From navigating the ocean to navigating sales processes, Jennifer Laurie's path into sales ops makes for good reading! After six years of working on boats, Jennifer embarked on a career in sales ops and now has her feet firmly on the ground in her role as Revenue Operations Solutions Manager at Vidyard. Working as a sales ops leader at a rapidly growing company like Vidyard, Jennifer knows her stuff when it comes to implementing new processes, sussing out new technology, and managing change.
Rory Brown (RB): Could you tell me a bit about whoJennifer Laurie is and how you got into sales ops?
Jennifer Laurie (JL): Before I got into sales operations, my background had nothing really to do with sales and finance. At school I studied criminal justice and public policy, and I was originally planning to be a police officer, but I realised that that was not what I wanted to do. So, after university I ended up travelling and working on boats for about six years. Upon returning home to look for work, I found that working at sea does not get you very far on land! I went back to school for HR, and got my start as a temp in HR, and then finance, and IT, all at the same company, and with their help I was able to get into the job market.
I had never heard of sales operations; I didn’t even knowwhat it was. But as soon as I started doing it about 9 years ago, I found thatI really liked it. My career started off at a company that built hardware aswell as software, so I was mostly order processing and doing logistics forcustomers. Then I started doing forecasting for materials and revenue, and Ibecame like a go-to QA tester. I think that’s why now in my role I mostly doprocesses, and I basically figure out a way to make our organisational strategiesreal. It’s about figuring out how to give the customer the best experience andhow to align ourselves internally to deliver that experience to them.
RB: Brilliant, and I believe you have been atVidyard for 3 years now? Has it changed a lot in that time?
JL: It’s changed in a lot of ways. Logistically, we havedoubled in size and moved offices. We’ve also changed a lot in how we collectand use data. When I joined, we were doing all our sales orders in Word. Weweren’t able see what people bought or have confidence in the details inSalesforce, so we were very reliant on our finance team for insights - whichwas just three people at the time, and that wasn’t a scalable solution. Since then, we have rolled out CPQ andstarted tracking our renewals with a one year rolling date. So, when anopportunity closes, a new one is created, and there is visibility on everythingthey have bought. This includes what their dates are, what’s renewing, and muchmore. We have a lot more information available to us now, and everyone can seeeverything at one time – instead of just two or three people having access tothe information and handing it out on a static excel sheet.
RB: Great. It sounds to me like a lot of newprocesses involve new technology or the adaption of technology. Let’s say youcome out of a meeting and there’s a new strategy, for example, you mentioned apartner play or a channel play.
How do youapproach steps that you go through in terms of getting this down into processwhich people will follow and give you the information that you need?
JL: I always keep the end goal in mind and focus on figuringout the right way to get there. I then work backwards, looking at what steps weneed to get there and seeing if we can leverage an existing solution, whetherwe need to purchase a new one, or if it’s a matter of people change management.I find that so long as I’m keeping the user experience, whether its internal orexternal, in mind it generally works out - you have some hiccups, but I try tokeep it grounded as much as possible.
RB: Brilliant. So, as an example, let’s take a systemschange that requires changing behaviour. What sort of principles, or what sort ofsystems have you employed to try and get people aware of the change and why it’sgoing to help them? This is probably one of the hardest parts.
JL: For sure. You always start by finding out how it isgoing to help them and then delivering that message. There is no point intelling them it is going to be a change if you can’t tell them how it will maketheir lives better – they won’t adopt your change no matter how fantastic youthink it is. The first step is always figuring out what about this is going tomake their lives better and making them excited about the change. Getting a fewpower users on each team to get their peers enthusiastic is also useful.Salespeople will listen to other salespeople before they listen to anoperations person. It’s also important to always think about how someone mightfeel about the change. You can have the best rollup plan in the world, but ifyou have not considered how people are going to feel about it, it won’t besuccessful.
RB: I like that a lot. So, going back to the powerusers, how do you know who to select, and how do you find people that arewilling to show that it’s a really good tool?
JL: I always ask for a volunteer, because a volunteer isbetter than a recruit any day. If you can get someone to raise their hand andsay ‘yes, I want to be a part of it’, they are going to sell your solution waybetter than someone who has been called upon. If I don’t get any hands raised,I will then ask to get invited to a team meeting and pitch it to the wholegroup. I have yet to come across a meeting where no one has volunteered before.As we are a pretty young company we are disruptive by nature - everyone here iscomfortable with change, so they often want to be a part of that design andthey want to feel like their voice has been heard.
RB: Yes, for sure, as you rightly said, you guysare already in that environment where there’s change happening all the time.
So, when it comes to data then, let’s say you roll out anew process, you have obviously got to think about what you capture. And when capturingdata, we are typically relying on salespeople.
What have you found works there with regards to balancingthe right data, the right amount of data, and not impeding people in theirdaily work routine?
JL: It is a balancing act that we must change all the time.As we’re working to automate and scale, we need things to be consistent, but westill want them to have all the flexibility. When I build things, I build themin a way where if you follow what we want you to do it will be easy; but if youtry to carve out your own path it will be a lot more difficult. That generallyencourages people to stay on the worn trail. I then try to build in escapehatches so that the system admins can go in and override rules to do what weneed to do.
I try to avoid as many required fields as possible because froma user perspective, it just slows things down. It would be better to understandwhat exactly this information will be used for. If something is going to berequired, then you want to make sure that it will provide meaningful results,as opposed to just information. It all just depends on what we are hoping toachieve and then trying to keep that as simple as possible.
RB: Right. And I would imagine that you get a lot ofrequests to add new fields or build things back. How do you tactfully askpeople to explain what the true value of this information is before youimplement their change?
JL: To be honest I just ask. Everyone here is very open and transparent, which is fantastic, sohaving those conversations to get context is a normal part of designing here.
We also have monthly meetings with each of the differentbusiness units to sync up on their KPIs and make sure we’re still providing theright information to them. Context is so important – to just send overinformation can be a disservice, we want to make sure we’re sending overinsights that are actionable.
RB: I like that a lot, thanks.
So, let’s move on to technology. At what point do you know that acquiring new technology is the best thing to do, instead of trying to make do with the systems that you already have? And how do you evaluate new technology?
JL: I get prospected a lot for new tech. Everything in ademo looks super cool and innovative - but you always have to think about whatyou’re trying to achieve. Would an existing tool work with some changes or isit something totally new you’re trying to solve? When there’s a need you’retrying to solve, hijacking an existing tool to make it work isn’t always theanswer. You will eventually reach a threshold where if you corrupt a systemfurther, it will be less effective than it is supposed to be, and theworkarounds will become increasingly complicated.
RB: Let’s talk a little bit about the people and your stakeholders. I have spoken to some rev ops leaders who see their own business as their customer. How would you describe your relationship with the key stakeholders you work with daily, such as C level and sales leaders?
JL: For me, my customers are Vidyard’s customers. It’s all part of starting at the end and working backwards. I try to keep in mind what the customer experience should be and work backwards from there on what things need to look like internally. Sometimes that internal structure is making sure we’re collecting the right information along the way, so we can make good future decisions, or how to make our internal user experience as frictionless as possible. The more we can focus on delivering value to customers and not ticking boxes the better off we are. And internally, I would consider, every Vidyardian as my stakeholder. I want to hear everybody’s ideas. You get caught up in your own bias of how you have done things in the past, so fresh ideas are always a good thing to get.
RB: Who would you say you’re closer to, your VP of sales,CFO, or perhaps the sales team themselves?
JL: It’s so important for rev ops to be neutral but also tobe close to everyone. Since our ultimatestakeholder is Vidyard’s customers, keeping that in mind helps with our objectivity.Often teams will have different needs, but as long as we’re focused on thecustomer and business overall, that’s always the right answer. Sometimes that means one group doesn’t geteverything they want, but I’m always open about how a decision is made.
RB: The other thing I have picked up is that the numberof departments that rev and sales ops touches on now is probably one of the broadestin the whole business. So how do you manage that? Where do you start and how doyou choose what to tackle?
JL: Company alignment is a big focus at Vidyard. Everyoneknows what the company goals and objectives are, which helps focus team goalsand objectives. The business prioritiesare rev ops priorities, so that’s where I start. When deciding on resourcesinternally I look at value vs effort, tackling the high value, low effortproject first. Often our engagement with other groups is to be a bridge betweenteams. We’ll sometimes get conflicting requests that would benefit one groupbut disadvantage another, so we have that mediation role as well. It’s all part of why it’s important to beneutral and unbiased.
RB: This might be a slightly trickier question. If we arelooking at sales being the central hub of the role, and everything elsesurrounds it, with which department would you say the sales link is the mostdifficult? What’s been your experience of that?
JL: You’re going to get me in trouble! I don’t know if Iwould say any are inherently difficult. Different teams have different messaging and talk tracks, which meansit’s not the relationship that’s difficult, it’s the overall alignment andmessaging. We want the customerexperience to be the same throughout their whole life cycle, so the challengeis to make sure the messaging and the branding is the same across all teams.
RB: From your experience, what does success in revenue operations look like? And furthermore, is there a way to measure it?
JL: Our KPIs are the company KPIs. Since major functions of rev ops are aligningteams and executing on company strategies, our KPI is how successful thoseteams are and the company is. If we were working on a system or businessprogram, how did that roll out go – did the individuals impacted understand thechange and buy into it? How did the company wide roll out go, do teams have allthe data and insights they need, and if there is an external aspect of it, howis the overall customer experience? Those are the questions we ask ourselves aswe do our project debriefs.
RB: Have you found that across your companies doing this,has the business asked that you show them your results or is that not the case?
JL: We do get thesetypes of requests, and for somethings there can be a measureable activity. If we’re working on an initiative to automatemore manual processes, we can put clear KPIs around impact, timing, andsuccess. Other initiatives have lessclear KPIs, but since objectivity is so intrinsic in our roles we’re prettyhonest about the success of a program.
RB: Lastly, you spoke about making the experience for thecustomers being a priority to you.
Given that you’re not a customer facing role, how do youeducate yourself about what the customer is going through and what the journeylooks like.
JL: It’s true, I don’t talk to our customers directly. I dosee the data that we gather, including NPS comments and notes that people inthose customer facing roles make on customer feedback. I also look at it fromthe perspective of a person who is a customer for other businesses. When I’m using a tool in our tech stack, Iknow what experience I want. Anybody does - you go to the store or buysomething online, you want to be treated well, you want it to be easy, and youwant to be treated like an individual, not a number. So, we try to make sure that our customers cansense that empathetic feeling throughout the whole process. We focus on makingsure we continue to have that positive vibe, and we acknowledge that goodservice delivery is important to keep our customers happy. That also meanspeople should have the same experience no matter who they talk to - whether it’sfrom our outbound sales team, customer success team, or marketing team, itshould all be consistent.
RB: I totally agree, and that’s nice way to finish. I appreciate your time and for sharing everything. There’s some good stuff in here and some very process-led answers. It’s been a pleasure!
Want to get more insights from sales ops leaders? Check out our other interviews in the sales ops interview series.
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