From sales in Germany to the startup scene in Barcelona, I was intrigued to learn about Lisa Farioli’s diverse background before reaching Wide Eyes, including her work as a volunteer teacher in orphanages and schools. Interestingly, she believes these experiences to be the most beneficial to her current role. I was also particularly keen to understand how she teaches her team to handle objections, which she outlines in a system known as ‘The Call blueprint’. After hearing about her journey into sales operations, the interview began…
Rory Brown (RB): Please tell me a little bit about who Lisa Farioli is, and your career to date?
Lisa Farioli (LF): I grew up in a bilingual family in Germany, and I started working quite early which is typical there. I worked in sales, starting face to face and at trade fairs and so forth. I really enjoyed that because I could take advantage of my languages.
After school I really wanted to experience something new, so I did a year of volunteering, where I worked with kids in schools and orphanages, and I must say it was one of the experiences that nowadays helps me the most.
RB: Why so?
LF: It helped me to empathize with people a lot. Through teaching, I learned to be patient – and having to go over things many times is something I believe to be key to the sales operations role. Whilst at University, I gained an interesting insight into coordination, pitching, and the like – which led me to do a Masters in Statistics (applied research in business and economics) in Barcelona. As challenging as it was, I learnt a lot of skills which I still apply to date – like translating raw data into a more intelligible format for people who aren’t into those kinds of things. It’s basically converting raw material from Salesforce into something that our SDRs can work with.
RB: I like the way you put that. I think that is one of the areas we can dig into today. And now you are fairly new at the new place?
LF: Yes, I started last week. I have worked in three different tech startups now and I must say that I really enjoy the startup scene of Barcelona. I started as an SDR, so I have experience from lead generation, contacting, pitch creation, and so on. Then I became a team leader and moved into sales operations, where my main role was aligning marketing and sales while doing sales operations before coming here.
I decided to start at Wide Eyes because they have a really great team. This means a lot to me as I believe that the character and dedication of the team is of utmost importance – I even asked to spend an afternoon with them, just to get a sense of what they were like before I signed on. I saw that they are really eager to develop and improve, and they take the feedback and recommendations seriously. That was when I knew the company was a good fit for me. If you work in sales or sales operations you appreciate it a lot; it gives you plenty of motivation.
RB: Fantastic. With regards to raw data – what is the first step in thinking about what data needs to be pulled from Salesforce and made visible to your sales leaders or your sales team? How do you start that process?
LF: For us it is purely outbound services, so we need to know how many new accounts have been generated. We want at least two contacts per account in the beginning, and from there we see how many accounts have been touched for the first time. Then, we analyse the success rate of our call sequences and find out how many of these calls have been connects, and after that we want to know what was the result of that connect
We also need to know how the call went from their side, so upon hanging up, they have the option to click either ‘Made a pitch’; ‘Were interested’; or ‘Got a referral to someone else’. Based on that, I have my one-to-one’s with my team where we discuss these metrics on a weekly basis. For example, if they got a connect but did not manage to book a meeting, we will work on the pitch. If they only get to a gatekeeper, we have to work on how to overcome the specific gatekeeper challenging you.
SDR’s with little experience usually struggle the most with this because gatekeepers (especially if it is a PA) can be rather intimidating – but that is really to their benefit. When gatekeepers ask tough questions such as ‘Do you have an appointment?’ and ‘How come you don’t have the number?’, it can really throw them off, so we prepare a lot for that. We have created a useful system known as ‘The Call blueprint’ where we address 25 common objections.
RB: So, you have 25 key objections?
LF: Yes. These range from ‘Now is not the right time’, and ‘I haven’t seen your email’ to ‘I am not the right person’, and ‘I get these calls all the time’. Sometimes it is based on trust issues: ‘I don’t know you.’ ‘Who are you working with?’ ‘We can develop this internally’ ‘You are too expensive.’ The list goes on. We divided them into 7 categories: Bad timing, consult, complacency, disinterest, trust, price, competitor. Now every Friday we have a pitch round where we go through specific objections; we see how each of us handles them, and we give internal feedback, learning from each other. Each SDR does it differently. I also plan to introduce a weekly card game based on combating objections to make things more interactive and fun.
RB: I notice that one of the first things you have dived into is objection handling. How did you arrive at that as the first thing you want to do?
LF: This is based on our call outcome. For example, if I have someone who makes the most calls in the team but gets the least meetings, I need to find out why. We currently don’t record our calls, but I am talking to our CEO because I think it is important that we can listen back to good calls or calls that need improvement, and then discuss them with our SDRs.
It is weird to hear your own voice, but I believe it is the best way to learn. Sometimes people react saying ‘OMG, I sound like a robot’ or ‘I didn’t let him speak’ or even ‘Maybe I wasn’t listening enough’. I think these things are super important, as you have to be self-aware when you do these calls, especially if it is the first one. The SDRs play a key role in sales as they are usually the first contact and entry point to all our clients, so it’s really important that they work on that first 30 seconds.
RB: That is interesting. What you are talking about there is getting into the qualitative data – the calls, and that sort of thing.
When it comes to salespeople – and it sounds like a lot of your role here is enablement, not just sales operations – how much do you find yourself making them aware of quantitative data versus qualitative data and how are they used differently?
LF: We have a dashboard where they can see a comparison between themselves. But if we just focus on the quantitative data, e.g. Who makes most calls; Who gets the most meetings; Who gets the most connects – this would just be the SDR part. We could give a prize to the person who does the most calls, but in the end, it may not show the most efficient person; it might be the person who needs the most help.
I think this is a relevant thing to measure because you don’t reach your target if you don’t make enough calls. So, while calls are the most important number to look at, always checking that the quality of the calls is good is just as important.
RB: So, you are obviously presenting data to the sales team and to the sales leaders as well. What do you have to consider when thinking about what information to give them, bearing in mind their personality type and what they care about?
LF: When we talk to the account directors we go through their data. This consists of their pipeline, their funnel; how many meetings they receive; and what the conversion rates are. Another thing that is important is the question: at what stage of the opportunity do we involve customer success? Do we introduce them at an early stage when we are talking about what the road map is going to be, or should we involve them more towards the end, given that they are quite busy with implementing our solutions? As it stands, our new customer success managers get involved earlier when we talk about what our project is going to look like, and they begin answering technical questions and creating a road map together. But when they have already developed their own pipeline of existing customers, they get involved at a later stage.
RB: That is an interesting point: bringing in customer success at a certain point, what data are you looking at to understand where is the best point to bring them in?
LF: This is based on the opportunity funnel because many opportunities tend to get stuck in the part where we talk about implementation, and our prospects have a lot of questions at this stage. If you are not able to answer them in an understandable way, they might turn into blockers, because they are the ones responsible for implementing a solution like ours. They could be thinking ‘I don’t trust these guys. In the end, if it doesn’t work, it is my fault.’ Therefore, they need to have good backup information that is digestible for tech people but also for those who are not really into tech. So, it shouldn’t be just coding, it should be something that makes sense to everyone.
RB: That makes sense. One thing I wanted to pick up on as well: Looking at your last role, I think you were talking about business performance reviews and you are doing one-to-one meetings now. So, if we take business performance reviews and one-to-ones, what would you say are the key differences between those two meetings?
LF: Both meetings are done to maintain the link between activities and the overall company strategy. However, the primary difference is that performance reviews are done on company level: Are we achieving our overall set monthly target on, let’s say, MRR. While, during the one-to-ones we discuss how individual objectives are met in order to achieve the percentage of MRR per sales rep. Which is the direct link between the company’s strategy and individual effort.
The sales teams work hard, and Salesforce gives data to back it up. But during the performance analysis we can detect if everyone is working on the right things and if their work brings the results that our team across the whole organization needs. Afterwards during the one-to-one my job is to help the rep stay aligned in order to achieve their goals. It’s all about being aligned.
In my previous company, for example, we did a lot of business performance reviews using Excel. We would take the data and try to cross it as much as possible. There we would see the correlation between variables such as the marketing effort and sales outcome. This is something we would look at in the performance review to then be discussed on an individual level.
RB: That is more about analysing data and thinking strategically.
LF: Exactly. This information was particularly useful to the Board or to C-level when they wanted to have a quick overview, e.g. ‘Give me data about everything – how is everything going.’ It was giving them feedback and analysing where exactly our issues were coming from. For example, if in the customer success calls, we find out that those customers are dissatisfied because ‘it wasn’t the same as the sales guy promised’, we know that we have to make the salespeople understand what the product actually is. Or, if it was about the product itself, we identify exactly what the problem is, and fix it so we don’t lose clients due to this specific issue.
RB: And in the one-to-one, other than the funnel and the conversions and that sort of stuff, what are the key things that you tend to cover in a one-to-one?
LF: I usually start looking at how the team is working together; how efficient they are; and what the strategy is. I leave them quite a lot of freedom, but they have to tell me if they change stuff, e.g. if they decide that they want to intensively tackle a specific country so they can plan a road trip. They give me a briefing of what exactly they’re going to do. The next week we evaluate the success of the strategy, we check if it really happened or why it didn’t happen, what we maybe should adopt together, and if we maybe need to translate our email to the language of our target. These are the type of questions we are looking at. It is more strategic but, in the end, we usually go through the funnel: What opportunities and which close date has been moved and why? And why don’t we think we are going to close it?
RB: You mentioned movement and close date movement. What are the key changes to an opportunity that you will highlight in one of these meetings and then make it a discussion point?
LF: We look at what we learned from an opportunity which we have closed and lost. In this category, I also ask them: Why are certain opportunities stagnating in a specific stage? Are we paying enough attention to them; do they need something specific (such as more material) that we can produce for them? Should we maybe repeat a presentation or a demo of our product? These are the questions we check. We also need to make sure we have follow-ups with them to avoid moving the close date. If we must move it, then so be it, but we need to be on top of it.
RB: Brilliant. I like that a lot. Another area you talked about is sales and marketing alignment and bringing them into one. This is a big topic. The first question is: Where do you start? How do you get sales and marketing people on the same wavelength?
LF: It is essential for both sides to understand that their collaboration is important. On objection handling, in my opinion, marketing should be involved at least once a month. They need to be involved because if they know the objections that salespeople must overcome on a daily basis, they can help us a lot by producing material for it. They give you something more visual because most marketing people – I would definitely say – are more creative, so they usually find a way to overcome these objections.
On the other hand, what I think is even more difficult, is making salespeople understand how important it is to communicate with marketing. What helped a lot in my previous company was organising events. We would have marketing present to and practice with sales reps and have some brainstorming – fine tuning the whole thing together. This creates a type of connection.
RB: So, your view here is about aligning sales and marketing so that we can sell more effectively.
LF: Exactly. It takes a lot of time, but as soon as it is up and running and people start doing it, it becomes a habit.
RB: Do you think you can measure the comparative success of this alignment between Sales and Marketing as opposed to working separately? Is there an easy way to tell, data wise, if it is working?
LF: If you have a way to track it, yes. For example, it can be an eBook. Send them a link so it can be tracked. Always use a clickable link for marketing – you need something that is always a click so that it goes into the system and then you can have a dashboard where you can see where this contact came from. Was it an inbound lead? Or was it someone who was already in negotiation with us of whom marketing content accelerated the sales cycle compared to our usual sales cycle. These are things that you could look at.
RB: That is the big thing isn’t it. Speed. Speed and conversion are the two key things.
LF: Until now I have always worked in companies that have a long sales cycle, so it was all about nurturing, which means that marketing is super important. If you have a quick sales cycle, then you just need really good material to start a conversation with. But if you have a long sales cycle, material is really important, and it needs to be a variety of different materials. You don’t want to bore your lead or prospect.
RB: Brilliant. I like that. A more general question now. Success in sales operations. In your experience, what does understanding success, and the impact that sales operations has had, look like?
LF: Again, we are talking about speed. Speed for me is starting with onboarding time of a new person. How long does it take until a new team member is clear on everything, has all the information they need and finally had their first success? This is one thing that I think is important. Also, overcoming your bottle necks, and constantly developing your salespeople. If you manage to do these things you can obviously see it in data, and this is a kind of success.
RB: Great. I want to thank you again for spilling your brain and sharing as much as you can.