Metadata: The Unsung Hero of Data Analytics- Brad Smith


Data is extremely important for organizations. If data doesn’t align between departments in an organization, something needs to change. In his presentation, Brad Smith talks about metadata, tech stacks, and aligning within an organization to improve efficiency. 


Brad Smith is the co-founder and CEO of Sonar Software, a company that enables teams to manage business-critical tech stacks.


Hello everyone, welcome to the RevTech Summit. I’m excited to be presented data especially about metadata, the unsung hero of data analytics. For those that have not had a chance to meet yet or have not spoken with Brett Smith, I’m the co-founder and CEO of Sonar in Atlanta, the best Atlanta based tech startup, as well as the founder of Wizard of Oz. It’s an online community for all operations professionals to together embrace all things operations and really help each other elevate and thrive. Like I said earlier, the topic that we’re really gonna be talking about today, near and dear to my heart, all things metadata. When we think about the world that we live in right now, as far as why data is even important and why we start thinking about data driven decisions. It’s important to understand what metadata is and how it actually plays into this. I’m sure a lot of folks are on this call and watching this. I heard the word metadata. You know what that is, but we’re gonna unpack it and we’re really gonna unpack why it’s so relevant to the data world we’re living in. This goes without saying but we are living in a world of immense amounts of data. We now have data warehouses, data lakes, data processors, and all things in between trying to help us understand and analyze how our business is functioning. See metadata be the unsung hero of all data analytics. While that might be a little bit of a polarizing statement, we’ll get into this in a second as to why it plays such a crucial role in your data analytics. I think that before we get too far into a granular example, to set the stage we’ve all been in one of these scenarios before where we talk about data for any of the executives in the room. We all get to sit in on board meetings, or at least get to be part of these high level conversations where we start to drive business decisions based on our data really showing based off of the performance that we’ve had in the past. So to set that stage, we’re in that boardroom environment. Sure if you want to start at the top of the funnel with marketing and work your way down. You hear the marketing leader at the end of the table. She stands up and says, you know, we had a phenomenal quarter last quarter we produced 5 million new pipelines. We passed that down to sales to go and close and pass the baton or the mic down to the sales leader and she stands up and says that’s funny. I didn’t see 5 million come through the pipeline does that’s all for but that’s okay because we closed 2 million of that for new business this quarter. Kind of get a little bit of a round of applause but you also get a couple eyebrow raises and that leader passes it over to the customer success leader and she stands up it’s funny I didn’t see 2 million come in and new business I saw 1.5 But that’s okay because we have 95% Gross retention 110% net and you know everybody still gives a reluctant round of applause and ultimately you look down at the the CEO or CFO or board members in this meeting and they kind of have their their hands in their face and this look of almost like shame but disappointment because data is not alive. And this can be true for a lot of companies. We’ve all been there where we’ve said hey, I’ve got this number, you’ve got this number wireway see different things. A lot of that comes down to the way you orchestrate your tech stack for one, how the systems are talking to each other, but also how metadata starts to align to how you start to think about looking at your data, what metrics are important. What are our key fields that we know definitively without any doubt, these drive the business forward. Those are pieces of metadata that house the data that we need to look at. But before we get too far, it is important just to look at what is the difference? You can see in this picture on the alert. This is not Salesforce or any other system or CRM. This is a spreadsheet and the best way to truly depict the difference between data and metadata. Data is actually what sits inside of a table metadata is your first row and your first column. So you start to think first name, last name, email, title, name, location, that first row all the way across are pieces of metadata that is really important for you understand that because those are essentially the pieces of glue that helps you tie systems together and start mapping out how these systems talk to each other. Of course, we’re using API calls to actually facilitate the talking. But when you think of endpoints, yes, I need to go through field mapping exercises that do things like post type first name in Salesforce to first name in our sales engagement tool. Let’s type in last name, the last name, let’s tie company name to company name, and that extends well past the sales engagement tool that is the same for marketing automation platforms, finance platforms, all things up and down the funnel and really what makes a business operate. But if you don’t know the true basics of that and you don’t know how your metadata is truly being used and how it’s starting to really get mapped. Between systems, you’re gonna be in for a world of hurt and ultimately your data is not going to be accurate in the sense that you can make very strong validated competent business decisions behind that. So when we really think about that it can be overwhelming I’m sure everybody on this you’re watching can say yeah, we’ve got a handful of systems that use those fields and we’ll extend a little bit outside of the the accountant contact object and we’ll start thinking of opportunities amounts. Geez, that’s such a massive field that we all use ultimately driving revenue for our business. We really need to know the source of the route of power mounts start to get calculated is that from a formula fuel is that from an automation is that from an integration, and again, if you don’t start to understand how these systems talk to each other and drive pieces of data, you can have the best tech stack in the world and use the best data processors and the best data warehouses and analytical tools for analyzing data that might not be accurate. And that’s why you have to have a keen sense as to what your metadata is actually doing. We’ll take a look real quick and this is public knowledge, get labs to market tech stack. As you can imagine, everything is hyper focused and Salesforce has been at the epicenter of that, but there are quite a few systems that start to connect to Salesforce all throughout the way. And when you look at an image like this and again, but then being so proud of their tech stack, but also being very transparent and showing this as an image, you can Google and start to look at git labs, tech stack this, it’s so important to understand how these fields are being mapped to each other, and how these pieces of metadata are really starting to be used. You can see here a couple different color coding pieces between marketing, sales, finance, legal. All of these departments are using these pieces of metadata for their own purposes. But sometimes they don’t know exactly how they’re shared and how they could use one piece and how it might affect another department or another user. And ultimately, sometimes what ends up happening is you start to think about your tech stack, and you start to really look at what the spaghetti behind the scenes can be. And this is one of these images. We actually use this on our website to help depict what a tech stack looks like and how confusing it can be without having a true metadata dictionary and understanding all the impacts are all the way all of your pieces of metadata along with data are being used. So the one thing to always keep in mind here if you don’t have a great picture of this, start asking yourself, Well if I add this new level of automation that is gonna break another automation, is it gonna perhaps hinder another integration? We just bought this new piece of software that everybody’s excited about? We’re not implementing that I might ask myself and my team members the right questions. Hey, is this gonna hinder any of your reports or the way that you use this field? Chances are yes, and we all know working in the businesses that we work in, that’s important to collaborate and communicate and understand how the rest of the business and using these pieces of metadata because ultimately the biggest thing that you want to make sure that you can prevent at all costs, is a way to not have that boardroom meeting that we talked about the very beginning. You want to make sure you have confidence when you’re presenting. It could be at a major level. It can be at an IC level, it can be at an executive level. But if you don’t have the confidence behind data that you’re showing, which again, can all stem from what your metadata is being used all these systems and automations and reports you can be in for a world of hurt. The one thing that I always tell folks here, you know, part of my growing in this rebab space was trying to figure out a tech stack of how these things move together. And I remember starting a company and not having this blueprint and not having all this proper documentation. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have some documents before I got there. So I’m here on this tech stack. And what ended up happening to me was, I put my old Salesforce consulting hat back on, went through and I really tried to document as much, but some things are very explicit, and you can see how they’re mapped. You see the field mapping schemas, some art and sometimes you don’t even know if a system is hooked up to your CRM or to other pieces of your tech. And you know, long story short, I am going to deploy a new solution for my team. Thought I did everything right again. I had my consultant back on from the days and I tested those in the sandbox. And pushed it up to production. Even stayed up late at night for a little over an hour and tested my solution and make sure that work, went to bed feeling competent in that knowing how my pieces of metadata were being used between all these systems and a new solution a bill woke up the next morning, clear approximately $18 million of recurring revenue out of our entire database. I’ll tell you right now, that’s not how you win friends and influence people. It’s in fact the opposite. It’s how you can find yourself locked in a conference room for a couple of days, trying to untangle this mess that we’ve shown with this image here. How did we get here? Why did we make this mistake that we made? And you know, it’s really because I didn’t have a blueprint, the way that I needed now, we’re going to go back to that metadata example that we showed earlier of the way that you can look at a spreadsheet and start to understand metadata data. Well, the things that we’ve now done with our station is help people see this in a live version. You can always see this blueprint, you always know how your data is being used and governed between different systems, as well as any underlying automations or integrations that are supporting it. I wish I had this part of one of the compelling reasons why we started the business that we did, so that we could solve this problem not only for ourselves, but for other folks who we know in the rev ops and sales ops and Salesforce ecosystem are struggling with this. But again, it comes down to understanding how these pieces of metadata are being used. You want to be able to prevent that story. Like I just told them. Oops, I thought I had my solution the right way but I guess I didn’t. And here we are, have cleared out so much revenue, which essentially here from a business impact perspective takes the wheels, the train off the tracks, the wheel stops spinning, you use whichever analogy you’d like to use, but when systems like this or when issues like this happen, what is really happening is you take most folks offline to fix your mess. You’re taking anybody’s quote offline. Time is money. If you take a CRM away from an SDR or an AE or a marketing team, they’re not able to run campaigns the right way, they’re not able to prospect the right way. Shoot you, take it away from us. They can’t bill. Customers hold it really making sure that revenue is coming in for and you know, if you take it away from customer success, how are they supposed to manage pipelines and so, or renewal cohorts? Ultimately, all of that comes into play now, when you understand if you don’t have this metadata mapped the right way and understanding how it should be used, who’s updating any piece of fields or metadata, it really can become cumbersome and it can ultimately insert a lot of doubt in the owner of the tech stack, whether that be sales ops, Reb ops, Salesforce admin, entire Salesforce team, they don’t have that confidence and clarity of how the metadata is being used between everything. Again, you’re going to be in for a little couple of surprises. A world of hurt, get very tactical with an example. Another other project that I worked on in the past. When I was at a company called Terminus we acquired a company called Bright funnel. And this is a great example of understanding metadata, and really understanding how it gets populated. Now, I didn’t go as far into actually showing syntax of formula fields and things like that. I want to run anybody away from the Salesforce ecosystem, but ultimately in that event Terminus acquires the right bundle. My job was to make sure that we got these two companies working together harmoniously and ultimately can start with how they start to use go to market technology in their favor. We’ve all worked with a field called total contract value or something of sorts. You pick your SAS acronym ARR, MRR TCD, etc. But in this example, total contract value. At the terminus, we had this as a formula field, it was MRR times months. Services, pretty straightforward. We have some onboarding services that we always had as part of our packages. And we’re acquiring right funnel was a similar formula, again, using other pieces of metadata, but it was ARR was onboarding services and onboarding pretty similar and I could do some data mapping when I’m doing my entire transition over but you know, the the big kicker here was MRR ARR because the one thing that you look at on the bright funnel side, I think at this point, we all know ARR is another formula field and that additional formula field is MRR times months. And when you zoom out of all of this and understand that we’re now using some of the same fields, maybe not some of the same fields. While the data is important, we have to get the data right. There’s a little bit of chicken and egg complex here that if you don’t have your metadata in a sound and understood way, you’re probably not going to do any of your data transfers or your data migrations over to that new CRM. Ultimately, we’re moving all that data from prior to fall into the terminus is CRM, and had we not gone to the depth of understanding our metadata in this example. There’s a good chance that it doesn’t migrate, I would have tested a few things and think it all works great. And somebody runs a report the next day and we take ourselves from a $20 million company to a $20 billion company because I didn’t understand how formulas were being used or what other pieces of metadata were being used inside. And so again, as we think about wrapping up here, we’re all working in a data driven society, a data driven mindset. We have to write as business leaders, as folks trying to grow our own business as well as help others grow. You have to be cognizant and aware that your data has to be ironclad and airtight and you have to feel very confident. You don’t get that level of confidence without going one layer deeper, and really understanding how your metadata is driving outcomes for that. Again, we take this as a personal, a personal way of approaching this in the ecosystem. We’re solving this for so many of our customers, you can understand why it’s so important to us, especially given some of the experiences I’ve had in my day of owning tech. Stacks and being a Reb ops leader. Again, for anyone that’s really wanting to understand this at a deeper level, love to chat with you about it, help you understand your metadata a little bit better and how your tech stack is evolving. Again, that’s the sweet spot for us and we really enjoy it. Thank you everyone for joining. I hope everybody has a great day and we’ll talk to you soon.