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Episode 28: Is Revenue Operations a Wartime Discipline?

by Hannah Rose | Jun 23, 2022 10:00:00 AM

Jess came back from seeing The Backstreet Boys just to record today’s episode! And while it’s always fun to listen to how someone’s poor husband was more than likely forced to go to this concert surrounded by a lot of screaming women, we are not here to talk about the concert (though Jess could 100% take an entire episode to talk about The Backstreet Boys). Today we’re getting into a topic that Doug brought up during the Customer Experience episode - RevOps being a wartime discipline.




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Show Notes:

Disclaimer: Doug doesn’t like this topic from the get go because he thinks sales and business have used wartime analogies for far far too long. It tends to over-inflate the existential risk of things. From a metaphor standpoint it’s common, so Doug is happy to address the topic today.

What is a wartime discipline? 

Let’s start with the easy word first - discipline which means function, so it’s a wartime function. Wartime is difficult, turbulent times. If a business is in trouble, that’s wartime. The last time we saw a macroeconomic environment like what we’re seeing emerging was 1999 to 2000. This is the first time this century that growth businesses are facing a significantly increased interest rate and tightening money environment. We had a very bad recession in 2008 - 2009 going into 2010 dubbed the great recession, borderline hit some depression type components to it.

The response from the very get go was massive easing of money supply and interest rates going to zero. We started to see a blip back up just as interest rates started to emerge. Then we had March of 2020 that had an interest rate environment where interest rates were zero. There’s an analogy of wartime and peacetime, so there’s some people who say they’re a good wartime CEO or a good peacetime CEO.

The thing that’s interesting is that when it’s wartime, when times are tough, things are actually simpler. Why? If you’re fighting to stay alive, then you have fewer choices and the pressure that exists can be so powerful to overcome any aspect of resistance. For instance no one likes laying off people, but layoffs happen more in difficult times because if it’s a difference between staying in business or going out of business, it becomes easier to make that decision.

When times are good, you have more choices. The idea of a wartime discipline, wartime function, and/or wartime mentality is dealing with very turbulent, difficult, bad times. When there is existential risk on the line, when you’re trying to rally your team, it tends to be easier to rally. You’re also dealing with a lot of fear. Doug isn’t saying wartime makes life easier, but it makes decision making simpler.

In the Customer Experience episode, Doug made the comment that he didn’t agree with the fact that RevOps is a wartime discipline and that it’s only the case when an organization is in trouble. Is that because you can’t have wartime disciplines unless you’re in that environment?

Doug used to be a much better wartime leader, for lack of a better word than a peacetime manager. His entire life has been spent being told that he didn’t belong to certain places or that he wouldn’t be able to do certain things. Once the company started getting into a place where we were doing things right, when things hit the fan and went crazy, that’s where Doug thrived. To equate it to baseball, Billy Martin was a great wartime manager in baseball. If there was a team underperforming or if there was a young team that needed the shock and discipline, Billy Martin was a great manager. He was notorious for getting to the playoffs and not getting through the playoffs and getting fired. The difficulty is that wartime managers suck up a lot of energy because the wartime mentality can only last so long. 

The interesting element about the 2008 recession was that it really was 2008 - 2011 before things started to come back. Even though there were a lot of elements that were very recessionary, you couldn’t operate a business from that standpoint because it just burned. With a wartime CEO, they’re not going to thrive in a peacetime environment. So if you’re saying that RevOps is going to be a wartime discipline, then when you’re not in wartime, you’re going to fall into a number of the mistakes that we talked about in our episode of the 5 common RevOps mistakes.

Why does RevOps get treated as a wartime discipline?

Doug believes there’s an aspect about whether you need RevOps or not. Whether you’re aware of it or not, whether you have someone responsible for it or not, RevOps is happening. Doug thinks the question that is intended to be heard is not “When do you initiate RevOps?” it’s “When do you formally begin to address RevOps?” “When do you begin to call it out as a major part of someone’s job description, someone’s responsibilities, OKRs?” (More on when RevOps is NOT the right path in this previous episode.)

Doug is obsessed with the idea of the difference between speed and velocity, so RevOps at the end of the day is about managing chaos. Revenue Operations becomes valuable and meaningful and critical when there is a lot of turbulence. We have to be careful here because Doug did say that one of the elements of wartime is turbulent times, but there is a difference between turbulence and turbulent times. If you’re in a plane, turbulence is a natural part of what’s happening in the air. That’s different from being in an atmosphere that is turbulent. Turbulence and wartime don’t mean the same thing, and it’s easy to approach revenue operations from the standpoint of existential risk of wartime.

It’s easier to get an extra pulse when you’re in wartime, but if you start applying wartime mentality in non-wartime, then you’ll reach havoc on the business. 

Jess wants to go back to managing chaos because it seems a little counter to what Doug said about RevOps being to manage chaos. If the job is to manage chaos and there’s more chaos, wouldn’t you be more successful in a more chaotic environment than in a less chaotic environment?

What is chaos?

A lack of order or regular arrangement (according to Google). It’s also that behavior is so unpredictable as to appear random owing to great sensitivity, to small changes and conditions, complete disorder and confusion, the formless matter supposed to have existed before the creation of the universe. There’s different types of chaos. When you’re in trouble, things are simpler than when you’re not. Things are more complex when you’re not in trouble. A more accurate statement is that RevOps’ job is to manage complexity when a business is in trouble.

If a business is in trouble and someone’s not on board, you don’t have time to ask if they have a point because time is stacked against you. Trade offs tend to be more clear. In your revenue facing areas in difficult times, Doug isn’t saying there’s not a revenue operations role because there is still a machine that has to be run. There are still things that are going on, but if your business is in trouble you have to ask if it is because of the environment or something specific to your business. Doug’s question then becomes, is revenue operations the number one discipline?

Doug thinks revenue operations job is to participate in and be a peer role which is why you need to have strategic revenue operations. It would be a mistake to have only tactical revenue operations in a peer role. RevOps job is to figure out how to standardize without losing fidelity. When you’re in trouble you need to figure out what is bringing you down. You need to figure out what it is and do what needs to be done to fix it. That might mean that you need to do some things that aren’t going to be the healthiest long term.

When revenue operations is perceived as a wartime discipline, companies speak with certainty and they approach things with certainty that makes them the department of sales prevention. If you’re approaching revenue operations with a wartime mentality, you’re taking agency away and you’re going to end up in a wartime environment.

If you’re in difficult times, then the company is wartime. That’s the last piece of why it really bothered Doug because if the company is in peacetime and you’re treating revenue operations like a wartime discipline, you’re out of alignment with your company. That’ll reach a lot of havoc and you’re going to burn. Wartime mentality will get you better immediate outcomes, but the costs of that are extremely high.

If you are in trouble, if you are in wartime, does RevOps not have a role there?

If you are in trouble and you don’t have a revenue operations organization, you’re probably not going to introduce revenue operations at that time. Revenue operations bring constructive tension. Is there a role? Yes because there’s operations and things that are still going on. You’re still looking to get stuff out of it, but that’s not a discipline issue. If the organization is in wartime, if the organization is in trouble, the mandate of revenue operations is going to be very different than if it’s not.

With all of that being said, there’s a lot to take in here. The biggest takeaways from today are that: 

  1. This is more of an organizational thing than a discipline or departmental thing when you’re in wartime or the organization is in trouble.
  2. The danger of RevOps becoming the sales prevention department.
  3. One of the problems that happens, and why wartime gets used so frequently, is that too many people still see the opening of patents come to mind when they think about wartime. Rather think of wartime as trouble, so if you’re wondering if RevOps is a wartime discipline, ask yourself is it a trouble time discipline?

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