Jeanette Appiah jumped onto Sales Ops Demystified to share her knowledge and experience as Sales Operations Analyst at Merkle.
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Tom: We are joined by Jeanette Appiah of Merkel, hey Jeanette thank you for joining.
Jeanette Appiah: You’re welcome.
Tom: I’ve been reviewing Jeanette’s LinkedIn profile and something that I think I’d like to focus on a little bit more and this issue is more on the finance side, because you had a role more in that side before officially we’re coming into sales operations, so we’re going to get into that, Jeanette welcome to the show.
Jeanette: Thank you, thank you so much for the opportunity it’s really cool.
Tom: No worries, first question, how do you get into sales ops?
Jeanette: I was an English and writing graduate in 2014 and I registered with an agency just to do some temp work, I actually just came by sales ops for the of chance, I started working at an exhibition’s company and they introduced me to the system that they use for sales operations which is sales force and I think ever since then it’s just been progression from there.
Tom: You apply for the job in sales operations, you saw the job?
Jeanette: Correct yes, I guess the agency explained to me what the specifications and the day-to-day responsibilities of what I’d have to do and it was very admin based at first so in terms of entry levels, very data entry and just daily data quality and making sure that the information and the data that the sales teams were entering is correct and it was very contract based as well, so making sure that all of the contracts and legal requirements for each sales deal was accurate and correct so it wasn’t very technical or process driven and very admin based so really gave me like the low-level taste to sales ops. Which for me it was very straightforward and it paid the bills at the time so [laughs] yes it was quite useful.
Tom: You ran for three years?
Jeanette: Correct, yes so I left and came back and they offered me a permanent position and I took that on and I officially managed the I guess like the finance or the sales ops side of a specific exhibition and so everyone had their own exhibition that they oversaw, they managed on the sales and financial legal side so I managed to manage my own exhibitions which was one of the biggest ones in the company, so they-
Tom: What can you [unintelligible 00:03:07] just so people.
Tom: Was there any example one of the exhibitions [inaudible 00:03:14]
Jeanette: One recent one that they’ve actually just done was money 2020. They did have a range and they’ve sold a few and they’ve really transitioned into a more data-driven or technology driven exhibitions company, but they previously had retail ones so Autumn Fair, Spring Fair. They also had a fashion one for Pure so, they had such a huge range and it was very retail driven and now they’ve actually sold them off and now they have more. Like I said yes, they’ve got more of a financial and tech background, Can Lions as well as one of the ones that they have.
Tom: Awesome, so [unintelligible 00:04:02] sales and the operations and the finance and the legal path of these exhibitions, cool, so be a more bit broader than celebrate it.
Jeanette: Very broad. The experience has given me a lot of use in different scenarios and situations whereas when your role is very defined you don’t really have that I guess knowledge or that background to really know how to be flexible in certain situations where a new aspect of your role comes in so yes.
Tom: Got it and then you moved to Merkel which where you are now?
Jeanette: Correct, yes.
Tom: Isn’t a more traditional or sales operations role?
Jeanette: Yes. When I started last year, it’s about a year ago this or last week, time has flown by but they effectively didn’t have a
sales ops process or team or function when I started. They had started using Salesforce back in February 2018. They’ve had a few months of transitioning and adjusting to creating sales deals, etcetera, but there really wasn’t a sales ops department or process or a real solid foundation of how to really go through the sales part process and ensure that you’re correctly updated in opportunities, etcetera.
When I started, that was really my aim and my key function as my beginning role, really implementing processes, getting sales teams in order and really allowing them that independency to monitor their own opportunities, monitor their own deals, reports, etcetera. That was really really insightful.
Again, from my first experience of working somewhere so low level where you are looking at all different aspects of sales ops and finance and legal as well. This really allowed me to have a more visual idea or expectations of how I want the business process to flow through. That really helped in that sense. The first year has been in a world when really trying to implement so many different processes but the sales team have been quite good. [laughs].
Tom: That’s good. Current sales ops tech stack.
Jeanette: We currently use Salesforce and on a wider background, we actually work with the US team. We are a bit of a smaller kind of team or region. I cover pretty much the UK and some parts of Europe. I do have a counterpart in Europe as well but I predominantly work with the Barcelona office and the Amsterdam office. The US pretty much are the- I guess say that they’re the headquarters for really developing Salesforce.
We have integrated with our parent group and at the moment we are in the middle of integrating our Salesforce with their Salesforce and really putting all of our processes together. It’s come at a time of where we’re still trying to implement our process. There have been a lot of obstacles, obviously, in the way but it’s been a really learning curve to see how quickly and how rapid the movement of developing our Salesforce against especially the other companies as well. It’s been really challenging to transition.
Like I said, a different group has different ways of processing or how they do things within a financial expectation I guess for revenue and for forecasting. It’s really about compromising and constant communication with the US teams to ensure that on our side as well as a region as well. The US obviously do things differently as they do to the UK and to Europe. So it’s really about combining and compromising. It’s still a work in progress.
Tom: Are you using any other tools apart from Salesforce?
Jeanette: Salesforce is all that we’re using at the moment within the sales ops. Also in finance, we have different tools that we’re actually transitioning and trying to merge together. Microsoft Dynamics is one that we’re currently using to implement the invoicing, billing, accounting feature and hopefully that will eventually integrate into Salesforce as well.
Jeanette: Yes. [laughs].
Tom: You mentioned in your first role that a lot of what you’re doing is insure or you’re responsible for that quality, what are you currently doing now to ensure that quality in this different Salesforce ops that you’re merging?
Jeanette: Again, I guess the flow through of information to a lot of different departments, so I’m constantly running different meetings for a legal team, ensuring that they’re covered or we’re covering ourselves with the data that we have on Salesforce. I’m constantly monitoring and sending those informations and send processes to them to ensure that we are on the right legal page or we’re ensuring on our side that we have covered our backs effectively. As well as within finance as well. Obviously, the revenue structure that we have is based on monthly revenue as opposed to annual revenue.
As a bit of a background, we, I guess, measure our revenue based on monthly delivering income, so we will have work completed on a month-by-month basis and the sales team, really, it’s their responsibility to ensure that the revenue that has been contracted is correct against the work that is being delivered. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of monthly recognition, and revenue, and really constantly making sure at the end of every month that revenue is up to date, as well as general housekeeping, constant reports and dashboards, sending that over to the sales team and client services groups to ensure that they are keeping up to the opportunities.
I’ve just had a meeting this morning about just ensuring that the opportunities that we do have set in place, I expected to close within a certain time. Some sales members are obviously very eager to have their opportunities closed within a certain timeframe, but that is all about being realistic with the figures that they’ve entered in place. If you are looking at a £50 million deal that’s being closed by the end of July, that’s incredibly optimistic. [laughs] That’s just an example, but it’s really constantly capturing the information that is being put in on a daily basis and really looking at it from an angle of, “Right. How is this reflecting the business and effectively, what departments require this information to be accurate?”
The department thing really helps to align where those fields are being pulled from an into. It also gives the sales leads and insight into how important it is to keep up their information. I mean, from their perspective, they’re just entering in the information and hoping for the best, as opposed to not really realizing that that information is really pivotal for another department’s focus on that sales deal.
Tom: Now, moving on to salespeople, how did you get by or influence the sales team to do something new within this quality? How do you persuade them to do that?
Jeanette: Very good question, because it’s always very challenging, but I do like a challenge. Within Merkel, we have, obviously, a staged progression. I mean, a lot of companies have different stages of how likely the sales deal will be completed. Within that kind of structure, I always try to implement that it has changed within the stage as opposed to highlighting that a new stage has been implemented. The reason why I do this is because it’s all about the communication.
For a salesperson to hear there is a new process in place, in terms of the behavior, you can always tell that it’s going to be a challenge for them to adjust to something new. It’s really about the language that you use. Instead of saying, “There is a new process in place,” always say that there’s a slight change in the existing process, so, “You can still do X, Y, and Z, but here’s what you have to do differently.” Again, it’s all about the language that you use. I’ve learned if you let the sales team know that, “Hey, we’re changing the whole new process, forget everything that you’ve known before for four years, and this is what you have to do now,” it’s a real struggle.
Fortunately, the way that we implement our processes, we really fine-tooth every single part of that stage, again, working with the US team to develop that stages and really go through the testing, working with a sales lead just to visualize how they see the process actually taking place. We would implement an example and really gain feedback from one of the sales leads. See if it works, and adjust for them, and then we slot that into a part of the stages or all of the stages together, constant training.
I run twice a month the training sessions for the sales leads if they’re new or existing. Obviously, hundreds of material that I create.
Tom: Yes. Onboarding salespeople, do you have a specific structure in place?
Jeanette: Yes. Again it works or ties into the US and IT. Usually, once a sales lead or a sales user, sometimes it’s not always sales users, it’s sometimes a client. We have account managers in place as well. They will request for a license. Again, the process usually is that once the license has been provisioned, I would provide training. It’s hour and a half long session really fine to the whole process from beginning to end. How to create opportunities accounts and that’s the basics of the first session.
The second session is more based on reports, dashboards and dashboards are really useful for the sales team and the account managers to keep up to date. Again, housekeeping, but also looking at their revenues and how far there are against their KPIs and their targets et cetera. It’s really an all-around and ongoing monthly session for any salesforce queries also I implement that. Again, the role is very people managing, people communicating. If you find that difficult, it’s [chuckles] quite a difficult role to get into.
Tom: How do you define and measure success in sales operations?
Jeanette: Well, that’s a good question. I would definitely put it down to the smooth running. I think smooth running is really pivotal and in terms of measuring that, it is looking at, I have let’s say, for example, a multitude of reports that show the lack of data quality in some opportunities. I’m looking at specific fields within opportunities or accounts or revenue and all of that really works together in terms of looking at how well the process is working.
If we are looking at large volumes of sales deals or accounts that are coming up incorrectly, we really need to review the way A, we are training the sales users or B, the way that they are being delivered that information in order to enter it into the system. In terms of the sales process and measuring that I really look at the way how likely on those reports if the data quality is down to zero or in terms of the general sales information that is being entered into the system.
As long as the revenue looks accurate as well. It really is just about the smooth running of the processes that are being taken place. Of course, queries are natural to people. People are going to forget certain process, et cetera but it really is just looking at the figures and seeing the zero opportunities are incorrect or that this sales user is actually training another sales user how to use the system. It really is about delivering that information correctly.
Tom: Sure. If I needed anything to make the sales team more productive?
Jeanette: Yes. I guess there’s a love-hate relationship. I love to bother them and they hate me when [laughs] I bother them. I’m constantly sending subscription reports. There are a few reports that I automatically give the sales team to subscribe to. I constantly keep up with them in terms of that process but also from a financial perspective we reconcile all the revenue at the end of the month. I usually send three or four warnings just to let them know the following sales deals either need to have their close dates pushed out or the revenue schedules updated or so. Again, really monitoring the revenue on a monthly basis, but also looking at it weekly.
We also have a week on week pipeline change. I
effectively create a report that outlines any clients that have had week on week variances. If they’ve gone down in value as the stage is progressing, et cetera. We also have a weighted pipeline so we always weigh against the confidence level the revenue that’s been entered in, how likely that that revenue is going to be pulled through once the sales door has been closed. Again, it’s constant monitoring and reports but reports that can be visualized and read to a sales lead as opposed to just providing them that information.
Tom: Got it. What KPIs are you tracking?
Jeanette: As I mentioned, revenues based on the monthly spend. We really look at various financial revenue definitions, we look at the annual contractual value, we look at the revenue that’s been delivered in year, we also look at, again, like I said, the monthly value according to department, we look at the total contract revenue. There’s so many different revenue-based visuals that we look at but the most common one is the new business deals that are coming through. We do monitor a lot of the new business on a total contract value basis and effectively ensuring that against what has been weighted.
Their confidence levels, making sure that the percentage is– If it’s 50% likely that the deal is going to close at 1.5 million, we weight that to ensure that that is a guarantee at that certain stage. Again, them entering that information and filling it in, benefits them because it makes them– Obviously, looking at the revenue or dependent on the revenue, ensures that they’re keeping up with their client activity effectively.
Tom: I think we have another question, do you have a process in place when you’re looking for new tech tools?
Jeanette: That’s a good question. I wouldn’t say we have a process set in place only because, again, we heavily liaised with the US admin team. We do have monthly calls on a global scale so we have all of the global sales ops teams, or finance ops teams, coming together and really discussing and implementing suggestions for a new process or a new tool to be set in place. For example, the Microsoft Dynamics. We also have another system called, “Navision.” Which will be for the accounting software. We have ongoing weekly meetings to discuss the suggestion all the way through to implementation to delivering that and offloading it across. Again, gathering as much information as possible.
Fortunately, for Salesforce, we do have a developer’s edition so you can, separately, look in there in a sandbox and download that tool and just see how it works within your system and how likely it is to integrate and how easy it is also, because, fortunately for Salesforce as a tool, it’s globally known and it’s become a software that is so easy to download for new tools using their AppEXchange and those reviews, et cetera. Really is a matter of doing your research and dedicating time to look into how likely the tool is going to adjust within your system.
Tom: Awesome. Then, final question, who have taught you the most or inspired you the most in sales operations?
Jeanette: I would actually say it’s a lot of the users across Trailblazer. The Trailblazer is a community on Salesforce where there are so many different sales ops, developers, consultants. All within the sales force field. When you’re looking at the community, you could go into that community and ask them a question about, or you got a real dilemma and the community really comes together and gives you
such useful information and new process suggestions, all because we’re all in the same boat effectively. We need to find really a simple, quick solution to complicated matters. As much as they don’t know much about, I guess the background of your company or how the process works, there is always an identifier with the way that the process needs to take place. Unfortunately, it’s not a specific person, but I guess the community is really, really useful.
Tom: It sounds like an insane community out there.
Jeanette: It’s incredible.
Tom: That brings us to the end of the interview. Here are the few things I’ve picked out. I think you said this, how your broad experience over operations, finance and legal helped you now understanding the business that you’re in. I think that’s super important. If anybody else can somehow get more broad operations or finance experience, that will really help them in their role.
Going to and trying a new process, going to a sales leads first, because I assume they can then trickle down and the process can [unintelligible 00:26:17]. Finally, visual data to salespeople. I think that’s quite important. I don’t want to stereotype but I would say that potentially salespeople are more visual [unintelligible 00:26:29] like pretty glass [unintelligible 00:26:33] side as well.
Jeanette: For sure.
Tom: Jeanette, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your wisdom with the audience.
Jeanette: No problem. Thank you so much. It’s been really fun. [chuckles]
Tom: Thank you.
[00:26:48] [END OF AUDIO]