Interview with Mark Feldman, Head of Revenue Operations, Localytics

Would you like to know how a VP Marketing approaches rev ops and the perfect sales marketing alignment? This week, we take a look at my chat with Mark Feldman, Head of Revenue Ops at Localytics. Mark and I explored everything from reverse-engineering your reporting to prioritising work using data. After a run-through of Mark's eclectic career, the interview began...

Rory Brown (RB): Can you tell us more about Mark Feldman and your career to date?

Mark Feldman (MF): My career has taken some unusual twists and turns. When I graduated from university, my dream was to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to run my own global business and jet around the world. I started working for a startup here in Boston called AgION Technologies, where I was the eighth employee. The company raised $50m and, in typical 1998 fashion, I was a new university grad leading a team of about 30. It was a challenge, but I definitely learned a ton.

From there, I started my own marketing agency in the pharmaceutical industry, selling to customers like Merck and Pfizer. By the time I was 30, I had a nice little business, worth $10m in revenue and about 25 employees in New York City.  

I had achieved my dream of running my own business, but I still wasn’t happy. I realised I was passionate about technology and loved data analytics, so I started working with a company called NetProspex as Head of Product and Marketing. I helped build NetProspex into a 100-person company. It was then acquired by Dun & Bradstreet for $125 Million. When I joined it was 2008 it was a really interesting time in digital marketing because there was a huge recession going on across the world and consequently, companies were cutting back on marketing. This meant marketing was reinventing itself in a quest to become relevant again.   

Marketing was traditionally the department you went to for brochures and to pick the logo. They had been the natural department to make the new website and figure out social media. So marketing was the obvious birthplace of demand gen, which is what I ended up focusing on at NetProspex, creating data to feed the demand gen engine. Marketo had just launched and Eloqua was starting to get big, so it was a really exciting time. Whilst at NetProspex, I got to know a lot of really amazing people like John Miller at Marketo and Craig Rosenberg who co-founded TOPO Inc.

Whilst exploring demand gen, I had my first exposure to sales ops. We bought a marketing automation system, or rather we bought this dream of ‘drip and nurture’. We thought it would be amazing, but we hadn’t realised how terrible our salesforce database was.

So, we started building out marketing ops and sales ops to make that data actionable and usable. It was really fun process. I loved working with data and thinking about how we can impact the business through small changes.

I also realised that by the time you get a call from a salesperson to demo some new whiz-bang tool, it is probably not new anymore and there are lots of companies using it, or they will be. You always have to stay ahead of the curve to be competitive. You can’t just buy Marketo or whatever is really hot at the time and think you are going to be awesome. You can achieve parity with the market through these tools, but it’s not a way to industry leadership. To become successful, you need a lot of creativity and innovation.

At this point, my career was demand gen and marketing and I climbed the ladder until I landed a Head of Marketing role at a 1,000 person company. I was managing a global team of 30 and I wasn’t doing any marketing, let alone what I really love doing. I was focused on HR issues and company politics. I thought about it and realised I really love the ops side. And through my marketing and demand gen career I have always had a laser focus on revenue growth, not how many MQLs or SQLs you generate or how many clicks you get. In one of the companies I worked for, I grew our revenue from around $50m to $150m. A lot of that was by having good back-end ops so that we could see what was working, what was not working and enable 500 salespeople to leverage the data. What I did not like about that role – besides doing a lot of HR – was the social media and branding. So that is why I decided to focus on growth ops. I am good at it, I really get it and most importantly, I’m passionate about it. At that point, Localytics came along and created the perfect role for me.  

RB: And here you are, 3 months in. You have come through VP of Marketing. You have owned rev ops already and you have seen the whole system working together. How can you ensure that the marketing and sales crossover is well-oiled and well organised as a starting point?

MF: One of the things I have learned is “there is no marketing; there is no sales; there is just us.” Part of the philosophy of why Localytics created rev ops as a role rather than separate sales ops and marketing ops is that it is really us.

So, to start with ‘a well-oiled machine’: I think that everybody says sales and marketing need to be aligned but any function responsible for revenue should not be split in two! So, our entire growth team report to the Chief Revenue Officer, not to Marketing.  I think that’s the first step. We are all focused on the bottom line. Philosophically, I think centralisation of the growth function is the most important thing.

RB: I like that a lot. I recently interviewed Cris Santos of Docusign and she told me about the pipeline council they’ve set up there, which involves everyone from sales right through to marketing. They are one team working towards the same goals.

So, let’s say you inherit a business and you have conflict between sales and marketing. What would you suggest might be step one in trying to unravel the difficulties that they are both facing?

MF: Luckily, I’ve never had to deal with a situation like that. These problems are often a symptom of politics and self-interest. At that point, the CEO should step in and look at organisational and cultural alignment with the leaders of those teams. I don’t think it is something that can be fixed just by rev ops. It needs to come from the top.

RB: You have mentioned the word ‘actionable’ already, which I like. What is required to get actionable data?

MF: I had a boss that I worked for a couple of jobs ago who framed it really well.  

You actually start with the report you need to provide the insight you want. Then, work backwards to get the data you need for the report.  I think a lot of companies go the opposite way, starting with the data and then running reports. But my boss would start with a report in mind, go to the stakeholders with a dummy version of that report and ask what they would do differently and what questions they want answered. There are reports that tell you why something happened. And then there are ‘What’ questions, such as “What is going on with the business right now?  Are we doing well?” It’s about homing in on those questions for the dashboard. And then once you’ve figured out which questions you want answers to, you can decide what you need to look at, whether that’s click through on emails, MQL conversion rates etc. I literally create flat tables in Google sheets that generate those reports. I would forget about Salesforce and Marketo. Just create some flat tables that have the data points that drive those reports.

Once you have that, you go backward and do a gap analysis, uncovering what data you have and what data you don’t have. It is your ops manager’s job to figure out how to instrument the process to get the missing data points. Once you have the data, you need to have a process that creates those flat tables which generate that report. So, is the data in Salesforce? Is it in multi-systems? If it is in multi-systems, you need to move it somewhere else to join it.

RB: I really like that. It’s a process of starting where you want to end up and reverse-engineering from there.  

MF: Yes. And literally create dummy reports with dummy data.

RB: Let’s say, for example, you stumble across a meaningful insight that your stakeholders perhaps haven’t requested. What is the best way to present that insight to the stakeholders?

MF: I would send an email bringing the insight to their attention and offer to do some digging to find out more. Good news travels fast but bad news travels faster, so you want to send bad news as quickly as possible so it can be acted upon. I would take the attitude of “Here is what I’m seeing and this is why I’m bringing it to your attention” rather than “Hey buddy, you have got a big problem and here you go." It’s about letting the decision-maker decide in their world how important that is to them, or not. Do not over-editorialize.

RB: So you would obviously go in with no biases or preconceived ideas.

MF: Exactly. I have learned not to do that because our biases are our own and sometimes they’re wrong. Sometimes they are right, but it might be ‘right’ in a different way to somebody else. You don’t know their perspective.  

RB: You’ve had a very varied background. You co-founded your own business, came through VP Marketing and now you’re in rev ops. Having gone through that journey, what do you think you’ve brought to your current role?

MF: I’ve lived the life. I’ve had to do sales. I had to put food on the table by selling. You don’t know what is right for everybody but the more you have lived their life – or something similar to what they have been through – you bring a lot of insight and empathy and understanding of what they are up against. I think everybody brings something unique to the table but if you have come up through the trenches of actually being in the shoes of your stakeholders, it helps a lot.  

RB: Within a revenue team there are people who sell and people who market. There is a moment where those two worlds join hands, normally in the lead to op funnel. Do you have any best practices or advice on how to make that situation work well? Do you use SLAs or something similar?

MF: Yes, I do. I think SLA’s are important. They don’t need to be formal but I think there has to be a synchronization between the expectations. Part of it is visualising the shared goal and figuring out how to work in partnership to make that happen. I think that you also have to be in sync with sales leadership. You need to partner with the Head of Sales and they need to see value in your work. It should be worth their time to partner and make this function successful. If they are helping you do that, that is definitely half the battle.

RB: How do you measure success in sales ops or rev ops?

MF: You should only be thinking about one thing: Revenue. I was going to say Bookings and Revenue but we are in an enterprise model so we have long sales cycles. Bookings is a leading indicator, but it really just comes down to revenue.

RB: If we were using the OKR model and increasing revenue was the objective, would you be able to outline what the specific key results might be along that journey to monitor the health of your contribution?

MF: Yes. I can share the details of our OKRs, although they are going to evolve over time. We are rebuilding a lot of our data and operations, so it is the percentage of reporting that is self-serve out of the system, versus a Google sheet.  One of my key results is 0% of reports done in Google sheets.  Right now, it is probably about 80% so there’s a bit of work to do there.

We are developing a database of all of the accounts in our target market and all of the decision-making units’ contact information, and then being able to report on the account funnel with those accounts. So, over time our key results will be in metrics of moving people or accounts through that funnel. And then looking at how rev ops can support that by fixing the plumbing and greasing the wheels to make things more efficient and scalable and providing a business intelligence layer that allows decision makers to make improvements that will increase velocity, shorten deal time, and increase average revenue per customer.  

RB: When you started your current role, how did you identify the areas of the revenue funnel that needed the most work?

MF: When I came into this role, the analysis had already been done and we knew the top of the funnel was the area that needed the most attention. Thinking back to previous roles, I started by looking at how many of the deals we won this month entered from the top of the funnel. And over a long period of time, what were the conversion rates at each step. Let’s say we get 10,000 leads in a month; what percentage of those leads would close won after six months and what are the conversion rates at each stage. Then you can see what your funnel is historically.

I start at the top of the funnel because if you make a small adjustment in conversions at the top, it is like a ‘rising tide raises all ships’. Then you can discuss how to bring more in and increase the first conversion. It’s about looking for quick wins throughout the rest of the funnel, looking for the low-hanging fruit, things we can do to improve conversion.  

Work on the top of the funnel and then keep going down the funnel. Each stage has a different set of tactics that you can utilise. Prioritise based on effort and things that you can impact within your team or department to get things done quickly. Look at where you need sales or where you need product, for example. You get increased degrees of complexity the more functions you include, so that’s something to keep in mind.

RB: I like that a lot. Three months into revenue operations, what is your least favourite and most favourite part of the role?

MF: My least favourite part is just turning a crank repeatedly. I like to do new things. For our ‘crank turning’ I either want to automate it, outsource it, or hire somebody who likes turning dials.  

My favourite part is seeing the impact. You can make an impact really quickly. I added some account data and we already have a $400k opportunity with one of the new accounts. You can find things that are really small things that can make a big impact on the business.

RB: What famous duo would you say represents the relationship between CRO and rev ops?

MF:  Maybe because it is fresh on my mind, Daenerys and Tyrion (before Daenerys went mad of course!).

RB:  Ah, Game of Thrones. Nice!

Want to get more insights from sales ops leaders? Check out our other posts in the sales ops interview series.

At Kluster, we're big fans of sales operations...

We recognise the growing importance of sales operations. No longer seen as the function that provides spreadsheets, sales operations is integral to building a repeatable, scalable sales machine.

That's why we built Kluster. We make analytics and forecasting systems for you so you can spend time doing what you do best: uncovering trends and delivering growth defining insights.  

Kluster gives you total visibility into the effectiveness of your sales machine and helps you generate credible forecasts to revenue leaders and the board.

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