Interview with Patrick Creagh, Sales Operations Manager, StudentBridge

I was intrigued to hear how Patrick's background in marketing helps him in his current role of Sales Operations Manager at StudentBridge. Turn's out, it helps him a lot! Patrick talked me through how he created an SLA to align the sales and marketing teams, how he uses sales velocity metrics to identify areas for improvement in the sales cycle, and how he formulated a successful forecasting process. After hearing more about his journey into sales ops, the interview began...

Rory Brown (RB): Could you tell meabout Patrick Creagh and your journey into sales operations?

Patrick Creagh (PC): My first role after Georgia Tech was at a company called Patientco, which is a healthcare payments startup based in Atlanta. I was one of the early employees there and the first marketing employee they hired. What the marketing team did for Patientco during my time there was implement basic marketing automation and a B2B playbook. I was also doing a lot of the copywriting and blogging or anything that involved market research or digital marketing.

During that time, Patientco grew rapidly, so it was exciting to bepart of that. Then after four years, I joined a company called StudentBridge,which is where I work now. I was originally brought on as a marketingoperations manager. I was one of three marketing managers that reported to theCOO. One of them was focused specifically on HubSpot and digital. The other onewas focused on brand and messaging. Then I was brought in to focus on the salesand marketing alignment.

Eventually, I found myself spending more time on the sales side ofthat equation so after a year my title changed to Sales Operations Manager,though I still oversee the marketing operations as well.

RB: Brilliant. Thanks for the intro. I think a natural place to start is the sales and marketing alignment. What’s the perfect marketing to sales lead handover process and where do you start when building that process?

PC: When I came into StudentBridge, there was a lot of unclean data from previous integration problems with Hubspot, Pardot and Salesforce.

The first thing we did was take HubSpot and Salesforce and separatethe two databases. Then on each side, we went in and found some criteria fordeleting bad data because at that point, our BDR team would have to make 100calls just to get someone on the phone. That's more than 200 or 300 calls toset an appointment on. We were able to identify some criteria, interviewstakeholders, and figure out what would make this lead or contact okay todelete.

Additionally, there wasn’t a designated Salesforce person at thecompany, and this was a role I took on when I joined. There wasn’t a clearstructure for leads and contacts so we had to define the current structure, determinethat we're going to work under contacts. All of this activity meant that wewere able to go from about 70,000 records to 30,000 records in Salesforce.

Then we did basically the same thing on the HubSpot side. It was alittle bit cleaner because HubSpot was newer but we wanted to have a situationwhere we would have everything synced under a common record which would be theemail address.

That was a lot of work at the beginning. Then the final challengeof that project was figuring out how to prevent the leads that the BDR team areworking on from getting stepped on by marketing emails because you don't wantto be having marketing emails getting sent and having one-to-one emails andphone calls happening at the same time.

We created a custom lead status field that was actually on thecontact object but also on the leads object. It became that corresponding fieldso we'd have a bridge form when a lead was converting to a contact.

Then we did a full implementation of SalesLoft, which fitsdirectly on top of Salesforce but does not interact directly with HubSpot, sowe needed a way for activity in HubSpot to trigger activity in SalesLoft or beable to at least update records in SalesLoft.

To do this, we made our custom lead status field on the contactobject in Salesforce be the central point of who's working it. When a contactis uploaded into a cadence in SalesLoft, that updates the lead status field tosay ‘cadence’. Then that updates the marketing or the status field in HubSpot toalert them to remove the contact from their marketing communication.

It's the same thing for when we change the account type inSalesforce to an opportunity or a customer.

Now it only takes the team an average of 30 calls to set anappointment with a qualified prospect.

RB: Great. Thank you. As youmention, when you've got two separate databases, HubSpot and Salesforce forexample, there's a point where they overlap and share some common fields. Thatobviously gives the salespeople or the SDR team a certain amount of visibility intothe HubSpot data. What have you found works there?

PC: For the SDRs, our team don't go into HubSpot directly. Whenthey're prospecting people, unless it's an inbound lead that gets routed tothem from HubSpot, then they wouldn't really have a reason to go into theHubSpot database itself. What they can see is when they're doing their ownprospecting within Salesforce, there's a visual force window on the contactobject that shows history of HubSpot activity on the prospect. They usuallywill have enough documented activity for at least the last six months or so,because we're typically sending out three to four marketing emails a month.

RB: Perfect. One of the things youtalked about earlier was the data integrity issue StudentBridge was facing whenyou joined. The next challenge or possibly the ongoing challenge is maintainingthat newfound integrity. How have you found that? Are there techniques thatyou're using or things that you considered to continue capturing this new datain an effective way?

PC: First of all, you’ve got to write down the process. I drafted a Service Level Agreement or SLA for our lead protocol. Also, for new SDRs and new AEs, I created a Salesforce user guide that's specific to the way that we use Salesforce including details of validation rules.

There's just a lot of guardrails to prevent incomplete data but wedon't want to do it at the expense of discarding good but incomplete data.That's where we've got to look for something that doesn't have email addresses,we'll put that into Salesforce as leads and then they could go through it andconvert each lead to a contact by adding the email address and any of the othermissing required fields.

RB: That makes sense. There's nota huge number of people that have come from a marketing background and thengone to sales ops. What do you think, as a marketer, you can bring to the rolethat perhaps someone who's come from a sales background or one of the moretraditional routes into sales ops would not have had the experience of?

PC: I've always looked at everything from a revenue opsperspective. Because StudentBridge is still small, we only have one customersuccess manager and she is effectively part of the sales team. Taken together,the team itself has one common goal for bottom line bookings. Then I know I'vegot forecasts that trickle all the way back up to how many leads we need towork, how many calls it takes to connect to a person, how many connects ittakes to book an appointment, and how many appointments it takes to create anopportunity.

Then it’s knowing six months out, here's how many top line inputswe need to have the right number come off the bottom, unless we're able to makesignificant improvements at different stages. It also helps identify wherethose gaps are.

It's being able to find that North Star goal that the sales andmarketing teams are aligned on.

RB: Let's say you've got yourideal sales marketing funnel set up. When you’re assessing where you can makethat funnel more efficient, what information and data points are you lookingat? How does that process work for you?

PC: Looking at where we improve, it’s about total sales velocity:how many opportunities are created, the win rate, the average contract valueand the length of the sales cycle.

Those are the four points of attack as far as operational efficiencyand sales strategy goes.

RB: Would you say then you are alwayslooking to move one of those four metrics?

PC: Yes, exactly. Generally, some improvement that you make to oneof those points is going to pull you away from one of the other points. Ifyou're trying to increase average deal size, you're probably going to end upincreasing the length of the sales cycle. If you want to increase the number ofopportunities, you're probably going to lower your win rate.

I think it's like compass where you have those four points andthen it's choosing a direction and keeping the team focused.

RB: That’s a really nice analogyactually. How would you move one metric enough so that the others aren’timpacted? Do you have a system for that?

PC: If I were to come into a situation without any priorinformation, I would look at the four metrics and, using basic industrybenchmarks, figure out which one stands to be improved and where's the lowhanging fruit? Then from there, once you start making improvements, you'regoing to see impacts on the other three or maybe one or two, and then you runover to the other side and either try to find a way to stop the average salescycle from getting so long. It's a constant oscillation between working on one metricand being aware of how it might impact the others.

You have got to be ready to run over and tap the brakes once youstart making those improvements and then over time as you go back and forth,eventually you end up right in that sweet spot. I don't think there's reallyever a point where the trade-offs end.

RB: How did you formulate a goodforecasting process and what things were important to you?

PC: A lot of it for us was actually around headcount. We had an interestingdebate about the right ratio of BDRs to AEs, as well, as, how many AEs do weneed to meet our sales target. Compared to most companies, we have a higher BDRto AE ratio, but I think that's because our BDRs not only set appointments, butthey're also sourcing contacts, and they're sourcing 10,000 to 15,000 qualifiedcontacts a year.

What I did is something similar to a sales velocity formula, whereI made a model in Excel that says, okay, if we can have six AEs and then seven BDRs,how many opportunities per BDR do we think are going to be generated over thecourse of a year or over the course of a month?

Then what do we think our win rate is going to be? What do wethink our average deal size is going to be? Then creating a matrix below with thedifferent headcount scenarios, it can say, okay, if we think that each BDR isgoing to create 100 opportunities the year, and then we went at 20%, thenthat's 20 deals, and then 20 deals multiplied by $50,000. Then, having thatsummed up across how many BDRs you have across every brick. We can see that ifwe change our win rate, if we are able to increase our win rate from 10% to15%, here's the impact on bottom-line revenue based on each of these headcountcombinations.

Using that, we took our historical data, did that exercise andmade some predictions about what would happen to our average deal size, howmuch we can increase our win rate etc. And you have to be conservative whenyou're adding AEs. They're not always going to be as good as your establishedAEs, but we think that we're going to increase our win rate just by knowing ourmarket better and releasing new products.

It's a really interesting and somewhat arbitrary calculation, butthe key was to have the math behind it so that I would be able to explain toour leadership team why we chose the headcount that we did, because then they cango to the investors and say, Okay, we want seven BDRs and six AEs because wethink that with this win rate, and this average deal size, we expect to makethis much in bookings and then X translates to ARR.

RB: Nice. Thank you for sharing your expertise and knowledge with us.

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

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