Sergio De Luca 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 Operations Demystified podcast. Today we’re talking with someone who has a total of eight years of operations experience, approximating six of those in sales operations. Sergio, welcome.
Sergio De Luca: Thank you for having me. Great to be here.
Tom: Sergio, you’ve been working at Western Union Business Solutions, so international payments for businesses?
Tom: We’re going to be going through the standard eight questions and we’re going to uncover some insights from those six years.
Tom: Question number one. Sergio, how do you get into sales operation?
Sergio: As you said, I’ve been in operations for about eight years, and [inaudible 00:00:51] sales operations side of things, looking at the technology part of it. Working with Salesforce and Salesforce implementation, and really all the application that you can plug within the tool and allow people to be more efficient, to do the job better, and to be bigger selling and more efficient selling. The first role that I had, as a proper sales operation manager was in Cablan as B2C business and a lot of data, a lot of volume of international operation. It was a really great gateway into the sales operation world because not only you would have the technology part, but also the resource management and the strategic side of things which is great to explore.
Tom: You were in the role before that you were in operations, you were exposed to a Salesforce implementation?
Sergio: Pretty much, yes.
Tom: Then you were like, “I love Salesforce so much, I think I’m going to transition into sales.”
Sergio: It’s not about [unintelligible 00:02:10] Salesforce. Sometimes we get too hooked up on the tools. It’s about what Salesforce and any CRM leader represents is the engine of your organization in going out there, and finding prospects, and selling your product and helping your customers, which is what optimally any company wants to do.
Tom: Got it. You’re going to couple in as a sale– Like in a pure sales operation role, and then you just stayed the course?
Sergio: Yes, stuck with it. [laughs]
Tom: As I said, you [inaudible 00:02:46] Western Union, how long have you been at Western Union?
Sergio: Just over a year.
Tom: Got it. Just so we understand the structure of the team. We were talking before there’s actually multiple different parts.
Sergio: Yes, it’s a complex setup, the setup that we have at Western Union. Very interesting, as you know, sales operation is not just the CRM, it’s not just Salesforce, it’s something more than that. We have sales [inaudible 00:03:13] team with a very talented group of people actually looking at the training and the way people are actually exposing our value proposition to the customers. We have a performance team, we have a governance team which [inaudible 00:03:32] and a pricing team. All of that constitutes the sales operations.
Tom: Got it. Approximately how many people are in that?
Sergio: Oh God. That would be over 25, I think.
Tom: Wow. All of it?
Tom: And then hundreds of salespeople worldwide?
Tom: Right. Do you know what, I’ve been trying to work out the ideal ratio between ops and reps. For me it’s– What I’m getting from you is that the optimum is around 1 to 25. If you had that, that would mean we need to be 25, times 25 to get the total number of reps, which would probably be 4,000. Am I right?
Sergio: [laughs] I’ve never looked at it that way, to be honest. To me, it’s really about the outcome the sales operation team generates. This day and age with the technology that we have, one person can do much more than what a sales operation professional would have done 10 years ago. Really, I’ve never looked at it that way, but it’s interesting, it’s a very interesting way of saying it.
Tom: Yes. I think the most I got to was 1 to 50, but that person has to have some good tools. On that point, the current [inaudible 00:04:52] you guys are using, I can assume it’s probably quite complex.
Sergio: It is indeed. For us, Salesforce is very important, the CRM is important. We work and operate in a regulated environment, so the data that we store we need to make sure that it’s safe, it’s in the right place, it’s correct and all that. There is a lot of moving parts in making sure that that is always true. In terms of what we can call the go-to-market, we use Altify, we use DNB, we use Sales Navigator, [inaudible 00:05:35]. These are probably the main tools that we use from sales and marketing point of view.
Tom: Cool. Are there any other tools connected in Salesforce or there’s–
Sergio: We’ve got loads. [laughs]
Tom: We will probably be here for like half an hour to this–
Tom: Which is your favorite?
Sergio: Oh God. [laughs]
Tom: Sorry, I ask that question as a bit of a joke. We were chatting before about how all of the questions in this podcast are quite focused on Salesforce, but you were saying, and if you want to repeat that, about how the tools are not necessarily that important.
Sergio: Yes. The tools are not very important at all as such. It’s about the enablement of what kind of value add they add to the sales, to salespeople. In general, I love tools that take away work from salespeople as such and give back information. I don’t really buy into the stereotype that salespeople don’t want to use Salesforce. I think that’s just not true most of the cases. It’s true sometimes, but not all the times.
In terms of what I like to see in a tool that I am evaluating for some reason, I like to see that it’s complete in what they would like to achieve, whether it’s a CTI integration tool, whether it’s a marketing tool, whether it’s a prospecting tool, so there’s the kind of end-to-end capabilities. What I don’t like is a service that stops at some point and then I need to complete what is there I want to do. I need to buy another plug-in. That just doesn’t work for me.
Tom: I can only imagine the data quality challenge that you have with your Salesforce and these disparate teams and salespeople. What are you currently doing to– Who is responsible for that? Is that your team or is that one of the other teams, and what are you doing?
Sergio: We don’t have a centralized function responsible for the data as such. Data is a big thing, not only in Western Union, any company I worked with. I was reading the other day that actually data is worth more than oil during these days. That gives you the sense of what are you actually being [inaudible 00:08:18] with, such a sensitive topic. Yes, we do a lot of the data checks and we put in place governance around the way data should be inputted into the tool.
Then we have different part of the business looking at the data, making sure that it’s correct. The way I can say is that ultimately from sales operations or sales [inaudible 00:08:48] market perspective, when you look at the data they’re raising into the CRM, the salespeople are often responsible for that. I can come in and clean up. I can come in and say, “You’re doing the things wrongly,” or beat you up, but it’s not my responsibility as such. The ultimate accountability is with the people that are actually putting the data in. That’s the way I think any– [inaudible 00:09:23] anyway, the accountability resides where the people actually are inputting the data.
Tom: How do you get them to want to put in good data? The next question is about getting buy-in from the sales.
Sergio: That’s, again, one of the things that is probably more a myth than anything. To be honest, in my career, yes, I had the odd salesperson saying, “I spent much on the CRM, there’s too many fields, blah, blah, blah.” I think the sentiment around this is shifting massively. Sales organization, sales function are recognizing the importance of inputting data, and they don’t recognize it just because it seems fashion to say you work around data, but because a function such as sales operation is given back to them, insights, something that they could use, something that they could do something with.
Yes, when you roll out a new procedure, or a new field, or whatever it is that requires anybody, really, to spend one more second on the CRM, you’re going to have people moaning, you’re going to have– I think this is changing. I think it’s getting easier to get that buy-in you were talking about. More and more, I’m seeing people that are actually good with the CRM, the CRM etiquette, the CRM cadence, are good at selling.
Tom: Interesting. Because, would you say that historically that isn’t the case?
Sergio: I’m not sure whether that isn’t the case, but I couldn’t see that. I couldn’t have the benchmark and there weren’t enough data to give me that proof. Now, I can see the structured thing, especially in a B2B environment, in tech environment, in a technology environment, but salespeople are core sale, but more consultant, more project manager. As companies are making the shift in that sales organization, you can say the most structured thinking in the selling process is thinking into better data, better cadence and it’s helping everybody at the end of it. That’s a win-win situation.
Tom: Yes, that’s the first time [inaudible 00:12:10] actually. You’re basically saying that more structured approach to selling is required now, and that person is normally better at maintaining their sales process and CRM.
Tom: You said earlier about liking tools that give salespeople time and they put in data. What are you guys currently doing at the moment to make your reps more proactive?
Sergio: We’re always on the look out not only for new tools. We’re not going to a buying spree [chuckles] or something, but I think one of the things that I do is making sure that we get the best out of the tools that we have. It’s the famous phrase, two never comes. I think it’s our role as sales operations professionals to make sure that the phase two actually does arrive, and we take care of it, and we make sure that we actually deliver on it. When we do implementation on [inaudible 00:13:17] data integrator or things like that, you’re always focused on getting it over the line, you want to get out, and it’s very hard to keep that momentum going. I think our focus at the moment is to make sure that we really get the return on investment in the existing tools that we have invested in.
Tom: Got it. Quick question that isn’t actually one of the standard questions. Are your team responsible for building the sales forecast?
Sergio: The sales performance team is, yes.
Tom: That fits within, ’cause you’re in the governance.
Sergio: Yes. It fits within sales operation, but it’s outside strictly my team.
Tom: Okay. Quickly on that, do the people in sales ops then work directly with reps to understand what their own individual forecasts are and then throw that out–
Sergio: Well, we work on a global scale, trying to put together data from different geography time zones, [inaudible 00:14:22] cadence, you can imagine. But yes, we [inaudible 00:14:27], yes, we do. We try to have a bottom-up approach as much as possible. Keep your ear on the ground and rolling those numbers up to the highest level possible, local level.
Tom: Cool. Can we quickly talk about KPIs?
Tom: I’m going to change the question slightly. What do you think is the most important KPI to judge a sales rep by?
Sergio: I’m going to be controversial here. I’m going to say the more they lose, the better.
Tom: Tell me more.
Sergio: I was telling you about how salespeople are recognizing that we’re giving them insights. To me, yes, it’s important that salespeople sell. It’s really, really important, but it doesn’t really give me too many learnings. I want to learn from the lost deals. There is a tendency in a lot of company to hide under the carpet all those deals that we have lost. It’s any company, it’s only human behavior. This is about getting sales operation out of its own comfort zone. As I will say, not only technology, sometimes we need to be behavioral scientists and change, make that shift in culture to say, “Why don’t we talk about lost deals and actually why did we lose so many deals,” without pointing fingers of anything.
Are we going after the wrong sentiment? Do we have the wrong product? Are we focusing on the wrong things, right? I think sales operation need to be the driver of those things. Yes, everybody wants to be in [inaudible 00:16:28] reviews. I heard that so many times, but actually doing it, and I’m going to be honest, it’s not something that you can get a great deal of time of people because it’s not interesting, let’s be honest. Sales people would rather spend their time selling, and that’s only fair, but how do we make sure that we are spending every single pound, dollar or euro into the right place? I think this is one of the ways.
Tom: Nice. You’re essentially saying the more a rep loses, the more that you’re, as an organization, able to learn, which in the long term is going to bring more wins?
Sergio: Yes. It’s like machine learning.
Tom: Yes, exactly.
Sergio: It’s the same concept.
Tom: Yes, like a feedback.
Sergio: There you go, yes.
Tom: Okay, cool. Then there’s a question that we don’t actually have again in the list. I want to ask about the more strategic side. Who is selling the sales strategy, and then what a sales operation’s role is in executing that strategy once it’s been set?
Sergio: Yes. I think this is something that sales operation, again, it wasn’t within this function when I started in sales operation back on customer’s operation, back almost 10 years ago. This is something that sales operation started to own more and more as the function is actually growing. This podcast is testimonial of that. There’s more interest in this function than it used to be probably 10 years ago. On the strategy or the strategies, I think sales operation is the role sometimes to divert the traffic, more like a traffic warden sort of approach, and making sure that everybody goes to the right place at the right time, and everybody then is made accountable for what they said.
Again, not in a pointing fingers fashion, but let’s go back to what we said we were going to do from a strategic point of view, not only from a financial and revenue point of view, and see how we’re tracking again, I guess, those goals that we set ourselves, right? How do we do all of that? First of all, there is a mindset and a framework that you need to lay down when you do your planning, whether it’s in mid-year or end of the year, whenever the fiscal year starts in the company.
There is a lot of thinking and actually stepping back and looking at the big picture. Trying, then, to put all the people together. Marketing, product, sales, and have those conversations, and then it looks back to the roles deal. What have we learned from our past 12 months, and how do we take into the next 12, the next three years, the next five, ten, fifteen.
Tom: Nice. The final question is about who has influenced or inspired you the most in the world of sales operations?
Sergio: I don’t have one person, to be honest with you, if I have to think back. I’ve been blessed because I worked with amazing business leaders. I don’t want to even call them sales operation leaders because that would be probably reductive. They were all around business leaders. I have learned so much from them, it’s unbelievable, really. Probably the person who got me off into start using Excel, Andrew, [chuckles] if I have to name one, when I was back at [inaudible 00:20:27] “I will teach you one Excel formula every day,” and that’s what we were doing. I was the finance director back then, and that would spark the interest. I think more than anything, I need to thank all the people that taught me what not to do.
Sergio: All the mistakes that I see making and that I’ve made. These are the people that taught me what not to do in a certain situation, because probably they made that mistake for me sometimes.
Tom: Nice. Now we summarize the things I liked. [inaudible 00:21:14] which I find interesting is learning not from what went well or what actually can go well, like the [inaudible 00:21:21] reviews, and then what people did about it, that’s quite interesting. I liked the point you made about [inaudible 00:21:27].
Tom: Any tool that can give time back to reps, but also give them information, get more data. Then the overall point about tools not necessarily being that important, it’s more about what you’re probably going to have on your salespersons.
Sergio: Absolutely, yes. I think as sales operations we’re getting too much hooked up on the big names and on the flashy marketing-
Sergio: -which is why we only [inaudible 00:22:04]. That tells me two things. First, that the space is grown massively. There’s more investments coming and there’s so many exciting things that are happening in this space. But as sales operation professionals, we need to stay laser-focus on execution, because ultimately, if you have to summarize in one word, one sentence, that’s what we’re there for, enabling execution.
Tom: Enabling execution. On that note– Now, [inaudible 00:22:36] you clearly think a lot about sales operations, I’m sure that’s super valuable for the audience. Thank you so much for doing this.
Sergio: Thank you for having me. It’s a great pleasure. Thank you.
[00:22:53] [END OF AUDIO]