Having stumbled into the Sales Ops world from Technical Computer Training, Franco Anzini has a plethora of knowledge and experience from his years in various roles and companies, spanning from Canada to California. I was lucky enough to catch up with him and pick his brain about his journey, and learn a bit about how he has managed the tricky task of aligning Sales and Marketing at Malwarebytes.
Rory Brown (RB): Thank you so much for joining me today Franco. What would be a good start is to find out who is Franco Anzini, how did you meander your way into sales operations?
Franco Anzini (FA): It’s an interesting story, because when I went to university, I was all ready to go to medical school and become a physician. After my third year of pre-med, we started cutting things open and that didn’t work so well for me. Three years in and you figure let’s stop this pre-med business and see what happens, so finished a very technical university degree, and then fell headfirst into the world of Technical Computer Training.
At the time, it was Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer training and so on. I went to work for a technical training company, doing both training, but also back-office and systems-related stuff. I got exposed to databases and CRM systems, we’re talking, goldmine, sales logics, these were all the old on-premise tools. Fast-forward from there, after a couple of years of very technical hands-on building CRM, sales applications and tools, went back to business school, got an MBA, and got recruited by a company in Washington DC to build a CRM system, which was very specific to the banking services industry in the United States.
I did that for a while until I got recruited to move out to sunny California, which was great. I grew up in Canada and I didn’t like eight months a year of snow and winter and so California was a dream. I worked for one of the titans of Silicon Valley, Borland Software, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore, and was still doing various technical systems CRM development. The problem that turned into a blessing of Borland was that they didn’t know what chain to put me on. They said, in true sales ops form, “We’ll just put you in sales ops,” because sales ops was always the big pile of stuff that’s very random that nobody wants to own.
I ended up in sales operations on the technical side, but very quickly got exposed to what we would call the proper sales operations function, so things around revenue forecasting and sales enablement and training and analytics and reporting. That’s really where things started. Then over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have sales operations roles in a variety of industries, everything from pure software, the old perpetual model at Borland.
I spent some time at Aruba Networks where it was a combination of hardware-software. We had to deal with demand forecasting and contract manufacturers in Asia and all of that. This was right around the time, come early-mid-2000s where the cloud was taking off. Salesforce.com burst upon the scene and everyone said, “We’re all moving to the cloud.” I got a chance to work with some cloud companies and was quite successful there in terms of company outcome.
I worked for a company in the CPQ space called BigMachines, which was a very early pioneer in CPQ, and they got acquired by Oracle, and then spent a good chunk of time at another SAS company. I was there for six years. I was employee, I don’t know, 48 or something like that. We took it all the way to an IPO. We were public for two years, and then a private equity fund acquired us, so a good exit there.
About a year and a half ago I came here to Malwarebytes where again, we want to be a subscription company. We’re moving in that direction, but we’re also moving away from some of the old legacy way of doing things. I guess the moral of the story is that in all the stops I’ve made, sales ops and here at Malwarebytes, it’s more of a revenue operations function because it’s sales, marketing and customer success.
It’s all been very transformational type roles where the company was either scaling or changing their business model or had a very unique business model that needed to be ramped up and adjusted. It’s always been a matter of driving efficiencies, both internally in the back office and through systems and processes, but also just scaling the sales function and eliminating friction wherever you can. That’s the long and the short of it.
RB: Great. Well, let’s start with Sales and Marketing alignment, and how Malwarebytes came to them being aligned. What was life like before, what did you decide to do, and what process did you implement? How is life starting to change now? Maybe if you give me a bit of context as to where you were, that’d be brilliant.
FA: The context is that sales and marketing were very separate organisations. We were working very much as a traditional company would, where there is an overarching company goal and then sales takes that goal and they manifest it through all of their systems and their planning and their forecast process. Marketing does the exact same thing and they take it and manifest it through their planning models and their demand gen models and their spend and staffing.
There’s never any reconciliation between the two. That’s always the missing part; that it needs to tied together in some way shape or form. It’s interesting because people tend to want to tie it together at a very granular level. That’s absolutely the wrong place to start. You have to start at the very top, where what’s the company trying to achieve and at a very high level, and then how is sales going to help achieve that? How is marketing going to try and achieve that at a very high level? At that high level, that’s where the connection needs to be made, because the deeper you get down the planning and systems and process cycles, the more sales has to do things their way. Marketing has to do things their way. There’s this natural segmentation that happens. People get very tied up in trying to tie together that very granular function. It’s really, really difficult to do because sales and marketing are so fundamentally different.
RB: Great. You start high level, and what does that mean when you say bringing everyone together at a high level, what does that look like? Is it about aligning goals, is it about getting people in a room. Where’d you start?
FA: The place to start is the metrics. The metrics is the way that both sides of the business are going to evaluate themselves. Super important to start with one source of the truth.
People have to know why we’re doing what we’re doing. This is where the audience becomes very important, because there are things that marketing does that sales don’t care about. Then there are things that happen on the sales side that marketing doesn’t really care about. But at the end of the day we’re all selling the same thing. So you need to be very aware of the audience.
What I mean by that is every company has a revenue projection, or a bookings number, and that’s the high level, that’s what everyone’s aiming at. Everyone nods their heads and goes, “Yes, we’re there.” The people who really influence that booking or revenue number are the sales team, because that’s how sales get measured. It’s bookings, it’s revenues, it’s pullings, and it’s invoices. Marketing is further down where they’re talking about website visits, and page impressions, and marketing qualified leads and things of that sort where it’s so far removed from that top line goal that you need to find a common place where both teams can anchor, and that commonplace more and more seems to be pipeline.
If sales is not hitting their number, they’re immediately going to say, “Well, I don’t have enough pipeline,” to which marketing people traditionally will say, “Well, look at all the page impressions we have, all the visits to the website, look at all the marketing qualified leads,” and sales doesn’t care about marketing, qualified leads and page impressions, they care about pipeline, because salespeople can take pipeline and then do what they do and turn that pipeline into bookings, revenue, or whatever it is that you’re measuring.
Pipelines seems to be the common source in that you start with the company and then you move down the stack. That seems to be the last anchor point before you get to that level where it’s too granular, where sales will get into conversion rates, and average sale prices, and cycle times, and all that, which marketing doesn’t care about. Then marketing will get into marketing qualified leads, impressions, contacts, nurture leads, etc.
Pipeline is that thing everyone seems to anchor around. We’ve had some good success there, in terms of making sure everyone understands what is pipeline, how we generate it, and how we’re going to measure pipeline, moving forward. This is where things like the sales process come into play, where whether you’ve got a four or five, six stage sales process, people say, “Stage one isn’t really pipeline. It’s really stage two,” or some people say it’s a stage zero. Let’s anchor around that. What is pipeline? Because that’s the thing that we got to measure, right?
FA: We’ve already started to see some good success in anchoring around that. Everyone gets pipeline. It’s well defined. We know how we measure it, and everyone’s contributing to that pipeline number. Then moves up the stack from there. One source of the truth is what gets tossed around. It’s actually just one source of data that everyone can relate to, because there’s many sources of truth. Marketing says, “We have 1,000 website visits a day.” That’s a source of truth, but not everyone can relate to that.
RB: One source of data, which is the truth for both departments.
RB: You’ve probably got two schools. When you first had the meeting, I imagine, “We think pipeline is X.” Then other team says, “We think pipeline is X.” How did you get them to agree on that? How did you make that stick as well? How’d you make it visible?
FA: Agreement is one point and everyone can agree on definitions. Making it visible is what really gels the teams together and makes them act as one. You’ve got one source of the truth, one source of data or whatever you want to call it, but it has to be visible. That’s where we had sales analytics happening on the sales side. We also had marketing analytics happening on the marketing side.
Funnily enough, all the data was coming from the same place, but it was just being interpreted and displayed in different areas. Sales would say, “This is what Domo says.” Marketing would say, “This is what Tableau says.” Let’s start there, one tool, whether it’s your CRM tool or a BI tool, or what have you, one tool with a standard metric that both parties agree on. That’s the source of truth. Easier said than done.
But the way you get that done is, when you’re talking about pipeline in this case, that tool becomes the only thing that you look at. People have this saying in sales ops where, “If it’s not in Salesforce, it doesn’t exist.” This is the flip of that, which is, this is the place you look for pipeline. “I have my own pipeline report,”; doesn’t matter anymore. We don’t look at that. We don’t pay attention to it. This is the one you look at. This is the source of truth that we’re all going to move off of.
FA: It’s the one place to go. Then I think the cadence is important as well. You need to reinforce that one source of truth by always referring to it, whether it’s a weekly sales and marketing staff meeting, or your weekly sales and marketing operations staff meeting, or your weekly executive meetings. People just have to get into that habit and build that muscle to know, when we’re talking about pipeline, this is what we look at.
RB: I really like that. It’s starting with where you look, which is quite a unique perspective, actually. How did you find getting people to adopt that and stay away from “I have my own pipeline report”? You said you just don’t look at it, but presumably, there’s more to it than that.
FA: That’s exactly right. People will default to what’s comfortable to them in any scenario in life or business. So I think it’s making people comfortable with it. There’s a lot of training and enablement that goes into it. There’s a lot of communication around it to let people know that it’s being looked at; the metric. When the metric is getting moved the right way, I think it’s a collective congratulatory type of tone, where we’re all moving together as a team.
When the metric is not moving the right way, again it’s collective to say the metric is not moving the right way. It is incumbent upon all of us to figure out why and to get it moving the right way. You can’t divest and say, “Well, it’s moving the wrong way. Let’s go look at leads on the website.” It’s not moving the right way, let’s talk about it holistically and bring in the subject matter experts to start to dissect the problem.
RB: Fantastic. You get everyone on the same page, you get everyone looking in the same place, mechanically when the data starts to flow through it, everyone starts to work and do they go back to doing their thing? How did you ensure that it sticks and pipeline the way that people view it and the way that people quantify or the way that people describe it remains as you intended, and people don’t just go back to what was before?
FA: There’s a couple ways to do it. The thing that drives stickiness is keeping it simple. You don’t want to complicate it unnecessarily. There is also this notion that you have to weave through about credibility and trust to the metrics. People start digging into it and people are going to be like, “well, I don’t believe that.” “Well, hang on a second, we all agreed on this and we defined it and we know exactly what’s going into that number, that metric, that KPI.” Let’s not forget that we’re trusting in these numbers and it’s something we’ve all agreed to. We agreed on the metrics and we’re building that credibility and the trust. A lot of it has to do around that.
Something else which has been really key for us is to not lose sight of the fact that people have to go on and do their own thing, so the marketing ops people are going to go back to doing marketing ops stuff and they’re going to nurture leads, and they’re going to get people to go to the website and fill out forms and all that.
I think it’s important in those sub teams to maintain a focus on the bigger goal. We’ve increased website views, or we we’ve increased the size of our database that we’re nurturing to. Great. That is all very good tactical stuff. How does it tie back to the strategic goal of pipeline? Let’s talk about how those convert. We’ve added more visits to the website. Great. What’s the conversion rate of website visits to pipeline, and are we seeing the same conversion rate?
The conversion rates going up, going down, whatever they’re doing, but tie it back to, okay, that’s good, tactically that’s good, but how is it tying back to pipeline? Same thing on the sales side of the house, where you have to tie it back to say, we know what our numbers are. We know what our metrics are. We’re going to go do our thing. Very similar of, well, our average deal size is going up, or our cycle times are going up.
How does that relate to pipeline? If we’re moving things faster through the process, or we’re turning them into larger transactions, how does that affect our pipeline? Do we need more of it? Do we need less of it? Where do we need it? Always have that tie so that people, again, are anchoring on that common source of truth, if you want to call it that.
RB: Brilliant. Really, that’s smart. What I’m interested in as well, I was talking about this moment where a lead or a contact, depending on how you use Salesforce, it goes from a digital nurture to a human, that moment where it passes. What things have you found there that work, getting people to do at the right time, is there other SLAs and other- beyond dashboards, or how have you done all that side of things?
FA: This is where process meets definition, where we know that pipeline is X, and we know what the definition of pipeline is. We now have a nurtured lead, a contact to your point, however you use your marketing automation system, but we know what that definition is, does what’s happening over here match that definition? If so, we’re all on the same page, right? It’s defined as the criteria we gave them and it’s now part of the process. There’s a lot of ways to do that, right? Whether you’re taking a pipeline qualification approach around basic BANT, or something as basic as a confirmed meeting, right? Where, back to the pipeline stages that we’re talking about, if we get a confirmed meeting with a prospect, regardless of how they came in, then that’s an initial interest that now we have to go convert into a solid pipeline or stage two pipeline or stage one, whatever you have. But I think it’s all about mapping to the definition that you agreed upon in the first place, because that’s what’s going to ultimately be the catalyst for the entire process and things moving through the process.
RB: Awesome. Come on to a slightly different topic, but actually, it nicely can link to this project that you’re talking about. That is around how we measure or define what success is for sales operations person or sales operations function or team, or even around a specific project, like we’re talking about right now. What things did you have in mind at that beginning, maybe a baseline, and that you’re going to monitor that might go north as you go through this transition? How did you go about that?
FA: Good question. We’re still working through some of the finer points of that because we’re very early in our journey, but I think having people recognise and adopt the one source of truth is very big. I think more so than having people adopt it and buy-in, it’s having people evangelise it, because once you get sales and marketing on the same page, you’ve got other places in the organisation that are always poking around here, right? Finance, or customer success, or support.
I think when you get to the point that the sales and marketing groups are evangelising to these other teams to say, “Oh, if you want to look at a pipeline, look here,” or whatever your metric is, right? That’s when you know that everyone’s bought in and it’s taken a toll. I think in terms of some of the things that we fought through about what’s going to define success here, I think ultimately hitting the agreed to high-level pipeline coverage goals. When sales marketing sit down, company number is X, and you say, “Well, we need four, five X, six X,” whatever pipeline coverage is. Marketing activities are going to produce X percentage of that. Sales will produce the rest. Let’s all map to that. It’s all part of: this is the number we’re going after. Now, everyone go do what you need to do.
I think it always comes back to the metrics that you’re mapping to and achieving those, but I think there’s also something to be said for the underlying process efficiencies that get realised, because everyone is mapping to the same numbers, and we’ve got buy-in in there, something interesting starts to happen in the engine room, so to speak, right? Where the points of friction in the process that had previously been there for whatever reason, may no longer be valid. It becomes incumbent upon the sales and marketing and the revenue operations function to start to really remove friction points that no longer matter, right? Whether it be something like a mandatory field somewhere along the pipeline journey or something that needs to happen on the marketing, qualified lead side of the house, but you find that some of the stuff just doesn’t matter anymore.
You gain some efficiency there. I think where you see those efficiencies is always with the end-users, where they’re either able to do something in less clicks or they’re able to offload some administrative function or maybe get better data that is now flowing through the system. There are a couple of areas you can poke at. In our particular situation I think its visibility to the data, which has played a big point because people were looking at all kinds of different metrics.
We standardised the, “Here’s what we’re going to look at,” and that started to flow down to the teams. We hear people all speaking the same language, so to speak, that means we’ve got it. People are getting it. The enablement piece is huge as well. This collaboration isn’t something that you just can come up with, throw it out there and expect it to stick. It needs to be reinforced. Sales and marketing folks, they’re largely creatures of habit. You need to help them build that muscle and the muscle memory so that they can change the way they do things and the way they think of it.
RB: What is it they say, it 60 days for a habit? Then maybe in the wider context as well, this is a question I’ve been asking about and I think it’s a fascinating topic. I’d love to get everyone’s ideas. What is success for a sales operations function? Let’s say you come to your QBR or your end of year and you say, “Right, sales ops team missed the sales ops,” or whatever. Talk me through your contribution or talk me through the successes you’ve had.
The second point to that question is, do you find that is asked of you or do you find that you’re left to just go and do all the things that need to be done? How does that work for you? What’s been your experience?
FA: I think it varies. The reason it varies is because sales operations means different things to different people in different industries, in different companies, in different stages of growth. I think when you’re in a much more earlier stage of growth in a fast company, let’s say, sales operations is the catchall. It becomes really hard to quantify because there’s so much that sales ops is doing with the sales process or in the engine room with the systems and system integration.
The back office stuff and just processing orders and working with finance, and just making sure the trains are staying on the tracks and arriving on time. At that level, it’s difficult to do and the success of sales operations is just measured in a level of noise in the system. If there is a lot of noise out there, then sales ops probably isn’t doing all they can do to get friction out of the process.
By and large, if people are getting the systems, they’re being trained, they’re being enabled, they’re using the tools at their disposal in an efficient manner, then I think everyone looks and goes, “Yes, good job, sales ops.” The orders are getting booked. If that’s part of the function, then that’s good. At a larger company scale, one that maybe is still scaling, but is not in startup mode or something to that effect I think there’s really a couple of things that you look to for sales ops and that starts to get into the world of forecasting and managing the business. Being able to use metrics and the data in the system and tools to accurately forecast and predict the business as a whole, but also the pieces of the business. Whether it’s new business versus renewals versus retention rates or what have you.
There’s this notion of intelligence, and I think that is more and more of the way that sales operations teams are being evaluated, is how close are you getting on your predictive capabilities? It’s a really interesting way to look at it, because sales ops has access to all the data in the company usually. Access to the data, step one, a lot of people just don’t have that, but then we understand the nuance of an organisation and the nuance of the way things happen in the business. The rhythm of the business.
Those two put together become pretty powerful. Where now you’re starting to be able to build predictive modelling around, again, forecasting or rep productivity or head count and ramp times or whatever the case is, but sales ops becomes this source of truth for the organisation. I think that’s more and more what people are getting measured upon.
If sales ops is able to predict the forecast at some point in the future; when you get to that point, you’re going to look back and say, “How close were we?” That becomes more of a tactical way to do it. Something much more strategic is something like headcount planning, where you’re scaling as an organisation and sales ops is building the model to say, “Okay, well, here’s how many people we need, and here’s when we need them.” And then watching that model play out to get to the end and say, “Okay, did we hire people when we needed them? Did they ramp when they should have or they as productive they should have?” The evaluation is very retrospective in some cases, but I think that’s, by and large, the two ends of the spectrum that people look at sales ops and determine, “Yes, okay, functional and successful.”
RB: Awesome. I think the point you make about, you’re right, it’s always retrospective. We are at this stage, we did some processes, this is now where we’re at, and what’s the difference? It depends on the projects that you’re working. As you say, the stage of the business and all that stuff.
FA: Yes. It’s really important to point out because I know just from experience and having managed pretty big sales ops teams, sometimes sales ops really get dejected because the business is moving well on the whole, but people don’t always recognise or appreciate what’s happening behind the scenes to keep the trains running on the right tracks and on time. People just take it for granted.
I think that’s another place where sales ops could be evaluated a little bit better in terms of are we just keeping the lights on, or are we following our SLAs around, getting orders booked or getting our new sales reps ramped up on time, or having regular cadences with sales leaders and running effective QBRs to manage and understand the business. Are we adding sales tools that are helping the business become more balanced, more predictive, more efficient, whatever it is that you’re aiming for?
There’s always plenty of stuff that happens in the back that most people outside of sales ops and sometimes the sales orb, they just don’t know what’s happening. I think that’s always interesting because sales ops invest a lot of people and time into those things that don’t always get the recognition. It’s important to call those out as part of the process to say, “Look, sales ops, we came up with a predictive model and we’re mapping the predictive model, but let’s not forget these 150 other things that we’re doing that people just take for granted.”
RB: Yes. It’s a bit extreme, but someone said to me you can tell a sales ops function is working well when you don’t know they’re there. His point was everything is working so well, everyone’s able to do their job so slick and succinctly, you don’t need to speak to them because it’s great. Maybe a bit extreme but I’m sure you wouldn’t want anyone not to speak to you, you know what I mean?
FA: Yes. Well, I think, again, sales ops means different things to different people. There are certainly some parts of sales ops, and the one that comes to mind is like an order management or order processing function, where sales reps send in the orders, they get processed through the system, they show up in Salesforce, they get paid in commissions, and the wheels keep on turning.
Salespeople say, “Well, I don’t have to talk to anyone, I have a distribution list, I send my order in, it gets taken care of, I don’t even know they’re there.” Parts of the function I can see that, other parts of the function, you’ve got to talk to them and it’s got to be recognised value. The one that comes to mind immediately is Deal Desk, where if you’re in the business of complex transactions, or things of that sort, salespeople are throwing out the life preserver to say, “I need help. How do I even do this?”