Joe Gelata started his working life in marketing and demand gen before moving to highflyer Vidyard to set up their revenue operations team. I was keen to learn how he uses this experience in his current role as Director of Business OS at OTTO Motors. We discussed breaking down barriers between sales and marketing using comp packages, SLAs, feedback loops and lead scoring. After chatting about Joe’s path into ops, the interview began…
Rory Brown (RB): Can you tell us about Joe Gelata and your career to date?
Joe Gelata (JG): I studied businesses and specialised in marketing. I then started my career in an inside sales and business development role before moving into marketing. This was about 15 years ago, and during that time there were a lot of operational challenges in sales and marketing.
A lot of my roles in marketing and demand generation encompassed a technical element with tasks such as managing CRM and eventually marketing automation platforms when they start to emerge and all the process that went around that.
Those areas were always the bottlenecks when it came to making decisions and launching the next level programmes – the operational infrastructure.
I started to get pulled into that and then eventually made a career out of it.
Fast forwarding a little, I moved to Vidyard to start the demand gen team and then I split it off into a formal revenue operations team – and we had a few people on that team who focused on the systems and the tools and the data and all the process – right across the whole revenue generating organisation.
Then I went on to another company and did the same thing in a broader capacity, encompassing product management, HR and finance. It was business operations rather than revenue operations but the basic model was the same – a centralised team supporting all those same pillars.
I then wound up at Clearpath and OTTO Motors where I’m doing the same thing, trying to support the people, the process, the data and the tools. But doing that right across the entire business and trying to make sure everything is flowing together.
RB: What are the typical issues you find in companies that might be a stumbling block when you start a new role there?
JG: I think it really starts with the silos. That is probably the core of every problem I’ve seen. When I started at Vidyard, there were 10 people there so obviously silos weren’t an issue. But when we reached around 50 people, those silos started to creep up. And as the company got bigger and bigger, they just naturally got stronger. So we had to look for ways to break them down.
I also saw this issue a lot when I was consulting. In one case we went in to install a marketing automation platform and we were working with the marketing team to do this. They were able to install a little bit of code in their CRM to basically expose all the marketing data to the sales reps. It was really rich data for the sales reps and extremely easy to install, it was just a plug-in really. You could probably install it, test it and launch it in a couple of hours. And this was a $1 million investment by the marketing team. And the sales ops team just said flat out no; it wasn’t one of their priorities.
It comes down to that lack of communication and teams working together. That’s the number one thing to look out for when you’re building a sales ops team. Where are those silos? How strong are they? Why are they there? How do you just tear them down and get everybody working together?
RB: Nice. I like that a lot. Let’s stick with your example of marketing and sales ops. What are some quick wins you can implement to get those two departments thinking alike and together?
JG: I think the compensation packages can do a lot on the sales side. On the marketing side, some companies have variable comp, others don’t. But in either case, marketers are being judged on something. So from the marketing perspective, if you want to get them to shy away from just generating volume of leads and really try to go for the quality, the first step you can take is start judging them based on pipeline creation or even revenue creation. It takes a little bit longer to judge that performance, but it is going to drive the behaviour you want as opposed to just getting them to generate leads and do whatever you can. So that’s a pretty simple one, but very effective.
On the sales side, it’s a bit more challenging. One of the problems I’ve faced a lot of the time is getting reps to properly adopt CRM and start putting their information in it so that we can create a feedback loop of how things are actually working for them, and allow the rest of the company to support them in a stronger way.
To address this challenge, basing their compensation on how they are using the system can help out a lot.
For example, the rep has to input information on all their deal into the CRM, or they won’t be comped on that deal. It’s a heavy-handed approach, but once you get them in the habit of seeing what value you can provide when they do that, then it becomes a little bit easier.
Or even taking it further, if you want to get sales reps to shy away from closing any deal, don’t comp them right away. Maybe give them half the compensation up front when they close the booking, and the next half when the customer renews or when they launch successfully.
RB: Coming back to that alignment bit, I spoke to Cris Santos at DocuSign who shared details of Docusign’s pipeline council, which is made up of marketing heads, sales heads, marketing ops and sales ops. The council has targets and KPIs and they are all working towards the same goal.
Have you seen variations of that?
JG: Yes, definitely. At Vidyard, we had weekly pipeline meetings where all those people were in the same room to learn from performance metrics and discuss what our plan of attack was.
At my previous company we had the exact same thing. And then here at OTTO Motors we have the Funnel Six meeting. (It used to be the Funnel Five until I joined and we bumped it up to six!) So there are basically six leaders from across those different teams. We get together every two weeks for a morning and figure out exactly the same thing: What is working, what is not working, and what are the next steps.
RB: Fantastic. One of the key topics here is the sales marketing handover. Already you start with two different CRMs, which is already part of the behavioural problem. How do you set up a system for the handover of leads between those two CRMs?
JG: I always start by mapping the process – write down what it actually is, not what people think it should be.
We collect those pain points to try to identify what can we improve on. But it is really to focus on mapping ‘what is’. Go to every person across that process and build out that whole process map. And then bring everyone back and say, ‘Here is what is going on. Does everybody agree with this? Is anything wrong?’ So that gives us a starting place and a foundation to build on.
At that point we have already identified where all the gaps are, so we can start to work together as a whole team to figure out what are the biggest gaps. And then systematically just going through all of those challenges and improving the process.
You prioritise which challenges you want to tackle, figuring out what are the options to solve it, get buy-in from everybody, build it out, test it and then do a proper roll-out to make sure that everyone involved is trained.
Because a lot of the time those conversations are happening at the management level, and you can’t rely on the managers to roll it out. So the rev ops team is the perfect organisation to bring everyone together and roll it out to the actual end users and make sure that they understand the whole process.
A more technical solution we have used is to really break down the walls between the two systems. It is not so much that the lead is generated by marketing and then thrown over the fence to sales and then sales tracks it and reports on it. We really try to integrate both systems to a point where they are one from a data standpoint. As soon as a lead is uploaded, even if you are doing something like uploading a list of potential people that you want to market to, those names and contacts are immediately synced over to the CRM system so sales has access to them.
This solution nurtures our feedback loop. There is nothing in one system and not the other, so if sales rejects that lead or they add information to it, that is getting fed back to marketing.
RB: Interesting. I’ve spoken to sales ops leaders who take the opposite approach of keeping leads away from sales until they are ready. What would you say the arguments are for and against having the two systems totally synced and all the data visible for everyone?
JG: Take a funnel approach. As a lead enters the top of the funnel, make sure it is in both systems, but ensure that it’s clear to sales that the lead is at the top of the funnel; there has been no qualification on it on the marketing side. Marketing can score them as they download more content etc and at the point they become an MQL, the sales rep can assess.
You don’t take the big list of unqualified people and throw it in front of sales.
RB: What mechanisms or systems have you seen that ensure marketing leads are given the love and affection that they deserve?
JG: That is a whole topic on its own! From a technical standpoint, make sure that systems are tied together and that if someone brand new fills out a form, the sales rep is going to get access to that information swiftly.
From a process standpoint, having SLAs in place where reps have X amount of time to follow up on a lead. So when a high quality lead comes in, make sure that the rep can get immediate notification of that, whether it is through Slack notification or email for example. They then have got X minutes to follow up. And then be able to differentiate that lead from somebody who just downloads a white paper for example. Provide sales reps with different lists and notification mechanisms so they can differentiate what is important and what is not. At the end of the day, the sales rep is just as busy as anyone else and they need to be able to prioritise their time. So without the data to do so, they are just going to walk away and do something else. Give them the data and I think you can trust that they will chase the right leads.
And another key mechanism is the feedback loop. It’s important to allow sales reps to reject leads. Sales are comped on revenue. If they’re not following up with a lead, there’s a reason. You need to create a feedback system, a place to start that conversation.
What we have done in the past is give them two fields. One would be Change of Status back to Nurture.
The second one is the reason the lead was sent back: A bad fit, timing, couldn’t get hold of them. There could be a dozen different reasons. In some cases, you could give a text field where they can put in additional details.
Then, getting back to that sales marketing weekly meeting, that is where you can start to look at that information and discuss why leads are being pushed back, whether there are patterns that we can correct etc. That mechanism is critical for making sure that marketing and sales are aligned.
RB: Salespeople love Red, Amber, Green because it is easy to understand when they are busy and need to know what to aim at. And then lead scoring is obviously a very different system.
What have you found that works when those two worlds collide and what are your arguments for and against lead scoring and who it should be visible to?
JG: I think the goal of lead scoring should be to distil all of that complex information for a rep into one binary field that says call this lead or not. Or maybe a little bit deeper and says what is high priority.
One thing we found is lead scoring has generally been built around what information marketers have available to them and probably more so, what the systems themselves have access to in terms of information. It has really been built around website visits, email clicks and things like that. There is a lot of other information that is just too hard to score.
We actually did an analysis at my previous company. We updated our lead scoring programme to figure out what is most important: email clicks, website visits, certain types of campaigns etc. We found things like website visits were actually detractors from whether or not the probability of a lead converting was going to increase or decrease.
In the past we had built our whole model around that information, and then when we did a proper analysis of it, we found out that it was totally backwards. What it came down to in many cases was the profile information, whether they were the decision maker. And also the types of campaigns they were responding to. Not the fact that they responded to a campaign, but what was that campaign.
We found that webinars held little value for us. The value came when they downloaded a PDF. And then we even got the analysis down to the level of content topic – which topics were better indicators. So when we built that lead scoring programme we were able to incorporate all that information. It was ten times harder to do than the old model, but at least it wasn’t steering us away from the good leads and towards the bad ones.
RB: That makes a lot of sense. If you were given a clean slate, what are some of the first things you would get implement to avoid the issues that we talked about at the beginning of the interview?
JG: The first thing is to figure out the lay of the land. I can give you a great case study of the last organisation I was with. We were starting from scratch, building this team up with exactly the same problems everybody has. The first step was to map out the process and figure out what was going on. I always like to take the standpoint of the customer journey and use that as the basis for how things are mapped out. So we’re not going to map out the 500 individual processes that happen around the organisation. We are mapping out the customer’s experience and then trying to figure out what are the processes we do that support that, and how do they all tie together. That journey becomes the anchor point for each of those processes.
When you start to map out all those processes, then you can really prioritise all the different issues. And then you have also got a framework to work off of to improve it. So when you go to solve a particular problem, you know exactly what the process is and where to go. You don’t have to start and map out that process. You have already got a headstart on fixing it.
In the last organisation, we went in with good intentions to do that and on Day Two we were off putting out a fire somewhere and we never stopped chasing fires. I don’t think we were ever as strategic as we should have been.
Whereas here at OTTO Motors, that is a focus for the entire team and it has been a focus for the entire company. We have executive buy-in to make sure that is done. We are still putting out fires on the side, but we can prioritise that foundational mapping that we need to do to understand things.
Even though we are in the early days, we are already seeing the fruits of that.
The second step is metrics. This is one thing that I feel that I’m battling right now. Everyone wants data and metrics. But as we go through this mapping exercise, we want to figure out what are the most important metrics to tell us whether we are doing a good job, and not just rely on obvious metrics such as customer acquisition cost and margins and lead conversions
We have really got the opportunity here to say, let’s take a long-term vision, map things out, and develop a strategy around these things. And then when we go to solve things, we are going to be solving the highest-impact problems and we are able to do it much faster. That is the strategy and so far, it has been paying off.
RB: Something I find interesting is this concept of setting up processes and technology that can scale and change as the business matures and maybe its sales processes changes, or a new CRO comes in. Do you have any tips?
JG: I think building a cohesive process right across the customer journey is important, but also keeping it modular so that if you do have to rip something out, you can.
RB: I am also interested in your time at Vidyard. I know they are flying now.
JG: Yes. That was definitely a fun ride. I joined there at about ten people as a part-time consultant and I ended up going full-time and was there about 4 ½ years in total. It was close to 200 people when I left.
That was a fantastic learning experience. At the end of the day, they are a very typical SaaS business and the model is not unlike anyone else. But as we were going through it, it was all very new. Now you can read loads of blog posts and leverage wonderful playbooks, but those resources didn’t exist when we started.
They are doing really well and a lot of it was built on that premium model strategy. It’s funny, as I was leaving we had just finished implementing the whole Go Video freemium strategy and as soon as I got to my next company, it came back to haunt me because implementing video was on our road map!
Immediately all the sales reps had gone out and got this freemium thing and then the phone calls started coming into me, ‘Hey, can we get the full Enterprise version, can we upgrade?’
And then exactly the same thing here at OTTO. That was a ‘Steve Johnson special’. He was the COO that came in and brought that strategy in.
I’ve seen it on both sides and it worked flawlessly.
RB: That was obviously high growth, 10 to 200 in four years is pretty significant. Anything that you take from that in terms of rev ops in an environment like that?
JG: I think the biggest lesson I took was resourcing. We were in a very lean rev ops team there. Responsibility started to get piled on thick. I think everybody quickly understood the value the team could provide and was willing to work with them. But we were never able to get the resourcing we needed to support that. And then going into my next roles at Clearpath and OTTO, I was very upfront before I even joined about what the resource requirements were going to be, and they were all totally onboard with it and dedicated to making sure that we had that.
RB: Yes, fantastic. It’s been great talking to you Joe.
JG: My pleasure.
Want to get more insights from sales ops leaders? Check out our other posts in the sales ops interview series.