A man of the people. This week I got chatting with Barrett Kelly, Global Sales Operations Manager at recently acquired Exari. Amongst the usual sales ops topics, I admired Barrett’s consistent consideration for the people around him and how best sales ops could best serve, empower and challenge them. At a busy time for his business, Barrett squeezed in a WebEx with me from breezy Boston. The interview began…
RB: How did you make the transition into sales ops?
BK: It all started in my role at Wayfair after I graduated college. 3 months in, my manager asked me to be the analytical team lead, which involved diving deep into the data, learning how to use SQL, excel, Tableau etc. I spent a lot of time playing around and teaching myself and it was here that I formed a passion for analytics.
I then transitioned to Exari where I did a management training program in my first year, rotating through five different departments. I spent a few months in operations working with Legal and Finance. Then I jumped into the Product team where I was the project manager for a new product release. After that I went to sales where I was doing purely sales ops. After that program, I figured out that the sales operations role was a good fit for me, especially on the analytical side. So, I spent another year doing field operations, which then grew into my current role as a Sales Ops Manager, which is mostly sales operations while still supporting the field operations teams.
RB: What are the key responsibilities in your current sales ops role?
BK: I help manage the teams. We have two Field Operations GMs at Exari, one runs the NA team and the other runs the EMEA team. I support them and help coordinate with those teams. Strategy and analytics is a huge part, especially on the forecasting side. Forecasting has been a big focus for me for the past year.
RB: What does analytics mean to you?
BK: For me, analytics and reporting are in the same bucket. Essentially, it’s about leveraging historical data to enable data-driven decision making. Instead of saying we should do X because “I think” or “I feel”, analytics enables you to say “the data is showing me Y”. Once you understand the data, you can then ask questions to the relevant stake holders and take the appropriate next steps.
RB: What’s your role in helping turn these insights into something good commercially?
BK: Originally, I was finding insights and reporting upwards. While it was effective, what I found was far more successful was going to the stakeholders and using the data insights to ask questions.
For example, I saw that we had a high win rate for existing customer deals. So, I went to the relevant stakeholders and asked them why they think we’re successful with existing customer deals, which then started a conversation rather than just giving my prescription straight away. Getting buy in from the stakeholders is huge. If I were to say I think we should do X, Y, Z because that’s what the data is saying, it has less impact than if I talk to the relevant people and ask them what they think the data is suggesting. By having them draw the conclusions from the data and come up with next steps, they become a stakeholder in that idea. Rather than it being my idea, it becomes our idea.
RB: What would be your advice for anyone starting in sales ops and are there any key metrics to start with?
BK: The first piece of advice is to be hesitant in making big assumptions and always talk to the relevant stakeholders before making big decisions.
Secondly, use questions to arrive at an answer. It is easy to use data to come up with a plan, but that plan is only as good as the data. If the data isn’t clean or context is needed (which is often the case), you need to sanity check the insights with the people who drive the data.
In terms of key metrics, pipe generation, win rates, average deal size and average deal length are great places to start. Under each one of these metrics are subcategories which are equally important. For example, win rates are typically better for existing customers and looking at both count and value win rates is very important.
RB: Moving onto forecasting, what forecasting methods and processes have you adopted over the years?
BK: Firstly, we have top down forecasting. It’s more assumption heavy and uses historical trends to try to predict future outcomes.
This model is more of a November exercise for the following year but we also use it to justify new hires. In Exari especially, our ramp is so long for sellers that if you want to make an impact by adding a seller, you have to do it a year in advance. Unless they’re really senior of course.
When we’re actually in the year itself, I use the bottom up approach. When we’re in-quarter or just about to go into the next quarter, the GMs go through all the opportunities in that quarter and assign their opinions to them. Essentially, they go through all the opportunities and figure out what’s going to close this quarter. And then we have two different buckets for the bottom up forecasting – won deals plus GM yes deals and then won deals plus GM yes and maybes. Then we use an average between those two buckets.
RB: How do you make sure that model is accurate?
BK: That’s a huge piece for us at the moment. We’ve been using our forecasting model for almost a year, so now we have enough data to pick out trends. We found, for example, that new customer deals in stage 4 had a low percentage of closing whereas existing customers in stages 4 or 5 worked well. And then we also looked at stage durations. The quicker the deals move through the pipeline the better. These historical insights then get built into the forecasting model.
We use the bottom up model for the current quarter. Then for the following quarters, we use a top down approach based on pipe. I look at the win rates in the pipe with a few variations and then use a weighted pipe. Stage is a big factor in win rates, but we also go deeper, for example looking at new versus existing customer. We also assign specific win rates to the reps if we have enough data on them. Then in Q2 when we effectively have top down and bottom up, we check the two models against each other.
RB: Who are the key people you work together with on a forecast and who are you giving the forecast to?
BK: We like to have real time forecasting, which is very reliant on good data hygiene. The GMs are responsible for the bottom up approach and they’re responsible for making sure the reps have good data hygiene. The biggest stakeholders are the GMs, the finance team and myself. I build the forecast for the GMs. Then it goes to our CFO who will maybe make one or two adjustments before passing it to the CEO. It then forms part of our monthly management pack which goes to the board of directors.
The forecast also really helps the professional services team plan and forecast their own projects. Rather than the professional services team just getting handed the deal when it closes, they know it’s coming down the pipe so they can start planning accordingly for those projects.
RB: Do you think a salesperson’s ability to forecast tells you about the way they manage their own pipeline?
BK: I think it says a lot. Consistently high forecasts can lead to questions such as, are they not having pricing negotiations early enough? Have they not made sure that the customer wants that price? Are they communicating well with other teams? We’ve seen some reps have a really long sales cycle because they’re not communicating with other teams, so the other teams aren’t helping them as much. Also, the pipeline might not be as real as it seems sometimes. You might get reps who aren’t doing as well as they’d like and so keep a meaty pipeline. But when you get into the weeds, you can see that most of those deals are dead.
RB: How can we measure success in sales operations?
BK: We follow the agile methodology. We have quarterly goals and everything we do feeds into those goals. When new tasks come in, you throw it into the backlog and constantly evaluate the backlog to see if anything needs to be brought into the current quarter. It’s having a focused approach. And then you can start measuring your achievements against your goals.
RB: It’s taking the agile way of working and bringing it into sales operations, so you’re focused on the goal for the quarter and you manage those individual tasks accordingly.
BK: Exactly. That’s the first element of measuring success. Secondly, I spend a lot of time managing software and working to improve our data hygiene to ensure better visibility and reporting. Communication with the teams and trying to get feedback from the management team are very important as well. Lastly another big piece for me is personal satisfaction, making sure I like what I’m doing and I’m going after goals that are going to make the company better.
Want to get more insights from the sales ops leaders? Read our other posts in the sales ops interview series.