Greg Larsen jumped onto Sales Operations Demystified to share his knowledge and experience in Sales Operations.
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Tom Hunt: Welcome to another very special episode of the Sales Operations Demystified podcast. We are joined by Greg Larsen of Lingotek. Now, Greg [unintelligible 00:00:15] I guess is segued into sales operations through a background in sales. Hopefully, we’re going to talk about the necessity, the old question we used to have, the old discussion we used to have about the necessity of sales skills in sales operations. I’ll make sure we get into that. Greg, thank you so much for coming on.
Greg Larsen: Thanks for having me.
Tom: I want to kick off with that first question about your first, how you first got into [unintelligible 00:00:42] operations and how you took a full-time role in sales operations.
Greg: Okay. I got my career started at a company called Qualtrics. You might have heard of them, a research company. When I was there, I was just in a sales role and we didn’t even have a sales office function. It wasn’t very popular at the time but we had a–
Tom: How many reps were there when you had no sales operation?
Greg: When I started, we had 100 employees. Qualtrics had just taken their series A funding and so we had maybe 40 sales reps. We had just split into territories. Before, when I first got there, it was just everyone could call on anything and we had a few industry segments but not geographic. About six months in, one of our- basically, a marketer, Austin Bankhead started more of a sales ops role and it was just him. I was the lucky one that got to test a lot of the processes on the sales side.
Me and a couple other guys, we would test the software, and the process, and the system. That’s when I just fell in love with it. I found out that I had a lot more passion for the operational side of sales than the actual sales, going out carrying your own bag, going in and closing deals. I like that part and I continue to do that for about 10 years, but I was always interested in the metrics and the dashboards, and everything that you could tweak to get a little bit more performance out of a team. It started there.
Tom: We owe a thanks to that sales operations resource for having this interview today then, [unintelligible 00:02:37].
Greg: Definitely, yes. The funny thing is is that I left the company, never really got into sales operations at Qualtrics. It planted the seed and made me want to be more involved in the operational or leadership training of sales reps and doing that more than just being an enterprise sales rep. [crosstalk] definitely a start.
Tom: How long between your first exposure to that to you taking a full-time sales rep role?
Greg: Probably it would have been about four to five years. From Qualtrics, I took a sales leadership position in another SaaS company, insidesales.com, and worked with them through some high-growth times. Then, I was introduced to another company that I joined about a year later called NUVI, a social media management company.
Going into NUVI, there were only nine sales reps when I had some connections there, some colleagues that were already there. I could tell they were going to scale quickly, but they didn’t even have a system in place. Salesforce wasn’t really in place. There was no training, onboarding, implementation, anything like that. I came into that role with a goal, with the CEO straight out to, “Hey, I want to run a sales enablement sales operation side of the business and be the one to help you build that.” He said, “Well, this is what you alluded to. We want to make sure you know what you’re doing. We want to make sure the person training the sales team and helping them with the process knows how to sell.”
I spent about a year and a half at NUVI proving that I could sell and basically carrying my own bag selling, helping manage a team, lead a team. Then, at that point, we started to grow; we were about 15 to 20 reps. They handed over the keys to the back-end of the house to me. I got to work on onboarding, recruiting, and hiring process and build out the whole sales curriculum, how we’re going to do it from step to step, how we’re going to do ongoing training, just everything.
In the next six months, we scaled from about 20 sales reps to about 65, grew it, just had the system running and that was really fun to cut my teeth with a fast-paced company and grow so big and have a process and implementation and systems for the sales team in my hands.
Tom: Got it. Then, if we fast forward to just Lingotek, can you share rough numbers of amount of salespeople and amount of people in the ops team?
Greg: Yes. Lingotek is completely different from some of the other companies that I’ve been at. It’s a software company startup, we do language services and language software. We help companies that need to translate their content in their website into other languages. We are a lot more enterprise than other companies. We don’t do much small business and so we have about six to eight account executives [unintelligible 00:06:02]. All of them are field sales reps. They’re enterprise sales reps that live in Boston and New York, and Chicago, LA, London. They’re out there essentially on their own caring a territory, managing a territory for themselves.
Then I have a team SDRs that will help feed the funnel for them. In-house, one of those SDRs helps me but other than that, it’s me on the operational side along with some sales leaders. It’s a lot different beast than 65 men insidesales team. It brings its own challenges because the people that you’re supporting, I see them in person maybe five times a year. You have to build up a good rapport and provide good systems that they’ll use even when you’re not right behind them saying “Hey, use this tool. Do that or do this.”
Tom: Got it. To focus on that more, especially with this remote relationship, how have you been able to build the relationship with the team and then influence sales reps to adopt new process or tool?
Greg: I think the first part was just they’ve got to trust you. I feel like that’s where the sales background comes in especially when you don’t have that face to face time to build rapport when you’re negotiating a deal or talking through a contract. Knowing that you have experience as that front line person helps in your credibility a lot. I don’t think it’s necessary but it definitely helps build the rapport faster with the sales team. That was helpful.
The biggest thing is over-communicate. When you’re not in the office and you can’t just have the one-on-one conversation between phone calls or anything like that, then, I found those sales reps can feel alone sometimes. We try to pair them in teams so they have some communication with other sales reps but, really, if they don’t hear from you for two weeks because everything’s running smoothly, you still lose some of that credibility, not just bugging them but reaching out with ideas and pinging them for questions; “Hey, what are you seeing? What can we change? What’s working well?” Just constantly in communication. In that way, you know that they know you’re there and they know that you know that they are there if that makes sense, that they’re not just on an island.
Tom: Can you quickly share the core sales tech stack you have at Lingotek?
Greg: Yes, because of the remote nature of a lot of our sales, we have a few more things than most companies. We’re a Salesforce shop. We use Salesforce. I’ve been using Salesforce since 2008 so I would be lost without it. [chuckles] We use that. We use Pardot as our marketing automation system and then our sales team and SDRs use a product called Groove for their sales automation. Very similar to Outreach but it’s a little more startup or it’s disrupting the market a little bit right now.
On top of that, we use LinkedIn Sales Navigator as our main finding people tool and then to find contact info, we supplement Sales Navigator with LeadIQ. A lot of systems in place. We use Zoom for video conferencing and then we use Slack for that just internal communications.
Tom: Got it.
Greg: A lot of stuff. [chuckles]
Tom: I assume that right now, you’re responsible for the data quality within Salesforce. If yes, how are you currently managing that?
Greg: Yes, I am responsible for that. That’s the ongoing beast. Data quality within sales is a tough thing to maintain. Some of the things that we do, I have a lot of automation in place that will not allow bad data in. Duplicate accounts leads, missing information on records, we’ve put a lot of validation rules in place to make sure that the sales reps fill out everything that they need to. We also limit the amount of things that we actually require them to fill out.
We have 8 to 10 core pieces of information that we ask the sales team to always keep up to date. Everything else is supplemented from services teams or support teams, everything else. That way while the ask is very strict, “Hey, you have to have this data in and accurate all the time,” it’s not big.
I’ve seen some instances where the opportunity has 65 fields that have to be filled out in order to close it and your sales reps just going quit. Literally not just on the opportunity, they’re just going to leave. It’s too hard for them to do their job and keep the data up to date. We have a combination of only the core is required but we expect the sales team to keep that up to date and then we put validation rules so that it’s–
Personally, for me it’s not so that I’m emailing them, nagging them, “Hey, you got to do this, you got to do this, you got to do this.” The system does it for them and it doesn’t come from my email address, it comes from the workflow email address so they don’t get mad at me, it’s part of the system. Little self-serving there.
Tom: What are you doing to make your SDRs or the account executives more productive?
Greg: It’s really a question. It’s something that we we look at all the time and part of it is the tools that we put in place. I review our tech stack every year and we don’t make changes every year, but I want to know that we have the best available tools out there so that they don’t have to play behind the rest of the team. I want them to have every opportunity to be successful.
Then what I’ve found is you can train someone and you can push them to work harder and more efficient and everything else, but at the end of the day, it’s an internal decision for a lot of these guys to work more efficiently or harder, especially when they’re not in the presence of other people.
There’s nothing stopping my account executives from taking a couple of days off and not doing anything and that’s by design. We trust them, they’re 10 plus, 15 plus year enterprise sales guys, so they don’t need to punch a clock. We’ve done a lot of scrutiny in the interview process to make sure we have the right people in place because we feel like if we have the right people in place, then the operations will flow.
If you’re fighting upstream against someone that doesn’t want to work, it’s a lot easier to go higher and find someone that is willing and motivated and ambitious to work. I think that’s an overlooked part of revenue operations is the people over process. If I get the right people in place, I need less process to be successful and that helps both sides.
Tom: Can you share something that you do in the recruitment process that helps you screen for that work ethic?
Greg: A lot of it, you do enough interviews to get a feel for it and really, I don’t like the typical interview where, you know, what’s the last book you read and all these questions, I’d rather prefer to just have a conversation. The biggest thing that I look for in an interview process and finding the right person is I want to know when they struggled. It happens to everybody. If you’re telling me you’re a sales rep and you’ve never struggled, you’ve probably never really push yourself to the max and I want to see how people respond to adversity.
You see that a lot in military settings, you want to put someone through adversity. I don’t really want to put anyone through adversity. I want that to have already happened and I just want to see how they react and see if they’re going to be honest with their feedback, if they’re self-aware. I did struggle in this situation and I wasn’t able to turn it around, but here’s what I’ve learned from it. Or, “Hey, I fought through this and I was able to do this.”
If I know someone’s been through a battle before, I’m not worried about the battle they’re going to face at our company, because every sales organization, there’s easy times, there’s bad times. I just want to make sure that when they’re not at 200% of quota that they’re not going to get too stressed out, or too miserable, trying to catch up to their quota. That’s usually the thing that I try to focus on because they wouldn’t even be in the interview if they weren’t successful. So, I trust their success. I want to know more about how they got there essentially.
Tom: Got it. From all of your experience in different companies with sales ops, what [unintelligible 00:15:38] role been in the intro process for salespeople? Are you guys doing [unintelligible 00:15:43] interview? Do you just observe the process? Because [unintelligible 00:15:48] some people who come on and say that actually they don’t really get a lot at all and some people who are responsible for interviewing.
Greg: Yes, so I’ve been lucky enough. A lot of the places I’ve been, my role has been kind of intermixed with like a leadership role, a sales leadership role. At NUVI, I was very involved. I was kind of the hiring manager over a lot of the sales teams. I would bring in the sales team leads and we would co-interview most people. At Lingotek, we have sales leadership in place that is ultimately the people that are hiring, but with processes. I’m the one that’s going to on-board them and train them, and do everything. I’m involved in that process quite a bit. We do a lot less hiring at Lingotek, and so we’re a lot more thorough. They’ll meet 6 or 7 people on the team before we actually extend an offer.
It’s a lot more of a committee decision than it is like a VP of sales saying, “Hey, this is my guy”. Then, all of a sudden, everybody else gets to meet him on the first day. It’s a lot more involved process. I think that’s good because I can give someone insight on how well I think they can adapt to our system because we want them to sell within our system. We don’t want this rogue sales rep that’s just going crazy, discounting all over the place, and doing stuff that is just going to be a headache for everybody else on the team. You get a few different perspectives, and I think that’s healthy to get kind of a full-circle perspective on a recruit.
Tom: Got it. Can you share your involvement in the sales forecasting process? Are you responsible for presenting the forecast to the VP of sales?
Greg: Yes, so the way that we do it at Lingotek is we have weekly regional calls for the sales team. Every region has a quick call where we go through pipeline every week, and we dig in a little bit deeper onto specific deals. That is the VP of sales and myself and then the sales team.
Everyone from SDR to sales engineer gets involved in that. We do the deep dive, it usually takes 30 minutes every week. Then I run a forecasting call the next day. Then all the regions come together and we do a quick, almost like hold yourself accountable forecast. I already know what it is because we had the deep dive call. Within Salesforce, we do all of our forecasting with custom objects that I’ve created.
We do three forecasts. We have an automated forecast from Salesforce. It takes our historic close rates on certain stages and provides a probability. It looks at pipeline and says, “Okay, there’s $10 million in our pipeline for this quarter based on our probability index. We’re going to close 4.5 million.” It will break it down based on how progressed that is, and it gives it a high weighted percentage the further it goes in the pipeline. Then the sales regions have a chance to actually call a manual forecast, so they can say, “Hey, I know I’ve got two million dollars in best case in my pipeline but I figure only about one million of that, is going close. My forecast is this for the quarter.”
Then they have an upside forecast. “If everything goes great, this is where we’re going to land.” Then we have quotas tied into Salesforce. It will do all the calculations and we have a dashboard that basically just shows them, “Okay, here is where we are at to date. Then here is what the automated forecast says. Here’s what your manual forecast says. Here’s our best case. Here’s how far off of our company quota, all of those added up commitments get us.” I can say based on your manual commit work, $500,000 off the quarter quota. We’ve got to go find $500,000 more of business right now that we don’t have sight on.
I run that entire process and make sure everything is working smoothly. Then that report gets auto-emailed out every week to our executive team and our department head so everybody knows where we’re trending.
Tom: Got it. What will you say has been the most valuable sales [unintelligible 00:20:24] KPI in your career in management and operations?
Greg: That’s a tough question. As far as like overall data that I’m looking at to see if a sales rep or a region is healthy, I want to look at two things. One is the frequency of closes. Then two, the average deal size. There’s a lot of metrics that can come into play to get to those things but I know if a sales rep is closing on a consistent frequency, then they know how to win.
If the average deal size is too small, that’s something that we can talk about. I don’t need to give a closing training to someone who knows how to close. I might need to give a negotiation and a pricing training to them to get their average deal size up and vice versa. Someone’s got a $200,000 average deal size which our average deal size is about $75,000 annually. If they’re way above that, but they’re only closing two deals a quarter or three deals a quarter, then we start to talk about urgency and frequency and how are we setting up the close rather than, “Hey, you need to go get better deals.”
I think that’s something that I really focus on. Again, it’s people over process. I don’t want to just give a blanket process to everyone on the team. I’m actually looking at these metrics and deciding what type of professional development is required here so that I don’t put someone in front of a boring training that they’re already pretty good at.
I specialized that training for the specific need of the sales rep. I think that goes a long way with just trust with the sales rep because again, it’s that self-awareness. They can identify like, “Hey, I’m closing. I’m doing pretty good. I don’t want to get harped on for closing business. I just need to figure out how to get better deals.” “Okay, well, let’s talk about that. Let’s figure that out.”
Those two things are where I hang my hat on as far as is a sales rep going to make it? Can we get a good frequency of deals and can we get a decent average deal size? Those will fluctuate sometimes, but as long as we know that those two things are in place, then the sales rep will [unintelligible 00:22:52]. Most of the time, if both of them are in place, their crushing their quota.
Tom: Got it. Final question is who has taught you the most in sales operations?
Greg: Coming into this, I thought about that and how I got started. I mentioned earlier at Qualtrics. Our VP of sales operations, VP of marketing, whatever, he carried many titles. His name was Austin Bankhead. He had a passion for process. That’s carried over to me and I really enjoyed being his guinea pig in testing all of it.
I honestly, probably haven’t even thanked him for that. I left the company. He’s no longer at the company and we’ve moved our separate ways but that really instilled in me like the fact that sales wasn’t just like this, put it in the air and if you’re really good, smooth talker, you’re going to be the best sales rep. There was a system in place. It was scientific at that point. I love that type of methodology is just that there’s something you can change. There’s levers you can pull, you can make people better. It’s not just you’re born to sell or you’re not. That’s where I got from him.
Then NUVI, our CEO, his name was Cameron Jensen. He was a sales rep. He was an amazing sales rep. He did really good. The thing that I learned from him was how to- the people over process. Everybody has something that they want in life, everybody has something they want out of a job and your job is to figure that out. If you can provide people with a desired goal that they have, they’re more likely to help you with your desired goal.
As we go into systems, and as I build things for any company that I’m at, the goal is not really to build this process, the goal is to help the people that the process runs for. If you can keep the people in mind over the process, then you’re usually going to build the right stuff. You’re usually not building something just to build it. It’s usually something that’s really inherently valuable for those people.
Cameron was a behavioral management major, just all about getting into the psychology of what makes people decide to do things and how to influence someone without manipulating them, and to really understand what makes them tick. Those two yin-yang processes, the level of the process, but also the level of people, the influence that process have influenced me to develop the strategy and the operations that I use today.
Tom: Well, thanks to Austin and Cameron. Let me just share a few things I enjoyed here. I can imagine this is a massive challenge, being able to influence and build relationships with remote salespeople and your point about trust and over communication, I think was a really good answer. The point you’re making about you don’t need [unintelligible 00:26:28] process if you have really good people and the whole point about people over process, I thought was really good.
Being able to trust in reps because you scrutinize so hard in the recruitment process. [unintelligible 00:26:38] I never thought about that before. For me, that’s really good, and how six to seven people in your current organization will meet with somebody before joining I think is a really great lesson. [unintelligible 00:26:50] metrics I think those two are really simple ways of A, understanding how reps are performing but also then spotting opportunities for training and improvement.
Those are the things I enjoyed. I mean, I do actually have a question on the side. I’m not sure if I understand this question. What is the main difference between outbound and inbound calling? Does that make sense to you?
Greg: Yes. We definitely separate them out, outbound sales strategy and inbound. When I got to Lingotek, we developed a- we call it a Sales Enablement Playbook.
It’s a step by step process for every sales situation that they get in with every different type of ideal customer profile. We have an inbound process. Inbound, someone’s interested already. We are a lot more interested in why they’re interested. We ask a lot of questions.
We basically try to figure out why did you come to us. Then for my SDR, the thing that I teach them is their goal, they’re in sales. They’re selling time [unintelligible 00:28:16].
With an inbound, someone’s raising their hand and saying, “I want to give you my time,” but we can’t just brush it away. There’s a lot of value in that first conversation because they’re excited about it and the customer is saying, “I’m really interested.” Our SDRs will treat that as almost just a discovery, why you are interested, find out everything, and then set them up for a meeting with an AE once they qualified it.
We always want to give an inbound lead a chance to qualify themselves. If they’ve got interest and budget and everything, we’ll give them a meeting because we often find that the AEs we have can uncover three or four other revenue verticals that that person wasn’t thinking about when they requested a demo. Our SDRs will work really hard on an inbound lead to gather information and set up a meeting.
Outbound is a little more complicated. It’s a longer process. The first thing that we’re doing with outbound is we’re trying to establish credibility. You don’t do that by selling. You establish credibility by providing value.
Our outbound methodology is like, “Hey, we deal a lot in this industry. Here are some of the things we’ve learned over the last months, some of the trends. Here are some of the people we work with. We’d love to continue to provide this information for you.” We may not ask for a meeting for maybe two or three points of contact whether it’s a LinkedIn touch or an email, a phone call and things like that. We just want to get them into a conversation
Then once we know that it’s a right fit, that’s when the SDR will come in with a meeting request. “Okay, it sounds like it makes sense.” The big thing that I come back to is it’s all conversational. The way to take the griminess of sales out is to just make it a conversation. If you’re having the same conversation with your buddy and you didn’t really understand if he was a good fit or not, would you ask him to meet with one of your sales reps? Probably not. So have a conversation, get to know them, let them get to know you and when you make that ask, they’re a lot more likely to say yes. They’re a lot more likely to actually come prepared to the meeting because they trust the process and the company.
Tom: Got it. Greg, thank you so much for that bonus question. Thanks so much for coming on. [unintelligible 00:30:53] many insights. Thank you so much for your time.
Greg: No problem. Thanks, Tom.
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