Interview with Greg Larsen, Head of Sales Strategy & Operations, Lingotek

14 min read

With sales experience at giants like Qualtrics and InsideSales.com, and experience building sales processes from scratch, I knew Greg Larsen was going to have a lot of knowledge to share. From aligning sales and customer success by integrating Zendesk and Salesforce to using the ‘Disagree and Commit’ principle as a change management tool, there was plenty to discuss!

Rory Brown (RB): Could you tell me about Greg Larsen and how you moved into sales and rev ops?

Greg Larsen (GL): Yes. I started out in sales at a company called Qualtrics here in Utah. I cut my teeth there and that’s where I really gained an appreciation of the process and how to take care of people along with all the stuff that goes into sales that isn’t the actual sale. I furthered my career as a sales manager at InsideSales.com Then, from there, I joined a social media startup called NUVI in its early stages, I think we had about a dozen sales reps.  I joined with the intent to help them build their sales process and strategy.

At that time, this is about five years ago, sales ops and rev ops were just buzzwords, nobody knew what they meant, and nobody knew what to do with it. So the CEO said, “Prove that you know what you’re doing and that you know how to sell and then we’ll turn that over.” So over the next couple of years I was fortunate enough to emerge as the sales strategy leader for NUVI and was able to be able to build sales processes, training, onboarding, and general sales development.

Having sales experience and sales knowledge has been huge for me in my sales ops career because when leadership wants to implement something, oftentimes it’s a top-down. So having a good understanding of what makes people tick from both sides of the table has been invaluable.

After NUVI, I moved over to Lingotek and have been fortunate to be involved in the revenue operations here. It’s been eye-opening to see a complex sale that’s international and all of the pieces that we can move to make things happen across not just sales but marketing, services, our product team, our partner channel, and integrating them all into one working wheel rather than having them all operate individually has increased our revenue quite a bit.

RB: Brilliant, thank you for that. It would be great to look more at your current role and talk about how you’re mixing in all these departments – marketing, services, product, finance, legal etc. So my first question is, do you see revenue ops as the vehicle for taking all those different business functions and making them all tick along nicely together?

GL: Yes, definitely. That’s actually why I came to Lingotek because I saw that the business had a lot of potential but the sales department was completely siloed. So we needed to do some internal selling. Little by little I would inter-departmentally say, “Hey, I think I can help us connect the sales team into this.” So we connected them into services. Then the next one was partners and then we connected the sales and finance team so they could see what was going on with their commissions and with the clients paying and everything like that.

Now, that paved the way for my role as Head of Revenue Operations where I tie all of those relationships together. The departments are mostly running similar to the way they were a year ago but their doors are open to other departments. Instead of our sales team having to email a CSM to figure out where their clients are success wise, they can go right into Salesforce and see all of the tickets and they can see what progress they’ve made billing, who’s paying and how much work they’ve done. It’s just really made the process a lot easier which in turn, in my opinion, makes the teams a lot more satisfied because they don’t hit up against roadblocks that they can’t solve on their own.

RB: Yes, that’s a good initiative. I’d love to talk to you about the alignment between sales and service or sales and customer success. How does that process of alignment start? What do you look at first?

GL: For me, the first part was about transparency, giving the sales team a view into what the services team was doing and vice versa. Our services team uses Zendesk, so we hooked up their API and funneled all of the tickets and all of the escalations into Salesforce and then set up some automations to notify the sales rep if there was ever a ticket that was a ‘high priority’ or ‘work stoppage’ type of a ticket. Everything else the sales rep would have to be looking for proactively.

RB: Why was it that you felt those particular notifications were needed at that particular point?

GL: The reason for that is that we’re largely a land and expand type of a sales model. We will often have a client increase by 200% or 300% within the first six months and it’s largely because they’ll buy our software and then give us a lot of their services. Before we did that, we had a harder time finding those opportunities and recognizing risks to our expansion business.

They would go into a conversation with a client trying to expand them blind and realise there was still an open ticket about the software not working and they’re on a meeting with the CEO and he’s just ready to pound on them. We wanted to make sure they were aware of any potential hot buttons that would come up in a conversation. Then the other side of it was just making them feel part of the ownership of that. Making sure that they didn’t just pass a client off and say, “Hey, it’s not my problem anymore.”

Even though we had someone getting paid to look after them, we still want our sales reps on it because they’re part of the expansion process. We still want them to feel engaged and aware of everything that’s going on even if they’re not the responsible party. That was the first part.

RB: Brilliant. On the other side of that, what visibility were the service team gaining?

GL: They had the visibility before but connecting the two really honed it in, where they were a little bit more involved in Salesforce and could access information without asking the sales team.

Before that, we were passing the service team basic product knowledge such as, “I just sold this client” via email. But a sales rep might forget to also say, “Oh, by the way, I also sold on this upgraded package” in the email. So having our services team more involved in Salesforce made us a little bit less prone to error because there were more eyes on the process. The big thing, though, that it did, is it called out a very big gap in our process.

When we connected the two and started talking about the customer journey, we realised a big gap in who was deemed responsible for the client.  Sometimes the sales team thought that the services team was owning the relationship and sometimes they thought they were owning the relationship.  That led to confusion and mismanagement of some clients.

The problem with this was that we lacked the ability to be customer advocates, to consult with them on different products or services that could help their business. We had two teams that were trying to play support roles rather than one that really owns the process, and things were just falling through the cracks.

By creating the process, we were able to assign ownership over every stage of the customer journey and create a better handoff and customer experience, which is ultimately what it’s all about.

RB: That’s really good, thanks for sharing that. Are you saying then that what happened after this new process was the salespeople would take their client a bit further and then pass it, or were they always the owner after that point?

GL: We went back and forth on this, but we actually decided to keep the sales rep as the quarterback. In the future, as we grow, we may hire specifically for that position and have an account manager. Now, our client success team is more of a support team. They’re making sure project management and tickets get filed. They are making sure the client is taken care of within the scope of the client management strategy that is set forth by the account executive.

We thought let’s keep the sales rep as the quarterback and make sure that they own the process from start to finish, but the client services team will come in and they’ll be the main point of contact for any issues and bugs. Really, it was kind of paving away for the sales rep to say, “Okay. I just need to stay in contact with these people.” We’ve got senior and junior reps and they divide it based on territories and make sure that we’re focused, not only on new business but also on taking care of those clients that we already have and making sure that they’re happy and ready to expand and use more of our services.

RB: Fantastic. I know the salespeople now have ownership, but I’m also interested in the introduction or passing of an account in some form or another to the services team to look after. Are there any specific processes that happened that moment or anything that you’ve done there which is interesting?

GL: Yes. We created an entire onboarding process that walks through the handoff. From the point of sales, before something is closed in Salesforce there’s already been activity in the region. We have a west client success region, a west sales region, a west support team etc. Based on who the sales rep is, we know who the client success team and the support team is going to be. As soon as the deal gets closed in Salesforce, we’ll send an automated email out to the entire team that will be handling that account and let them know all the details of the account, who sold it, and what the contract link is. Then, it will also send another email out for an internal collaboration call with those teams.

That’s when the sales team and our internal support and services team get on a call, and they map out the plan for that account. This is how we’re going to do this. This is their biggest concern. This is a concern but not as prevalent. The sales rep downloads all of their proprietary knowledge through the sales process, makes sure it’s documented somewhere, and then they map out a suggested timeline and process for implementation. They have that kind of all penciled in, then we schedule an external kickoff call with all of the players from the client team.

RB: That’s fantastic. I really like that. Let’s talk more about people and processes. Obviously, one doesn’t work without the other. How do you manage a change in process and what do you do to get everyone onboard?

GL: That’s a really good question. What I found here at Lingotek is when people are just told about a new process they have to follow, that’s usually when they don’t like it. But as they are part of the creation process, they have the input and they become more of an owner of that process rather than a cog in a wheel.

I have a weekly meeting with every head of department – partners, the services, sales, finance, everyone is a part of this meeting. It’s a very quick meeting but any initiative that we have is basically presented at that meeting and then taken back to the teams for presentation.

If I say, “Hey, we want to change the onboarding process”, we need to create a process that fits everybody’s needs. So the services team, who is largely part of that onboarding process, goes back and they come up with their ideas and then the sales team offers their ideas and their ideal situation etc.

The idea is that we want everybody to feel some ownership of the process so that when the process is implemented you can be satisfied that you’ve had a chance to provide input. At Qualtrics, we had a couple of business principles that we followed. One of them was Disagree and Commit. I want disagreement in strategy meetings. I want people to fight back against ideas that we have because they’re invested at that point but then when we leave the room with the process in place, the commitment is that everybody is committed to that process. If you can have that then you can have a really healthy environment to say, “Hey I don’t agree with this. I think we should do it this way”, but then at the end of the day, it’s the company as a whole and if the group as a whole decides this is the best route and it’s not your route, you still commit to it.

It’s not just a token to make someone feel good but there is a conscious awareness of making sure that we’re not just completely disregarding an entire department’s opinion. When we were looking for products for the services team to manage their tickets and everything, I preferred Salesforce service cloud. It’s already integrated into Salesforce. It’s very seamless. I had used it in the past. Our sales team likes that better. Everyone likes that better except for the services team. Everything lined up except for the people that were actually going to use it.

They said, “We can use it but we might prefer Zendesk instead.” Their opinion carried a lot more weight in that discussion. We then took a step back and instead of trying to determine which one was better, I asked if it was possible for us to get the same outcome by using Zendesk even though we think Service cloud might be the better option and it was. It took a little bit more integration but we trusted the services team because they’re the ones using it every day.

They liked it and we still got the same outcome in Salesforce. It’s not that you just throw one in for the team but you are aware of that in the conversation. The worst thing you can do is ask for someone’s input and opinion and then not consider it, just totally disregard it because then you will never get feedback or honest input from them ever again if they feel like their voice isn’t heard.

RB: While we stay on the subjects of people, let’s take senior leadership. I imagine you get a mixture of ad-hoc requests from senior leadership because they want visibility of a certain thing or a new report. It might just be the fact that they thought of it on the day and then next week they’ll have forgotten about it. In those scenarios, what is the best setup for them to diminish those requests but then also allows you to handle the requests when they come in?

GL: That’s a tricky one. I think there are different levels to that answer. I work really proactively with our executive team and am involved in preparing for their board meeting discussions. I want to know what they’ve asked. What are you wanting to present? What picture do you want to present to the board? If they have a question that they couldn’t answer at last board meeting, I’ll dive in and start collecting that data.

For them, I’m creating based on a high-level strategy and trying to be proactive to avoid those one-off requests like, “Hey, give me a report of all of our new customers”. I try to get ahead of that as much as I can but typically if they ask for it, it’s something that I’ll go and create for them.

From the sales side, I met with everybody individually, taking all their input again. Again, it’s the process of taking everybody’s input and then setting the expectations.

We ended up with one dashboard in Salesforce, with those meetings informing me what is an absolute necessity, must-have on that dashboard. The dashboard is displayed in our office but then each individual region has the ability to filter down and save it as their own region. That way, we’re all looking at the same numbers and the same reports. Nobody’s ad-hoc creating some random report because they couldn’t find what they needed. Then I made a commitment to review that with them every six months.

We have one sales kickoff for the whole year and then we do a fall sales meeting. In those meetings, we have a session where we talk about current process and systems. I take everybody’s feedback for the last six months and then if there are changes, we implement them there.

RB: Brilliant. How much of your time do you spend proactively analysing data?

GL: Not as much as I’d like. I would say I probably siphon off about 15% to 20% of my time to strategy. The rest of my time is spent more on tactical, actual implementation of those operations.

RB: That’s great. Is there a structure to how you go about looking into analysis which could lead to strategy actions? What’s your process for turning insights into action?

GL: The precursor to that is just being aware and being involved in different departments. I can’t go to every department meeting so it’s about staying in tune with the department leaders and understanding where their pain is.

What’s the hot topic at the moment? What’s not working? What is working? Just being aware of what’s going on in the business operationally. The more aware I am, the more likely I am to have useful ideas.

I’m a morning person, so I plan out my strategy time for early morning. First thing I do when I come in for the day, maybe two or three days a week, is spend time thinking through the process. I reserve that for the mornings because I find that when it gets to 3pm in the afternoon, I’m tanked as far as creative ability.

So those are the times where I’m just hacking away at actually building something that we’ve already thought of.

A big part of my job is to make sure that we are thinking strategically and we are looking to continually improve those processes. But taking time out of the day just to focus on strategy is a definite must for me.

RB: Cool. That’s really good. The next thing is taking that a level deeper. You’re planning out your strategy time and you’re looking at several of these processes that you’ve set up. Let’s say you’re looking at the sales funnel. Are there consistent data points that you’re looking at to spot problems and opportunities to improve and evolve?

GL: Yes, we have an internal document that basically walks through every step of the way, from cold lead to expansion and renewal. We keep track on a monthly basis of our metrics, essentially, how we’re doing as a company. We can see conversion rates on leads to meetings and meetings to revenue, and revenue to re-revenue and increase in sales. There are a lot of points between stage to stage, to stage. It’s this kind of macro information that allows me to see when something isn’t right. So if we’re having a problem, converting pipeline into sales, all of a sudden our close rate falls to 20% over a quarter.

Then that’s when I can do a deeper dive and look at the micro-level and say, “Okay, if I see any trends, why are we losing the deals? We keep track of close-loss reviews. Is there a trend in those? Yes, okay, our product is slipping” or “Hey, we implemented some pricing changes, and they’re not working well.” So I try to have that macro view, to identify the problem and then dive in a little bit further when there’s specific things that poke their head out. I don’t always see them before proactively, sometimes we’re reactive, but as much as I can I try to keep track of it.

The big thing there is not to have too many. You have a set of KPIs that is manageable. Because if you get too many, then there’s going to be seven fires at once that you’ve got to put out and you’re never going to put any of them out. So I try to keep it at maybe five metrics that I’m looking at.

RB: There’s one more topic I wanted to talk to you about, which is how do you measure success in sales ops or rev ops?

GL: I always bring it back to people – employees, the executive team, and customers. The processes that we create should make their lives easier. The problem there is that might be a subjective measurement.

So there’s got to be some quantitative measurements in there too. But if you step back, and you look at sales, nobody cares how many phone calls you make, how many emails you send, how many hours you worked, as long as you hit your number. That’s the glory of being in sales. If you produce, most people don’t really care how you produced, as long as it’s ethical. That’s the bottom line. For me, the bottom line in sales and revenue operations is creating better lives for the people that are involved. Customers, employees, everyone. Making sure that they are happier with what they’re doing and with the way they have to interact with us.

Now, the phone calls and emails of the situation are the objective measurements. That’s, “Hey, how much time did I save our services worker in a month?” “How many processes did we eliminate for our project management team, in order to get the same outcome?” Now the lag measure is that happiness affecting the people. The actual enjoyment of what you’re doing, but the objective side is the actual process. That’s why I go back to process and people.

For example, with our project management team, just about two months ago I found out that they’re tracking every one of their projects in an Excel file.  Then when the project manager goes out of town, all the sudden our customers have no idea what’s going on with their projects. The sales team has no idea. There’s a lot of people pain. So we implemented a process to move them over into Salesforce. The project manager is still inputting the same amount of data and they’re still interacting the same way, but now they don’t have to worry about taking a day off, because their clients will still have visibility. The process created a better experience for the people and that’s the end goal for me. That’s when I feel like I’m successful as a revenue ops leader, because we’ve created a process that’s made people’s lives better or easier.

RB: That’s a really nice way to wrap up the interview because it’s been very people oriented. Thank you very much for sharing all of that.

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