My financial advisor once told me he felt comfortable giving people advice about their finances because he’d “seen a lot of lives” in his career. What he meant was he’d seen enough people make—or almost make—the same mistakes to know how to help avoid them without being specifically asked to.
I may not put it so existentially myself, but as a revops consultant I’ve certainly seen enough companies to identify trends in the mistakes teams and leaders make when starting out and scaling up. Of course, once you make it big there are a whole list of other mistakes, but we can talk about those another time.
Mistake #1: Speaking Different Languages
According to famous playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist George Bernard Shaw, the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place. I have never agreed with an Irish playwright more fervently than when trying to talk to a team of sales reps and marketing people about leads.
There are a lot of reasons that conversation can go awry but the fundamental one is there are an alarming number of different definitions for “lead.” For example:
- In Salesforce a Lead is a specific type of Object, like a Contact, Account or Opportunity.
- In HubSpot, Lead is a very common Lifecycle Stage that can be assigned to Contacts or Companies.
- To a lot of salespeople, a Lead is any person or company they could potentially do business with.
- To many marketing teams, a Lead is anyone that has converted on the website.
Without a shared definition of what we mean when talking about leads, it’s no surprise that we end up going in circles. Once you start introducing concepts like marketing qualified leads, sales qualified leads or prospects, things just get exponentially worse.
I’m a firm believer this happens because we all have an implicit but inconsistent understanding of the terms we throw around everyday. Which is why the first step to addressing this issue is aligning your team around solid definitions of the common steps and stages of your sales and marketing journey.
The definitions you’ll settle on will be unique to your business, but here are some guiding principles:
- Don’t duplicate terms across systems. For example, if you’re using the Leads Object in Salesforce, change the name of the Lead Lifecycle Stage in HubSpot.
- Don’t use system-specific terminology in general discussions. For example if you’re using Salesforce, only call something an Opportunity if you’re referring to a specific Opportunity record in the system.
- Settle on a consistent term—other than lead—that refers to everyone in your sales and marketing process, regardless of their current step. For example, you could call them a prospect or potential customer.
- Avoid using marketing qualified lead or sales qualified lead unless you really require that level of granularity.
Once you’ve got those definitions established, make sure that terminology is used consistently, correctly and universally. Change the labels on reports, re-name the steps in your pipeline, change the name of objects in your CRM. Also, most importantly, define those terms for anyone that joins the team or consumes the reports the team produces.
If you really lean into a consistent set of terms, you’ll be amazed at how much more productive your discussions about changing, improving and optimizing your sales and marketing processes will become.
Mistake #2: Asking the Wrong Questions
When HubSpot started championing the concept of inbound marketing about a decade ago they framed it as the process of answering questions prospects were asking in exchange for information about those prospects. It’s been the backbone of a lot of B2B marketing in the years since and marketers have gotten really good at answering the questions prospects are asking. Unfortunately, they’re still pretty terrible at asking the questions that will allow them to qualify those prospects.
Just look at most website forms. They’re just name, email, phone number and a generic prompt asking how can we help? A simple form like that might provide enough information for a local bakery to fill a cookie order, but it’s not enough to effectively score an inbound enterprise software lead or for a sales rep to make an informed analysis about the quality of that lead.
So, if a lot of organizations are asking the wrong questions, what are the right ones? Long story short, the right question is whatever will get you the information you need to take the next logical step.
If the next logical step is sending a newsletter, ask for an email address and the type of content they want to receive. If the next logical step is a meeting with a sales rep, ask the prospect whatever your sales team feels they need to know to be effective in a meeting. Generally speaking, you should be asking more questions the deeper someone is in your funnel.
Those questions should also be consistent across the different levels and you should always ask at least one question that helps you start profiling that lead. For example, instead of asking for a first name in a newsletter form—which will allow you to, at best, do some superficial personalization—ask for their industry or job role.
The chart above is a simple example of how to structure forms differently, but consistently, across multiple steps of a potential buyer's journey.
Enforcing that consistency from the top of the funnel to the bottom means that instead of just pulling in leads that need to be reviewed by a human, you’re actually building universal profiles of the people entering your database. This makes it easier to classify leads, recognize trends among your leads and automate the next steps for those leads.
Mistake #3: Using Too Many Tools
Using the right tool for the right job is a classic piece of Dad wisdom. Like most of those chestnuts it makes sense, but it can also lead us down a path that means we have a half-dozen different hammers when a frozen banana might do the trick. Or, in the case of start-ups, where you’re paying for six different sales and marketing app subscriptions when your CRM platform already has those features available.
For example, HubSpot includes knock-off versions of Calendly, Drift, SurveyMonkey and Sprout Social, plus generic features for hosting a knowledge base and doing account-based marketing. Are those features as good as the apps scratch-built to fill those niches? No. Are they 80% as good and possibly included with the HubSpot subscription users are already paying for? Absolutely.
Granted, there are plenty of scenarios where that extra 20% of functionality might be necessary. On the flip side, I routinely find that companies haven’t investigated the features of the platforms they already have before they decide to bring in new tools.
It’s an understandable temptation. There are literally thousands of marketing and sales apps out there and they all—theoretically, at least—have something they do better than any other tool. Your team also have their own preferred apps and are constantly bombarded with ads and growth hacks that involve even more. The important thing to realize is that every new app in the stack comes with costs, both financial and in terms of the complexity they add.
There’s no one-size-fits-all technology stack, but the general guidance is to lean into the platforms you’ve chosen. This will involve making some compromises in terms of functionality or processes but the alternative world of integrations and disparate systems have massive drawbacks of their own. Be aware of those drawbacks and be intentional when deciding whether to bring a new tool onboard.
Mistake #4: Trying to Automate Too Much, Too Soon
One of my favorite business euphemisms is fluid sales motion. It implies a complete lack of friction and some vaguely post-hustle good vibes. Truly a masterclass in buzzword craftsmanship. Conveniently, it also has no concrete definition but evokes exactly what we as revops professionals are shooting for. Sadly, the search for that fluid sales motion often pushes teams to try and automate human intervention out of the sales process prematurely.
Enterprise companies have huge teams and defined processes. They’ve also had a long time—relatively speaking—to settle on the process that consistently drives their desired outcomes, but even they struggle to consistently implement processes that minimize human intervention. For example, when was the last time you were satisfied with the options on offer in an automated phone tree?
Start-ups are agile, lean and a little chaotic. None of those things lend themselves well to the level of automation required for a set-it-and-forget-it sales and marketing process. You can absolutely get there, but it’s unlikely that your first crack at automatic lead scoring will correctly flag every SQL.
So, instead of trying to be hands-free from form submission to first quote, take it in baby steps. Start by alerting the sales team to SQLs in their territory or industry, but require them to evaluate each one and qualify or disqualify accordingly. Then provide them with a sequence or workflow they can enroll the qualified SQLs into, which might even include a public calendar link the prospect can use to book a meeting.
One day, when you’re confident +90% of those SQLs are being flagged correctly, you can look at having them enroll into that workflow automatically. Just know that it might take a year to gain the level of confidence necessary for that automation to be reasonable.
Mistake #5: Never Admitting You’ve Lost
One of the most common challenges to good sales reporting and forecasting are deals that never seem to close. This could be because you salespeople are eternal optimists. It could be because they’re evaluated on close rate so it’s better to keep a deal open than to lose it. Or, more likely, it’s because it’s easy to forget about deals that don’t close and nobody in your organization cares about them.
Whatever the reason, I routinely find my client’s CRMs cluttered with Deals created more than a year ago with no activity for months on end. However, when I suggest purging or closing them I can hear the collective heartbeat of the sales team skip a beat.
The particulars of a sales cycle or the seasonality of a product all have a huge impact on what constitutes a lost deal, but many organizations never even bother to define one. Everybody knows what constitutes a win but because nobody knows what constitutes a loss, nobody knows when to admit that a deal is lost.
Of course, this isn’t limited to sales teams. Marketing teams are just as guilty of nursing ‘leads’ for years when they should really be reclassified or removed from the mailing list. No matter who’s responsible, knowing when to move on from a deal or lead is critical to understanding our current pipeline and the reasons those deals or leads didn’t work out.
Collaborate, Articulate, Evaluate
All of the mistakes I outlined above can be found in organizations of all sizes, so what makes them more prominent in start-ups? Each of the issues above can be tied back to the ad hoc way that marketing and sales processes typically emerge.
When you get started, you don’t need processes. The salesperson is the sales process and probably most of the marketing process, too. You know every deal in the pipeline by heart and probably prepared the quotes yourself. You used the tools you liked, added things as necessary and let people do what they needed to do to get the job done.
That agility is key to start-up success, but it means processes develop organically rather than intentionally. So, you’ve never defined a lead or a loss because everybody in the team just knew one when they saw it.
Before you can succeed at revops you need to collaborate on a set of definitions, articulate them clearly and consistently and then evaluate how well those definitions are serving your organization.
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