as an operator in multiple SaaS companies as well as in venture capital and private equity throughout my career.
In this article, I’ll:
- Pull together what I’ve found to be the four common threads of some of the highest performing revenue engines I’ve encountered, and share self-assessment checklists you can use to propel yours.
- Walk you through the origin story of how I came across that and what my experiences have been - you may find some of these questions resonate with you.
- Give you some really tactical takeaways in terms of a self-assessment checklist of where you can rank and identify what areas you need to prioritize and work on for your four pillars.
I'm the VP of Revenue at PAAY, we're a FinTech company that helps merchants with chargebacks and helps them increase their authorization rates.
I've had the pleasure of working as an operator for several different SaaS companies and also in the venture capital and private equity space as a go-to-market advisor to about 40 or so companies.
A lot of the experiences I'll share have either come from my experience as an operator or working with CROs and CMOs trying to tackle go-to-market problems. I want to take a lot of what I've seen, the good movie, the bad movie, and share that so you're able to really hone in and really power your revenue engine with some of the best practices.
Common questions among sales and marketing leaders
Below are some of the questions I've heard over time - maybe some of these look familiar.
I've heard CMOs and CROs asking questions like:
- How do I know I'm prioritizing the right thing?
- What metrics should I be tracking?
- What should my tech stack even look like?
- When should I get certain things?
- I saw a tool someone else is using, should I use that?
- How can I help my reps be more productive?
These are some of the most frequently asked question that revenue teams deal with. The purpose of this is to take some of the questions I've heard, that I've worked through personally, or that I've worked with others, and give you some of the best practices I've found that have come out of these questions.
Four common threads among high performing revenue teams
First, I want to start with the four pillars. I'll walk you through these in a particular order.
The best performing sales and marketing teams I've found have these four things in common.
Scalability means before they do anything else, they're making sure their systems, the infrastructure is in place and it doesn't require manual workarounds or band-aids in order to get reporting out or for sales and marketing to actually execute and do their job.
The scalability is really important and it's a step I often see skipped because it's the least sexy step. It's setting up Salesforce, or your CRM, setting up your marketing automation platforms like Marketo, or HubSpot, and any connected tools to make sure sales and marketing have everything they need to execute.
Repeatability comes in place after you've got the infrastructure. You essentially are taking all the learnings and best practices you've found have worked and putting them into a playbook. Putting them into a codified set of processes your team is going to follow.
Your team is essentially running a playbook, whether it's marketing, sales, customer success, and you can plug in new people into that system and get similar results.
This is once you've graduated from steps one and two, you've now got a system that you can actually go out and forecast, you can predict what's going to happen in your pipeline, you can be reliable in calling your number and in calling what levers you need to pull in order to drive performance.
I often see a lot of teams try to skip forward to this step because forecasting and pipe management are some of the fun things to do. But it really falls apart if you don't have the infrastructure in place to report on it and the reports aren't very reliable or good.
And also if your team is pretty inconsistent in how they're actually going about go to market strategy.
The piece that holds all of this together, that foundational pillar is the values. I've noticed a lot of these distill down to what I call ACE values - I'll go into them in more detail later on.
Essentially, it's having a set of values for your sales, marketing, CS, and business development teams that is consistent, fosters bidirectional accountability, and really pushes everyone for excellence while also being mindful and being empathetic to each other.
And also in customer-facing roles being empathetic to the customer.
The takeaway from this before I jump into the illustration is that you walk away with something tactical, some homework you can actually do, a self-assessment of where your organization is right now, and what you need to focus on for the rest of 2021 and beyond.
An illustrative example of the four pillars in everyday life
I'll share an everyday example. I ride the train every day, I live in New York so, of course, I'm going to use a subway or light rail example.
Let's imagine we're asked to build a light rail that can go three times faster than any other light rail right now or faster than our current one.
The natural thing we would do is say, "Okay, well, what does the infrastructure look like? I have to make sure I build out some train tracks that can withstand that speed. I need stations, switches, and I need to have all the pieces in place that are going to allow me to go beyond the speed the train goes today, that make it ready for future proof growth".
That would be the first thing we'd naturally start with.
The second thing we'd probably get into is we'd say, "Okay, well, now that we've got the infrastructure, how can we make sure this train runs on a repeatable schedule?"
So what does the system map look like? What does the schedule look like? How do we train conductors and operators? What do the communications look like so that everyone's on the same page and speaking the same language?
You can already start to see a lot of the best practices I've pulled from really high-performing teams that I've been a part of, or advised, are just following this natural flow you and I may follow normally if we were asked to do something else.
That third step, once we get the tracks in place, once we have repeatable processes in places, we'd probably start to build out analytics and we'd say, "Okay, well, I need to know, proactively, if there are dangers on the track, or there are repairs that are needed.
I'd want to know if trains are going to be on time and how can I track that? Maybe we build out a passenger demand model to make sure we're efficient in how trains are going out and coming back and we're not wasting resources".
Lastly, what would hold everything up if we were a really good organization, one that talent wanted to be part of, people wanted to join, people were excited to come to work and give it their all, our foundation would essentially be held up by core values.
Oftentimes, I've seen values that are only in name only. They're just a corny thing that leadership talks about. But from some of the companies I've been a part of and have worked with that have had tremendous success on the revenue side, these values really matter.
They're deliberate and everyone knows them. I'll get into what those look like.
Hopefully, this gives you an illustrative example of this scalable, repeatable, predictable model in the real world, and how we would naturally do this.
Four pillars self-assessment checklists
I want to jump into the four pillars, and the self-assessment checklist so you can take something away and see a little bit more here what I'm talking about, and start to put this into place.
The first piece is on scalability. I often get questions about how do I know when the org is ready? How do we know when we're done, or we've done enough to say we have a scalable, go-to-market infrastructure?
The question I found most helpful is asking yourself if the pipeline were to triple tomorrow; lead volume, pipeline, sales, everything triples, can the infrastructure handle that without manual workarounds, RG sheets, or things that are floating around?
And can you have everything tracked and organized in a system?
Now, that could be multiple systems, and that's okay, that could be your CRM, that could be your marketing automation platform, a business intelligence tool, wherever you're moving that information along, whether it's to consume it for reporting, or for your team.
But the purpose of this is to say your systems can essentially withstand a significant increase in volume. That's how you know when your systems are really ready and future-proof.
Scalability self-assessment checklist
I've put in a couple of self-assessment checklist items. This isn't an exhaustive list, but it's something to help you start to think about this.
CRM and MAP have no asymmetry of information
One thing I often see is the CRM and marketing automation platform have no asymmetry of information. So outside of what you may hold back from a lead scoring perspective, in your marketing automation platform, the data is synced bi-directionally between the two and there's no system of record that is more up to date than the other.
Full visibility into each stage of the revenue funnel
The other questions you can see are about if you can really see full-funnel into what's going on. If you were asked about a piece of the funnel, one of your funnel stages that look to be stuck or something's happening, you want to have that full visibility all the way across to be able to go in without a lot of manual intervention and identify what's happening.
Customer journey can be reported on within a single system
That's also true of the customer journey.
You want to be able to follow the entire customer journey through one system.
Reliable firmographic, persona, and technographic (if applicable) data
And you want reliable data, whether it's firmographic, persona technographic, for your sales and marketing teams, if they're going to be calling prospects, if you're going to be marketing out to potential prospects, you want to make sure your data is clean and you can rely on it to execute the strategy.
Every from marketing to CS has tools necessary to execute the GTM motion without manual workarounds
Lastly, the piece around the tooling. I often get a question about what tech stack tools should be in place. I think you can limit it to just saying you have the necessary tools to execute the go-to-market motion.
What I mean by that is, this would be maybe a sales cadence tool, this would be obviously your CRM, your marketing automation platform, contracting tools, what it wouldn't include at this stage is commission tools, or forecasting tools, or other nice to haves that are often purchased really early in this process, but you don't really see a lift from them. That's why.
Step two is repeatability. For repeatability, you want to be able to confidently say that if you increase your marketing spend, if you've got more budget to do more marketing, you know exactly where you want to spend it.
You know exactly what your most effective channels are and campaigns. You know how that would drive incremental revenue for the sales team.
You also want to be able to answer your question about adding new reps and this is really important because oftentimes, companies will scale up quickly, add a bunch of sales reps but then the cost of acquisition will just go through the roof.
You don't see the incremental revenue growth from adding headcount.
The reason is, you typically don't have repeatability yet, you don't have a process that actually is plug and play where you bring a new person in, have them ramp quickly, and have them be successful.
Repeatability self-assessment checklist
Your self-assessment checklist here includes these things about ramping, about a healthy quota distribution curve, about having a sales playbook that you've codified all that tribal knowledge in and you've really solidified your go-to-market strategy within.
Well-defined TAM, ICP, segmentation, value prop, customer personas, and sales process
The other important thing is having a well-defined total addressable market, you know your ideal customer profile, your segmentation is solid.
You've done the work on your value prop, you know your customers, you've done the customer personas, and you've committed to a sales process.
These are the pieces you'd want to have in place to be able to say, my sales process, my revenue organization, whether it's marketing, sales, CS, etc. is repeatable and I can bring people into it confidently and have it scale up and continue to grow at a high rate.
The third part is predictability. Once you feel good about your infrastructure and saying you've built it in a scalable way, the question you have to ask yourself on predictability is, can I really forecast what's happening in my current quarter and out quarter trajectory?
Can I pull the necessary levers to course correct and know what's happening?
Predictability self-assessment checklist
Forecast methodology has evolved from stage-based to coverage or historical trend-based
You want to be able to have a forecast methodology that has evolved beyond just stage-based forecasting.
You want that to be evolved to a point where you can look at your coverage, and say, "Hey, we need to be at 3x coverage, or we need to be at 2x coverage in order to hit a number".
You also want this to be based on your historical trends. If you have a historical trend you can point back to and say, "Hey, normally at this stage in the quarter we're trending about here, and our deals may convert at this rate", you want to layer that in as well. So moving beyond just the stage-based conversion factors in order to forecast.
Pipeline KPIs are consistent and focus on outcomes, leading indicators, and activities
What I mean by that is, your outcomes bucket, I think we all know those, and we track those pretty well but what often falls off is the buckets about your leading indicators, which are new pipeline, meetings, proof of concepts, or trials.
Then also holding your team accountable to your buckets that are focused on activities. This is often the case with enterprise or outside sales teams that we don't see a lot. But this is saying, "Hey, how many calls, emails, prospects, things like that are you adding?" and a lot of this stuff is what gets sunshine by leadership.
When you talk about it, it's some of the best disinfectant essentially for pipe integrity and making sure those things are up to date.
Thematic weekly forecast cadence with periodic focus on out-quarter pipeline
This is not just coming to the forecast call each week and covering the same topics about the current quarter pipe and making it a free for all, essentially, when you talk about your deals.
But having a theme, and you can set the theme to whatever you'd like but having a theme that says on week 10, for example, we're going to start talking about next quarter. In week one, we will talk about why the deals from week 13 were pushed.
Having a cadence you stick to will prevent getting into talking about a flavor of the week at your forecast meetings, it'll really help you start to forecast a lot tighter.
Leadership-level reporting cadence on growth, efficiency, and retention metrics
Lastly on this is your leadership level reporting starts to change. What I mean by this is you focus on growth metrics, efficiency metrics, retention.
These are things like the rule of 40, your CAC payback period starts to become more important, and you're focusing on your retention metrics; net revenue retention, NPS, customer health, things like that.
Now you've gotten through scalability, you've asked yourself the questions there, you've gotten through repeatability, you've asked yourself the questions there, and you've gotten through predictability to say, "Okay, I've done those two, is my process now predictable?"
This is the part where we talk about ACE values where this is happening all throughout.
This isn't a fourth pillar, this is more of a foundational pillar that's happening from day one, and happening all the time. The three important things here are:
A - Autonomy comes with Accountability.
If you tell your sales team, "You can sell however is effective for you. We're not going to dictate to you how to actually pitch, how to do the motion" you leave room for creativity and autonomy. But you just remind the team that comes with accountability.
So when we come to the forecast meeting, we come to pipeline reviews, that comes with the accountability that you're accountable to the outcome.
C - Commitment to your Craft
This is a big one around starting book clubs for your team, reading sales books, consuming sales knowledge and best practices, and always working to be excellent and get better. This is a core drive, I think, for a lot of people - mastery, wanting to really master something that you do and be really good at it.
E - Expertise delivered with Empathy
This is customer-facing, obviously. So if you're speaking to customers or speaking to prospects, you'd want to make sure that when you're delivering expertise, you do so with empathy, you research your prospect, you understand their pain, you have a deep appreciation for what they're going through, and you're not a hammer looking for a nail.
But it also applies internally. So when sales and marketing are working together, it's giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
It's bringing your expertise to the team and saying, "Hey, this is my expertise I can offer, but I'm going to deliver it with empathy for the benefit of the doubt of what someone else may have brought or what they may have done, etc to collaborate" so everyone's operating from good faith and working together.