This was possibly one of the most enjoyable interviews I have done to date. This week I was chatting to Claire Maisonnave-Couterou, EMEA Sales Operations Manager at Kyriba. We talked about carrots and sticks, about getting stuck in directly with salespeople, and the changing seniority of sales ops in today’s business. We met via WebEx, and after Claire had manoeuvred her camera and hair into position, we were ready to go. The interview began…
RB: Can you tell us about your background?
CM: I come from a finance background. I did 18 years at Microsoft and the first five years of that was purely finance. My first role at Microsoft involved data mining, working with salespeople and with the database to look for revenue potential. My role was to analyse what the customers were buying. After that I started doing business analysis on sales for different segments. Then I became finance controller for MSN and I continued to specialise in data. I was setting up not only global dashboards but very detailed dashboards, which hadn’t been done previously. At MSN, they then created the role of Business Operations Manager, which I moved into. The role evolved into Sales Ops Manager and has since become Chief Operating Officer. At MSN I spent a lot of time working with different divisions, including the salespeople, marketing, and customer support.
RB: For you, is sales ops working with anyone who is touching the customer?
CM: For me, yes. Including in my current role.
RB: You’ve come from a finance background. What have you taken from this into your sales operations career?
CM: When you come from finance, it’s easier to understand the data. Whereas when you come from a sales environment, it’s easier to understand the customer issues.
RB: Can you give me an example of the sorts of learnings you draw from the data?
CM: When I’m analysing data, I do it by individual sales rep. One of the main learnings you can get from the data is how each individual sales rep is selling their product or solution and how they might have difficulties with a certain solution. When I spot a trend in a particular sales rep’s data, I go directly to the salesperson to understand where the problems are. They might explain that they don’t understand that aspect of the solution and they prefer to sell what they know. Then you can take different decisions, for example putting them in training.
I love doing pipeline analysis and looking at forecast accuracy. It’s all about looking at the picture at the beginning of the month or quarter for each sales rep and at the end assessing how accurate their forecasts were. At the end of the quarter, we celebrate the sales reps who have been accurate with their forecasts.
When you do this, the salespeople become more accurate. I explain to them the importance of forecast accuracy. When they understand the why, they are better in the doing.
RB: If you were to look at a group of salespeople and their forecasts were inaccurate, what would be the automatic conclusion you would draw?
CM: First, I would look at the market, because there might be something specific that happened in their territory which couldn’t be forecasted. I would also seek to understand whether they’re being pressured into creating a lot of pipeline. I also look at the velocity of their pipeline, asking them questions such as how many customer meetings they did the weeks before. Then I can give them a methodology for managing their pipe and prioritising opportunities.
I always tell the salespeople that they are the conductors. They are general manager of their territory. They are the CEO of their own company and they have to manage their resources. At the beginning of each quarter I tell them to prepare their opportunities and set up their resources. If they need a specific campaign or event, I encourage them to speak to marketing. I tell them to define the sponsor of their opportunity and define their power map to determine who will speak with whom during the sales process. I tell them to consider if they need pre-sales or support. And importantly, they must really understand the customer needs and answer the ‘why Kyriba’ and ‘why now’ questions.
RB: It sounds like you have a close relationship with your salespeople. Where does your role start and stop compared to your VP Sales, your Chief Revenue Officer or your Sales Leader. Where do you draw the line and how do you support them and deliver the right messages?
CM: Here at Kyriba, sales ops is a very central role. You will find some sales ops who stay focused on dashboards, pipeline cleaning, pipeline velocity, and forecast accuracy. But I think the role is shifting to encompass strategy too, depending on the company profile of course. In sales ops, you’re at the centre of selling. You know the issue and you can bring a lot of recommendations when it comes to strategy.
RB: At Kyriba, who do you work most closely with, apart from the sales leaders?
CM: I work closely with the CEO of my region (EMEA).
RB: The next question is about sales ops and sales enablement. For some people, they’re the same thing and for others they have a defined sales enablement person and sales ops supports that function. What’s been your experience?
CM: At Microsoft I was also doing the sales enablement. But they’ve since set up a dedicated sales enablement team. Sales Operations make recommendations from data. With this recommendation, sales enablement can make decisions.
RB: How would you define the key pillars of sales operations?
CM: The most important pillar is to understand the business and the needs of the customer. This is really important for each analysis. Everything you do should be geared towards aligning your solution with the customer’s needs. After that, the priority is revenue but first of all it’s the customer. In sales ops, you need to be customer centric.
I would say the second pillar is to define the win win between sales and sales ops. An example of a win win is asking the sales reps to clean their pipelines and in turn, sales ops will help them drive more business by analysing your territory. It’s a trade in some way. It’s selling internally!
RB: I like that. So, if you’re asking someone to do something that they can’t see the value from directly, you do something that will help them in return. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
CM: Exactly. I’m playing between the stick and the carrot all the time!
RB: Last question, what do you as a big trend for sales ops in 2019?
CM: Sales operations is becoming more and more involved in everything. It’s becoming somewhere in between Chief of Staff and Chief of Revenue, more of a right-hand to the CEO.
Want to get more insights from sales ops leaders? Check out our other posts in the sales ops interview series.