As an early adopter of Revenue Operations strategies, cloud security company Okta was able to centralize marketing, sales and customer success operations under one leader: Jake Randall, Area Director, North Central for Okta. Randall led his team to remove silos between the organizations and unify Okta’s go-to-market strategy, execution and measurement.
This Ops strategy is the foundation of how the startup turned into a $500M+ public company that has generated 50+% year-over-year revenue growth. Randall will present Okta’s unique story at LeanData’s OpsStars 2019 event in San Francisco this month. Demand Gen Report sat down with him to learn more about RevOps at Okta, the challenges he faced on their journey to revenue growth and more.
Demand Gen Report: Many different definitions seem to exist as this category emerges — how do you define Revenue Operations?
Jake Randall: This go-to-market model is still new enough for most B2B companies that you’ll likely find as many different definitions as you will names for it. Revenue Operations seems to be the term the market is coalescing around this year, though, especially with two of the top B2B research firms (SiriusDecisions and TOPO) adopting it. We’ve always called it “business operations” at Okta, but it has the same core function of centralizing sales, marketing and customer success operations teams under one leader.
Although Okta has been operating with this integrated go-to-market structure for many years, it’s a pretty radical departure for most B2B companies who still have operations teams reporting up to their respective lines of business (CMO, CSO, CCO). No matter what you call it, though, a centralized Revenue Operations function will have you thinking holistically about all the different parts of your business that go into driving topline revenue, removing silos both operationally and strategically, and ensuring your overall funnel and customer lifecycle move together and forward in a cohesive way. A Revenue Operations structure ensures you have a common understanding and agreement across the entire company for your go-to-market strategy, execution and measurement to better drive growth.
DGR: Why did you and your team decide to move this model in your business?
Randall: Our story is a little different. We’ve actually operated in a centralized Revenue Operations structure for the last eight years – almost from the company’s inception a decade ago. I started at Okta in finance and as we were planning to continue building out the company, we looked at what we were doing in marketing, sales, customer success and other parts of the puzzle that feeds into the overall revenue engine. And we approached our go-to-market model out of the gate from this kind of integrated and more holistic standpoint.
At the time, we were a small startup – around 50 people give or take. Since I was running finance, my focus was raising money as a startup and looking at how to scale and grow the business. I knew we didn’t want to approach this in a piecemeal fashion – looking at just how we optimize sales, how we optimize marketing, how we optimize customer support, etc. But instead, we wanted to look at optimizing the entire buyer’s journey, the complete customer lifecycle, so that we were growing as efficiently as possible across our business, and growing revenue as efficiently as possible versus just trying to optimize sales or marketing as discrete business units.
DGR: Do you have a separate team in this model? How did you go about building your RevOps team?
Randall: All go-to-market operational and strategy roles roll up into a centralized team. Marketing operations, sales operations and customer success operations — all those functions are united into one revenue operations team under a single leader. Again, my story is going to be a little bit different just because this evolved very organically at Okta versus having to shift an existing org structure.
The centralized operations team started with me and then grew to 30 people or so. I was the only person that had this business operations title and scope at the time eight years ago, and I was responsible for hiring roles like the Director of Sales Operations and Director of Customer Success Ops. While we built out this unified operations team, we ensured all operations roles had functional alignment with their business units to support them effectively. But, ultimately, as we were building out our RevOps team, we made clear that operations was a standalone function and team – this was part of the interview process, quite frankly. And part of our charter was helping people understand what we were trying to do and how we were trying to look at things holistically and break down those common silos in B2B that commonly stand in the way of growth.
DGR: What were some challenges you faced?
Randall: Revenue Operations is a radically different go-to-market model than B2B’s traditionally more silo’ed sales and marketing organizational structure. The obvious challenge with this kind of centralized ops function is that it has not been the norm. When you’re a small company, you can wear a bunch of different hats, right? As we grew, however, one of the most apparent challenges was it’s not the norm. And as you bring in new executives, they’re used to having their operational and strategic teams reporting directly to them. We were fortunate enough that Okta’s CFO and co-founders had seen Revenue Operations in action for a while, so they knew the model and they believed in it.
At the end of the day, results speak for themselves. And this model, while unusual to many coming from the traditional B2B world, was all about balancing day-to-day functional support for business units within the more traditional aspects of an operational role while still being able to deliver to Okta that grander, more integrated view across all go-to-market organizations.
DGR: What tips/best practices would you share with organizations just starting out with this Operations model?
Randall: The most important advice is that you need to make sure you’re building alignment with your business leaders — your CMO, your Head of Sales, your Chief Customer Officer — and make sure they’re comfortable with it. And that, first and foremost, they’re getting the support they need from the more traditional operations function and they’re not going to be challenged by this new model.
One of the questions I get asked frequently is where should a function like Revenue Operations report into? In my own journey, I started off reporting to Okta’s co-founder, and then I worked with our CFO, and then eventually I reported to our president. More and more, I’m seeing this role report to the COO or a new “overlay” role called the Chief Revenue Officer. Ultimately, it needs to be someone who’s going to help them grow their part of their business, while also delivering this kind of new, if you will, broader scope of revenue operations to wherever they’re reporting in that functional alignment across all orgs. Make sure you understand who your key stakeholders are and how to bring them along in this journey quickly as you’re shifting from a dispersed ops model into a centralized function.
And the other big piece of advice I’d offer to anyone thinking about starting on this journey to Revenue Operations is evaluate the current silos in your business. Most often, the people I talk to are thinking about making this switch because they’re living the age-old story of sales and marketing misalignment with each business unit operating in its own silo. Revenue Operations is about bridging those gaps. And as someone who has a fairly deep understanding of these two silos and how to bring them together to operate more effectively, my advice is to examine where you see some of that friction in your own company and pick ONE area where you think it might be a good place to bring things together. And then use that as a kind of a proof-of-concept, if you will, of what revenue operations could do on a larger scale.
For example, at Okta, someone on my team came up with this idea of the 3 Ds: Demand, Distribute and Deploy. And so, while we had people aligned in different business units to help drive the standard sales, marketing, professional services, support and renewals, when we came together as one operations team, we would think holistically about how we generate demand. That was something that we could go to the business and say, well, we can look at things differently now by bringing it all together because no longer are we looking to optimize just marketing, optimize SDRs or our channel business unit. Instead, it was how do we think about all those different functions, understand them well and then think about how we want to go and generate demand or pipeline across all the different tools we had in our box. Ideas like that become powerful because now you’re showing how you can bring together what could be, in your organization, a disparate team into a holistic understanding of a much bigger, more macro aspect of your business.
DGR: What is one key takeaway you hope the audience will walk away with from your session at OpsStars?
Randall: I think I have a somewhat unique perspective given we started doing this eight years ago. The main thing is to think about how you bring alignment across the organization. The people challenge often becomes the biggest hurdle. It’s easy to deliver a good PowerPoint and a good project, but how do you bring everyone along with you on that journey?
Revenue Operations isn’t just a trend or a new fad – this model is hugely impactful for B2B orgs struggling to drive greater growth. We’ve been talking about sales and marketing alignment forever, but it’s achieving this unity at the operational layer that can finally make this a reality. Analysts aren’t overstating it by calling RevOps a game-changer for B2B growth.
For Okta, Revenue Operations is simply how we do business. And it’s the foundation from which a small startup became a $500M+ public company which is now delivering 50+% year-over-year revenue growth! There’s a huge change-management component to successfully implementing RevOps that shouldn’t be underestimated, however. The people challenge often becomes the biggest one to manage. It’s easy to deliver a good PowerPoint and a good project, but how do you bring everyone along with you on that journey? I hope my session can help others start down the path on that journey.
DGR: What else are you looking forward to from the LeanData OpsStars event?
Randall: It’s always a lot of fun to talk to other people that have similar RevOps roles or functions. It’s a little bit different in every company. So, it’s interesting to learn who people are reporting to and what their journey has been from a disparate ops team into a centralized team. The networking and just hearing other people’s stories, what’s working and what’s not, and sharing best practices is always the best part of events like these for me.