Head of Customer Operations: Philip Kelvin of Trussle
Philip Kelvin jumped onto Sales Operations Demystified to share a interesting perspective into sales operations. He is currently running Customer Operations at Trussle, which is a slightly different business model to what we normally discuss on the podcast (B2C vs B2B), which made for an eye opening interview…
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Philip Kelvin: –or he became a doctor and I couldn’t have an answer on this, couldn’t decide, so how to work out what to do, I went for the simple choices, it wasn’t, you could join a business. Joining a startup was seen as very risky for the majority of people setting up their own business, startups didn’t really quite exist. We went that very traditional route and through finance, then once we re-understand the commercials of business rather than just plotting away in an excel spreadsheet and saying a company is worth X. We wanted to get to know the companies and work inside the big companies.
For me, the reason why I moved across, I talk about this a lot to ex-colleagues or current consultants looking to move on is, when you are in a big strategy consultancy house, it’s all about trying to grow the incumbents, protect the incumbents, help them against the disruptors in the industry. For me, I was sitting in a couple of these long strategy [unintelligible 00:02:37] or doing commercial diligence and thinking, “Wouldn’t it be fun to be the disruptor of the industry? Wouldn’t it be fun to be the one to go in fighting back against broken industries, wherever that may be?” I started looking for something that would suit my skill set.
Interviewer: Is that because the disruptors can’t afford the fees of the big consulting companies?
Philip: Yes. I think the consulting company wouldn’t go to help them really because they are so used to helping those big corporates, manage big projects, lots of stakeholders, billion pound companies. It’d be, A they wouldn’t be able to afford them and B, it’d be overkill.
Interviewer: They wouldn’t know what to do.
Philip: Yes, they wouldn’t know what to do.
Interviewer: When you are considering what role you were taking on these disruptors, how did you end on operations? Very few think you could have done that.
Philip: I guess it’s probably a few things. Trying to think what they are now. [chuckles] I think operations was the one that felt the broadest and for me, I’ve always enjoyed working with different types of people across different teams, being challenged. The exciting thing about being in a consultancy firm or– You see lots of different things, you’re just not in a company for 20 years. That’s why I thought operations would give me better — If I’m being honest, I had no idea. Looking back, I saw a problem, I really bought in to the mission of CEO. I was talking about, I had just gone through a mortgage experience myself.
Philip: It was super painful. I thought this is something that I can get behind and hopefully I’m going to figure out what the role is, what I’m going to do and how I’m going to try and have some impact along the journey.
Interviewer: Just to try and understand, the operations team within Trussle, can you explain the structure? They have a sales team selling to consumers and then there’s this operations part. The commercial teams in Trussle, how can we understand?
Philip: We’re a 130 people now, well we were, especially when I joined and before that. It was never really thought of as a sales team. Even internally, we wouldn’t really necessarily call it a sales team, we are trying to get the best advise to-
Interviewer: The advisers team.
Philip: -Yes, mortgage advisers, we’re trying to get the best advice to consumers who are coming to us on three mortgage purchase to either save their money and also to give them the best experience they can have. In that sense, we weren’t a traditional sales team in that sense. In fact, we were fighting back against what can be in the mortgage industry, a sales team that goes off the revenue of a customer and says, “I’m not going to help you because your mortgage is too small for me. I’m not going to help you or I will but I’ll charge you a fee.” We wanted to break that and say, “If you’ve got a £50,000 mortgage and if you got a £10 million mortgage, that’s one each.”
In that sense we weren’t really the sales [unintelligible 00:05:36]. The customer hired me who I look up to was a media operations, we didn’t have lots of sales and he was drawing out a team, try and work out, “Okay, if we have a mortgage adviser here, how do we make them as efficient as possible? For us, the traditional sales enablement is advice and productivity. How can we say that one of our team members can help five times, six times more customers than a traditional mortgage broker sitting in a state agency or on a high street?
Therefore, it’s about productivity which is kind of cost efficiency as opposed to revenue growth in that sense. We talk about volume of customers helped rather than — Which obviously has a pound value to it but this is not the lumpy B2B, that kind of model, if that makes sense.
Interviewer: Yes. Are you saying that in this discussion we can’t treat advisers as sales people? Are they talking about how you work with advisers? Are there lessons that are applicable to sales also between say a [unintelligible 00:06:37] company? Do they know?
Philip: I think we got on a journey, as you know, we’ve had a VP Sales join in January, Tom Glasson. What he’s tried to do is professionalize our approach to mortgage advice, taking the best of our customer experience. We’re also having a repeatable process that we can scale. I think there are definitely lessons across that. I think we have a lot of the common challenges.
Often, we want to know, how many customers we are going to help this month, next month three months time? That’s forecasting risk performance of each of our mortgage advisers. How do we incentivize them in the right way to produce the right results? How do we motivate them? How do we have the right setups, so that they are set up for success? How do we take tasks away from them to make it more efficient?
Obviously, it’s the same thing but I think the nuances of a B2C environment versus a B2B make it quite different, even though, fundamentally, you’re both trying to get a result for the customer whether it’s a company or a consumer.
Interviewer: Got it. It’s actually the first B2C company we’ve had in. Before we move on to the questions, How much people in total– What’s the size of the adviser team and then the size of the operations teams working that?
Philip: We have about 60 people or so that I would constitute sitting in what we have a broad spectrum of sales operations. Really, within that, you got your mortgage advisers, we then have a support team and that helped the customers through the second part of their journey which we call case managers. We then have separate operations roles to create efficiencies along the way as well a a customer experience and a customer success team.
Separately, our data team is set within data engineering but then there’s a crossover and the key stakeholders into that data team. Is there a sales ops function? No but really, I guess our structure at the top level is, a head of ops, a head of sales, a head of customer experience and that as a group is how we try and get the best for the customer.
Interviewer: Got it. You are the head of customer experience?
Philip: The ops.
Interviewer: Operations inside of that.
Interviewer: There’s, sorry, sales, customer experience and-
Interviewer: -ops, got it. Now I’m moving to questions, so the technology that you guys are using to mange this big map of people.
Philip: We have many more customers than a [unintelligible 00:09:23]. We have about tens of thousands of sign-ups or 10,000 visitors just every week. I’m going to say every week. That’s a kind of volume, again, that we have. Separately, we receive [unintelligible 00:09:38]. A customer comes to us, very simply, they sign-up either a remortgaging journey or a purchase journey of the first home they’re buying or the next home that they are buying and through that, they essentially sign up, give us some basic information and then fill out a form, a longer form that takes about 15 minutes.
This really is a customer
giving you their life story and saying, “This is me. This is my partner. These are my dependents and this is everything that you need to know about me. We don’t have technology that allows us to do a self-credit check, receive data and how we go into all the different sources, around properties and things like that”.
Don’t have a picture of that customer and that is a lot of data points. A lot of highly confidential data points as well, so I’m managing all of that information. Obviously, that information is changing every time as we change our product. It’s a huge challenge. I can go into that. [laughter]
Interviewer: Then, the internal thing [unintelligible 00:10:40] you’re using to try and keep track of these customers and then make the advisers efficient.
Philip: Yes. Absolutely. We made a decision a few years ago to essentially build our own proprietary CRM-style system. In that, we have our sourcing system. The way that we keep track of the customer generally. That one was very good for a while but it gets more difficult to use and requires, “Oh, I need to make this change. I want this to be–” You know? You’re adding to engineering backlog where you’re thinking, “If we weren’t doing this, can we be doing something else?” We are evaluating whether we should be thinking about getting an external system, I’m not going to use the S word. I’m not using the S word or equivalent.
Separately to that, we had our own proprietary system and that’s how we manage our internal workflows. We have a separate communication system, so we talk to our customers via email, live chats and telephone, so we have three different stacks there. All of those feeds essentially enter a central data warehouse. We used to get feeds in that space. Now, we’ve gone to much more self-service in the company, we started using [unintelligible 00:11:58] recently as a way to manipulate data and get a real understanding answer.
Quite a complex stack that we’re looking to simplify. That was one of those things that as the company evolves, you pick the paths of least resistance as to get you setup on what you need to do.
Interviewer: Are you and your team responsible for deciding– You were saying about [unintelligible 00:12:22] as well. You got your team [unintelligible 00:12:23].
Philip: We’re not thinking [unintelligible 00:12:26] that’s what I think. Yes and No. I’d say that we are a stakeholder in it but actually, it’s been led by the CRM team separately which usually might be part of box view. I think the commercial relationships have to initially [unintelligible 00:12:45], so when we negotiate our contracts with these vendors [unintelligible 00:12:49] we think about what the greater ecosystem looks like as our product expands.
You need to get more than one person involved in that. We recently hired a Wealth CRM. He’s managing that life cycle. He’s got a lot of experience in those vendors. He actually sells for [unintelligible 00:13:08] hotspots, Freshworks, et cetera as well as a long other lists that he’ll [unintelligible 00:13:14] .
Interviewer: [laughs] Now, I want to focus on the advisers only. What’s one thing that you’ve done that’s had the biggest boost in productivity for them?
Philip: Tricky question. I think about this before but Tom and I grew up together and we’re realizing that we’re having pressures from the business [unintelligible 00:13:41] and how we motivate recruiting for people who always fix results. That is, they’ve got inbound customers coming in. They’re not calling out and saying, “All right then. We make this many calls, this many appointments”.
They’re handling– I won’t pick the numbers away but significant volume of customers each month. They’re coming in to us who want help from us and we want to give them the best service as quickly as possible at the most convenient times as customers. Yet, we’re saying, “Look, you have X many customers coming in, this is your funnel. How many of those do you think have the ability to get to Y?
The way we’re doing it is saying, “Okay. Well, based on we’re doing this very complicated model, so based on the customers we had three months ago, two months ago, one month ago, based on what we know the conversion curve looks like and how long it takes for people to move, what is the target conversion rate that we’re trying to get to, to make that our numbers look better in the next core meeting?”
Okay, equals this number. We need to get this many customers submitted to [unintelligible 00:14:46] to get that certainty they didn’t get [unintelligible 00:14:48]. You have that number, how many people we have, we’re probably going to be doing– Okay, so if you’re on holiday for one week, we get this, If you’re not, it’s that et cetera, et cetera. Here’s your number. That’s the traditional way of doing it. Here’s your target, commit to it and off you go.
We started to think about this and we said, “Hold on a second”. We were reading around. We had a great presentation from Dimitar from Heresy who is all about the burndown chart. Essentially, you have your target in a month, then, you track it essentially using that Agile cells [unintelligible 00:15:27] about that before [unintelligible 00:15:29] topics.
We said, “What happens if we take a risk and we say to the team, “Your choice.” How many customers do you think you have the ability to help this month bearing in mind that we’re a growing business and we want to push our productivity. What can we do that can improve that?” You said it’s X. Let’s say it’s 50. What would you need from us to make it 55 or 60, 65, 70?
We said, “Well, the target this month? We don’t know. You’ve got three days, sit down with your curve, your sales manager, have that discussion and tell us why you want to set it at that number.” What we found is that it was very weird at the beginning. I think the best quote I had was, “Is it a trick?” It wasn’t a trick. Ultimately, the first month the numbers we came out was 5% higher than the model number without telling anyone what that number was.
Then, if you divide them into cells, that number would have been 5% lower than the number when we add it all up, what everyone gave us. The psychology behind it is also that, you’re much more likely to overachieve a target that you set yourself and believe in than a target that someone else has given to you. If I said you need to close 20 customers next month or you said to me, “I’m going to close 18 this month.” I’ll probably think that you’ll get to 20 if you see what I mean.
Interviewer: [unintelligible 00:17:02] .
Philip: Really what we were trying to tap in to there which I subscribe to is this down peak model of [unintelligible 00:17:10]. How can we give our employees autonomy? How can we ensure they can get mastery of their part of the business and how do we really tap into the purpose of why are you here? Why do you want to stand up to work every day? How can we use that as a motivator rather than this carrot- stick of — You’re in trouble if you don’t hit this number or we’ll pay you lots of this.
Because it doesn’t work. It isn’t a sustainable growth platform. Instead of focusing on people, you’re giving people the comfort and the certainty of how we compensate people and how we do [unintelligible 00:17:47] management. With the autonomy that they set what they want to achieve, they really don’t hit the margin sometimes. It’s really powerful.
Interviewer: What they said they’re going to do was slightly higher than what you were forecasting. Can you tell how they actually performed? Do they actually go and beat the target or what was their [unintelligible 00:18:07] ?
Philip: We’ve been doing this since May and I have– Every day I come up with data. You can get software to use. You can actually do it super easily in Excel. I’ve had some automatic charts come up coming from the database and I can see on an individual basis what everyone’s [unintelligible 00:18:25] is, if that makes sense. You’ve got a velocity. I’d say at team level, at the beginning, it was when you look at that grid, you can see there’s gaps settling up, but now we have-
Interviewer: Nice and smooth.
Philip: – nice and smooth. They’re all going underneath it, so it’s really exciting to see.
Interviewer: Now, focusing on advisers skill. Bringing new advisers into business [unintelligible 00:18:47] over the last few months. How do you get them up to speed and productive as soon as possible?
Philip: Brilliant question. We thought about this quite a lot and what we did before was we had three squads of advisers and with fairly new sales managers in these [unintelligible 00:19:07]. Three new guys come. You get one, you get one, you get one. Take one your way, show them our fairly complex system is a [unintelligible 00:19:17] compliant system. It’s different from being on high Street, you’ve got to speak to someone live chat. If you look at our profile, “We say skip the key, you can do this right now”.
This [unintelligible 00:19:29] before a lot of them had been working in High Street [unintelligible 00:19:32] agencies where someone comes in the front door, it’s very different. That wasn’t really working because there was just such a difference, there was no playbook, there was no, “This is our process.” It was very iterative and different. If you’re in squad one, you do it this way.
If you’re in squad three, you do it that way. If you’re in squad two, then that way. If you really saw between the squads, God, it’s a nightmare. What we did is we hired a new team leader to take over one of the teams from [unintelligible 00:19:59]
and then we set up an academy. We set up essentially a training course. You come in and you have an onboarding program, one person and then about one to two months in you’ll essentially be released into one of the normal squads. [crosstalk] You have a high intensity period of learning.
Interviewer: Okay. Which is with real customers.
Philip: With real customers but where you have the dedicated attention of one person. He’s not having to manage all the other experienced people around and coach those, one person. You’ve got your network of peers around you who are also going through the same thing. At the same time you shadow people of the squad that you’re going to go into so you can have a smooth transition in.
Interviewer: Did you see that ramp like time from nothing to pretty productive increased after that?
Philip: Yes. I think it has. I think we’re still going to see it come through. It’s definitely going to be with more confidence and a much more structured base.
Interviewer: Forecasting number of mortgage or revenue, did that [unintelligible 00:21:06] fit with somebody else?
Philip: Operation and planning. Obviously we’re a VC-backed company, we’ve got a five-year model and that’s something that we’re treating, how to finance SEO and SEM then keep the operations behind that which says what volume of customers do want to come in the front end, so working with the head of growth, marketing. Also what is our [unintelligible 00:21:37] and companies that. That’s something that I drive in business and terms like that.
Interviewer: Okay. Forecasting, actually your responsibility is to say, this month I think we’re going to hit 1,000 mortgages.
Philip: Yes. That’s.
Interviewer: How are you getting the data and feed them into the model?
Philip: For us, I guess it’s fairly stable. It says we want to say that we can do X per adviser and we know that we’re going to be challenging a team to get to an average of X, and we know how many advisors we have. It’s times in the numbers and it’s about calculating how many customers we want each of those advisors to handle each month. They don’t have a huge pipeline, they have a manageable pipeline which is an efficient from a marketing perspective and there’s pretty more lose bits together and we sit down, myself, the CEO, Tom, marketing, finance, we sit down and that’s the freezing together, then we try and stick with that plan. We have to come up clear and say for every quarter we want to achieve this.
There’s always a thing that the growth is really important but actually the productivity profile is risen or is more an important number to our investors, if that makes sense, because if you have a productivity of X, it says once you start improving your productivity exponentially, it’s just a question of having more people and then at times by that number whereas if you are growing your top line number and you had to hire exponentially more people to the team then that’s not efficient if that makes sense.
Interviewer: Got it. Would you say one of your core focus is maximizing the number of mortgages an adviser can deliver or sell, but we don’t want to use the term, in a month? That’s the core thing.
Interviewer: Cool. Can you share another thing that you’ve done since you’ve been at Trussle that has had a tad real impact on productivity of an adviser?
Philip: We’ve done a few overhauls of our systems and our processes, and as a product things as well, like our product team do a lot of things to enable us to become quicker and more efficient. Anything from changing how we position our live chat that says, you finished 50 minutes with us. How can we know that we engage with the customers quickly as possible and more likely to come with us and not with someone else? Someone else is ringing them, they’re filling out a form elsewhere. How could we get more people into our mortgage version?
It can be as simple as me [unintelligible 00:24:06] for a day with [unintelligible 00:24:08] and saying how can we create a [unintelligible 00:24:10] text here that says make someone to click on us and to talk to us live. I think the most impactful, another impactful thing that we’ve doing is really breaking down the task of what someone is doing. It’s a regulated role.
Our mortgage advisors are highly qualified, they’ve all passed regulatory exams, it’s called CeMAP. Clicking out in that B to Z of the mortgage journey, what is actually a regulated activity? What’s not? Where could you get support on? What is really the frustrating parts of their job and saying how can we hire quickly to take away, it might be data entry, it might be rotating documents.
Customers send us documents in all different forms, we need to send them on. So all those well paid advisors should not be cropping, rotating, flipping, et cetera. What we did though is we said, “Look we’ll try and do this as quickly as possible and then we’ll work out how much we have been saving after that.” We use an agency, I don’t know if we should [unintelligible 00:25:16] on this, we use an agency where it hires on really quickly.
Great online platform, [unintelligible 00:25:23] where we can hire someone, get them in on Monday to perform this role, it’s a basic role and we just want someone who’s committed and we can just extend that contract on. Me and [unintelligible 00:25:34] hired four people who were fantastic, two of which are staying on. They [unintelligible 00:25:38] contract with Trussle and that meant that we can take away a significant volume of tasks to make the speed from customer to lender quicker but also more efficient.
Interviewer: There are tasks that your mortgage advisors don’t have to do and shouldn’t be doing even though you expect them so they can fit more mortgages into that [laughs].
Philip: Yes, so they can help more customers and do what they’re best at rather than what they’re going to be doing. And also then then they get more job satisfaction from that because they’re doing more of what they want to do and they love and not what they’re able to do.
Interviewer: What do you think is the most insightful metric that you use?
Philip: The question, most insightful metric.
Interviewer: Or maybe the most useful?
Philip: I think when it really comes down to it, the most important metric in a business is really understanding your unit economics. That’s certainly a sales ops thing or an ops thing but it’s what you have to relate everything back to because you can have one metric that you can overfocus, one that might cut out the expense of something else. Fundamentally, your investors have come to you because they believe in your product, they want you to have as many customers and fix the problem that’s out there.
At the same time, there’s only so much funding money on a file that a classic VC investor wants to do. They want to see is this going to be a company that can grow and be profitable and therefore you can keep your employees employed and help more customers. Unit economics of revenue minus cost of acquisition minus our cost of sale. How much is the cost of acquisition? What is the cost of a complete customer that’s gone through a very complex journey? Cost of sale, how much does it cost us to produce the volume that month? You get your gross margin.
If you look at those in isolation and say, “Oh, I’m not going to do this because it’s really bad on customer sell.” You might be saying, Oh look, this type of customer is super expensive for us from a cost of sale perspective but if it’s super cheap to acquire, it might net itself off if you see what I mean. Having a holistic view of unit economics, making sure everyone knows what unit economics actually means. We have a think on slack now where you can forward slash tell me unit economics. Across a number of different [unintelligible 00:28:16] in the company or [unintelligible 00:28:19] should be able to see. That’s the most important thing because we don’t know how you actually make money or the path to profitability then you’re doing X, you’re not making the right decisions.
Interviewer: Final question. Who in your world of operations have you learnt the most from?
Philip: I’m going to be really difficult and not say one person because I think the best thing about startups, especially a small company and especially operations is that you have the ability to interact, make decisions with, learn from people across all parts of business. Before I joined Trussle I didn’t know my SEO from my SEM. I didn’t know my C code from my Python, and I didn’t know what control I can have in all the contracts. I had to look through quickly before I had a legal look through. I certainly didn’t know how to install the projector in the ceiling as well when we moved office.
I think everyone’s an influence along your journey, I can’t really pick up the individuals. I think really investing in a startup and what the technical engineering side means, how they work, what the schedule is, what you can do to make things easier and understanding that process is super useful. I think the most valuable, one of our senior data engineers really got to crack problems and say look, I want to understand this about our customer.
We ask questions like what is the best time for a customer to create their profile? We have people creating their profile at 2:00 AM. What is the best operational time for them to create a profile?
How do we rethink about when, what I was, we want to work, what’s the best for our customers. Really sitting down attacking those problems is exciting.
Interviewer: What is the best time someone’s failed that [crostalk] [laughter] That’s super interesting. It’s more holistic than we normally get, which I think it could. Seems like I liked having advisors actually say that and I think it is brilliant and I’m so glad that it works. I really agree with purpose, autonomy, and mastery for sure. I’m really glad that works out for you. I thought that was fantastic.
Being really analytical about what your advisor’s actually doing and stripping out stuff they need to do. I think any like that’s not even for sales or like any manager should really be looking at that and what your key resources doing and what they not need to do. Then the final point, [unintelligible 00:30:51]
[crosstalk] Then it was one before that, the question we asked with, yes, unit economics and I am not so sure, because when we went about people before in the podcast, they’ll say one specific metric and your planning about overoptimizing on that one could make that seller look good at the detriment of some of them who doesn’t. I think, again, for any person working in any business, if you have a better understanding of that, you’re going to be more viable to the business as a whole. Philip, thank you so much for coming on.
Philip: Thank you very much for having me on.
[00:31:35] [END OF AUDIO]