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Senior Sales Operations Business Partner: Andrew Smidmore of Confluent

Andrew Smidmore 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 Sales Ops Demystified. We are joined by Andrew Smidmore of Confluent. Now it is going to be an interesting discussion, primarily because Andrew’s coming to sales ops from a background that I don’t think we’ve had anyone else come from. Then you’ve been practicing the skill for a number of years for a number of different companies, including Pusher and now Confluent.

Andrew: Docker.

Interviewer: Docker. Is Push another like a separate company. I think it is, that’s why I got confused. Yes. Okay. Docker and Confluent. Andrew, welcome to the show.

Andrew: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Interviewer: I want to kick up by understanding your transition from accounting into the sales ops. How did that happen and why did that happen?

Andrew: Okay. Yes, it wasn’t intentional. Which I don’t think it ever is in the sales ops space. I started of in an accounting in finance, background, in private sector originally. This is going back years to my late teens, early 20s. That was also unintentional as well. It wasn’t something I wanted to actually get involved in, but I found that I quite enjoyed it. The office vibe and culture. I did that for a number of years, hopped at different companies. Then I actually went to an insurance software firm over in the city called RMS or Risk Management Solutions.

I was in an accounting finance role there for about three and a half years, I think it worked out. I was getting bored. Basically, that’s the bottom line. A bit disillusioned by the whole thing and couldn’t really see myself being long term. I didn’t really want to go back and study for accounting exams. Do all that schooling again. That is almost quiet Body Body with the sales op guy. It was just one guy, in the [unintelligible 00:02:07].

Interviewer: How many years ago was this?

Andrew: This was, I started in RMS back in 2011. This is probably about 2013 or so, 2012, maybe. That’s my period. I was friendly with this guy. We’re going really well. He was in sales ops I was in the county. We spoke a little bit about work-wise. It was more a social type of relationship. He actually wanted to go out of sales ops to become an account exec. I don’t know why at the time, it never really flexed me to think actually, this would be a good move for me. I was prepping myself that I was going to resign and move on and do something else.

Maybe like move into a more finance versus accounting type space. The leadership team actually caught wind of it. Because I had gotten well with everyone there they liked me all of them. They didn’t really want to see the move on to the company so they said like, “Why don’t you moved into this guy’s space, this guy’s position?” it would be a good transition because obviously, you’ve got the accounting finance experience speaking with the US all the time where we was headquartered and then the more I thought that actually, this is pretty good.

Because I was friendly with the guy who was chatting with me he was telling me about it I was thinking I don’t really– This is brand new to me what does it entail, what do I do, and then it just snowballed from there really. It was a very, very quick process I guess because he was up in internal transfer I’d be moving in a couple of weeks. He had moved out into the field to start selling and I had moved into his position. Flew out to California where we was headquartered spent a week there. Flew to the new New York office spent a week with the senior sales ops person there and then basically thrown back in London and was like, “Go for it.” Type of thing. That’s where the journey started really and it turned out it was the best decision that I actually made.

Interviewer: You went from there is that when you moved to Docker?

Andrew: No. I stayed at RMS in sale ops role for I think it was about 20 months maybe and then I actually can’t remember the reason. This is obviously back in 2014 or whatever it was, but I thought I want to see what’s out there in the market. I want to see– I think there were some leadership changes in the staff and I didn’t like the direction the economy was going and all the way it was planned out. I couldn’t see any growth in terms of the role. I actually was like, “Okay, look I’ve got this now.” I’ve got really good grasp of sales ops. I really enjoy it and this looks like a greenfield I can get out there and really do some good stuff plenty of ideas.

I went to Caldero they merged with Hortonworks last year they were in the Big Data space. Yes, I went to Caldero. Caldero for about 23 months or something. They’d moved from Caldero to Docker and then Docker are now my Confluent which I started in January this year.

Interviewer: Awesome. You then on Confluent now. What is the size of your team if there is a team. Well, what number of salespeople currently are you supporting?

Andrew: Yes, I was the first and currently the only sales ops person in there. I’m currently doing two jobs at the moment so I’m doing sales ops business partnering side. We have the VP of sales [unintelligible 00:05:42] and they are the regional leaders in South [unintelligible 00:05:47] and the UK have been our smallest. On the other side I’m doing the deal desk side as well just purely because they were like we need someone to do this we hire someone because obviously, the company’s watch has exploded and we need boots on the ground that are same time zone.

You’re European you can get on that release cluster. We can go, yes, that type of thing. I was fine a little bit of this stuff before Docker. Not really my back on better on the business partner side, that is fine. I was like, I know what I’m doing. I can deal with it and whatever. I’m doing bifocals at the moment. When I started, it’s interesting, actually, because when I started in January, there was myself, my boss, who’s based out in San Francisco, or Palo Alto. There’s another guy, a senior deal with this guy. It was just us. It was just him before me doing all this stuff globally.

He was like, we need someone in desperately. We have to- the business is scaling, stuff like that, at a rapid pace. To keep up with this, we need someone in. I think it was pretty much killing him. That’s when I came in and within three weeks of me starting we acquired another deal desk analyst in Palo Alto. Then probably six, seven weeks after that, we hired 2 sales ops business partners in US, one across the East Coast, one across the West Coast. The plan for me really, is to move away from home builder space in Jamil. We’re actually recruiting for some at the moment. Then I can clearly focus on business partnering and planning and spending time with the regional leaders.

Interviewer: Eventually, how many on the business partner side? How many salespeople are you currently supporting?

Andrew: Yes, I want to go from there. At the moment, I think we got my last count, we had about 38 reps, that I’m looking after and supporting on daily basis all actively selling right from enterprise account reps to main account managers, to the commercial team. Then obviously, everything else that goes on with sales ops. Everything else that feeds into sales ops world with the SDR team and marketing and REF, REC being that bridge between all the different business units.

Interviewer: Yes, the thing that stands between all the different stakeholders.

Andrew: Yes. A sales ops, for me, is we really are like the central nervous system with all the business units. We like to keep the business ticking over. Every day, I’m thinking with the sales team and that could be problems in our CRM system, that could be paperwork issues. It could be them asking questions about, does this document constitute a hook in? Can you get on the phone with finance tonight and speak to them about this? Then the SDR team will be like this lead is routed incorrectly and I can’t transfer accounts. All of that as well. There’s a lot of obviously stuff like planning for this account management, medic.

Everything. Legal, the customer success team like sound engineers like everything feeds into the sales ops world to sort of flip it upside down, spin it around, push it up, go sideways and so we can get the business over the line.

Interviewer: On the tech side right now at Confluent what is the from a high level or some kind of sales tech there?

Andrew: We use FSPC for our CRM it’s our white board search like we want everything in there. I think you have to have one place that you can direct everyone. One of the [unintelligible 00:09:54] you might not see it in previous companies and it’s probably the same across a lot of companies is that you have too much collateral or [unintelligible 00:10:02] documents. Different pieces of the business that ultimately you all need to come together that are all scattered around.

So we try to keep everything within Salesforce. We also use a [unintelligible 00:10:16] which is plugged into the Salesforce which is our forecasting and analytic tool. It’s quite 12 years in, I’ve got previous companies that got their hand on that. On the other side, we use LinkedIn, the SCR team use that for prospecting. We had a piece of software I think it started for plan acts which you guys can actually plan on hierarchy accounts to workout the right people they need to talk to and then we use Slack as well. That’s Slack in the other type of instant messenger just a quick back and forth to get things sorted out.

Interviewer: You mentioned FSPC as your bible how do you keep it the bible, how do you keep the data in there as accurate as possible?

Andrew: It’s interesting because coming to Confluent and knowing and hearing great things about the company and where they’re getting into. You come in with us a certain type of expectation automatically. I don’t know why I do this because I do it at every single company I’ve been at, but it’s like it never works out like that. You go in and you think the system is going to watertight, everything locked down, automation spilling out from everywhere like everything is seamless and then you come in and you start discovering and usually it’s crazy.

Why is that like that not like on my last company that was totally different, we didn’t have our reps to do this or our reps that had to go through this amount- this many steps to actually get stuff done. The past seven to eight months that I’ve been here, we’re actually and now the team is growing much. We really are sticking back some of the layers of the system putting things in place. Some of it with we’re finding out through errors, some of it, we’re finding out where things have gone wrong with the reps.

Which is is quite good because obviously it flags it and you can jump in immediately if it’s going to be business critical. Then a lot of the other things we’re putting in place, it’s not so much the needs its the wants, what we want to get out of the system. How we want it to flow, what will make it seamless for the reps also for the other business users that log in on a daily basis. In terms of integrity, and cleanliness, and hygiene, I guess that every user that goes into the system can actively do things, but I want to say that it’s on everyone to take the time and give the special attention to make sure that what they’re putting in is correct and to keep it as tight as possible.

It’s never the case because it all depends on the skill set of the person within Salesforce. It depends on the time someone’s got in your day. We all signs the different reports and alerts in place and hiding dashboards, but really the ops team are keeping track of things every– I think I’ve got the dashboard at the moment I check three times a week maybe to make sure things are tire and are nice and clean.

We’ve actually just hired someone in US to run CRM, to build a small CRM team. They’ve already made a big impact with the team in terms of really striking out some of the stuff and segmentation and making sure the user profiles are set out correctly. Yes, it’s full steam ahead, at the moment internally to really get the ship shore system.

Interviewer: It’s nice. Focusing on the you said the [unintelligible 00:13:56] focusing on these guys. What do you do and try to make them as productive as possible?

Andrew: I was saying this to you before we went on in that a lot of the guys that come into the software space, they’ve already got a very good understanding. Whether they’ve heard about products or not. If it’s build on the simpler foundations of other products or software they’ve sold previously, they tend to pick up things pretty quickly. Looking through the eyes of the sales rep they are not getting paid. They like earning money and the way they earn money is through bookings. They will ramp themselves as quick as possible. Which is great for the organization because it’s one of the key metrics that you want to drive down.

You don’t want a long run time. I think they’ve always got that in their core. From the ops sides, I would like to look at one of the main things, one of the main sort of mantras that I go by is that the whole point of the sales ops is to basically assist the sales reps to sell bigger, smarter, quicker. I try and remember that on a daily basis, to think if I was in the field, how would I want to use the system? Do I want to go through 15 steps to get a client down the road? No. Not really. How do we cut that back? Where are the bottlenecks where are the hard stops?

I think the great thing about Confluent is, it is such an open company, where it doesn’t matter who I’m talking to out of the chain, I can sit there and actually call something and say, “That’s complete rubbish. Basically, there’s no need for that to be there.” I’ll always have this historical where something might be put in place and if someone’s moved on, you just end up keeping the same flaw in the system, because you think it makes sense. If it’s too much, they might have to change. I like to try and look in CRM point of view, to make it when they actually log in, that they don’t automatically mentally shut down.

They want to get into the system, they want to get done what they need to get done. Then they can get something out within like 10-15 minutes. I’m not talking about building reports, because obviously a lot requires- or they’ll always going to come to sales ops to say try this, what about pulling in an annual report like, “This is not showing me the right data.” Blah-blah-blah. For me, we need the sales guys to go and sell. We need them to bring in bookings, which means we need to force our paperwork. For them to do that, we need to go back to the start and get that person into the system, and then forecast it correctly, and make sure everything’s uploaded.

If we can make that as seamless as possible, to shorten the time that it takes for them to get something in front of the customer, then that’s a big win in my book.

Interviewer: So, bigger, better and faster? Is that what you said? That’s the point of sale’s ops?

Andrew: Bigger, smarter, faster. Yes. That’s the way I like to look at it.

Interviewer: If you could summarize your job in like 10 words, it would be to enable sales to sell bigger, better and faster?

Andrew: Yes. 100%.

Interviewer: Got it. Can we talk about your role in the forecasting process?

Andrew: Definitely.

Interviewer: Do you give the data to the sales managers and they work through the forecasting with their reps, or for you it’s not for producing their forecast?

Andrew: I don’t actually produce the forecast. I do sort of tend to cut the data a couple of different ways on a weekly basis, and we present stuff to our VP of sales. He’s a very intelligent guy. He’s been doing this for a long, long time. He knows what works. As a company at the moment, we’re using a category type model forecast. We also allow our sales leadership team to actually plug in per deal what their gut feel is in terms of adding a percentage to that, and then we can look at the biting of it and we’ve got a fantastic data science team based out in California that have managed to do all this crazy stuff behind the scenes. It’s quite interesting.

If I have the time, I’d love to slot into it with them, in more detail, to actually see how they come up with these types of models. The correlation between what they ask the sales leadership team to do, and then the result after the end of the quarterly. Very, very close. It’s something that I really want to- maybe spend some time with them at some point, when I’ve got the time. Again, back to your question on our leader and our VP of sales, he knows, going into the course. You’ve already looked at the quarter past ones that he already knows.

He’s already fully aware of of [unintelligible 00:18:44] at the end of the year, what is risky, what is likely to happen, just from how plugged in he is with the sales leadership team.

He’s already made his call and judgement on what he thinks we’re going to do against our number. From my side, on the business partnering side, I will literally make sure every single deal is scrubbed from a forecasting perspective to make sure that the numbers that we are talking about in the forecast, the weekly forecast with our leadership team in the US we can stand behind and walk back into and sort of feel quite confident about that. That’s what I move into.

Interviewer: You take the forecast and make sure that when you go into that meeting on Monday, that everything is 100% correct.

Andrew: Yes, basically.

Interviewer: Moving onto metrics, and I’m going to change the question a little bit. From your experience in sales operations, which metrics have given you the most insight into a rep’s performance?

Andrew: I would say the new and expansion metric, bringing in new business and the expansion of the existing business, whether that be at the renewal time or whether it’s mid-term, through the renewal. I think that can speak volumes because on the new side, you’re going to actually see if the rep is good enough to get into a blank patch and do what they said they were good at doing, during the interview process and what they claim to be able to do in bringing in new logos. On the expansion side, it shows their productivity on a relationship level because, obviously, once you sell to a customer, you don’t necessarily- I wouldn’t consider myself a sales rep any more.

I would consider myself part account manager because, obviously, that renewal with them, for some companies, is your responsibility to take care of. I’ve seen it in a couple of different ways in previous companies, where the renewal will get handed off. That’s why sometimes that works for some companies, and then I’ve seen it the other side, where the rep will then become the relationship manager and still have to go and bring in new business. I think if you can look at that metric you’re then able to step back into the productivity metric automatically.

It takes some digging into because obviously there’s always going to be edge cases where things get handed off to people or they inherit something. Some reps can end up, they can land lucky. They can walk into a company and be given a done deal of like 500K and all they’ve got to do is push along. I think the data doesn’t always tell the complete story, but then that’s the great thing about sales ops because then you can dig into this, the lower layers, and impact the pitch for the right people basically and explain what’s been going on.

Interviewer: Got it. I’m trying to aim on the reps again. Do you have a type in you’re experience where you’ve had to try influence a rep to do something that maybe they didn’t immediately see the value in doing?

Andrew: All the time.


Interviewer: What’s your strategy for doing that?

Andrew: Yes, I always get frustrated in every company I’ve been at for something like, “Why do the reps behave like this? Why did they put up such a fire?” I’m viewing it from my side and I’m thinking, “This is going to make my life easier so of course it’s going to make the reps life’s easier.” When I take a step back sometimes, obviously, I realize that they’ve seen this probably 100 times more than I have and they’ve gone into companies and they’ve been using one system for six clubs and then somebody’s like, “Oh no, we’ve got a budget, we’re going to get another system now.” Then they have to change and they have to learn it.

Then like 12 months later we get new leadership come in and they’ll bring in things that they used to use and the reps hate that. They obviously like the consistency and the fact that they can just flip their laptop on in the morning and know exactly what they’re doing not for them to wait for something new to land in their inbox and say, “Oh, by the way, now we’re going to start doing this or now you’re going to have to run your pricing proposals out of this system.” I’ve always had a lot of pushback. I think probably a lot of sales ops people will tell exactly the same story. I think that’s just the way it goes.

I like to think I’ve got really good soft skills with the reps because I do understand their struggles and their pains., I see it myself daily, things that I get frustrated with, things that you can’t just flick a switch and get sorted overnight so I try to empathize with them. I find the best way of getting them onboard is actually walking them through something and actually showing them in the most simple terms to say, “This is how I’m doing it, but this is also how you’re going to be doing it,” And actually highlight how it can shorten the process or speed things up or the fact that it doesn’t need to go through other levels of approval now.

A good example is in CRM having a discount matrix built in. It takes some work, but if you’ve got something that you can actually build into the CRM system where you’ve set different levels of discount approval, the reps, of course, they’re going to love it, if they submit an order comes under a certain value and doesn’t need to go all the way up to finance for approval. It just bounces back and says, “Approved.” They’re going to pull it off. They’re going to take it and they’re going to go around wise it’s fantastic.

If you can really demonstrate those types of things, actually show them in firsthand versus send an email saying, “Oh, by the way.” Which probably some reps don’t even read it anyway. I think that can go a long way.

Interviewer: The final question is about the person who has inspired you the most in sell operations. Inspired or tough you this?

Andrew: I’ve got a mentor or I use her as a mentor from RMS phase. She was quite after me. She’s based in New York. Her name is Debbie Stevens and she came in to RMS as I think she was a senior director of Global ops at the time and we just had like a very click-click relationship type of thing where we just got on great socially and from a business point of view she got it and she was a very no-nonsense type person where she was very much like me, she doesn’t like all this red taping if something it’s ridiculous then you need to count me out, there’s no point of coming there, which is very similar to my approach with certain things.

We’re basically in touch now, she’s in New York I’m here she comes over sometimes because she’s at another company now and she’s chief revenue officer or something similar position. We’re in touch and we Whats App I lean on her a lot and our message her. She actually called me when I started the company, I’ve been there a couple of months and she was asking about clarity and she knew about us at a previous company so she wanted to get all the details on it. We were chatting and so I was telling her what’s good about it what’s not good about it.

She’s a really great mentor to me. She’s the only person that I can go to and she’ll say, “Have you been stupid? I wouldn’t do that.” Or, “I’ve seen from previous job.” She’s been in space for a long time so she’s

Interviewer: What her name?

Andrew: Debbie Stevens.

Interviewer: Debbie Stevens. Where is she currently working?

Andrew: Apaemetries

Interviewer: Apaemetries.

Andrew: It’s like a recruiting, HR software type of where it takes the bias of-

Interviewer: Recruiting.

Andrew: -recruiting, basically.

Interviewer: Shout out to Debbie.

Andrew: Yes, shout out to Debbie.

Interviewer: Today show is the things I liked. You very, very simplistically, describe what I think is a really good definition of sales OPs, which is empowering salespeople to sell bigger, smarter, faster. I think that’s a really, really good way of explaining sales ops to someone. Then the second part I liked was about your interest in understanding irascibility to bring in new businesses as this, the renewal path and how these are kind of different skillsets, but if you have to, if your business has to do both of them, you have to understand who’s good at one versus the other. Those points we haven’t heard before.

Andrew: I’d incline the reps– What I’ve seen over the past seven years is the reps– I’ve seen a lot of reps will sell a 12 month term or a 24 month term if you’re working on an annual subscription model. It’s quite good for them. They get paid and it’s almost like a set and forget. It like that’s like 12 months. I don’t just worry about that now. But it’s an ongoing relationship cause I think what a lot of people fail to understand is the renewal is like the air to the business lungs. If it doesn’t renew, if it’s gonna cause X amount of problems because obviously it doesn’t look good in terms of customer churn, it doesn’t speak well in the market, if someone’s moved away to a competitor, it doesn’t really sort of show that you’ve got a good relationship team that keeps them with you.

Keeps them successful in what they’re trying to achieve in their business because that’s what we’re doing. We’re sending a solution to them cause I have some type of pain point. So I think the reps needs to remember to keep that at the forefront of their mind. Probably like three to six months, maybe even from other year like checking in with the customer to make sure things are going okay. Because if you can get that part nailed out, of course, the customer expand with you and spend more money. It’s like you don’t want to get into the discussions with them when they are threatening to leave because they’ve had a bad experience. and it’s good for the rep because it means they get paid.

It’s good for the business. I think you see the growth of the business. But I don’t think a lot reps want numbers. Maybe they do. I don’t think they really see it from that angle sometimes. You’ve always got like, I’m not going to say bad reps, but you’ve got the good reps that will think about stuff like that. And then you’ve got the reps that they are quite happy to just sell and just move on type of thing and handle renewals to the renewal managers. I get a lot of invites for those or they just might just don’t like that relationship aspects. Like it might just be that that expertise is just to bringing in new logos and that’s what they love doing and that’s fine. But I think there’s a lot of things in the transaction, even later down the line once the business is closed that you need to keep at the top of your mind.

Interviewer: On that I really thank so much for coming in. That was mostly reliable.

Andrew: Thanks for inviting me. Had fun.

Interviewer: Hope you will come in again.

Andrew: Yes. It would be good.

[00:29:43] [END OF AUDIO]


Andrew Smidmore of Confluent

Andrew Smidmore of Confluent