Ian Matthews jumped onto Sales Operations Demystified to share his knowledge and experience in Sales Operations.
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Tom: Hello, and welcome to another very special episode of the sales office team podcast/webinar. We’re joined by someone who has extensive experience in the sales management and sales operations field. First sales operations exposure came in around 2005 but first sales operations dedicated role in around 2015. We have a lot of experience in the room today. Ian, welcome to the show.
Ian: Thank you very much.
Tom: I think I should mention your current role, so Ian’s currently Director of Revenue Operations, Teradata. Teradata have big customers and not that many salespeople so we’re going to be diving into this kind of long enterprise sales cycle in this interview. I’m super excited to understand your entry into sales operations as well. We’ll kick off with the first question about how you actually managed to transition into sale operations from the sales management role you were in.
Ian: Yes, so it started back in about ’98 when I joined a company called National Instruments in the graduate training program.
Tom: In ’98?
Ian: ’98, yes. New engineer, graduated with a degree from Surrey. I’m thinking I need to find a company that can give me some good sales, will get me up and running. A year or two later, I’m going to head off and find a new company to work for using those skills for my first proper job. Well, I stayed there 18 years and along the way, that’s where I suddenly realized from entering National Instruments as a graduate engineer, thinking really I wanted to be an engineer to very quickly realizing that I enjoyed spending time with complex problems and speaking to customers. Rather than sitting in a back office working on design projects or coding or similar.
I very quickly moved into a sales role there working with automotive, aerospace customers around the UK. I transitioned into a sales management role in 2005, taking ownership of a sales team in the southeast of the UK and Ireland. I think I had Scotland at the very start as well, working with sales engineers, so all very technical people with very technical customers.
In 2005, no one really had sales operations as a function. We mainly had customer operations, so very good customer services and operational functions around ERP and making manufacturing work, making finance work, doing those things. We had a relatively comprehensive but basic CRM from Oracle, at the time I think it was. Sales managers were expected to not just coach and manage their teams and work with their customers, they were expected to do a lot of the functions you’d expect with sales operations today.
I was spending my time not just coaching my team and actually building the team, I was responsible for defining coverage, looking at performance management and actually banking rating, doing forecasting which was something I really got into. I really enjoyed. I discovered that my engineering training, the use of data, I could do some quite cool things and get a relatively good level of accuracy compared to our old ways of doing things. Also building out enablement and building training programs and building the whole structure for the sales organisations. We had a team of sales managers. I think there were two of us to start with. Each with a set of sales people and I did more and more of the sales operation side of things.
Over time I found that being the important part of my sales management job. I ended up being part of the advisory board for our global team on which CRM should we choose. How do we evolve it. I got heavily involved into training and sales conferences. Then I had the opportunity to shift countries and ran a sales team in France. Which was fantastic fun but really important to my development as well because working with a team in another country doing the same job, you can suddenly see the differences between staffs, between different countries. Differences in sales process.
We were selling the same things, the same kind of customers but actually the approaches, the process, the styles and what you need to do to work with the sales teams to make them effective was completely different. Then I evolved into a leadership role that if you have to guess, affects business across all of EMEA. That meant I suddenly was exposed to Swedish customers and salespeople. People in Germany, Spain, Italy. Launched some quite a complex business. This was a major sector for National Instruments so I was meant to succeed with a lot of different sales people and coaching something newer once on approaches, account plannings and similar.
All of that led up to a great opportunity but also headhunted internally to take ownership of a sales transformation program. When I effectively started a new function which was called “Sales Effectiveness”. At that point we at National Instruments realized that there was a need for a more formal set of sales operations expertise so we’d had a global operations leader who’d been pulling together some of this capability by herself.
Tom: Which year was this by the way?
Ian: This was 2014 and I’ve been working with her on sales conferences and applying different content and opportunity reviews or trend planning or similar. So I had interviewed and was asked to take on this new role where I had a series of stakeholders across the world who were sales directors. My mission was to roll out a single sales process and a single process and a single sales run to a thousand plus sellers, multiple managers, marketing, all the other functions together and it was a huge program for us. I was the voice of sales. We had business analysts. We had IT. Implementation salesforce who were starting to make the shift to better sales analytics.
For two years almost, I was in the center of this crazy transformation. We called it STEP, the Sales Transformation to Enable Performance. You need a good logo and a brand when you’re doing a big transformation. That was the moment when I got exposed to proper sales process designs and professionally changing the minds of leadership. Changing the approaches, moving people to being more data-driven.
For two years I was in my element and I realized actually I enjoy being a sales manager but this is 10 times more fun. 10 times more fulfilling and it’s more the kind of thing I want to be doing. I want to work with analytics. I want to work with smart people. That was the moment where I realized I’d been with the company 18 years. It’s time to try something new so taking that background, I headed off. Moved to London. Joined a small start-up that was focused on analytics. They’d needed a sales leader and an operations leader, and I slowly built out a sales process, sales teams and eventually started the fundamentals of building a sales operations structure from scratch.
We’ve also acquired and continued that within the acquired company to the point where I’d got exposed both to this big world with National Instruments and now I’ve seen to small-scale. At the end of last year, I had the opportunity to speak with Teradata and I saw a company that was just in the midst of this giant transformation again. Teradata where we’re at, two and a half billion dollar organisation. We work with huge customers. People at Volvo, PayPal, AirFrance.
We’re really at the heart of their analytics, business intelligence and driving answers out of all this comprehensive data they have. I had a chance to take on effectively the EMEA challenge and here’s a huge organisation that really needs some very dedicated sales and regular operations support so–
Tom: Here we are.
Ian: Yes, here we are.
Tom: What a journey. Just so we have some reference for your current position now, how many sales people is your operations teams supporting?
Ian: We’ve got about a hundred account executives across EMEA but because we work with large complex customers, though we have account executives, most of our accounts in our enterprise space actually have a team of three or four different stakeholders who work for that account. So you have the account executive, you generally have a presales or a solutions consultant, you have a business consultant and for most of our larger accounts, there’s also engagement manager for our services team.
It’s not one sales person working purely by themselves in the account with a number of people who come in and help occasionally. Actually it’s a dedicated triad or quad of people who are focused on that account or maybe two accounts total and they’re driving customer success. They’re driving expansion and they’re driving complex deals over long sales cycles.
Tom: Is that quad introduced in the account book as a customer or at one point say you’re targeting one account, do you put a core in place like a lot–
Ian: Yes. We’re very strategic about our account selection. Actually, coverage models is really interesting. I’m still getting into this because I’ve only been with whatever data five months now but we’re very deliberate. We’ve identified a thousand mega data customers out there around the world. These are big organizations with lots of data but also the ability and the need to use that data.
Not everyone who generates all this data is willing to use it, is capable of using it or similar but people like banks, large manufacturers, airlines, automotive organizations have huge potential because they’ve got the data and they can see the value. We’ve identified that set of customers. We already work with a good number of them already.
We have a number of targets where we’ll put a quote in place or a triad in place to support prospecting and targeting an entry into that account. The most far our customers are long term customers or medium-term customers we worked with for a while and we’re focused on driving this success expansion and with the heart of analytics and answers of what they do for the business.
Tom: Got. What is the side of your operations team that’s supporting this?
Ian: Well, it’s interesting. We talk about whatever data. We have go-to-market operations. If you imagine in the organizational structure we have our chief revenue officer, we have a consulting organization and we have the three big regions in tetramerics. Then we have go-to-market operations on the site. Go to market operations is really split into three functions.
There is the core go-to-market operations incorporate in San Diego which owns the platforms, which own strategy large scale enablement. We have a deal desk and pricing function that really enables the governance and structure of complex deals. Then we have revenue operations which is aligned to the regions and consists of sales operations, renewals, proposal management, all of the things you need to do to actually take a global structure and apply it locally within a region.
We’re within a mere five sales operations managers go line to five sales geographies. They’re the business partner from the operations side to everything that the VP who runs that geography, for instance, Western Europe which is France, Italy, Spain has a dedicated sales operations manager who does everything from training and enablement right up to being the operations business partner at the right-hand man along with the head of finance for that geography to help the VP understand that business and run that business.
Tom: Can we now focus on the tax that you guys- [crosstalk] I know that could be different from the typical interview because there is a large enterprise account you have.
Ian: Yes. Well, the starting points probably we have a similar CRM, salesforce, a good number of people are on that. Like Salesforce actually since we divulge National Instruments in 2015 and got a chance to get into the leads as well as [unintelligible 00:12:08] as a platform and a consumer effect. We have Salesforce at the core, and we built up our Salesforce instruments about 18 months ago around our business process. Roughly actually Salesforce define how much to work.
We really spent a long time working with external expertise, internal expertise to build out what salesforce look like to align to our process complex, large scale on account-based setting. Then we’ve customized salesforce with a series of applications we’ve built around the camp planning, forecasting, physical hours to really get into the details of how do we not just sell an opportunity but how do we take an account and really penetrate it correctly, engage all the different people who work with that account and then how could we understand that the potential growth of forecasting.
Salesforce itself is the core. We have other craft for the marketing team some of the sales team use or dedicated campaign, but we tend to have less of the leaf-like the market in other organization. It’s much more around the account planning, the targeted activities that the sales and the wider accounting will be doing of that account that’s much more interesting. We also have a custom module around goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics. Pretty much everything our camp teams do is aligned to this is what we’re trying to do, is the objective that we’re going to get, is the series of strategies that will allow us to make our objectives successful.
Here’s the tactics the masters are going to take place, and it might be 20 different people around the organization who assigned those tactics to enable that strategy as an account. All of that lives within salesforce, which means it’s reportable, which means we can link it together, we can build amazing insight. Then on the side, we also use power of the eye because we got to be able to show some of that information coming out of the other information. We have corporate dashboards that shoot out globally input from EMEA so that we can really see in the same view as everyone else around the world core sensor of metrics, KPIs information.
Then we build up local report and dashboards depending which ones do directly in salesforce we can own it at the EMEA level. Then finally, everything else within the organization actually sits on a Teradata platform in terms of focusing work, and we use our analytics and data management capabilities to enable us to look at our install base, our ERPN everything. That’s available on the side that can flow into other systems like CRM, like the business intelligence platforms. Go ahead.
Tom: A couple of weeks ago we had with the help of customer operations of Trussle, so B to C selling mortgages. Would you say that you’re data quality challenge is simpler than those guys because you’re on that–
Ian: I’m going to say simpler because it’s both easier at the half of it and much more complex when it last. We bring data quality down into two areas. What we call data quality is really about making sure the core systems data about the account itself, how systems, what’s in store is similar exist it the sales team new set and that’s managed– it comes from data systems, it comes from a global team and they’re responsible for making sure that’s accurate.
When we talk about the customers saying is Volvo, all the Volvo entities grow up correctly at that and their marketing teams look at the context data. Then we talked about the other set of data which is what the sales teams and the account teams are putting into Salesforce and that’s really where it gets interesting because then it’s hygiene because this is information that is input manually. This is information that there’s lots of it because we’re talking complex sales interactions. Lots of different people engaging.
Lots of things that, tradition, would live in a notebook or in someone’s head that we’re getting our teams engaged about putting that directly into the systems. There, we’re trying to build habits and sales teams understand that they’re doing it for themselves. It’s their data, it’s their account and it’s about putting it into how sales operations and tele data. They’re putting it in so they can make use of it, so we’re always thinking about, “What’s in it for me” in the eyes of the sales person and making sure that they understand that they’re doing this so that they can drive their business forward.
That works very well with some of the newer people. Some of the old hands, it takes a little longer. They’ve got to see the value in it because if you’ve been working for 20 years with that particular account, you feel the, “Actually, do I really need to put this in Salesforce? It’s in my notebook.” Some of my vocal PCI can probably get away with it. We’ve got to show value pretty quickly.
Once they get used to it, then it’s much more about, “If we can then improve our data quality, you can then take better advantage. We can feed you better content help if you engaged around particular initiatives.”
Tom: I actually knew that’s one of the future questions which is about getting by in itself. I want to press on this more. Me, as a sales person, have been doing that for 20 years. One year ago, you’re now telling me, “I need to pull this in Salesforce.” Can you give a specific good thing that happens to me as an account manager, for me feeding all of this information in Salesforce?
Ian: Yes. A good example, we just ran a big initiative around our competitors and what the scope is because we’re working with big companies. It’s not just competitors. It’s partners, it’s confidential technologies that exist in an account. An account may have hundreds of different technologies. Some of which complement us nicely. Some of which compete with us and they’re trying to move us out of the account when we’re trying to move in and so that information people initially they were asked just to help the company. By getting that information in we’ve started a program where initially it’s being done manually by the enabling teams. Whenever we’ve identified technologies at the account the time back to an opportunity. We then feed content directly via chatter in salesforce. The sales team saying look you’re talking with this customer about cloud technologies.
You’ve identified this kind of company that does something competitive to us. Here’s a set of interesting user stories technology comparisons. Here is an introduction via a chatter to a domain expert who can help you with this. The next step will be automating that so we can actually do that. Whenever someone inputs an opportunity in a certain industry or a certain application it just needs a tech.
Initially, by doing it manually sales teams can say, “Right we’ve got our competitor tagging downer at the moment. The content then goes to account master every opportunity has a view of who the competitors and complementary technologies are. Now we can drive that forward.”
Tom: They can answer the question?
Ian: Yes. [chuckles]
Tom: Then moving on to productivity and can we focus on the account manager specifically?
Tom: What have you done since joining that have increased their productivity and when they come out?
Ian: Oh, that’s a good question and a lot of my focus since I joined has actually been around helping our frontline managers. Spend more time and focus with those front line salespeople. For us well I’ve got three sets of stakeholders in the sales team. I’ve got my account teams, the account managers who are working with the customers. We have the front line managers who spend a lot of time coaching and enabling the customers in the big deals.
Then we have a second line manager who would be the GO VPs and my EVP who’s my main stakeholder. Who are looking at the business as a whole. Well, my focus since I’ve joined has been really around enabling visibility and shifting everyone to using salesforce for our business. We’re no longer working off spreadsheets and notebooks and seminars. Everything from quarterly business reviews to adhoc leadership meetings works out of salesforce and dashboards. Everything about our business is actually described using the systems we do during our my business.
By enabling the frontline managers to work like that. They get some really good visibility and that enables me to enable my team who are working with the account teams and those frontline managers spend a lot more time around initiatives that can actually help drive value for them. It’s quite funny since I’ve joined I’ve been focused on enabling the management team. While my team can actually spend more time building out initiatives around specific types of technology or driving consumption or driving enablement out to specific teams who can get the most impact.
Tom: Got it. Now, I know you like sales forecasting.
Ian: Yes. [laughs]
Tom: Can we move onto it now? What is your role in producing, say, the quarterly sales forecast?
Ian: Yes. This is a really interesting topic because that’s one of the biggest initiatives. Since I’ve joined, I was thrown in the deep end. We’ve made the decision for April onward this year to around all of our sales forecasting of use as a sales and sales of Tiletra the finance-led initiative, on a monthly basis. The first instance of that was around April 15th. I joined on April 8th. We’ve rolled out pretty rapidly, effectively, a view of what it would take to get that information in.
Because it existed there but a lot of it was being extracted by finance, put into a black box, stirred around a bit, and finance would provide us that numbers and ask the sales leadership to value it. That worked well for the long-term view of the revenue, the profit and loss. The sales teams actually have a view of individual opportunities. We re-mapped this mojo just pull everything out of Salesforce and then finance probably about to a process where, a monthly basis, we make sure by the end of the month that all those sales opportunities are good. The sales teams, keep them updated on a regular basis. We run a series of checks and hygiene to make sure that there’s no outliers in there.
Then, our front line managers sit down with the account teams and our sales ops teams for that particular geography. She’ll run through the deal structures for the next couple of quarters, look at each deal and really placed a category, like a forecast category. Effectively, evolve off of what the account executives say about the opportunity with additional information. They, effectively, put it into a forecast commitment. Then, we do the same at the next level up, at the geography. I then sit down with my EVP and the CFO for EMEA. We have a view, a roll up of everything that’s happening in EMEA over the next couple of quarters.
We also have the granularity. We can go directly and say, “Well, actually, this particular deal, we know what’s been hedged, where it’s going, where their front line manager thinks it’s going, where the GO VP thinks it’s going.” We can make a decision about how that’s included in to make our top line number. It’s taken a couple of months to actually drive that through as a process that rolls up completely and feels natural. Now, there’s no hidden spreadsheets that people are referring to. And then, in the meetings they’re, “Well, my number’s going to be this.” Everything’s in the system.
Everything is reportable and everything is visible and then, that feeds into the dashboard. Our KPIs tie back to our forecast. Then, when we look at things within dashboard, we can see the forecast numbers as well as what the pipeline looks like.
Tom: Correct me if I’m wrong here. What you guys are doing now if you’re taking a bottom up approach to forecasting so then you at the top level of EMEA can drill all the way down and then tweet stuff if needed to create the forecast. Previously, you were taking data from sales reps, account managers that’s going into finance and they were doing something that no one knew and it was bringing out numbers.
Ian: Yes, exactly. Now we still have finance working in collaboration with us. We have an abstracted finance from this, but we’ve brought them in, and sales operations have actually owns that process of getting a bookings number and all that detail and in finance, as a consumer of that booking cyber. Sales to users are accountable, and they know what they’re providing. They’re not being asked to sign off on a number. They’re actually driving the number. Then we can get some really good detail behind the scenes of what does that mean to planning, to revenue, to everything else
Tom: It seems like a much more effective way of forecasting.
Ian: Yes. We’ve got some plans to evolve. They will allow us to really get even better picture. It’s nice, because in a complex organization, when I’ve worked with more transactional products in the past, you could have run rate things out, you could just look at how things, we just sell a bit more of this or if we increase the win rate. It’s not as simple where one deal can actually not your number. Significant you need a direction. You need to have some really good granularity.
Tom: I got it. In your almost 14 years at sales management, what has been a metric that you found the most valuable or insightful?
Ian: There’s two, I’m one that I’ve always been a big believer on is time spent with customers. Not number of meetings, not number of calls, or anything like that, but just pure time that you can spend with your customers. Because when you’re doing complex sales, when it’s complex technology or complex accounts. It’s not how many meetings you do, because one meeting may take two days but the output of that meeting which start your workshop, could be the foundation about everything that you do moving forward with some leading to getting five visits in a day, has shaken a few hands, had a few conversations, maybe done a demo, and probably is not going to get anywhere. That’s the first one that just the time you spend in front of customers and engage with customers is huge measure of success.
Tom: When you track that, do you have a salesperson record the number of hours in each meeting?
Ian: No, we don’t do that because our past the challenge is we’re trying to give sales value of what we’re doing because it’s complex sales. We’re not trying to track activity as much as say a transaction organization won’t. Something always comes to mind, how do we get people to spend more time in the coaching programs that are in place with our sales leaders. That’s a big part of it, making sure that people spend the right amount of time on planning and integration with their customers. Then the next part of it we follow the Michael Bloomberg, sales management simplified approach.
Tom: I lately just finished listening to that.
Ian: It is fantastic. He’s new on sales truth. It’s also really good because it teaches some good things about how to deal with purchasing and know is a good thing. His philosophy and we’ve engaged to elevate with him directly because the fundamentals of sales haven’t really changed in 20 years. It’s about can you deliver on your number? Are you getting there? Do you have enough pipeline to get there? If you don’t have enough pipeline to get there, what are you doing to generate the pipeline?
I often think about a salesperson is a bit like an air traffic controller. They have a number of deals in play flaunting play. Some going to take you off of being found some of the flying, advancing, and some of them are landing. I close it. You need to be able to measure not just on your clothes because if they’re closing out all of their pipeline and they’re not generating anything more, they’re going to be in trouble in six months time.
There may have been now and then the next few years may be found. Likewise, if they’re just spend all their time generating pipeline, but not advancing anything, you have a lot of challenges as well because they may have skills shortages, they may need help him to close it. It may not be good pipeline, it maybe hopes and dreams. We’re looking at ways that we can measure what people are creating and then are the advancing it as well as closing.
In our dashboards, we look very carefully at effectively, what does your pipeline look like for the particular quarter or until the end of the year? What have you committed? Are you going to make your number with your commitments? Then we can measure how far people are getting with their commitments and their success rates? Then we also look at do you have enough pipeline to meet your next 12 months or actually five quarters? Do you have enough of a funnel to be able to continue afterwards?
If you don’t, what have you created and what have you created in the last 30 days? Are you that number growing? Do you have 5X the pipeline needed here? Are you a coach or are you a 2X? We’ve gone from 2X to 3X. We can see you’re doing the right thing. Then we look at movement through stages as well. If you imagine our sales process has seven stages and you’ve got 10 opportunities, you’ve actually got 70 steps available to you.
Over the past month, how many steps have you moved along? If your pipeline is static, you greater on yourself and just left it there. You won’t have moved along? Once you’ve closed stuff out, are the other things moving? Effectively in a couple of times in a dashboard, we understand well, have you generated enough? If so then that’s a good sign. If not, are you generating enough? Are you advancing it along and then are you able to close it out? I’m a bit of a forecast.
Tom: Then final question is who would you love to take for lunch in sales ops? There’s actually two, who would you love to take for lunch and who’s taught you this and it could be the same person?
Ian: There’s a couple of different people actually. Probably one of the most important people is lady called Elaine Stipek who was the head of operations at National Instruments. She was the one that brought me into the role in 2015 and who really transformed what I was thinking about in terms of my career and what I wanted to spend time on. She was a pioneer salesperson, a sales manager who made me shift into operations. I learned so much here working for her for two years that– I definitely owe her lunch.
Part of that, the team that did the transformation project with me as well was critical throughout my development because that showed me as well is if you are the voice of sales, sell to your stakeholders but there’s also business analyst, there’s business intelligence, there’s IT, there’s transformation specialist, process managers who are all part of that picture to make things move on.
I’ve got a great set of friends from that two-year project that really have become long-term friends because they are friendships forged in stress and travel around the world. You stay in contact and you’re in few different companies now. It’s important set of people. Then, I think people I don’t know, I’d love to take to lunch where I had the opportunity a few years ago to be part of a salesforce briefing center where I visit as a customer to really see how they approach their sales operations.
They have such a complex change environment. They were completely focusing on the SME and the mid-market for five years ago, so we have this huge shift to enterprise and dramatic growth. I’d love to have lunch with some of the salesforce operations [unintelligible 00:31:38] and see how that’s evolved and how do they apply it. I think everyone could learn from that.
Tom: Good answer. Let me finish with things I enjoyed from the interview. Your approach, I don’t know if I should surely ask that because it sounds complex putting as much as you can in salesforce. I think that, to me it sounds like best practice because you have all this data here, there’s one system and you can create a really awesome report. I thought that was really insightful. The example you gave about why a salesperson want to put his agents in salesforce and the example of how actually you’re going to add value to my life because I ask this question a lot but I don’t often get tangible responses of how you’re going to improvise as a salesperson.
Ian: We made a decision and I had a team meeting with my sales op managers a couple of months ago where we locked ourselves in a room for two days and we talked about challenges and everything. One of the conclusions of that meeting is, moving forward, we will always ask our corporate team, anyone else who wants to make a change, what’s the value in that? What’s in it for the salespeople? If we’re going to do this effort, who wins from doing this because if you can’t tell us what the value is and who’s going to get that value, we are going to say no. By doing that, we’ve given some really good feedback to other groups, our global team and they can build on that because they understand that while this is not funny, then we need to understand, why are we doing it? We’ve got a commitment to our team. We always ask that now.
Tom: Every sales ops teams to have that. Then the metric of time spent with customers. We’ve had times spent selling before, but we haven’t had time spent with customers. They’re not thinking about that. I think that is, especially with large budget deals is super important for a sale of team to try and understand, because it’s going to be hard to sell something to someone if you haven’t. Especially on a contract that we haven’t spent that time face-to-face, so that’s what I enjoyed. Thank you so much for coming on. That was [crosstalk]. Ever we’ll have you back again after you’ve spent a few years with Teradata.
Ian: Definitely. Call me again in a couple of years and let’s see what happened.
Tom: Thank you again.
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