What is Sales Operations?

This is part of a series of interviews with B2B revenue leaders. This interview is with Kenny Goldman, Co-Founder at Kicksaw.

Note: at the time of the interview, Kenny was working at Helpful.com in Sales and Customer Success.

kennyYou were in Sales Operations at Hired a few years ago, I’m curious to know how that role was structured?

At the time, it was actually the first time Hired delved into that type of role. It was new to everyone in the organization — from the CEO down to SDR's. There was a lot of figuring out where Sales Ops fit within the company structure.

They had a data team that did a lot of work that would generally fall under Sales Ops, but they weren’t former salespeople that would’ve been involved in process-related or tool-related sales discussion. Bottomline is that they were unhinged from the day-to-day aspects of working with salespeople and what their needs are in order to be successful.

Where Hired was around 50-60 salespeople in the one sales office, it was just myself in the role of Sales Ops. Needless to say, there was a lot of growing pains.

What were your main job responsibilities?

Well, it was a matter of not only focusing on Sales Ops, but also sales enablement, and guidance around working with the sales executives.

What tends to happen in a Sales Ops role, especially in the beginning, is that preference starts with the sales execs. You comply with their requests and give them the information they need to make high-level strategy decisions that impact individual contributors, managers, directors, etc. That's where it started … with roles like CRO and VP of Sales saying, “We need these type of metrics.”

So, it starts with adhering to what the execs want in the organization, getting that done, and then focusing whatever time is leftover on making our sales reps more efficient. It was my responsibility to turn our sales team into selling machines. Allow them to spend less time on data entry and more time talking with customers.

So you were promoted from within Hired to that role, correct?

Yes, I went from an Account Executive to Sales Ops.

What was the motivating factor behind creating that role?

I think there was a push and pull force. My background prior to Hired was Vidyard, where I was the first SDR they ever hired. I got the scenic experience of an early sales team doing very little revenue, and watching it grow very quickly, hiring a ton of people, optimizing, changing tools, implementing new tools … all of it. So, I’m fairly qualified to understand different types of sales processes and business models because I've done it, I've lived it, I’ve helped build one.

When I came to Hired they had a lot broken systems, a lot of broken processes, and it was extremely manual. This is in the recruitment industry, which today is very known as a very transactional sale. I was the most vocal person about implementing more tech, and about being more standardized to create a more cohesive sales process.

I was infatuated with tracking progress, so I needed access to better metrics and more accurate tracking. I wanted to get better, I wanted to sell more deals, I wanted the company to grow. I was more passionate about this stuff than most, so I got fed up with the poor visibility I had into our metrics.

So to put things simply, I was the most vocal person and expressed the most interest in these sort of topics. Over the span of a few months, we made a way for me to fit into a role to start tackling those issues.

As you highlighted those issues, how did you get the executive team to buy into the idea that this was a dedicated role within the organization?

Well, as a company we were far too big not have a Sales Ops team, so there was that pain-point. A lot of the sales reps were complaining about the process and that they couldn't find things in Salesforce. It was to the point where managers weren't even coaching reps because you can’t coach when there is no data to look at.

So when you get pains like that, the executives start to realize that there’s an issue. It's not sustainable to grow with minimal processes in place. So that's the part I didn't necessarily have to sell but was continuously advocating for to ensure that it didn’t slide by the wayside.

Where I struggled in the process was selling the idea that this team should be bigger than a team of one. I ended up going out and getting contractors to help out with specifics like Salesforce.

It took about six months to start getting budget allocation towards more hires. That's when they started to realize the work I was doing was having a big impact on visibility on metrics and sales efficiency. They realized they didn’t need to double the sales team, they could just make the current team twice as efficient.

Based on that experience, when is the right time to think about hiring Sales Ops?

It definitely varies because every company is different. Some teams decide to go with very junior reps, and they have a CEO who can monitor those junior reps. They can work their way, but generally, those junior reps don't have experience with process, structure, and tools so they don't implement that stuff and it turns into the wild-wild-west.

I’d say that when your sales team is between five and ten reps it makes sense to start looking into a Sales Ops hire.

If you were hiring someone for a Sales Ops now or giving advice to a CEO on how to hire for this role, what advice would you give them?

Number one: it’s got to be a people person. That’s extremely important in Sales Ops.

A lot of us look for data people who are really analytical and organized. I don't disagree with those character traits, and I know it's tough to find someone really good at that, but they also need to be good with people.

Sales Ops is relied on so much, you need someone that can master their craft as well as communicate ideas. Someone that a sales rep or director can go to for creative thinking. Salespeople are so focused on hitting their goal at the end of the quarter that they don't spend the time to focus on how to optimize these processes themselves.

How do we change the way we're training and onboarding salespeople? Sometimes that falls under Sales Enablement, but if you're not that big of an organization, it’s Sales Ops. A lot of that's working with people to understand:

  • people within an organization
  • who your personas are
  • who your customers are
  • who you sell to as an organization
  • how you should tailor your communication to the salespeople

Yes, you need to build those board decks, show those numbers growing, and build pipeline, but it's going to be tough to grow a sales team without someone who is able to connect on a personal level.

Where should these roles live? I've frequently seen Sales Ops reports into sales and Marketing Ops into marketing. Then, some organizations like Axonify bring in someone (Joe Gelata) as VP of Business Operations where his goal is to merge both concepts together. Where do you see things going?

I'm pretty indifferent about whether they live under a CRO, VP of Ops, RevOps, VP of BusOps, or whatever it may be. It's a factor of how closely do they work together and how well are their goals aligned to one another. An organizational structure isn’t going to determine the success of your sales or marketing teams, it’s how well the teams work together.

Someone in Sales Ops reporting to the VP Sales, and someone in Marketing Ops reporting to the VP of Marketing can be just as successful as a Sales Ops and Marketing Ops reporting to the VP of BusOps. It comes down to goals being aligned and people knowing precisely what they need to do to hit those goals.

Terminology for these roles is really evolving. The two I hear most often are RevenueOps and BusinessOps. As a company moving forward, what do you pick?

I'd go with RevOps.

Nowadays I hear more and more talk about tying marketing to revenue (which is how it should be.) Both Sales and Marketing are very aligned to revenue, so RevenueOps seems like the way to go.

From what I’ve seen of organizations hiring an analyst type role to live in sales or marketing, they end up being railroaded into all sorts of ad hoc requests for data, which leaves very little time to focus on the data needed for creating operational efficiency.

Exactly, as someone in Sales Ops/Marketing Ops, it’s important to say no sometimes. If you continue to work on ad-hoc request after request, it can literally kill your sales team.

Trying to figure out things that are one-offs or customizable reports puts Sales Ops at a stall, so saying no can be the most efficient ways to move the team forward and gain focus.

Before we finish up, I wanted to get your thoughts on Sales and Marketing tools and where they are heading …

Right now, there is a proliferation of tech tools and we're all so focused on what's the one tool? What's that one tool where I can get rid of all my other tools, and make the team happy? People have to realize that there is no magic one tool.

Software isn't going to replace your problems, it's not going to fix your inefficiencies in your company. It could actually hinder your reps ability to sell. We have to take a step back and stop worrying so much about the tool and focus on our behaviors and processes, and use tools to augment our ability to work better.

I know everyone loves to show these landscape maps, and talk about different comparisons of tools, but that's not what's going to make you. In fact, it is more likely to break you in some cases.

Yeah, I couldn't agree with that more. Thanks for the chat today Kenny.

Thanks, Marko. Take care.