HomeBlog Artificial Intelligence, Baseball Umpires and … Revenue Operations?

Artificial Intelligence, Baseball Umpires and … Revenue Operations?

April 01, 2019 | By Dana Therrien

  • Revenue operations is the next evolutionary step for sales, marketing and customer operations roles
  • People, companies and industries almost never disrupt themselves
  • Sales and marketing technology stack innovations are greatly outpacing organizations’ willingness to adapt

A while ago I wrote a blog post titled “Don’t’ Be Dumb: Why Artificial Intelligence Won’t Replace Smart Salespeople,” in which I referenced a conversation I had with senior AI executives and data scientists during a technology event. They had rented a suite to host clients and prospects, and while I sat there with them, I glanced over and noticed a baseball game on TV. Normally, baseball bores me to tears, but this particular game drew me in because I noticed that something had changed since I’d last watched a game – technology!

Admittedly, the last time I watched a baseball game was in the 1990s, so I was fascinated when I realized that after every pitch, the cameras were pinpointing the ball’s location within the strike zone. I asked the others in the room, “If the camera records balls and strikes, why do we still need umpires?” None of my colleagues had considered this before, so we discussed it. One theory was that umpires are needed to maintain tradition and to add excitement to the game. I said, “Interesting – but nah, we don’t need them – I’ll even say that they’ll eventually be eliminated!” Baseball player sliding into home plate

How can I, a non-baseball fan, be so bold in that prediction? It is the fact that I am not a fan that I have the ability to be dispassionate about the idea. Let’s face it – in practice, AI has already replaced umpires. They’re still around because the leagues fear the consequences of physically removing them. If I had the opportunity to speak to a baseball executive, I would point out that smartphones were not invented by a phone company. A horse-drawn carriage tycoon did not invent the automobile, and print publishers are hanging on to the bitter end as citizen journalists cart them off into oblivion. Now, I don’t believe someone will invent a better baseball game. Instead, there will be an integrated human digital sport that will gradually draw eyeballs away from baseball if someone doesn’t soon figure out a way to make it more interesting.

Everyone who was in that suite was there to discuss sales operations, and so, to return the conversation to that subject, I pointed out that the solutions AI companies are developing are doing to sales operations what technology is doing to umpires. In sales operations, managing forecasts, analyzing opportunities, projecting results and tracking activities used to make up the majority of our responsibilities. However, now manual spreadsheets, data dumps, dashboards and reports are “umpire-ishly” unnecessary!

I’m aware I’m not a baseball expert, so I thought it would be fun to test my theory on someone who is an expert – both in baseball and in revenue operations. I recently chatted with Brandon Roberts, former professional baseball player and revenue operations leader from MINDBODY, about the subject and here's what he had to say:

“I remember arguing every ball and strike call when I played ball,” Brandon recalled. There was a clear tension between player and umpire – and quite a few factors that swayed a call one way or another. There is little known skill that catchers have called ‘framing,’ where they trick the umpire by expanding the strike zone when a pitcher has more consistency. Moving to automate umpire calls would remove that ability to trick through that natural human bias. As far as embracing technology, it’s hard to imagine baseball not doing it considering they already allow instant replay analysis and other sports like tennis and football more heavily rely on technology as well.”

“As AI exerts its influence, it is a good reminder to continually level ourselves up in whatever we do,” he added. “In operations roles, we need to be less tactical (reporting and dashboarding) and more strategic (strategy development, interorganizational planning, process optimization across old silos). Tasks that are repetitive and routine are already being automated, even ones that have been around for more than 100 years like calling balls and strikes. At MINDBODY, we saw this coming. We adopted a chief revenue officer model. We combined operations functions, and that provided us the ability to make cross-organizational technology investments that provide wider insights and align us operationally as well as strategically. We now make decisions more quickly. Root cause issues are easier to identify and address and the bureaucratic decision-making delays have been all but eliminated.“

If you are a leader in sales operations, marketing operations, sales enablement or customer success – or even a chief sales officer, chief marketing officer or chief revenue officer – and have the courage to embrace what’s coming, I hope you will join us at Summit 2019 where Kerry Cunningham and I will present our forecast of what’s to come for these teams during our keynote presentation, “Revenue Operations: Now Is the Time.”

Emergence of Revenue Operations

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Dana Therrien

Dana Therrien is the Service Director of Sales Operations Strategies at SiriusDecisions. Dana is an expert in business planning, analytics and reporting, quota setting and management, territory design, sales process optimization, sales force automation, go-to-market strategy design and execution, sales compensation design, and administration. Follow him on Twitter @danatherrien.

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