VP EMEA Sales Operations: Jag Cheema of Hitachi Vantara

Jag Cheema jumped onto Sales Ops Demystified to share his knowledge and experience as Sales VP EMEA Sales Operations at Hitachi Vantara.
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Tom: Welcome to a very special episode of Sales Ops Demystified. We are joined by Jag of Hitachi Vintara if I pronounced that correctly.

Jag Cheema: Hitachi Vintara.

Tom: Hitachi Vintara. Jag has extensive experience as a business analyst and sales operations which we’re going to be digging into in the next 20-30 minutes. Jag, welcome to the show.

Jag: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

Tom: Currently VP of a mere sales operations for Hitachi Vintara, how did you initially get into the sales ops field?

Jag: I think if you look at the history of sales ops, it’s no more older than probably 16 years as a profession. It wasn’t really a function, it was necessarily called out right. I think you may have had other actors in the sense of COO role, operations analyst role but really, as a competency, I think you would find us no older than 16 years.

For me, I began as a analyst that was good with data and that was really my forte at the very beginning of my career. I was heavily around things such as Excel, Cognos, Access, things like that order when I was good at it. [laughs] Since then, the words obviously changed a lot and data is more of something that can be visualized in many different ways and through many different tool sets. I moved on from there to things like business objects and then progressed more into management roles really which at this point, if I’m the operator of the tool, it’s probably not the right thing because there’s far better people than me.

What I’ve really done over the last, I guess half a dozen years now really is being at the forte with things around BI development.

I’ve been privy to having teams that have orchestrated and run data sets covering tools such as Power BI, Quick View, taking what was bespoke Excel-type data and putting it into data lakes and scaling at mass across thousands of cell users through automation as opposed to needing bespoke ad hoc reporting which we’re trying to kill as a trade, both for this company and other companies that I’ve been at.

Tom: Got it. Initially, when you were first doing sales operations work, you weren’t actually labeled sales operations, you were working data that helped drive decisions from the sales team?

Jag: Yes. I would say the competency overall– I think mid-2000s is probably where you will find I came to the forefront under an umbrella as such. It used to be actors such as business operations, you’d find an analyst left right and centre in many organizations. You find mid-2000s is where many companies were looking at people in those roles, then say all of these things together points towards what is now considered sales operation. You found in their competency such as compensation, process improvement, CRM, analysis. Those things together really form the basis of what you see in sales ops today. I’ve had perview to each of those attributes across the course of my career because to be getting sales ops, at the top level, you need to know each of those to some level, experts in some, but get working knowledge of all to really get an end-to-end view of the business.

Tom: Can you give us a picture of the sales ops teams of where you currently are and how many resources are reporting to you.

Jag: At my current employer, I’ve been here just over a half year now. Across EMEA, we have a team of around 30 FTs. This is a software hardware business, so a little bit different to the 12 years I had at a prior company before this, where we didn’t have to focus in on things such as supplies. Here we have a selling motion. We have the sales process and the CRM that sits underneath that. At the very end of this, if it’s a hardware sale, we have to sell kit which then needs to be shipped and sent for revenue recognition.

We cover that entire front end of the funnel to the back end, which is comp planning, go to market planning, making sure that people have the right tools and visibility to do their jobs, rolling up what is the sales forecast, making sure that we got the datasets to do this at a scalable modern way that’s doing using automation as opposed to manual churn work. Then, at the very end of that, we have to make sure the stuff can actually get shipped to wherever we’re at.

From time to time, obviously things such as commission queries. We’re really tied in binary to the end-to-end process. As always, in operations, there’s room to improve this stuff which is where the opportunity and challenges.

Tom: Do you have a view on ideal ratio sales for sales people?

Jag: I think it’s different depending on the maturity of the business. I think a modern sales ops function in a modern organization, the numbers could be very different to the opposite. I think it’s a journey. I think what this is about is putting in the building blocks to make sure you get the automation that you need throughout the entire sales process end-to-end. I think as you get there, the position of ops changes from tactical to strategic.

Because then, it’s about not having an expert that can tell you what you need to know to run your business, but more about how can you add value to me because the day or, for example, if you’re talking about analysis is now on tap. I don’t need an expert to get me day or two to tell me what my forecast is. I can see that for myself. When you get to that level of maturity on the curve, then the value of ops is more about how can you strategically help me move forward as opposed to help me create a PowerPoint that explains something about my business to my boss because he asks me a question every week, for example.

I think there’s a journey that every org goes on. I don’t think there’s a magical ratio as such. Clearly, there’s a better way to do everything. I think once the organization matures, I think all of those spans and layers can look very different.

Tom: Got it. Next question, and I want to ask about current sales ops tech stack that you’re operating.

Jag: No different to most people. Having choices out from a CRM perspective are largely based on Salesforce and Microsoft. We are a heavy Salesforce user, and wherever I’ve worked before has been largely the same. Now there’s good implementations, there’s bad implementations. We always have work to do in that capacity in every org I’ve been at. For us at Salesforce from the front end, and that ties us together from a marketing perspective, from a lead gen, and down to the sales reps from an account and opportunity mapping perspective in terms of the accounts and the leads, the opportunities, the contacts, et cetera, et cetera.

Salesforce is that kind of middle layer. Then where we then go from there to quoting is layered in through a configured price quote tool. We use a tool currently here called FDX. Seeing various guises of something of a similar ilk, ultimately, the challenge with all of these things is adoption, which is something that’s front and center in our mind because Salesforce for me, is only as good as the data that’s in it. Otherwise, we’re checking the box to have it, but it needs to be something that’s built into the DNA of sales, which means that we’ve obviously built it in a user friendly way that it actually helps them and it isn’t just for ops to do reporting from.

Tom: Did you actively work with the sales team to configure Salesforce in a way that they’d actually want to use it?

Jag: Yes. I’ve seen this done well, I’ve seen it done averagely. I would say, early, maybe it’s mid 2000s. We had our first rollout of salesforce.com at a prior company I was at. I was seconded over to be the representative of EMEA at the time for that type of project. I would tell you, that was the classic case of ops trying to design the world without maybe thinking about the persona of the Sales user at the time.

I just think the maturity of what a CRM should look like, I don’t think anybody necessarily knew what it needed to be, but as we got better at it and we started recognizing things like sales process as a function and not a spin off project, what then became from it was other spin offs such as going to constantly look at our processes and revise what they are to make sure they’re optimum for sales, as opposed to being built for operational reporting.

From there, what we created was user clinics with the end users, but you got to be careful with who you listen to as well because everybody has a good idea and you feel something to add. At the end of the day, what you can end up with is a lot of clutter and nothing that’s actually very useful to actually get the basics of the job done. From time to time it’s been known of every company I’ve been at to have to go back to the simplistic view of an opportunity and start cutting back the number of fields that have been added through good intent but have lost the basic DNA of what CRM is.

Tom: I have a quick question from Zac. Have you seen changes or shifts in the role and if so, how do you overcome them. I guess this is looking back at your 18 or so years.

Jag: If things are still the same as they were 10 years ago, you are clearly doing the wrong thing. The industry has moved on so much. If I think about what an ops role like 10 years ago and the kind of things it was doing for a sales leader, for example, if it’s at the sales partnership level, it was very different. I would say you probably spent 60-70% of your time crafting through data so that you can then go and spend the rest of the delta to go and explain to the sales leader where the business is, whereas now, in that example, this stuff is on tap.

If you build it well and you have good data, then you can scale at a much better level. So the position, therefore, now that everyone can see everything, which is a good principle in life, you shouldn’t only have ops or finance who can understand your data, how do I now take that forward and drive this into action? Which is really where the fun happens. That’s where I see the big pivot. The days of being good in ops and having a career just because you know that in a working of a company, or you know how the data works that’s gone. If that’s still happening at your organization I think you’re in trouble because we need to empower people to move forward.

Tom: Nice. You touched on data quality and Salesforce and it being as powerful as the data within it. Who is responsible for data quality in your team and how are you currently dealing with that.

Jag : It’s different in different places. Again, it’s a maturity curve. I think once you’ve got the muscle memory you’re more mindful of the downside of not having good data, but you need to go on a journey before you can even kind-of respect the issues that you cause by not having it. For example, I think we all own it, so if you’re a sales guy and you don’t have a passion to pick your contacts in Salesforce, that’s not going to help us. If you’re a marketing person, you can’t therefore do a campaign. If you’re in support and you have contacts and you have users with queries and you’re not making sure that’s a capture point, that’s, again, an issue.

I think every single department owns it, but what you got to have is you got to have uniformed systems integrated across those contact points to make sure that there truly is an end-to-end tie-in and I would say the bigger the company, the bigger the issue, but sometimes just having pilots to get that right in small pockets is the way you start getting a little bit smarter at it.

I’ve been getting the platforms unified is the key first step but again it comes back to am I building a CRM to do reporting or am I building the CRM to drive interaction with the customer and with the sellers? It should always be the latter and I think if you have that natural thing happening it’s a fly will effect and I think it just naturally feeds itself.

Tom: I think that’s a really big insight because sales ops sort of people want to build the thing to build it for them when in reality it’s only going to be the best for the business if it’s built with your interests but also with the interests of everybody else using it.

Jag: Absolutely.

Tom: That’s a brilliant flavour.

Jag: Yes it’s a chicken and egg. At the end of the day you want his balance between having inputs, to have useful outputs, but if it’s all about the output then that’s just not going to be the user right? If you take that back to normal life for you and me, in fact social media was all about what? One of those companies could get out of it I don’t think I could go in there. You could argue we’re probably on the tipping edge of probably being too much like that from my experience with some of these kind of systems but there’s a delicate balance there. You’re going to be as bad as what you’ve designed.

Tom: As bad as the next company.

Jag: [chuckles]

Tom: You mentioned just now about having people in customer success or in marketing managing or helping with data quality, how do you have buy in from those other district teams from the organisation to help you with you goals?

Jag: At the most mutual companies I’ve been at, if you think about the annual planning cycle you sit there with product development, you determine what products you’re going to roll out the road maps to make them better. You’re then go and determine the budget for the campaigns that are going to go in underpin those things. You’ve got your captive sales audience that need those things to be useful in the marketplace. Then you got customer success obviously need to tie those things out from a support perspective.

I think it comes back to what is the quality of your planning cycle and how much you’re truly engaging across all those elements and how much perversely is done in a silo where you’re not thinking across the entire landscape. Where I’ve seen this work well we did something for example maybe 18 months ago now, we called it a plan of record which was effectively what’s the plan of record for product? What are the goals? What are the commitments? What’s happening on market and what’s happening with sales? What’s happening with success?

Then you’re kind of binary because everyone’s success is dependant upon each other and everybody’s accountable to delivering what they said they’d deliver otherwise, we’ll fail together. I think it’s about making sure that that connectivity happens from how you plan because then you have common goals and ambitions to be successful together.

Tom: Got it so actually you need to zoom out and you’re like in an annual planning process, if everyone’s aligned with goals you’re trying to achieve then they’re going to be bought in to what you’re trying to do.

Jag: You got to be willing to own the planning outside the planning. Whereas in planning done not greatly is usually comp plan, the gun’s gone off, we will go in a dark cupboard and come back again three months ago from the end of the year to plan for the following year. You got to live it into the DNA of what you agreed to make sure you’re delivering against it. Otherwise, what you find is your accounts, the segmentation didn’t quite get managed the way that you expected, the data quality goes down because if you narrow in on only quality during planning and don’t live it, then you’re just resetting the wheel every six to eight months from whenever you kick off your planning cycle.

Tom: Got it. Can you share some insights around onboarding salespeople? I assume with 400 people in the sales team, you have some gems of knowledge to share about that.

Jag: My overall experience I would say if I looked across the board holistically of the roles of that is company onboarding generally is good at the company level onboarding in terms of the products, how to go to market, how to go and talk to the key customers about them. Now, day one in the job is, for me, where ops really kicks in because I often find at every company that I’ve been at, there’s a terrific onboarding company level process, sometimes it’s local, sometimes it’s overseas.

Day one in the job is, “Okay, how do I use salesforce in real life, real combat? How do I create a quote and get it through the motion of an approval process?” That’s where you need a more holistic view from ops at the backend, which is more of an operational onboarding piece and a buddy system works well, right? Sometimes, people just need regular clinic places to call into.

If you have that chemistry, then you’re going to have people being more effective day one as opposed to all hell breaking out at the end of a core of trying to get a quote for it and they don’t know what they’re doing. There’s different levels of maturity at different places I’ve worked, but that’s where I’ve seen it work best is when you contribute at the ops level to really do that.

Tom: From day one, as soon as they go in.

Jag: Yes, in the job, post-training, post the company onboarding because that’s when real life really kicks in with a lot of these guys.

Tom: It’s been a week or two, it’s just like classroom like learning about stuff like blah, blah, and you have that inertia to do it. Productivity of sales reps.

Jag: In terms of how do we measure, which I think is the kind of proxy for your question. In terms of talent management, it’s a key contributor to what I’ve worked on over the last five years at different places and spaces. You got to have a contribution of subjective and objective. It can’t just be a bunch of ops and finance data and HR data. You got to be cognizant of what the manager thinks, because ultimately, what you’re trying to get to is a consistent benchmark of what good looks like. What we were big advocates of, and we saw this, then scale globally, into a standard process was making sure that we took the best of all of these breeds of data and management views to try and get a consistent view.

The trick is to do this through automation, not a one time pony for a QBR and then you walk away, and then nothing happens. For me, what we started to do was, we started to look at a balance of subjective and objective. The subjective pieces were things like what’s the scale of the individual rights to do that job, so you would have a grading of one to five for that. You have a grading of one to five for will, a grading of one to five accountability.

There was very consistent markers for what you need to be to be at the top, top level of that. That’s a management view. We would also, in addition to that, ask the managers two other questions, which was, if this person left the company, what’s the impact to the company and are there a flight risk? Then that gets the management view of the individual on the table. Then what we would do is to elevate the conversation is we would add some of the objective data and so you’d have the company records. You have things like attainment, coverage, win rates, profitability, performance status, their training hours, how many classes have they attended, they’re going to help them improve in their job.

Then what you end up with is the best of both the subjective and the objective. Then really, where you end up is, “Okay, if I’m going to go do a QBR in Brazil, I’ve already got all of my employees rated by the managers in an online tool, perhaps,” which is how we wrote this. It meant every one of our QBRs was consistent and what would happen is the leader in that particular market or geo-segment would stand there and talk about their people. Then, what would happen in the room amongst the other managers is that they would look at those ratings and say, “Well, hold on. The data doesn’t quite say that the rating is the way you have it.”

Then you get that transparency between the management set of what does good look like, by having all this joined up together. You have to do this in a scalable way because that’s how you get to that consistent view of what good looks like about creating the weeks of operations work to create content and decks, if you will, and to show that view of the business. I think if you get to that maturity curve, and you have a sales leader driving it, not an ops person by the way, it’s really preaching this to his guys or gals, then I think you really get to elevate it.

Because I think it comes becomes a scalable model, it becomes a consistent model and the KPIs become something that get lived as opposed to a one-time show.

Tom: That’s something that you implemented like this subjective and objective that was something that you rolled.

Jag: Yes, that was something we implemented globally across 1,200 employees.

Tom: Wow. Did you bring that over from a previous business or how did you come up with that?

Jag: We had a new sales leader, who had some ideas. We had our own ideas, and it was just the formation of the two of those things together but what we wanted to do was to be a bit edgy and drive this through technology, as opposed to just checking the box. Then what we ended up was a standard that was then actually then being pushed around the other 11,000 employees in the organization to go down the same route.

It came from the fabric of trying things in a more innovative way as opposed to just, “Okay, well, here is the powerpoint,” and that’s it. It really elevated our brand, for part of the business that was going for a huge turnaround. In fact, we took it from negative year-over-year growth for two years to growth. I think one of those things was just starting to get some accountability back into the org for being good at how we manage our people.

Tom: To be clear, you were rolling without just for sales reps, but then the business saw the impact and then took it up [crosstalk].

Jag: Yes, that one got to the board level presentation and we were in the process there to then roll that out across the bigger half of the company, across all of the direct sellers, the indirect sellers, and to make that a standard for the company.

Tom: Nice. I bet that felt pretty good.

Jag: It did.


It also create a lot more work.

Tom: I know it’s true. Quick question and it’s a very broad one so it’ll be interesting to get your take. I might actually challenge you to try and keep the answer to this to like two sentences, just so it could be interesting. How do you define and measure your success in sales operations?

Jag: Speed, one word.

Tom: Nice, one word.

Jag: If we’re not making something faster in a better way, of course, then what are we doing. Right? We’re just keeping the lights on. So everything should do needs to drive more speed.

Tom: Speed. KPIs, what are you tracking? Or maybe a better question is, what do you think of the most valuable KPIs for you as sales ops leader?

Jag: I think it’s different depending on the issues that you’re experiencing. If you’re experiencing growth, the KPIs are different. If you’re experiencing some momentum shift downwards, you’re look looking a little bit harder for the answers. I think that there are some basic principles. You want to get into how much pipeline are people generating, how many leads that are coming through to them. What’s the quality of the stuff that’s in the funnel? How much is in there? It’s just age that is going absolutely nowhere? How much accountability are you then being able to drive with the metrics? Is it visible to just me or is it visible down to the individual manager that’s managing the sales executive.

It’s being very thoughtful about what you measure depending on the situation, but making sure most critically, this stuff is not held for a corner office somewhere, but instead, it works at the top, down to the bottom of the layer because at the end of the day, metrics are only good if they drive action at the bottom. We got be forward for what we build and how we share because obviously, there’s some privacy issues you got to then sometimes work through when you share too much, but for me, everything we design needs to work both at the macro and down to the manager that’s managing the sales exec.

Tom: Got it. A final question is who taught you what you know about sales operations?

Jag: I’ve had a bunch of great experiences at many companies I’ve worked at. I’ve had some really good mentors. There’s two that really stick out for me. A prior company that I would say were the biggest contribution, there’s as a guy called Jerry Renz. Does a lot now with AI and automation with cars, and then there’s another guy that I worked with at CA. Oliver Mascodi. He now works for a technology company that is similar to a fruit, so you may guess the company. He’s doing something great there at the moment with sales ops with that company. They’re probably been the two best that I’ve worked with both from a mentoring and day-to-day leadership perspective.

Tom: Oliver and James?

Jag: Oliver and Jerry Renz. yeah,

Tom: Shout out. Okay, so we’ve got a whole host of a little bit of points I wrote right down here, so let me try and cover them. Always work to do. I think that’s always work it on the sales process or the CRM, I’m not sure what I wrote there. Salesforce only being as good of a data that sits within it. Everybody earning and being responsible for data quality, and you can do that effectively by planning together and getting people brought in. They’re the pretty automated and should be an interesting way you were rolling out performance reviews with both a subjective and objective data, and then finally, sell operation success being measured by speed.

Jag: Absolutely.

Tom: There we go.

Jag: You nailed it.

Tom: You nailed it Jag. That was an absolute masterclass. Thank you so much for your time. I’m sure that was invaluable for people listening.

Jag: No, thank you. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thanks for your time, guys.

Tom: Cheers.

[00:26:32] [END OF AUDIO]


Jag Cheema of Hitatchi Vantara

Jag Cheema of Hitatchi Vantara

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