In the tech industry, we’ve seen plenty of absurd job titles such as “Full Stack Magician” and “Chief Heart Officer.” And let’s not forget copious use of the word “Ninja.”
Today, we’ve mostly outgrown titles such as the above. But new ones still continue to emerge often due to the requirements of the market and new functional skills.
In sales, we’ve seen a huge increase of Revenue Operations and Sales Operations roles in the past five years. A quick search on LinkedIn will show you that there’s over 6.5 million people working in sales operations in the U.S. alone.
But how are these roles different? And are they different at all? Or are they just slightly different titles that refer to the same scope of work?
In this post, we take a closer look at the Revenue Operations vs. Sales Operations to see how (and if) they differ in the context of tech companies. Plus, we investigate which role makes sense for your business.
Let’s figure out what’s what. First up, Sales Ops.
Sales Operations in a Nutshell
The first known Sales Ops department was formed at Xerox in the 1970s. At the time, Sales Ops lead Patrick Kelly described it as,“all the nasty number things that you don’t want to do but need to do to make a great sales force.”
50 years later, Sales Ops is still notoriously difficult to get right. So, what’s the actual function of Sales Ops?
What is Sales Ops?
In short, the Sales Ops department exists to reduce the friction in the sales process, helping salespeople to be more productive and successful.
What’s the Responsibility of Sales Ops?
Anything that falls into the category of helping sales teams achieve growth falls under the domain of Sales Ops. They are a true partner to the sales team, and inevitably need to wear many hats.
Sales Ops is responsible for a variety of areas. These include:
- Cross-functional collaboration
- Technology management
- Sales team organization
- Sales data management
- Sales forecasting
- Performance management
- Training (if you don’t have enablement)
Sales Ops can make or break the success of your sales process and team. It’s a role that not only requires hands-on experience and strategic expertise, but also someone that’s technically adept and not afraid of mundane and repetitive tasks.
Revenue Operations: The New Kid on the Block
Roles including the word “revenue” have been gaining in popularity. Data from SiriusDecisions collected between October 2018 and December 2018 show that RevOps titles are on the rise. In fact, Director Revenue Operations surpassed Director Sales Operations titles by 68 percent last year.
What is Revenue Operations?
Revenue Operations vs. Sales Operations is the alignment of sales, marketing, finance, and customer success operations across the full customer life cycle to drive growth through operational efficiency and keep all teams accountable to revenue. Sometimes product operations can be encompassed in this as well depending on the structure of your organization.
RevOps’ mission is to break down silos between departments as well drive performance across each business unit with the big picture in mind to ultimately fuel revenue growth.
What’s the Responsibility of RevOps?
RevOps has four main areas they’re responsible for:
- Operations management – Works across micro and macro levels in the company to deliver strategic business objectives and tactical program design. This can also mean managing specific operational units such as sales operations, CS operations, etc.
- Enablement – Removes friction within sales team, marketing and customer success.
- Insights – Provides day-to-day insights as well long term strategic analysis based on comprehensive data across all functions.
- Tools – Responsible for all technology used across Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success.
RevOps exists to facilitate sales, marketing, and customer success to do their respective jobs and create the best customer experience.
In larger organizations with a built out revenue operations function, there are often sub-specialist teams that roll into revenue operations (i.e. sales operations, CS operations, etc). By having them all roll up into a single unit, it’s easier to make sure these teams are building processes that work in harmony to deliver the best customer experience.
Sales Operations vs. Revenue Operations — Which One is Right for Your Company?
Below, we’ve listed a handful of criteria to help you define whether revops or sales ops is right for your company. But first, to clarify, here’s the difference between RevOps and Sales Ops:
- Sales Ops is about managing processes and systems across sales. As such, it can be a tactical part of RevOps. It's about creating efficiency specifically in sales.
- RevOps works across the entire go to market organization to create cross departmental efficiency and establish how you choose to focus on tracking and forecasting.
When to Hire Sales Operations Instead of Revenue Operations
As stated earlier, Sales Operations is primarily responsible for operations that concern the sales department, rather than company wide operations.
It all starts with the needs of the business. So when it comes to sales operations, you’ll need to look at what your sales team needs to perform on top.
- You need someone on the floor for day-to-day tactical work.
No one oversees the tactical needs in the sales team and is on the ground to put out fires in the sales team and manage daily workflow.
→ Sales Ops comes in and takes on process development and CRM administration. They make sure sales reps’ ability to keep up with deals and integrate additional tools and processes doesn’t cost them actual selling time.
- You need someone to focus specifically on sales.
When you’re in the early days of building your company you often need someone that’s entirely dedicated to sales in order to drive growth.
→ Sales Ops makes sure that your sales team is standing on the right foundation and working with the right processes out of the gate.
*Note: A talented revenue operations person is going to be more expensive and potentially harder to find.
So if you need to get someone in the seat ASAP for tactical sales ops work at a more affordable price, you might be better suited hiring for Sales Operations.
Moreover, if you don’t have a robust adjacent departments in marketing and customer success, this could also make sense. In the formative stages of a company, if you have great sales, marketing, and CS leaders, you might be able to get pretty far without RevOps.
When you reach an inflection point where marketing, sales, and CS need to be in lockstep to drive predictable growth, that revenue operations becomes absolutely critical.
"It all depends if you look at ops as strategic or tactical. If you look at it tactically, you probably won’t invest sufficiently to have folks that have experience across the revenue funnel, so you are probably better off starting with function specific, less experienced roles. If you want a strategic partner across the revenue funnel, it takes a bit more investment. Separately, a lot depends on your org structure and timing. If you have senior sales/marketing leaders with a lot of experience with ops already in place, you may naturally find opps rolling under them and less cross functional."
- Andy Mowat,VP Go To Market Operations (Revenue Operations) at CultureAmp
In a lot of cases, Sales Operations evolves into RevOps. Both functions serve the same goal, which is to drive revenue. But one (Sales Ops) is more focused on a single function (sales), whereas RevOps is all encompassing of all revenue-driving functions (finance, marketing, sales, customer success, engineering).
This is a natural shift that often happens at a certain stage of growth for most companies.
When to Hire Revenue Operations
Revenue Operations vs. Sales Operations, works across all company departments to ensure alignment and focus. RevOps acts as the facilitator behind sales, marketing and customer success. It’s the engine that keeps all the wheels turning — smoothly.
A few factors that often indicate you need RevOps:
- You view operations as a strategy, not a role.
You want someone to focus on your entire business lifecycle from the get-go, not bring someone in potentially when too many buckets are leaking.
→ RevOps exist from the very beginning to mitigate any silo issues before they even happen and serve as a consistent strategic role across the revenue funnel at all times.
- You’re gearing up for growth.
You’ve reached a point of scale that requires complete cross-departmental visibility and accountability.
→ RevOps owns all strategic decisions tied to customer journey alignment. Note that building up a RevOps department is less complex at a small company, but will be costly.
Most experienced GTM leaders will tell you: if you can find a talented revenue operations person out of the gate that is within your budget, you might as well hire that person.
That is assuming they are willing and able to do the tactical work across both marketing and sales systems.
"You can be doing marketing automation from the start and it’ll be more effective if paired with a connected sales process. As the two systems tend to become very complex, the earlier you combine them, the easier it will be to manage."
- Itay Maoz, Senior Manager, Revenue Operations at Justworks
Bringing in someone early can help prevent silos and prevent redundancies or conflicting processes.
Ultimately, the goal of RevOps is to provide predictable business growth, drive revenue growth and ensure the ability to quickly adapt to market changes.
But, while Revenue Operations is a must as as a business function, it doesn’t necessarily require a designated RevOps hire to achieve the strategic benefits.
Operations as a Strategy
In the early days of SaaS, marketing and sales operations roles emerged to leverage a growing tech stack. But these roles, while they can improve the performance of marketing and sales, often resulted in poor organizational alignment. This, in turn, would undermine the ability to create value in terms of growth — rather than support it.
In response to this confusion and lack of structure grew a need to create efficient and scalable operations from the ground up. RevOps and Sales Ops emerged — not just in order to fix a broken process, but as a core strategy for growth.
Successful operations will continue to be the underlying factor for growth. With overall company benefits such as predictable business growth and the ability to adapt to market changes, we’re likely to see the need for Revenue Operations (more so than siloed Sales Ops) continue to rise. This means that there will likely continue to be sales operations, but it will fall under a framework that spans the entire organization vs. just sales as the company matures.
While Sales Ops will continue to serve as a critical part of the sales puzzle and help sales create a system for selling, RevOps is about breaking down departmental silos. It exists to connect departments and help them collaborate to achieve revenue goals.
If you stand back to watch your business operate, and can compare it to a cluster of leaking buckets, then it’s time to bring in RevOps. Because today’s most successful organizations apply a shared truth that allows them to optimize and fuel the revenue engine — together.