Interview with Katyusca Barth, Head of Sales Operations at SS&C Intralinks

9 min read

My interview with Katyusca was in-depth, and packed with the most up-to-date advice on managing sales operations. Although very modern in her approach, I found that Katyusca had originally joined the industry at just 16 years old, and her years of expertise spanned all the way back to her youth. After all these years, however, her work-ethic has far from waned, and I was soon to discover how seriously she takes educating and supporting her sales team as much as she possibly can. After explaining a little bit about herself, the interview began…

Rory: Hi Katyusca! Pleasure to catch up with you.

Perhaps you could tell me a little bit about yourself, your career and how you got into sales ops?

Katyusca: Sure! Where I’m from – Brazil – we start working quite early, and so I got my first job in sales ops at 16/17 I believe. I started out working for a telecom as a telemarketing person. That was my first exposure to it. It was a really long time ago, and I really enjoyed it – it was my first proper job. We were a very small office focused on SMEs, and at some point, our supervisor left. So, I got involved in doing reports, investigating how our sales teams are doing, and more stuff like that.

That was when I decided to move to Sao Paulo and I started working for DHL Express. I’m going to jump the fact that I was packing boxes in this freight center and go straight to the part where I became an inside salesperson! We had this sales director who just invited me…he said, “I think you’d be really good in our sales development department.” That was what we called sales operations in those days. So, I got stuck in, the CRM admin left, and I had to figure out Siebel on my own. It was pretty fun.

Rory: Awesome. Thank you very much for that. The next question is to get a feel for the more recent projects that you’ve been working on. I’ll hand it over to you…

Katyusca: Well, it was last October (2018) that I assumed the sales operations department for EMEA at Intralinks. Since then, I’ve been focusing doing some foundational work to improve our data quality. This has consisted largely of building processes and making changes within the CRM that will make the tool better for the sales reps.

By having a better process for data input, we’re going to have better data at the end of the quarter, so we can make smarter and better-informed decisions. We are a quite complex universe of sales cycles, and there are different cycles within our team. Also, we have a transactional model, which means the sales cycle can last from three hours to three months. So, we need processes can accommodate that.

Rory: Great! I think that’s a fantastic place to start. Perhaps we could start from the top. When you first moved into the role, what was the landscape and how did you know that foundational work needed to be done in the first place?

Katyusca: I’ve had a very close relationship with our sales teams for a long time. I went to this meeting with a bunch of sales leaders and it was announced that I was getting this role. I remember getting out of that meeting with a list of ten things I needed to do straight away. They knew me and knew that I understood what they expected from me.

One of the main areas that I’ve been working on is lead management, that initial starting of the relationship with the client and the sales cycle. We have multiple ways that leads can be inputted to ensure that the right people are getting that information so the lead can be assigned to the correct territory. 

The way I see the fluidity of the sales cycle, all of it is connected. You need clear territory definitions so you can have clear lead assignment. If the territories are not very well defined, it’s going to be really challenging to assign your leads properly.

Due to the velocity of the sales cycle and because clients can contact us in a lot of ways, the sales team wants to be responsive – so they call the client right away.

We need to make sure that they are going back and actioning on that lead, so we don’t lose trail: How did that lead come to us in the first place? It’s about making sure that you have clear territory definition so the assignment rules can make sense. We make sure that those rules are correct, they are working, and all the criteria that needs to be set in the system is done correctly. Then there is an educational aspect to adhere to, which is basically making sure that the sales team knows what to do.

I’m also trying to drive adoption of the Salesforce app, because I don’t think that there is a single salesperson that actually enjoys a CRM. They prefer to talk with clients, so we need to make it as seamless as possible for them to do that. I feel that driving the app adoption will help improve that. With this app, they can accept a lead on the go, and they don’t have to be in front of a computer.

Rory: Brilliant. Thank you for that. Looking at what you said about establishing clear territories, maybe you could share some of the data points or some of the structures that you’ve used. I imagine many people must struggle with this.

Katyusca: As we know, it depends on the industry, the size of your sales force, and how you go to market. There’s a lot of pre-work before you can say, “Okay, this is how this territory is going to be defined.” It needs to relate to your go-to-market plan, your business strategy, and identify what you want to grow and what you want to maintain. To me, establishing a territory starts when you define these things and say: this is where we need coverage, this is where we need to grow, and this is how. You also want to consider your target client.

Headcount conversations are also important, because you want to make sure that the territories have enough business for the rep to succeed. Furthermore, there is obviously a geographical and language coverage zone to focus on. You want to make sure that your rep can talk to the clients that they are operating in. So, in total, there is location, the type of client, and the addressable market. To me, those are the three important defining criteria for defining territory.

Then there are some nuances between whether this territory going to be focused on specific tier-one accounts or tier-two accounts? It’s a slightly larger territory so it needs a little bit more velocity. That would be the second level. To me, the important bit on territory definition, is that it needs to speak to the market that you’re trying to operate in and trying to win. Sometimes you put the sales reps in a territory that there’s only so much they can get from. You need to be mindful of that because if you aren’t careful, you will create demotivation. The rep is going to be frustrated. It needs to have a cadence and a velocity of sale as well.

Rory: Brilliant. How would you ensure that a territory is fair? That sounds like quite a difficult thing to do so I’m sure it’s not foolproof, but what sort of things have you done?

Katyusca: We have historical data that enables us to estimate what the potential is of each territory. We investigate this data, then once I’ve done that, I will connect that data with the addressable market. We use different sources of external data to assess: How much can we realistically grow? What is our market share on that territory? Can we grow at all?

Sometimes, it’s establishing the expectation that this is a smaller market, but we want to be in it. We want to be the first ones to win it. I’m going to put someone in there that’s comfortable working a greenfield kind of territory and doing that small work of winning every deal or just even advocating clients that might not even be familiar with our products at all. You need to find the right profile for that kind of territory. Just be fair with your team and set expectations correctly with the sales rep, so there’s no frustration.

Rory: Brilliant. A couple of things. Let’s say you’ve set up all these different territories. How do the territories and the marketing activities link so that you get some sort of even distribution of leads for each territory as well? Is that possible or how does that work?

Katyusca: That’s a good question. There’s definitely room for improvement there. I think there is a direction that the field marketing team will eventually consolidate with sales, which should give us a little bit more of a cohesive approach to the market. I think there is an element of coordination that needs to happen between the sales leaders and the marketing leaders to make sure that those areas are being covered.

I don’t think it will ever be fair. It’s unrealistic to expect that someone who’s covering smaller countries with less volume in M&A activity to have the same level of leads that serve a market like the UK or Germany. It’s always going to be proportionate to the market that we’re in, and the level of activity. I guess that again comes back to setting the right expectation, and these different markets need different strategies and to accommodate for them.

Rory: Great. Thank you. You then talked about the educational element, which is presumably based in the enablement parts of this process. Again, what sort of things have you done there that have worked?

Katyusca: I was a salesperson myself, so I try to talk the same language and input my own expertise into this process. We do have a sales enablement team, but they have a lot on their plate with corporate training and sales methodology etc.

We don’t expect our sales team to be extremely tech-savvy salespeople. Very few of them will be comfortable with complicated processes and loads of reports and analytics, but the vast majority of them are not. To combat this, I like having honest conversations with the team or taking the time to clarify very robust kinds of information and making it three points, saying, “This is what you need to pay attention to.”

I also participate in the sales meetings. When I’m going to the QBRs, I challenge the team as well, which is, I think, part of the role. It is not with the intention of putting them in the spotlight, it’s just getting that operational mindset going. For instance, if I go to a QBR and someone is telling me, “I’m losing opportunities because of this.” I go in, I look into their pipeline, and I see the reasons why they were losing, and I think that doesn’t necessarily match, I’m going to call them out on it.

It’s a positive way of challenging them to include data that connects with the business and how they are presenting. It’s just like getting them to see the advantage that they don’t necessarily enjoy as an intrinsic part of their business and how we are reporting on the business. If they don’t see the value of it, they will not do it. It’s just like really selling it to them. I’m a salesperson myself and I try to sell the processes to the salespeople. That’s what I do.

Rory: Superb. I think lastly, I want to talk about this data entry. The first question on that is, how do you decide which bits of data do you want to capture? How does that process work?

Katyusca: That’s a good one. In my role for EMEA, we are a global organization. Most overall processes are defined globally, and another challenge of the job as well is that we have global processes that need to be adept to each market that we are in. So, with EMEA being a very complex region, sometimes we need to make some compromises that resonate with our markets here. I try to influence the global processes as much as I can.  I think as you go, you learn, “Okay, we can sacrifice that.” It’s okay if you don’t have it because we can find that information somewhere else.

Currently, in EMEA we have a count of over 30,000 account records, so it’s a gigantic database. We try to get them focused on the relationship. The input that they have must be very unique to their relationship with the clients, and then use technology to fill the gap for the other things that we don’t expect them to do.We elaborate some API and some technology or data sources that are available to try to make sure that the data is accurate – they’re always going to need some adjustment – but at least you have some level of confidence that the information there is accurate,

Rory: Fantastic. Thank you for that, Katy. The last question is a little bit more of a broader theme and I’ve been asking a lot of people about this, because I think it’s a very interesting topic. What does success look like for a sales operations team or person or department?

Katyusca: I feel that sales has its own set of metrics that we should measure ourselves with. If I have a team that is trustworthy in terms of the information that we are provide, that’s a metric of success for us.

If they’re making business decisions based on the information that we are providing, and the recommendations that we’re providing to them, that’s a metric of success for us. If we’re using business intelligence, we can drive more revenue by using projections or thinking differently about the business, that’s a metric of success for sales operations to me.

It’s really burdened within the sales organization, you trust your sales leaders to manage the team, and you should trust your sales operations team to see trends, to look into the data and say, “Hey, maybe we should think about this.” For this to happen, you need to understand what’s going on with the business.

We’re in the era where there’s so much information. There’s so much data available. You can spend your entire day doing reports and looking to databases, and you can produce a lot of information. The relevance of that information is what’s going to make it successful or not, because not all analysis is going to drive something that is meaningful. You need to really get to grips with what’s going on inside the business to be able to produce data, information, and intelligence that will be relevant, that will be useful, and that will drive the business really. To me, those are important metrics for any sales operations organization.

Rory: I like that a lot, excellent answer. Thank you so much for your words Katyusca!

Katyusca: Anytime. Thanks for having me!

N.B. This interview was recorded in July 2019, prior to Katyusca assuming the role: Head of Sales Operations at SS&C Intralinks

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