This week, we take a look at my interview with Noam Haberfeld, Sales Strategy & Operations at Amplitude. From avoiding costly mistakes when setting up Salesforce to calling BS on unlikely deals, Noam’s approach to sales ops is worth reading about. After chatting about Noam’s strong background in systems and processes, the interview began…
Rory Brown (RB): Can you tell us about you background and your career to date.
Noam Haberfeld (NH): My background and career space is with the systems and process piece of sales ops. I started my career early with Salesforce implementation, working for a small European consultant partner. During the first couple of years we focused on driving these three-day quick initiations for clients who just purchased Salesforce but needed some assistance.
Those first couple of years really gave me a pretty wide lens into different industries, different use cases, project management, how to launch Salesforce and what to look for. That was the foundation of me getting into sales ops, because you’re off to a good start if you have a strong command of systems and processes.
Later on, I joined a company called App Annie where I got more involved with territories, quota, MQL, SQL, com plans, forecasting, etc.
RB: What advice would you give to a sales ops person who has landed at a well-working growth business where processes are probably either non-existent or a little bit all over the place? Where do you start to get yourself somewhere close towards a clean slate?
NH: You start by interviewing sales managers, sales reps and different colleagues in different departments to uncover where the gaps are. You take both a top down and bottoms up approach. Top down would be C-level: CRO, VP Sales, CEO. Ask them, “What is your mission statement for sales? What do you want to see from the revenue org as a whole?”
Those become your marching orders. And then you start from the bottom up. You interview the field to find out what is working and not working. As you go along you find places to bridge those gaps, places to automate, places to improve. Although that’s easier said than done! That exercise could take 6 – 9 months but there is no one template that fits everyone.
You need to be open-minded and creative. Anyone joining an organisation comes with their bag of tricks and ideas of what they want to do but it might not necessarily apply or be relevant. Be cautious, but also be creative. Start small. I would never start at a new place and immediately do a revamp or introduce CPQ.
RB: What would be a couple of examples of quick wins?
NH: Any small company will not have approval process and order for launch good to go so that’s a quick one. Order form automation is another quick win, as well as lead assignments, whether that’s round robin based or territory based for example.
Removing, or automating, the deal closure process is usually a second step. But any small SMB or even big SMB will have a million steps to close an opportunity and it’s usually extremely manual. So just streamlining that after you’ve been there for 2-3 months is a huge win.
RB: Really good. What are the key things to consider when building sales processes?
NH: Two things. Firstly, build to scale. A lot of these companies will change every 3-4 months. So it is extremely important when you lay that foundation that you build something that is dynamic and scalable. Dynamic being no hard coding, no creating process just to create process. The whole idea is to enable your salespeople, helping them spend less time on process.
When you build and adapt your sales process, always ask yourself whether anything would break if 50 new people joined tomorrow.
Secondly, if this is going to change at least three times in the next year, when you build it make sure that nothing is holding you back.
It will literally be a definition change, or field change and not a complete process change that will involve four other departments and development. Those are the two main things to keep in mind.
Also it doesn’t change because we did something wrong, it changes because we are doing well, and we are trying, and we are going into new territories and we’re hiring a different type of people, and the messaging will change – and it is a good thing that it is changing.
But we from the back end – from the systems and process standpoint – need to be prepared for that. We don’t want to be the ones holding this whole thing back.
RB: Nice. So dynamic and scalable for anything that you build.
NH: Exactly. Those are the two most important things I would say.
RB: What is a sensible place to start with setting up Salesforce (or other CRM) from a lead to opportunity perspective?
NH: I think the one big costly mistake is when you start customising too heavily too soon. I’ve seen companies that don’t use leads or opportunities and create all custom. But that level of customisation can catch up with you. For as long as you can, stick to the standard objects and processes. There is so much logic, code, building, UI and UX behind the standard objects and processes, that if you start customising early on it will catch up and no one wants to do a ‘rip and replace’ just before you go hiring 30 people. So that is the one very big pitfall. I stick to the standards.
When it comes to leads, another important point is the relationship between marketing automation (Marketo or Hubspot for example) and sales.
There is a tendency for sales ops people to have everything in our control and put everything in the system. But over the years I’ve learnt that it is not necessarily the right thing to do. Having a very distinct definition of ownership, of what a marketing qualified lead and what a sales qualified lead is, is very important. It sets the boundaries between marketing and sales, holds the different teams accountable, and also sets a ‘line in the sand’ for systems.
What happens early on is that sales want all leads in the CRM and then later on when marketing starts building campaigns and nurturing programmes, most of the leads that they are working on have already been touched, with a negative response.
You need to have a clear definition of an MQL and only move leads into the CRM when they meet that MQL criteria because we also don’t want our ISRs or SDR team to do a lot of the investigation. I don’t want them to go and spend a lot of their time on just combing through leads and combing through websites. I want them to talk to leads who already know who we are.
Opportunities are the core of your database. As much as you can, build it so everything is reportable and trackable. And keep it simple. Because over-complicating the opportunity object is what will get your reps disengaged. And I think working with methodologies like MEDDIC or BANT is really useful.
Salesforce should be your system of truth, your North Star. You need to be able to rely on Salesforce for anything and everything.
RB: In a high-growth companies, processes can be a bit scrappy. It’s all about getting deals across the line in any way possible. With that mentality, what is the best way to get people to see value in having a process like Salesforce?
NH: A great point. You always have the 20-year veterans that have been around since before Salesforce and it will be very hard to get them going. You have to explain why it will benefit them, for example, “I’m going to save you up to two hours per deal through automation and accurate forecasting.”
But you need buy-in from above. If the CRO or Head of Sales is not on board, then it is not going to work. No matter how strong a leader you are, it is not going to work.
However, I have yet to see a sales leader that is not on board.
RB: Let’s talk about over-complicating. One of the areas I see people over-complicating is forecasting. If you are a high-growth SMB, what are some of the straightforward quick wins you can get in forecasting in terms of building a process around it?
NH: Forecasting is a very tough process to master. I think of it as setting very clear, almost mathematical roadblocks. First of all, you have to be able to forecast by the pillars of the business, which are new, upsell, renew, churn. It is not one bucket. You forecast each and every one of them separately.
Then I basically call BS on deals that look unlikely. If we know that a deal on average is 40 days, and we are in stage 3 of 5 20 days out, I am going to ask questions. It’s about being realistic and making sure everyone speaks the same language. What is a commit? What is the best case? A commit is a deal at stage 5 that is closing in the next 30 days. We have an economic buyer, procurement has been vetted. Have a super clear definition and for the first two or three quarters be as strict as you possibly can.
You would much rather be a little lower on your forecast than 200% above and then on the last day of the quarter everything starts coming down. I think setting those realistic guidelines is what really helps companies go from average to good. From good to great takes a ton of experience, a ton of mentoring during one-on-one’s, doing a bottom up. But off the bat, forecast based on pillars, and have a super clear definition on what a commit is, what a best case is and what pipeline is. Often you find in a team of 20 reps you have 21 ways of forecasting. So just aligning on the pure definition will be able to get you from 20 reps in 21 ways to 20 reps in two ways. And then we can fine tune those two into one and then we move forward.
RB: This ‘calling BS’ thing I quite like. What kind of pre-analysis can you do before a forecast is submitted to be able to ‘call BS’ and bring people into line?
NH: There are a couple of things. There is the closed date, the stage, the amount. Some companies also use forecast categories so commit best case and pipeline. That is the core five.
Then underneath that you have MEDDIC, BANT and whatever you measure internally. But just on that core five you could say, “If your close date is this week, and we are in stage 2, I am calling BS. If it is stage 2 and it is in your forecasts, for this quarter, I am calling BS. If the amount is $20K below floor and I don’t see an approval, I am calling BS.” Or the other way around, if it is an extremely high number that we’ve never seen but the economic buyer – or procurement hasn’t been vetted – I’m going to call BS.
It’s common sense. Nothing too mathematical or complicated. Simply if you showed this deal to anyone on the street and tell them it’s going to close next week, they would call BS.
RB: Thinking about before opportunities are added, we prospect someone, we social sell and then we nurture them until there is an opportunity. What is the best way to try to set up that contact op mechanism?
NH: I think, again, keeping it simple. Most of marketing automation already has a built-in integration with CRM and there is a super simple way of setting up a process where a lead goes directly into marketing automation, rather than straight to Salesforce.
So in Salesforce, instead of having 20,000 leads you should have 200. You should have the 20,000 in marketing automation for marketing to work on. You use a lead scoring system to determine when they move into Salesforce. Then we talk about lead assignment rules.
RB: And what about on the outbound side? What is the smartest way, particularly for growing companies to try and a simple process for that ‘pre-funnel’?
NH: It is one of the areas that I hate most. It is so saturated with vendors. Every single SMB has at least three of those tools. Unfortunately, I think we are a couple of years away from having Salesforce own it and do it all. Get whatever tool does the trick for you. At the end of the day you need to be able to track and report on the activities that your team is doing and be able to report on it – not only now at the top of funnel – but all the way through the opportunity. Because what will happen eventually, you close an opportunity and you want to say, hey: What was the first touch, when was it and what influenced it?
So that is what I would be looking for. Make sure that it is reportable and trackable, all the way from A to Z – and that’s that.
I think, again, in a couple of years Salesforce will probably build or buy and implement. But it is just too saturated at this point.
RB: Going back to strategy a little bit. As you pointed out in the beginning, strategy in a growth company can change and pivot and move and shake. With all that going on, how does someone in sales ops decide what to implement and build with that moving backdrop?
NH: So again, the way I like to see it is top down and bottom up. Top down is what are the marching orders? What are we trying to achieve? Where do we want to be next year? Is it going to be headcount focused? Is it going to be ARR focused? Is it going to be product focused? If it is headcount, you want to build your onboarding programme, you want to look at comp and that territory.
If it is product, maybe you want to look at CPQ. Maybe you want to put something in the comp plan that will incentivize shipping out those new products. Again, the priority is what are you feeling from the field? You don’t want to be too removed.
You are never just looking at the silo; you always need to look a little bit ahead. Build the skill and build dynamic. It is not only systems. It is comp plans, re-routing, and territory assignment for example. Know that it is going to change. And just having that notion in the back of your mind will make you act more responsibly and a bit different.
RB: What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?
NH: Favourite is feeling part of that team, knowing that I’m helping them be better and stronger; enabling them. Least favourite would probably be fire drills, which is something we didn’t think of – a huge error that becomes our sole focus. And being a sales ops person you always have that.
Want to get more insights from sales ops leaders? Check out our other posts in the sales ops interview series.