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Research Director: Anthony McPartlin of Forrester

Anthony McPartlin jumped onto Sales Operations Demystified to share her knowledge and experience in Sales Operations.

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Tom: Hello and welcome to a very special episode of the Sales Ops Demystified podcast. Today, we’re going to be doing something a little bit different. We have someone here with us in the room who has experience in the role, but now has transitioned to researching about the role. Anthony, welcome to the show.

Anthony McPartlin: Thank you very much, Tom.

Tom: Anthony currently works for Forrester who produce [inaudible 00:00:29] leadership in various industries, but Anthony specializes in sales operations as he has a background in that previous to joining Forrester. We’re not going to go through the normal questions because there are some trends we would like to discuss. We have six of them, we’re going to move through them. Hopefully, this is going to be, maybe a less practical but more insightful and maybe even inspirational. [laughs]

Anthony: Inspirational indeed, yes.

Tom: Before we do jump into the trends, can you just give us a bit of background of your sales ops experience so you’ll have credibility in the conversation.

Anthony: Sure, yes. I spent the last five years as a global head of sales operations for a global services company. It was a worldwide company. I was based in Dublin, managing a virtual global sales operations team. All of the challenges that I think, when I look through some of the previous sessions that we do with our sales operations leaders, very typical, some of the things I experienced myself. Whether it’s how do I evolve the sales operations organization, how do I solve planning challenges, compensation challenges, whatever it might be.

As part of that, I came into the role from a business analytics background and I didn’t have a really huge amount of knowledge about sales operations itself. One of the first things I did was asked my manager for some external support. It wasn’t going to be realistic for me to be able to bring in a consulting company to bring Anthony up to speed on the whole sales operation thing, but what was an option and serious decisions which is a product line now, Forrester reached out to me and suggested their program which is that you subscribe to their service and you get ongoing access to their [inaudible 00:02:17] team and to their research.

For me, coming into sales operations, that was really helpful because it gave me an ongoing path to learn the role, learn the issues involved and have access to people who could go with me through that process. As sales operations do, you’re asked to make some big decisions that have expensive implications within the organization, so having that also risk management aspect to it as well as a development aspect for me. I did that for a number of years, worked with them. They helped us put in place a lot of the structure that we built within the organization.

Then last year, they asked me to come and join them to step outside from the day-to-day and actually look at the sales operations function itself. How do we evolve that function, how do we make it more strategic, how do we make it more of a business part than the rest of the organization. That was something I was interested in doing. I like [inaudible 00:03:13], I love the research aspect of it, but the other part of it is the ongoing advisory with clients. We spend most of our time talking with clients about their sales operations challenges. That’s really where we get most of our information that we then include into our research.

Tom: Got it. When you were actually doing the role, what was the approximate size of your sales ops team, the number of reps, what would you say?

Anthony: Sure. We were selling a range of globalization services, so everything from translation to software engineering and software testing. Basically, we were helping companies take their products into international markets. Primarily content, software, documentation, into European and Asian markets, so there’s always an element of translation, software engineering and other adjustments that you have to make to make that product viable in another market. We had 250 salespeople, we had a sales operations team that was relatively small, it was four to five people.

Tom: Interesting. I’ve been trying to keep [inaudible 00:04:18] the perfect ratio of the reps, and I landed on approximately 25, but what we’re talking about here is 250.

Anthony: Yes.

Tom: Interesting.

Anthony: Not ideal. I remember it was definitely under-resourced. What that meant for me personally was that I was having to deal with a lot of the tactical administrative work, and try and provide strategic leadership for sales operations and strategic support to sales leadership as well. It’s just really difficult to move at the pace the organization wants to move at when you don’t have that type of resources. I think it’s a challenge that a lot of companies face.

Tom: Now you’ve moved, I don’t want to say to the dark side.


Anthony: To the bright side.

Tom: To the light side, the light side.

Anthony: When you move into sales, that’s the dark side.

Tom: Yes, exactly. You moved out of the dark side into the light side. We’re going to talk about these different trends. Anthony actually identified the tings that are [inaudible 00:05:14] in the market right now. The first one is actually quite interesting, because we came close to renaming this podcast after a month or so because it kept coming up. That is the notion of a revenue operation scheme [inaudible 00:05:27] sales operation scheme. Can you explain a little bit more about what that means and why do you think that’s happening?

Anthony: Absolutely. Revenue operations is really around this level of formalized alignment between typically sales operations, marketing operations and customer success operations, although there are different flavors out there, I think. One of the things that we see when we talk with clients and we talk generally in the industry is that there’s a lot of experimentation going on around the idea of how to align the different components of the revenue end.

In some situations, you’ll see sales that end with this product feature, others that won’t be, you’ll see product lines having a more formal role to play, finance as well, depending on whether you’ve got sales operations with the connection to commercial operations, business operations. I think on an average level you’d say sales ops, marketing ops, customer success ops. Really, I think there’s a few things that are driving that. Obviously, on the external side in terms of the customer side, the buying scenario has become a lot more complex.

The number of the people involved in these decisions, particularly in enterprise and beyond, means that trying to understand who’s involved in that process, what their interactions are, what they need, their role within the buying group, and how you should interact with those. It is becoming a difficult thing, not just for sales, but for marketing as well. Then even on the customer success side, once you’ve brought in a customer, it’s a different set of personas that you’re dealing with. The people that actually you need to adopt [inaudible 00:07:10] this stuff.

Keeping track of all of those personas and then optimizing the entire thing together is a challenge for organizations who have relied on a coalition approach up until now, kind of, “Let’s all hold hands and let’s hope this thing comes together.” A lot of times, that’s dependent on the relationships at the senior level in the organization, so does the CMO or the CSO have a positive relationship? Sometimes they do and things work out well, and sometimes they don’t. Or somebody leaves and somebody else comes in and has a completely different vision of what sales and marketing should or shouldn’t be, and things change. There isn’t that consistency in terms of how to manage or optimize that revenue end.

Then internally, I think organizations, particularly CEOs and boards have maybe had enough of the lack of alignment. You’re starting an organization and you’ve got venture capital money that’s putting pressure on everybody to deliver results, or whether you have a mature organization who maybe the growth is not what it was, you’re trying to extend the product life cycles, you’re trying to introduce new products and you’ve got a very large and complex organization.

There’s not a lot of patience for sales and marketing not getting along anymore. Then you add into that then the shift between perpetual subscription business models, you’re talking about AI, there’s plenty of reasons as to why this type of thing needs to happen and why organizations have to try to figure out what’s the best model for them.

Tom: If you’re talking about a company, and let’s just take Ebsta for example, where there’s five in marketing, five in sales, five in customer success. You don’t really have a formal sales operations role. Would you recommend that the first person we hire over those times to be someone to sit over everybody just to focus on sales?

Anthony: I think at an early stage of an organization, it’s a good opportunity to think about revenue operations as opposed to sales operations. Finding a candidate who could do that comfortably is probably the next challenge. That may be something that’s doable in terms of finding that type of mix. Today I’m not sure that there’s a huge volume of people who can comfortably sit across [inaudible 00:09:36]. There’s a question of scale then as well. Typically, I think we see it happening where they’ve built somewhat of a sales ops team, somewhat of a marketing ops team, and it’s a question of, “Okay, how do we get these two really effectively working together?” At those early stages, I think it’s probably unlikely that you’re going to find a profile that fits, unfortunately.

Tom: Final question before we move on, should we rename the podcast?

Anthony: I think it’s one where you’re going to keep an eye on that, because I think there’s a lot of change happening around this. Organizations are looking to make that shift, and I think in the next couple of months you’ll probably see more of a shift around the operations, yes. It’s certainly a big area of focus for us, because clients are coming to us and asking us what is the right model, CMOs are worried that they, “I don’t want to report to the CRO. I’m a CMO, I report to the CEO.” You’re putting somebody else in there.

Within other organizations who are very large, there’s a huge complexity in building a formalized or centralized revenue operations functions. I think you’re going to see a spectrum of approaches across companies that are in different life cycle stages. In the analysis and research that we have done, there’s a lot of different experimentation going on. Our job really is to understand what those experiments are, what the pros and cons are of those different choices and make that available to people so that they can decide what makes sense for them.

Tom: Got it. Moving onto something that I often find quite interesting, your point about leads versus opportunities. Now, as you mention so many buyers personas, should we really be focusing our leads when someone could come in, but you then have [inaudible 00:11:29]. I think that’s what you’re saying. Can you share more about that?

Anthony: Yes. I think generally, marketing and sales have been very heavily inquiry-centric. We tend to, when somebody raises a hand, it’s like, “Everybody focus on this job,” we just go all in on that. We’re ignoring the fact that modern B2B buying is more comprehensive than that on the buyer side. There’s more people involved. I guess what we’re trying to communicate is that the lead object in CRM systems is not the ideal object for capturing that [inaudible 00:12:09] because it’s built for one person.

There’s an opportunity, we think, to rethink that model. We obviously have a demand unit model that talks about the buying unit, tracking the buyer, helping you identify who’s involved, what their interactions are. How do we provide that as a package to a salesperson so that when they look at an opportunity for marketing that has that information in terms of the multiple personas involved, their activity, it looks like a far more richer opportunity for them to go work, than maybe something that’s just one individual and doesn’t have that kind of richness.

It’s a considerable mental shift, though, as well in terms of– Because traditionally, opportunities have been the domain of the sales organization. Salespeople create their own opportunities. I guess what we’re saying is it’s time to maybe revisit that and think about should one part of the organization own opportunity creation, is there any opportunity [inaudible 00:13:15] to start that process earlier in sales? For some organizations they may start it at STRs, in terms of STRs creating the opportunity and passing it along. Others are looking to do it much earlier in the process so they are doing account-based marketing planning and they are identifying those kind of ideal opportunities and creating them.

Then, as they go through their nurture plans and their campaigns, they are adding in the names, they’re adding in the activity, and it’s working its way then through the firm, so by the time it gets to sales they’ve got something that’s fairly easy.

Tom: Bringing the opportunity equation further back through the funnel. Are you actually doing that or you think that–

Anthony: We’re seeing people do that. It’s a shift, there’s a lot of work to be done to get everybody aligned around that idea, particularly sales. I think from a marketing perspective, they want to be able to deliver greater value to sales organization. They want to have greater return on investment, their campaigns and their other activities, but that’s where that revenue ops mindset, that alignment mindset is really required to make those type of changes happen. The organizations that we’ve worked with who have put that in place, that’s been the prerequisite. You can’t do that type of stuff if you don’t have that buy-in across the [inaudible 00:14:41].

Tom: [unintelligible 00:14:43] Agile in sales?

Anthony: Yes. I think it’s connected to revenue operations in a lot of ways. If companies decide that they want to take a centralized approach to revenue operations, then that’s fine, you’ve got authority across all parts of the revenue engine, but when you’re relying on a coalition approach, you don’t have a formal authority of marketing, or customer success, or sales, or whatever the situation might be. What is your governance model? How do you get these groups to work together?

I think the question that we’ve been looking at is, is Agile, and in particular things like Scrum, a governance model that companies can apply when they don’t have formal authority. How do you bring resources from sales, marketing and customer success and product or whatever else together to solve specific challenges within your revenue engine? Whether it’s renewals, whether it’s a focus on driving new business [inaudible 00:15:50], but having a model to gel everybody together and a way to do it iteratively.

Because a lot of the initiatives that we see organizations driving, they last for a very long time, they’re these monster initiatives, they move very slowly. It’s very hard to get a buy-in and they don’t show results for quite a long time. The whole concept of Agile is that you’re delivering things along the way, you’re showing value along the way, you’re getting buy-in as you do that. Also, it’s about how do you empower folks in marketing and sales office and elsewhere to be able to have some control over this stuff?

That means them being able to– If they need to pull the andon cord, like at the Toyota plants, that the senior guys have to– One of our clients, they literally have a metaphorical andon cord, so if there’s something broken in a sense, like on the phone, they put the CEO, CMO, CSR, to sit down within 24 hours to resolve it. That type of thing, it’s not easy to just flip a switch and put that type of infrastructure in place.

In some organizations, your DevOps teams, IT, may already have some form of Scrum in place and Scrum expertise within the organization. If you have that, then you’re at an advantage in terms of being able to think about applying that in marketing and sales. If you’re doing it from scratch, you’ve got to invest in bringing somebody to that level who can actually instigate that within your organization. We’re definitely seeing a trend for more and more organizations looking to figure out how to apply that and get faster returns.

Tom: Got it. Instead of having rigid structures within those three areas, success, marketing, sales, you actually saying under a CRO they could be dynamic groups working together to achieve things faster.

Anthony: Correct. Not even under a CRO. If the company decides that they don’t want to make any functional organizational design changes– You still have CMOs, you still have CSOs, you still have a chief customer officer, whatever, but if you want to get these teams working together tightly and effectively, that’s certainly a very strong option for doing that.

Tom: Got it. Fourth trend, use of AI in sales. What examples are you seeing today of AI being used to improve sales?

Anthony: I think the obvious forced way of AI usage in sales has been productivity play. Like, “How do we give our salespeople back more time to sell? How do we improve the quality of the information that we get from our salespeople?” A lot of the AI tooling, and certainly the forced way has been around taking the administration burden off the salespeople, capturing call details, emails, contact data and improving the quality of that information, because salespeople don’t like doing that. Nobody likes to do that stuff in sales. AI has largely solved that problem for the companies who can afford to do it. That’s probably another challenge.

Now that you’ve started to capture that data, AI is starting to do some other things. It’s starting to be able to give you back and give sellers back information. It’s tracking things like just from our previous discussion around buying groups, who is involved in a buying group, what interactions are they having either digitally or with salespeople, with marketing or whoever. What results are you seeing from those different types of interactions and giving people back recommended next steps in terms of what should you be doing next in this stage of the sales process or in this stage of the marketing funnel or what type of content should you be sharing next that works for this particular type of buying persona.

Then, I think for a lot of organizations, particularly in marketing as well, they’ve lost a lot of their contacts database through GDPR. A lot of AI tools are now able to [inaudible 00:20:22] the seller’s email inboxes and other areas where they do all of their shadow [inaudible 00:20:30], shall we say, and bring that stuff up to the surface. Because probably on average, a salesperson is putting about 20% of the contacts that they have into the CRM. AI is pulling that stuff out and serving it up.

There is a bit of a trade-off within the organization that I think companies have to think about as well is that the one play of AIs that they get in productivity, you’re taking this administration burden off them, but the trade-off is that there’s a much larger increase in transparency, so organizations have to think about culturally how do they sell that within their sales organization, right?

Tom: [inaudible 00:21:14]. Our challenge, if we’re trying to sell to your sales manager or sales operations, the challenge is not selling to them, the challenge is them selling to their reps, right? Some deals we’ve lost because reps have pushed back and don’t want full transparency, so that’s a super interesting challenge to have.

Anthony: Yes, and I think part of it is setting the expectations up early. We’ve seen some examples where clients who have put in place systems, have not had the engagement with the sales staff. They haven’t been upfront about the fact that they’re putting these deals in place, and with good reason. A company has to have transparency in the same way as Uber has transparency into all of its drivers and what they do.

The sales organization needs to have that same visibility, but it has to come with an understanding that it’s not just there to pick one salesperson off against the other, that it’s for more progressive reasons, in terms of giving sellers recommendations, making sure they’re working on the right deals and that their chances of moving an opportunity from one stage to the next improves as a result of this data, so it’s serving them. I think part of the problem in the past was that a lot of these tools have been put in place and the beneficiaries of it were really sales operations, or sales leadership, or executive leadership, but I think more and more AI is serving back important content to the sellers to help them move deals off.

Tom: Yes. Again, previously it was just serving the overlords. Now, AI is developing so that it’s also serving the actual reps, and therefore they would have less pushback on any of these tools because it’s actually adding value to their commission check.

Anthony: Yes. I think obviously there’s a change management effort there that you have to consider as well. How do we deal with sellers’ concerns, how do we pilot in these type of approaches where you get to show sellers in a smaller scale the value of what they’re getting from these tools before you go with a big push. That would certainly be our recommendation.

Tom: Got it. Analytics in sales, now I assume, or what I’ve seen in the last like 10 years, is the amount of data available to somebody running a sale process is probably growing exponentially.

Anthony: It’s getting worse, actually.

Tom: Yes, even for real. That means we now have a problem of what do we do with all this information.

Anthony: Correct, yes. I think not only is there more data, there’s more ways of analyzing the data, there’s more tools. Pretty much an eight-year-old can create a dashboard at this point. There’s no shortage of dashboards and reports anymore. What the challenge is, are we delivering insights, are we really being influential in terms of what we bring to senior leadership, to executive leadership? Are we telling a story with the data? I think for a lot of analysts, they’re relying on the data to do the hard work for them.

There has to be an element of translation. We take all this data, we get the sense of what the insights are for these, but what are we looking for in terms of action? What’s the recommendation that we’re looking to bring to senior leadership? What’s the evidence that supports that? It’s not just enough to be a data cruncher anymore, because anybody can be a data cruncher these days. There’s complexities. Within sales operations, a lot of the metrics are defined at this point in terms of what are the standard metrics for measuring effective performance? Creating dashboards around those is becoming less and less of a challenge.

Obviously, companies still have a lot of extraneous data that they’re trying to pull together and build into this stuff, but ultimately, if you’re trying to influence and persuade senior leadership, you’ve got to have the ability to translate that stuff into action. I think that’s where we see a lot of companies struggling with it. They’re trying to think of, “Do I need to hire a data scientist? What kind of analyst profile that we need?”

I think what we’re trying to encourage them is to make sure that they don’t ignore that ability to translate data insights into actions and be persuasive in front of senior leadership. It’s almost like if you didn’t have a dashboard or you didn’t have reports and you were sat down with a senior executive, that you could tell that story in 60 seconds. If you can’t, it’s probably time to go back to the dashboard and redo it again.

Tom: Interesting. You’re saying that the skill that we now need is the more emotional ability to take this information, but then explain what we should do about it, but in a more compelling way?

Anthony: Exactly. Emotion is the right word. We’re looking to elicit emotion from senior leadership. Sometimes that’s not hard, but sometimes it is, particularly in terms of things that with sales operations, we care about, like things that we are looking to try and drive change within the organization. Some of it may relate to investments within sales operations itself. I think a large requirement of an effective sales operations leader is their ability to influence leadership in the organization to get the budget you need for more resources, investment, whatever.

Tom: Finally, in a related point, I guess, tech stack or prioritization of tools, the amount of tools we have now in budget, you’re feeling some kind of more tools, same amount of budget? Is that a challenge?

Anthony: Yes. I think what I understand is obviously we deal with a broad range of customers. Early stage, mid-stage and beyond. They all have to pay the CRM mortgage. Before you can feed the kids and dress them, you’ve got to pay the mortgage. It’s substantial. To that topic we were just talking about, in terms of persuasion and getting greater investment, it’s a tough one because there are an increasing set of tools now to wrap around the sales organization that are really quite transformative. You guys are part of that.

For a lot of organizations that we speak to, they’re struggling to get the additional investment required to actually bring this stuff to life within their own organization. I think that’s going to be an increasing source of frustration as to are they getting enough value from their CRM systems and what can they do about that. Because every year, if you take an average organization, 250 salespeople like I had, I don’t know what the average is these days, but it’s probably probably close to half a million dollars every year.

Tom: [inaudible 00:28:29] seeing the Salesforce invoice, and then just trying to find the ROI, and then you’re coming and being like–

Anthony: “Hey, I want to do this, there’s great stuff in there.” I think that’s a challenge. To deal with that, companies have to really look at their technology strategy for sales operations. What are the investments that could make a significant difference, particularly in terms of seller productivity. That’s a very obvious place to start. Anytime you can give sellers more time in front of customers to go prospect, to meet, that’s definitely the right thing to do. There’s very different ways to do it across the industry, but taking a hard look as to how could you drive improvements around that, how could you give them back that time, that’s definitely a good place to start.

Tom: Got it. The question I want to finish with, the question we finish every interview with is who in the world of sales operations has given you the most knowledge? Who’s been your inspiration?

Anthony: It’s a pretty easy one. It’s my boss. I know that’s going to sound really [inaudible 00:29:36].

Tom: Well, I hope he’s watching.

Anthony: Dana Therrien is the practice leader for sales operations. I say that because he was my mentor, really, in this role as I joined last years, previously as a client. He’s somebody that has guided me through this sales operations journey that I think a lot of the folks who watch this podcast are on as well. Having that person who can give you an understanding of how to evolve your career in sales operations, what are the issues, what are the different perspectives on it.

Because as you move from one organization to another or you move from one transition to another as an organization matures, things change, priorities change. What worked in a previous company, what worked in a previous state is not necessarily what’s going to work this time. I think he’s been really a mentor for me.

Tom: There we are. Awesome.

Antony: The check is in the [inaudible 00:30:37].


Tom: I will try to summarize the insights that I really thought were interesting, but there’s probably too many in this one. The one that sticks in my mind is how easy it is to visualize data and that’s not a problem anymore, the problem is trying to emotionally influence people with a story. Having a team work within revenue operation in an agile fashion I think is really progressive and really interesting. I’d love to see, maybe you’re [inaudible 00:31:08] maybe research [inaudible 00:31:10]?

Anthony: Sure.

Tom: If you’ve got any case studies or examples that are super interesting. The final one is the CRM mortgage [chuckles] and how the real challenge in getting investments for other tools if you’re not able to fully utilize or prove that design. We will link to Forrester and Anthony on LinkedIn somewhere around this video and/or audio, so if you do have any questions, I’m sure you can reach out and then obviously [inaudible 00:31:35] work with Forrester if there’s a need. That was super insightful. Thank you so much for this.

Anthony: No problem. A pleasure.

[00:31:48] [END OF AUDIO]


Anthony McPartlin of Forrester

Anthony McPartlin of Forrester