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Director, Global Sales Operations & Enablement: Simon Gilks of GoCardless

Simon Gilks 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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Interviewer: Hello, and welcome to another very special episode of the Sales Ops Demystified podcast. We’re joined by Simon Guilds who has extensive experience both in sales, 12 years, and also in sales operations at companies such as Go Palace, Zero and [unintelligible 00:00:32] you just said.

Simon: Sage.

Interviewer: Sage, so Fintech. SaaS world. Simon, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you here.

Simon: Thank you very much for having me.

Interviewer: We were actually just chatting, and I didn’t want to ask these questions first, about your sales experience. You were telling me about one deal that you did. It sounds quite extreme. Are you able to share that with the audience before we kick off?

Simon: Yes. I spent 12 years in sales doing many, many roles, and one of the roles which was probably the toughest but I learned the most, was selling corporate hospitality. Literally cold calling, straight from the Yellow Pages, just making in excess of 200 cold calls a day. I was selling, at the time, four tickets to the Monaco Grand Prix with private flights, watching from a private yacht. Phoned a company in Ireland. They answered they would phone me back, which took me by surprise because it was very expensive. They phoned me back and agreed to take the tickets. It was £60,000 for four tickets to the Monaco Grand Prix. When I asked which clients he was taking, it was him and three of his friends had clubbed together for a lad’s weekend, which–

Interviewer: What a sale.

Simon: -seemed like a nice way to spend £15,000 on a lad’s weekend. I’m not sure if I could get that signed off.

Interviewer: That [unintelligible 00:01:48] but it sounds like a brutally on it, brutally hard role. Shifting now, how did you move from that sales experience into sales operations?

Simon: After 12 years in sales.I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to go down the normal sales manager role. I wanted to try something different.

Interviewer: Why was that?

Simon: To be honest, I didn’t think I was probably mature enough to be a sales manager at the time. I was used to being in control of my own destiny and earning my own commission. I didn’t want to then be relying on six people, seven people to hit their number for me to be able to earn my commission. Also, I’d been doing it for 12 years and wanted to try something completely different. I moved into peoduct marketing originally, and I spent two years as a product marketing manager, covering UK islands, Scandanavia, and South Africa, so I got to travel a load and do something completely different. It was then that my Managing Director said, “Do you want to do Sales Ops?” I’d never even heard of it at that point.

Interviewer: Which company was this?

Simon: This was actually a company called RS Components with [unintelligible 00:02:49], and we were setting up a sales operations function. They’d just started to create it. He explained what it was and I finally realized actually what I was doing in product marketing was so closely aligned with what sales operations and enablement was all about that I took a leap of faith, jumped over and yes, seven years later, I’m still doing it, I’m really enjoying it.

Interviewer: You also said before the interview that is probably the biggest sales ops team that you’ve ever had?

Simon: Yes, we’ve made– because it was a brand, it was a big company we were 7000 people globally as a company, and they’d sort of run around the business, you’d do a bit of sale ops, [unintelligible 00:03:27] pulled it all together there was 160 people in sales operations. There’s absolutely not 160 people in sales operations there anymore but actually it was about pooling the resources and working for who was, who wasn’t and what was sales operations.

Interviewer: Sure, and then from there you moved to zero?

Simon: Yes.

Interviewer: As a [unintelligible 00:03:50]

Simon: Yes, I went there, they didn’t have sales operations so they were pretty early stage, they employed like 88 people in the UK at the time and I went into sales operations for them which, after about a year we merged into a commercial slash revenue operations model and I run that for them for a mere– for three years.

Interviewer: What are your thoughts on this shift towards revenue [unintelligible 00:04:13] operation?

Simon: Personally, I’m a big fan, I think that, to me, businesses have too many silos and there’s always a tension between revenue-generating functions like sales and marketing mainly and I think it’s healthy to have a tension. I’ve had so many meetings when you turn up and you argue over a number, in a way who’s number’s right, why are my numbers right? Actually, by pulling it together for revenue operations, you have a holistic view, you have a single source of the truth that’s looking at every aspect of how this company generates revenue.

Interviewer: I totally agree with you, Simon, but my problem here is that we named this podcast nine months ago Sales Ops and just as we named it, now, there is this new thing– anyway. Cool, so then you went from– you fell at the sales operations team at Zero, is that right?

Simon: Yes.

Interviewer: Then moved on?

Simon: Yes.

Interviewer: Cool, and then did you set up another sales operation?

Simon: No, I went to Sage, so I think most people know Sage, yes, 14,000 people, globally, actually our sales ops team was bigger than the one at RS Components but again, it was similar in that sales ops didn’t exist at Sage. Although they were 30 years old, it was only set up about six months before I joined and they did the same exercise, they went around the business and pulled everyone together and they ended up with 300 people, but it was because Sage was so big and so complex it was ground for acquisition, so then we looked at how do we build out what is the right sales operations structure. Do you know what? I miss that craziness of a start-up in a scale up, being a 14,000 person company, so I spent a year there before moving on to Go Carlos.

Interviewer: When you joined to Go Carlos, how many sales op people and how many sales people?

Simon: Go Carlos, when I joined there were two people in sales operations but neither of them– for both of them that was their first ever role in sales operations.

Interviewer: If you Google Joe Gates Editor, you’ll see Joe’s interview with [unintelligible 00:06:10]

Simon: Joe was an SDR at Go Carlos, which was his first proper job post-university in a commercial world. He was an SDR and then he transitioned at Go Carlos into sales ops. We’ve got another guy Chris, that had just moved over from the US and had done some territory management design work previously and various other analytical roles and ended up in sales operations. My role was to go in and build out a more robust, more scalable function as Go Carlos was scaling so quickly.

Interviewer: Now, how many people are in the sales ops team?

Simon: Including myself, we’ve got seven in sales ops and sales enablement.

Interviewer: Roughly how many sales are excuted [unintelligible 00:06:50]

Simon: At the moment I would say around 90. We cover the SDRs, MDRs, AEs Partnerships as well. We support many other functions around the business but that’s our core scope.

Interviewer: You’re talking about a one to 12 and a half ratio there. Do you think that’s all right or you’re looking to hire some more?

Simon: We’re looking to hire some more people ideally next year to offer us a couple of aspects because we cover the enablement side as well, because we hire so many people we didn’t want to bring in a dedicated trainer to with with our sales enablement manager in the function. As we started doing more complex deals we need to bring in someone from to support from a dual desk perspective and really help us drive the contracts through the business and take some of the strain off the sales guys. Also, the lawyers and finance have pulled that together as a dual desk function.

Interviewer: Nice. Can we shift now to the text app you’re using at Go Carlos?

Simon: Yes. Most things. I think we’re a typical startup scale-up where you don’t have any money. Then also we’ve got a bit of money so you go and buy everything. Because a sales op function didn’t really exist, everyone that wanted something just went and bought whatever they wanted and everybody just put it on a company credit card or they started the [unintelligible 00:08:10] We have a lot of technology so one of my tasks is about decommissioning that. We base ourself on the Salesforce platform. Salesforce is our hub and we use as much that is a native Salesforce for us. Some of our key pieces of software are obviously Salesforce, New Voice media from a telephony perspective. At the moment we use Yeswear for our email campaign and sequencing. We use Einstein analytics, we’ve just launched in partner communities. We’re really embedded in Salesforce and everything else links to it.

Interviewer: Got it. I assume your team are responsible for the data quality in Salesforce.

Simon: Yes.

Interviewer: What are you currently doing?

Simon: What have we done recently? Not much. What are we doing now? Essentially, we’ve rebuilt Salesforce from literally bottoms up.

Interviewer: Really?

Simon: A brand new version of Salesforce because when Salesforce was implemented, like in many startups and scale ups it wasn’t done with the future in mind, it was there to serve the purpose of that moment in time. We didn’t have great processes to enable high-quality data. We had too many fails, too many duplicates of fails. We didn’t really have anyone monitoring and tracking it.

Interviewer: It was a mess?

Simon: It was a real mess, yes. We spent a few months with some consultants from scratch, rebuilt it to enable us there. We’re now working on a piece of a data

project in Q3 and Q4 to ensure that our data is integrated across all of our platforms, including a core product that is going to [unintelligible 00:09:42] us to enable to have a complete sync of everything so it remains accurate. Then partnering with people like DMB and also the data providers to ensure that it’s always up to date, is accurate. Actually, changing the culture that it doesn’t sit with sales ops, it’s everybody is accountable for data quality because everyone looks to me and says, “The data’s just rubbish.” Well, I’m not putting the data in there. We need to create that culture and train, and give people the guidance, and make it easy for them to drive data accuracy.

Interviewer: That leads very nicely on to the next few questions, is about your relationship with the sales team. How would you go about making them do something extra to improve data quality if they’re not getting paid?

Simon: One of our core values as a business is Start with why.

Interviewer: Nice. It was a great book.

Simon: Yes.

Interviewer: You get given [unintelligible 00:10:32]?

Simon: No we don’t operate it like that, but yes, it is a great book. But we believe that we should always start with why. As a company, we really stand by our values. I think by ensuring that we start with why and explain why we’re doing it and get it people’s buy-in and engagement and actually talk to them about the value that it’s going to add to them, and data access is really easy to prove and demonstrate why is important because I can really quickly turn that into a number in terms of how it’s going to impact their commissions because I’m going to reduce their sale cycle, I’m going to increase their closed records, I’m going to point them in the right direction of who they’re going to go and talk to next rather than just sit there playing around in rubbish data trying to find something then realizes it’s a duplicate or they’re speaking to the wrong person. That’s quite easy.

Actually, for us [unintelligible 00:11:20] starts our recruitment process and strategy by hiring the right people. Ensuring that they’re ready for the craziness of the startup scale and the constant change. Things don’t stay still for long. When I joined a year ago, it’s a different world now. So by hiring people that are adaptable, prepared to change and understand the journey but going on, doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue so far. We made some big changes and I haven’t had a huge amount of pushback.

Interviewer: There’s always edge cases, but you’re going to hire the right people?

Simon: I think so, yes.

Interviewer: Nice. How about making them more productive, what’s something you’ve done the last few months?

Simon: I suppose we’re trying to do lots of things in productivity and improving that is so

[unintelligible 00:12:01] a business to business. What makes us more productive will be completely different to someone else. Some of the things that we’re doing or have been doing is around propensity to close and planning different directions. We’re looking for lookalikes in our activities, in our accounts, in our opportunities, what works, what doesn’t work? Where does our value proposition really fit? Then pointing them in the direction of where to go and align with sales and marketing, which then tries the opportunity to reduce the need for them to go out there and do a huge amount of planning themselves.

We want to take the planning away from them, so they can focus on closing deals, which is where they get paid.

Interviewer: Just like the robot.

Simon: No, I think our deals are pretty complex because of what we do. They need to be focused on that rather than on who do I phone? Actually, one of these things has driven a massive increase in our ability to close. We used to have a combined SDR and MDR function. One minute they would do an outbound, then they would deal with an inbound and they would deal with webchat.

We’ve actually separated that into specialist functions. We have a team dealing with the inbound activities and a team dealing with the outbound and aligning that outbound team with the AEs and the verticals they support has really driven a massive increase in high-quality pipeline. Actually, we’re already seeing that the pipeline is better. We’ve got a better close rep, we’re talking to the right customers. It’s been a big win for the AEs.

Interviewer: That’s nice. Quick question. That’s not on the script. You were selling the virtue of revenue operations earlier but I have a problem.

Simon: Make it up.

Interviewer: You’re currently running a sales version. Can you elaborate?

Simon: Yes, [unintelligible 00:13:45] as a business is something that I’ve proposed to the business. We’v proposed it, we’ve discussed it, but actually, at this moment in time, because of how much there is on our agenda because of the growth rates we’re going through, because of the international expansion, we decided to keep them separate at the moment to really apply that specialist focus to that area so we don’t get distracted. It is easy to get distracted and when we’re aiming for huge growth rates, hiring 150 people in a year when we were opening in new markets. Since I joined, we opened in France, Germany and the US in the last 12 months. There’s so much going on that actually we’re keeping it separate for now but working really, really closely together.

Interviewer: Cool. Is there a marketing ops team?

Simon: There is a small emerging market ops team. We hired a marketing ops manager this week. He started on Tuesday and we have a small subset of people. We’ve got a person in the team that looks after the marketing tech stack just centered around [unintelligible 00:14:50]. We’ve got an analyst in the team, we’ve got a manager, another resource [unintelligible 00:14:55]. The other function that I would normally position it under revenue operations is the customer’success, that onboarding support in enablement part.

Interviewer: Is there a support ops team?

Simon: No. There’s a couple of people that are doing that, but I wouldn’t say there’s a built-up dedicated team because they live in Salesforce, which is sat in sales operations. They don’t really need the same level of team, but they do have an analyst that is diving into the insights of their data on a day-to-day basis.

Interviewer: Do you report into the media of sales?

Simon: I report to the chief revenue officer, who, in our world– We have a CMO and a CRO, but the chief revenue officer is responsible for all of the sales that’s linked to development, the closing of the deals or the partnerships.

Interviewer: Final question on structure. Do the SDL and NDL sit within marketing or sales?

Simon: They sit within sales. Yes, there was a debate, but they stick within the sales function. We’re working towards a strategy to build our free global hubs to the UK and Asia Pacific and an Americas hub just to support more globally.

Interviewer: Moving onto onboarding. Now you mentioned 150 people in a year, what have you done with onboarding processes like increased RAM time?

Simon: I think, actually, the biggest impact we’ve had on onboading, especially as we’re going internationally, is we fly everyone to London for two weeks. Even the Australian team, the US team, there’s a girl sat two desks down from me who’s on technical sales pre-sales consultant in the US and she’s here for two weeks, just to ensure that they understand who we are, why we are what we are. They go back with that culture and understanding. I think it’s really difficult to sell a product or a company if you don’t really understand who they are. It’s expensive and it’s painful flying someone over from Australia for two weeks but it’s really important, so that has a big impact. This allows them to get up to speed really quickly because when you’re remote, especially in a different timezone, you don’t have the ability just to walk around the corner and ask someone a question or go and chase Liga about signing off on a contract. You need to come and build those relationships while you’re here.

I think that was a big win for us. Hiring a sales enablement managed to focus on this now, and actually look at our entire onboarding process, and we’re looking at building an LMS platform to accelerate onboarding, but then take it to the next level and also create a sales university for career development so that their journey doesn’t stop after eight weeks essentially.

Interviewer: Nice. [unintelligible 00:17:32] in the next two years, you guys hire 1,000 people, do you think you’ll still be bringing them onto London?

Simon: I think you probably reach a critical mass in market when you don’t need to. When we hear yes, there’s 100 people in Australia, I don’t think we probably need to because the culture’s there and there enough of the business and there’s probably some of the support functions that they rely on in the UK will be in the country as well. I think for some roles we would, but probably not for everyone at that stage but the same as for certain roles, we fly them over for interviews as well. When we– either Australians or [unintelligible 00:18:10] at GM we had, they flew four people over to the UK for face-to-face interviews because there’s case studies et cetera, because it’s just really important they understand who we are as much as we understand who they are at the interview and onboarding process.

Interviewer: Forecasting, are you guys responsible for creating a forecast, you take the data from Salesforce?

Simon: I suppose it depends if we’re talking to– as a business, we typically operate quarterly. I run a weekly forecast meeting on a Thursday morning.

Interviewer: That you run with all the sales managers?

Simon: Yes. Nine o’clock on a Thursday morning and we have the CRO, we have the GMs and the key sales ladies in the room. We’ll all go through the forecast, we’ll talk about what’s their commit? What’s that best case? But actually more importantly for us, what’s their gut feel? We don’t realistically think they’re going to [unintelligible 00:19:01] We will do a key deal review and look at what’s making it up deliver a level of confidence. We do that on a weekly basis.

If we’re talking more longer term, if we’re talking about 2020 forecasts and projections from now, that’s run entirely within sales operations in collaboration with finance. They’ll do a top-down view, we’ll do a bottoms-up view, and hopefully, we’ll meet in the middle and actually utilize these Salesforce data plus understanding the vision and strategy for next year.

Interviewer: That’s why you were doing your [unintelligible 00:19:33]

Simon: Yes. We’re in that process as we speak.

Interviewer: Are you chairing that Thursday morning meeting personally?

Simon: Yes. Well, the collaboration between myself and the chief revenue officer. If he’s not around, it still goes on and I chair independently for me. I take more of an interest in the numbers, he takes more of an interest in the big deals that we’re going to close that week, just so that he can scribble those names down and be sure he can hold the GMs accountable for closing them.

Interviewer: Call them out. [crosstalk]

Simon: Exactly. Especially when we’ve got three days left this quarter before we hit Q4 and close the year. For us, that’s really important.

Interviewer: Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but it could be a stressful time right now for the chief revenue officer.

Simon: It’s definitely a stressful time for him and the GM at the moment. It always is.

Interviewer: Not stressful for you? Less so.

Simon: I think it’s a different kind of stress. Actually, this time of year is probably for me the most stressful time of year, once we hit Q4, because it’s about getting ready for the year, it’s, “What are we doing? What’s our plans? What’s our roadmap, quota, compensation, territory or account allocation, everything.” We’re in the busy period for ours, which is always dependent on the budget getting signed off. The end of the quarter, for certain people in my team is stressful and busy, especially if you’re the deal desk representative, you’re potentially there as a gatekeeper on deals and ensuring that they’re going through, chasing legal up and making sure it happens.

Interviewer: Now metrics, now you’ve been in the sales ops game for seven years. What is a sales-related metric which you think is the coolest?

Simon: I think my number one go-to at the moment is my pipeline waterfall.

Interviewer: What is that?

Simon: I look at my entire pipeline and what’s happening to it so I can see what pipeline I started the quarter with.

Interviewer: For everybody?

Simon: Yes, for everybody. I can drill down to a person, but do a vertical person and country, no matter what. Essentially, I look at where did we start the quarter, what have we added in the quarter, opportunities that were in the quarter, what have we expanded them by? Are we growing our opportunities from qualification as we progress them through? We then look at sort of stuff that we’ve been bought in from forward quarter and we bought it in early into this quarter.

Then look at the flip side of that, what’s gone out pf the quarter, what have we closed/last, what have we closed/won? What if we shrunk and what have we pushed out to another quarter? Then where are we projecting our pipeline lands? Because our pipelines everything, without it, we’ve not got anything to close. We keep a really close eye on that to really understand what’s going on, and we can then readdress the focus for SDR, MDR marketing function. At the moment we’re running [unintelligible 00:22:18] with our IEs as well in terms of generating their own pipeline to really set us up for the big growth numbers we need to hit 2020.

Interviewer: You’re telling your AEs that actually you’re going to get more commission if you go and do your thing?

Simon: Yes. You can just sit there these days and wait for our lead to come to you. It’d be amazing if you could. There’s not many companies that generate enough leads to sustain the growth. Now, we could grow without having to self-generate, but you’re only going to earn more money, you’re going to hit your numbers and you can continue to grow if you [unintelligible 00:22:46]

Interviewer: Now, that sounds really good, but I’m not sure if it was a metric. Being harsh.

Simon: In terms of metrics, we look at most of the standard stuff, but I think our go-to at the moment is our passion, our lead development function. Again, it comes down to pipeline, it’s, “What are they doing?” They’re probably the number one hygiene metric at the moment is, when we have a handover period from an SDR to an AE, ensuring that the AE picks it up and responds to that really, really quickly in the time. We come in, we hand and SQL over to an AE. They then have the decision, because it’s their pipeline so they decide whether I accept this as an opportunity or not.

Once you see their pipeline, there’s only two outcomes, there’s won or lost. I’m not having them disqualify by saying I was given a rubbish lead. So it’s won or lost. What you find is the SDR or MBR wants them to convert it [unintelligible 00:23:47] so they get paid commission on that [inaudible 00:23:50]

Interviewer: On the conversion to opportunity.

Simon: They either pay commission on the number of opportunities created from their SQLs, and we would expect 90% of their SQLs to be accepted. If it’s the end of the month and the AE’s closing deals the MDR SDR wants it converted now but the AE’s not worried about that. He’s got three days to close all of his deals, so we really keep an eye on that and I’m probably bugging all the AEs on transfer at the moment in Salesforce. What’s going on with this one? Can you convert it? Beacuse I’m getting it from both sides.

Interviewer: [unintelligible 00:24:21] converting this.

Simon: We all know deals slip, right? That time, time’s an important metric no matter what stage of the journey it is your– we’d book it and bill it in quarter. We don’t want them slipping out. Especially slipping into the next year, that could be make or break for the year’s numbers, essentially.

Interviewer: Final question, who has taught you the most in sales operations?

Simon: It’s a tough one I think. I ended up in sales ops because of one guy, a guy called Ian Leonard at RS Components where he sold sales ops to me. At times. I’ve hated him for it and times I’ve loved him for it but I think the person that’s probably taught me the most is a guy called Simon McIver of Zero at New Zealand because he knew everything. No matter what the number, the process, the metric, the text. He just knew it off the top of his head. He was a genius when it came to the whole operational world of the commercial business and he was tough but he kept you on your toes and he forced you to think about things different. He forced you to look at things you’d never even looked at before and I think as a result of working with him, I learned a huge amount and he was the guy sat in New Zealand [unintelligible 00:25:31] then-CEO that pulled together all of the sales operations functions globally.

Interviewer: What’s his name?

Simon: Simon McIver.

Interviewer: Let me tell you what I particularly liked about that. This might be the best answer to the question that I asked about getting buy-in and you completely blew away [unintelligible 00:25:51] because you were like, “Ashley, the nest thing to do is hire the right people,” and that was super interesting and I think that was a really good answer. I like that when I ask you about influencing people as well it’s “Start with why,” and I quoted– [unintelligible 00:26:07] but the fact that you quoted a value from the company, so a testament to the culture I guess and the values of Go Carlos, so I think that’s really good, and then your onboarding. We all [unintelligible 00:26:17] really simiolar things but your onboarding, about bringing people over is I think also really really important. That definitely had a massive impact.

Simon: Yes it’s huge for us and to your values thing, I’ve worked for companies where every company we’ve walked round there’s a value posted on the wall. You get a mug every year with a new value on it. We don’t have any of that. There’s one place to find our values and that’s on our internal website essentially but every person that starts has a 45-minute values interview with two random people from the business.

Interviewer: That’s such a good idea.

Simon: You can get a strong yes from the hiring manager that you can technically do the job but if he doesn’t know our values, take another job.

Interviewer: How many values are there?

Simon: We have four values, essentially and they’re really simple. It’s really just started by integrity, be humble and now you’ve completely thrown me on the fourth one. Just really simple values. Everyone has to hold themselves accountable too. We’re at performance review time at the moment, everyone’s got to have their performance review done by Friday. How have you done in your job and how have you done against the values and both of those compared into collaboration sessions that we have [unintelligible 00:27:30]

Interviewer: Nice, so a little startup lesson. Simon thank you. That was incredible. Many many insights. I’m sure it’s very valuable for the audience.

Simon: Okay, thanks. int was really good.

[00:27:48] [END OF AUDIO]


Simon Gilks