Sales Operations Training: Jeffrey Serlin of Intercom

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Jeffrey Serlin jumped onto Sales Ops Demystified to give some sales operations training from his 21 years of experience.
sales operations training

Jeffrey Serlin jumped onto Sales Ops Demystified to give some sales operations training from his 21 years of experience.

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Tom: Hello and welcome to a brand new episode of Sales Ops Demystified and I am thrilled to welcome probably the most esteemed and experienced sales operations ninja that we’ve had on the podcast. Jeff, thank you so much for your time.

Jeff Serlin: Tom, thank you for having me. I’ll take a steam by the extreme you don’t been around for a while too but that hopefully means I have a lot of wisdom to help them [unintelligible 00:00:35].

Tom: Yes, what I’m going to do is, I’m going to ask our listeners to Google Jeff Serlin LinkedIn and then just have a look at Jeff’s background. Because what I saw was really really awesome. Jeff has a massive massive experience but Jeff worked at two, would you call them startups, Jeff, those two companies that got acquired?

Jeff: They definitely were, yes.

Tom: Cool. Jeff has spent a number of years at startups in a Sales Operations role or a sales operation related role that both got acquired by massive businesses IBM and Oracle. He’s currently the global director of sales operations.

Jeff: I’m the global head of both sales and support operations. I have a team of close to 25 folks right now. Our mandate is a little bit bigger than some typical teams but yes, it is that global head for operations.

Tom: At Intercom, I haven’t mentioned that yet. [laughs]. This fantastic messaging business. We’re going to go through the standard questions where we might deviate slightly. I’ll try and keep us in line but I think there’s going to be a wealth of knowledge for everybody here. I want to kick off, Jeff, with our first question that we start every podcast/webinar with, which is how did you get into sales operations?

Jeff: That’s a good question. I actually took a couple of notes because I have to come myself about how I did not go to school for it, I did not apply for the jobs, it just happened. My first role at a school, I was an industrial engineer, was working for General Motors, but my first job was basically a new group, a new team and they pointed to a problem and they said, “go fix this.” It was me and a manager and we figured out how to fix this thing. The details aren’t important but we had to apply some creativity and innovation. We had to bring some data analytic and data competencies to use some various engineering teams.

We had to pull stakeholders together to get them to agree on what that big global optimization was as opposed to a whole bunch of folks doing things at the local level that maybe didn’t end up building a really good local car. We drove a lot of change and in many ways, I described that first job as just fixing something. Making something better which is how I describe what operations is. I ended up going to, sorry.

Tom: Yes, I just said interesting, just a general comment, continue.

Jeff: Yes, once I, looking back even though it was automotive, it was still liking operations. I went back to school, I joined a consulting firm, did supply chain procurement consulting. Consulting was not for me for a number of reasons and then I made my way up to Silicon Valley almost 18 or 19 years ago. My first role was business, I was doing partnerships with folks. I was a product manager. I was a social consultant and built that team and there was not a thing called sales operations back then.

I was the person that said, “Well, geez, shouldn’t we manage our pipeline somewhere?” I started with an Excel spreadsheet and just did that. I was the one that said we can be a little repeatable on our sales processes and how we do demos and I just started writing some flowcharts and some stages and figuring out how we should execute deals. We bought one of these companies before the ones that were acquired which actually ended up going public a couple of years after I left, salesforce.com, in I think 2003 or 2004.

I’m like, “hell I’ll go wait,” and I’ll start configuring it and getting people to put their data in there and created these wonderful dashboards and views and processes and reports. The reality up for many many years is I was doing operations on the side just because I felt it needed to be done and no one else was doing and it was something I enjoyed doing without it being an official job.

The company you refer to called [unintelligible 00:04:23] software that was acquired by Oracle I was introduced through some mutual friends to their CRO who is also an industrial engineer, worked in industry, made his way over to Silicon Valley and SAS and software sales and had a stellar career. Very much built like me, his sales it should be a process in a science as much as it should be an art. He said, “Why don’t you come work for me and do this full-time?” That was the first time I was officially called head of sales operations. I was experienced when I began.

Tom: I thought I jump in but would the job sales operations was that actually a thing then? Was that on the job description, were other people hiring for that role?

Jeff: Very few if any. In fact, I don’t even think he knew that it was called sales operations. We met for lunch and he described all the things he would like this role to do. I said, “Yes, I’ve been doing a lot of that. It sounds really interesting.” It involved a wide breadth of things that sometimes you do and sometimes they’ll not fall under sales operations. He was looking more for chief of staff, a partner, a thought leader.

Someone that could watch the business when he was traveling. Someone who can interact with finance and marketing and our partners and make sure that we’re driving the right program. Someone who can go in and run the QPR’s with their ups if needed. Someone who can manage the software and the CRM, do a little bit of enablement. He was looking for all of that as opposed to I need someone to manage CRM and it just was the right fit. I did that with him.

We sold, he actually became the CEO of that next company that got acquired by IBM and I was the first person he brought over. He basically set me a laptop and said, “You have no choice but to come join me.” I reported directly to him as opposed to in the sales folks. We looked at the role again as a very important operational chief of staff, helped make the go-to-market side run and run efficiently and get to our numbers in a roll.

Then from there, It started I think at that point of time people specifically hiring for this, hiring earlier knowing that if you had a 20, 30, 40-person company that’s really trying to accelerate go to market can use that skill set. It just all hit with some great timing and with the experience and skills that I had to set me up with a good breadth of experience. From there, I joined Marketo and eventually made my way over to Intercom. I’ve actually I looked here, I counted the companies. I’ve either done, ran or started the sales ops function at seven companies out here for those years.

Tom: [unintelligible 00:07:04].

Jeff: Maybe I recount it but it is seven.

Tom: Which has been your favorite? It might be like choosing between children.

Jeff: I don’t know that I can say my favorite. What I do believe is every single one of them is different. Every company is at a different stage of growth, has different priorities, have different things that need to be built and evolved and fixed and addressed. They’re all a little bit different, so it’s hard to make apples-to-apples comparison. Every single one of them has been so valuable in what I’ve learned and even in Intercom, I’m doing some things that I haven’t done before, done a lot before. I’m still learning and adding to my toolkit of experiences that will help me both here and in the future.

I would say being at Marketo pre IPO, going through the IPO and seeing it really scale and get big, is just entirely and completely awesome but my last 18 months in Intercom have been equally as awesome. Not only with the company but being a little bit more product-led I’ve learned a lot of new skills and ways of thinking about even when I do and transferring some of those methodologies over to my team here. I would say right now the Intercom, Marketo are the two that I’ll probably look back at and be most proud of.

Tom: I got two company names I didn’t think I was going to get them out of you there, Jeff. Intercom and Marketo. Okay, from those creating Stevan sales operations departments, you must have a pretty good idea of what makes a good sales operations person because you’ve seen yourself go through that process be able that hired a significant number. I believe your team size at the moment is 25 in sales operations at Intercom.

Jeff: Just about, yes.

Tom: Cool, what do you think makes an awesome says operations person?

Jeff: Yes, let me start by sales operations which can mean a lot of things. I currently have what you would call traditional sales ops. The planning, the forecasting, the process, the methodology. I also have enablement under me. I also have a systems team under me and I also have the folks under me that manage our internal use of our own product Intercom because it’s a piece of software that you heavily use in everything. We need to in a sense manage it like we are a customer and on that deployment. To me, sales ops is a very broad category including strategy function under me.

What makes a good sales operations person are a couple of things. One is you have to be solution-oriented and I talked about when you asked how I came through here, my first job was solving a problem. Most of what we do is solving a problem, big ones, small ones, long-term ones, and short-term ones and just making things better. In doing that, we have to have that ability to live with some ambiguity. We have to know that there isn’t an easy answer in front of us. Let’s just work the problem, solve it and then let’s add a whole bunch of creativity. I think creativity and innovation. We are not just working spreadsheets. I think we’ve earned the right to be very creative, to push new ideas and new things, to think outside of the box and try and experiment things that maybe haven’t been done before, done in the way that we want to do it. I’m solution oriented, a lot of creativity and innovation. We have to have empathy. We are an internal service organization, we have internal stakeholders.

We have to understand why reducing the number of clicks for us is important. We have to understand why getting timely and accurate data for the executives is important. We have to have empathy for the folks that are doing all of these processes and interacting with solutions, globally, at scale, and literally in the hundreds of thousands of times over the course of the year in repeatable scalable activities.

That also means that we have to be great at prioritizing. Our roadmap list and intake is hundreds and hundreds of items, and they’re all legit. You can make a case that everyone’s important, but we have to be able to go through a process of prioritizing the ones that we’re going to spend our capacity on. That’s the only way we can get to be proactive and really solve the long-term things.

Then, I think, along with prioritization is great stakeholder management. Making sure we keep our ears to the ground, that we understand what eye sees in the field, what their experience and needs are. Understand the priorities of managers and execs and leaders, both within and outside of sales ops and with our partner organizations and manage their expectations, so that we can protect capacity, we can work on projects and get them finished.

We can declare that certain things are not going to work out now because they’re not the priorities. I think wrapping all of that in is a good amount of thick skin because we see the problems. You can go down that kind of rabbit hole real quick, if everything’s broken. It’s not, but there’s always things that are broken and they’re always going to come to us. A lot of times, it’s very impactful to the people that bring it.

There’s sometimes emotion, crisis, and skies falling down. We have to not associate that with us being responsible for them being broken, but we have to associate that with us being the ones that people come to, because they know we will fix it, and working to fix this, as opposed to kind of getting a psyche that we’re the reason why things aren’t great. There’s an omen of I think thick-skinned and resilience that–

Last one I’ll say, and this goes back to my first comment, well-rounded. Sales ops does not equal salesforce.com administration. Sales ops does not equal just being able to build planning spreadsheets. Sales ops is just does not equal some process design or forecasting. You might specialize in certain things, but the more rounded any sales ops individual can be of learning at least to the point of being able to articulate and understand what the rest of those things are and how they have to interact and integrate with them to be successful, I think is a really important skill that I think isn’t necessarily being developed to the extent today, now that there’s a lot of specializations, as it was, say, 10 years.

Tom: I think there’s seven points that I’ve tried to memorize, but I’m going to go for it. Prioritization, thick skin, solution orientated.

Jeff: Creative.

Tom: Well rounded, empathy, quite a lot of edge. Cool. I think what we’re going to do is we’re going to write those seven things out. We’ll put them in a text below this video. We’ll also probably tweet out. There’s a few quotes in there. I like when you were saying how sales operations is not just building spreadsheets. It does seem like, from what I’ve experienced by speaking with now ten different sales ops thought leaders is that there’s really a lot more to the role than I initially thought.

My background, if you didn’t know, Jeff, was really in marketing, so I didn’t have much experience or exposure to the sales operations people, which is why this podcast has been such an interesting journey. A question that has that always divides– It doesn’t divide, it’s a super interesting question we ask everybody, is the necessity for having experience in sales to go into sales ops. We’ve had people that have had ten years of sales experience and are managing a sales team, and are doing the operations. We have people who have come straight into sales operations teams with zero sales experience. I really see a super interesting answer to this question. I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Jeff: I’m going to say not necessarily. I can tell you from my own experience, building and running a solution consulting team and being in sales cycles from beginning to end, on-site negotiations, et cetera, et cetera, has helped me a ton because, at the end of the day, we have to understand what the job of selling is. Not year by year, quarter to quarter, but month-to-month, day by day, even hour by hour.

I think, if you’re not necessarily in there and understand the dynamics of negotiation, it’s hard to maybe create or advise on a pricing model, or the right strategies, or the right place to get that done. I think it is incredibly, incredibly helpful, if you do come with some level of sales experience. It doesn’t need to be a lot, but a little bit does help. There are certain roles that it’s okay to not have it.

Systems, for example. I hire a lot of folks who are engineers, who are product owners and have a lot of background in product management, and that’s okay. Some of the planning reporting folks I have come from banking. They have the skill set– They’re right in the modeling and understanding how that works and understanding financial statements, so they’re great partners in working with banks. I don’t think it’s necessary, I think it’s incredibly helpful.

If you don’t come from a sales background, you have to love sales. You have to love the action. You have to love getting to a number. You have to love the ups and downs. You have to want to get up on the sales floor and clap and cheer on your colleagues when they close big deals. You have to have some of that orientation and build it, otherwise I think it may not be best fit to necessarily be in sales ops as opposed to some other roles. It’s helpful, I think it’s great if you have it. It’s not necessary for certain roles, but you have to learn how to become a thing.

Tom: You have to have the passion for the deal.

Jeff: Totally. [inaudible 00:16:36] their number, period.

Tom: What number does the sales operations team Intercom have?

Jeff: [unintelligible 00:16:45] the whole global number. I [unintelligible 00:16:47] is the same as the rest of the sales executives here. It is a leverage plan, it’s not like five percent of the plan. All of my managers and above also have an element of variable compensation, which is also tied to that global number.

Tom: Cool. You, as the global director of sales operations, you carry that total revenue number. I’m also assuming that the VP of sales also has that number as well.

Jeff: They do.

Tom: It’d be interesting, because I’m not sure if we’ve had that before. I’m going to write that down. Shifting away from that, current sales operations technology stack.

Jeff: I wrote down a little bit of a list. I don’t know that I’m going to throw out a whole bunch of names, but I’m asked this a lot. I think the first thing I’ll reinforce again is that our job is to solve the problem and fall in love with the problem, and not necessarily the solution.

I lifted that quote from our chief operating officer, who said that in a sales conference. “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.” Technology, in many cases, is the solution, but you can’t start there. You’ve got to start with defining what that problem is and what your outcomes are. I think that’s very hard for many of us, in this role. We see all these great, cool, awesome things, and see a vision of how it might work, but we’ve got to set our priorities and roadmap.

Having said that, you certainly need CRM. Sales acceleration, how to reach sales without those sort of tools I think are just absolutely critical and everybody needs one to efficiently move leads to [inaudible 00:18:35] . You need some reporting and forecasting, and it could be a custom database with tableau or [unintelligible 00:18:44] with some good data analysts, or you can buy a series of kind of purpose-built packaged solutions. Either one works, depending on what you need it for. That’s reporting and forecasting. I’m going to throw Intercom out there. I know, it is a great tool to help manage leads through the process. More and more, we see people adopting those sort of chat messaging tools.

Tom: Sorry, just to jump in there, I find it interesting. Let’s say I’m a lead. I’ve engaged with your sales team, but then I come to the Intercom site and I start chatting with that same sales rep at Intercom. I’ll obviously have an account in Intercom. I’m assuming you’re also thinking to Salesforce.

Jeff: You will not have an account at Intercom. You don’t need an account at Intercom to utilize the chat for people that are using it.

Tom: True, but if I’ve given you my email address, I’ll be contained in Intercom, right?

Jeff: Yes, you will be in our solution, but you don’t need to get an account. In fact, you can enter our website and not give us your your email address. We’ll initiate it and talk to a sales rep.

Tom: Understood, but, for you guys internally, I’m going to be interacting with that salesperson through Intercom, but I’ll also presumably have a record in your Salesforce [unintelligible 00:20:05]

Jeff: Yes, cool.

Tom: I can have the interaction, the deal can essentially be closed and then updated in Salesforce.

Jeff: No. Those systems are integrated so the data does flow back and forth. Let’s take this scenario in which you came in via campaign, and your name is in our CRM Salesforce and a sales-rep is working with you, and then you may have came to the website as well and you have chatted in, we know that you were working with [unintelligible 00:20:39] Technology, that specific rep so it gets routed to that person’s inbox.

To them, when they look at Intercom it’s like looking at it inboxes you would in mail or other things and they can start a conversation. Then it all gets recorded together in CRM just like phone calls and other things do in there as a channel of that communication. It all does roll back to that [unintelligible 00:21:01] person and opportunity record in Salesforce.

Tom: Let’s do a big shout out to Intercom actually, I’m not sure if you’re still running this, but you did have a startup plan where you got some level of discount, but you have to apply for it, right?

Jeff: Yes we did. We still have it and it’s called the early stage program. Basically, newly founded companies that have below a threshold that revenue or funding or years of since they were founded that can use a lot of Intercom for that early stage introductory price against certain time thresholds and [unintelligible 00:21:34]. Yes, and a ton of folks come in there and it helps them get started and–

Tom: Extremely powerful such a sweet product, so I highly recommend anyone, regardless with the early stage. Cool. Okay, so we were slightly side tracked right there. We’re just talking about the tech stack, and then we mentioned Intercom and then I jumped in, but I’ll hand it back over to you.

Jeff: I think just to round it off, there’s a whole bunch of things and I wrote the word here, foundational. Depending on where you are in your stage of growth in your programs, you may need lead discovery and enrichment, you may need lead routing, you may need activity integration so it automatically logs into Salesforce, you may need some better data entry or calendaring. There’s a whole bunch of tools and solutions out there that I think you consume depending on where you are with your size, your scale, your growth objectives, and even the type of sales motions you have. Whether you’re high velocity or much larger enterprise.

I think those are the core ones that I mentioned and then there’s a whole slew of the foundational ones that you may need to deploy over time and actually, decommission over time too as you start to continue to evolve. You should always align your stuff to where you are now and what you need in the future and consolidate, and rationalize, and refresh.

Tom: Cool. Okay, just a couple of questions I actually think we’re going to be going through with anyway. Thank you, Josh, so yes. Cool, so again, I noticed that you moved away from mentioning specific tools in there because you’re getting more of an overview and you understand that different people different times are going to need different tools, but is there a tool that you have used previously or that you’re currently using that you think is like, crucial?

Jeff: Yes. I do. I think that an outreach or a sales loft is 100% crucial. I think some other ones that are in that foundational category, lean data is a great product which helps efficiently route leads and match people to the record so that you have better hygiene and faster response times getting it to the right folks. Query we do use which is one of those purpose-built forecasting tools which allows a roll-up forecast to be submitted by reps all the way up to me in that tool, and that drives the transparency, but it also drives a ton of accountability from top to bottom which is a big, big part of that.

There’s other benefits that it provides too, but that forecasts, accountability, and method is awesome. There’s a company called Coda, which we just started using organically and now we use it as our- I don’t know, program management, canvas to manage our roadmap. It’s got internet functionalities, it’s got collaboration functionalities, we have a process that we’re rolling out where for the intake of things that people want us to do on the roadmap, you fill out a form and it integrates into code and puts it on this beautiful line in a spreadsheet with the status of not what that and then we, we take a look at it, we move it to our roadmap, we move it somewhere else, or we consolidate it and it manages all that.

That’s, I think, just a great productivity tool that the more I use it, the more I find all of these awesome things that are in it. I think those are the ones that I would say now. If you asked me in six months, it might be a different story.

Tom: Okay. Awesome. You did mention data quality when you were talking about one of these tools, but how are you guys currently managing the data quality in CRM and who in your team is kind of responsible for that?

Jeff: Data quality is, I think, the single biggest pain and hardest thing to do anywhere. It’s no different in all of those companies that I mentioned I’ve worked with before. It’s just the beast to manage. I would love to even hear best practices from what other people have had. I’ve taken a position where I’ve locked the system down very tightly, so nobody can really create accounts, or contacts, or leads and that helps to keep it clean.

Then I said open systems tool and I don’t know what the right answer is, to be honest, I think somewhere in the middle, you need to keep the business flowing and those things happening. My team ultimately owns the CRM and we own most of the data quality in conjunction with marketing OPs, who actually, puts a lot of things in the database. We jointly work together on that mass aggregate enrichment tools, and then follow on the [unintelligible 00:26:03] for doing those, and also the rules for when we put new things in there of what it should do and what it should trigger.

My team puts together and this is something we’re actually going to be working on a lot more this year, the rules of how we should create what new fields are mandatory, which ones we don’t need to worry about. Let’s not even ask for them and get better data quality. Rules around naming conventions and hierarchies and all of those things. Ultimately, my team drives it.

I’ll maybe take two minutes. There’s a thing that when I was consulting, not in sales OPs, we created a methodology called DIRT. We were deploying big ERP events planning systems at big semiconductor companies. That stands for Data Integrity Response Team. I used a little bit of that, I haven’t launched that at Intercom yet, but really, that’s the data governance. I think data quality only gets there is maintained with governance.

That’s having all the stakeholders who are responsible for putting data into the system, but also keeping it clean so that you can align and definitions, what fields we use, the process, what rules we have. It also includes then the documentation of how we want it to be managed. It involves the enablement and management of the rules of engagement so that once it’s clean, we make sure it’s clean. It involves jointly identifying areas that we might want to jump into and fix and so you can run a bunch of mini projects.

I think that by putting it into a little bit more of a stair co or a more formal framework, because understanding how important it is, and it truly is so important for everything that you do and go to market, that you treat it like it’s a real project, like you’re implementing CPQ, and then you just start to get a handle on it. I think its governance, its data model, its documentation, its definition, it’s ROE and then it’s forcing those and controlling those through enablement and other things that you can do in the system and management oversight.

Tom: That would almost be like a separate project team within your sales operation team.

Jeff: It would involve several people on my team, and again, I haven’t implemented that here yet, someone to be basically the chair or the lead person from my team.

Tom: Cool, and you think that person would be you or the person would be someone else?

Jeff: Someone that works for me.

Tom: Cool. Okay. You might have mentioned this, the biggest challenge that your kind of experiencing in your role.

Jeff: Intercom, when it was founded was 100% self-service business, meaning customers came online and they went through a purchase flow [unintelligible 00:28:33] there was no contract and no negotiations and it’s still phenomenally important and great part of our business. Intercom got really big doing that and then came a direct sales team [unintelligible 00:28:45] performance management marketing. It’s been here for about three years or so maybe a little bit longer.

The biggest challenge here is all of the systems and processes and methodologies were designed for a world which was that online purchase flow, self-serve, no-sales model, so re doing in some cases and shoring up those foundations so it works when a person is selling to a person, when it’s a multi-year contract, when it’s negotiated, when someone’s not going through that online model is I think the biggest challenge of evolving all of the go-to-market systems and processes and ways of doing business on top of every successful business that we don’t want to harm in any way.

Where there’s challenge to me, is where there’s fun, I like to be able, we talked about a little bit before we were prepping and this involves a lot of building and a lot of change, a lot of innovation, and new things that we’re driving into the business, but almost everything that we’re doing is revolving around bringing the business up to be able to handle as efficiently sales like deals as we currently do with the self-service online purchase force.

Tom: I just want to dig a little bit deeper into that so you said about three years ago, Intercom ramped up their direct sales team.

Jeff: Yes, more or less.

Tom: Cool. You joined just over a year ago, a year and a half?

Jeff: Yes, about 18 months ago.

Tom: When you joined, how many people were in sales operations, if any?

Jeff: When I joined, there were, I want to say five or six.

Tom: Cool. How many sales resources?

Jeff: In total, I want to say 50 to 60.

Tom: Okay, cool. I assume that’s scaled pretty heavy now.

Jeff: It did. They’re five or six now with all the responsibilities that I have has gotten to that mid-20s with the things that I talked to you about before and then our sales organization in total is well over 100 now.

Tom: I can only imagine the stresses there that’s going to put on the system especially when the systems were not initially designed for that outbound model.

Jeff: Yes, not designed for a model of which people are involved in sale emotions, I think is how we would [unintelligible 00:31:18] it. We get it done and we built a lot of automation and we fixed a lot of it up but there’s still a long way to go.

Tom: Sure, awesome. I think there might be someone waiting behind you to get into the room.

Jeff: I have the room so [unintelligible 00:31:30]

Tom: Okay, that’s fine. Just so you can run [unintelligible 00:31:37] now. This is a super interesting question that we ask every single person that comes on. It’s about, “is there a single metric where you could use to judge people in the sales team? If so, what is that metric?”

Jeff: I don’t think there is. I think that we always measure to quote attainment and to getting to the plan which needs to be there. I think that again, it’s a dependence question. I think if you are a high velocity business and we do have that here that you measure two different set of metrics. Fast response time, a lot of activity-based metrics, a lot of daily management, “Are we doing the things in the right order, the right cadence, the right volume that we need to drive the outcomes?”

If you’re in much more of an upmarket or enterprise business, you’re looking a little bit more at ARPA, you’re looking at the big activities, the gates, and the important things that you should be doing within a sale cycle along the more traditional methodology of discovery, due diligence, and negotiations. I think that there is a set of metrics which could be common.

I think that depending on where your business is and what your goals are, your goal can be to decrease ARPA, or increase AR, or increase customer count, or increase retention, or increase cross-sell. You can pull from that common set of [unintelligible 00:33:04] metrics and use the appropriate ones. We do evaluate those in the big sense every year going into the year.

We set up what we call our rocks and we put KPIs against each one of them. We typically leave them in place for the year and come up with the [unintelligible 00:33:21] of the ones in the year going forward, so I don’t think there’s one. I think that there are, again, a set of ones that you need to offer based on what you want to accomplish.

Tom: Sure, awesome. Just checking if we have a question. James Snowden is back again. Here’s one for you, Jeff, “Do you ask reps to forecast and use that or use analytics and conversion rates to make your own forecasts?” Does that question make sense?

Jeff: It does, absolutely. To me, forecasting is a lot of science but it’s also a lot of art. The more ways that you can gather a forecast from as many different methodologies and algorithms in ways you can triangulate them and get a sense of where you’re going to head, so I do want, I mentioned before, query a system I use to get rep bottom up, roll up forecasts. I make each rep and each manager, tell me what their forecast is. That’s a data point.

I also do run some math and analytics in the back where I take a look at where we’re starting the quarter in terms of open pipeline, historically what we’ve created within the quarter and close. Those trends, I draw some basing formulas, see where that ends up. I also take a look sometimes a little bit deeper at the large deals we have and split them up between that and the velocity business because sometimes that straight line or formulaic pacing isn’t great. [unintelligible 00:34:51]

My finance team also does a high level forecast so I basically have four different ways of trying to understand where we may end up. I think they’re important because when they converge, you feel much more confident that’s where the business may be ending up and you’re taking the appropriate action. Where they don’t converge and where they give you very different results is where you dig in to try to understand why. It could be because you have one or two really, really large deals.

So you’ve got to discount those appropriately. I think the answer to that question is yes, I think the more ways that you can forecast and and get a projection using different assumptions, methodologies, and methods to see where that number is and then see how they all fit together I think is incredibly important.

Tom: Final question, is there someone else that you know either you’ve worked with or learned from who have taught you what you know or who you think is super outstanding in this field?

Jeff: That’s a hard question. I think me being around for as long as I have, I’ve met a ton of people along the way. I think generally networking, meeting folks, and going to meetups is a great way to learn what they’re doing and for them to learn what we’re doing because I think we’re all in many ways tackling the same problems, so I have a network of folks that I rely on, ask questions, and text all the time to see what’s going on.

I think that because when I started this, there was really no one to really teach me. The mentors and the people I looked at were the people that gave me the opportunity to jump in and solve these problems and then the empowerment to do so. The person that those two companies, named Pathwork was one of them [unintelligible 00:36:35] that chance to go in and be an operations person, and elevate its importance so that I can get things done.

I would say [unintelligible 00:36:45] was the SVP of sales at Marketo when they were less than a million who took them public in over 200 million, who I’d known before I worked for him. From him, I really learned I think from as much as any leader on high-velocity SMB sales and how to manage a sales team at scale. Both of those things are incredibly invaluable to me. Then there’s probably a long list of people I can rat along but as I mentioned before in this role, we always need to be learning.

We’re always going to find new problems that we have to figure out how to solve. [unintelligible 00:37:21] building a network, going to meetups, going to conferences that are really organized around sales ops. Even I’ve taken my team before, we’ve gone from other companies that are around the corner about the [unintelligible 00:37:34] Two teams have totally just met up and spent half a day together to [unintelligible 00:37:40] stories, so yes, keep learning.

Tom: Jeff, we’ve come to the end. Let me just check the questions. I think we’ve answered all of them. Josh, yes. There are three things I’ve written down here, Jeff, I really liked. First is, it’s not just a sales ops, it’s general but, “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.” I think that keeps you focused on the reason why you’re actually there and not biased with some pretty spreadsheet or system unit.

Jeff: Again, that quote is from our COO. I think it’s great so I will [unintelligible 00:38:15] further out there.

Tom: Not just saying quote from the COO. “Sales operations people and not just doing spreadsheets,” I like that one for simplicity. This is super interesting, “You don’t necessarily need the experience in sales to be effective in sales ops but you need the passion for sales, passion for the deal.” Those are three things I really liked. Jeff, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Jeff: Thank you for having me and thanks everyone for listening.

[00:38:54] [END OF AUDIO]

Quotes:

"There is no easy answer in Sales Operations but  having the ability to live with ambiguity is a plus." - Jeffrey Serlin
"There is no easy answer in Sales Operations but  having the ability to live with ambiguity is a plus." - Jeffrey Serlin
Tom Hunt

Tom Hunt

Tom Hunt is Ebsta's Head of Marketing, he is passionate about sales tech, puppies and efficient teams.
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