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 calledQualtrics here in Utah. I cut my teeth there and that's where I really gainedan appreciation of the process and how to take care of people along with allthe stuff that goes into sales that isn't the actual sale. I furthered mycareer as a sales manager at InsideSales.com Then, from there, I joined asocial media startup called NUVI in its early stages, I think we had about adozen sales reps. I joined with theintent to help them build their sales process and strategy.
At that time, this is about five years ago, sales ops and rev opswere just buzzwords, nobody knew what they meant, and nobody knew what to dowith it. So the CEO said, "Prove that you know what you're doing and thatyou know how to sell and then we'll turn that over." So over the nextcouple of years I was fortunate enough to emerge as the sales strategy leaderfor 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 mein 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 peopletick 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 Lingotekbecause I saw that the business had a lot of potential but the sales departmentwas completely siloed. So we needed to do some internal selling. Little bylittle I would inter-departmentally say, "Hey, I think I can help usconnect 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 teamso they could see what was going on with their commissions and with the clientspaying and everything like that.
Now, that paved the way for my role as Head of Revenue Operations whereI tie all of those relationships together. The departments are mostly runningsimilar to the way they were a year ago but their doors are open to otherdepartments. Instead of our sales team having to email a CSM to figure outwhere their clients are success wise, they can go right into Salesforce and seeall of the tickets and they can see what progress they've made billing, who'spaying and how much work they've done. It's just really made the process a loteasier which in turn, in my opinion, makes the teams a lot more satisfiedbecause they don't hit up against roadblocks that they can't solve on theirown.
RB: Yes, that’s a good initiative.I’d love to talk to you about the alignment between sales and service or salesand customer success. How does that process of alignment start? What do youlook at first?
GL: For me, the first part was about transparency, giving thesales team a view into what the services team was doing and vice versa. Ourservices team uses Zendesk, so we hooked up their API and funneled all of thetickets and all of the escalations into Salesforce and then set up someautomations to notify the sales rep if there was ever a ticket that was a 'highpriority' or 'work stoppage' type of a ticket. Everything else the sales repwould have to be looking for proactively.
RB: Why was it that you felt thoseparticular notifications were needed at that particular point?
GL: The reason for that is that we're largely a land and expandtype 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 softwareand then give us a lot of their services. Before we did that, we had a hardertime finding those opportunities and recognizing risks to our expansionbusiness.
They would go into a conversation with a client trying to expandthem blind and realise there was still an open ticket about the software notworking and they're on a meeting with the CEO and he's just ready to pound onthem. We wanted to make sure they were aware of any potential hot buttons thatwould come up in a conversation. Then the other side of it was just making themfeel part of the ownership of that. Making sure that they didn't just pass aclient off and say, "Hey, it's not my problem anymore."
Even though we had someone getting paid to look after them, westill 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 evenif they're not the responsible party. That was the first part.
RB: Brilliant. On the other sideof that, what visibility were the service team gaining?
GL: They had the visibility before but connecting the two reallyhoned it in, where they were a little bit more involved in Salesforce and couldaccess information without asking the sales team.
Before that, we were passing the service team basic productknowledge such as, “I just sold this client” via email. But a sales rep mightforget 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 alittle bit less prone to error because there were more eyes on the process. Thebig 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 customerjourney, we realised a big gap in who was deemed responsible for theclient. Sometimes the sales team thoughtthat the services team was owning the relationship and sometimes they thoughtthey were owning the relationship. Thatled to confusion and mismanagement of some clients.
The problem with this was that we lacked the ability to becustomer advocates, to consult with them on different products or services thatcould help their business. We had two teams that were trying to play supportroles rather than one that really owns the process, and things were just fallingthrough the cracks.
By creating the process, we were able to assign ownership overevery stage of the customer journey and create a better handoff and customerexperience, which is ultimately what it's all about.
RB: That's really good, thanks forsharing that. Are you saying then that what happened after this new process wasthe salespeople would take their client a bit further and then pass it, or werethey always the owner after that point?
GL: We went back and forth on this, but we actually decided tokeep the sales rep as the quarterback. In the future, as we grow, we may hirespecifically for that position and have an account manager. Now, our clientsuccess team is more of a support team. They're making sure project managementand tickets get filed. They are making sure the client is taken care of withinthe scope of the client management strategy that is set forth by the accountexecutive.
We thought let's keep the sales rep as the quarterback and makesure that they own the process from start to finish, but the client servicesteam will come in and they'll be the main point of contact for any issues andbugs. 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 juniorreps 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 wealready have and making sure that they're happy and ready to expand and usemore of our services.
RB: Fantastic. I know thesalespeople now have ownership, but I’m also interested in the introduction orpassing of an account in some form or another to the services team to lookafter. Are there any specific processes that happened that moment or anythingthat you've done there which is interesting?
GL: Yes. We created an entire onboarding process that walksthrough the handoff. From the point of sales, before something is closed in Salesforcethere's already been activity in the region. We have a west client successregion, a west sales region, a west support team etc. Based on who the salesrep is, we know who the client success team and the support team is going tobe. As soon as the deal gets closed in Salesforce, we'll send an automated emailout to the entire team that will be handling that account and let them know allthe 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 withthose teams.
That's when the sales team and our internal support and servicesteam get on a call, and they map out the plan for that account. This is howwe're going to do this. This is their biggest concern. This is a concern butnot as prevalent. The sales rep downloads all of their proprietary knowledgethrough the sales process, makes sure it's documented somewhere, and then theymap out a suggested timeline and process for implementation. They have thatkind of all penciled in, then we schedule an external kickoff call with all ofthe players from the client team.
RB: That's fantastic. I reallylike that. Let’s talk more about people and processes. Obviously, one doesn'twork without the other. How do you manage a change in process and what do youdo 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 veryquick meeting but any initiative that we have is basically presented at thatmeeting and then taken back to the teams for presentation.
If I say, "Hey, we want to change the onboardingprocess", we need to create a process that fits everybody's needs. So theservices team, who is largely part of that onboarding process, goes back andthey come up with their ideas and then the sales team offers their ideas andtheir ideal situation etc.
The idea is that we want everybody to feel some ownership of theprocess so that when the process is implemented you can be satisfied thatyou’ve had a chance to provide input. At Qualtrics, we had a couple of businessprinciples that we followed. One of them was Disagree and Commit. I wantdisagreement in strategy meetings. I want people to fight back against ideasthat we have because they're invested at that point but then when we leave theroom with the process in place, the commitment is that everybody is committedto that process. If you can have that then you can have a really healthyenvironment to say, "Hey I don't agree with this. I think we should do itthis way", but then at the end of the day, it's the company as a whole andif 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 aconscious awareness of making sure that we're not just completely disregardingan entire department’s opinion. When we were looking for products for theservices team to manage their tickets and everything, I preferred Salesforceservice cloud. It's already integrated into Salesforce. It's very seamless. Ihad used it in the past. Our sales team likes that better. Everyone likes thatbetter except for the services team. Everything lined up except for the peoplethat were actually going to use it.
They said, "We can use it but we might prefer Zendeskinstead.” Their opinion carried a lot more weight in that discussion. We thentook a step back and instead of trying to determine which one was better, I askedif it was possible for us to get the same outcome by using Zendesk even thoughwe think Service cloud might be the better option and it was. It took a littlebit more integration but we trusted the services team because they're the onesusing it every day.
They liked it and we still got the same outcome in Salesforce. It'snot that you just throw one in for the team but you are aware of that in theconversation. The worst thing you can do is ask for someone's input and opinionand then not consider it, just totally disregard it because then you will neverget feedback or honest input from them ever again if they feel like their voiceisn't heard.
RB: While we stay on the subjectsof people, let's take senior leadership. I imagine you get a mixture of ad-hocrequests from senior leadership because they want visibility of a certain thingor a new report. It might just be the fact that they thought of it on the dayand then next week they’ll have forgotten about it. In those scenarios, what isthe best setup for them to diminish those requests but then also allows you to handlethe requests when they come in?
GL: That's a tricky one. I think there are different levels tothat answer. I work really proactively with our executive team and am involvedin preparing for their board meeting discussions. I want to know what they’veasked. What are you wanting to present? What picture do you want to present tothe board? If they have a question that they couldn't answer at last boardmeeting, I’ll dive in and start collecting that data.
For them, I'm creating based on a high-level strategy and tryingto be proactive to avoid those one-off requests like, "Hey, give me areport of all of our new customers". I try to get ahead of that as much asI can but typically if they ask for it, it's something that I'll go and createfor them.
From the sales side, I met with everybody individually, taking alltheir input again. Again, it’s the process of taking everybody's input and thensetting the expectations.
We ended up with one dashboard in Salesforce, with those meetingsinforming me what is an absolute necessity, must-have on that dashboard. Thedashboard is displayed in our office but then each individual region has theability to filter down and save it as their own region. That way, we're alllooking at the same numbers and the same reports. Nobody's ad-hoc creating somerandom report because they couldn't find what they needed. Then I made acommitment to review that with them every six months.
We have one sales kickoff for the whole year and then we do a fallsales meeting. In those meetings, we have a session where we talk about currentprocess and systems. I take everybody's feedback for the last six months andthen if there are changes, we implement them there.
RB: Brilliant. How much of yourtime 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 isworking? Just being aware of what's going on in the business operationally. Themore 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 earlymorning. First thing I do when I come in for the day, maybe two or three days aweek, is spend time thinking through the process. I reserve that for themornings because I find that when it gets to 3pm in the afternoon, I'm tanked asfar as creative ability.
So those are the times where I'm just hacking away at actuallybuilding something that we've already thought of.
A big part of my job is to make sure that we are thinkingstrategically and we are looking to continually improve those processes. Buttaking time out of the day just to focus on strategy is a definite must for me.
RB: Cool. That's really good. Thenext thing is taking that a level deeper. You're planning out your strategytime and you're looking at several of these processes that you've set up. Let'ssay you're looking at the sales funnel. Are there consistent data points thatyou're looking at to spot problems and opportunities to improve and evolve?
GL: Yes, we have an internal document that basically walks throughevery step of the way, from cold lead to expansion and renewal. We keep trackon 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, andrevenue to re-revenue and increase in sales. There are a lot of points betweenstage to stage, to stage. It’s this kind of macro information that allows me tosee when something isn't right. So if we're having a problem, convertingpipeline into sales, all of a sudden our close rate falls to 20% over aquarter.
Then that's when I can do a deeper dive and look at themicro-level and say, "Okay, if I see any trends, why are we losing thedeals? We keep track of close-loss reviews. Is there a trend in those? Yes,okay, our product is slipping" or "Hey, we implemented some pricingchanges, 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'sspecific things that poke their head out. I don't always see them beforeproactively, sometimes we're reactive, but as much as I can I try to keep trackof it.
The big thing there is not to have too many. You have a set ofKPIs that is manageable. Because if you get too many, then there's going to beseven fires at once that you've got to put out and you're never going to put anyof 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 executiveteam, and customers. The processes that we create should make their liveseasier. 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 objectivemeasurements. That's, "Hey, how much time did I save our services workerin a month?" "How many processes did we eliminate for our projectmanagement team, in order to get the same outcome?" Now the lag measure isthat 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 processand people.
For example, with our project management team, just about twomonths ago I found out that they're tracking every one of their projects in anExcel file. Then when the projectmanager goes out of town, all the sudden our customers have no idea what'sgoing on with their projects. The sales team has no idea. There's a lot ofpeople pain. So we implemented a process to move them over into Salesforce. Theproject manager is still inputting the same amount of data and they're stillinteracting the same way, but now they don't have to worry about taking a dayoff, because their clients will still have visibility. The process created abetter experience for the people and that's the end goal for me. That's when Ifeel like I'm successful as a revenue ops leader, because we've created aprocess that's made people's lives better or easier.
RB: That's a really nice way towrap up the interview because it's been very people oriented. Thank you verymuch for sharing all of that.