A Little Alignment Goes A Long Way
For Hubspot’s David McNeil, a little alignment goes a long way in the evolving world of BizOps. We recently asked David to share the benefit of his extensive BizOps experience in his role as advisor to Rekener.
Stephanie Fox: You’ve been responsible for sales and business operations at two massively successful businesses—Salesforce and now Hubspot. How do you define the role of BizOps in helping companies succeed?
David McNeil: For me, BizOps is about connecting the business and sales strategy to execution. Depending on where you work, you might not call it “BizOps,” but the term is starting to be used to refer to people responsible for sales strategy, sales operations, certain IT and finance functions and marketing operations. For me, BizOps is an evolving term and generally refers to a number of critical roles that make it possible for sales teams to close business.
As companies look ahead to their next 3 to 5 years, getting BizOps right is going to be absolutely instrumental if they want to deliver sales results. At Salesforce, I was running the outbound sales and demand gen groups responsible for new business. With responsibility for over $800M in annual revenue, it was a pretty massive exercise to align marketing and sales to drive enough net new business opportunities to support that number. The only way we made that happen is by having a well integrated BizOps team where a broad set of functions, not just sales and marketing, worked together, including IT and our FP&A folks.
SM: How does BizOps make a difference?
DM: Typically companies have a maze of marketing, sales and service platforms. Trying to bring all that data together and connecting it in a meaningful way so you can make strategic and tactical decisions from it and determine what actions to take next—that’s just incredibly tough. The amount of data generated by these systems has grown exponentially in the past few years. Inbound marketing, popularized by Hubspot, drives traffic data and activity data which we need to translate into insight. Businesses need help taking that insight to improve the sales process and drive better sales success.
SF: How has this BizOps evolution redefined roles between sales, marketing and operations?
DM: In today’s world, the intersection of business strategy and execution is what BizOps is all about. It’s all about getting the alignment right. BizOps focuses on aligning marketing objectives to sales objectives, along with the IT effort required to drive that alignment through operational execution. BizOps is also the team that understands and leverages data analytics to see consideration, trial and buying trends as they’re happening. It’s the team that has the ability to bring cross-functional teams together to take action.
SF: What does it take to be successful as a BizOps professional?
DM: Working in BizOps is really about being comfortable with data. You also have to have the mindset to understand and appreciate the connection points between marketing, sales, IT, operations and customer service. Being good at BizOps involves a willingness to guide decisions based on the data, and to be comfortable with challenging all the assumptions, connecting all the dots, and being able to take appropriate action to keep on track. And it means you have to be ok asking why about everything.
SF: Looking back at some of the more successful outcomes you and your teams have achieved, what key elements made that success possible?
DM: There are two major factors for me that have driven the success of me and my teams. First, it comes down to great hiring. The folks I’ve hired have been extraordinary individuals. They possess strong analytical skills, they are strong technically when it comes to their managing the business platform and tools, they’re approachable, and they are what I like to call “relatable.” That means they have the technical and operational expertise, but they also prove that they do understand—they want to understand—the business, and the needs of the business team they’re partnering with, and they have the ability to connect the dots.
The other factor is aligning these smart, relatable people to core business functions. It’s almost too easy to think about aligning them to an area similar to their expertise or functions, but where I’ve been successful is with having that person go beyond an affinity arrangement. Instead, they’re asked to become a real partner with the business team, almost in a consultative way. Whether they partner with the head of marketing, sales or customer success, they know that it’s their job to make sure they gain a deep understanding and appreciation of the dynamics of that part of the business. It’s the only way they can identify what the issues are so that they can solve meaningful problems for the customer and the business. That kind of understanding is critical because it makes sure they don’t focus solely on operational or technical issues.
SF: How do you approach hiring for the BizOps function?
DM: I used to think the most important way to filter candidates is based on skill set. But when I’ve done that—hired just for a skill set for a particular area of expertise, or familiarity with a platform—I ended up with someone who didn’t necessarily have the business acumen, the ability to understand or relate to their colleagues in the business. Those folks just couldn’t solve for what the business needed. It’s tough when you find candidates who are technically brilliant but who unfortunately don’t have the ability to understand the business side, which makes them unable to solve for the business need. They may be incredibly talented but they end up struggling to succeed and perform in a high growth environment.
Now when I hire, I want to know that the candidate has a broad skill set. If they have other good qualities but not the perfect skills, I look for an indication that they can and want to learn, that they want to address their deficits. I come back to the notion I mentioned about relatability—that they demonstrate that they can in fact sit in the marketing department or on the sales floor and connect with the kind of people who may not think and communicate they way they do. They have the ability to look at a problem and see it from multiple perspectives, from an analyst perspective, business process perspective, learning and tracking perspective, and more.
SF: Looking back on your experience leading BizOps at Salesforce and HubSpot, what lessons can you share?
DM: The big lesson is about alignment around function. At Salesforce, as with most businesses, the marketing and sales orgs were not aligned as closely as they could have been at the time. I was running a 250 person new sales group, and working late at the office was typical. Around 8PM, I noticed a woman from the marketing group was placing tear sheets on the desks of everyone in sales. I was impressed by her willingness to go the extra mile and stay late to make sure the reps had this important information on their desks when they came in the next day.
As it turns out, it was actually a waste of her time and effort because the tear sheet was about a product that my team shouldn’t and couldn’t sell. It was an add-on, not something that the net new sales team would ever be involved in selling. I had an “Aha!” moment at that point, realizing that the marketing team may not fully appreciate what the various sales teams did, which meant sales tools may not be what they needed to be. I learned from the team the next day that this was a regular practice. Unintentionally, marketing was essentially distracting the net new sales team by encouraging an investment of effort around something they weren’t supposed to do.
I immediately pulled some of the leaders of marketing and sales together for the first of regular alignment meetings. We wanted to fully leverage all the good work marketing was doing, and we began working more closely together to make sure marketing knew which team to work with for each product, and which tools would be valuable to the sales team. Working together, we also tightened up messaging so that it mapped better with the buyer journey.
SF: Sounds like improved communication helped solve a big problem.
DM: Sometimes the biggest problem comes down to simple communication. When I came to Hubspot, I observed another simple decision that delivers improved alignment. The internal team comprised of the head of campaign marketing, the head of sales and head of demand gen is called “SMarketing.” It’s a simple thing, really, but it helps remind everyone that working together is good for everyone.
- Join the community today to learn more about BizOps.
- Watch a video of my interview with David at the Nov 2016 BizOps Meetup
- Attend our next BizOps meetup.
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Steph served as Rekener’s Community Manager and CMO. A Rekener co-founder, she was previously Senior Director of Marketing at CCC, a $300M+ recurring revenue business, and served in marketing leadership roles at Vertical, @stake, Informio, DotContent and Meridian. Her first recurring revenue role was as an inside sales rep selling real-time stock pricing subscriptions.
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