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Sales Ops Demystified: Sandeep Sachdeva of Unity Technologies

Sandeep Sachdeva jumped onto Sales Ops Demystified to share his knowledge and experience as A Global Head Of Sales Operations.

We discussed:

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  • How Unity Technologies onboard sales people
  • How Sandeep got into Sales Operations

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

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Tom: Hello and welcome to another episode of Sales Ops Demystified. Today, we’re joined by Sandeep, who according to Luke Tin is going to be the second most experienced sales ops ninja we’ve ever had on this podcast if my calculations are correct. Number one was Jeff Serlin who is head of global sales operations for Intercom. Sandeep, welcome to the podcast.

Sandeep Sachdeva: Thank you, Tom, excited to be here.

Tom: We have I think approximately 10 years at a company called NetApp in sales ops, and now currently head of global sales operations at Unity Technology, was that correct?

Sandeep: Yes, that is correct. Also for the audience, I am transitioning at the moment. I’ve accepted the role as VP of sales operations for a company that recently went public. When you come back two weeks from now, you can see.

Tom: Fantastic, and so it’s a big one?

Sandeep: Yes. It’s a continuation.

Tom: Sure.

Sandeep: Amazing journey. We try to learn as we do the same thing again, but it’s very exciting.

Tom: You can’t tell us who that company is?

Sandeep: In two weeks.

Tom: Okay. Maybe we’ll have Sandy back on the show in three months after you signed your role. Anyway, let’s kick off. How did you get in sales operations? Tell us about your journey.

Sandeep: Yes. It was a bit of an accident. My career started as a software engineer and I joined NetApp back in 2001, where I got the opportunity to do some product management, project management and do operations work. That’s where the big aha moment happened, because going to college, nobody talked about sales operations. Here’s this amazing intersection where you’re not only solving technology problems but you’re also working on people problems, which is very, very interesting to me. For that reason, I fell in love with ops.

Then, fast forward about five years into support ops and marketing ops, my boss at the time moved into sales organization. I followed him through. That’s where the journey began. Now, one thing I want to add is the transition from software engineering to operations was not an easy one. Because, typically, the mindset coming from a software engineering background is that [inaudible 00:02:42] because 99% [inaudible 00:02:45] is not going to [inaudible 00:02:46].

The same thing that meant success in that role is now working against you because you have so many things that you need to get done and when you are not necessarily adopting the fail-pass philosophy, and essentially you get the feedback that, “Hey, you’re not moving fast enough,” and your initial instinct is you don’t appreciate quality. For me, it took a number of years to really be good on how to dial it down, get away from [inaudible 00:03:20] that 60%, 70%. Essentially, get to [inaudible 00:03:25]. Once that happened, I think I saw a pretty big difference in terms of my overall [inaudible 00:03:33].

Tom: There’s a couple of really interesting things there. I like the point you made about, and I just can’t remember it now, but literally in my mind. I totally agree on the profession side. I have a marketing background. If we try to be a perfectionist with anything that we’re trying to do, it’s just not going to work. That’s super interesting there. Another question later that will get into kind of irrelevance of sales before going to sales operations, but we’ve never had anyone who’s within coding before or development before sales operations, so that’s super interesting. Kin of along the same lines, what do you think makes an awesome sales operations person?

Sandeep: Yes. In my experience, I think the number one reason why sales ops teams fail is because there’s no one that can hold at you and sort of get you during the points not knowing which ones that [inaudible 00:04:33] sales operations person. You got to have these two attributes. The first one is the ability to bring people together to build agreement on what are those [inaudible 00:04:50]. I think it’s important to not just fell out on what you’re going to do, but also be very clear about what you’re not going to do and hold everybody accountable at things. The [inaudible 00:05:05] not necessarily agreed upon. That’s [inaudible 00:05:12].

There’s a second thing, which is I think equally important is taking these ideas that you agreed upon and then get them across the finish line. That’s the execution part. It sounds easier than it is because [inaudible 00:05:32] takes a lot of focus, [inaudible 00:05:36] creating a culture of respecting their time, making sure [inaudible 00:05:40], delivering by when and then you’ve got to [inaudible 00:05:44]. Any good sales ops person is going to have a good strategic mindset, and also they’re laser focused on getting feedback. You also want to switch between these mindsets on any different day back and forth and that’s [inaudible 00:06:03] something, because it’s hard to compensate [inaudible 00:06:07] anyone.

Tom: Yes. They’re very different states of mind. To be strategic, almost like sitting back thinking and to get stuff done, you have to be, exactly what you were saying, like laser focused. With your background in development, when you came in sales operations, were you stronger at one of those ways of thinking?

Sandeep: Absolutely. I was obviously stronger in execution because what software engineering brings is a lot of structure in your mindset. You are able to breakdown a problem into small pieces [inaudible 00:06:43] and technology, so that piece comes to you more naturally. The piece that’s harder to acquire is, I’ve already mentioned, walking away from the perfection side, that’s one. The second one is [inaudible 00:06:57]. I mean that is the single most important option [inaudible 00:07:04] because sales operations is the gateway between field organization [inaudible 00:07:08] continuously bringing people together. It’s not about [inaudible 00:07:13] people and say, “Hey, [inaudible 00:07:16] going to do.” You’ve got to build that alignment [inaudible 00:07:21] that is a skill that you typically pick up over time and that’s that.

Tom: Nice. Next question. Do you think that sales experience is necessary in sales operations?

Sandeep: I don’t.

Tom: Really?

Sandeep: In my career, I’ve seen a lot very successful sales ops professionals who came from a diversity of [inaudible 00:07:48]. I for one don’t have a form of sales experience. I would say one thing, that for a person who has the right sales experience, it absolutely turbo charges your performance because understand the mindset of the customer and when you know [inaudible 00:08:12] life is what their pain points are, you’re just going to develop better too.

The other things I want to touch is sales ops is also [inaudible 00:08:22] in terms of the [inaudible 00:08:23] about the process and automation which is very, very pathetic, you’ve got the data insight, we are looking at data science to try to come up with [inaudible 00:08:34] might be different. Then, you have the sales enablement piece which is also very [inaudible 00:08:39] depending on what role you’re performing [inaudible 00:08:41] also has an impact on it. I think sales enablement, there’s no way you can succeed. [inaudible 00:08:52] The other roles I think you could get away with.

Tom: Sure thing. Do you have people in your team then in sales enablement that do have a background in sales?

Sandeep: I do. I have a rockstar person, or I should say had, who was initially an awesome sales rep and he decided to just do something different and essentially [inaudible 00:09:27] he joined the sales ops team and one of the most effective members.

Tom: Makes sense. What was your current stack, sales ops tech stack at Unity?

Sandeep: Tech stack. First of all, my philosophy is that I’m not a person who liks [inaudible 00:09:50]. I think automation just simply amplifies the [inaudible 00:09:56] so I think good and simple process first and then automate it second. That said, I don’t think from a tech stack standpoint, we’re going to be adding much more [inaudible 00:10:20] it’s the basic stuff [inaudible 00:10:24] CRM’s. You need a billing system. Hopefully, that it’s not [inaudible 00:10:30] a lot of companies [inaudible 00:10:32] the company off the shelf.

Then there are so many other third-party technologies that can [inaudible 00:10:45] one of my favorite [inaudible 00:10:50] for that. What I love about [inaudible 00:10:54] is the [inaudible 00:10:56] outside of your CRM’s. It’s sitting in the inbox, [inaudible 00:11:04] rep on the customers, get some meetings, and [inaudible 00:11:09] to the rep to say got to put all that into CRM, otherwise they’re going to hit you. Number two, something to do with [inaudible 00:11:18] what the quality of that [inaudible 00:11:30] I think that that’s one that I really endorse.

Tom: How do you spell that? Sorry, Clari, C-L-A–

Sandeep: R-I.

Tom: C-L-A-R-I, and so that’s taking information from mailboxes and using that to forecast the market, really.

Sandeep: That’s right. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you have an account where a rep has had eight emails going back and forth in the span of the last six weeks in a particular [inaudible 00:12:05] Now, contrast that with [inaudible 00:12:08] and others have just let’s say the same customer segment, you had two touches in that span for a longer period [inaudible 00:12:16]

Tom: Sorry, Sandeep, we just lost you audibly then.

Sandeep: Are we still connected now?

Tom: I think the connection’s okay. Can you either bring your laptop closer or speak louder because it just sounds like you’re a bit far away from the mic?

Sandeep: Okay, how’s that?

Tom: Yes, that’s better.

Sandeep: Okay. All right. Clari, essentially, just validates that when the deal is in a certain stage, then what is the reasoning behind it and is there enough activity that it’s happening to justify.

Tom: It could give a red flag on a deal that’s– Nice, that’s really cool. Awesome. How do you deal with– We just touched upon this in reps, not necessarily wanting to update the theorem but how do you deal with data quality and is there someone on your team who has a CRM or is there someone in a different team?

Sandeep: Data quality is the number one challenge in my experience. Almost every company is [inaudible 00:13:29] that company is early stage startup all the way to [inaudible 00:13:35] challenges don’t go away. [inaudible 00:13:39] as you build the tech stack and you build the business profits so that the business [inaudible 00:13:46]. Now, I would use the swimming pool analogy. You have [inaudible 00:13:56] that’s coming in, and you’ve got dirty water.

[inaudible 00:14:00] obvious, first thing to do is you got to fix the source. By fixing the source, you got to understand where the current [inaudible 00:14:09] simplicity is their use in getting that option in the field. I also don’t believe [inaudible 00:14:21] I think good process [inaudible 00:14:24] to adopt themselves. You just got to go find those right [inaudible 00:14:29] innovation and then let them do the talking. Because last thing you want to do is someone from the corporate designed an amazing process sitting in a conference room talking about sales, is talking about how you should [inaudible 00:14:43] then focus on where is the value for that draft if they were to act on it. [inaudible 00:14:54] that corporate guy [inaudible 00:14:56] You’ve got to speak that language.

I think that simplicity and [inaudible 00:15:06] in the business process, and of course, automation is a key to then cleaning the data in terms of [inaudible 00:15:14]. Once you’ve done that, you also got to clean the dirty water in the swimming pool which is then going back to your historic data in the CRM system. You got to get people in. You got to go through everything one by one. These are painful things that organizations have to invest in because when you hit Metrics– in isolation, metrics are not going to make any sense, right? [inaudible 00:15:43] them over a period of time.

Tom: I really like the swimming pool analogy. That’s something that we haven’t heard before. One thing I want to touch on that, if you’re saying go out into the organization and find people who have influence over the sales reps to tell them to do it. Was that right? Did I catch that correctly?

Sandeep: Yes. I’m referring to those people who are in the sales organization who are very progressive with technology. I think a good way to go about this is you identify those reps. These reps are not just top performers. They’re looked upon the others from doing the right thing. They’re left to buy new stuff. You put them early on in your design process, you iterate through your process and if they’ll love it, then you put them in front of the others to speak that language.

Tom: That’s like a real ninja move, isn’t it? [laughs] I’ll write that down. Put the best sales– not the best, it’s the most respected and progressive respected people. That’s very interesting, because when you do that, you’re getting feedback early on the process, but then also when it comes to rolling out, you have these advocates.

Sandeep: Right. Yes. No, exactly. I think also business process, it’s an evolution. You never get [inaudible 00:17:15]. I think presenting as an [inaudible 00:17:19] This is it and you got to live with it is just the wrong mindset. I think you always want to present a tool or a process as, “Here’s a starting point,” and then you have to continuously get that feedback from the rep, from the first-line manager, from all the way up in the stack and keep working [inaudible 00:17:41]

Tom: I totally agree. If you go to right now, you’ll see a new website that we launched this week. That was my exact point. As a business, there’s no perfect and it’s a process. Everyone’s like, “Oh, the–” [laughs] I shouldn’t say it, but I totally understand. I think that’s a really, really valid point. What is the biggest challenge in your role and how do you overcome it?

Sandeep: I think for me, the biggest challenge occurs mostly around building alignment. It’s challenging, so very time-consuming. It frankly requires a multitude of things in order for you to be able to accomplish that. In my experience, the best way to build alignment is to start in a position of having trust with your [inaudible 00:18:43]. If you don’t have that trust, then it’s very difficult for people to open up to you to be able to really have a very objective conversation on what are the priorities.

Typically, the disagreement is not that– this is not a problem to solve. People have different problem that is more important to them. I think to bring everyone away from the trees and take them to the forest level and talk about the global scale of that’s where the company had, and think about what’s going to move the needle for all of us together. I think that is one strategy. Most of the time, people want to do the right thing.

So having these objective conversations, start with your problem definition, and then figure out what are the KPIs you’re going to use to measure the success of that problem. You work your way upwards into whatever solution [inaudible 00:19:50]. If you ever done sales, you know you’ve got to start in some point and keep understanding where those objections are and sort of working your way through.

I think having alignment in terms of the [inaudible 00:20:08] that you’re going to focus on as a team and you’re going to spend a good 60%, 70% of their capacity as a sales ops and an IT organization behind those, and those priorities don’t necessarily aim as you go round B. You also have the 30%, 40% where things go in and out, but you can’t anticipate every step that is coming your way. I think that’s a mix that typically works well. Then, finally, I would say that you’ve got to hold whole your stakeholders account if you agree [inaudible 00:20:48] and why more important, then you’ve got to be comfortable in things. I think that’s really where bringing people together.

Tom: They’re bringing people together, managing the other people. If you have a single metric that you’d judge all of your sales team by before that actually, how many for Unity technologies, how many people in the sales team, and then how many people did you have in your sales operations team?

Sandeep: I don’t know of a single metric that can ever measure the performance of any sales [inaudible 00:21:23]

Tom: But if you had to choose one.

Sandeep: Now, here is the way I think about metrics. I look at metrics in two broad categories: lead indicators and lagging indicators. Majority of what we talk about around your quota attainment, your win rates, your average yield size, your product adoption, these are all lagging indicators. I prefer leading indicators especially in a healthy organization where you’ve done all the work upfront. Leading indicators will get you in front of the problem before the problems happen.

To me, those leading indicators are typically the three that I really like are: so one is, of course, the activity. How many interactions are happening between the rep and their customers to validate the probability of a close and essentially where that opportunity is? Then, we talked about that earlier that clarity is important to the help group to do that, but I think that’s one.

A second one, I would say is [inaudible 00:22:40] I mean that’s going to tell you. If you tell me what my close rate is and what my pipeline size is, I could tell you [inaudible 00:22:49], right? That is probably very, very important that helps you stay ahead of the game. Then, finally, I would say how your customers are using your product. The product adoption metrics are absolutely gold in terms of not just customer success, but going beyond that. That’s where you’re going to be able to upsell and grow that existing account. We all know that is much easier than selling into a new account.

Many organizations that are struggling with essentially getting those kind of [inaudible 00:23:31] because the market data is source separated from the CRM data, and so that other end so that other analytics never make it an acceptable way to a rep, where they can see that, “Okay. This is how my customers really using it,” versus, “This is how the best practices,” or, “This is how majority of the customers that you’re getting back and pull back,” kind of thing. There are some best practices. I think that’s the category that I focus on and those are the three that I’m on.

Tom: What are just [inaudible 00:24:05] basically leading indicator, they’re the lagging indicators. What are examples of lagging indicators that you think are not so useful like a revenue?

Sandeep: If you think about rep quota attainment, so how many reps hit the quota? You can look at average deal size, you can look at your win rates, what your product adoption rates are, so you have different 10 products and which ones are you selling more, which ones are not. Those are some examples.

Tom: But we prefer the leading, because it gives you more opportunity to change the result before the problem has happened there. Okay. Fantastic. Is there anyone who has taught you what you know about sales operations?

Sandeep: It’s been a journey and I have learned so much from such a big group of people. I’ve learned from my team, I’ve learned from my manager, my stakeholders, everybody and it’s very important to be in this position. If I had to pick one person out, that would be a person named Chris De Vylder [inaudible 00:25:22] and he is not only one of the most talented sales ops leaders that I’ve ever met, but he’s very humble and super inspiring. Chris De Vylder, by the way, is the head of sales operation at Atlassian.

I’ll give you an example. I’ll give you some insight into his communication and alignment building skills are just so inspiring. There was a time when I was working on a project back in NetApp, where you put a [inaudible 00:26:01] for a minute describing a problem. I did that and I went [inaudible 00:26:07] maybe it’s three or four minute, and I thought that I did a really good job. Later in the day, there was another question that I was a part of, and I heard him do the same thing. He literally spoke on like maybe 30 seconds, a fraction of the talking that he did, and it just came out so amazing that I thought that I wanted to be like-

Tom: [laughs] Like Chris.

Sandeep: – like Chris.

Tom: So Chris De Vylder?

Sandeep: De Vylder. You can look him up.

Tom: We will.

Sandeep: Yes. He’s had an amazing impression on me in terms of taking on this as a career.

Tom: Awesome, Well, that brings us to the end of the questions. Let me pick out a few highlights. The first thing I really liked is how sales operation has to get good at saying no, because you’re going to be overwhelmed with so much stuff and you have to prioritize. Then, obviously, the mindset, strategy versus getting things done, which a few other people have brought up, actually. You have to really have the two almost different personalities to thrive.

Possibly the best thing is if you’re trying to roll out a new process, e.g., getting people to put a new piece of data in CRM, get those progressive and good salespeople in first of early adopters. If it works for you, well, you get the feedback, and if it works and you roll out with them, with your advocates that are going to influence the other people to do that thing, that’s some real sales ops ninja stuff there, Sandeep. Thanks so much for coming on. Congrats with the new role, and hopefully we’ll catch up in a few months where we can learn more about what you’ve been doing at this new public company.

Sandeep: Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it.

Tom: No worry, Thank you.

[00:28:10] [END OF AUDIO]