I sat down to talk to Monty Fowler, an absolute pro at simplifying the complex world of ops by using three basic principles and the Sales Velocity Equation. For anyone feeling suffocating by the often chaotic world of ops, this is a must-read!
Monty Fowler (MF): I have three guiding principles that I always lead with, whether I’m in an individual contributor role, a sales management role, a sales or revenue operations role, or an enablement role. They seem to work and help inform how we move forward.
The first guiding principle is that sales is a team sport. This wasn’t necessarily the thinking some years ago. Then, it was very much like tennis. Tennis is an individual sport you practice by yourself with a coach. But ultimately, the performance and the reward is all about you. That’s the way most people think about sales, and in my experience, and that’s completely wrong.
Sales is a team sport because when you think about the sales organisation’s function, it’s to bring revenue into the company, right? It’s to create great experiences and connections with your customers and get them to buy your stuff, but ultimately, to drive revenue for the company. That means that you’ve got a body of people that are responsible for that. I don’t care what goal you’re going after in life, whether it’s to make yourself better, raise a family, or get a spaceship in orbit. You do better when you’ve got a great team of people that are all focused on a goal.
I believe in training, working, and celebrating together. That’s the way I always construct and coach teams. It’s not an individual sport. I’m not the kind of person that would have the (sales) bell. I don’t have a leader board up on the wall to remind the under performers how badly they’re doing. I’ve tried to foster the notion that high performers have a responsibility to coach and mentor the medium and low performers to get them on their level. The high performers have a responsibility to their teammates. It’s kind of a biblical principle you call the Barnabas and Paul principle; basically mentorship. The people who are ahead of you in life probably have something they can teach you. If you’re one of those who has some life experience and some knowledge, you have a responsibility to the people behind you in their career to bring them along with you. Therefore, sales organisations need to identify who are the high performers, who are the people that need to be up-skilled and put them together. These are relationships where they can both thrive because the mentor always learns something from the mentee. After all, they get new perspectives. That’s something that I’m finding working at Lob. I’m the oldest person in the company by quite a bit, and I can’t even tell you how much I’ve learned in the last 18 months, being with a group of basically late 20s, early 30s. I’ve learned more over the previous 18 months than I have probably during the last ten years of my career, and that’s because of the people. So my first principle is sales is a team sport.
The second principle is you can only measure what you can move, meaning you can measure many things, but you’re probably wasting your time if you can’t influence the things you’re measuring. That’s where the sales velocity equation really comes in handy. And why I, when I saw it 20 years ago, I felt like this is like the best thing ever. When I saw it in practice and actually started using it for myself, or as I managed teams, and then as they managed organisations and then as a consultant, I could see that when I went into other companies that were struggling with the same things, the transformational power of it is incredible, because you measure four basic, simple things that you can actually influence and move.
So when you think about it, the sales velocity equation is like the gauges in an aircraft’s cockpit. The second part of that principle is to measure what you can move, like a pilot. A pilot only cares about the stuff in the cockpit because anything outside of that they have no ability to influence. So you have to fly with your instruments.
Know what your instruments do and know what influences them, and then be an expert in flying the aircraft of your business.
Lastly, my third principle is just to keep it simple. The sales velocity equation helps with that, as it clears out a lot of clutter that sales operations folks tend to bring to the party. We all love dashboards. We all love reports with fancy graphs and stuff. But at the end of the day, we clutter our minds with a lot of information and data points that this week, this month, this quarter, we can’t influence. So why are we looking at it? It might be interesting from a long-term trending perspective to look at how we do this or that over the last three quarters, as it might help you decide how you’re going to move forward. But right now, today, we’re trying to get to our goals or OKR’s for this month or this quarter. I care about what I can influence today or tomorrow, or next week. Everything else is noise. So that’s it. Measure what you can move and keep it simple.
TW: This is interesting. I was speaking to another sales ops manager, and the way she formed her success was by not making long term plans or goals but always focussing on short term wins. I wonder, where do you place yourself on that spectrum? It sounds like you’re more towards the short term.
MF: Yes, I am actually. Especially today, where we live in a very dynamic business environment, especially in the SAAS space, because we’re technology companies, mainly selling to technology-driven companies, right? These are tech-focused companies; they’re leaning on technology to drive their businesses. The promise of technology was being able to make decisions faster so your businesses can move and react quicker. Well, guess what? That speeds everything up. And it also speeds up the way customers behave. They make decisions faster than they ever have; they buy stuff faster than they ever have. They know more about you and your competitors before you ever talk to them – more than they did ten years ago. You, as a vendor, as a partner, have to be able to keep up with that pace of the sales cycle, or else you’re going to be left behind. You need to keep it simple and move as quickly as you can. More so, having a focus on just the stuff that matters in front of you today is the best way to manage sales producers. Now, you could argue that when you’re running a 500-person organisation, and you’ve got different market segments in different teams in different countries, you might have to take a higher-level view. That’s fine. But for the frontline sales managers for sales operations, people who are responsible for gathering, collecting, analysing, and reporting information that helps make decisions, you have got to go quick.
TW: Fantastic. What we’re talking about here is being nimble and being dexterous. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but from my interpretation, lack of visibility into the pipeline and the revenue function can inhibit this. Now, of course, you’ve got your three guiding principles. I’m sure this built into my question, but how do you gain visibility, so you can be more dexterous and make decisions quickly when they need to?
MF: Let’s go back to our flying the plane metaphor. When you think about the immediacy and the urgency of flying a plane, you have conditions that exist outside the aircraft that you need immediate and accurate information on because it literally will make the difference between whether you turn right turn, correct your pitch, go up or go down, increase your speed, decrease your speed. And sales today, especially in the SAAS environment, is very similar to that. There are market forces and competitive forces, economic forces, and even public health forces or governmental forces that exert pressure on our businesses. This is like the turbulence buffeting an aircraft. You have to clearly see what’s making the airplane go up and down or side to side. I need to be able to analyse and be 100% confident that what my instruments are telling me is true. Then I’ve also got to have the operational excellence to adjust based on that information, correct the situation, or move the aircraft, whichever way I want to go. That’s where we need simple, direct, but reliable information. Having the organisation attuned to; ‘when we see this, we do that, when we see this, we do this’ and having that just baked into their DNA, where you don’t have to get into these long decision cycles, don’t have to get into long conversations about what should we do when we see this. If you keep your set of gauges relatively small, the number of inputs you’re trying to solve for is manageable. Thereby your outcomes are the permutations of what you have to do based on information becomes manageable.
TW: Okay. This is fascinating. Bridging on from this, it sounds like you’re someone who really puts precedent in the metrics and the things you’re measuring much more so than the data, for example. It sounds like you want to keep your metrics simple and agreed upon in the company and the business and organisation. How do we get uniformity and alignment over metrics? How do we start with deciding which ones are important? And then how do we start measuring them?
MF: Yes, this is where the ground-breaking work that Donal Daly and the folks formerly at the TAS Group now Altify did twenty plus years ago when they designed the sales velocity equation. It has proven its value over time. There are very few things that I can point to in the sales methodology world, or the sales thought leadership world, that was true 25 or 30 years ago and are still true today. Regardless of the changing market dynamics and technology and all of that, the sales velocity equation is one of them. Because again, like the dials in the cockpit of an airplane, they haven’t changed over 100 years of flight, because guess what? They’re the most important things. And those things never change. The things that influence those dynamics that you measure never change. Your aircraft going through the sky, it’s never going to change, right? Your position up or down and altitudes are never going to change. It is what it is; you can measure it, and the measure that you come up with today will be the same 100 years from now; the same is true in sales. Four things will always need to be measured for sales. And they’ll always be part of the selling dynamic between sellers and customers. And that’s what the sales velocity equation calculates.
TW: I’m interested in digging into one part of the sales velocity equation. Earlier, we spoke about how quickly sales changes in tech now. Now the velocity equation asks for a consistent and objective qualification framework to identify real opportunities. I wondered what your take on best practice was for a qualification framework?
MF: One of the tenants of the sales velocity equation is the number of deals in your pipeline. But there are decision criteria as to what goes in your pipeline. When I got to the company I’m currently at, we had a messy pipeline. The reason we had a messy pipeline wasn’t that our salespeople didn’t know how to qualify; it was because we didn’t have an agreed-upon set of criteria that once you went through it said, ‘Yes, that’s an opportunity,’ or ‘no, that’s not an opportunity.’ So, as a result, lots of things were getting into the pipeline that never should have been in the pipeline, to begin with.
This has ramifications for all the other measurements that you do about your pipeline. Such as, how long is your sales cycle? What’s your close rate? What’s my average deal size? All of those things depend on the number of opportunities that are in your pipeline. So you must have an agreed-upon set of criteria that are right for your company. And it has to be, I think, a set of criteria agreed-upon between sales and marketing. A lot of times, sales operations or sales leaders leave marketing out of the conversations. What you don’t realise is that the top of your funnel is, in almost every organisation, 100% the responsibility of your marketing partners. And guess what—they’re making decisions right from the top of the funnel about what’s going to come down the funnel to you in the form of a lead, or an SQL, or an opportunity. And if you don’t have the same worldview, the same set of lenses that you’re viewing the customer and their needs through aligned, you’re going to have a real mess on your hands. So many organisations forget that guiding principle and get it wrong. Then they wonder why they struggle with either not enough pipeline, too much bad pipeline, terrible close rates, undervalued ACV; it all starts from what’s an opportunity? And do we all know, and do we all recognise an opportunity when we see one.
TW: To solve this, it might be helpful to understand why this misalignment exists in the first place. And I wonder why you think people are misaligned with sales and marketing.
MF: We all know better. Quite frankly, there’s almost no excuse for sales leadership, marketing leadership, or executive leadership to look the other way when there’s a siloed situation between your sales and marketing organisations, as we know the danger that that poses to our companies.
The problem is people. People like hierarchy, people like their little domain, they like to own things. I’ve worked alongside marketers and sales leaders who don’t want to share, and they don’t play nice with others. They want to be solely responsible for the thing because they want to get all the accolades associated with success in that thing. That doesn’t work anymore. The pace of change in the marketplace, the pace of our businesses, doesn’t allow for silos of any kind in our organisations anymore. We’ve got hosts of tools that help us communicate better, make decisions faster, and remember why we made that decision together. So, sales and marketing have to work together today.
Modern demand generation organisations understand this, and the systems that they use support the foundational notion that marketing has to inform sales. That’s why all your marketing automation software today automatically plugs into Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, or your CRM of choice. Why? Because everybody understands that information flows between marketing and sales are critical to the successful outcomes you’re looking for. If you’re building a new company from scratch, my number one criteria would be to hire a sales leader and hire a marketing leader who has built coordinated systems that are not siloed and are both committed to looking out for each other’s interests. I happen to work alongside a marketing leader who understands that in her bones, in her DNA, and we probably have the healthiest relationship between sales and marketing that I’ve ever seen in my 28 years. I don’t think that’s by accident. It was intentional.
TW: This is great because this links to what we said earlier about how sales is a team sport.
MF: Absolutely, but it’s not only a team sport within the sales organisation itself. At Lob, anybody who touches the customer is part of our revenue organisation, so that sales, marketing, customer success, and customer experience; those four organisations are all oriented toward the same things. We’ve got lots of metrics that we use, but the OKRs that we go after are all aligned, and everybody’s pulling on the same rope. That makes for just a beautiful way to communicate and to make decisions. Because at the end of the day, any decision we’re trying to make at the micro-level is always being considered as ‘how does it impact our OKR that we’re going after? Trying to get X amount of exit ARR? Does this thing you’re proposing impact that?’ If it doesn’t, we’re probably not going to do it.
TW: Revenue OPs seem to be where most people are moving towards and creating alignment around.
MF: It is the cockpit of your company. The products are the fuel you put in the tank, but the aircraft is your sales organisation and marketing organisation. You’ve got to have a set of gauges that everybody understands, and everybody’s agreed on what the meanings are, and how do you influence them? You only need a few. You don’t need 50. You need like five or six.
There are a few specialised dials for marketing, and there are a few specialised dials for CX, like the net promoter score. It’s a nice metric to see on a weekly basis, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t move the needle for me as a sales leader. But our head of CX cares about NPS because that’s the ultimate measure of whether her team is being successful and delivering continuous value for our customer. How many customers are we retaining on a monthly or quarterly basis? That’s their ultimate measure of value. Are we keeping our customers in a value-driven position so that they’ll never leave us? You got to know; you got to have a dial for that.
TW: If you were a sales ops leader in an organisation where there’s misalignment, how can you drive a use case for more revenue minded team or a more coordinated team?
MF: I think you have to construct a model based on actual data that is reasonable in its assumptions. Then ultimately, you can communicate to change minds. I remember I was consulting with a small manufacturing company in Kansas about a decade ago. They had no marketing organisation, and maybe four salespeople who did not earn commissions. And they wondered why their revenue was flat year after year after year, and their market share was declining. It was like an orbit that was just slowly degrading. Eventually, they were going to hit the atmosphere and burn up.
Well, I went in there and was like, ‘Well, guys, it’s because you have no visibility.’ Some people were thinking about how do we get new customers? And how do we communicate with them? How do we tell the story of our company? But they had no idea what sales were doing. There were no numbers that they had access to. Frankly, they didn’t even know that they had people in their organisation who could do that for them.
So I told them a story about a small manufacturing company in Kansas that has a marketing organisation and sales organisation that lives in harmony together. Here are the things they’re doing together, and here are the kind of results they are getting. I used it all with data and extrapolated data from their actual sales. But at the end of the day, it was just a matter of painting a picture of ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we did these things, and it turned out that we had pretty much all the raw material we needed to do that?’
It was just about putting the pieces together and getting everybody on the same page in terms of the goal; what are we trying to achieve? So we set a modest goal of let’s try to increase revenue by 10%. In the next fiscal year, let’s get a compensation plan in place that incentivizes our salespeople to go and sell. It was a two-tier plan where you got X percent for existing customers and keeping them, but you got three X if you went and brought in a new customer. Guess what happened? Suddenly, the salespeople, because they can all do basic math, ‘if I just renew the contract I’ve got with this guy, I get X, but if I get a new one, I get three X. Oh, yeah. Miraculous!’ It was funny because the board was like, ‘oh, my, that’s incredible.’ And I was just thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’
But sometimes it really is that simple. And regardless of whether it’s a simple or a complex problem, it all starts with painting a picture of the future state that you’re trying to get to and then explaining how you can get there.
TW: Narratives are always crucial in sales. I suppose that’s true when you’re even selling an idea to an organisation.
MF: A part of my’ keep it simple thing’ is; you have to tell great stories. And you’ve got to hire people who are great storytellers. Unfortunately, that’s not something I can teach. I have got to find people who are naturally inclined that way.
TW: Okay, so where do you get your inspiration? Where do you learn, and where do you find out about telling stories? What’s been inspirational for you?
MF: Well, I’m a voracious reader. I always have been. The greatest thing my mother ever did for me was she got me a membership to the science fiction book club when I was eight years old. We didn’t have a lot of money, and my single mom worked hard. We didn’t have a lot, but she never said no to me when I wanted to buy a book, or go to the library, bring home ten books, or whatever. So being an avid reader gives me a worldview and puts the timeless narratives that are out there in my head, and gives me the raw material that I need for good, powerful analogies, and metaphors. This allows me to connect business value by telling a human-driven story. That’s been my greatest asset in my career because, at the end of the day, selling is about people, right? People buy from people they like and trust. The quickest way to get somebody to like you and trust you is to tell them a great story. Tell them something interesting. Tell them a true story. It’s interesting, and you immediately build affinity. This is one of my favourite questions to ask when I’m building rapport with a customer. I always ask the question, ‘tell me about your favourite vacation spot.’ It puts them in a happy headspace.
TW: Now, this is a question I always like to ask people, and it’s about creating connectedness. If you were in a room full of sales ops leaders, what are the core questions you’d want to understand from them right now?
MF: Well, first of all, I would start with, what are you measuring? And have you seen a significant change in the stuff that you’re measuring in the results? You know, we’re blessed as a company. We’ve done exceedingly well throughout the pandemic. Both in terms of we haven’t had to lay anybody off, and our revenue has not been harmed at all. Also, we onboarded our largest customer ever during this time. But I know that that’s not the reality for a lot of companies. So my first question would be basically, how are you doing? And then the second question would be, how do you know how you’re doing? What are you measuring? Have those measures changed? Do you measure different things now because of the pandemic? Has any of the fundamentals of your business changed? So that would be my question. What are you measuring? And are you confident that the numbers you’re seeing are accurate?
TW: The next question is, if you could have a core message for other sales leaders right now, what would it be? Perhaps you’re standing doing a rallying cry or on the battle lines of other sales ops leaders? And what would you think they need to hear at the moment?
MB: It’s going to get better. I’ve got a long perspective on these things. I’ve been in the business world for 30 years now, and everything is cyclical. Things go up; things go down. But ultimately, if you persevere, things will get better. Changes are inevitable. The pressures, the things that impact our business cycle right now, are unprecedented, at least in our lifetimes, right? Indeed, in the modern business era, there’s never been a pandemic of global scale that has depressed business cycles everywhere, across almost every industry, universally. That’s a new data point for us that forces us individually as organisations and collectively as markets, to learn some new tricks and do some new things. So my message would be, let’s get busy about learning what those new things are and make them part of our playbooks. They might be the last ten pages after the appendix. Because we hope we never have to use them again, but boy, we better have these in our playbook going forward. It could happen again.