Why Is Today’s Revenue Process Stuck in the Pre-Industrial Age?

Author: 
Evan Liang

You've probably seen me. I'm that guy standing in line looking slightly annoyed. Not that I mind waiting my turn, mind you, but because often I can spot a faster, better process to get everyone through. 

I've always wanted to make things more efficient, which is why I studied industrial engineering in college, and why I’ve always thought I would have been a great plant manager during the industrial revolution. Not some callous mill owner from the pages of Dickens, but rather someone who would push to automate and streamline operations for the good of workers, shareholders and customers alike. 

The need to continually optimize operations has never gone out of fashion. What’s changed is that companies are now empowered to take a data-driven approach to doing so. Manufacturing and supply operations have been the first to benefit broadly from this opportunity – look no further than quality management and supply chain management. 

Flash forward 150 years and we're in the midst of the data revolution. Given everything we have learned from manufacturing, why haven’t companies taken a similarly unified and data-driven approach to other aspects of business, particularly today’s fragmented revenue process? 

TOPO Research's Craig Rosenberg also made this analogy recently: “Look under the hood of any successful manufacturing company, and you’ll find a well-orchestrated supply chain that ensures efficient end-to-end handling of everything from raw materials to shipped products. So why don’t more companies – of all types – have a similar process in place for revenue?” 

Well, revenue process, your time has come.

The Assembly Line for Revenue Generation

It’s easy to draw parallels between what Henry Ford pioneered with the auto assembly line and today’s B2B revenue process. They are both end-to-end in nature, and they both are made up of multiple “moving parts” that depend on specialized skills. Building a car encompasses sourcing, production and logistics to name just a few components, just as the revenue process is comprised of marketing, sales and customer success. 

When you create specialties, you create silos – silos of disciplines, oversight, systems and data. Companies have been extremely successful in linking their supply chain components and systems into a cohesive and consistent whole. But when it comes to the revenue process? Not so much. The revenue chain is still largely a collection of disconnected silos versus what it needs to become: a data-driven assembly line.

Data Is the Customer

In today’s digital environment, each customer is the sum total of its data – “the data is the customer.” There is an enormous and urgent need to stitch together the revenue chain, just as we have the supply chain. And, as with successful supply chains, it's not just about automation – it's about business rules.

The idea is to facilitate the flow of data (i.e., the customer) along the revenue chain using rules-based routing – from marketing to sales and sales engineering to customer success – to drive coordination and performance. 

When you can do this effectively, you rapidly rack up substantial efficiency gains all along the revenue chain. You also gain full visibility into the end-to-end revenue process, which allows you to quickly spot inaccuracies, waste and bottlenecks – and then take action to eliminate them. And you also gain the flexibility to tweak and re-jigger the revenue process at any point of the data flow to accommodate rapid business change.

And here’s what I like best about this concept: everyone who touches the revenue process benefits. Sales and marketing professionals, shareholders and, ultimately, customers all come out on the plus side. 

Revenue Operations: the Industrial Engineer for the Revenue Process 

So, how do we begin to make the transition to a streamlined and well-aligned revenue process in B2B? 

At the end of the day, it’s an operations issue. Commonly locked in their own functional silos, marketing, sales and customer success can’t truly come together without aligning disconnected systems and data. As a distinct and overarching function, the go-to-market operations teams supporting these functions are uniting to provide that common foundation. This is why a highly strategic enterprise category is now emerging that has been dubbed Revenue Operations, or RevOps. 

Quite simply, RevOps is a new organizing principle that seeks to underpin – at the operational level – a more unified and well-aligned revenue process. From a technology standpoint, the RevOps movement is in many ways being spearheaded by the go-to-market operations community – SalesOps, MarketingOps and Customer Success Ops. 

In order to facilitate the revenue flow, a number of innovative, disruptive technology categories have emerged to support the process. One of those is lead-to-account matching and routing – and it’s fast becoming the “assembly line” for the revenue process. Specifically, its sophisticated algorithms automate how sales leads are managed seamlessly across the revenue chain, from first touch to close of sale. 

These applications are used by nearly half of today’s high-growth companies – and gaining adoption fast. TOPO Research predicts this market will double in 2020 alone. 

With the rise of RevOps, companies now have a revenue-specific framework for technology and best practices to radically change their game and become more competitive. 

I believe RevOps really is the industrial engineer for the revenue process. And just as I studied Industrial Engineering, college kids of the future could very well be studying RevOps as a discipline in the future.

Time to Evolve

When Henry Ford first rolled out the assembly line, he saw an 8x improvement in the time needed to build a car from start to finish. This allowed him to manufacture more cars at a lower cost which revolutionized the car industry by allowing him to pay his workers more while producing cars the average American could buy. 

I believe, if done right, we can see a similar step-function efficiency gain for the revenue process as we saw with cars more than a century ago.  

The old siloed way of managing revenue is going the way of the horse and buggy.

Don’t go with it.

Evan Liang is CEO of LeanData, which helps companies improve the buyer experience, accelerate time-to-revenue and increase operational alignment.