Randall Fees jumped onto Sales Operations Demystified to share his knowledge and experience in Sales Operations.
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Interviewer: Hello, and welcome to another very special episode of the Sales Ops Demystified podcast. We are joined by Randall Fees who has approximately eight years experience in the sales ops game,x previously or currently at Viral Launch or recently left Viral Launch where Randall was running the sales operations. Randall, welcome to the show.
Randall Fees: Thank you. Good to be here.
Interviewer: Kick-off [unintelligible 00:00:33] with understanding how you got into the field.
Randall: Yes. Like most, I didn’t really grow up wanting to be in sales ops. I’ve kind of bounced around when I grow up. I bounced around, but I keep coming back to sales ops. Started in sales ops after I finished an MBA at Purdue, and pretty sure I got the interview because I had a focus in operations. That’s tack time logistics, how much inventory need to order type of operations, but that got me in the door, so I started there. I really just like the Jack of all trades type of work that sales ops has to have. I think that Angie’s List had a nice growth trajectory at the time.
I started there as a team of five. I’m a 600 person company. Over the next few years, bounced around different roles, looking at different sales groups. Eventually was promoted to manager and then director of sales ops. At that time, it was 2,200 people. Over that time, they’d picked up a few different- I call them “big hairy analytical type questions”, so we decided to start a new team. It was called the Applied Business Intelligence Team. That was basically a few different pieces of the sales ops to try to go attack these larger things like who to call, how much to price, and then launch new products, etc.
Anyway, HomeAdvisor acquired them 2017, 2018, and basically, then a lot of our work went to transitioning into the new way of thinking. Then since then, I’ve helped different organizations start new sales teams so helped Indigo Ag starting to scale the B2B sales team. If you haven’t heard of Indigo Ag, they’re doing some crazy things in the Ag industry. Then most recently with Viral Launch, basically, they help Amazon sellers get started and be smarter and so helps them create a new product and start a B2B sales team there as well.
Interviewer: Got it. Would you say your sweet spot is 1 or 2 salespeople scaling up to 50 to 100?
Randall: For the past year, I guess it has been. Angie’s List at its peak had 1200 sales reps, so it’s a completely different way of thinking.
Interviewer: Got it, yes. Having 5 versus 1200 I can understand are quite different. If we zoom in on your most recent experience, at the end, the time when you left, how many salespeople were there, and how big was the operations team supporting them?
Randall: Sure. Let me think. I think we’d scaled back down to probably 300 or 400. It gets a little muddy between who was working for what organization at the time. Similarly, we got more efficient on the sales ops side. I want to say there probably were 20 people that were actually sales ops analyst and then another 15 or 20 that were either contract admins.
Interviewer: Got it. You’re looking at approximately 35, 40 operation [unintelligible 00:03:58] supporting the sales reps?
Interviewer: Fantastic. What was the sales ops tech stack you were running there?
Randall: At Angie’s List, it was definitely Salesforce– We started implementing it in 2012, and over the course of the next five, six years, we just continued to bolt new things on there. It was actually sales ops that brought into the organization back then, and then different departments started realizing if they could just get closer to the sales data, they would be better off.
Interviewer: Got it. Were you using any other tools apart from Salesforce?
Randall: Basically, our quoting system was homegrown, but other than that, everything was built within Salesfor– We used Gainsight and a couple of different call cadacing tools and dialers, but that was about it.
Interviewer: That was [unintelligible 00:05:00] Viral Launch?
Randall: Viral Launch were actually– You go from 1000 people to 3 or 4, and it’s a different story so not really satisfied with how it’s all working right now. We’re obsessed to go a lot of different places. We’re basically using Intercom to store customer information, and then once it gets to the point where it should be an opportunity in our sales pipeline, then we move it into– It’s called Freshsales. It’s part of the Fresh suite for–
Interviewer: Cool, okay. [unintelligible 00:05:36] it covers like the whole– from pre [unintelligible 00:05:41] on the site just chatting to engaging in product and then also support, so you have all your customer data there. Then when the sales rep sees an opportunity, they’ll ping that contact into Freshsales and start working it from there.
Interviewer: If we go back to Angie’s List, I think this is the most personal example with data quality. How are you managing– you say thousand of reps, right?
Randall: Yes. It’s always an interesting game because I once heard somebody say that sales ops is basically– They handle the fuzzy data that nobody else wants to. I think that that is very true because finance and accounting people, they get really frustrated when these numbers they have all these caveats. But I’ll say, I’ve always thought it’s basically the responsibility of whoever’s putting up the numbers to understand the numbers that they’re putting– If you’re going to present this number, you better understand all the assumptions and the caveats within it. I say that just as a public service announcement because sales leaders aren’t going to want to learn definitions, and a lot of sales reps only do what they have to.
Sales ops has to guide data quality. I think that the best way to do that is to tie that measurement to something that’s easy. Instead of asking a rep to change the opportunity stage to contract send, have DocuSign move the stage when the contract is actually sent. The more you can set these triggers and lock your data to these simple definitions, you can actually work on improving the numbers instead of defining them. Someday it is going to be completely reliant on the reps, so you have to rely on the sales team and sales leadership. If sales ops doesn’t have the relationship with sales or a sales leader doesn’t really understand the value of good data, then that’s where you have to start. You need that.
Interviewer: Cool. Two things you have to establish is first a trustful relationship between the ops team and sales team, and then also you need them to tell the leadership to prioritize.
Randall: Absolutely, yes.
Interviewer: We just touched on it there, but getting buy in from the sales team to say do this new manual process that gives you better data but may take more of their time, how do you go about doing that?
Randall: I always try to avoid this answer as much as possible, but it depends. I think that it depends on the sales culture that you’re in, the type of change that you’re trying to implement and if you have any incentives up to your disposal or not. For instance, at Viral Launch, small team. Everyone acknowledges the need for changing processes, so you can just have an offhand conversation with somebody, and you agree that this is the better way, and it’s done. As sales team scale, that’s not a viable solution. [clears throat]
Excuse me. So you really have to get to a point where you can have different opportunities or ways of implementing and getting that buy in. You get that relationship with the sales team. You have an honest conversation about the change that you’re trying to put in, why, what it’s going to mean to them, and you have to get their honest feedback as to whether they’re actually going to give it a try or not. Because I think that a lot of times you’ll just throw something out there and they’ll be like, “Yes, just like the last three changes, this one’s not going to stick”, and you don’t really move the ball forward.
To that end, whenever possible I try to look for a give-take exchange, like reps understand this. If you want them to log something new, see if you can take something off their plate and exchange. You can keep asking them for it, and some reps will continue to do these little things. At scale, there’s a finite capacity for this minutiae in their minds.
Interviewer: Got it. You must have onboarded a lot of reps during [unintelligible 00:10:05] Angie’s List. Do you have any best practices or tips to share on how to reduce ramp time by onboarding?
Randall: I’ve always worked with pretty great sales training teams, and I think that they’re pretty indispensable. I will say there’s also no substitute for shadowing current high performers. I think that if you talk to the best sales people in any industry, they have this perspective on the client base that’s really tough to bottle up and get into a PowerPoint, so I think it can be expensive, and sometimes those top performers don’t want to do it. I think that’s how you scale more predictably because otherwise they’ll always go try their own things and have to relearn everything that everybody else has already learned. That said, I think that you have to understand your expected ramp up time and set those expectations early and often.
Interviewer: I totally agree especially even in [unintelligible 00:11:09] that the top performers have this- when they speak about the product almost like this vibe that you’d have to bottle that up and put it into some slides. It’s something that you have to experience [unintelligible 00:11:21]. Making reps more productive. You did mention something about pining out contracts and that automatically updating into Saleforce.
Randall: I think you have to look for those little automations to help. I think whenever productivity or general sales increases, I try to reposition it as, are you fundamentally looking for efficiency or effectiveness? I think that sometimes that forces let’s say the C-level to actually make a decision on that because I think if you don’t, you end up usually with tests within a test.
For example, you throw a stat up for a sales leader says, every 100 dials you have a conversation, and they’re like, “That’s crazy”. If we can just improve that number, then we’ll hit our quota easy, and this is true. They’re always quick with those little math things, but really, what they’re asking for is remove the leads that aren’t effective, but don’t lose any of the bookings that you would have got from them. So you’re both getting more efficient and effective when you do it. From an analysis perspective, you’re basically trying to find all of the needles in a haystack from this low probability group.
If you can split that up in two tests, one, you remove the low probability leads, and you focus more effort on the high-value leads. But you know that you’re foregoing something over here. Or you simply just dial more, and you’re reaching more of an audience. That’s more just the sheer effectiveness, so then you avoid the testing a test. Anyway, it’s kind of a rant I think, but it’s one of my– because you can get trapped by just looking for sheer growth.
Anyway, in terms of productivity, there’s a few different angles you can take. The simplest way is just to look at your sales process end to end, sit down with the sales reps, sales managers, sales leadership and just say, where do we think the lowest hanging fruit is here? Is it training? Is it productivity? Is it sales collateral, contract terms, bundling? Is it the transition processes? There’s all of these pieces.
On the other hand, I think that one of the easiest pieces and one of the more impactful is to take your LTV findings from whatever methods you’re using and make sure and push those back into the sales rep team or the sales team. I think that it’s one of the easiest way to really grow revenue if you can say this segment or this lead source or this type of decision maker has a higher lifetime value and you can show that, and you give the reps a little bump in commission for closing that type of deal. All of a sudden, the LTV for all of your customer base starts to increase, and all of a sudden, you’ve got extra revenue that just comes out of nowhere, seemingly.
Lastly, for productivity, I always have a regular check every three, six months to just be on the lookout for legacy junk in terms of something that was put into place to fix a problem at the time and just might not be viable anymore. You have to be very careful because you have to understand all of the reasons why it was put in at that time but also make sure it’s no longer valuable, then see what else it’s now curing because there’s going to be some unintended consequences. Sometimes those can be very valuable to remove.
Interviewer: Got it. If we go back to Angie’s List again, how were you forecasting sales? Were you guys responsible for rolling everything up and then you hand over to the managers, or how did it work?
Randall: Over the course of the years, we acquired a few different forecasting methodologies. It’s very different between originations, and CSMs and different sales cycle lengths. For short term, the one that withstood the bomb test, no matter what this method always held out, it’s called Glide Path and Glidecom forecasting. Basically, you just look at over the past three months, we typically close this much over the course, so if we’re currently here on the 20th day of the month, that means we’re trending towards 5% below goal or 5% above goal.
What’s really nice about that is it’s bombproof because no matter what changes you’re testing or putting in, you’re managing or you’re forecasting based on what’s actually closed, so there can be a bunch of weird things early in the process that doesn’t really impact the closed amount. If we’re talking about forecasting more like AOP or longer-term plans, then you’ve got a– I always advocate pretty hard for– You’ll get a top-down plan generally from finance or the investors, and then you have to go the bottom up to meet it. I think that as long as you have both, you have some level of accountability to make sure that it’s realistic, and you get some checks and balances throughout the organization.
Interviewer: Got it. Throughout the eight years, have there been a KPI or metric that you’ve found incredibly insightful?
Randall: No. I say that because I think if you focus too much on any one metric you’ll hit that one metric, but it won’t mean anything. Don’t get me wrong. I think that you can go too far in terms of measuring everything. At one point, we had a monthly report that was over 200 slides long that took an entire team the better part of a month just to complete, and I don’t think that was really helpful. I think that you’ve got to triangulate where you’re actually at. You’ve got your top of funnel. You’ve got your actual bookings. You’ve got your client success metrics. Then you have your overall revenue and movement [unintelligible 00:18:11] goals so that you’re not– If you’re just just bookings, all of a sudden you might hit that number but your LTV shrinks, then you just get trapped at the next meeting anyway in terms of, why aren’t you hitting this metric now?
Interviewer: Got it. You advocate more of a holistic view prioritizing say five metrics, focusing on them, then having a backup.
Randall: Yes, absolutely.
Interviewer: Then finally, who in the world of sales operations has inspired you the most?
Randall: It’s interesting to think back on some of this because sales ops is not something that’s taught anywhere. I think between organizations, there’s pretty amazing difference in how it’s structured, what their thought process are, thought processes are. I learned a lot from my managers and business leads at Angie’s list. [unintelligible 00:19:16] I will say a lot of the best lunches or the things, places where I learned the most are with leadership or front line people in tangential departments. Finance, accounting, cloud ops, these are people– You can just figure out what they’re frustrated with or what ideas they have. Sometimes they have a great perspective on things that is separate from sales when you’re so aligned with them.
Interviewer: That’s really interesting. Awesome. Cool. Let me summarize what I thought was interesting. I love your description of sales ops being responsible for the fuzzy data that no one else wants to, which I thought was super interesting. Something that really resonated with me is once you focus on things quality, you can then look at improving the numbers instead of defining the numbers. I feel like- in marketing anyway -a lot of time defining like configuring reports in Salesforce that are actually accurate, and only now can we start improving them.
Shadowing current high performance it’s such a simple thing, but we never had that answer before for that question. Then doing the LTV thing, feeding that back in and then even tweaking commission, again, we’ve never had that before, and I think that’s really insightful. Then your final answer about actually learning most from not people in sales ops but other people in the business that you could either help or that can have really insightful ideas for you. Randall, thank you very much for coming on and sharing your wisdom.
Randall: Yes, no problem.
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