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Chairman and Sales Operations Leader: Kevin Raybon of SOPSA

Kevin Raybon jumped onto Sales Operations Demystified to share his knowledge and experience in Sales Operations.

Check out all the other episodes of Sales Operations Demystified here.

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Host: Hello and welcome to a very special episode of Sales Ops Demystified. We’re joined by Kevin Raybon of SOPSA. Kevin has extensive experience in sales operations being– Well, practically running sales operations at large organizations such as Thomson Reuters and now have moved on to directive organization, which seems to me, from my research, to stand for this great profession. I think we’re going to have a super interesting discussion, both about Kevin’s experience but also about what SOPSA are now currently doing for the space. Kevin, welcome to the show.

Kevin: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve been watching the episodes on the web, and it’s great to hear from other practitioners. I think we don’t get to do that often enough, so thanks for putting together.

Host: It’s absolutely a pleasure. It’s kind of been like going down into the rabbit hole for me. I don’t have a background really in sales or sales operations, and now, I think we’re on approximately interview number 40. I feel like this whole new world has opened up. It’s going to be super interesting because of your experience. How did you first initially get into sales operations?

Kevin: That’s a great question. I think we all have an interesting journey as we get into sales ops. My background starts with really being technical. I grew up as a kid writing software. We’d come into sales ops in lots of different ways. A lot of people come from finance or marketing, I come from the tech side. I’ve been in a software company for a number of years, but over the years, as I moved from startup to a large software company, I got to bring forward my passion for solving business problems with me. There’s no better place to solve business problems than on the commercial side of the business. There’s always so many going on.

My first round in sales operations was with a company called Computer Associates. They recently got acquired by Broadcom. At Computer Associates, I had started doing sales ops-y kinds of things, well before I was part of sales ops. I was helping the local regional managers in sales here in the Dallas area, put together new territory designs, new organization charts. Some companies go through that often, and they seem to– That was something that was a big need; doing compensation plan assistance, calculations, and so forth.

I started off in doing those types of things at Computer Associates, but then I ended up– because many of the changes that I build went international, they brought me to the headquarters of formerly into the sales ops’ organization to help take those things across the company. That’s how I got into sales ops. From there, I went forward. It’s been helping people solve sales and ops challenges of different sizes over the last 16 years.

Host: Nice. I see this a lot, of people moving into the trade, is that they start doing stuff– or they’re doing sales ops unofficially. Either it’s involved with a salesperson or finance, and then they get brought in. It seems like to you, it seems like you were doing stuff that was sales operations, and then you only were officially brought in when they wanted to roll that out globally. Is that right?

Kevin: Right. That’s really the case. I think one of the things we’ve been working on over the last 15 years or so, as sales ops is kind of coming in to its own, is trying to define what it is. Then people are really seeing the value of once we define what it is, let’s pull those things together so we can work more tightly together and not have a lot of shadow organizations across the company that are really fractured and not [inaudible 00:03:41] That’s exactly how I went.

Host: Got it. Then, from there, you then went to lead sales ops’ teams, right? According to your LinkedIn profile, Schneider Electric and Thomson Reuters. What were the scale of sales ops’ teams that you were responsible for?

Kevin: When I was first brought in to lead sales and operations in NEC, it was to just start sales ops. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s kind of interesting that when you look at sales ops’ job description for a leader, it’s probably the only leader that says, “Must be willing to roll off sleeves.” I think all of us have to do that. My first team was me and NEC Corporation. Basically almost a billion-dollar revenue here in the States, but from that point, we grew into a team of 10 at NEC, where we had sales systems or forecasting. We then moved into sales training and development.

Then ultimately into things that are further down the pipeline, like order [unintelligible 00:04:46] and customer success. At NEC, it was a team of from 1 to 10, but then and most recently, at Thomson Reuters are a team of almost 60 people across the world that were dealing with the full gamut of sales operations’ processes.

Host: Good. That team of 60 at Thomson Reuters, how many salespeople are you supporting, approximately?

Kevin: At Thompson and in the division I was a part of, we have about 1,250 reps. We’re a big split between field and inside reps. I think the split was probably about half and half once we kind of gone through the last fiscal year. A lot of organizations are going through the big shift from field basis to more inside reps. To answer your question, it’s about 1,250.

Host: Got it. The ratio I’m getting there is approximately 20 reps per sales ops’ employee, which is in the middle of the range. I’ve been trying to gauge this in all attendees, and that’s in the middle of the range. That’s astounding that you’re supporting that many salespeople. I think this might be the biggest sales team that’s ever been supported by someone on the podcast.

Kevin: Great. I’m glad to be a first. [chuckles]

Host: Could we quickly jump in to the tech stack that you were using at Thomson Reuters? Just name a few the core tools.

Kevin: It’s important to understand that a company that big, it grew by acquisition, and so we’re constantly consolidating. The core that we landed on from an ERP perspective was SAP 4HANA. The Salesforce, we had multiple instances of Salesforce because of the acquisitions that we’ve gone through, so we’re bringing together those instances into Salesforce. They’ve been working to come off of some in-house CRM type systems as well. CRM is Salesforce, CPQ is Apttus. We were making a move from again homegrown plus BigMachines and some Apttus to all Apttus.

From a master data management perspective, it was the Informatica suite. We use them for all their master data management tools, including the ETL and data movement tools. Then, when you get beyond that and you look at things like ICM, incentive compensation management, we had landed on Varicent, which is now called IBM ICM. IBM is great for challenges, so it’s now ICM, but it was their product that used to be called Varicent. We found out from being able to model the organization that we had in a multiple complex comp plans that Varicent was really the best.

When you look at the core sack, I really consider the data, where that data is updated, which is the CRM and then how we take care of our salespeople with compensation. That’s the ultimate core. Then when you get to the next ring around that, I look at things like sales enablement platforms. We have been using Seismic. We’ve landed on a Seismic as our tool for sales communications, because we’re really trying to solve a problem where people just couldn’t find stuff or– Also, we were spending a lot of money on things that frankly we weren’t using.

We needed to have a full feedback when we went back to marketing so your project managers, so they can understand what we were actually using the find a value from. Seismic, fit both of those. It’s a big win for us. On the LMS side for sales, we were locked in to a platform that was a corporate platform used by our HR team, plus some of our products. Actually, some of our offerings at Thomson were education products, so we landed on a system called [unintelligible 00:08:29] for our elements.

Now, when you go to the next ring around that– All of those systems help us do the corporate things that we need to do to take care of our sales team. Then there’s the things around productivity. I think that’s where there’s a lot of a lot of innovation going on. Your suite of products for one thing is a great tool there, but when we look at other solutions there, our inside sales teams were piloting Outreach in SalesLoft. At the time I departed, Outreach was looking like it was going to the winner there. Then we looked at other solutions for productivity. With those inside salespeople, it’s important to make sure that they don’t spend too much time deciding who they’re going to call next.

We piloted and had a lot of success with a firm called ConnectAndSell, which enabled us to load large lists of customers that needed to renew for example. They did the dialing, and what we ended up doing was just picking up the phone every time somebody on the other side picked up. We were able to cut down at time. Those are some of the key solutions from integrating first level and second tier.

Host: That’s an interesting solution. They would actually be doing or some software will be doing the ringing, and then you get alerted when someone’s on the phone and you can jump on.

Kevin: Yes. It’s a pretty sweet solution.

Host: Now, you mentioned having multiple Salesforce orgs, we have or a lot of people have challenges getting the data straight and accurate in one. What we’re you doing to try and manage the data around all these different orgs? The quality of the data?

Kevin: Great question. Let me back up one-two. BI is an important part of all that, I can’t believe I missed that. On the BI side, our corporation solution is Tableau. However, we found a lot more benefits out of the tool by InsightSquared, where it came to us not as a tool kit, but as a suite of reported solutions that are designed for the entire revenue operations cycle. InsightSquared is our tool for visualization for Salesforce. When we look at the DM qualities– Is that’s your question here? I’m sorry, I started talking, I missed the question. Is it around data quality?

Host: Yes. [crosstalk]

Kevin: I think quality is a huge challenge, right? Because we had multiple different solutions where we try to– Well, we have master data management with Informatica, and it would pull records nightly and update our reports, and keep them in sync with the various ERPs that we have. Successful on one level, and the fact that an account level, we have a good view of the accounts that we serve, although, we still made it hard for our sales reps because we had multiple accounts for the same entity. It could be quite confusing at times.

Sometimes it’s just too hard for us to do around the activity management and so forth. Frankly, we were still working so hard on account, and contact, order, and opportunity management, that our focus was not shifted toward activity quite yet.

Host: Got it. We do have a question here. Liam: What are the key– It’s kind of broad one. What are the key things to consider when building sales processes?

Kevin: Considering sales processes? I’ll say a couple of things. One, is that they have to meet the needs of the business, so they’re probably– They have to meet the needs of the business, but they also have to be efficient for your salespeople. Sales process is like saying finance process, right? We have to get a lot more specific about what we’re talking about. It really makes sense to define the processes that you have in very specific terms, and how all those processes are going to relate.

Let’s talk about one. I think a lot of times, we rush off and talk about opportunity management and forecast management. If we’re talking about opportunity and forecast management, then keep it simple. One of the key things is that– I’ve been in places, in really, really big companies where they were very proud of having one sales process. What they really meant was one opportunity process that was coded into their CRM at very specific stages.

That’s nice, and in some level, it helps you measure things more effectively, but you can draw incomplete conclusions, because you can only have one sales process if your customers are buying from you one way. Otherwise, you’re just kind of kidding yourself. Although it’s really important to have a standard sales process for opportunity management, you got to be really careful and make sure it makes sense when our customers are buying from you, because you may need multiple iterations of that, that are kind of mapped to back to each other.

When it comes to forecast process, having an executive team who’s willing to stand up and say, “This is the cadence that we’re going to run.” Having that cadence very well defined, having the reports that support that cadence clearly defined, and then the education on how to read and interpret those reports, providing to all the sales managers, very important. Executive buy-in, standards, repetition, and quick, clear process design that the people can live in.

I think sometimes we build processes that are written on paper, but they’re not quite [unintelligible 00:14:19] before we launch, and that can be a big challenge. Because unless you go to a team and say, “Here’s exactly how you’re going to do this, and here’s the tools to get it done, and here’s how we’re going to manage your success and view as successful.” If we don’t have all that ready, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

When we talk about processes and sales, you’re hitting on a thing that like a soapbox on it, that won’t take the whole time, but we have to understand that territory design, our comp plan, incentive compensation, sales performance, these are all types of processes. Recruiting and onboarding, they’re all kinds of processes that are important for sales, and they all interact with each other.

I think the first thing we always need to do is build visibility to pipeline and forecast for our sales teams, but when you start to get beyond that and we get to the other processes of sales, it frankly gets a lot more fun.

Host: [unintelligible 00:15:12] Can you quickly talk to trying to get the sales rep on your side? How do you get salespeople to buy-in to something new you want them to do?

Kevin: One, is to spend time with them. Two, is to make sure that you have the people spending time with your reps are people who could be credible and has literally have done their job before. I think it’s really important. Sometimes we like to think that salespeople are a different kind of human, and they’re not. We all as humans need to be able to trust the people that we interact with. Part of that trust is credibility. If you’re interacting with them and you can understand and empathize with their day and their life, then you’re going to get far with them.

When I go into a new role, for the first 90 days, I hit the road. I talk to the sales managers. I talk to that special person who is the sales administrator for the sales leaders because he or she is the one carrying a lot of the load and really understands the difficulties and the friction in your processes internally, so I really try to work [unintelligible 00:16:19] with the sales administrators. Then I do workshops with the sales reps without the managers in the room to talk about what it’s like to sell for the company.

Now, after that, you have to come out and say, “Okay, I heard you. Here are the things that I heard. Am I right? If I’m not, please correct me. You invested your time with me and instead of being in front of a customer, you spent it with me. Thank you that was very valuable. Here is what I’m going to do with that, you can trust that that investment you made with me is going to turn into things that we’re going to advocate for on your side. In turn, what we would request from you is continue to be plugged into the changes and be an advocate with your peers about what we’re trying to do.”

If I have somebody coming in at the end of the day when I ask the five whys, it comes down to their role is confusing because their asked to call on random customers and existing customers. They’ve got a conflict with overlay roles in the organization. They don’t know how they’re supposed to work together as a team. They don’t know how people are compensated. It seems to be just at odds with each other and maybe there are complains about stuff. We have to dig into those root things.

Being able to work with the sales team to gain credibility to have a constructive dialogue about what’s really a challenge for them. Coming out and hearing what they said and confirming what they heard properly. Then finally is, taking action and showing good results on those things that you’d heard. Don’t make a promise you can’t keep and focus on two or three things every six months. Don’t try to do everything at once and you’ll gain credibility because you listened, you took action, and you made their life better.

Some of the things that I choose to do around tool changes, are the things that I think you make quick hits. Consolidate CRM is not going to be a quick hit for the sales force. Getting a productivity tool in place that makes their life better, if I put one piece of information in, it gives me five back, like a data augmentation strategy.

Or if they’re spending all their time searching for stuff or creating their own corporate overview slides, there’s no reason for that, when we can go find it faster with a tool like Seismic. Or if I’m asking them today to cram in all their activity into Salesforce, then I can just capture that with their digital exhaust as they go from their email or from their mobile device, that’s a win. Look for those quick wins that can make the life of the sales person better. Those are the things that I would say.

Host: I think we could probably go away and write a blog post on that answer. I think I might actually get with you to do that. That was an absolute master class. Do we have a question then? We do have one from Liam, but I’m going to wait there. We’ll continue that question, then we’ll come back to that, Liam. Can we quickly talk about your forecasting process you had at Thomson Reuters? Were you, as the sales ops’ team, responsible for building that forecast or were you responsible for giving the data to management to make the forecast?

Kevin: Great question. At Thomson, we were by acquisition, we had multiple business units. When I came in, the leader of the forecast process was the chief revenue officer for each of those business units. He or she had their own way of doing their process. Some of them were much better than others.

Frankly, the best process we had was done in the most antiquated way. It was done on spreadsheets. I like to joke around and say, “It was a big sheet tablet and number two pencil,” but when they can use a basic process that is likely augmented with technology and produce remarkable results, you have to learn from that. Not all the time do we need to completely automate something for it to be at a high quality of execution?

To answer to your question, we did not have a single sales forecasting process, however, the business unit leaders worked with their local sales ops’ representatives in their business unit to run their process. To make sure that the performance data was gathered on a regular basis, it was put into the formats that allowed them to review it with their team on weekly basis, and move forward.

What we’d like to get to in any place is better top-down visibility. That means we need to get that forecast into a single technology platform. We need to have standard reporting on top of it, so that we then can compare business unit to business unit, and see the entire business in one view. That was what we were looking to. A tool like InsightSquared helped with that tremendously, because it plugs right into Salesforce.

Instead of like a tool kit, like a Tableau, or Birst, or other tool like that, it comes to you with a library of reports that you can pick from and train people on. The sales operations team was responsible for providing the rules, providing the process and the tools, but as of the point that I left, they were still consolidating adding that into a corporate standard.

Host: I’m not sure how relevant this question is, but it’d be interesting to get your insight. Alignment between sales and marketing. I’m not sure if you as sales ops’ team, were involved in any conflict– not conflict, but communication between the two, and what’s your opinion on that challenge?

Kevin: I think for one, it’s a challenge that I think is overblown. The more we talk about it, the more we put an artificial wedge between the two. That’s my first take on that. Second is yes, sales ops is involved. Sales ops is at the crossroads of all these different organizations. I like to say that a good sales ops’ leader is in the business so the revenue leader can be on the business, okay? When you’re in the business, you’ve got to be coordinating with finance, HR, marketing, product, customer success, and making sure that all of those processes are interlocked.

One of the biggest challenges between marketing and sales is just the data. Making sure that we’re using common data systems so we don’t drop any demand that’s being generated by marketing. The other challenge is making sure that there’s a closed loop feedback back to marketing about what’s working and that we’re measuring things together that show business success. We don’t measure things that are just sales success, or marketing success, or– We definitely need the measurements around the types of leads that we’re getting, the quality of those and what happens to them. It’s on both parties to make sure that we look at those kind of metrics with the right attitude.

Too often, you can sit in a meeting with marketing and sales, and sales says, “Hey, you’re just giving me contacts, these aren’t leads.” Marketing says, “Yes, because the things that I give you, you don’t do anything with.” To prevent getting into that kind of a situation, you have to have big boy discussions about how we’re all in this together.

The Seismic solution was a great benefit for us working with marketing, because it allowed us to sit down with all the content we had, put a taxonomy together or organize that, bring it into a tool and then watch how people use it. We literally were not able to in the past see how well people use things. In that inventory, it was quite telling because of the thousands of things that we have been producing and paying money to produce, there were many, many things, I won’t get into percentages, but it’s a big number, that were only used once or twice. That was based on the clicks that had actually been recorded in the old systems.

It really caused us to wake up and see what’s valuable. Once you get that closely dialogue going and everybody has the relief that we’re all in this together, and we’re all about producing revenue, and we’re all important, people start to listen when you’re talking about us being in this together and how the metrics and systems that reinforce that is [unintelligible 00:24:39] possible.

Host: Moving on to KPIs, over your 16 years’ experience, and this might be a really hard question to answer, which KPI do you think has given you the most insight into sales performance?

Kevin: This is going to be probably someone you haven’t heard, but for me, I look at the percentage of reps on every sales manager’s team that are exceeding the quota. The reason I look at that is because my sales managers are my point of scale, and a sales manager’s job is not to hit their number on the backs of two people out of the team of 12. Too often, we’re focusing on the output of the sales manager’s team and we need to be realizing that a sales manager’s job is to help everybody reach their maximum performance. If we’re not equipping the sales manager to have the discussions that manage that whole team, we’re not getting our maximum sales performance.

What it comes down to is too often we look at output measurements and we’re not looking at objectives and the activities that drive those objectives. One of the key ways I’ll look at that, is I look at sales manager team performance. We rank them internally and start to look at where our sales managers that have the highest percentage of the team meeting and exceeding quota. What are they doing different? Do we need to adjust the quotas? Do we need to adjust the quotas for the other people? Then we start to ask questions about, what about the makeup of those teams that aren’t performing? Are there a lot of new reps? Is there a lot of turnovers?

It really helps us to start to get into the why behind these numbers, so we can take action on it. Liken to that metric is also, we track new hires like crazy. When you hire, I like to see day from hire to first dollar sold, day from hire to 50% of quota, the distance between hire and 100% of quota, and the number of people that are doing those things is really telling.

Host: That’s definitely metric we haven’t heard before, and that’s super interesting. Two final questions. The first one now kind of bring this onto where you are today and what you’ve set up. Can you give a brief overview of SOPSA, why you’re doing it, and what it does?

Kevin: Here’s what I believe, I believe that we have a community of sales operations professionals that are waiting to connect with each other. When we get together, we can move our function forward, we can mature it, and we can also move the careers of people in this function forward. It’s important that we have a community that’s not a network. Here’s the difference, a community is people who can freely interact with each other and network requires a note to do the introduction.

In my career, I’ve found that the people I have met in sales ops’ leadership that helped me the most, I was only introduced to those by vendors. I think we can speed things up, take out a lot of the noise and control if we literally get the sales ops’ professionals together into a community. Then we start to perform events together, that gets together in small groups of 10 or less, medium-sized chapter groups of tens to hundreds, and then we do some things online to bring people together across the world.

That’s what SOPSA’s about. It’s about building a community and then giving that community the things that I missed as a sales ops’ leader. I had a comment in my inbox because I had so much stuff coming to me internally and externally, because we’re always doing so many projects, it’s sometimes hard to stay on top of the things that we should look at externally, and we missed some really good things.

Well, what if we had a place where we could go where that noise was taken out? Sure, we needed that content, so that the most relevant things that you needed to learn about were in one place. What about all the events that are out there in the world that are sales ops’ specific? There are a lot but you may not know about them. We hear at those events, we put them together into the community, and then we provide the community with tools to get things done.

Too many times we are all learning sales operations on the job, and sometimes it can be highly risky. If you’ve ever done your sales kick-off meeting for the first time or have been asked to do a compensation plan redesign for the first time, where do you go for help? [chuckles] You can either hire an outside consulting firm and pay them a lot of money or do it yourself and take the risk.

We wanted to find someplace in between. Within our community you can find a project center, where you can find projects that are templates or all of these things. What’s your planning things, what’s your sales compensation rollout plan like for this year, your sales kick-off meeting. You’ve never run a president’s club. There should be a template for the president’s club, so you can run that project inside. We don’t always have to start from scratch.

It’s about taking the people that I’ve met over the years in my network, bringing them to the greater sales ops’ community, so we can really taste the professionalism of this professional and help grow people’s careers.

Host: Nice. We were linked [unintelligible 00:29:58] or if you’re [unintelligible 00:30:01] just Google. The website actually,, am I right?

Kevin: Yes.

Host:, you can go and check that out. Final question, Kevin. If there’s one person within sales ops that you would like to take for lunch, who would that be?

Kevin: The one person I’d like to take to lunch, and I hope she’s out there, is Hilary Headlee at Zoom. Hilary is, I’ve seen her speak multiple times, I’ve gotten to talk to her a couple of times. Hilary’s a mover and shaker in the sales ops’ space. She does great things very quickly as a good sales ops’ leaders do. If you ever get an opportunity to be at one of her presentations, I highly recommend it. I think she’s going to be speaking at OpsStars during Dreamforce time frame in San Francisco this year. You might be able to catch her there.

Host: Okay. That was an intense lesson in sales ops’. Here are things that I particularly enjoyed. Your process [unintelligible 00:31:00] and I actually think we might be able to blog post on this, about how they’re able to and one of the best things you can do is to literally spend time with them. That’s so simple.

The second thing was about how the most effective forecasting process you had at [unintelligible 00:31:17] was not actually that automated. You were talking about how actually thinks that maybe it can be automated in the future, but it won’t have to be automated [unintelligible 00:31:25] working, regardless of whether it’s automated or not, and then replicate that. Those lessons were really simple high-level stuff, which I actually think [unintelligible 00:31:35] sales ops, but many of the [unintelligible 00:31:38] Kevin, thank you so much for sharing that. It was an absolute pleasure having you around.

Kevin: Thanks. Thanks for the opportunity. I look forward to talking to you all again.

[00:31:54] [END OF AUDIO]