Winning in the BizOps Era, Part 2: The Account Lifecycle: Throw Out the Pipeline and Deliver Effectiveness at Scale

Winning in the BizOps Era, Part 2: The Account Lifecycle: Throw Out the Pipeline and Deliver Effectiveness at Scale

Hi everyone. Since starting the company, we've been talking with old and new BizOps friends in the Strategic BizOps Community about the emerging powerhouse that is the BizOps function. It’s been wonderful to hear your ideas and share a few of our own. Several of you asked us to write it all down, so we did. Heads up: It’s a bit lengthy (wicked long, actually), so it's in three parts. You can read part 1 and part 3 here on the blog. If you prefer PDFs, here are links to part 1, part 2 and part 3.
– Steph

In This Post

How Did We Get Here
The Pipeline Isn’t Working
The Buying Process is a Lifecycle, Not a Journey
Accounts Don’t Care About Your Data Stovepipes
Helping with the Right Person at the Right Time
Now’s the Time for Extreme Competence in BizOps
Start with a Unified View of Accounts
Experiment, Measure, Understand and Improve LTV
– Optimizing Your Go-to-Market Approach
– Improving Demand Generation
– Driving Renewal / Cross-Sell and Upsell
TL:DR
What’s Next?

How Did We Get Here?

After a decade of investment in tools and technology to measure our sales, marketing and support activities, the headache seems to be getting worse instead of better. For any business with a recurring revenue model, David Skok’s writings on managing your LTV/CAC ratio have defined what it takes to have a winning strategy. The challenge in driving toward that ratio is that it’s very hard to identify which daily activities specifically contribute to its calculation. Despite good intentions and immense effort on the part of the growing number of BizOps professionals, we seem to be going deeper and deeper into department-level tactical reporting and farther and farther from the business-level strategic answers that we need. At the same time, the world is becoming increasingly competitive, and sales and marketing teams need more help than ever before.

In Part I of Winning in the BizOps Era, we got to the root of the problem. The traditional marketing and sales pipeline metaphor is no longer sufficient as buyers resist the notion of being forced along a vendor-defined sales process. In response, new strategies, such as account-based sales and marketing, have emerged in an effort to help companies be more effective in driving LTV. However, these strategies bring questions about cost and scalability.

Our conclusion in Part I was that recurring revenue businesses have reached a make-or-break moment. In today’s climate, the sales and marketing process must be designed for effectiveness at scale. Because an account-based approach puts an even greater emphasis on the need for a master view of an account than in traditional lead-to-close pipeline models, it’s more important than ever to understand both (1) which existing accounts or prospects have the highest LTV potential over time and (2) which marketing, sales, support and customer success activities actually drive account LTV. Answering these questions is the realm of the BizOps team, comprised of one or more of the following: sales ops, marketing ops, FP&A, support and customer success. We assert that the only way for SaaS businesses to achieve effectiveness at scale is to achieve extreme competence in BizOps. There are some bumps on the road to extreme competence in BizOps but the starting point is clear. It’s time to throw out the pipeline metaphor — for good.

The Pipeline Isn’t Working

The pipeline metaphor is outdated. It describes a marketing and sales process that was effective back in the days of perpetual software license sales; days that are in the rear-view mirror and fading fast.

It’s no wonder that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get the data we need to understand which activities drive LTV. After all, our existing tools weren’t built for the recurring revenue model, so important concepts that drive LTV such as renewal, upsell and cross sell are not organic to their architecture. In fact, you could argue that the failure of our existing CRM and marketing automation tools to properly support and integrate renewal, upsell and cross sell activities with the more traditional net-new or lead-to-close model has led to the emergence of the customer success discipline and its own set of related tools. The irony is that in order to drive customer success, businesses have had to establish it as yet another stovepipe separate from marketing and sales. Though customer success tools address real needs, adding more stovepipes to the pipeline is — forgive the mixed metaphors — a bandage that alleviates the symptom but doesn’t deliver a cure.

Often, the solution to complex problems is very simple. We think it’s just a matter of looking at the problem from a new perspective.

The Buying Process is a Lifecycle, Not a Journey

Our metaphor puts the account at the center of everything, and reflects the buying process in a recurring revenue model business. We call this the Account Lifecycle.

BizOps Lifecycle
Figure 1. The Account Lifecycle Reflects Today’s Recurring Subscription Business Model

There are two big drivers at work here:

  1. The explosive growth of the subscription economy; and
  2. The shift in power from seller to buyer, empowered by search and social technology.

Given the rise of the subscription economy, it’s shocking that the sales and marketing pipeline wasn’t thrown out years ago. In a recent CFO.com article, author David McCann postulates that the “…economics of a subscription-based, recurring-revenue business are so compelling that the floodgates may stay open indefinitely.”  In the world of software, the prior model involved a large up front sale of a perpetual license with added annual maintenance fees to cover support and software updates. The bulk of the revenue and cash from a sale came up front. Correspondingly, the biggest go-to-market investment was made in marketing and sales to create net new leads and drive them to close.

In the recurring revenue model, a much larger percentage of the LTV from an account is generated after the first sale. Accordingly, companies should devote more resources to renewing existing accounts and expanding them with upsell and cross sell opportunities. In our proposed lifecycle, the process of awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, dependency and evangelism will repeat itself over and over with every new and potential user throughout the account’s lifetime.

The second and equally important trend is the power shift from seller to buyer. Using a combination of search and social, individuals within accounts research, learn, evaluate, buy, renew and buy more based on their own research, internal feedback and external sources. This continually evolving relationship is best depicted as a repeatable account lifecycle, not a unilinear process or continuum, and is best described in terms of the account’s buying process as opposed to the vendor’s selling process. Buyers want limited interaction with vendors, but when they’re ready to engage, they expect vendors to be there with the right information at the right time.

Based on its B2B research, CEB stated that accounts move 57% of the way down the buying process before they directly engage with a supplier, and the internet is noisy with reports that this number is moving even higher. For recurring revenue businesses, it’s important to recognize that this buying dynamic is not limited to the first purchase. Usage (and then active, regular usage, which we describe later as dependency) is critical for renewal, and yet it happens largely out of the sight of the vendor unless customer engagement tools are in place. The ability to upsell the account depends on many things, including the extent of internal evangelism within the account, which must be broadly visible to engage any new potential users within the account. This engagement starts the buying process all over again for a new set of users in the account.

As much as we believe the Account Lifecycle is a helpful framework, we know that, in and of itself, it doesn’t eliminate the challenges associated with driving account LTV. The advantage of the Account Lifecycle is that it obviates BizOps problems in need of solutions. When we can clearly see these challenges through a common-sense framework, communication with colleagues is easier and we can begin the difficult but rewarding work of achieving BizOps excellence.

The Account Lifecycle makes two big issues immediately clear:

  1. We need to break down the stovepipes of data so that the go-to-market team can have a unified view of all accounts; and
  2. We need to coordinate the activities of the entire go-to-market team in a way that puts the right person in front of the account, at the right time, with exactly what the account needs in order to grow.

Accounts Don’t Care About Your Data Stovepipes

In the Account Lifecycle, there is simply no place for data stovepipes. Technology has exacerbated the stovepipe problem, and it’s a BizOps challenge to make all this technology work together in harmony. Looking at the account through the Account Lifecycle framework makes it very clear that members of BizOps teams must carefully coordinate with one another to use the data from different tools to grow LTV for that account.

How do you know you’ve achieved excellence in BizOps? When every employee of your company has immediate access to a unified view encompassing all the latest data about any account, regardless of the tools that generated the data in the first place. The relationship between marketing automation and customer success is a good example.

Rekener Account Lifecycle

Figure 2. The Account Lifecycle Demands a Unified View of All Accounts

In the traditional pipeline model, growth marketing and marketing operations teams typically use marketing automation tools such as Marketo or Hubspot to “nurture” leads for net new business with emails, often in connection with content marketing campaigns. The stovepipe problem surfaces immediately after the first sale when an entirely different set of tools is used by customer success teams to nurture the relationship with the new account. These might be tools such as Intercom and Gainsight, along with various customer satisfaction tools based on Net Promoter Score. When the coordination between marketing teams and customer success teams is poor, valuable account information falls between the cracks, potentially damaging the account’s perception about the strength of their relationship with the vendor. On the flip side, excellent coordination by the BizOps team helps ensure that accounts are happy. For example, when information about how existing customer accounts respond to a particular content campaign, that insight is shared with the growth marketing and marketing automations teams immediately, potentially improving other content campaigns aimed at accounts with a similar profile.

Another frequently experienced example occurs at the intersection, or better put, the gap, between support, sales and customer success, especially at the time of renewal. SaaS solutions such as Zendesk, Help Scout and FreshDesk are used to track support tickets, providing customer-facing teams with details about issues impacting customer accounts. Because this data typically is created and stored in the customer support stovepipe, its absence in the sales and customer success stovepipes can result in the nightmare scenario, calling into an account about a renewal or upsell only to be surprised when the account is unhappy about an unresolved trouble ticket. Excellent coordination by BizOps teams will make sure that this support ticket information is available for any person who communicates with the account.

Helping with the Right Person at the Right Time

With this common-sense approach to managing accounts using the Account Lifecycle, sales, marketing, finance, support, and customer success are no longer constrained by the narrow segment of the pipeline that they each manage. The potential impact of adopting this simple but powerful framework is massive: instead of having each team interact with an account based on whatever data that particular team has gathered (occasionally enhanced by a report PDF or portal to log into or perhaps even an API-level integration of some data from one of the teams), the entire account-facing team has a shared understanding of the health and status of every account, fully aware of the account’s past purchases and support issues, engagement with existing products, likelihood of renewing and potential for additional future purchases.

This simple concept, though potentially complex in execution, enables all teams to be aware of the account’s needs at any given time while empowering them to uncover hidden opportunities, provide more timely content, and deliver better service. Helping accounts with the right information at the right time is a significant BizOps challenge that can’t be addressed with the old BizOps pipeline model.

The Account Lifecycle Simplifies Information Sharing and Handoffs, Allowing All Teams to Support the Account

Figure 3. The Account Lifecycle Simplifies Information Sharing and Handoffs, Allowing All Teams to Support the Account

Content marketing is a massive area of investment for software companies. Estimated at over $300B by 2019[1], the content marketing market serves businesses who create articles, videos, infographics and more to educate and inform prospects and customers. With nearly half of all B2B buyers consuming 3-5 pieces of content prior to engaging with a salesperson[2], it’s critical that vendors create content that appeals to buyers in terms of topic, medium, and format.

Breaking down barriers between stovepiped teams helps put the right content in the hands of the right account at the right time in the Account Lifecycle. Content that generates awareness and enables discovery can be very different from the more in-depth content that attracts an account and motivates the account to begin a free trial. After the first purchase, content educates accounts on how to generate maximum value from the use of the product or support the customer’s efforts to generate consensus to expand purchases. Clearly, marketing and sales teams benefit by improving their content based on data; correspondingly, sales and marketing operations teams need to be free to engage with the account at any stage of the lifecycle.

With upsells and renewals contributing more to LTV than the initial sale, recurring revenue businesses must leverage and share account data wisely. BizOps teams play a critical role not only in figuring out which team members are most effective at the different types of sale but also in coordinating information and people so that the handoffs between sales, renewal and upsell teams are handled smoothly.

  • Selling skills are most efficiently used to increase the number of users on your platform, either via net new sales or upsell efforts.
  • Renewals are often more efficiently handled by a different team with a combination of operational skills and relationship-building skills.
  • In more and more businesses, the customer success team is responsible for making sure that the customer is fully onboarded and using the software. In some cases, it will make sense for customer success teams to handle the renewal bookings as well, while other companies may prefer to keep the renewals in the hands of the sales team.
  • Even when renewals are handled by sales, they may be managed by a team other than the one handling net new business.
  • The decision as to who should handle cross sells and upsells is trickier. The skills required to close an upsell or cross sell deal are similar to those required for net new business, creating the need to hand the account back to the sales team when there is an upsell or cross sell opportunity.

Freeing the BizOps team, not to mention the rest of the organization, from the constraints of stovepipes results in powerful changes to organizational dynamics. Among the recurring revenue businesses we work with, there are several cases where formerly stovepiped BizOps roles and responsibilities have been combined to allow for coordination of data, collaboration among teams and consistent account communication. Some examples:

  • Sales and marketing operations groups may be combined into “growth operations” or “revenue operations” teams, with a shared focus on helping the business achieve targets for net new, renewal and upsell/cross sell revenue and a mission to more tightly integrate marketing and selling, often targeted to high potential accounts.
  • In some organizations, the best point of organizational integration lies between finance, planning and analysis and sales operations. By eliminating the distinction between financial performance systems and data and sales process systems and data, the result is a BizOps team focused on improving sales process workflows to identify and address gaps in funnel performance by individuals and teams as well as experiment with land-and-expand approaches.
  • Breaking down barriers can also create opportunity for renewed focus. Given the difference in skill sets needed to support net new and upsell versus renewals, some recurring revenue businesses are opting to organize renewals and customer success under the head of operations instead of sales.

We believe that this trend will continue and that we will see more and more BizOps people participating at the strategic management team level. Used wisely, the Account Lifecycle is an effective tool to build support for organizational changes that enable increased collaboration.

Now’s the Time for Extreme Competence in BizOps

To get the most from the Account Lifecycle, recurring revenue businesses must build leadership and competence in all BizOps functions. Sales operations, marketing operations, financial planning and analysis, support and customer success teams must work together like never before. The BizOps era is here because acquiring, renewing and growing accounts depends as much on cultivating the same or greater level of excellence in BizOps as traditional sales and marketing. In the BizOps era, the BizOps team is uniquely positioned to deliver meaningful competitive advantage. It’s the only team with the mandate to look at the business holistically, identify what’s working, address what’s not, and provide insight to the leadership team to inform strategy and operational excellence at scale.

The building blocks for extreme competence in BizOps are:

  1. Collaboration and communication based on a unified view of all accounts, giving all account-facing staff a shared understanding of the health and status of each account, at both a granular and strategic level; and
  2. A culture that visibly encourages experimentation, measurement, understanding and improvement, delivering the ability to map the cause and effect relationship between individual activities and their corresponding impact on account LTV.

Start with a Unified View of Accounts

The unified view of the account is the “single source of truth” or a “360-degree view of the customer.” When confronted with this challenge, many companies turn to the Salesforce.com CRM as the single source of truth. Salesforce has some fundamental limitations that make it ill-suited for this purpose:

  1. Salesforce is powerful, but its data can become a mess, making it difficult to create a master account list in Salesforce. Many accounts are often repeated multiple times, because well-meaning marketing or sales people create records for the same account multiple times with slightly different names, such as “I.B.M.”, “IBM”, “Internat’l Bus Machines” and “IBM HQ”. Companies that grow through acquisition struggle with marrying different approaches to managing sales data in Salesforce, reflective of different sales models, reporting requirements and cultures. This is tough stuff, which is why there is an entire sub-industry of vendors that offer data clean-up solutions for Salesforce CRMs.
  1. Even if your Salesforce data isn’t messy, it’s a big challenge to integrate data from marketing, service, and customer success at the account level because Salesforce wasn’t built around accounts. Originally built to manage a lead-to-close pipeline, it’s not possible to automatically associate leads with accounts in Salesforce. Many BizOps people overcome this problem by imposing an account hierarchy in Salesforce, and treating all leads as contacts associated with accounts. This opens the door to another problem, which is that marketing automation systems are lead-based. For example, when Hubspot integrates with Salesforce, it pushes records into Salesforce as leads, not as contacts. It can be configured to push contacts instead, but those contacts will not be attached to accounts. This is problematic because contacts not attached to accounts don’t automatically show up in Salesforce reports and can easily be missed.
  2. Salesforce was designed around a perpetual license sales model, not a recurring revenue model. Adapting Salesforce to handle renewal and upsell opportunities is possible, but challenging, and doesn’t work well at scale. While some companies have successfully integrated marketing data and usage data into Salesforce, it creates an increasingly complex data structure. Usage data from Mixpanel, for example, is hard to tie to Salesforce accounts because there is no linking key between the data tables. This is even more complicated when there are duplicate accounts in Salesforce, and when you want to see activity by account over time.

If Salesforce isn’t the place to start, what about Excel? The limitations of the CRM as the single source of truth usually leave BizOps teams with Excel as the best tool to create a unified view of accounts. At the ripe old age of 31, Microsoft Excel remains a powerful tool to manage ad hoc analysis on all types of data. This blog post from SiriusDecisions presents an excellent argument in favor of the ongoing value of Excel to the sales ops function. There is no question that the pivot table is an extremely powerful tool for high-level intellectual analysis of complex data. The problem is that spreadsheets become outdated as soon as they are created. Large Excel models cannot be automatically updated with the latest data. As a result, the Excel approach is usually limited to infrequent segmentation analysis for territory allocation; even then, it’s extremely time-consuming for your most in-demand BizOps team members, pulling them away from other operational duties.

An alternative is to build a data warehouse from different sources and then use SQL tables and business intelligence tools to analyze the data. This approach requires a significant investment in a team of SQL developers, along with infrastructure investments in the data warehouse, data integrations and business intelligence software. The use of business intelligence tools can result in powerful insights and generate tremendous value for C-level executives. However, business intelligence reports can be overly analytical for the sales, marketing and BizOps people who are looking for a fast, accurate and straightforward view of accounts to inform day-to-day activities and operations.

Experiment, Measure, Understand and Improve LTV

A unified view of accounts is a prerequisite if BizOps teams are going to figure out which sales, marketing, support and customer success activities are most effective at driving account LTV. With a unified view of the account, the BizOps team can measure both (a) the buying activities of the account and (b) the activities of the sales, marketing, support and customer success teams to determine cause and effect relationships between (a) and (b). With this understanding, BizOps teams can prioritize the accounts and the activities to maximize LTV. This is the key to achieving effectiveness at scale.

Though the activities that drive LTV will differ from business to business, the following questions provide a great starting point for establishing your own experiments.

Optimizing Your Go-To-Market Approach

  • Does an account-based approach make sense for your entire business, for select customers, or for certain product families?
  • What types of accounts respond favorably to account-based marketing campaigns?
    • Which marketing activities drive demand in those accounts?
    • What do your new business deals look like when using this approach? (ASP, close rate)
    • What do your retention metrics look like when using this approach? (renewal rate, upsell rate)
  • What are the business metrics when you transition a subset of inbound accounts over to your field sales team? (LTV and CAC)
    • Do they perform better or worse than when your inside team was handling the account?
    • How do they compare to the population of accounts your field sales team is already handling?

Improving Demand Generation

  • Are net new accounts with recent website activity more likely to buy?
    • Are there specific website pages that correlate more strongly to buying patterns? Where do people come from when they hit those pages?
    • How effective are certain marketing campaigns at driving website activity from target accounts?
    • Are marketing campaigns driving new leads evenly by territory? By product?
  • Are existing accounts with recent website activity more likely to renew or upsell?
    • Is the converse true?
    • Are there specific website pages that correlate more strongly? Where do people come from when they hit those pages?
  • Are net new accounts with high usage of trial product more likely to buy?

Driving Renewal / Cross-sell and Upsell

  • Are accounts with high volumes of support tickets more likely to churn?
    • Is there a specific type of support or satisfaction issue that drives more churn?
  • Is the customer success team more effective at managing renewals than the sales team?
    • When allocating specific, comparable accounts to each team for renewal purposes, which team produces the higher renewal rate?
  • Are existing accounts with high product usage more likely to renew or upsell?
    • Is the converse true?
    • Are there specific functions in your app that correlate more strongly to renewal or upsell?
  • For companies with multiple products, is it possible to cross-sell one product into accounts that previously purchased a different product?
    • Are there any specific products that are more conducive to this cross-sell? (ASP, win rate, opp generation efficiency)

These experiments and many others can be done if the BizOps team can see and measure the impact on account LTV. From these measurements, teams can better understand the relationship between activities and the growth of LTV. This takes intense discipline on the part of the BizOps organization for several reasons:

  • It takes time to run experiments and gather the results, often measured in two or more quarters;
  • Experiments cannot all be run at once, because the BizOps team must isolate the activity and measure the cause and effect relationship between that activity and the LTV result; and
  • Not all experiments produce positive results, which means that they must be set up in a way to maximize information without hurting the company or impacting the compensation of those participating in the experiments.

The magic happens when experiments produce positive results and those results can be translated into business processes that drive LTV. This takes time and discipline, great BizOps people who have the support of the senior management team and the budget to buy the tools that help make it happen.

As Jason Jordan writes [3], the sales management code “cracks when everyone in the field understands what they must do at the Sales Activity level to achieve specific Sales Objectives and the consequent Business Results.” In the SaaS era, extreme competence in BizOps can get us there, and it starts with recognition that excellence in BizOps is as critical to success as traditional sales and marketing skills.

TL;DR

  • SaaS businesses, and recurring revenue model businesses in particular, know they need to manage their business to drive LTV and reduce CAC. But mapping day-to-day marketing, sales, service and customer success activities to high-level goals is problematic.
  • Companies have invested billions to build out the BizOps Pipeline, a towering stack of tools that optimize the efficiency of departments but which have fortified organizational and data stovepipes. Modeled around old ways of selling perpetual license software, these tools don’t address the need to be effective at scale.
  • Yesterday’s lead-to-close unidirectional sales-driven pipeline doesn’t work for companies that generate a large portion of LTV from renewals and upsells. The emergence of the subscription economy and the shift in the balance of power from sellers to buyers have changed the game, requiring businesses to rethink the way they look at points of customer engagement.
  • We’re introducing the Account Lifecycle, a simple and flexible model that puts the account at the center, giving the customer the ability to engage with your team when and how they want. Adapting to this new framework puts the spotlight on your BizOps team. Extreme competence in BizOps is now as or more important than competence in sales and marketing.
  • To gain extreme competence in BizOps requires executive understanding and appreciation for the BizOps function; collaboration and communication among BizOps teams across the entire business operating from a unified view of accounts, and a company culture that supports experimentation, measurement, understanding and improvement.
  • The transition from the old to the new isn’t easy, but the potential reward is significant. There’s never been a better time to be in BizOps.

What’s Next?

Here are some things that you can do right now to start down the path to extreme competence in BizOps:

  • Join and participate in the growing community of strategic BizOps professionals. Whether you are in sales operations, marketing operations, FP&A, support or customer success, you have stories to share about lessons learned and best practices developed. The stuff you know can be a critical answer to someone’s question, and someone in the community can save you hours by pointing you in the right direction.
  • Come to a Strategic BizOps Community meetup. We’re all human and it’s really motivating to be in a room with other like-minded BizOps-y people who have shared experiences.
  • Request a demo of Rekener. 
  • Read Part 1 and Part 3 of Winning in the BizOps Era.
  • Share the Part1 PDF and Part 3 PDF with your colleagues.

[1] PQ Media’s Global Content Marketing Forecast 2015-2019

[2] DemandGen Report’s 2016 Content Preferences Survey

[3] Cracking the Sales Management Code, by Jason Jordan with Michelle Yazzama

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Alex Laats

Alex is CEO and Founder of Rekener. Previously, he served as President and Chief Operating Officer at ZeroTurnaround and as President of the Delta Division of BBN Technologies. At BBN, Alex co-founded RAMP and AVOKE, both recurring SaaS businesses. Alex’s companies have generated $500M in liquidity events and more than $1B in sales. He’s been working on cracking the code on recurring revenue businesses since 1999 when he started an application service provider (remember those?) called Informio.

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