10 GTM Tech Stack Mistakes to Avoid - Startups Edition
As a consultant, I’ve worked with companies of all sizes, ranging from a five-person startup to a mega-corporation. Early companies have the benefit of flexibility and speed. They’re agile and scrappy, making do with what they can afford. Larger companies have more processes and tend to be painfully slow to make a decision.
No one likes to wait for a solution, but there are benefits to the checks and balances (and budget!) that come with a mature organization.
“A company’s startup phase is similar to creating a foundation for a building. If you prioritize low spend (particularly around talent) and speed over proficiency, you’ll negatively impact your ability to scale. If you use bad construction materials, you may quickly have a building two or three stories high, but anything taller than that will be too unstable. You’ll have to tear it down and start over again.”
With the right mindset, a little capital, and a lot of determination, revenue operations professionals can avoid a lot of pain down the road by building a strong foundation in the beginning.
Do Build for the SaaS You Want
Chances are you won’t get the technology you want out of the gate. Most companies start with a freemium platform (or even Google Sheets) until they’ve raised sufficient funds.
If you start with a free platform, think through the data structure you want for your next CRM or Marketing Automation Platform. Learn about the standard objects, research plug-ins, and limit the number of fields you collect.
Just remember, the more complicated a system is to use, the less often people will use it.
Do Hire an Expert for Key Implementations
When you get the funding to upgrade to “real” SaaS products, hire an expert to implement them.
Do not, under any circumstances, let your freshly minted Salesforce admin run with the initial implementation.
You may think you’re saving money, but I’ve worked with too many organizations that have decided their only option was to rip and replace their original instance. A bad data structure, reliance on too many custom objects, a proliferation of bolt-on tools, and lack of unity on data definitions (aka horrible data hygiene) can snowball into a big mess.
"I know one big thing that I saw value in from my time at Ally.io was implementing SFDC from the beginning and hiring an SFDC admin consultant to help with setup and configuration to ensure we got up and running correctly. The company was in a fortunate position to do this since they were successful in fundraising efforts, but this laid a really strong foundation."
When you’re considering a consultant, insist on speaking with prior clients, and if you can, use someone you trust with the right expertise to screen them. It’s worth shelling out more money for someone who truly knows what they’re doing. If you have a bad feeling about someone, don’t hire them.
Don’t Let Others Assume Software Is a Silver Bullet
The longer you work in revenue operations, the more skeptical you’ll become of claims made by SaaS vendors. The only things that are certain in life are RevOps technology skepticism, death, and taxes.
I, too, started out naive and hopeful. Who doesn’t want a silver bullet that actually fixes your problem? Before long, you’ll be strung along by enough companies peddling vaporware that every vendor is doomed to intense scrutiny.
Now, I can’t prove that sales and marketing departments are particularly susceptible to strong marketing tactics, but I’ve had to talk enough leadership teams out of handing over the corporate credit card to know that you have to watch them like a hawk. They’re like kids discovering sugar for the first time, and sometimes (usually) they don’t know when to walk away.
If the solution sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Get the department’s requirements and insist on attending a sales call to ask qualifying questions.
And last but not least, good luck.
Do Educate the C-Suite About Best Practices
No one wants to look like they don’t know what they’re doing. To avoid everyone throwing the initials “MQL” around to describe everything from an unknown prospect to a qualified opportunity (true story), work with your business leaders to define key metrics as early as possible.
Research best practices, join a slack channel or online forum to get advice, and talk to your network. Reading blogs like this one is a great idea, too (fun fact: you should bookmark us). Don’t go into a meeting with leadership without being armed with enough information to gently guide them in a good direction.
Don’t Skip Taxonomy
If you think data is boring, you’re probably not in revenue operations. We tend to see value in order and process, and we like to know that the data we’re pulling for key reports isn’t a mess. This requires some thought to go into naming conventions.
“It’s essential to get your framework in place for the reporting you want today and the reporting you know your leadership team will want in the future."
As an example, thinking through the ways you will need to organize marketing campaigns two or five years from now is very smart. Assume you’ll dabble in the usual channels, think about variations or sub-classifications you’ll need to support more detailed reporting, and anticipate the demand for some flexibility.
The only constants are change and RevOps technology skepticism.
Don’t Let People Forget You’re Limited By Your Tech
Striking a balance between realism and negativity is a delicate dance. I’ve yet to meet a leader who appreciates being repeatedly told that a request is impossible. They prefer solutions, not problems.
Not voicing a system limitation is setting yourself up for an even more disappointed executive team.
Recently, I helped a company assess its marketing reporting options within an obscure SFDC competitor. Having never worked with the platform before, I was unprepared for how misaligned their technical documentation was with reality.
They had screenshots of the system doing a thing, but the system absolutely does not do that thing in practice. Then begins a several-week waiting game bouncing around technical support tiers only to finally be told that the system is broken ("Thanks for bringing this to our attention!"), and your request is now on the developer's list of things to do. Some day. In the distant future.
We had to have a difficult conversation with the executive team. Campaigns were not associated with opportunities. They weren’t even associated with contacts and leads in a related object. They showed up on the screen but weren’t available in reports (it still blows my mind 🤯 ). This meant opportunity source reporting, funnel reporting, and marketing attribution reports were impossible with the technology they had in place.
Ultimately, they made the decision to stick with the tool and rely on proxy reporting (website analytics, form fills, online event registrations, and other disconnected reporting that is not integrated with the “source of truth” system) rather than invest in a more expensive solution.
Do Advocate for Scaling Your Team
This a lesson I wish I had learned much earlier in my career.
Do not let people punish you for being efficient.
Insist on scaling your organization proportionately to the departments you are supporting.
I have met a lot of brilliant RevOps professionals, and all of them are stunningly efficient. They can get more done in two hours than most people achieve during their entire workday. Because they prove themselves as competent, capable people, leadership tends to forget they’re also human.
It’s not sustainable to work 60-hour weeks for years at a time. Find a boss who will support you with additional resources when you need them. Don’t spend too much time working for a company that doesn’t value both your work and your health.
Don’t Let Execs Take Over Your CRM
Early in my career, I worked for a brilliant boss who hammered home that I was an advocate for people in the field. He forced each of us to participate in sales calls, ride alongs, and major meetings. We witnessed the stress of juggling a career on the road with an aggressive quota.
Executives frequently insist on data to help them make decisions. From their perspective, it’s a no brainer. They need a metric to figure out the source of an issue. Their employees are paid a salary, and data entry for the sake of selling more product is certainly part of fulfilling their job description.
Unfortunately, it’s never as simple as requiring one piece of information.
“I’ve seen salespeople feel like they aren’t a valued member of the company because of the volume of fields they have to fill out ‘before they can do their job.’ It’s not just the one request for data--it’s the holistic setup.”
Look beyond the single request and catalogue every validation rule and required field in the system. Without a cautious admin, end users are fatigued by system errors and begin getting sloppy. To get past a data-heavy screen, they’ll randomly select values and use the old standbys of “-” or “n/a” to get around thoughtfully supplying information.
If things are getting bad and your exec doesn’t heed your warnings, use a stopwatch to time people creating and editing a record. And if all else fails, make your executive sit and watch someone try to do these actions only to be thwarted by error after error.
Do Expect to Get Scrappy
You will be asked to do impossible things, you will educate your leadership team on the technical limitations you face, and you will still be told to “go figure it out.”
As long as you have a little budget to work with and some creativity, there is a solution that will get you through a number of months or years until you create a compelling argument for something better (and more headcount).
If you can’t afford a customer data platform or BI team, you may be able to put a stop-gap reporting solution in place with PostgreSQL and Power BI. If that fails, there’s always Google Sheets and G-Connector. And if that doesn’t work, you get to use Data Loader and CSV files.
While you don’t want to paint yourself into a corner, sometimes your only option is to stick a bandaid on what you’ve got.
Don’t Skip Establishing a Tool Review Process
Do you know the “shiny object” syndrome I mentioned earlier? The one where leadership runs after the next “silver bullet” SaaS solution?
If people are allowed to buy tools at their own discretion, it will lead to multiple tools that do the same thing. And somehow, they will come out of your budget. This will limit the dollars you have to spend on analytics tools that will help the rest of the business make better decisions.
“One big ‘don't’ that I learned is Do NOT say yes to every request for every new tool that someone wants. At one point, I ended up having 3-4 different vendors simultaneously providing us with prospecting data."
But it doesn't stop there. He goes onto say:
“This caused big data headaches. We had multiple fields that contained the same data from different systems. Then naturally the question is ‘which one is right?’ Then you can expect to ask ‘are any automation rules in SFDC tied to any of these fields? what happens when I sunset one of these?"
Last but not least, he says:
“To solve for this, I simply started requiring a business case from folks. It could be one paragraph, but I needed people to tell me what problem we were solving, what the ROI would be, and how they would measure success.”