The board just met and we have new revenue targets. So, how exactly are we going to increase our sales velocity this quarter?
Craig Rosenberg, Co-Founder and Chief Analyst at TOPO, says that in order to increase sales velocity you have to step back and carefully evaluate each step in the sales process for latency. And, sales operations is really the only role with all the necessary information for a proper examination.
Sales Operations has been a critical function at B2B companies for some time now. It’s now indispensable. When it comes to increasing revenue, accelerating sales velocity, forecasting, and more, the C-Suite looks to Sales Operations for answers.
So, what separates a good sales ops professional from a great sales ops professional?
In this video, Craig Rosenberg discusses the state of sales operations and dives deep into the trends and forces shaping the future of the role.
The entire transcript from LeadGenius’ conversation with Craig Rosenberg can be found below:
William Wickey: To start off, tell us about yourself and what your priorities and responsibilities are as co-founder and chief analyst of TOPO.
Craig Rosenberg: Sure. My name is Craig Rosenberg. I’m the Chief Analyst and Co-Founder of TOPO. We’re a research advisory and consulting firm that’s focused on studying the world’s fastest growing companies across their demand generation, sales, dominant sales and taking those findings and producing actionable advice and advisory for our clients.
William: Who are some of the types of customers you work with at TOPO? And what are some of the main pain points you saw for the areas you just mentioned?
Craig: Our customers are primarily B2B. Today, primarily tech. We’ve really made our name by focusing on fast-growing companies, SaaS and B2B. We have companies ranging from LinkedIn, Google and ServiceNow, to the, Ring Centrals and Twilios of the world and a smattering of younger emerging companies in the A and B range.
I’d love to say that the target market in and of itself is B2B in primarily tech, but it’s a range of sizes. I think the reason we’ve been able to grow the way we have is this idea that we’re looking for what the best companies in the world are doing. When we started it, we said, “Well, that’s probably for companies that aren’t doing that and wanna know it.”
But actually what we learned is, yes, that’s part of our target market, but the other half is that we learned that the best companies in the world are the best companies in the world because they want to know what the other best companies in the world are doing. So that idea that we’re on the cutting edge of figuring out what’s working and what’s not, today in the business, has really resonated with our customers.
The other thing is we have a motto: “Specificity wins.” Because when we started the company, we realized there is a ton of information out there. If I wanted to figure out like how do my content marketing strategy, you type that into Google, you will get a million returns, right? But what we learned, what the market wanted to know is, how do you go do it? What are the specifics about it? And so that’s what our motto. What we’ve strived for the whole time is can we take things from frameworks and concepts into operational ideas for our clients, and that’s resonated for them.
In terms of the challenges and pains, I’ve learned one thing: that even when things are going well, everyone’s trying to plug holes and/or look for upside. And so that’s been good for our business. If I had to survey the customer base for trends and pains, it’s actually a range of different things, and it’s a range of companies: from those struggling, to those driving to the top. But like I said, all of them have things that they could do better, and they turn to us to help them go figure out what those are and how to go do it.
William: What exactly does success look like for those companies? Where are they at when they engage in a relationship with TOPO? What areas are you guys helping them focus on to the achieve their corporate objectives?
Craig: We have three different practices.and the lift will depend on what they’re trying to solve. They may come in and say, “You know, we feel like we need to optimize the sales development team,” for example. Well, there’s two points of lift maybe. One is more sales qualified leads. The other might be, looking into what’s happening in there and say, “But there’s real lift against this KPI of getting more email replies or higher conversion rate of connects to SQL.” So we look for the big lift, and then we look for the KPIs that can achieve that lift. We focus on those when we work with our clients.
But if we use sales development, for example, we’ve seen clients lift their SQL rates from 30% to 100%. It depends on how drastic it is, but that’s how we want to think about things. We typically work with customers over a year and so, we work with them as these things change and happen. When we do, we say, “Well, if the ultimate KPI is to get 2X the number of SQLs you’re trying to achieve, what is it going to be like in three months, in six months when we work with them. It doesn’t do anybody any good if we say, we come in and magically you get 2X, right? But that’s an example of what people and I do.
On the sales side, everyone’s looking for more revenue, but once again, you want to sort of pinpoint where the latency is in the sales process. And we’ll take that, and we’ll say, “Let’s fix this conversion rate.” A classic conversion rate issue is from first call to, frankly, next step. It’s the biggest drop off point, when sales get their first call, everything drops off. So, can we focus in on that and help with that? And we look for conversion rate lifts there. Again, it depends on where they are. But you can be talking for some, lift of 30% to a 100%, 120%. It depends on where they are.
The key is focus on, ‘what is that area?’ What is going to provide the most lift? You can’t just say I want more revenue. Everyone wants more revenue. You have to say, “I want more revenue, so let’s go look at the steps that it takes to get to closed business, and let’s go figure out where latency is. Let’s hone in there, and let’s go fix the metrics of that certain point in time.” That’s how you want to think about it.
William: You’re presenting at Clari EXCEED in May. What will you be talking about there?
Craig: Well, the Clari Conference is a very unique conference where a guy like me, who’s used to throwing up slides and speaking, and doing the song and dance, I’m actually going to be in rooms with other sales ops people, facilitating discussions and talking about things like forecasting, opportunity-to-close and coaching, and all the things that happen. They’re really focused on what they call opportunity-to-close, which is an area of passion for me as well.
But there are a lot of topics in there. There’s forecasting. There’s, I say coaching, but really that’s about being able to truly identify a sales rep in the quarter, or the team in the quarter, and identify the accounts that you want to be working on and helping them figure out where they should be spending their time. All of these things are important issues that go along with the sales ops function, but specifically, go along with this opportunity-to-close function.
I have to tell you, I’m actually really excited because, like I said, normally I’ll throw up a deck, talk and it’s a one-way thing. This one, I get to just watch peers interact and talk about what they do. And so it’ll be really fun for me, I’m pretty excited about it.
William: In the Clari motto, the theme is to invent the future of sales operations. Now, what do you see as the future of sales operations near-term and longer term?
Craig: Everyone’s like, you know, let’s talk about sales ops. Well, the first thing you have to realize is that there really wasn’t sales ops before. Then they were just report-fetchers or, as one mediocre sales op person described himself to me, he said, “I’m there to do whatever sales wants.” That’s not very strategic.
Their next evolution has been strategic. They are literally now the strategic partner of the VP of sales. A VP of sales is what, 18 to 22 months in the seat? Who’s going with them first? The top rep? No. Their sales ops person. When they get a sales ops person, they keep ’em because these guys are the strategic leaders of the go-to-market, of the process in owning not just the tech stack, but the entire process of what it’s going to take to operationalize, systematize, and make repeatable the business of getting closed deals.
The sales ops thing has gotten me really excited. It’s so cool. And I always go to sales leaders when they have a great sales ops and ask, “What the hell did you guys do before?” They’ll admit, what they did before was they got a number. They got some bags. They hired some people. Got some data sheets and just tried to slug it out. Now they’ve got the sales ops folks that can come in and put a system in place for them and allow them to have a step-by-step approach that’s managed every day, every minute of the selling and provide visibility and all the things these guys need to run a modern successful sales force.
So the future, what could come out of sales? I mentioned before, one of the things that Clarity has been focused on is opportunity-to-close, which is from the point in time when a sales rep creates an opportunity to the point of close. So it’s actually one of those terms that’s really obvious. But it is intriguing to me because it feels like we spent a lot of time fixing prospecting, we’ve had really incredible apps built on the end, those have been two optimizations.
The middle is where we sell. We haven’t spent enough time there. We haven’t spent enough time figuring out what’s going wrong there and how we can fix it from process, methodology, and tech. And so, sales ops is gonna help solve that. How do they solve it? Well, there are a couple things that I think we can focus in on. So one is, obviously, feasibility. Forecasting is a terrible process, right? Even for those that think they do it well, it’s an extremely laborious process with paper, spreadsheet, etc. I mean, it’s just hard.
But number two, people always think of forecasting as what you provide the board. But actually that visibility into what’s happening in the quarter is really powerful. It’s beyond that. It allows frontline coaches to figure out what sales reps should work on. It allows sales reps to figure out what they should work on, because time is the enemy of a salesperson. And in the middle, what we find is even your best sales reps only have a certain amount of time to figure out what they can close this quarter or this year or whatever. And so making really good decisions about what they should work on, is actually a really powerful concept.
Overall I think sales ops, they are building this platform, this entire sort of visibility platform. And if you are to sum up, what I said where we’re going to be in the future, we can’t just make it a reporting thing. How is that next layer going to enable reps, frontline coaches and leaders to be able to help everyone make good decisions and close more business?
For a lot of people, they’ll say that’s predictive in AI, right? I think everyone I’ve talked to would agree, yes, that’s coming. Are we there yet? Probably getting there but everyone’s not necessarily feeling comfortable about that. Who’s gonna lead that charge? It’s sales ops. And how do we think about it? We have to think about it in terms of AI and predictive and allowing for better decision-making. And then, ultimately, hopefully, helping recommend what we should do next.
Those things won’t replace salespeople, which, an intellectually lazy person will automatically gravitate towards. It actually makes sales reps more efficient. It makes frontline coaching more efficient. And so there’s a lot of fun we could have in the middle, right there in that middle of the funnel, and it’s crazy because it’s the most important place.
If you think about that, if sales ops has become the most important person in the organization today, think about how much more important they’re going to be, if they build this platform that allows people to move faster and do their work in a more efficient and effective way in that core area of the funnel. That will make them even more powerful. It’s a very intriguing time from the sales ops perspective.
William: As the strategic leaders of sales organization, what are some of the benchmarks a sales ops person should be measured by? What separates a good sales ops professional from a great sales ops professional?
Craig: First, there’s a difference between the strategic sales ops team and the tactical team. Like I’d mentioned earlier, the tactical team just fetches reports, is constantly in reactive mode. I don’t know if that will ever go away, but an effective sales ops team can actually, A, tie themselves to the number, B, tie themselves to metrics points throughout the entire funnel that they want to optimize, and tie themselves to those various KPIs. So, they might say deal velocity, sales cycle time. They might say ACV or deal size.
I feel like today with the power that sales ops can have, the effect that they can have on the organization, that we should allow them to sort of tackle big strategic metrics; what that is every year and every quarter, I think it depends on the organization. But if I had to say, “Well, what would be the benchmark?” I’d say most of them are tied somewhere to revenue and others are sort of tied to strategic sales metrics. It could be anything from sales cycle to flow throughout the sales process. It depends on the organization. I think we’re still learning.
William: You are one of the progenitors and biggest advocates of account-based strategy, account-based marketing, account-based everything. What function does sales operations role play in adopting an account-based strategy?
Craig: Companies are moving in droves to an account-based strategy, and I think we all recognize that. Even people that pooh-pooh it, they don’t pooh-pooh it because they don’t believe it’s real. Actually, they pooh-pooh it because they’re like, “Well, it was always account-based.”
You know, they would say, “Well, it’s better to do X.” But, most people, even those that complain, recognize that targeting and being able to focus your efforts against your ideal customer profiles is a good thing.
So the vast majority of B2B companies are moving to it. And so the way it affects sales and sales ops, there are actual, technical and process issues that come along with it. It feels like everyone for the last 15 years optimized themselves for what we call the volume and velocity game, which was that digital demand generation leads come in and they’re thought of as one singular lead in piece. Sales development filtered through them. Chuck them in, chuck them out, right? If they went in, they moved into the next stage. And everyone optimized for that.
Now, sales ops has to figure out, how are we going to manage ourselves as all these new issues arises? We need to now get everyone true visibility into an account. We need to be able to create processes that allow whatever routes people come in, whatever interactions or touches come in, how can that end up either in the account or have visibility into what those things are in the account? So everything now centers around the account of the contact, and that’s new for a lot of companies.
It’s a change in how you think about, but it’s a process issue as well because there are a couple things that I really believe that we’re seeing, which is account-based and the customer experience movement. It’s like the whole promise of CRM was to give us visibility into everything that happened to an account or contact with us as a company, whether it was they downloaded a white paper or they went to an event six years ago.
All of those things, that was the promise. That’s what we’re supposed to know. I feel like we never really got there and we’re always moving fast. Leads are coming through. Now you’re in an account-centric point of view. So we need information, everything about that account. We need to have a full set of 100% filtered, verified contacts. We have to know the stakeholders, the account maps, and all of these things. We have to know all the information, the touches, the interactions, the engagement score of that account. We want to know external information about that account, what’s happening. All of these things that we’ve talked about for a long time become real and acute now in an account-based strategy.
And sales ops is actually the one who’s saying, “Okay, got it. I love this account-based. Boy, now I gotta go figure this stuff out.” And so that’s a lot of things that I feel like sales ops is figuring out, whether it’s something as tactical as contact to account matching, to something as big as, “Well, how are we going to look at an account? How are we all going to interact with that account? How are we going to track that? How are we going to look at it?”
All of these things, that represents a new challenge. And everyone says, “No, that’s been the story of analytics.” We haven’t looked at it that way. We looked at it in macro views. Now we’re trying to look at it from an account level or set up accounts. And that’s brought the challenges for the sales ops and marketing ops people. It should be exciting times. Scary, but exciting.
William: So a lot of things to tackle there. What are some of the things that big market enterprise companies learn the hard way when shifting over to that account-based strategy?
Craig: Number one, they learn that if they’re not all aligned, it all breaks. And it’s unfortunate that I have to say that, right? But it does. It just does. I mean if everyone’s not working towards these common accounts, then everything breaks. Honestly, it just doesn’t work because the whole idea of the account-based strategy is to get everybody working on the same target market and the same set of accounts.
I think it breaks down to when people try to do too much. We really want sales along to be in the accounts. We want the executive to be there onboard. But to get started and going, let’s just start with merging marketing and sales development and let’s just get them to work together. But a lot of companies are jumping over the fence and immediately trying to work with sales. That hasn’t worked either. You gotta start with something that will work.
What we’ve seen work really fast, and the numbers bear that out, that companies that have done well with account-based within a year, have all focused on marketing and sales development orchestration. How can marketing help this outbound sales development team, drive more conversion rates at higher conversion rates of meetings at those target accounts? That works. That allows you to isolate the groups. You’re not trying to boil the whole ocean.
Then, the final crude reality is you’re moving from walking into the boardroom and saying, “I did a million leads this quarter. I’m bulletproof from a marketing perspective,” to, “we did a hundred leads this quarter.” And if you have not prepped the pump on how we’re gonna look at this and what the metrics are, you’re asking for a disaster, especially early on.
William: How should a sales operation professionals prioritize which levers they should call in order to speed up sales velocity?
Craig: What I recommend to them is to move left to right and to figure out what’s the benchmark of where we want to be, and are we okay with that?
It’s important to actually take a step back. The most important first step you’re going to do is look at everything left to right and figure out where the holes are because that’s typically where the truth lies.
That’s what I tell everyone. Just to be honest. It’s like the doctor where they come in and no matter what, they prescribe to go home and eat an apple a day. But this has been tried and true. I always tell people, we’re all jumping the gun here.
So I once, I went into a client, and sales said, “I need you to come in because marketing is killing us and the leads are terrible.” They don’t get enough leads and all that stuff. Then we go to marketing, and marketing is doing 6,000 leads a month, which is pretty good. For their size, it was pretty good. So, they both have really good arguments here. What we did was we took a step back. We looked at each step along the way, and when we started to look at the sales process, yes, leads are dropping off. But when we looked closely, it was because only four accounts…well, only four industries really made it through the sales process.
So, that was close rates. That was velocity. Then we took a look at the ones that didn’t work, and we said, “These are the ones that take the longest. They rarely close. So let’s eliminate them.” Had we not looked, we would have said, “Well, it’s marketing’s fault.” Or, “It’s sales fault.” So you’d see that affected velocity. We figured out what happens in the front.
I remember just the other day, I went in. It was a nine-month sales cycle and the industry average was four. That’s a legitimate issue for the CEO. And so we went in there, and the opportunities that we’re getting were great. Sales volume was absolutely destroying it. You know, the first thing people say, “Well, maybe there are too many opportunities coming in.”
But actually, the issue wasn’t that sales wasn’t doing a very good job in the front end for the process. They weren’t doing discovery. They weren’t doing qualification. And as a result, the pipeline issues had to do with they were letting everyone in, and they were stuck in their pipeline with a lot of stuff where they didn’t have a very compelling reason for them to buy. So that was a methodology issue, and we figured that out by looking at the numbers. They were able to decrease sales cycles by two months. They’ll keep going by just focusing sales on identifying who the right people are in the funnel, and then spending your time there.
You know, by the way, one of the big things that just happens all the time on deal velocity is just not working on the right things.And that, you know, that is in the middle of the funnel. It’s a core thing. It’s can we make the right decisions on who to go work on and spend all of our time there? That improves close rates and deal velocity, and it’s something that happens almost across the board. But you can’t just say, “Let’s go do this first.” We gotta go look at it systematically step-by-step across the way and figure out where the real holes are.
William: How should a B2B company prioritize things like personalization versus volume and efficiency when it comes to generating leads and creating messaging for an outbound sales process?
Craig: All the pundits, who don’t do it everyday are saying you have to personalize it, and all the guys on the front line are like, “I don’t have time, bro.” I have to be honest. I was one of those guys who said, “No, you got to personalize it.” Then I came to the realization after looking at the data and working with teams, it’s just not realistic. Only your top 10% can write compelling, over-the-top personalization and the rest of them can’t. It’s not an insult. They’re good at other things.
You know, I have to tell you, one thing I have seen for personalization at scale, has been essentially trying to find pockets where you can personalize that, convert at the highest level. So an example is a lot of companies have figured out that peers are the most important drawing point to a prospect or a customer.
So, if someone calls me and says, “Hey, you know, this other research advisory consulting firm is doing this with us.” I’m going be more compelled to talk to you.
They’d say, “I’d love to talk to you about this technology, this, this, this.” So now you’re making the decision about whether I actually think I want to buy this technology, and that’s why I want to talk to you. Instead of, “Hey, I’d love to tell you about what your peers are doing, related to what you do.” That’s my job. That’s something I have to do. That is personalized because you’ve taken the time to figure out that that’s my target market or, that’s my friend.
For personalization and scale, I think the thing to focus in on is who’s that peer or set of peers that your potential customer wants to know about. And infuse that in the entire sales process, your outbound messaging. When you pitch the product, tell them the story about how those guys changed their business and what they did. When you demo, give them related stories about how their peers do that same thing they want to do.
Use that and leverage that well into the sales process, it’s amazing. It’s a simple thing that taps into how people think. It changes things from, it’s their decision on whether to look at your technology to, it’s their job to understand what their peers, competitors, etc., are doing. So it’s a good way to personalize at scale.
Everyone agrees personalization works. Everyone also agrees that it takes time. To me, even if you had all the time in the world, you need a lot of time back to go sell. So we have to find a middle ground, and for me, focusing in on use cases and peers and how we can infuse that into everything that we do, I’ve seen it be really effective. It’s allowed people to work really quickly and really fast, and still give something really relevant and personalized to their buyer.
I believe that the college mention, the sort of personal mention thing is done. I don’t think it works. Now, it may work in certain situations like, you know, if you’re from the south and it’s an SEC school or some secret clubs or societies, maybe. But it’s become cheap, because anybody can see where you went to college, and it’s no longer personalized. So you took the time to look at my college. Hmm, not so great.
It all comes back to this thing: can we have some amount of templatization, some amount of enablement that allows them to personalize in the right way and personalize in a way that we can scale and continue the velocity of whether it’s outbound, emailing and calling, or whatever that might be.