Hacking Tech Stacks
Up until the 2020s, it was hard to apply a strategy to blended tech stacks because frankly the revenue generation landscape – sales, marketing, and ops – was composed of purpose-built point solutions. Cobbled together with spit and ceiling wax, these specialized software offerings made for slapstick revenue “tech stack”. In truth, it was oftentimes comprised of disparate point solutions in a somewhat primitive piecemeal fashion that couldn’t communicate without .CSV files and FTP uploads.
Aaron “AIR” Ross burst onto the scene in 2011 documenting how he helped scale Salesforce from 0-100MM in the Oughts in the book “Predictable Revenue” applying the Henry Ford model to break the supply chain into Openers and Closers. Shout out to MaryLou Tyler on the case study. This became the “Bible of Silicon Valley Scaling.” In 2012 Phil Fernandez, the founder of Marketo, released “Revenue Disruption.” It was the first book to really popularize what would become Account Based Marketing addressing the full funnel. In 2015, Max Altschuler of “Sales Hacker” fame released the book “Hacking Sales.” It was an amazing distillation of every solo tool he’d leveraged to hack revenue growth at Udemy.
That same year Mark Roberge, CRO of HubSpot, released the book, “The Sales Acceleration Formula.” Max is unique because he hacked his tech stacks by himself at a startup putting it on the map and documenting it the deepest at the time. Mark is unique because he was an engineer by trade who approached Business Development, Demand Gen, and Sales Development work through a rigorous data driven lens, breaking down previous methods and models and constructing new systems. In 2015/2016 the luminous Jeremy Donovan and Marylou Tyler released “Predictable Prospecting” to bring further “process focus” to scaling outbound sales.
I share all these resources in the front of the book because how can we truly bring them to life? How can we apply them? We are living in a unique moment where very soon we can scale and automate them all. Soon to sprout are the many derivations of the seeds planted therein.
It’s wild thinking how primitive our sales tech was even 5 years ago. With the accelerating, blistering pace of technology, within half that time we should be 3-5X further. It’s time to get a lot smarter about leveraging advanced technologies to market, sell, and measure revenue so we don’t lose our jobs to AI or someone that got ahead of us on the learning curve.
Hence why I’ve dedicated considerable time, research, and years developing a concept of TQ and teaching people how to build it up. Technology Quotient is the measurement of how much you fuse with machines, UI, UX and tech platforms. Believe it or not, we all have a TQ score. It can be improved scientifically just like EQ and IQ have been proven. IQ informs EQ, and EQ informs TQ. The first biggest quantum leap is adopting a growth mindset vs. fixed mindset popularized by author Carol Dweck in her book, “Mindset.” Stop believing you are born with some inherent aptitude for your tech. No one is born coding in Python. They learned, they just were a bit more open. Sure, they may have aced calculus, but plenty got an A on sheer determination alone. I can barely handle business accounting, but I aced Trigonometry by dint of work ethic and sheer force of will.
Maybe being “bad at math” or “it didn’t come easy” – Geometry did – and still getting competent at it is why I excelled at tech stacks. I remember how hard it was setting up custom fields in a Sequencer the first time I did it. But it got so much easier with every repetition.
The reason being, Marketing Automation and “Inbound” Marketing were getting all the love in the realm of product roadmap innovation from the major acquisitive players: Salesforce, Adobe, Oracle, Microsoft.
And for good reason… systems that could drip messages to prospects, score the interaction and keep them warm on the back burner were a genius idea to create a foundation for full-funnel marketing. Inbound Marketers also broke major ground on permission-based (opt-in) marketing systems and personalization at scale with the advent of HubSpot and Marketo’s dominance. Salesforce entered the fray with Pardot. Marketing automation was all the rage with splashy acquisitions for social listening tech like Radian6, Buddy Media, and Vitrue.
We thought we had it made relying on Inbound plus bulk email for outbound. And wow was it predictable. You could send 700 emails and get 12 meetings predictably. This was the era of MMWYS and cold email mastery templates. The phone was still alive and well too with 7 contacts 10. Now you’re lucky to connect with 5 humans on 100 tries unless you utilize a parallel assisted dialer.
In the Roaring 2020s, it is time to go from Marketing with ABM (account-based marketing) to ABSD: account-based sales development, a phrase that Lars Nilsson coined at Cloudera running sales development.
But something happened to follow up the successful Predictable Revenue model(s) of the SDR-AE Industrial Complex; so much tech got funded and scaled so fast by 2021 that sales teams started to get overwhelmed by stack overflow.
Frankenstack n. A disjointed system that doesn’t necessarily talk to each other out-of-the-box emerged. Isn’t that what you see in your own company? Here’s what happens when you combine a siloed revenue machine – the combination of sales, operations, and marketing – with a Frankenstack: systems operate independently and since they’re incentivized without interoperability in mind, each silo adopts a shopkeeper mentality and sales development turns into a cost center. Marketing thinks everything is fine since they delivered on leads, Operations thinks everything is fine since the reports are clean and sales has a pool of leads and contacts to draw from. Then the sales director gets fired after three bad quarters since the poor soul hired 10 SDRs to clean out the Salesforce instance and make phantom dials.
To sell is to affect behavioral change. So, there were first attempts to change the system (one that I participated in at OutboundWorks with Ben Sardella!) to work within it but seek to replace XDRs with AI/ML. The sheer pace of technology change and funding is in counterpoint to the speed that firms are cutting/consolidating tooling in the crisis. Revenue and Operations leaders are seeking cost efficiency in the pandemic and cutting back on tools. So now we have a limited Frankenstack. Paradoxically it’s never been more important to invest in tech stacks to get them right, to build the glue.
We are also in an era where fundamental automation technologies are nearly free.
There are two ways to fix the problems of solutions not talking to each other. Either think like Tony Stark re-engineered a more insanely automagical JARVIS or be like MacGyver and hyper-optimize the scrappy stack you’ve got with the eye and mind of a classic entrepreneur. From less, even more! Let’s explore the two paths.
Use what you’ve got. Best way to do this – Tray, Zapier, Workato, and Syncari. Build zaps as the API glue so the systems talk. Use a grappling hook and a hairpin to diffuse a nuclear submarine.
Converged systems – look for solutions like RingDNA that blend a Dialer, ConversationalAI, and Sequencing
Bonus path – Iron Man:
Go best-of-breed and hold a bakeoff across the following layers in the outbound tech stack: Marketing Automation, Sales Automation, Business Intelligence, Revenue Intelligence, Trigger Events, Intent Data, Forecasting, etc.
Jared Robin has a unique talk on these issues as the co-founder of RevGenius. He’s also an experienced XDR and suggests thinking of stacks as three paths.
- The first is the affordable stack where you might spike the ball with a couple of point solutions. You optimize what you have especially if you’re a one-human show.
- The second path is getting a sequencer in place for early automation.
- The third path is a free-for-all where you combine and AB tests many combinations until you crack your funnel.
The most important thing for building tech stacks is getting similar vendors to bake off inside your instance. You need the chance to try before you buy.
It’s also critical to whiteboard out your process before you start to automate and scale it. Otherwise, you’re just amplifying junk! GIGO – Garbage in, garbage out.
Revenue Operations or RevOps is the hottest new category of technical operations inside fast-moving SaaS tech companies. This is the confluence of Sales Operations and Marketing Operations. These folks do so much more than pulling pretty reports in Salesforce. They provide the full marketing attribution waterfall to justify the investments in all the tools. They are building the API glue and integrations, so systems talk to each other.
What does it take as a mindset to be less technology avoidant? Many sellers I talk to say, “Look, I’m not technical. I’m a people person. That’s why I got into sales.” It’s a myth. The purpose of my work is to show you how easy it really is to become stronger with tech stacks, Revenue Operations (RevOps), and automation. Start today by dusting off your tech stack.
And we all have a tech stack… Do you use Google Apps aka GSuite? How about Microsoft Excel, Salesforce, HubSpot or Slack? I bet you didn’t think that was a tech stack. But think about how much technology you have for free in 2020 as compared to even 2015? One of the best analogies for the need to increase one’s TQ is Excel. We all only use about 5%. Imagine just 5% more and learning basic macros and pivotal tables?
I’ve sold technology, especially SaaS for 13 years. I’ve learned that everyone is in some dynamic state along a spectrum from crawl, to walk, to run. All that matters is we take the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen or “continuous improvement.” 1% improvement every day creates orders of magnitude gains later.
I anonymously asked an RG member about successful stacks. First comment was amazing. He said he’d never seen one optimized and actually successful. Another friend wrote:
“Everything from product marketing to marketing to marketing ops to sales ops to biz dev to sales — have 0 breakdowns in that pathway is the problem I want to solve. I wouldn’t say our tech stack is perfect, you have a bunch of leaders who come in and screw everything up and change things because they are innovating or trying to look good or somewhere in between – plus when you have multiple admins and certain ones LOVE governance. You have a lot of messes to clean up! Therefore, I can tell you ideally what a perfect sales tech stack looks like in a vacuum utopia! But when there’s all the other factors—it’s like what was mentioned. Expect some level of mess between who uses the data and how it’s getting populated and work your best to automate and make money.”
Modern tech stacks are intuitively built, and many have WYSIWYG interfaces. That means what you see is what you get. Learning them is quite like basic piano or riding a bicycle. The more you utilize these every day the more second nature. You gain an unconscious competence similar to how you felt driving for the first time vs. now when you can rock out to tunes and flawlessly navigate the 405 freeway in LA.
My first foray into tech stacks was YesWare and ToutApp. These simple applications allowed me to schedule my emails, create templates, and track opens. I later matured to Groove.co (which just raised 12M) and then into power using Outreach, SalesLoft, and Reply.io. I think we all have a story of technology adoption that we inherit from a company we work at. On the marketing front I was trained at Salesforce on Pardot which is a competitor to Marketo.
Over the years, I spent a lot of time inside LinkedIn Groups looking for tips and tricks on stacks. I struck up relationships with our Sales Operations leaders who helped my teams craft reports and were frequently testing new technologies. The CMOs and heads of Demand Gen helped me to get these stacks funded, including purchasing data from just about every provider you can imagine: SalesIntel.io, Seamless.ai, DiscoverOrg (now part of) ZoomInfo, and LeadIQ.
My advice for tech stacks is to start out by pulling fully away from the tech and mapping out a “sound” process on a whiteboard or in LucidChart. Map out your full revenue cycle. How do you market – acquire, engage, retain, and grow your clients. What are all the touchpoints? Then map the current systems over the top of this schematic. Then ask yourself and your team as you collaborate, where are the blockages? Where are the poor customer experience points? What is strong that we can magnify?
As you look across the funnel, there’s not a single layer of analog process that has not been subject to Automation, AI and ML attempts. I say this because many vendors make wild, “magic bullet” claims. Sometimes the AI piece is just rule-based automation or “if this, then that” decision trees masquerading as artificial intelligence. Make sure to check G2 Crowd or Capterra reviews to ensure you’re getting a strong understanding of strengths, weaknesses, and integration.
And now the fun begins. Inbound? Outbound? SDRs? AEs? Managers? Coaching? Reporting? Forecasting? There’s a tech stack and many vendors for each one! There is no paint by number. I assure you, all companies believe that they are a unique snowflake and that a bespoke solution must be built, configured, and optimized. Its’ not always the case – over time solutions that plug and play out of the box for startups will get bought up and consolidated for the enterprise. Just imagine for a moment if Salesforce swooped in and got Outreach (Sequencer), ZoomInfo (data: dials & emails), Bombora (Intent Signals) and Gong.io and unified that into the Salesforce Sales Cloud to bolster HVS – High Velocity Sales, their current Sales Engagement Platform.
This is where we get into the anatomy of true “growth hacking.” You’re trying to optimize for quantity and quality of lead acquisition, pipeline and revenue. Ultimately, profit margin. Oh yeah, profit – remember that! The ultimate growth hack? Crushing your tech stack for absolute free: sweat equity, your effort, and ingenuity. You can find 75 free systems for every paid. There are collectives of Hackers that will help you. Ask about Wizard of Ops and SalesStack.io specific communities similar to RevGenius, many RevGenius members are in both.
Step one, optimize the stack you have however humble it is. As you learn about all the new marketing automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning derived solutions, go on G2 crowd and seek out alternatives. Post in the RevGenius slack channel for Technology Stack. A group of RG members recently dropped into an impromptu RevOps sessions where we coached a fellow member on a specific stack. We loved it so much we wanted to make it into a show! 5-10 people pop into a Zoom take on a stack and brainstorm ways to optimize it. Maybe that’s Sales Navigator, Outreach.io and ZoomInfo. Maybe that’s MixMax, Seamless.ai, and TryLavender.com.
Ryan Hiscox writes, “Building a sales machine today is an extreme challenge. Buyers only want to be contacted when they are 80% of the way to making a decision. Sellers need to be able to predict the precise moment and reach out with an insightful message to teach a professional buyer things they haven’t heard in their own industry. Basically, sales teams need to perform a magic trick just to do a decent job, while providing a satisfactory customer experience that aligns with the corporate brand. We don’t have magic but the closest thing to it is a strong tech stack.” – Ryan Hiscox
Conclusion – Tech stacks are changing at a breakneck speed. How are you optimizing what you have or consolidating it? How are you making these systems talk? What are you evaluating to become better, more efficient, human meets machine – superhuman?