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LeanData CEO And CMO Provide An Advanced Look At Ops-Stars Event, Trends Impacting Ops Roles

klaudiaEntering its third year, the Ops-Stars conference has quickly grown to become a must-attend event around Dreamforce in San Francisco for executives in sales/marketing operations, as well as demand gen.

This year, the event has expanded to two full days of workshops and multiple tracks and will take place at the historic San Francisco Mint building. I’m proud to be participating in one of the sessions on the topic of revenue attribution during the event.

I had the opportunity to catch up with top executives from LeanData, the hosts of the Ops-Stars event, this week to get a preview of the event. Evan Liang, Co-Founder and CEO, and Karen Steele, CMO, both provided a glimpse of some of the sessions taking place, as well as some of the industry trends making the Ops role more strategic and valuable for B2B sales and marketing organizations.

Demand Gen Report: For our readers that aren’t familiar with the Op Stars event, could you share some background on what was the driver to start the event and summarize how it’s grown and expanded over time?

Liang: This is the third year we’re doing the event. I’d say that the initial impetus was out of necessity. We felt like we needed a place within the craziness of Dreamforce to really spend some quality time with our prospects and have a quiet place that we could have meetings.

What was interesting is, in that first year, we decided to actually put on a content series. Our marketing team at the time decided to just invite some thought leaders that we thought could share information specifically around Ops. We invited a couple of direct practitioners to come in and speak. We thought they would be coming here because of the food and the chance to escape, but the content is actually what drove them out.

They loved the speakers. I think we had like an NPS score of nine or 10 on the content and the speakers, and they craved things that seem to be a little bit underrepresented.

During year two, we went from one restaurant to two restaurants and did more content. Again, the content was a huge hit, and we increased the number of sponsors. Now, we like this concept so much that we’ve decided to go from a small restaurant and take it upscale to the San Francisco Mint. We’re really bullish on it. We hope it’s the place for people who are interested in Sales and Marketing Ops to come together and really share best practices.

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Demand Gen Report: It looks like a really awesome agenda, with different tracks, etc. What are some of the highlights that you’d point out in terms of speakers and sessions?

Steele: My team’s goal was to really level up in terms of content. What you can see is we have a mix of thought leaders from sales and marketing. We have industry luminaries like Forrester and SiriusDecisions. We have David Lewis from DemandGen. Some of the sessions that stand out and people have been talking about are the diversity and inclusion sessions that Bluewolf IBM and their Women’s Innovator Network are putting on. It’s a panel called Women as Allies. We actually made that a keynote because there is so much buzz around it. There is also a great session that Gerry Murray from IDC is on about AI. We have tons of practitioners. We have brands like Airbnb and Pitney Bowes.

And, for the first time, we are doing six different interactive workshops on different topics. LeanData’s hosting one, but there are five other partners that are setting up to do 90-minute interactive workshops. They were so popular. They sold out in about 30 minutes. All but one of them, we’re running them twice so that we can get as many people in as possible. Chock-full of content, and that’s, I think, what’s really going to supply people this year because we have the space and because we really wanted to make this as rich as possible. It really is a who’s who in the sales and marketing arena.

Demand Gen Report: You have been ahead of the curve here with focusing on Ops. The role is really moving into the spotlight, both on the Sales and Marketing Ops side. As the role evolves and becomes more strategic, what do you see as some of the industry dynamics driving that?

Liang: If you look at the history of go-to-market motions, you’ve had direct sales and channel sales forever, right? Just look at the last 15 years and the innovation and the types of go-to-market strategies that have emerged from inbound marketing, social media, content marketing, Demand Unit Waterfall, ABM — that rate of change is just really, really accelerating. Companies are now going from planning their go-to-market on a five-year plan to almost doing it continuously. That’s why Ops becomes critical in that dynamic environment. You have to adjust your data and your processes on an ongoing basis and you don’t have the ability to plan a year in advance in order to make those changes. The companies that innovate and move are growing more profit faster than the companies that are doing it the old way and aren’t able to adjust to the new dynamics.

Demand Gen Report: On a related topic, we are hearing more talk around Revenue Ops emerging as a different way to define or view the role and function of Sales and Marketing Ops. Do you see that as a convergence of Sales and Marketing Ops functions? What do you see around that trend?

Steele: We are seeing an evolution of go-to-market execution and people really being sophisticated about how they’re architecting their revenue strategies, and Ops is absolutely becoming more strategic in the organization. There was a time when Marketing Ops and Sales Ops were referred to as being the engine room that keeps all the technology working.

Now, they really have a seat at the table and they’re really the ones architecting the revenue strategy. Revenue Ops is really the combination of all of those operations functions that have one common goal around revenue. That typically could be Sales Ops and Marketing Ops, but it could certainly be Partner Ops or Channel Ops and also Customer Ops. We’re seeing conversions of the operations functions, not necessarily organized where they all report to the same person, but that they’re all on the same page with respect to planning strategy around common revenue goals.

Liang: Another trend line for why we think Revenue Ops is converging is simply the fact that as you have that go-to-market strategy, your cross channels and customers that engage across sales and marketing, companies are going to have to adjust to have a unified, holistic view of all of this.

Now, as Karen said, it doesn’t mean you have to have a centralized function or organization. Maybe we’d get there over time, but those folks at least have to work together in order to allow their organization to deliver a better customer experience.

Demand Gen Report: We talked a little bit earlier about the agenda having sessions on measurement and attribution. Obviously, that’s always been a core part of Ops in terms of measurement of programs and tying it back to data and reporting. Our research also shows that becoming a bigger priority for B2B organizations overall. What do you guys see around some of the current measurement and attribution trends and how will that be tied into the agenda?

Steele: It’s such a great point because that’s still one of the hardest things to get right. There is no cookie-cutter formula for every company because everybody wants to do it a little bit differently, but at the end of the day, I think the only metric that matters is revenue growth. As long as the organization is aligned on that, then that’s where revenue Ops comes into play. I think you can align around core metrics.

We certainly have always had an attribution product as part of our solution, and it’s something that we have lots of companies get significant value out of but I think it really is about aligning the teams.

Liang: Ops plays a critical role in the go-to-market motion and management of data processes. As part of that, being able to measure the effectiveness of your go-to-market strategies that impact all revenue is key. There isn’t going to be one metric. There are going to be multiple metrics and it depends on how you design your go-to-market, determine what metrics are most important to you and what set of metrics you need to actually be able to understand the efficiency and effectiveness of those strategies.

Demand Gen Report: There are several sessions on ABM, as well. Do you see the role of Ops becoming more front and center as companies prioritize and target a set of accounts, and make ABM a bigger part of their overall strategy?

Liang: Absolutely. We see it as a big shift in Ops because the traditional way of looking at things from a lead-based perspective started breaking, so people seemed to start adjusting their data processes and they needed to rely on Ops to allow people to make that transition to more of an account-based marketing and sales motion.

The existing systems were primarily lead-based. We see that as one of the go-to-market motions that is disrupting how people have traditionally done things. But we see very few companies that are only account-based. Account-based was adding a new go-to-market motion on top of your existing ones, and so the management of multiple motions with account-based being part of that mix makes the Ops role even more critical.