Siva Rajamani: Scaling Revenue Operations in High Growth Firms

Posted on Jul 29, 2021

About Siva

Siva Rajamani is a new father and the CEO of Everstage, an early-stage Sales Commission Automation startup. Before Everstage, he built the Revenue Operations function from scratch at Freshworks, a SaaS unicorn. During this week's RevAmp podcast, Siva elaborates on his role growing Freshworks’ Revenue Operations team from 4 people to 30, how to onboard, and how to work with GTM teams. In addition, he touches on the impact of DealHub on the Freshworks team.

Scaling the Revenue Operations

  • We asked about the early stages at Freshworks when he started to become aware that revops was really needed. Siva originally started as part of the CEO's office - essentially doing many things that the CEO didn't want to do himself and wanted to delegate to a few folks. And a lot of those things were on the go-to-market side because the CEO of Freshworks was focused on the product. So that's when he started getting involved in areas that you would typically associate with sales operations. 
  • Siva was involved in many different things, including setting up their mid-market organization and the go-to-market for that mid-market organization, as well as setting up account management and the customer success as a function. About a year in, it made sense to call this the operations function and set up a team. 
  • That was the early stage of when sales ops was evolving into revenue operations where people saw the benefit of combining all the functions together, from marketing to sales, to customer success. So with that context, Freshworks set up revenue operations and pulled in a few from across the organization. 
  • We asked what was the trigger or pain that caused the need for a revenue operations function. Siva shared that there were a few things happening when looking at their sales, marketing, and customer success numbers. With their aggressive growth plans, they wanted to make sure that they looked at each area and saw opportunities to optimize. So things like, "Hey, how can we look at our funnel and improve our conversion rates in the funnel? Or how can we reduce our churn in the SMB segment? Or how can we increase our net retention and expand and grow some of our existing accounts with some of our newer products?"
  • A lot of their growth plans finish on the metrics driving those growth plans to fall in place, which meant that it was essential to have a team focused on understanding each part of the metrics and what's impacting them. How could those be done better? So that was on the strategic side and was a huge value.
  • There were also a lot of tactical aspects as well, such as setting up core tasks for the team, setting up the compensation plan correctly, and setting up the processes. Pain points that were coming in from the sales team were around formalizing and structuring the processes. Making sure the metrics fell in place, as well as the pain points coming in from the go-to-market team, both contributed towards setting up the ops function.

Being Strategic in RevOps While Scaling

  • Historically rev ops has been more retrospective, which means we analyze the numbers, we learn from the numbers, we make recommendations, get approvals, we then optimize. And it's cyclical like a revenue flywheel. But what Siva suggested is that it's more strategic, such as, "Here's our stretch target. Looking at everything that's on the table right now. We can't get there by just doing more of the same. We need to play smarter." The strategic element accelerated the need for rev ops. 
  • We asked, "How did you keep the rev ops function agile in a company that was scaling that fast? Because your headcount growth was exponential at that time with Freshworks. So how did you guys remain agile on execution and leading the curve rather than being just reactive? That's a huge, huge task."

Moving from Being Reactive to Proactive in RevOps

  • When scaling revenue operations, it's hard to move from being reactive to being more proactive. You don't start proactively when you set up the function. You set up the function because there are some pain points and there are some goals. And so you react to it. And only when you solve those can you start thinking about and having the mental space to think more strategically. So it does have to start off tactical.
  • When a company looks at their first ops person, they're already looking at that person because there's some pain in the process, some pain in the data, and they want to solve it through this person. Coming in as a new person, into an ops function, setting up the ops function, you first have to solve for the existing pain points before you can move strategically. This is what Freshworks did as well. The first six months to year of setting up the ops function was spent solving process-related issues, data-related issues, and ensuring that they had the right data to analyze.

Hiring for RevOps

  • We asked about Siva's hiring strategy. Did he bring in specialists that would take you over the next two to three years, or did he hire harmonizers that would give them a well-rounded, balanced process, kind of like a full-stack rev ops person, as opposed to a specialist? 
  • Most of the folks he hired were full-stack. That was the early stage of revenue operations anyway. So there weren't many people who had done very specific things. And with their aggressive growth, they had to find people quickly. So the only option they had was to go with more of a generalist who could be trained in specific areas.
  • He had one person take care of the entire sales operations. And within that, one person to take care of direct sales. Another person took care of channel partnerships and indirect sales. There was also a marketing operations person and a customer success operations person. And then the next person who came in started looking at the process across the board, including CRM and associated areas like CPQ.
  • In the interview process, they inquired about how people dealt with ambiguity. And, once they were onboarded they made sure that they could scale into all of the different areas. Typically in a fast-growing organization, and especially with the whole COVID scenario where most folks are remote, there is the question of how to understand all of the things happening across different functions. There's a lot of tribal knowledge in each of these functions, and ops needs to have context across the board.
  • The average onboarding process for new RevOps hires was three to four months for junior analyst roles and six months for program managers. The program managers had a lot more context to absorb. They had to drive many alignment decisions because there's no company where marketing and sales are completely friends. There are always things they don't agree on. 
  • Customer success rates are another area for alignment. There's finger-pointing sometimes. So a lot of those alignment conversations need to be driven by the rev ops function. Executing process improvements also required a lot of stakeholder management within the company.
  • We asked how Siva helped the RevOps function become more strategic. What was that growth story within the rev ops functioning Freshworks? Siva shares that you want to show your time to first value and showcase quick wins off setting up this function. So they got some of those tactical things done through data and cleaned up the analytics. Setting up the core structure, planning for the next year, the annual planning itself. So some of those wins.
  • The recipient of those wins depended on the analytics themselves; it depended on the function. So, if it was more around the sales funnel, it's the VP of sales or the CRO. And if you were to think of the planning process, then it became all of the CXOs. For validating some of the aspirational goals coming in from the board like doubling revenue, running the scenario modeling involved the CRO, the CFO, and the CEO. 

Best Practices for Healthy Communication in RevOps

  • Regarding the communication loop or feedback for the different internal audiences, we asked Siva for his best practice for the healthy communication of success stories and wins. He says that while they were all aligned to the overall company goal, each function still has its own micro-goals. So the first step is to acknowledge that.
  • Understanding the micro-goals of each of these functions gave him the context to position the whole analysis. He made sure there was transparency across all of the functions. He wanted to make sure individual perspectives were heard, and they didn't miss out on any of those nuances. If there were major changes that were involved, they also made sure they got buy-in from the CEO or the CRO. Because at the end of the day, you need to have the CXO alignment to drive change. 
  • They were communicating mainly through the QBR, but analysts then have to wait for quarterly business reviews. So they reported whenever they felt it was appropriate to make sure they could make decisions quickly and make changes once they were all aligned.
  • Communication always happened in person or over video conference calls. They never just shared it over an email. Because you don't even know if somebody read it or if it was all fully consumed because there are multiple parts to a lot of these analyses. So he made sure there was one whole conversation where all of them were in place. They had follow-on conversations to address questions or clarification. 
  • Those first conversations helped fine-tune the analysis, and then they doubled down on what they wanted to change. Once they had a couple of conversations, they typically had alignment. The CXO would come in and arbitrate when functions disagreed. And at the end of the day, whatever was good for the overall company goals is what they did. 

Revenue Operations Leadership

  • The real value add of a rev ops team is when they're not only presenting the fine-tuning and the problems, but also the potential solutions. We asked Siva about his personal leadership style when it came to that approach.
  • When he started on analysis, he kept the stakeholders aware. So, when they came into the first presentation, it was not new to the direct stakeholder. Everybody knew ahead of time that they were doing something of the sort, and team members were involved in the analysis. The first presentation was the findings and high-level solutions based on the results. Then, a discussion was opened for comments from individual stakeholders. 

Retaining and Building Culture as You Scale

  • As the organization grows, it's vital to remain completely independent and come across that way in all your conversations. For example, as you build your rev ops function, you will have folks who are aligned with each of these functions: sales ops, marketing ops, and customer success. And being closer to that function, they'd have more leaning towards that function. So it is super important to present yourself as completely independent.
  • It was helpful to talk to the sales leader in the frame of," Hey, how can we early help move your sales team more towards core attainments" where only half of the team is attaining a hundred percent quota. "How can we move this more to 70, 80%" and make it a best in class. 
  • Ops is not trying to find faults but helping work towards how to optimize and making it very clear to the sales team through actions rather than just words. Also, he made sure he built relationships across the board and that people were comfortable opening up and ensuring that it was for the good of the company.
  • Siva says it's a step-by-step process that takes 6 to 12 months to reach some level of comfort across the board and make sure that people feel good about the rev ops function. It actually contributes to more of the strategic part of the entire company and is aligned with each of the marketing, sales, and customer success functions, in terms of their interests and goals.
  • The strategic part of revenue operations was recognized at Freshworks. They got a seat at the table for all the important conversations. Their views were also heard very clearly and independently because there was also the realization that they were only interested in the company's goals, not individual goals. 

Why Siva Started Everstage? 

  • Go-to-market teams, especially sales teams, are on base pay and variable pay. And sometimes, more than half their pay is on a variable rate. Incentives drive behavior, but Siva felt that a lot of B2B companies were not effectively using incentive structures to motivate and drive performance.
  • If you think of companies early on, even at Freshworks, they tracked sales and incentives on spreadsheets. It wasn't a great use of the ops and finance teams because it's busywork. Also, incentives weren't motivating and driving performance because there was zero visibility to the customer-facing teams about how they got what they got. Typically at month-end there are disputes. So actually, incentives meant to drive performance and motivate and ensure you drive behavior became a sore point in the company. People were dissatisfied with the end result.
  • Wanting to solve the problem of using incentives properly to drive performance was the trigger to start Everstage. So essentially, the idea is to give the rev ops teams across the globe a platform that helps save a lot of time and helps them achieve some of their strategic goals through motivating and driving the performance of the customer-facing teams.

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About the podcast

The RevAmp podcast derives from two words: Revenue + Amplification. This series has been produced specifically to give a voice to the sales and revenue operations professionals who have invaluable experiences to share. We have seen the scope for this role, as well as the recognition, expectations, and tools have rapidly changed over the last couple of years. The reality is that there are not enough high-quality resources for fellow professionals to use as a benchmark or learning curve. DealHub knows how important it is to be well resourced so we have put together this RevAmp podcast for your benefit.

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Topics: Process Building, Executive Alignment