When a business adopt a RevOps approach, managing the buyer’s journey as a product is key to driving revenue.

Who’s in charge of your revenue systems? The number of technologies that RevOps teams rely upon increase every year. While most of the team focuses on implementing new sales motions and workflows to help enable sales reps, the management of the revenue systems themselves is largely an afterthought.

Usually, this person is whoever has the most experience with the technology and can be anyone ranging from a technically-inclined sales rep or ops analyst all the way to a director of revenue or even the VP of sales in certain instances. They’re typically a power user of the technology and it is that familiarity that often leads them to becoming “accidental admins.” They never planned to take on this role, but it has been thrust upon them out of necessity because there is no one else in the company who can do it.

Most revenue teams today treat their RevOps tech stack as a system of record; they fail to recognize how it could operate as a vehicle for change that could drive more value (i.e. revenue) for their business if they were managed as products.

What is product management?

Those who are not directly involved with product development at a company often confuse product management with project management. It’s a common and understandable misconception that these two functions are more or less interchangeable, especially when they both share the same abbreviation of PM. I like to explain it as: all penguins are birds, but not all birds are penguins. Project management is the penguin here  – a single aspect of the much broader field of product management.

The concept of product management originated in 1931 within the context of consumer packaged goods (CPG) but it took until the 1990s for it to gain popularity within the context of technology. By the 2010s, it became mainstream when the advent of Agile development, cloud-based computing, and other factors  revolutionized the way we build software. While the title has become far more ubiquitous, the responsibilities of the role remain somewhat amorphous and ambiguous compared to more defined roles in sales and marketing.

Product managers are known for representing the “voice of the customer” within an organization. Their familiarity with their customers’ needs is invaluable for making products like an app, feature, solution, or (the now trendy) experience. Such products are intended to solve a pain point or take advantage of an opportunity, though the real goal of product management is much more strategic: PMs must envision a better world and create a set of products or features to make that world a reality.

The next frontier of revenue is product 

We’re at an inflection point with how we define RevOps. Forward-thinking revenue organizations are starting to hire PMs into their teams or, at a minimum, trying to get some help from their product and engineering organizations to work on revenue initiatives. There are three main reasons for this:

  1. Organizations are learning that the customer acquisition process has become a product itself and needs to be managed as such.
  2. PMs are needed as a translation layer between the admins on the technical side and the revenue team stakeholders on the business side.
  3. We’re seeing a tectonic shift to product-led growth, a strategy which uses the product as the means to acquire and monetize customers.

Your sales motion is a customer experience

The major contribution of the RevOps concept, was the dissolution of organizational silos between revenue-impacting teams like Sales, Marketing, Success, Finance, etc. in favor of a unified approach to revenue. When these walls came down, it became clear that the customer journey actually starts well before the encounter with the product itself.

Understanding how the customer arrives at and executes the buying decision should be regarded as a product experience. Consequently, driving revenue depends on managing the buyer’s journey as a product.

RevOps teams have a crucial role to play in crafting this experience through the acquisition and conversion of customers. Your typical funnel starts with awareness (marketing) and eventually converts to acquisition (sales) before moving to activation, adoption, and, ideally, retention. Although we tend to think of these things as disparate layers owned by different functions, seasoned PMs know they’re actually all part of product management.

Unfortunately, many teams still operate according to the dictates of the technologies in use by different departments rather than from the perspective of the entire customer experience. Marketing handles the start of the customer journey but then passes the customer off into a sales motion. The results of that are often a disjointed user experience for the customer.

It’s a paradigm shift

So many revenue operators set up our sales motions and customer acquisition processes around how our company wants to source leads, close deals, and drive revenue. The whole mindset is about our sales team’s numbers, conversions, and goals to close more deals.

In contrast, adept product managers aim to create an experience that their customers want to have.  We’re used to designing our revenue processes to cater to our goals, but now we have to recognize that a more customer-oriented buying experience is necessary to be competitive. This will be a huge shift in thinking for RevOps since a product manager seeks answers to a different set of questions:

  • What does the customer want?
  • What problem are we solving?
  • What are their goals and objectives?
  • How do they decide what and when to buy the product?

This perspective is nothing short of paradigm shift. We’re shifting away from a view limited to metrics defined by our goals, quotas, and pricing structures to an empathetic one that takes into account what motivates and accommodates the user. Consequently, revenue organizations are evolving from the traditional way of thinking about customers as a resource for achieving revenue goals to the modern perspective that regards revenue processes as a resource for achieving customer goals.

Bridging the gap for RevOps 

The traditional product development team is a three-legged stool: design, product, and engineering. Designers research user personas, architect the experiences through which users interact with the product, and develop mockups to help others visualize what is to be built. Engineers architect systems, write code, stand up servers, and manage databases. PMs are there to represent the user, define what problems we are solving, and coordinate across these three groups.

Designers are deeply empathetic and spend a lot of time and effort to understand users; however, they are typically not the type of people who can convert ideas and designs into requirements and specifications that engineers can understand. Engineers are adept at building but not at understanding users and their pain points. If there is no product manager on the team to translate what users want (design) into what gets built (engineering), a disconnect can arise between the two. Users don’t know how to tell engineers what they need, and engineers don’t know how to ask.

RevOps admins have a lot in common with the engineers in the product development organization. They know how to do cool systems stuff with Salesforce and other tools that a typical business user doesn’t understand well enough to use well. However, they may not understand business, sales motions, or what a prospect is going through during the buyer journey.

That’s the area of expertise of the business side of the revenue team. Unfortunately, they are not equipped to communicate what they want done to their admins because they lack the skills needed to translate business requirements into technical specifications.

Product managers: the translation layer for RevOps 

Without a product manager, there’s no one to help bridge the gap between these two group. This gap in understanding is a major cause for why so many revenue systems seem to work against their business users instead of for them. Often admins end up building the wrong things. With no one there to translate business requests to the admins, the requests are not properly directed and understood.

PMs are trained specifically to act as this translation layer. In the context of RevOps, they can serve as the bridge between the admins and the rest of the business to ensure that their systems actually drive revenue instead of impede it.

Getting that PM in place presents a dual-challenge, as well. Good PMs typically prefer to work on core products rather than on revenue operations. Successful Rev Ops leaders, however, will recognize the need to fill their skill gaps and will have to find a way to attract the PM talent they so desperately need.

Product-led growth starts with product management

It is not uncommon that the typical pre-sales user experience is a free product trial. Who doesn’t love the free samples at Costco? But there’s much more that can be done to acquire and convert customers. This new trend is called product-led growth (PLG), and it requires us to pivot and treat the product like a sales channel. These changes include:

  • Building an experience that serves as an onramp to introduce new users to the product without overwhelming them.
  • Proving the value of what you’re selling as soon as possible and getting entrenched into the users’ operations and organization.
  • Integrating the product itself and/or product analytics data warehouse with the right revenue systems to expose product usage data to revenue teams.
  • Identifying those moments or patterns in product usage data that signal that a user is ripe for conversion and monetization.

You simply can’t accomplish these goals without the support of a PM. To move forward, you need to think about the answers to these questions:

  • Does your RevOps team think about revenue growth within the context of the product or the other way around?
  • Which is the correct way?
  • What does a sales motion that’s product-driven or product-centric even look like?
  • What are those moments or patterns that indicate a user is ready to buy?
  • Can RevOps build the skills or abilities to define that?

These are hard questions to answer without a PM guiding the RevOps team. However, when you do get the answers you need, you are able to transform the customer journey into a product optimized for increasing revenue.

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