Who’s the most enthusiastic sales ops leader around? Quite possibly, Philip Minasian, Sales Ops at Gigster! From drawing out his perfect rep dashboard on his whiteboard table, to walking me through a top class on-boarding schedule, this was one of my favourite interviews to date! After talking through how the Sales Ops Community has gone from strength to strength, the interview began…
Rory Brown (RB): How did you get into sales ops?
Philip Minasian (PM): Re-winding to 2009, I was a freshman at Purdue University. My plan was to go into Economics and eventually take over my father’s financial planning business. As it turned out, I wanted the complete opposite. I switched majors into Hospitality and Tourism Management, which was a decision that bewildered my parents.
During an internship, I learnt how to use Salesforce and I realised how powerful it could be as the nucleus and heartbeat of a company. Following this discovery, I expressed an interest in sales operations to my boss, who was a COO type figure, asking him if I could take over the admin responsibilities and the day to day management of data. I then took over a junior ops role where Salesforce was my number one priority. I wanted to optimize our Salesforce instance to be able to provide my boss and the management team with everything they needed to run their sales team.
Cleaning up data is mundane, but it is an important task. There are a lot of tools out there that can do it, but when you are starting up a Salesforce system, you want to make sure it’s clean and you’ve got to have it there. Otherwise people aren’t going to trust the data.
Then it came to sales tool. We had Salesforce and GoToMeeting but we needed to look at the peripheral things in the ecosystem that can help the sales reps sell faster and smarter. There are the Zoom Info’s of the world and you’ve got your LinkedIn Sales Navigator. You also have to provide the SDR team with an Outreach or Sales Loft. Four or five tools is the right amount. You have got to arm them with tools without overloading them.
My favourite aspect of my role is the onboarding and training. Often that sits with sales enablement as a dedicated role. But in smaller companies it can be picked up by sales ops.
I created this onboarding learning path using Saleshood, which is Elay Cohen’s business. I used the tool to create learning paths for new sales reps, starting with a welcome video from the CEO and moving into how to be successful in your first week, tools you need to learn in your second week, pitch certifications, and quizzes.
I think self-learning is under-utilized. Reps often want to come in, be spoon-fed and hit the ground running. But I’m an advocate of putting on the brakes and waiting until they’re ready before getting them out there. I think you can predict the long-term success of a rep based on their first four weeks. I would make recommendations to our sales management team by looking at how well they interacted with the content in the learning path.
RB: Awesome. It would be great to go through the onboarding and training aspect in more detail, because a lot of sales operations professionals in smaller companies might also be tackling sales enablement too.
Let’s go back to your ‘first four weeks’ onboarding system. What is the perfect first four weeks for a rep? And expanding on your point, what can that tell us about the likely future performance of a rep?
PM: Success in the first four weeks comes down to four main pillars.
1. Being comfortable with internal tools and processes
2. Being comfortable with the pitch
3. Being comfortable with the persona that you are going to be talking to and the different talk tracks you have based on the clientele that you will be talking to
4. Being comfortable with the people surrounding you at your company
I think the ability to have one-on-ones with people when you first join is overlooked. I want people to meet folks from every part of the company so they can fit together all the puzzle pieces that go into what makes the company they just joined successful.
So that will be finding out what you need to know from finance, what you need to know from the delivery team and the customer success team. How you’re going to work with your SDR, your solution architect or sales engineer.
In the first week, it’s not only understanding which tools you use for what, but also who you’re going to be working closely with. So, I usually pack someone’s first week with not only sales process learning, but also meetings with the key stakeholders that are going to make them successful. If you don’t do that, they are going to feel like they are on an island. But if they have met with the 20 or so people that are going to impact their success in the company, they are going to have that support layer.
Week Two is pitch certification. This is where I love the rep to have the ability to go through the sales recordings of the 50 best deals the company has ever sold, which is a treasure chest of information. It’s about being able to look at the talk track, the first call, the customer’s reaction to the pricing conversation, how they handled the paper process of maybe having to do an MSA and an NDA and go into procurement etc.
I like to have a repository of all the successful sales calls so a new rep can come in and really understand whether it is industry specific or industry agnostic. Pitch certification is – as mundane as this might sound – go review the top 50 sales calls we have ever had. And then, record yourself. And we do daily check-ins. I will actually throw two meetings on a rep’s calendar for the second week: one at 10am and one at 3pm. It is super casual, I will go up to their desk and say, “Hey Rory, pretend it is 6pm; you are at the bar with a friend and you are telling them about the first week at the company. And when your friend asks about the company, what is your 30 second pitch?”
I like to see how that talk track evolves throughout the week. And as much as it sounds like elevator pitches are dead in 2019, just a casual two-times a day check-in to see how they are refining the way they speak about the company, the product, the services, is really important.
Week Three is about understanding their territory, understanding the personas they are going to go after. On this one we come to the data a bit more – going through their territory and their patch. We give them accounts that have been warm, and we give them cold accounts. I want them to feel comfortable with everyone that they are going to be contacting in the next 2-3 months.
Having a rep feel comfortable in their territory is extremely under-rated. Because just giving someone a region or zip code without much hand-holding can lead to folks going down rabbit holes.
If they don’t understand their territory coming out of their third week, then we are setting them up to fail.
RB: On that territory piece, what is the strength and depth of knowledge that they should be looking to acquire in that third week?
PM: If we bring in someone whose main focus is going to be retail or manufacturing, we want them to understand what have we done in retail and manufacturing, what are the success stories they can easily reference, why are we successful in these verticals, why do companies come to us, and what is the stickiness there that makes us successful.
If someone throws a curveball at them on a call asking them to prove the company’s success in manufacturing, they need to be able to bring up what we’ve done in that vertical or industry without any hesitation.
Week Four is tools. I think the student-teacher paradigm is extremely over-rated. I can do all the talking myself, but I don’t think there’s any progress until they can teach it back to me. So in Week 4, I take a back seat, I become the student and pass the teacher baton over to them. I say, “We have talked about Salesforce, we have talked about Zoom Info, SalesLoft, Navigator. Now let’s walk through some scenarios.” On Monday I give them scenarios such as making an account, a contact, an opportunity, and moving that fake opportunity all the way through the sales cycle.
For us, we have associated each stage in the sales cycle with certain suggested activities and outcomes that a rep needs to have in order to move it on. We call those milestones. So, we walk through a fake scenario where I hand them the mouse and I check that they have retained something from the last three weeks. I also want to see that they can tie all those tools together.
RB: And particularly with those four tools you mentioned, there are some ways that you can make those little tasks much longer than they need to be, or much shorter than they could be. You want to be able to see that in action, right?
PM: Yes, exactly. I will tell a rep after their four weeks, “If you don’t hear from me, that is a good thing. You are doing things right. If you do hear from me, it is either because you forgot some Salesforce ‘must haves’ etc.” I will always tell them I am going to walk a fine line between your best friend and your worst enemy.
I will then sync up with the manager and give my recommendation. I’m tied at the hip with sales management and the CRO, and they trust my diagnosis of whether a rep is ready or not.
RB: Let’s move onto your ultimate dashboard for rep performance. First of all, what is in it? Secondly, why is that valuable to the rep? And why is that valuable to leadership as well?
PM: Reps tend towards a “what’s in it for me?” mentality. If they don’t think a metric is important, I need to tell them why it is. I think the first thing to understand is someone running a healthy business relies on pipeline. I want every rep to head into each quarter with 3x their quota in pipeline. We sometimes say 3x, 4x depending on the business. We have seen success with 3x. And that is your North Star, making sure you are backing into prior to a new quarter starting. If you don’t have that, you are already off to a bad start.
You can’t be short-sighted, you can’t just have a 90-day view of your business. You need to know what next quarter is going to look like as well, so there are no blind spots going in in 45 days.
Then you have your bookings, of course. And then we break out our forecasting methodology into three forecast categories. We have Commit Deal, in blood. You are going to give me a handshake which says 99% this is going to come in. Next, we have Most Likely, which is 90% probability and above. Then we have Upside, which is 50% and above on probability and then you just have pipeline deals.
So we break the current quarter up by Commit, Most Likely, Upside and Pipeline. Every Monday when we have forecast calls, we go through and make sure those tags are updated. Then I can have conversations with sales reps about their breakdowns. For example, “Ok, you put this deal in Commit but the probability is only at 30% and you are in sales stage Two which is Educate. And you haven’t delivered an SOW and there is no MSA sign.”
You have got to call them out so the next time they come back to that forecast meeting, they are bringing you a more realistic view.
Back to the dashboard, pipeline by deal forecast is my next module. And then the middle column of your dashboard can be Activity. And this one I will go to my grave with. Reps don’t like logging activity unless it is really easy for them. I call it ‘The tax you pay to work in sales.’ We have the tools that auto log emails; we have the tool that auto log calls. If you have a meaningful meeting, put in your notes.
The next column in this rep dashboard is calls, emails and meaningful meetings. I want to know if you met with John Doe and you talked for 30 minutes. That moves the needle in the sales cycle, whether it is 1% or 10%. And I track calls, emails and meaningful meetings by week, by quarter and by month.
So, you put all the reps into those modules. Reps love competition and leader boards. Have them understand it is important, not only for their own business but for the visibility across all the different members on their team. No one wants to be last.
Whether that motivates them or not, it does provide visibility. I really admire Marc Benioff’s Wall of Fame and Wall of Shame dashboards. And I have taken that and built my own Wall of Shame, where I call out deals missing a forecast amount (you can’t put a deal in at zero); deals not touched in 30 days; deals that have had a close date push more than four times; deals that have been in the pipeline for more than five months; and deals that have stayed in the same stage for more than 30 days.
These are some leading indicators that the pipeline might be fake or reps aren’t staying on top of all the deals in their pipeline and I’m OK publicly shaming them because they don’t want to be on that dashboard next week, right?
RB: What is the rep reaction to that dashboard would you say?
PM: A lot of direct messages on Slack telling me they’ll get it together or it was a mistake that they’ve now corrected. The important thing is I’m getting their attention.
RB: Would you say that completes all the information that you need?
PM: Yes. So, you have your bookings and pipeline, you have your activities. And I also include information on what deals are they working over a certain $ amount, and what are their big sales. It’s important to have visibility over your top five deals for that quarter, because those deals are going to get you to your numbers.
And then I also have a nice little ‘look in’ into the deals that they have sold in the past and then the Customer Health Score associated with those. Upsell is always a very important book of business for a rep because you want potentially upwards of 70% of your business to be repeat. So, I have a little module in that dashboard that shows the last 5 or 10 deals they sold all categorised into green, yellow or red. And if you see that the last 10 deals you sold are at green, there might be an opportunity to go back in there and mine them for some more business. But if you see Red, then you understand that you probably need to make an adjustment in some of these deals.
That is often overlooked because there is a healthy tension between sales and your engagement side of the house. Sometimes reps forget, after you sell a deal you are still involved. You can’t wash your hands of it and move on. You still have to be there for the success, implementation and deployment of your project.
RB: With this dashboard, both the sales rep and sales manager will be viewing it. What are the key bits of value that those two different parties get out of that dash?
PM: Good question. I think the rep can use it as a command centre for their business. The manager is busier than the rep. They are managing a team, they have a large territory, they have to constantly report up to the CRO and the CEO. So, I think it is always about managing up at the end of the day. A rep will use it to manage up to their boss and their boss will use it to go upwards to the Executive Team. And there is alignment there: The rep wants to look good in front of the manager; the manger wants to look good in front of the CRO. So, if they are all working off the same data set, there are no surprises.
I think having that open visibility and transparency across one or two dashboards, and everyone working off the same base business is what is important.
RB: Awesome. I love the term Command Centre.
PM: You can have reports here and there that they bookmark as their go to reports. Often on day one I set the dashboard as their homepage. I don’t care about Google, I don’t care about your email. This is going to be your dashboard because 1) You should be living in Salesforce 2) everyone else in the company is, including your manager 3) You are going to get used to this.
RB: Let’s move onto sales process. You’ve mentioned identifying areas for improvement. I think for someone who is newer to sales operations, it can be challenging to know where to start and whether it will make a difference. What is your process around that?
PM: My philosophy is, never pull data for data’s sake. You never want to be the guy in the company that has all the data, but no actionable insights that come from it. For a new person starting in sales operations, it’s important to not go overboard on the metrics that you want the show your CRO or the sales manager. Sit down with them and align on the key KPI’s that they use to manage their team and take those as the lowest hanging fruit to what you can constantly report in on. You need to make sure that what you are doing is aligning how managers run and operate their day to day teams. If you throw too much at them, then they ignore it. No one wants to be completely inundated with 100 metrics but no insights.
If you are a new sales ops person, start slow. Make sure you are tackling what the managers care about and then, not only provide them with the numbers, give them insight and analysis. Understand why you are pulling a metric is more important than how many you pull. Because at the end of the day, you could pull everything but it is not going to matter unless you can actually make a recommendation from it. That’s why sales ops has a job. Because it has to be accompanied by a recommendation. Otherwise it is simply just a metric.
RB: Every business on the planet is promising actionable insights. But that process of taking a data point, making a recommendation and then taking an action is more difficult than I think people realise. Any tips on how that process looks, and maybe an example of something that you have done recently?
PM: We recently went through a big account transfer. We told the reps at the beginning of Q4 that based on their activity in Salesforce, if there’s not much activity in an account that you’re working on, that account will go into a pool that can be drafted by other reps. Basically, you are going to give up that account.
Now, that kind of comes up as a threat. But I think it forces some good behaviour to make sure the reps are truly owning the accounts they are working. The classic line is if there is nothing in Salesforce, nothing happened. I know that line is over-used but it’s kind of my Bible.
So, 45 days into the quarter I pulled all the accounts in a territory that a rep said they were working, where the data shows otherwise and I held an impromptu meeting – and honestly I pulled everyone into the largest conference room here. I put 20 accounts on the board and I went around, based on who was closest to their quarter number already, and I re-assigned accounts. And the managers absolutely loved it. I don’t think it is too much to ask somebody to be honest about their book of business. And then when you provide this ultimatum of sorts that they could potentially lose it, that drives good behaviour. I know it sounds a little extreme, but it has really worked for me in the past.
RB: Awesome. I really like that. Let’s say you spotted something that was awry in the funnel, or a particular conversion rate across the reps had a really big spread, and that maybe suggested that the process they were following for that particular stage were all completely different. How would you address something like that and who would you take it to?
PM: I will give an example. Our sales cycle is between 4 – 6 months, depending on whether MSA’s are in place with the company or not. Looking at the time each rep spent in each sales stage, I noticed that across four quarters Q4 Stage 3 – which is our paper process stage – was the longest sales stage of all of them.
Historically it had been the latter stage, which is more of the proposal negotiation. So, I investigated what had changed in Q4 where people are spending most of their time dealing with paper. We rooted it back to the fact that we had a new legal process. So, we worked with legal and finance go back to the old process.
So then I looked at Q1, which just ended a few days ago, and it was back to normal. Stage 3 was back to its normal length that I saw three quarters ago, and I was back to seeing most of the time spent in the latter stage which was Proposal Negotiate.
RB: I really like that example. You got stuck straight into the detail – so thank you very much for that.
Want to get more insights from sales ops leaders? Check out our other posts in the sales ops interview series.