Interview with Patrick Creagh, Sales Operations Manager, StudentBridge

8 min read

I was intrigued to hear how Patrick’s background in marketing helps him in his current role of Sales Operations Manager at StudentBridge. Turn’s out, it helps him a lot! Patrick talked me through how he created an SLA to align the sales and marketing teams, how he uses sales velocity metrics to identify areas for improvement in the sales cycle, and how he formulated a successful forecasting process. After hearing more about his journey into sales ops, the interview began…

Rory Brown (RB): Could you tell me about Patrick Creagh and your journey into sales operations?

Patrick Creagh (PC): My first role after Georgia Tech was at a company called Patientco, which is a healthcare payments startup based in Atlanta. I was one of the early employees there and the first marketing employee they hired. What the marketing team did for Patientco during my time there was implement basic marketing automation and a B2B playbook. I was also doing a lot of the copywriting and blogging or anything that involved market research or digital marketing.

During that time, Patientco grew rapidly, so it was exciting to be part of that. Then after four years, I joined a company called StudentBridge, which is where I work now. I was originally brought on as a marketing operations manager. I was one of three marketing managers that reported to the COO. One of them was focused specifically on HubSpot and digital. The other one was focused on brand and messaging. Then I was brought in to focus on the sales and marketing alignment.

Eventually, I found myself spending more time on the sales side of that equation so after a year my title changed to Sales Operations Manager, though I still oversee the marketing operations as well.

RB: Brilliant. Thanks for the intro. I think a natural place to start is the sales and marketing alignment. What’s the perfect marketing to sales lead handover process and where do you start when building that process?

PC: When I came into StudentBridge, there was a lot of unclean data from previous integration problems with Hubspot, Pardot and Salesforce.

The first thing we did was take HubSpot and Salesforce and separate the two databases. Then on each side, we went in and found some criteria for deleting bad data because at that point, our BDR team would have to make 100 calls just to get someone on the phone. That’s more than 200 or 300 calls to set an appointment on. We were able to identify some criteria, interview stakeholders, and figure out what would make this lead or contact okay to delete.

Additionally, there wasn’t a designated Salesforce person at the company, and this was a role I took on when I joined. There wasn’t a clear structure for leads and contacts so we had to define the current structure, determine that we’re going to work under contacts. All of this activity meant that we were able to go from about 70,000 records to 30,000 records in Salesforce.

Then we did basically the same thing on the HubSpot side. It was a little bit cleaner because HubSpot was newer but we wanted to have a situation where we would have everything synced under a common record which would be the email address.

That was a lot of work at the beginning. Then the final challenge of that project was figuring out how to prevent the leads that the BDR team are working on from getting stepped on by marketing emails because you don’t want to be having marketing emails getting sent and having one-to-one emails and phone calls happening at the same time.

We created a custom lead status field that was actually on the contact object but also on the leads object. It became that corresponding field so we’d have a bridge form when a lead was converting to a contact.

Then we did a full implementation of SalesLoft, which fits directly on top of Salesforce but does not interact directly with HubSpot, so we needed a way for activity in HubSpot to trigger activity in SalesLoft or be able to at least update records in SalesLoft.

To do this, we made our custom lead status field on the contact object in Salesforce be the central point of who’s working it. When a contact is uploaded into a cadence in SalesLoft, that updates the lead status field to say ‘cadence’. Then that updates the marketing or the status field in HubSpot to alert them to remove the contact from their marketing communication.

It’s the same thing for when we change the account type in Salesforce to an opportunity or a customer.

Now it only takes the team an average of 30 calls to set an appointment with a qualified prospect.

RB: Great. Thank you. As you mention, when you’ve got two separate databases, HubSpot and Salesforce for example, there’s a point where they overlap and share some common fields. That obviously gives the salespeople or the SDR team a certain amount of visibility into the HubSpot data. What have you found works there?

PC: For the SDRs, our team don’t go into HubSpot directly. When they’re prospecting people, unless it’s an inbound lead that gets routed to them from HubSpot, then they wouldn’t really have a reason to go into the HubSpot database itself. What they can see is when they’re doing their own prospecting within Salesforce, there’s a visual force window on the contact object that shows history of HubSpot activity on the prospect. They usually will have enough documented activity for at least the last six months or so, because we’re typically sending out three to four marketing emails a month.

RB: Perfect. One of the things you talked about earlier was the data integrity issue StudentBridge was facing when you joined. The next challenge or possibly the ongoing challenge is maintaining that newfound integrity. How have you found that? Are there techniques that you’re using or things that you considered to continue capturing this new data in an effective way?

PC: First of all, you’ve got to write down the process. I drafted a Service Level Agreement or SLA for our lead protocol. Also, for new SDRs and new AEs, I created a Salesforce user guide that’s specific to the way that we use Salesforce including details of validation rules.

There’s just a lot of guardrails to prevent incomplete data but we don’t want to do it at the expense of discarding good but incomplete data. That’s where we’ve got to look for something that doesn’t have email addresses, we’ll put that into Salesforce as leads and then they could go through it and convert each lead to a contact by adding the email address and any of the other missing required fields.

RB: That makes sense. There’s not a huge number of people that have come from a marketing background and then gone to sales ops. What do you think, as a marketer, you can bring to the role that perhaps someone who’s come from a sales background or one of the more traditional routes into sales ops would not have had the experience of?

PC: I’ve always looked at everything from a revenue ops perspective. Because StudentBridge is still small, we only have one customer success manager and she is effectively part of the sales team. Taken together, the team itself has one common goal for bottom line bookings. Then I know I’ve got forecasts that trickle all the way back up to how many leads we need to work, how many calls it takes to connect to a person, how many connects it takes to book an appointment, and how many appointments it takes to create an opportunity.

Then it’s knowing six months out, here’s how many top line inputs we need to have the right number come off the bottom, unless we’re able to make significant improvements at different stages. It also helps identify where those gaps are.

It’s being able to find that North Star goal that the sales and marketing teams are aligned on.

RB: Let’s say you’ve got your ideal sales marketing funnel set up. When you’re assessing where you can make that funnel more efficient, what information and data points are you looking at? How does that process work for you?

PC: Looking at where we improve, it’s about total sales velocity: how many opportunities are created, the win rate, the average contract value and the length of the sales cycle.

Those are the four points of attack as far as operational efficiency and sales strategy goes.

RB: Would you say then you are always looking to move one of those four metrics?

PC: Yes, exactly. Generally, some improvement that you make to one of those points is going to pull you away from one of the other points. If you’re trying to increase average deal size, you’re probably going to end up increasing the length of the sales cycle. If you want to increase the number of opportunities, you’re probably going to lower your win rate.

I think it’s like compass where you have those four points and then it’s choosing a direction and keeping the team focused.

RB: That’s a really nice analogy actually. How would you move one metric enough so that the others aren’t impacted? Do you have a system for that?

PC: If I were to come into a situation without any prior information, I would look at the four metrics and, using basic industry benchmarks, figure out which one stands to be improved and where’s the low hanging fruit? Then from there, once you start making improvements, you’re going to see impacts on the other three or maybe one or two, and then you run over to the other side and either try to find a way to stop the average sales cycle from getting so long. It’s a constant oscillation between working on one metric and being aware of how it might impact the others.

You have got to be ready to run over and tap the brakes once you start making those improvements and then over time as you go back and forth, eventually you end up right in that sweet spot. I don’t think there’s really ever a point where the trade-offs end.

RB: How did you formulate a good forecasting process and what things were important to you?

PC: A lot of it for us was actually around headcount. We had an interesting debate about the right ratio of BDRs to AEs, as well, as, how many AEs do we need to meet our sales target. Compared to most companies, we have a higher BDR to AE ratio, but I think that’s because our BDRs not only set appointments, but they’re also sourcing contacts, and they’re sourcing 10,000 to 15,000 qualified contacts a year.

What I did is something similar to a sales velocity formula, where I made a model in Excel that says, okay, if we can have six AEs and then seven BDRs, how many opportunities per BDR do we think are going to be generated over the course of a year or over the course of a month?

Then what do we think our win rate is going to be? What do we think our average deal size is going to be? Then creating a matrix below with the different headcount scenarios, it can say, okay, if we think that each BDR is going to create 100 opportunities the year, and then we went at 20%, then that’s 20 deals, and then 20 deals multiplied by $50,000. Then, having that summed up across how many BDRs you have across every brick. We can see that if we change our win rate, if we are able to increase our win rate from 10% to 15%, here’s the impact on bottom-line revenue based on each of these headcount combinations.

Using that, we took our historical data, did that exercise and made some predictions about what would happen to our average deal size, how much we can increase our win rate etc. And you have to be conservative when you’re adding AEs. They’re not always going to be as good as your established AEs, but we think that we’re going to increase our win rate just by knowing our market better and releasing new products.

It’s a really interesting and somewhat arbitrary calculation, but the key was to have the math behind it so that I would be able to explain to our leadership team why we chose the headcount that we did, because then they can go to the investors and say, Okay, we want seven BDRs and six AEs because we think that with this win rate, and this average deal size, we expect to make this much in bookings and then X translates to ARR.

RB: Nice. Thank you for sharing your expertise and knowledge with us.

Want to get more insights from sales ops leaders? Check out our other interviews in the sales ops interview series.

At Kluster, we’re big fans of sales operations…

We recognise the growing importance of sales operations. No longer seen as the function that provides spreadsheets, sales operations is integral to building a repeatable, scalable sales machine.

That’s why we built Kluster. We make analytics and forecasting systems for you so you can spend time doing what you do best: uncovering trends and delivering growth defining insights.

Kluster gives you total visibility into the effectiveness of your sales machine and helps you generate credible forecasts to revenue leaders and the board.

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