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Sales Operations Manager: Melinda Forest

Melinda Forest jumped onto Sales Ops Demystified to share her knowledge and experience as Sales Operations Manager at Decibel.

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

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Tom: -to a very special episode of sales ops demystified. We're joined by Melinda Forest of Decibel. Hi, Melinda. Melinda has been in sales for pretty much her whole career, and more recently, let's say, has switched over to sales operations. As Melinda said before we just went live, it seems like with that's factually a longer time because one year in sales operations feels like 10. On that note, Melinda, how did you get into sales ops?

Melinda Forest: Sure. Well, I went to school for nursing. Naturally, I [inaudible 00:00:40] in sales operations. It's a bit of sarcasm, but really the study of humans really does translate over in a lot of ways with sales operations and with sales ops. Initially, when I was in sales, I found the culture of sales changing and evolving to be more human and more consultative, more solution-oriented especially with SAS and high-tech companies.

Later, while eventually managing an inside sales team, I found myself pulling a lot of metrics for our KPIs and OPRS and implementing strategy based around these insights that I thought would be better suited organization-wide. If we were all working with aligning our strategy to meet these success metrics, we would be more efficient. That's how I ended up moving into sales operations. I had an affinity for those analytics and was hoping to then apply that to our go-to-market strategy and really help our teams become more successful.

Tom: Got it. You had a sales leadership role and then part of the activities you were doing were sales operations and that's a thing that you were really good at and that you enjoyed, then you shifted over to focus more.

Melinda: Exactly.

Tom: It's quite interesting for me because I recently did one of these interviews and the gentleman said that best practice is like one sales operations person to 25 salespeople. If you have a sales team that's smaller that, you're probably going to have a sales manager, a sales leader then, obviously, the sales operation stuff is probably going to sit on them. Is that what happen to you?

Melinda: Yes, absolutely. Prior to having a sales operations team, you find a lot of managers having to do bits and pieces and share this role with each other. As you scale, it just is another job of its own. That's really the best time to bring in a sales operations person. I've worked in high-growth tech startups pretty much my whole career. I love the immediate impact one can have and that generalist skill set that it promotes so that you work into this very humble all-hands-on-deck situation.

I found that when everyone has an idea and can really appreciate the role that sales ops plays in order to make their lives easier, it becomes a very accepted role in the organization. It really does start to help with revenue growth and the ability to scale quickly as most startups need.

Tom: Right now you're managing a sales ops team. What's the ratio between people in sales ops versus actual salespeople?

Melinda: I'm actually not managing a sales ops team at the moment. I would like to be and we're looking to hire. If any [inaudible 00:03:49] hit me up and I've done it the best. However, I would say the ratio can very easily change. Everyone has their opinions on this, but for me, I think with every 10 sales people, you should likely have some sales operations person. It's just a lot of effort.

However, at the moment, what I'm doing is more than just sales operations. I'm also helping with marketing operations, I am helping with finance and revenue ops. At this point, I would love a business analyst or a coordinator of some sort or [unintelligible 00:04:35]

Tom: If you have a job description, just send it over so we can link it below this video/audio on our blog. Awesome. Let's talk about tech stack at Decibel at the moment. What are you guys currently using?

Melinda: I love this question. I've pretty much experimented with every variation of different [inaudible 00:04:57] out there. Perhaps it dates me a bit because when I was in sales we didn't have half of these tools we have now. You have your necessities like your CRM. We use Salesforce at Decibel and HubSpot for our marketing and automation tool. Then we have a data intelligence software, something like DiscoverOrg, LinkedIn sales, NAV, SimilarWeb. We have a pretty complicated territory system here. We want to make sure that we are pulling in all the right information and automating that into our CRM.

Then we have email automation, so SalesLoft at the moment, although I do love Rolling out some props to them; they've done a lot to improve. We have Gainsight for our customer success team and some luxury tools like CPQ, we use DealHub, as well as is something we're playing around with right now. It's a call recording and transcribing tool with search capabilities. Ideally, it would help sales managers on board their team quickly. It would alert management of key deals, competitors; just information about the market that wouldn't otherwise to be put into Salesforce because of how tedious it is for the salesperson. It automates a lot of that.

It helps us get more information and history on some of these opportunities that we wouldn't otherwise have. That's a huge and really helpful one for us as well. We play around with a lot of tech. Some things are more necessary than others, but all have the huge purpose of making our team more streamlined and helping them with opportunity, lead conversions and success.

Tom: Got it. Focusing on the CRM, how are you guys dealing with data quality? Is that your responsibility or does that stay with someone else?

Melinda: Data quality is everyone's responsibility. We're all responsible for that. First of all, I do my best to unify our platforms and create automation, but I can't do it all. We have some integrations that allow for the validation of information, and then others they are brought in just as a visual, LinkedIn, for example. You can bring that as a Visualforce page on Salesforce contact records and it may show you their up-to-date job title, but it's still up to that sales owner to change the title if it's incorrect, or if they're moved companies, to update that information. In order to have clean and healthy data, we need everyone to pitch in.

As some tips, I would definitely say on the sales upside use lookup fields and related fields as much as possible so that you're not duplicating information in different areas. Try to differentiate record types. We have different record types so we're not bogging down our users with unnecessary information and fields. Then, of course, consolidated platforms as much as possible so that they're not toggling in between to see a HubSpot score or a Gainsight health indicator or different LinkedIn pages. All that data should be integrated.

Tom: On that you mentioned that data quality is everyone's responsibility, how do you get, specifically sales people, to do stuff that doesn't directly help them get more commission?

Melinda: It's all about how you prove that it does. At the end of the day, we're all in this for the same purpose, we're the same team. My job is to show and to create transparency between the different departments; marketing and sales, our partnership channel et cetera, so that they can understand how their actions deeply impact each other.

When I explain why a specific field is required or why this validation rule is in place, I want them to know that it's because it helps us understand the market which helps us change and nurture leads to a point where they're more qualified. They're more acceptable, they're easier to work, they're faster to work, and it speeds along the overall sales cycle.

Helps them increase their close win rate and ultimately dose bring money into their pockets. It's just a matter of making sure that they understand why it is we're asking them to fill an action. Typically, they're quite understanding and responsive to that.

Tom: So enable them to understand that actually these types of actions will lead to greater commission.

Melinda: Yes.

Tom: We have a question from Zak. How do you define or measure success in sales operations?

Melinda: How you define success?

Tom: Yes.

Melinda: Well, I define success by how our departments are succeeding; when we actually see growth. A portion of that is allotted to process put in place to streamline the workflow, to changes that we've made. However, I think that with any project, you do need a feedback session at the end so that you can say, "This is actually what worked. These are the expectations we had. We gave it the proper amount of time to finish and here are the results."

I think if you apply that to every single project you have, whether it be we're implementing this new tool, is it actually making our sales team more efficient or is it just another thing that they have to manage and learn and it's just slowing them down? That matters that and you can get definitive metrics from that.

Tom: You ultimately understand how well you guys are doing by how much revenue each of those departments, specifically sales, are generating. Then also, you can be able to track projects based on success metrics that you set at the start of the project. How are you currently onboarding salespeople?

Melinda: Having been in sales myself, I've evaluated and used every tool I introduced them to. Many of these tools have their own great support resources as well and user guides. For example, if I'm going to focus on documentation, I don't want to bother to try and explain it better than HubSpot Academy or Salesforce Trailhead. Those are excellent learning resources.

However, they're pretty much an encyclopedia. If you're looking for information, you can pretty much go down a black hole. It's up to me to curate that content for them and show them where to find things, as well as pair that information with our own domain expertise so that they understand how that relates to our processes and workflows. So that every new commercial member is trained, I also run full sessions with them individually based off of what they're bringing in. If they have other habits, whether good or bad from another company, if they're great, then we want to apply those to our current workflow. If they're bad habits, we want to make sure that we're training them and giving them the foundation for success, and not showing them those shortcuts, perhaps, right away, so that they truly understand why it is that we do what we do.

Of course, I work with their managers to maintain this knowledge and help them achieve their quotas. It's a lot of information for people to take in right off the bat. Making sure that we have a sustained, ongoing learning sessions is always helpful. Of course, I try to do a hot desk situation so anyone can tap me on the shoulder. They all know my face. Some of them call me mom. It's [inaudible 00:13:49] just say I want that them to know that they can ask me for pretty much anything and I'm here.

Tom: Do you think that having the background in sales gives you more credibility when interacting with the sales team?

Melinda: I think so. Yes, I do. I am truly an advocate and I have a soft spot in my heart for the sales team. I think they know that and appreciate that I [inaudible 00:14:15] .

Tom: We used to ask in our podcast, do you think sales experience is necessary to succeed in sales ops? The general answer was, no, but it helps. Would you agree with that?

Melinda: Yes, I would agree, definitely. I don't know that it's necessary, but it's certainly very helpful when you're trying to gain buy-in from everyone. For me, it's imperative.

Tom: How are you making your sales team more productive?

Melinda: How I'm making them more productive? This ties into what we were talking about before. It's the unification of platforms, transparency, making that sure we're having closed-loop feedback and reporting sessions so that they understand these leads that you're sending in are of little value or aren't qualified. They can go back to marketing, marketing then can change their criteria. If everyone's agreed upon it, then SLA should move pretty smoothly. Transparency is key.

Then I'm also doing trend analysis, understanding sales trends, what's making others more successful and applying that strategy and giving options to the team. I think that they have the ability to take on whatever style is best for them and to know that it's still going to work with our overall Salesforce. Giving them actionable measurement is important, dashboards so that they can keep up with their performance and then performance of their peers, they can collaborate on what is helpful. They can optionalise their pipeline. They truly understand, how can we pull in resources to help us speed this along? Where can we find certain sales enablement tools? All of that is important.

Tom: What KPIs are you currently tracking?

Melinda: Everything that we can possibly track. Of course, there's limits to Salesforce and hence all of the other tools. I think as sales revenue operations, we get to create the narrative around what actually has impact on sales performance and success. We create this alignment between multi-departmental success metrics and I facilitate the conversations with marketing inside sales, sales-finance partnerships, customer success-product. We get to measure and achieve our goals by a specific time as they relate to what's going to impact each other and themselves individually.

From a project management perspective, you'd be looking at quality, scope, time, cost. Whereas from a sales operations perspective, I'm looking at value, volume and velocity. We're strategizing around these quantifiable areas. For example, if you can shorten stage tenancy by understanding when to bring in marketing and product sales enablement, you could be closing faster, hiring, win rate, hiring targets, raising quotas, commission, and then seeing multiplied growth at the end of the day. Something as simple as truly understanding how long you're spending in each stage of the pipeline can make a huge impact on revenue.

Tom: What I'm hearing is that your role is actually much broader than sales at the moment, and then you're coordinating multiple different teams with the goal of reaching an overall revenue strategy. Is that correct?

Melinda: Yes.

Tom: All right. Cool.

Melinda: Yes absolutely. We're looking at buying trends, forecasting and accuracies and trying to tie all of that into creating helpful sales knowledge. So making sure that our leads are qualified and of value so that the sales team isn't wasting their time on anything they don't need to so that they can then, of course, focus on speeding up their pipeline and then nurturing that top of funnel. We're looking at how many closes are happening and how frequently. There's a lot of KPIs in there and 100 different ways to measure them.

Tom: If you could only measure a sales rep by a single KPI for the rest of your career in sales operations, what would you choose?

Melinda: Good question. A single KPI for one sales rep? I would look at their win rate. I think that there's a lot to be seen in that. You can see how vast they are spreading their capabilities in time, if they are winning the majority of those or not. Where are they strategizing? What information are they using in order to win and close, and the types of resources that they're leaning on because that's where we want to allocate future budget to? There's a huge story in those wanderings.

Tom: Did you say then having a win rate that's too high could be a bad thing because it means that they may have extra capacity to spread it across more deals. Is that correct?

Melinda: Absolutely. Having a win rate that's too high might mean that they're not optionalizing their pipeline properly. If that's the case, then they may have a high win rate now and a very low win rate later. We want to make sure that that doesn't happen and mitigate that risk.

Tom: That's the first time we've heard that answer to that question. A very interesting point of view. Another question from Zak. What is your go-to method or framework from making sure your process is successfully implemented with good adoption?

Melinda: Making sure that it's implemented with good adoption is-- I don't want to roll anything out until it is strong. I think we are all under specific time constraints. To push something before it's ready might seem like the best use of money if you're on a POC or trial, but I think that you're not going to get the same adoption. You're not going to get the full benefit or understand that product and you have a short period of time to really get your sales team onboard. Making sure implementation is done prior to rolling it out is huge.

Then post-launch, I tend to put on quite a bit of requirements so that people get in the habit of doing things the way that I want them to do. Then as time goes by, I remove those incrementally so that we don't get user error down the line where people are filling in whatever they want just to move past that rule, but rather they're learning what is needed and it becomes a habit to them. They don't feel that it's required. Treat them with respect and like the adult that they are, and allow for that process to just take shape so that they adopt it.

Tom: Final question, who taught you what you know about sales ops?

Melinda: That's a hard one. Sales ops is really one of those roles that derives its skillset from a number of different areas. Being that I've been this whole person to start and build out sales ops teams in my career, I can't say that I've actually been mentored by any sales ops person. However, having sat under sales and marketing and run reports for every other person in the world, I can say that all have played a huge role in the development of my skillset.

My good friend Crystal Barrett, actually, who in business intelligence, she's business intelligence development over Accolade in Seattle and worked under a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, had huge impact on my project management style as well as influencing how I visualize data. We're big Edward Tufte fans, and when I think about how to translate complex data into a chart that tells a story that I can [inaudible 00:23:58] guys for our sales team and have them digest and understand, that's really important. I use a lot of Tufte's techniques for that. I definitely take Crystal out to lunch.

Tom: Shout out to Crystal of Accolade. The other person you mentioned who I think you guys both learn from was Edward--?

Melinda: Edward Tufte, yes. I don't know him, but [unintelligible 00:24:28] many books.

Tom: Which is the best book that we can recommend?

Melinda: Frankly, they're all quite large. I would recommend going to a conference, reading a blog run by him because depending on what you're looking for, again, it becomes like such an encyclopedia adventure. In terms of techniques, certain techniques are really ideal, especially when you're thinking about things like making sure that people who are colorblind which is a good portion of the male world can actually visualize your charts and see. Having color be at the top of your mind when you make graphs and charts is really important. Certain techniques like that I think are really helpful and you can grab them from all facets of the internet. I would highly recommend looking up top.

Tom: Let me just summarize what I picked up from that. Here we are. The very first thing you said about how the study of human nature from your nursing background is useful [unintelligible 00:25:47] That was really interesting. Data quality is everybody's responsibility. Then enabling salespeople to see potential commission coming from actions they might not immediately think would lead to commission is very useful when trying to engage people with a new process you want them to adopt.

Melinda, thank you very much for your time. [unintelligible 00:26:19]

Melinda: Yes. I appreciate it. Thank you for having me.

[00:26:27] [END OF AUDIO]


"Enable sales reps to understand that logging certain pieces of information can lead to greater commission." - Melinda Forest
"Enable sales reps to understand that logging certain pieces of information can lead to greater commission." - Melinda Forest