Ryan started his journey into sales ops in an unlikely place – the Australian government – where he quickly developed an interest in business processes. Before he knew it, he was packing his bags for London to embark on a sales ops role at Sony. He’s now Director of Sales Operations & Analytics at ION and I was intrigued to learn more about him and pick his brains. We discussed Ryan’s four-step lead gen qualification process, how to align sales and marketing with KPIs, capturing good quality data from your salespeople, and more!
Rory Brown (RB): Perhaps you could give me a little bit of an overview about who is Ryan Tutt and how you made your way into sales operations.
Ryan Tutt (RT): I have probably taken quite a different career path to most. Instead of going straight to university, I started working with the Australian government as soon as I left school. They had a programme which allowed you to study one day a week and work at the same time, so after two years I began studying alongside work. I originally started out in the immigration department, working in Visa assessment type roles. It soon occurred to me that even though they had systems in place and targets that they wanted to reach as a department, there was no process in place for how they would go about reaching them. That was my first introduction into using a business process and focusing on efficiency, and the closest I had ever come to anything like sales operations. I soon began a role where I was delivering change management, case file management and showing people how to use systems.
It was a good experience and proved great for my CV, but after a number of years in different roles in government I decided that I wanted a different challenge and moved to London. I began with some contract work and eventually landed a gig with Sony Mobile on a large sales and marketing project. They were trying to introduce a new sales and marketing process supported by a CRM platform. That was where I really got my foot in the door with regards to pure sales ops, and after a few years with Sony, a great opportunity came along with Allegro where I was fortunate to take on the role of head of sales ops. Allegro was acquired by ION earlier this year, and I have continued in my sales ops role in the ION organisation.
RB: Great, thanks for the intro. Let’s start by talking about the sales and marketing alignment.
What are some of the key things to consider or the best fundamentals to start technologically linking the marketing and sales funnel.
RT: That is a good question. In terms of the process from lead generation to marketing and then through to sales handover, it is important to make sure that the process is very well defined. There must be a structure by which the different teams (sales, marketing, and business development) can get together and discuss which prospects are in the pipeline and what are the next steps to qualify a deal and progress the deal through the sales cycle. If you are all on the same page when it comes to that, and your CRM supports that framework accordingly, then you won’t have many issues. If you have a very loose process, a CRM which doesn’t support the process or you have a ‘lone wolf’ type sales rep who doesn’t interact with their business development rep, it won’t work.
RB: Homing in on that process, perhaps you could talk about some of the qualifications that make that process work?
RT: We have a four-step qualification process that our lead gen team needs to work through, and they know that they can’t really progress a prospect through the sales cycle unless they have those four areas covered. So, we maintain very strict controls over what we believe to be a qualified opportunity, and we have a reporting framework to track the various stages that a prospect is moving through to keep all teams aware of pipeline progress. We have strong alignment across our business development and sales teams as to whether a deal can progress or not based on the qualification process. We produce weekly reports to make sure deals are not stuck in the funnel – speed is obviously a key element for us, and we don’t want deals sitting stagnant for too long. If a deal is not going to move forward through qualification, it gets pushed back so the business development team can keep working it. If it meets the qualification criteria, then we pass it on to the sales and pre-sales team so that we can engage with the prospect further and line up demos as soon as possible.
RB: Brilliant, thanks for sharing that.
To this day, many companies still have a ‘them and us’ mentality for marketing and sales – and potentially for other departments too. I assume that your process goes a long way to solving that. Do you find that there is still more work left to do?
RT: I think aligned incentives is the best way to go about it. If everybody has a mandate to work towards a goal, whether that’s at an individual or a company level, you will have a much easier time of getting everybody to buy in. Some sort of overarching KPIs or metrics that are aligned over those two groups really helps. I also believe that being open and transparent about what is required from both sides is equally important – we have a strong culture of marketing and sales working closely with each other. I have been involved with some companies where that hasn’t been the case, and the results were self-evident. So, having an open dialogue, being aligned on key metrics and making sure that you’re having feedback sessions on how you’re performing against key metrics and initiatives is key to having a successful collaboration.
RB: Great. Let’s move on to data capture. How have you found getting that balance right? Making sure that good quality is captured but not getting too granular and messing everything up?
RT: That’s a very good question. I always think that with a CRM system you should put a character limit on free-text fields, and make as many fields as possible a selection from a ‘pick list’ so that there is some structure around what is being captured. If it is a key field which drives decision making, make sure it is a pick list selection so that nobody can really go “off-piste” and introduce bad data into the system. When it comes to quality of input from business development, marketing teams, or from sales, it is always good to use best practice examples across the organisation. So, if you find someone that is good at using the CRM system across those different organisations, use that individual as a champion of best practice for the rest of the company. I also think it is important to give users of the system guidelines about what needs to be captured and the level of detail expected. So if it is a win/loss review, provide your team with 5 or 6 soundbites that you know management will be looking for which resonate with the business. If you give them an open 5000-character space, some Reps will only put in two words and others will write a novel, so providing guidelines is key. Sales ops should also support and enable their sales team to follow the right process by giving feedback if they don’t see something that is quite meeting the defined criteria.
RB: What are your overall thoughts and feelings towards required fields?
RT: It really depends on your organisation and it depends on what you are trying to achieve. I think that the key demographic fields – be it industry, tier level or geography – are always going to drive some decision making down the line. I’d also say that you need to capture as much information about deal outcomes as possible and what drove them, so you can provide feedback across your organisation about where you are doing well and perhaps where you need some improvements. I think we do a pretty good job here of capturing information around prospect feedback on product and the commercial sales cycle – areas which we can feedback across our team and improve our processes, not just in sales and marketing but also the wider organisation.
RB: So, you have got your sales process end to end with all its data. Aside from the obvious, what is the role of sales ops when that funnel is in place?
RT: I like process and structure and keeping things as simple as possible. I think that as a sales ops professional, you want to speak with your sales leaders about the 5-7 key metrics that you need to capture which are key indicators of your performance within the organisation. It’s easy to head down a rabbit hole by trying to be too specific or looking at totally different metrics every month. If you are new to a role or an organisation, sit down with your sales leader or relevant stakeholder, find out what those key metrics are, and stick with them over a period so you can track your performance. I do think that once you have those metrics in place, you should build whatever dashboard that you can in your CRM so that you can automate tracking those metrics. If you find yourself with a sales leader tapping you on the shoulder saying that they noticed something you were not already aware of, then you are lagging.
RB: Let’s move on to reporting now. You mentioned that when building your process using data capture, a lot of that is driven by the reporting that people want or need, at least 5-7 KPIs. How does that process start?
RT: I think again what you need to do is understand what the overarching goals of the organisation are. If it’s to take market share, then what are metrics within the sales cycle that you need to capture in your CRM so that you can measure that over time? If the company’s focus is around increasing win/loss percentages, then what data point do you need to capture to provide feedback to your sales reps or to the product team to improve that metric? I think that if you don’t have overarching goals or strategies across your organisation (i.e. where does the company want to go with its vison) you will always have someone come in and request a fancy report that they’re never going to use and you’re going to spend months fine tuning. You’re better off being realistic and up front with your stakeholders about the KPI’s that are important to drive success and aligning that with the vision of the company.
RB: Lastly, this is a hard question. For you, what does success look like for a sales operations leader and is there a way to monitor or metric that success?
RT: If you want to turn it into metrics, I think success looks like maintaining those 5-7 KPIs that were derived from your conversations with the sales leaders, tracking them over a period of time, and making sure you are putting processes and tools in place to improve performance across those KPIs. Anecdotally, success is when you are a trusted advisor for the sales team and wider organisation, which you’ll know you are when they start regularly asking for your guidance and input.
RB: In your experience, have you found there has been much demand for you to demonstrate the impact that you’ve had? Or do you feel that you’ve been left alone?
RT: I feel that I’ve had a combination of both. I’ve found that in a smaller organisation, you have a lot more visibility and scrutiny of your performance as a sales ops leader as you are a key driver within the sales organisation – and obviously a high performing sales organisation drives growth in a small company. In a bigger company you might be seen as a pillar within a department, and you fill a functional role for the organisation. You might not have direct contact with the C suite but the reporting that you produce does have an impact on decision making at that level, so I think it is important to understand where you fit in terms of providing that visibility to senior management and how your role supports decision making.
RB: The last question is a fun one. If you take the relationship between the VP of Sales and yourself, what famous double act would you say exemplifies that and why?
RT: I’m not sure I can think of a good double act right now, if he reads this he might have a laugh at a few different characters which might apply! But, I often say that sales ops is like a sparring partner for sales. You hold the gloves, you train them and give them the tools to be successful, but if they’re not training as hard as they should be you just sneak a little jab in there to bring them up to scratch.
RB: I suppose you could compare it to Rocky and Apollo or something like that. I really enjoyed that, thank you for keeping things organised and structured. This has been full of great content for our readers!