Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 164: Q&A with Karen Steele @karenmsteele

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By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

If you’re not already subscribed to Sales Pipeline Radio, or listening live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific you can find the transcription and recording here on the blog every Monday morning.   The show is less than 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities. You can subscribe to and listen to full recordings of past shows everywhere you listen to podcasts! Spotify, iTunesBlubrry, Google Play, iHeartRADIO, or Stitcher

We were thrilled this last time to talk to Karen Steele, CMO at LeanData Inc. in an episode called, “The Rise of Revenue Operations: How an Integrated Approach Can Accelerate Results” 

Listen in (or read the transcript below) as we talk about what “Revenue Operations” really means.



LeanData has done a great job of evangelizing an integrated, cohesive Revenue Operations strategy. I ask Karen what that means and what it looks like.

I also ask her about the balance of activities for marketing teams when you’ve got those so focused on demand generations and getting more leads and getting more MQLs, versus focusing on some of the Sales Enablement and Revenue Operations tasks and priorities.

It’s not just about the sales funnel– revenue implies impacting the entire customer life cycle. I asked her to share how the concept of Revenue Operations can now span beyond acquisition marketing as well as sales and how it can impact customer success and account management teams as well.

Matt:  Thank you everyone for joining us on Sales Pipeline Radio. If you’re listening to us live during the work day on the Funnel Media Radio Network, thank you for doing so. I continue to be surprised. People listen to this show live. And it’s amazing, and I’m humbled and thank you so much for listening. For those of you on the podcast, thanks so much for subscribing. You can find us on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, wherever fine podcasts are found, very humbled to see our numbers continue to climb. One of these days, we’re only maybe a couple of weeks from hitting that 100,000 number based on our trajectory right now. It’s amazing. Every episode of Sales Pipeline Radio is available, past, present, and future on salespipelineradio.com. Every week, we are featuring some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing. Today is absolutely no different. I am very excited to have with us today our guest parents deal. She is the Chief Marketing Officer at LeanData. Karen, thanks so much for joining us.

Karen:  Thank you, Matt. Really happy to be here.

Matt:  So you’re in Northern California. So your weather situation might be a little colder but hopefully not too bad?

Karen:  I’m pretty pleased right now. We have no haze, and I think it’s going to be on the high 70s today. So beautiful day in the South Bay here in the Bay Area.

Matt:  That’ll work. Well, I know that you are not frequently in the Bay Area given your travel schedule with the Ops-Stars tour that was in New York last month, and we’re going to be out in Boston in a couple of weeks. And we’ve got the SiriusDecisions Summit coming up next week in Austin. So I’m hoping for good but not too humid weather in Austin. But I want to talk a little bit about this topic of Revenue Operations that I know has been near and dear to your heart, has been key part of the Ops-Stars tour, that LeanData, that you guys have put together. Talk a little bit about what Revenue Operations means because I think a lot of companies are still trying to figure out their Marketing Operations plan and their Sales Operations plan. But you guys have done a great job of evangelizing, sort of integrated, cohesive Revenue Operations strategy. What does that mean and what does that look like?

Karen:  Yeah, absolutely. So I think I’ve been in the marketing space a long time and always had my partner in crime sales right alongside. But when you look at go-to-market today, it’s just very fragmented. If you think about the buyer journey is almost all digital now, there’s multiple people involved in the journey. There’s fragmented teams. Companies have to have to execute and automate a whole variety of go-to-market motion, be it outbound with SDRs, inbound, direct, ABM, in the world of SiriusDecisions, Demand Unit Waterfall. ABM, it’s just there’s a whole host of things that have to get executed and the teams are fragmented, the strategy’s changed often. There’s a lack of coordination and that lead to a bad buying experience. And part of that is an operational challenge because a lot of it is about data.

It obviously has to do with the people. And then you need a set of processes to fix this fragmented approach. And so what we have seen happen, and we started looking at this really carefully about a year ago is there’s these silos of operations teams that help do all the execution around go-to-market. But they live in different parts of the organization. You have folks sitting in Sales Ops, you have people sitting in Marketing Ops, and some cases you have Customer Ops, and you might even have Channel or Partner Ops. And so we’re seeing a consolidation of some of those teams coming together to form what is now being called a Revenue Ops. And really the idea of Revenue Ops is to have a centralized place to plan, execute and measure all your go-to-market to accelerate revenue and ultimately enhance the buying experience.

Matt:  Well, for companies that I’ve seen embrace this concept, they actually ends up being simpler. I think for companies that have separate marketing and Sales Operations, you have two disparate teams, two budgets, sometimes competing strategies, there’s politics involved. It ends up creating a lot more work than is necessary. And Lord knows that the buying and selling process is complex and not like we’ve seen data that indicates that the more and more buyers are involved in the buying journey, that the stages of the buying process is getting longer, that internal sales steps are getting more complex. And so it behooves us to try to find something to try to grab, create less complexity. And we did some research recently. We actually found that those that are implementing Revenue Ops programs are significantly more likely to indicate that their sales process has gotten less complex, which is a pretty big deal.

Karen:  Yeah, I think we were actually doing a case study with Okta, who’s one of the fastest growing security companies here in the Bay Area at SiriusDecisions next week. And LeanData is central to their Revenue Ops strategy. While they haven’t necessarily moved all of the Ops pieces into one centralized place yet, they are strategically operating that way. So they see the value of having all the go-to-market teams sit under the same leader. They’re starting to centralize all the data in a single place. They’re looking at having all their processes run through the same system so that they can have seamless customer handoffs. Again, all with this kind of the customer experience in mind because it’s so complex. And B2B today that we have to be agile. Things change every month, every week, every quarter.

And you want a single revenue ecosystem that you can have data flows seamlessly, you can engage with the accounts that you want to engage with in a coordinated manner. And this is an operation challenge because it is about the data and the tech that we’ve all brought into our companies. I think I can’t remember the status recently. I think the average sales and martech stack in most mid-sized companies is north of 50 different tools and applications. So it’s a daunting, daunting thing to look at. But Revenue Ops is absolutely foundational, starting to look at, again, a very flexible and unified go-to-market approach.

Matt:  We’re talking to Karen Steele today on Sales Pipeline Radio. She is the Chief Marketing Officer at LeanData. And if you don’t mind, let’s take this down to a more specific tactical example, just to sort of people understand how this works. So let’s talk about the concept of, for instance, lead routing and matching leads and contacts. That sounds like a fairly simple thing. You could say, “Oh, well, I’ve got assignment rules and salesforce,” and, “Oh, well, I can tell Marketo where to send leads.” But in a complex selling environment, when you’ve got multiple members of the buying committee, you’re just trying to orchestrate a deal with a particular complex account, like lead routing and lead matching is not as simple as you would think. Talk a little bit about where that breaks down with some of the typical systems people have and why a more cohesive integrated approach to Revenue Operations is necessary there.

Karen:  Yeah, so maybe it’s just starting at the top and probably what’s well known to most people in the sales and marketing space is there’s a fundamental flaw in the design of the CRM system that doesn’t allow leads and accounts to talk to each other. And so first have to start with lead to account matching. So you’ve got to connect leads with the accounts and other objects that are in the CRM system so you can start to create some of the flows that allow you to route the right leads to the right person at the right time based on all of your go-to market place. So you may want a certain set of leads to be routed to a target account owner. You may want a certain set of leads that are customer-oriented to go to your CSM team.

That all has to be orchestrated and set up from a data level. All that data sits in your CRM system, you might be pulling other data in from other sales and marketing tools. But you’ve got to be able to have that flexibility based on logic to put those actions and flows in place. We help companies do that in a very visual interface. We call it Flow Builder, but it’s literally you design it, you drag and drop and move things around so you can look at different scenarios and look at all the actions you’re taking. And you can get insights in real time on, what move to whom and as things come in, who’s got access to what. And so it’s extremely helpful and in speed to lead and time to market. And it’s being used across every customer we have. Obviously, you want to measure on the back end what you’re doing with your marketing tools too. So we also have some marketing attribution technology as well that’s very popular.

Matt:  Who should own this in the organization. I think traditionally you could say, “Well salesforce sounds like a Sales Ops, sort of ownership and Marketo, or your marketing automation platform sounds like Marketing Ops.” When you start talking about Revenue Ops is not as simple. I think the research we did together a couple of months ago indicated that about 44% of companies report that Revenue Operations is jointly led by marketing and sales, 33% are led by sales, 60% by marketing. On one hand, I’m a little disappointed that small number of revenue was being led by marketing because I would hope that more marketing organizations would see the opportunity to embrace more revenue responsibility. But since we’re seeing the majority led by marketing and sales, if that’s a coordinated approach, what are the keys to doing that as a team effort?



Karen:  Yeah, you’re right. There’s no one size fits all. SiriusDecisions is putting out a lot of data right now that they’ve done a lot of research to look at the growth of companies that are hiring CROs, Chief Revenue Officers. But a lot of companies don’t have that in place. And so if you don’t have a CRO, where should a consolidated ops group live? I’m of a belief like you that marketing is a good place to start. We have certain customers that actually have the entire go-to-market world, which includes the Revenue Ops team roll up to a president or a head of business operations. So I think there’s different schools of thought. I think the best place for it is where the leader, ultimately the executive, has complete autonomy to look at the best approach to go-to-market based on the data and all the systems, the people, both your external customer and all your internal teams, and then all of the different processing.

So give you an example, Revenue Ops here at LeanData, because we don’t have a CRO today, actually reports up to our Chief Financial Officer. And that’s a nice place for it to be because they can sit and coordinate with sales and marketing as equal stakeholders. So that works too. So I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this. I think it depends on your organization. It depends on the maturity of the organization. I think the key message is get started at a minimum. Bring some elements of sales and Marketing Ops together and start to look at some best practices around Revenue Ops and then look at the organizational stuff because that tends to get a little messy when people don’t want to give up certain parts of their role, or they don’t want to change organizations. And so that’s where it can get potentially a little political, but get started even if you’re doing so in a virtual way with a common set of objectives around what you want to achieve with revenue op and metrics to tell you how you’re doing.

Matt:  Great advice today from Karen Steele, the Chief Marketing Officer from LeanData. We’re going to have to take a quick break, pay some bills. We’ll be right back talking more about Revenue Operations. We’re going to talk about the Ops-Stars conference series. You’re going to want to take advantage of. We’ll be right back on Sales Pipeline Radio.

*Break*

Matt:  We are recording today from world headquarters here in Redmond, Washington. And next week we will be in the hopefully beautiful and not too humid confines of Austin, Texas. Next week is the SiriusDecisions Summit. For many in the B2B space, this is a must attend event, for my money, some of the best content and some of the best networking and connections in the B2B industry. Next week on Sales Pipeline Radio we will be featuring highlights from this year’s SiriusDecisions Summit some of the conversations, what our attendees doing, what are they struggling with, what are some of the new insights and research that we’re getting from SiriusDecisions? So make sure you join us for that. Speaking of great events, the Ops-Stars series, the Ops-Stars has been quite frankly one of the highlights of Dreamforce week for me the last few weeks of last few years.

LeanData has orchestrated a really fantastic one to two day event as part of Salesforce Dreamforce week in San Francisco, usually happens each fall. And this year Ops-Stars is on the road. Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking at Ops-Stars in New York City. And in a couple of weeks here on May 13th, Ops-Stars will come to Boston, so the day after Mother’s Day. If you’d like to learn more about Revenue Operations and you’re in the Boston area or Hell, get on a train and make it up to Boston for the day. It’s worth doing. And we will be doing Ops-Stars again in San Francisco during Dreamforce in November. But if you’re in the Northeast, our guest today, Karen Steele, the Chief Marketing Officer at LeanData, anyone in the Northeast in particular, what are some of the reasons why they should prioritize the Ops-Stars in Boston here in a couple of weeks?

Karen:  Yeah, so thanks, Matt. And we’re super excited about being in Boston in a couple of weeks. Ops-Stars is really a gathering of some of the best and the brightest minds in Revenue Operations, Sales Operations, Marketing Operations, the people wanting to learn about the journey to Revenue Ops. And so what you really get is a network of, in Boston we expect 250 plus people, both executives and practitioners, wonderful thought leaders and speakers. And it’s really a group of sessions and workshops and networking to help people learn and share best practices.

Super exciting for us because Ops-Stars started as an event as Matt mentioned, which was a satellite event during Dreamforce. And now we are arguably the largest satellite event during Dreamforce every fall. We have 1,600 people in San Francisco last year and it was so successful. We realized we needed to be outside of the Bay Area. So we ventured out with some road shows, some Ops-Stars roadshows, went into New York City, just great reception there, had almost 300 people. And we expect, as I said, 250 to 300 in Boston and tons and tons of wonderful speakers. Matt will be with us there again and it’s just great learning, great networking. And this is the one place for the Ops professional to go to learn about what’s happening in Revenue Operations.

Matt:  Well, I think if you want to learn more about the conference in Boston, but just Ops-Stars in general, go to ops-stars.com. You want to learn about the conference in Boston, ops-stars.com/boston. You can see the agenda, some amazing speakers. You’re going to have Dana Therrien from SiriusDecisions talking about some of their best practices and trends in Revenue Operations. But really I think huge part of the value for an event like this is the birds of a feather, getting people together that are directly and operationally working and struggling in Revenue Operations. And I mean both of those words specifically.

I think when you could literally have lunch with and have coffee with between sessions, people that are doing the same thing it’s important. And I think, Karen, as people elevate their efforts to the concept of Revenue Operations, sometimes it’s one of those things, it’s sometimes easier said than done. And talk about the importance of getting together and having some peers either in your marketing or events like the Ops-Stars to really learn best practices and just set benchmark where you are, so that you’re not struggling alone and other people are working through this and they have insights and ideas and even cautionary tales to share that could make you better and help increase the velocity of your own programs.

Karen:  Absolutely. And that is the value. And I should first highlight that this is a complimentary event. We don’t charge for it because we believe as the leader of Revenue Operations, we need to bring the Ops professionals together to take the market to the next level. And you can only do that if you’re bringing together an industry forum with the people that are doing the heavy lifting, which is why all the people that come have similar interests and they all want to learn and they’re all doing things a different way and they want to compare notes at best practices as Matt was saying. What I would direct you all to, if you’re interested, we did a highlight reel from New York. So again, these are smaller events versus the one we do during Dreamforce. But you’ll get a sense of some of the content, the flavor of how people felt about the engagement. It’s truly about the engagement with the people that go. You build relationships, you have created new friendships, it’s just a wonderful experience and the reception has been fantastic.

Matt:  So the research we did together a couple of months ago had an awful lot of different interesting highlights, and we’ll definitely share more of those at the Ops-Stars event coming up. But another one that came together for me is the number of respondents that indicated an increase in sales conversion rates as a result of Revenue Operations. 62% of respondents who are engaged in Revenue Ops said that conversion rates were increasing, 47% said that increase was more than 5%, 21% said that increase was more than 10%. Those may sound like small numbers, but if you apply that to your actual sales conversion rates today, that is a massive improvement in impact.

Talk a little bit about the balance of activities for marketing teams when you’ve got those that are so focused on demand generations and getting more leads and getting more MQLs, versus focusing on some of the Sales Enablement and Revenue Operations tasks and priorities we’re talking about here. If you think about impact on revenue, you give me a 5% to 10% conversion rate increased from the sales perspective, I can generate fewer leads and probably generate a lot more revenue in sales. Talk a little bit of how you’re seeing companies balance traditional marketing efforts at the top of the funnel with now supporting more of the sales and conversion opportunities at the middle and bottom.

Karen:  Yeah, well, I will tell you. I think one of the things, and I love the percentage you gave about people that have seen tremendous conversion and value from Revenue Ops, I think one of the things all of us in B2B have been struggling with on the sales and marketing side, regardless of how we’re organized, it’s just alignment. Alignment between sales initiatives and marketing initiatives. And the wonderful thing about Revenue Ops is it helps you create better alignment across all the groups and alignment of those teams that are controlling the data and the tech and the process, and then ultimately bringing the people into the fold.

And I’m not going to give away any of the highlights of what Dana from SiriusDecisions that’s going to share first in Austin, Texas next week. But he’ll also be keynoting at the Boston event, Ops-Stars. Simply put aligned companies grow faster than companies that aren’t aligned. And he has data that came out of a recent survey. He’ll be sharing about how that is happening. I think the alignment and the agility and the ability to experiment more and get new go-to-market motions to market more rapidly absolutely accelerate the entire revenue chain.

Matt:  Got just a couple of more minutes here to wrap up with Karen Steele. She’s the CMO, Chief Marketing Officer of LeanData. One of the other things that came out of that I got out of the Ops-Stars event in New York City is the idea that we call it Revenue Ops in part because it’s not just about the sales funnel, that revenue implies impacting the entire customer life cycle. Talk about how the concept of Revenue Operations can now span beyond acquisition marketing as well as sales and how it can impact customer success and account management teams as well.

Karen:  Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to go back to it’s foundational in Revenue Ops with the data layer. If you just to go back to the lead routing piece, the mishaps that happen when you’re routing leads to the wrong person, how many times you go to a trade show and you get a call or an email, saying, “Thank you for visiting my booth.”? And it’s like I didn’t ever go to your booth. Well, obviously, somebody’s got the list and just decided to target you, or you’re already a customer of that vendor and they call you up thinking you’re a prospect. These are fundamental issues that frustrate the buying experience that can be eliminated in whole when you have a data foundation as part of your Revenue Ops strategy. So those are just a couple of examples. But I think the fundamental thing is mapping the journey and a set of go-to-market processes in place against that journey. And at the end of that, you’re going to have a much better architected strategy to reach your customers in the entire life cycle. And that’s what Revenue Ops helps you do.



Matt:  Love it. Last question I think I have for you, Karen, is something we ask a lot of our guests. If you think back on your career and you’ve had a storied marketing leadership career and you’re, well not just with LeanData over the last year and a half, but running corporate marketing at Marketo, you spent time at VMware and Saba and Cloud9. As you have grown as a marketing leader and even mentor in your work, what were some of the people that have really influenced you? Who are the people that, professors, managers, authors, alive or dead, who are some of the people that had a big impact on you that you might recommend other people check out as well?

Karen:  Wow, that’s a great question. There’s so many. I guess one of the things that I can’t underscore is I had the privilege of working directly with Steve Jobs for about five years. In the early part of my career, I was at Apple and obviously, there’s wonderful material out there about his view on marketing. It was always about the customer experience, if you think about it. And I think Apple created what is now true high-tech marketing. It was about less is more. It was about messaging that was simple, and it was about value for the customer. And that was the beauty of I think what Apple has carried forward over the years. But obviously on the more recent folks that I think are out there on the speaking circuit, huge fan of Simon Sinek, I mean start with why. It is foundational as a marketer to still think about who are we serving and why? What do we do for that customer?

And make sure this sounds pretty obvious, but everything should be persona based and personalized to the extent that you can. We have the tools to do that today. I’ve enjoyed over the years other wonderful thought leaders and speakers. There’s a ton of them including Matt Heinz himself in the marketing space. Go to conferences and learn. There’s too many people probably to mention on this morning’s call, but it’s been a super fun journey.

Matt:  Awesome. Well, I appreciate your time today. Sounds like you are also a lifelong learner and a consumer of information. No matter how high and powerful and successful you get, there’s always more to learn. So thank you so much for your insights today. I want to thank everyone for listening to another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. And make sure you join us next week. We’ll be covering some of the highlights from the SiriusDecisions Summit on the latest and greatest from the B2B sales and marketing world. That’s all the time we have for today. On behalf of my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.

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