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Revenue Operations

Why Generalists Make the Best RevOps Leaders 2021

Now that I think about it, I’ve always had some ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) tendencies in me.

Well, not necessarily in the clinical sense. More in the “always trying new things, multi-tasking with sporadic hobbies” sense.

As a kid, it was sports. I played every sport under the sun at some point. Soccer, basketball, golf, hockey, swimming…you name it; I tried it. It wasn’t until high school that I narrowed in on soccer as my sport of choice.

Then, like many entering college, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. But I was ‘good’ at math, so I picked Engineering. And no, I haven’t touched it since.

My personal life is similarly filled with sporadic hobbies. I’m the type of person that is ALL IN on something for a 3-6 month period. I obsess over a new hobby, live and breathe it daily until *whoosh* on to the next one, leaving a trail of random gear and items in my wake.

Naturally, this has translated into my career journey. With roots at a start-up boutique consulting firm, I’ve been the traditional “jack of all trades” many times.  I’ve spent significant time in business development, sales, consulting, customer engagement, marketing, and now revenue operations.  Not to mention the random hats I’ve worn from time to time filling gaps.

I know I’m not alone on this journey. While it’s a fun ride, it’s natural to feel “behind” at times, especially watching others become more specialized in their craft when I just start a new “fad” of my career.

But then a mentor recommended the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. And it changed my perspective.

As David Epstein quotes, “Our work preferences and our life preferences do not stay the same because we do not stay the same.” It’s OK to be a Generalist, an all-around athlete, a jack of all trades. You aren’t falling behind, and in many cases, you are getting ahead. What matters most is how you leverage the lessons along the journey.

At around the same time, I realized that I was beginning a new portion of my career in sales and marketing operations.  I immediately was enthralled by my Ops role with constant problem-solving. And my new perspective created a match made in heaven.

It wasn’t until I made a random LinkedIn post on “11 Reasons you know RevOps is for you” that I realized I wasn’t alone. This was BY FAR the most engagement I’ve received on a post because every RevOps leader had the same experience.

That’s when it hit me.

In the highly specialized world of Sales/Marketing/Revenue Operations, Generalists thrive. Before we get too far ahead, let’s set the groundwork on Revenue Operations and what it means to be a “Generalist.”

What is RevOps?

Revenue Operations, or RevOps for short, focuses on driving growth by creating alignment and improving operational efficiency across Sales, Marketing, and Customer Engagement.

As Jeff Ignacio outlined, Revenue Operations is an old concept but a new organizational structure. At its core is continuous problem solving across an organization. Effective RevOps leaders can break down a problem, zoom in and out of detail based on the audience, and lead a team to create both technical and strategic solutions.

While specialization is required in some cases, effective RevOps leaders solve problems that span a wide spectrum of complexity across multiple departments.

So, What is a Generalist?

In Range, David Epstein explains the concept of Generalists through incredible stories. My personal favorite compares the careers of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. Most people recognize these individuals as legendary figures in Golf and Tennis, but few know their background.

Tiger Woods was coached by his father from a very young age to focus exclusively on golf. He embodied Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hours” theory to become hyper-specialized in golf, leading him to become arguably the greatest golfer of all time.

Federer, on the other hand, was more like me as a kid. He tried every sport imaginable. His mom was a tennis coach, yet he was encouraged to try everything, which eventually led him back to tennis. Despite a different path, Roger Federer is arguably one of the greatest tennis players of all time. He didn’t excel because of hyper-specialization. Instead, he excelled because of the balance of skills he gained through varying life experiences.

Generalists adaptively learn through new experiences. They excel personally and professionally by applying lessons learned to novel situations. They are the MacGyvers of real life, solving problems in unique ways that many would overlook.

Why Generalists Make Great RevOps leaders

RevOps is a field where technical expertise is often required. There are markets of individuals with careers in hyper-specialized areas of RevOps like Salesforce administration, Marketo consulting, and more.

But effective leaders? They are able to step away from the technical weeds and embrace their inner-generalist.

Now sure, there are many leaders from technical backgrounds, but the skills required to effectively lead in Revenue Operations align directly to the advantages gained by Generalists.

So why are they so effective?

1. Generalists understand the true nature of a problem

“Whether chemists, physicists, or political scientists, the most successful problem solvers spend mental energy figuring out what type of problem they are facing before matching a strategy to it, rather than jumping in with memorized procedures.” – David Epstein

Before solving a problem, effective Rev Ops leaders MUST be able to diagnose the situation properly.

“Is this problem as serious as it seems? Is this a short-term fix or a more strategic overhaul? What is the appropriate priority, and who owns it?” These are only a few questions that often run through RevOps leaders’ minds when diagnosing the problem.

Generalists understand how to break down a problem with a diverse set of problem-solving experience before launching into execution mode.

2. Generalists use cross-functional learnings to solve problems

“Everyone is digging deeper into their own trench and rarely standing up to look in the next trench over, even though the solution to their problem happens to reside there.” – David Epstein

When individuals are hyper-specialized, or worse, working in silos, solutions can often be overlooked. Or even if the correct solution is found for one team, the cross-functional impacts aren’t fully understood.

With responsibilities that span across multiple departments, RevOps leaders understand cross-functional problems and embrace cross-functional solutions. They align teams and processes together to enable growth for the entire organization.

And when problems aren’t cross-functional? They recognize learnings that can be applied from one group to the next, one system to the next or one process to the next.

3. Generalists leverage the benefits of a breadth of experience

“Breadth of training predicts breadth of transfer. That is, the more contexts in which something is learned, the more the learner creates abstract models, and the less they rely on any particular example. Learners become better at applying their knowledge to a situation they’ve never seen before, which is the essence of creativity.” – David Epstein

Breadth of experience is how Roger Federer has excelled. It’s how most Generalists excel. And it’s why RevOps leaders excel.

The vast majority of RevOps leaders, at least currently, didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a “Head of Revenue Operations.” Instead, they grinded their way through a journey like mine, trying new things along the way until they stumbled upon Operations.

This breadth of experience often passed through roles they currently support, both as an individual contributor and a leader. In addition to helping their problem-solving abilities, this previous experience places them in the shoes of those they support, leading to more effective solutions.

Embrace your Inner Generalist

Never thought of yourself as a Generalist? Or have you felt like you are being ‘left behind’?

Then it may be time to embrace your inner-generalist.

Practice new things. Use personal and organizational change to your advantage. Encourage new experiences, both professionally and personally. Embark on the journey of a Generalist by keeping an enthusiastic attitude towards continuous learning.  That extra hat you temporarily put on doesn’t have to be a stressor. It just might be the key to unlocking a future solution.

And if you are ever in doubt, I’ll leave you with one last quote:

“Compare yourself to yourself yesterday, not to younger people who aren’t you… you probably don’t even know where exactly you’re going, so feeling behind doesn’t help.” – David Epstein

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