How to perfect sales operations:
part 6 of Predictable Revenue’s
sales learnings from 2018
Collin Stewart, CEO
24 June 2019
Underpinning every high-functioning sales team, especially those navigating periods of high growth, is an elite sales operations unit. From ensuring your CRM does what it is expected to do, to forecasting, to establishing a clean and well-defined sales process – sales operations is the tie that binds it all together.
Despite its importance, sales operations often take a backseat to the important work being done by Account Executives, prospectors, and sales managers. Let’s face it: we, as an industry, talk a lot about how to get more closes, better open rates, and run more efficient meetings.
But when was the last time we thought deeply about the principles of sales ops?
That’s why we decided to focus our sixth (and final!) e-book on sales operations. We wanted to acknowledge the truly important work done by these teams, inspire others to incorporate the tips shared by our seasoned podcast guests and, if they haven’t already, launch a new sales operations discipline.
The featured podcast guests in this e-book include:
- Gabriel Moncayo, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Always Hired
- David Cancel, CEO of Drift
- David Hong, Vice President of Field Operations at Mesosphere
- Reuben Swartz, Founder of Mimiran Sales Acceleration Software
- Mitch Coopet, Co-Founder and CEO of Rambl
- Anton Sepetov, Vice President of Sales at Sumo
- Jaimie Buss, Vice President of North American Sales at Zendesk
Below is just a small sample of what you can expect to get from a few of these in-depth interviews:
David Cancel, CEO of Drift
During David Cancel’s tenure at Hubspot (his company Performable was acquired by the inbound marketing and sales juggernaut in 2011), he and his team were obsessed with perfecting the Marketing Qualified Lead and the inside sales model.
The MQL, and its related processes, represent a landmark philosophy still widely used in the world of sales today. Instead of picking up the phone and cold calling unsuspecting prospects, why not entice potential customers with tailored marketing activities, have them share their contact information (captured in a form of some sort), and then call them?
But, just as Hubspot was focused on the MQL, other companies such as Evernote and Dropbox were also refining interesting sales concepts such as the Product Qualified Lead, says David. And he was inspired by their work.
Over time, adds David, he began to design another type of lead: the Conversation Qualified Lead. The CQL, as it were, is just like a Marketing Qualified Lead, but instead of designing intricate nurturing processes for inbound leads, the CQL gets qualified by a quick conversation once the lead is captured by a form.
Working all of these warm leads, and cold outbound ones too, is the Sales Development Representative. Like the creation of the MQL, the growth of the SDR is a critical development in the evolution of sales.
That is, everywhere except for Drift – they don’t have any SDRs. They use bots.
A fundamental component to the success of a Drift bot, says David, is the consistency of experience it provides. For example, when someone comes to the Drift website, the bots can ask the same qualifying question an SDR can. And, at some point, when it decides the person is qualified, it routes them to an AE.
The company has also connected its bots to a booking system so a lead can easily book a meeting with an Account Executive. If a Drift’s AE isn’t available for a proposed meeting, the bot facilitates a booking for the prospect at a better time.
“The first magical thing that happened at Drift was when our first rep came into the office, and their whole week was full of qualified demo ops that the bot qualified for them,” says David.
“And that can happen 24/7, 365.”
David Hong, Vice President of Field Operations at Mesosphere
When you live and breathe sales development (as we do), it’s easy to get caught up in learning and applying different nitty-gritty tactics to make your sales cycle more efficient and effective. Every tweak, new approach, or innovative method can mean a better-run sales team.
But while sales leaders and high-performing reps constantly work to evolve their processes in the hopes of closing more deals, it’s the sales operations team that builds and maintains the infrastructure necessary to keep the team organized and empowered to do their jobs.
Governing Hong’s day-to-day sales operations work are three main principles:
- Clarity – this is, primarily, concerned with the various definitions the sales operations teams uses in tools such as Salesforce. For example, are the sales cycle stages clearly defined and understood by everyone necessary?
- Scalability – as the team and product grow, what processes will break? For example, are the compensation plans being used with a team of 5 sales people ready for 10x more team members?
- Predictability – assessing and providing feedback to the organization, in order to determine where to best invest resources. For example, this includes considerations such as pipeline coverage, how much pipeline each individual rep can handle, and what the total addressable market in a particular region is.
Those principles, of course, can be applied to a host of different projects. For Hong, those projects include everything from sales processes and Salesforce stages, to extensive go-to-market strategies and designing a quote-to-cash system. But arguably the most extensive sales operations project Hong, and his team, implemented at Mesosphere is the MEDDPICC qualification method, used to qualify each opportunity in a rep’s pipeline.
Mesosphere’s MEDDPICC process is built in the opportunity object Salesforce, with a text field accompanying each of the letters highlighted below:
- M (metrics): What Metrics or Measurement have you shared with your client? What additional Measurements or Proof Points should be applicable to this opportunity?
- E (Economic Buyer): List the Economic Buyer. Have you met with him / her?
- D (Decision Criteria): Describe the Decision Criteria. How have you influenced the Decision Criteria in favour of Mesosphere?
- D (Decision Process): List the Key Stakeholders involved in the Decision Process. How have you influenced the Decision Process in favour of Mesosphere?
- P (Paper Process): What paperwork will be required to make the purchase happen? How has this process been documented and communicated, along with the timing of each part?
- I (Identified Pain): What are the biggest business and technical pains? How have you qualified these pains?
- C (Champion): Who is your champion? How have you tested him / her to ensure he / she is a true champion?
C (Competition): Who is our top competition in this opportunity? Where are we strong (differentiators), and where are we weak?
Jaimie Buss, Vice President of North American Sales at Zendesk
There’s detail…and then there’s detail.
We’re extremely lucky at The Predictable Revenue Podcast to talk with sales pros that have built inspiring processes that we – and hopefully our listeners – can use to help sharpen our own methods. A perfect illustration of that is Jaimie Buss, VP of North American Sales at Zendesk, and her razor-sharp revenue forecasts (routinely accurate within 1%).
Buss is an absolute process powerhouse. Her use of in-depth stages throughout Zendesk’s sales funnel is a template we should all strive for.
Zendesk’s sales stages:
- Stage 1: Qualification (part 1) – Buss omits this stage from her forecast. This is general prospecting work, where no meaningful connection with a prospect has yet been made.
- Stage 1 cont’d: Qualification (part 2) – When a sales rep finds a potential deal, it lands firmly in Stage 1. The customer verifiable outcome to pass this stage is the customer attends the initial meeting and they agree to proceed to a discovery call.
- Stage 2: Discovery – This is the first stage that involves a closing rep. A general discovery discussion (are we a fit?) forms the basis of the call, with special attention paid to the stakeholders that attend. After each call, an email summary is sent, consisting of what the agreed upon next steps will be, and a summary of what the Zendesk reps have learned thus far. Finally, the customer verifiable outcome is that the prospect attended the call, and has agreed to get the right people on the demo coming up.
- Stage 3: Solution Review – This is a critical step. The solution review is when the Zendesk rep performs the demo, and gathers any of the technical requirements the prospect needs. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a technical win for Zendesk, but the rep, at least, understands all of the technical requirements involved in the deal. The customer verifiable outcome is that “doing nothing” is off the table (the customer has confirmed they will be moving forward with a software solution of some kind). The way Zendesk confirms this is by quantifying that doing nothing is more expensive than implementing a new tool.
- Stage 4: Solution Validation – At this stage, Zendesk has confirmed they can meet the technical criteria, and they have gathered a full picture of the paper process involved in closing the deal. For instance, who needs to sign? Is there an order of operations that the signing process needs to follow? And, does the customer need to issue a PO? The customer verifiable outcome is that Zendesk understands everyone that needs to be involved the deal (the aforementioned paper process).
- Stage 5: Verbal Contracting – This is, simply put, the contract negotiation phase. Typically, there is an agreement on price, but there may be concessions that need to be dealt with as well. The customer verifiable outcome is a signed service order, and a signed services agreement, if they’ve negotiated one. If there is a statement of work, then that needs to be signed as well.
- Stage 6: Finance Review – Finance takes over at this point, and reviews everything to make sure there are no omissions. If something needs to be reworked, finance will send it back to sales at this point.
- Stage 7: Finance Final Round – This stage isn’t done with sales at all; finance just checks all the boxes, ensuring the documentation is accurate.
In case you thought those funnel stages weren’t quite thorough enough, Buss also uses MEDPICC to score Zendesk’s opportunities and highlight the health of each pending deal.
Those interested in reading more – and, trust us, there is plenty more where that came from – you can get all the in-depth details from each of these expert interviews, in our e-book now!