Information to the Edge: Revenue and Financial Operations at Column

By Lea Boreland · June 16, 2021

One of the operating principles we preach at Column is to “never stop learning.” We believe that we have a huge opportunity to put that principle into practice when it comes to our company’s internal data infrastructure.

This infrastructure is a key focus of our revenue and financial operations, sitting at the juncture of several systems that inform our ongoing narrative of the business — from the software that we use to track our sales pipeline to the tool that stores our business KPIs. We view the project of producing from these systems a constant stream of usable, investigable data as a key ingredient to enabling our team’s curiosity.

Here’s one way to think about it: If an average employee has a question about sales or customer success or even unit economics, how difficult is it for them to investigate it themselves?

The more difficult it is for the employees working directly with customers and prospects to ask and answer their own idiosyncratic questions about the business, the less the company can learn from that ground-level experience, the slower you are to iterate, and the more you limit and frustrate your most curious employees. Plus, if you aren’t enabling folks to ask the hard questions, they may very well forget to keep asking them.

This is where revenue and financial operations steps in to make usable, investigable data available at the edges of the organization. Our goal is to enable each employee to investigate all of their own hypotheses, such that we are forever increasing the surface area of the questions we are asking as a company.

Accomplishing this requires some work against inertia. We live in a world where the default is many, many softwares: an internal tool or two for every team at every company. Despite the fact that any given one of these systems of record promises to make us “data-driven,” in tandem they are not all automatically aligned with our most important realities as a business: those of our employees or our customers or our revenue.

Here is our four-step strategy to ensure we have the data at our disposal to never stop learning from our employees and our customers:

  1. Put all the data in one place. Revenue ops, along with our technical team, does the hard work of pulling data from disparate sources into one big data lake, and stringing it together across the customer and financial journey. From the very beginning, our CTO prioritized this coherent, organized data collection.
  2. Require only one language for asking questions against the data. We want it to be easy for our team members to be curious, so we don’t require them to cobble together disparate data sources to answer a question. At Column, data from across the customer journey is all funneled into Google Data Studio, a single system that nearly everyone at the company knows how to and is empowered to utilize.
  3. Uphold the principle of parsimony in data collection. We collect only the most important data fields and guard their quality steadfastly. For example, our CRM has less than 15 core fields that will be filled out across the buying journey, and every single one is reinforced by either a validation rule, an automated workflow, or a check in a documented manual process. This is important because no matter how curious folks are, and no matter how few places one has to go to access data, no one wants to sort through one hundred fields to find the one that is going to answer their question.
  4. Scaffold employee curiosity with process. In addition to maintaining data access and quality, our revenue operations function hosts recurring meetings to encourage conversation, bottleneck identification and solution generation on the team. Rather than the tail wagging the dog, employee curiosity generates operational improvement ideas which produce executional change.

By taking these four steps, we push data to the edge and empower employees to ask the hard questions about our business. Our team is growing rapidly, and as we scale, we believe that sharing knowledge is key to working collaboratively and achieving our goals as a company. The principle “never stop learning” guides our everyday work. This is just one piece of how we aim to put that principle into practice.

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