This was a good one, folks! Although, as the Webex video loaded, I was a little taken back when I beamed into a garden shed with a couple of road bikes hanging up in the background. Different, but "ok", I thought. Could Robin Yeoman, Director of International Sales Operations at Snowflake actually be the Bradley Wiggins of sales ops? Turns out, not far off. After adjusting to Robin's slightly unusual "home office" surroundings, the interview began...
Rory Brown(RB): Can you tell us a bit about your journey from your first role at PitneyBowes to becoming Director of International Sales Operations at Snowflake?
Robin Yeoman (RY): After university, I did some language courses in France and when I came back to London, I got a job at Pitney Bowes. At that time, Pitney Bowes were running a PFI contract at HM Treasury, so I got stuck into the operational side of the business and I quickly got promoted to the client service manager for the whole contract. I spent my time running a big KPI-driven contract that covered two central government departments.
Although I love operations, I got a bit bored of the manual hands-on operations management and I wanted to get involved with technology. I ended up looking at a lot of technology around tools like Captiva, which was an EMC product. That led me to working at EMC.
I was originally looking at licensing structuring forCaptiva, and then moved to deal desk where I got my first touch of sales ops.
I then moved to Konica Minolta and that's when I got intobusiness intelligence. I was building out a managed service informationdepartment for them, which involved ripping out how they did their consultingreporting, which was all excel pie charts, and bringing in Tableau. I quicklyrealised that deal desk and sales ops more specifically, was where my skill setlay. So I went back to pure deal desk at Intralinks and then that's where I wasrunning the EMEA and APAC deal desk.
It was a really interesting place to work but when an opportunity at Google came up, I knew I had to take it. It was at a time when they were building out the real first push of cloud platform, Google for Work as they called it at the time, and they wanted someone to come in and help build that deal desk piece for the cloud platform. So I did that in Europe and then also in Canada for a year. What I learned there was the shift from deal desk being a transactional pricing exercise to actually becoming a strategic partner for sales, developing into a deal management piece.
RB: Deal deskis a relatively new concept so it would be great if you can you tell us moreabout what deal desk entails and from your experience, where does deal deskstop and sales ops start?
RY: For me, I really see deal desk as integral to salesops in general. I personally don't break them out. And I think that's because,as you say, deal desk is a relatively new concept that people have tagged ontothe end of either finance or sales or a mixture of that within sales ops.
So, what I've learned is actually if you're looking atsales ops as a whole, you're looking at the full sales cycle. You're looking ata deal from the lead, into any meetings, into being qualified. And then you getto the point where you're looking at contracts and structuring deals, which iswhere a deal desk type function comes in. But in industries that I've workedin, data privacy becomes an issue, especially cloud platform or data rooms andeven more so where I am now at Snowflake because it's data warehouse.
That legal negotiation piece is such a fundamental part ofgetting a deal closed and being able to predict when it will close that I thinkthat feeds right into sales ops. So for me, deal desk is a filter in many ways.From a pricing point of view, it's around managing approvals, behaviours,contracting terms, templates, all of that sort of work. But I think it’s alsodeveloping into a deal management piece. So it's full circle. We advise saleson how to structure their pricing but also on getting through those red lines,looking at how they pitch a cloud contract to a customer. I've spent a lot oftime on calls with sales, negotiating, walking not only customers but alsosales reps through how a contract works. Circling back with feedback on theseissues encourages continuous improvement and drives better efficiency.
RB: What areyou doing in terms of using data to look at what's happening and where we'refalling down and where we should be?
RY: A lot of that comes down to pricing. It depends on thetype of product you're selling but at Intralinks for example, it was verytransactional. It was very much pricing per page or per gigabytes, so verybasic fundamentals. But you could then look at different verticals, differentgeographies etc to find average pricing. You can be looking at discounting orrepeat purchasing. And then you're giving yourself evidence to look at non-standardtype agreements where you can perhaps give them bigger discounts. And thatdrives your behaviour in terms of pricing. I think the other thing you can lookat it is the data behind contractual changes and if you've changed liabilitiesat your risk to any contracts etc. And then that can dictate where do we gowith this and these customers, asking questions like 'are we increasing ourexposure if we go to other countries that have different legal restrictions?'
RB: And now you've moved to Snowflake into what looks like a 360 sales operations role. Would you say this is your first fully-fledged sales ops role?
RY: It's my first one in terms of title. Most of things I'm doing, I've done elements of in previous roles. But it's the first time where I've combined it all together and I'm responsible for other aspects like the forecasting, and a lot of the quota setting and then planning. It's my dream scenario because not only am I doing that, but I've also got the deal desk piece that has to be built out and managed with that as well.
I went off and did my MBA at Warwick over the last couple of years to make sure that I had that deep understanding of every facet of the business. I was looking at marketing, strategy, analytics, and everything in between. This gives me an insight as to how to link operations to strategic choices such as new market entry or corporate strategy.
RB: There's alot of discussion at the moment about where sales operations sits, thedepartments that it overlaps or interacts with and how that's becoming clearlymore central. Which departments are you interacting with the most? And how areyou finding the sales/marketing relationship?
RY: In my six months at Snowflake, I've noticed a few disconnects between things like who owns finding accounts, who owns the data behind that etc. And if those things don't align then you get conflict. So I think I learned very early on that in order to make those things work, you've got to be fairly transparent. And you've got to form these partnerships with people, so for instance, I've been working very closely with the account-based marketing team. My job is to ensure that the data they're giving sales in order to run campaigns is also good enough for us to run territories.
And if we're not seeing that as a joint product and ajoint project for us to get together on, it falls between the cracks a littlebit. So I think that's what I've learned. And there’s been a little bit ofconflict there, but I think that's natural. And it's about managing thoseconversations. People have different aims in their projects and it's aboutmaking sure that they come together close enough for you both to get a win outof it.
RB: For me,if sales operations aren't fully ingrained in the strategy side, you're off toa false start. What's been your experience of how privy you are to what thebusiness is trying to do over the next few years and whether that has a knock-oneffect on the processes you implement.
RY: We're lucky in that respect because we are very early stages and we're a fairly small team, so I'm exposed to a lot of the corporate strategy. I'm very keen on scenario planning and modelling out six, nine, 12 months ahead.
Something I learned in my MBA was around identifying the amplifiers and the dampeners of scenarios. For example, if you say I'm going to go out and plan territories for a brand new country and through experience you can recognise the dampeners, so that will be things like poor data, maybe slow hiring, not having the right agencies working for you, but the amplifiers on the other hand are things like we've already got great data on this country, we've done the analysis, we've got great referrals coming in. And if you can plan out a model for the worst case, the best case scenario, and then a middle ground and identify the dampeners, you can work on those ahead of time. It's almost like a live SWOT analysis on the business, your tools, processes and customers.
RB: Do youapply that concept to other processes?
RY: I think you can apply this to many things. So if youroll out a brand new data tool, dampeners could be it will impact any otherprojects in the business. Or on the flip side, perhaps you will get morebenefit from rolling this out than you would the alternative. So it's aboutlooking at all those scenarios. And in a business like ours, it's all about thepriority for the quarter.
We are very driven by OKRs, knowing exactly what it isyou're going to achieve that quarter and then being able to keep that prioritylist so that if another project comes in, you can very quickly rejig that list.So using the example of a new data tool, implementation can take a lot of time,but if the benefits outweigh some of the other projects, it might be worthdoing. And if it saves in time in the long term or solves other issues thatyou've got, it's definitely worth doing.
It's almost like storytelling. You picture what couldhappen, you model whether this will have an effect on another department oranother part of your team and you look at what you're able to roll out and whatyou regard as success. And then you talk about how you measure that success.
RB: We had an interesting interview with Brandon Bussey of Lucid where he talked about Lucid's use of OKRs. It would be great if you could share an example of a quarterly or half yearly objective that you had and the measurables of how you achieve that.
RY: An good example is our enablement sessions. We committed to running a certain amount of what we call 'lunch and learn' sessions. So, we have to hit a certain number of sessions every quarter and have them documented, recorded and then put it in a place where people can watch them. And that could be about rolling out changes to Salesforce or how to forecast, for example. And it's just delivered in a way that only takes an hour out of the salespeople’s week. It's recorded, and sometimes it has quizzes added to it just to test that people are actually doing it. So as an OKR it's quite simple but effective.
RB: So ifI've understood that correctly, let's say the objective might be something likeimprove our forecasting. And an OKR might be a 90% view rate of our forecastinglunch and learn session, improving accuracy by 20% and salesforce categoryadoption by 13%.
RY: Yes, that's exactly right. And if you start from thatlunch and learn piece, then you start looking at getting people to use exactlythe same Salesforce reports. This can be measured and there are plenty of toolsout there to help.
RB: Andagain, similar questions. We know that sales ops owns forecasting, and thatstarts to intertwine with finance. From your experience, where does yourresponsibility for forecasting stop and where do you pass the baton on tofinance?
RY: Well, my view is that it's actually sales that ownforecasting. They're the ones who are really qualifying deals in and out. Iwould say finance are involved at the beginning and the end. They're settingthose targets and setting a goal that obviously meets the needs of theinvestors. It's then up to sales and sales ops to create the leads or opportunitiesand creating the flow to make that happen. But ultimately, sales own whatthey're calling on the forecasting.
Sales ops, in my view, are all about giving theinformation to sales to say that these are solid deals. It's about giving themenough information to ensure that the next steps are accurate. We're the onesthat do the digging, and I think this again is where deal desk comes inperfectly and it's very important that if sales ops have been face to face withthe customer in a contractual call or I've looked at the structure of the dealand I know what's been going back and forth,I've got a window into that deal that probably a sales manager may not havehad. So I think that's a great insight to how deals are actually flowing up toclose won. And I think we as sales ops own all the process piece and the datato back it up.
But ultimately sales own that forecast. Whenever I'm goingthrough calls, I will run the reports, have them set for sales, but I'll expectthem to work through deals and call out deals. And if they miss one that Ithink needs talking about, then I'll bring that up and make them aware. I seesales ops as the sidekick that provides sales with a different angle of all thedeals and keeps them on their toes a little bit. And then going back tofinance, at the end it's around booking and making sure that all the financialelements are covered.
RB: There'san interesting trend that we're seeing where sales operations leaders aregetting more and more into the realms of VP Sales. Interrogating deals forexample, is traditionally something that would have been done by a salesleader. Have you always found that you've been involved in that or have youfound that the shift has happened since you've been in sales ops? Or perhapseven you've driven that shift in Snowflake?
RY: For me to have credibility in that industry, I have to understand the customer, the business case and why they're buying from us. And I think being able to understand that and being able to dig into the detail and the reality gives me a lot more power and trust with the sales directors. And I think that resonates with deal desk and sales ops. And as I've progressed and learnt more and more about the deal itself, plus the MBA and my previous experience at Google etc, I feel I'm in a place where I like to know about every big deal. I'm interested in knowing what they're thinking commercially, whether we're targeting the right people in the organisation, and then how that feeds back into all the other deals we're working on and going forward. So if I just saw the numbers in Salesforce, I wouldn't really feel confident to give advice. And I think some sales ops folks would probably just want to see the numbers and just run reports and stay a little bit outside of that. But I think then you're not getting enough detail in my view.
RB: Who's theone stakeholder that you're most in tune with?
RY: Probably GVP Sales but I've got a very good regimewith legal as well because of my knowledge of contracting and how the teamswork together. These two relationships definitely help because I know how farwe can go with legal and at the same time that wins me favours with legal andwith sales. And there's always a balancing act of not pushing someone too hardbut also going after growth. So I think having those two people in your circleof trust is very, very helpful. Obviously from an GVP point of view, you'redriving the growth, the strategy and those little insights that you get fromthem can dictate your planning and types of tools you're looking at. And gettingthe GVP signed up to my plan makes it much easier for me to push it out to therest of the team.
RB: I'minterested to know what you've succeeded and failed in with the adoption of newprocesses.
RY: At Intralinks we rolled out CPQ, the quoting andpricing tools. I think it was a relatively poorly managed project at the beginning.We wanted a digital link between what's on the paper and what was billed. Thiswas completely alien for the salespeople and that really threw them. So whatdidn't go well there was rolling it out without giving people hands ontraining. The idea was to have the deal desk team roll out the whole process,including the training. And this is probably where it went wrong because therewere only 2 of us in Europe to around 150 reps. So we were expected to do thetraining through a couple of calls and in our daily interactions with the reps,and that combined with three or four pretty big bugs at the beginning causedthe reps to lose trust. And with a critical tool like that, the reps werepanicking that they couldn't get their quotes out.
We ended up spending a lot more time with people hands onand spent a lot of time traveling. And then we relaxed the rules and introducedtransitional periods. We let them use the old system for a bit longer and gavethem an extra six months. In the end it was fairly successful but it tookprobably an extra 12 months.
Examples of good onboarding are probably fairly rare inthis space. If you're ever trying to change anything for sales on a big scale,there's always an element of resistance. But something that worked quite wellat Google was tiering. We said to the salespeople we were going to tier theircustomers based on criteria like spend, their fit with Google, their spend inother parts of Google etc and that would then categorise them for their levelsof support they got.
So you could say a tier three deal would get just a deal manager and they would get limited redline support, and that'd be it. Anything higher, they would get legal from day one, they would get some time with VPs or product managers and we would really work on those deals. I think that worked quite well because from day one it showed people where they could get the most benefit from their support and which deal they should concentrate on. That was a big change, but it was managed well. The good thing about Google is there is always just tons of communication. Everything's transparent and open and the reasons behind the changes were there and the right people were pushing the message.
You had the top sponsors saying, right guys, this iswhat's going to change. These are the reasons why. Speak to X, Y and Z if youneed help. If it comes from the right people at the top, it makes a bigdifference. It was seen as a strategic change to the way we use our resources.
RB: I thinkyou've just come up with a lovely three Rs recipe: Reason, Right backers, andResources.
RY: Exactly! I think the other thing to bear in mind is these messages are probably going out to people in different cultures, languages, interpretations of the message, and sometimes you've got to build that into what you're doing as well. So if we're doing something that goes out to APAC and to EMEA, you have to think about the clarity and the tone of your message and that is applied to your written communication that goes out to the field. But also when you're having conversations with the field, I think that is another huge part. These are the soft skills of sales ops and are so important for anyone looking to work in this space.
And I think that's sometimes overlooked when you're typically seen as a data cruncher with your head down in your laptop. But actually you have to deliver some fairly tough conversations sometimes. So you're giving people bad news, such as telling them this deal won't work or telling them they're stepping outside of the rules. I always look for really good soft skills when I’m hiring. I assess whether they’re able to amend their tone and their clarity and then making sure that they're having the right conversation with the right people. Because it's a very emotive piece, a salesperson arguing with sales ops, and it happens all the time. But if you can manage to take the emotion out of it and make it a very fact-based clear conversation, it makes things a lot easier. And that's something I've learned over the years. Once you figure that out it becomes, it becomes a lot easier.
RB: One lastquestion. What are your key ingredients for a decent forecast?
RY: A lot of it is around a clear, clean and easilyunderstood process. Making sure that you have clear sales stages. Asking peopleif they're confident that deal will happen this quarter from many angles. Reportsshould be very transparent and open to pretty much everyone who needs to seethem. So you can quickly see that the SD is calling something, but the RDisn't, for example. Changing the angle, testing the deal from multiple viewpoints is critical to sales operations.
Making it that simple really helps. I always tell peopleto 'Fisher Price' things i.e. make them so simple that kids can use them.
Another element of accurate forecasting is having a bottomup approach every week. So those SDs have meetings with their RDs and theyqualify in and out and it might change a bit but ultimately, you're cuttingthose deals out that you're not confident about on a weekly basis so on Mondaywe’re just looking at accurate data. It's really around qualification criteriaand it's about understanding the industry as well. Knowing, for example, thatwith data hungry products, there's going to be a legal conversation at the end.
And then, you know, you can dig into the numbers and look at your commits and your stretch, all the different things that people call it. It's about simplifying it and having everyone on the same page.
Want to get more insights from sales ops leaders? Check out our other posts in the sales ops interview series.
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