“Sales data drives the entire company.”
LeadGenius recently sponsored the SF Sales Operations Happy Hour at Salesforce HQ. The happy hour panel featured three top Sales Ops leaders from storied companies like Yelp, Shape Security, and Salesforce. Key topics included the rise of sales ops in orgs as well as the growing importance of accurate and measurable data for the sales orgs they support.
- Meredith Schmidt EVP Global Revenue Operations at Salesforce
- Ksenya Ruban VP Sales Ops, Enablement & Lead Gen at Shape Security
- Carolyn Patterson VP Revenue Ops at Yelp
Moderator: Tom Melbourne VP Sales and Sales Ops at Chartio
With a discussion around sales ops, an even more lengthy discussion around data quality usually follows. As Meredith Schmidt said, “It all starts with sales data, and sales data drives the entire company.” Her fellow panelist Ksenya Ruban also emphasized the competitive advantage of having accurate data to drive company growth.
Carolyn Patterson took things a step further, advising that sales ops teams need to focus on “…packaging the data in a way that’s useful at the moment they need to have it.” The end consumer of what sales ops teams produce should always be top of mind.
Sales Operations is on the rise and practitioners are looking to the future. One thing the three panelists can agree on is that in the future, being able to trust your data will be a necessary tool for the success of your sales organization.
[Tom Melbourne, Chartio] Why do you think sales ops is becoming more popular?
[Meredith Schmidt, Salesforce]: So I’ve been with Salesforce for about 12 years and I learned over the years that sales operations is not just CRM and lead management.
It’s about a data model, a platform, and, I think people are starting to realize the power of data and a platform, and data starts with leads and opportunities, which is eventually needed to drive your revenue recognition, your accounting, your sales compensation.
It all starts with sales data, and sales data drives the entire company. That is the power of data.
[Carolyn Patterson, Yelp]: I agree. The power of data goes beyond sales operations, and can be used for recruiting as well. With the power of data, we bring together data of a new hire from the school they came from to how successful they are in sales to go to the right schools for recruits, which builds my revenue model.
[Ksenya Ruban, Shape Security]: And I’ll add to that as well. The idea of sales outreach is becoming more strategic and less tactical. If you don’t have the competitive advantage of data, you will be left behind.
You have to put the right individuals and sales in the right territories at the right time at the right quota. Who is going to help you do all of that? Sale Operations.
Given your experience in this field, do you have a real example of a KPI you have used, how it was measured, and how it was achieved?
[Carolyn Patterson, Yelp]: One of the things we found is that our sales ops team felt disconnected from sales and from the revenue. So we started thinking about sales ops in terms of how many decisions a day they are making, and how are they are accountable to the company. And we actually did a contest to see how many decisions we were going to make as a team in a year, and last year we reached 1.3 million decisions.
A decision is every decision that a sales op person needs to make concerning a territory change, a comp change, a permissions pursue discussion, how to look at products they are going to sell, and every little decision about revenue.
[Meredith Schmidt, Salesforce]: We started looking at knowledge bases and self-service.
So we implemented a knowledge base, and we looked at the average cases that our employees deal with. We use cases like how many times does an AE ask me a question that needs a human response because we want to deflect those cases to our representatives. That way we can handle more cases the right way.
So I really track the number of AEs per person that we handle. I want a case per AE to go down every year because I want to enable them better because if we give them tools and knowledge, you are enabling them to get the answer themselves. That’s one of the key KPIs because it translates into productivity, as it enables an AE to spend more time with the customer.
[Ksenya Ruban, Shape Security]: Sales operations is all about efficiency. Sales enablement is all about effectiveness. When looking at sales efficiency, I want to see how I can increase productivity for our sales people.
For example, let’s say you are using a land and expand strategy. You’re selling point solution. You just sold to a division in GE. You want to go sell to another division. Think about how much easier it would be if you could just pick up the phone and say “Hey, we just spoke to your marketing department in division A, very successful in regeneration. How can we do this for you?” In sales operations, we think of ways to implement solutions. We use data.com client claim, we use traction, we can see divisions, and from there we can enable our sales organization to go out and say, “GE has 1,000 subsidiaries. We have three in our database.”
There are 997 divisions worldwide that we can make an impact on with that pitch that I just shared with you, and that increases the productivity for our sales organization. The sales cycle is reduced from nine months to three months. The conversion, the win rate is increased from 20% to 40%. So we can come back and say, “These deals that we’ve closed, the revenue that we’ve generated were through innovative technology, were through KPIs that we’ve implemented. Here’s the investment that we’ve made and here are the results.”
So when you are at a smaller company, there isn’t really a lot of interest. At least, I haven’t encountered it, you know, so you need different metrics around how you are doing as a sales operations team and the KPIs. In every company it’s all about show me the money. Show me your productivity. How are you enabling more revenue generation for my team? And so that’s how I measure our organization which, of course, comes back to what you’re doing at a larger scale.
But those are some of the ways in which we think about KPIs. And, of course, there are a lot of traditional metrics. For me, in the last seven years working for companies, some smaller companies, some that went public, some that are still on the way, it’s really about the pipeline creation and understanding your conversation rate. How much pipeline do you need to get to your bookings? Do you know your win rate? Do you know your average sales price? Do you know your sale cycle? Because if you do, you know exactly how much data you need to create in terms of pipeline to get to your bookings in a very simple five-minute exercise.
This is sales operations. These are some of the things you have to be thinking about, and, of course, working with your colleagues in sales to make sure there is an understanding, adoption, and that there’s a really great conversation that happens.
How do you deal with dirty data?
[Ksenya Ruban, Shape Security]: You know, I think it really depends on the subject matter. There’s lots of data out there coming from LeadGenius, Datanyze, ZoomInfo, discover.org, or LinkedIn. And we made a decision that we’re gonna let them import information to our CRM because we can’t afford to slow them down. We have a lot of dirty data. So what you have to do is find a source of truth, so when there is a discrepancy, you can trust the data from your source of truth to be reliable.
And this process allows you to build quality of your database on an ongoing basis. So find a place where you can stand firmly, and build from there.
[Meredith Schmidt, Salesforce]: I agree, we have a lot of data. We’ve got a ton of duplicate accounts, duplicate contacts which makes it difficult to know you are contacting the right person. There’s a lot of maintenance that has to go on to clean our database.
And so now we’re really sitting there thinking about, how do we clean our data? And we’re doing just a huge amount of data governance now. We’ve created data governance councils.
And that’s kind of where our journey now has come to. It’s not only this duplication of records, but just an exuberant amount of data. And there is so much in there, what are you doing with all of it? Is it really useful?
There’s something about thinking about it early. What’s your structure? How do you keep your data clean? So that many years later when you’re a $10 billion company you’re not trying to figure out how to find the field to put a piece of data into it. You continue to look at who’s using it, why are they using it, and if there is a data dictionary around it. And with this thinking early on, more logical data models are being put to use to clean up the data before it becomes a problem.
[Carolyn Patterson, Yelp]: Well, to keeping it clean, we went through some of the same struggles. We had dupes, we had too many fields. We had fields we hadn’t updated or used in years. And so in an effort to keep it clean, we implemented integrity checks. So now our integrity checks scan everything on a daily basis, and then the email gets triggered, and the team gets notified as whether or not the data is still up to date.
Have you guys ever experienced false positives in your data? How has that impacted decisions you’ve made around it?
[Meredith Schmidt, Salesforce]: So I almost find that false positives happen upon the interpretation, more than in the data itself. It’s how you interpret it. I think as you grow and everybody has access to data, you start having challenges across departments of who has the accurate data.
It’s determining who is the source of truth, so I think that false positives are not because the data was bad, at least in my experience, it was because whoever interpreted the data looked at it with a different perspective, to put it nicely.
[Ksenya Ruban, Shape Security]: I have an interesting, but very different example from Meredith’s. As we talk a lot more about predictive and what predictive really is, I’ve been focusing in recent months on activity tracking. And I think this is one of the bigger challenges.
How can you track activity so that sales managers can have visibility? How many meetings do they have? How many calls do they have?
But how could we do that without having them enter that information manually into salesforce? We were looking to implement a solution to track everything from emails, calendar invites, emails, and while it feels a little bit like Big Brother, the advantage is that you, the salesperson, don’t have to touch a system. We’ve got it all for you.
And we’ve turned the solution on. It was really fascinating for us to see this dashboard of activities and see number of meetings, number of calls, conversions for meetings to SALs, and how many meetings it takes to close a deal.
That was an example where we were really going after very specific value proposition, and the technology just wasn’t there. And this is what I’m finding in some of these solutions that are promising in the future, but they’re not ready. The algorithms are not sophisticated enough to do that just yet. But I think that is the future, and I’m looking forward to someday implementing a solution that won’t have those false positives, but will really enable us, the management organization, to understand what it takes to be successful.
Wrapping it up with a classic, what was one of the hardest things that you’ve had to do in your role?
[Meredith Schmidt, Salesforce]: For me, it was when they asked me to take on sales compensation. Like I love the other part of my job where I could say yes all the time, but with sales compensation, you don’t quite get the same experience. Let’s just say, everyone expects you to pay them right, but you don’t hear high fives when they got paid right. You hear everything when they were off by a dollar.
So I would say that was probably the biggest challenge I had taken on my career because it was something I didn’t really want to do, but knowing my experience had been with sales, I know how to structure things and I knew I could do a good job.
So while sales comp is hard, it’s also fascinating. It’s probably the most fascinating part of my job now, thinking about what we want them to do next year and how we motivate differently with accounting changes. It’s fascinating, but also hard, scary, and I hate saying no.
[Carolyn Patterson, Yelp]: So when I joined Yelp, it was a heads down sort of ad ops team. And so I was stuck with the question: How do you transform an heads down team of ad ops people to actually see the value that they can bring in pre-sale?
So we started the data clean up, the leads, the lead gen. As I was saying earlier, my team actually supports the reps via chat, so we do 30,000 hours of chat every year which enables the salesperson to pitch on a fly, close the deal quickly, and that’s what my team now gets excited about. We don’t even talk about ad set ups anymore. We automated it. And now the team is 100% focused on pre-sales. Is it territories? Is it leads? What is it that we can do? And they’re actually measured, the books that they support and the revenue that they help bring in.
So it was hard, but fun to cross them over.
[Ksenya Ruban, Shape Security]: All right. I have one. Recently, I’ve worked on the demand waterfall model in an organization where it cross functionally was a difficult thing to do. You know, with multiple stakeholders you have to get people to agree.
So as marketing creates demand, they need to hand it off to a team that will pick up that demand, and then you pass it on to a sales person, which will hopefully create opportunities and close the deal. So how do you track all of that from top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, bottom of the funnel?
But what was difficult was that the technology was very complicated and complex. So Go Nimbly helped my team develop a very elegant solution because we were seeing leakage of marketing qualified leads that were coming from contacts.
And so with Go Nimbly, we were able to create a solution where it was easy for salespeople and SDRs to go to Salesforce and pick up their leads without going through multiple places. And the best part is that about 20% of MQLs that were associated with Contact were now back in our system generating pipeline, creating opportunities, and closing deals.
So I think that was difficult because there’s so many components to the solution. It took a lot of people to make it happen, but at the end of the day, we had a solution where we felt that we were really able to have clear visibility and track creation of pipeline. So that was tough.
[Audience Member]: What’s your take on how sales ops is evolving in working with other ops teams and Biz Apps in particular?
[Meredith Schmidt, Salesforce]: Everybody has an ops team now. But we found is that all of the ops teams are actually dealing with a lot of the same root causes, and I think that we’ve started to see this commonality amongst us which has actually banded us together. So we created a cross-functional business and operations team. Business operations council, I would say.
So you’ve got the marketing ops person, you’ve got the biz ops person, you’ve got the sales ops person. We bring everybody together into a council that is representative of all the ops teams across the company, and we ask “What should we do next?” and realize where do we have touch points.
[Carolyn Patterson, Yelp]: We did something very similar. We don’t have a council but almost every project has some ops team with biz ops, sales ops, and marketing ops. And the interesting thing is we all have a different perspective. So we always start all of those projects with a whole list of hypotheses in terms of why we think the problem is what it is, and what we need to go test against or analyze or just go do. And it’s interesting to watch the hypotheses list grow because we all have very different perspective, but they all sort of melt together and answer the questions. It’s pretty neat.
[Meredith Schmidt, Salesforce]: We agree. It’s really powerful once everything is put together.
[Audience Member]: What are the keys to sales productivity in data-driven organizations? How do you get them to really use data and integrate it into their sales process to impact sales productivity?
[Carolyn Patterson, Yelp]: So I can give you one example. So at Yelp we’ve used a process which we called “pitching on the fly”. You’re calling a local business owner, trying to talk to them about Yelp ads. It can be a quick conversation, but to make it more compelling for that decision maker, what we try to do is provide our reps with what we call the “pitch site”. So we automatically give them relevant information about other customers in the business area or in the same domain, and we can actually say that, “This customer has Yelp ads, and this is what’s going on with their leads or their traffic, etc..”
So the pitch site uses real data, that’s their job, right? But the reps don’t think about it as just data, but rather as a tool to make them successful and close the deal. So it’s packaging the data in a way that’s useful at the moment they need to have it.
[Meredith Schmidt, Salesforce]: I think it’s great, too. I think I have a say at the end of the day, but when getting AEs to adopt tools, there has to be something in it for them. And every time I can tie it back to what’s in it for me, then I can get them to adapt it. If I can tell them, “You’re creating a quote or an opportunity and here’s your estimated commissions,” that’s great. That’s what they care about, at least, they care about every single one of you and all of who you are, but they also care about how much money they’re gonna make at the end of the day.
And, you know, it’s about bringing all the data together in a portal. We’re actually bringing you all the quoted data, all with the opportunity data saying, “Here’s your pipeline.” So as an individual AE, you know your open opportunities, you know predictive scoring, which ones are likely to close, where you choose to focus based on that, combined with your attainment, your current year-to-date attainment, your quota information, your territory. And you can see if you are you likely to hit your number.
And if you’re not, you better raise your hand and say, “I need more pipeline because I don’t have enough opportunities out there. Who can I work with? I need more leads.”
[Ksenya Ruban, Shape Security]: I’ll build a little bit on what Meredith said. I think about it in terms of veteran salespeople and non-veteran salespeople because your approach is going to be different. We look at if they’re non-veterans, meaning if they are new sales people, because if they are veterans or non-veterans could depend on your sales cycle. For example, it could be somebody who’s with the company under a year, that’s your sale cycle. If you’re single sale cycle is six months, you expect them to be productive within six months. That’s your definition of non-veteran.
So we look at how much they are booking compared to veteran. Are they as productive as a veteran sales person? And if they’re not, what are some of the causes of it? We look at their attainment, and at pipeline creation. Again, do they have enough pipelines? Maybe there’s something unique or special going on in their territory. Maybe they walked into a patch that was a complete green field territory and they could not have been successful. Are they building enough pipeline? What’s your pipe to quota coverage? Do you know your pipe to bookings coverage?
And so being able to have those metrics readily available for your sales organization is critical. But the most important thing is to be proactive. To know what to do if your sales organization is non-productive and they fall into that red light category. Are you gonna coach them? Are you gonna train them?
Do you have certification process in place? Is your enablement organization plugged in to this process, where you were sitting with the sales managers and saying, “Is it product knowledge? Are they be able to sell Sass? Is it sales one-on-one competency negotiation skills? Where is it that we can help these people to be more effective and more productive? And productivity for me, you know, in my last seven years has been always around pipeline creation and attainment. Those has been the two metrics that have been very indicative of whether somebody is going to succeed or not.
But, of course, you, as a sales operations organization, have to be accountable. Did you look at Dell participation? Did you carve their territories correctly? Is there something that you’re doing with marketing organization that might be, to Meredith’s point, “Sending a ton of pipeline to your territory in the east, and sending nothing to the west.”
So make sure you understand that and make sure you can diagnose the problems. Make sure you have partners and enablement in marketing to help you make your account executive successful, because deals pay bills, right? So that’s what we’re here for.
[Audience Member]: I wanted to ask each of your three is what is your why? What keeps you motivated to do your job every day?
[Meredith Schmidt, Salesforce]: It’s my team.
It’s keeping the team, 300 people around the world motivated about what we do and why we do it. And, you know, being at Salesforce is pretty amazing because we’ve got a great company and we do a lot of amazing things.
[Ksenya Ruban, Shape Security]: My motivation is helping people grow and achieve their highest potential. That’s what gives me most satisfaction and most inspiration. But I think, you know, that’s around team and leadership. I think the “why” around sales operation is that the field is so phenomenal in where it’s moving, it’s so fast, it’s so dynamic. On any given day I wake up, I deal with compensation issues, territories, forecasting, data cleansing. You know, I mean the list goes on, and on, and on. And it’s just a fascinating field where you can do so much.
If you’re new sales operations, stick around. It’s tough, but rewarding. I think it’s a great career and I can only see this field growing. I’m very excited about the future of sales ops.
[Carolyn Patterson, Yelp]: So I’ll just add, yes, the people on my team is why I go to work every day. But one thing you guys should all realize if you’re in sales ops is that you’re in such a unique position to see everything that goes on in your company. You can learn the billing component, the invoicing, the compensation. You see the products. You see every single thing that nobody else sees, and that’s why everybody comes to us for every single thing.
[Meredith Schmidt, Salesforce]: We have a saying around Salesforce, “All roads lead to rev ops,” because literally you can’t sell a product, create a product, pay on a product or get paid.
[Carolyn Patterson, Yelp]: It’s such a huge opportunity and you can take your career anywhere you wanna go once you learn the ropes and the ops.
[Meredith Schmidt, Salesforce]: And that’s kinda back to your operations standpoint. This is a role that does see every part of the operations. The good, the bad, and the ugly, and the fun.
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