Interview: Kirsty Charlton at Signal AI

Kirsty Charlton is the sales ops leader of the moment. She co-founded the UK Sales Operations Network and has built out a sales operations team from scratch at Signal AI, all in the space of one year. She set out at Signal AI with a mission - to prove the ROI of sales operations and provide total visibility to the wider team. It's fair to say she more than succeeded, as attested by growing the sales ops team from just her to five people within a year. I caught up with Kirsty to chat about all things sales ops. Kirsty shared the details of how she built out a sales tech stack and how she measures success in sales ops. We began by discussing her 'unusual' route into sales ops...

RoryBrown (RB): Who is Kirsty Charlton and how did you get into sales operations?

KirstyCharlton (KC): My route into sales ops was more unusual than most. I startedlife as a scientist at GSK, researching and analysing products in the lab. I thenhad the opportunity to join the grad scheme at Kantar in London. I was workingon Kantar Worldpanel doing consumer research. It was a data heavy role and, inmany ways, there were a lot of parallels with sales ops. I really enjoyed thatbut wanted to make the move into more qualitative research, so I moved toanother market research agency. It was there that I had the opportunity to moveinto a sales engineer position. I was pitching and demoing and it was a greatfirst experience of sales. From there I moved into sales operations.

RB: Ithink you’re the first scientist I’ve interviewed! I’d love to start off byhearing more about the tech project you’ve been working on at Signal AI.

KC: We’vescaled massively in the last 6 months and as a result, small niggles havebecome glaring problems, our accuracy of data being one example, not to mentionour mish mash of tools. We have a new head of sales who is very data andprocess driven. From that, we started a project to review our whole tech stack.One of our end goals is that all of our data would be in Salesforce, making itthat single source of truth. We also wanted to create efficiencies to helpsales reps sell better.

RB: Didyou have measurables within that?

KC: Welooked at how long it took an SDR to find a new prospect, add it to the CRM andsend an email. We found that on average it took them two and half minutes. Whenyou’re expecting someone to do 75 activities a day, that’s not very efficient.

RB: Soyou identified that time was a big thing. Were there any other areas you lookedat?

KC: Therewere three other areas we looked at. Firstly, we asked ourselves ‘Does our techstack support our sales process?’ Turns out it didn’t. Secondly, ‘Will itincrease productivity?’ And thirdly, ‘Will it improve our customer’s journey?’

RB: Howdoes the process of looking for new tech start?

KC: Westarted off by identifying areas where tech could help us, right from findingcontacts and accounts to contacting them. We then undertook some demos and madea shortlist. In hindsight, there are a few things we should have done. Firstly,we should have had KPIs and rigidly scored each tool that way. We had them inmind as a management team but probably not wholesale. Those KPIs could havebeen ease of use, whether it integrates with Salesforce etc.

RB: Whatare the tell-tale signs that you should be looking out for when choosing new tools?

KC: I cangive you an example of a great buying and onboarding experience we had whichticked all the boxes.

We were looking at Outreach and the first positive sign was that they use their own tool. After every call we had with them, they sent us a personalised email. They laid everything out in steps and it meant that we moved down the sales funnel really easily. We were always given the right material at the right touch points. They also have a fantastic knowledge base with explainers.

Ultimately,we didn’t ever feel like we were being sold to. People love buying but hatebeing sold to, right?! They’ve got reps who’s job is purely to onboard people –they’re experts in the tool and are extremely helpful, available at anytime andalways have the answer.

RB: Adoptionstarts from how you plant the seed before you even choose the technology. Howhave you found the experience of getting all the users onboard?

KC: First things first, set out what ‘great’ looks like for you. For us with Outreach, we were measuring how many emails were sent out via cadences. When we assessed it last week it was 61%, and we were aiming for 75%. So we’re getting closer. We’ve also added Zoom Info (which is another tool we’ve bought) as a lead source in Salesforce to be able to attribute the value it’s bringing and start to work out ROI.

In terms of driving adoption, we started to drive excitement way before we bought the tool. For any tool to be successful, it’s all about the toothbrush rule. If they use it as often as they use a toothbrush, then it’s ingrained. We also kept them updated throughout the process. If they wanted to be involved in the demos, we were very open to that and involved reps in the trials to share their thoughts and opinions.

For me,qualitative measures of success were first of all using it at least twice a dayand secondly, they’re happy and they’re enjoying it.

RB: Howdo you get senior leadership onboard prior to rollout?

KC: Theywere all involved in the process and invited to each demo. I updated everyoneonce a week via email chain where everyone could then add their comments. It turnedout to seem to be a lot more efficient than a weekly meeting.

RB:That’s an interesting point. We hear a lot from vendors that rolling out istough. And conversely, clients say that the roll out experience isn’t goodenough. Where does the responsibility lie? Should the customer take some of theresponsibility for managing that experience?

KC: That’sa good question. And that’s why Outreach was so good. They involved all thesales managers from the beginning and when someone new got involved, they werehappy to do another demo and onboarding to bring them up to speed. Once the setup was all done, they then did weekly training sessions. On the other side,we’ve got people in the team who have already used it so we funnel a lot ofquestions to them. I think generally more ownership for adoption and roll outshould lie with vendors. At Signal, training and enablement of users issomething we invest a lot of resources into and hence we have industry leadingmetrics around renewal and upsell – I think what Outreach did really well wastake seriously this part of the roll out, and also take some responsibility forit. Vendors are the experts, let them help you to get the team on board and upto speed / bought into the tool / convinced of the benefits.

RB: Howdid you approach ROI?

KC: I hadto put a business case together to answer why this was something I wanted tobuy and what the ROI would be. I kept visibility really high with the wholecommercial team, C suite and finance.

The ROI wasmainly built around efficiencies - saving the reps time, enabling them moretime selling, and fostering a better customer experience.

RB: Howdid you find the price side? A lot of vendors out there have a huge variance inpricing. Some people end up paying more for the same thing.

KC: We werevery upfront from the beginning that we hadn’t been given a new budget line butif we could match what we were currently doing we could go ahead.

With othervendors, I waited until the end of the quarter to get some negotiatingleverage.

I think thekey is to be upfront and honest, don’t play games. There are other ways theycan help, such as free months, and throwing in more training etc.

The FDalways pushes me to reduce the price, but it does help to get sign off if I cango there and tell him we got a free month or some discount, extras etc.

RB: Moving to a more general question, how do you measure success in sales ops?

KC: My teamhas gone from just me to five people within a year. And that’s because I setout with a massive conscious effort to prove the ROI of the team. First of all,visibility is key. I get involved with our fortnightly town hall meetings (wecall them demos) and from the start of my time here I presented to the seniorleadership team what my findings and actions were. This Friday I’m presentingour OKRs to the whole company, having the right OKRs really help to demonstratewhat you’re working towards as a team, keep you focused and then track delivery.

RB: Itwould be great to hear more about your OKRs. Do you have any examples?

KC: There’sa document which our old sales ops manager from Vision Critical sent to me.It’s the anatomy of the world class sales operation. It says for every salesops function, these are the 19 areas you should be looking at, from CRMownership to commission structure and everything in between. I set out a teamexercise using that document. For each one of those 19 facets of sales ops, theteam assessed how we were performing on a scale of 1 – 5 and how much impactcould we have if we got it right on a scale of 1 – 5. And I mapped it out on aboard and anything that we’re not good at but we could have huge impact on wemade a priority for us to work on.

From that,we’ve come up with two overarching OKRs. The first objective is to define andimplement a repeatable, global, and scalable sales process. We want itdeveloped through data and utilised by all reps. The three key results are to reduceRAMP time to four months, have the reps working a min of 36 ops looking forwardand reduce our sales cycle by 50%. It’s ambitious, but that’s the idea of OKRs.You’re meant to only be 70% confident you can hit them.

The secondone is massive. It’s evolving the culture of the sales management team from an anecdotaland reactive one to a team that’s data backed and proactive. A key result ofthis is forecast accuracy. At the moment we have open head count, we’re notanalysing how many accounts are being worked. We can reactively look and sayyou’ve got enough. But we don’t have anyone proactively analysing whether Xperson has had a bad month. So another key result is for every manager to gointo 1:1s with data so they can actually coach the reps. Instead of ‘how’severything going?’ they can have data backed conversations.

We alsowant more visibility for the reps to know how their performance is trackingagainst their personal KPIs.

RB: Thatexercise is really interesting.

KC: Yes, it’s actually built off data, which is what we preach!

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

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