Interview: Kay Dastgheib at A Cloud Guru

I was excited to catch up with Kay Dastgheib, Director of Revenue Operations at A Cloud Guru and find out about his journey down the path of RevOps. He joined me all the way from the States to give me his insights into the wondrous world of RevOps and acquisitions...

Rory Brown (RB): Kay, tell me a little bit about you and how you got yourself into the wonderful world of RevOps in the first place.

Kay Dastgheib: I stumbled into the world of RevOps. I think that is probably safe to say for most people in this field.  Looking at the trends on LinkedIn, for the past decade RevOps has seen a massive spike in job descriptions and job titles, even more so in the past 5 years.

I found myself managing a customer success team, including customer operations about 6 years ago. It was everything from how we better our CRM, Customer Retention, Customer Service, Contract Management all baked together. After they were acquired, and the integrations efforts complete, I left to join a growing team at another company as dedicated customer success operations.

I started working with some brilliant colleagues and we established a lot of key pillars for the organisation. To enhance our retention efforts, I tackled everything from customer health scoring modelling to scaling and developing predictive and essentially proactive customer engagement to at-risk customers.  Partnership with our BI team led to value driven initiatives that provided real fuel for our expansion pipeline.  After that, I started getting involved in not only CS, but sales development, and our strategic account functions.  I transition from just customer success operations to sales and CS. At that point, it was revenue operations, full cycle.

I was a part of driven teams tackling some of the hardest challenges for growing organisations, acquisitions being the pinnacle.  Those big exercises evolved my perspective.  The natural transition of siloed operations teams to a full-cycle mindset. RevOps is not something that can be pigeonholed into just one of the major business units, ie. marketing, sales, and customer success. It's all there together. If you're not thinking of them all together, you're actually limiting yourself substantially.

RB: Brilliant. Thank you for that. The focus of today is going to be around the world of revenue operations where acquisitions are concerned. As you've previously alluded to, I imagine the work starts way before the acquisition to the public takes place. Let's start there. You first hear of the fact that an acquisition might be on the cards, or maybe you just know that you're an acquisition-ready company; to acquire not to be acquired. What are some of the things that you have to consider as a RevOps team that may other RevOps team may not actually have to genuinely consider because that's not the plan for their business?

KD: The first thing to appreciate is that RevOps leaders could be finding out about the acquisition pretty late down the road. There is not always going to be a situation where they're seated at the table aware of contract negotiations.  Knowing a handful of rules will help when RevOps needs to provide informed decisions and informed timelines.  Keeping these in mind will help craft answers when your stakeholders ask, “We're going to be pushing through this acquisition. What do you think you will need to tackle?"

Rule One, you're going to have to assume that the most comprehensive effort will be normalising customer data between both CRMs. In a perfect world, everyone's on Salesforce. And assuming we're in this environment where both organisations are in Salesforce, we have to appreciate that both organisations have different cultures, and methodologies.  As a result, they inevitably have different mentalities on how the data is being logged. How are we tracking opportunities? How are we tracking contracts? How are we tracking our interactions with customers and prospects? How are we tracking success in one organisation versus the other? I recommend, right out of the gate working to roadmap how both organisation’s business workflows track against each other.

The reality is you will learn things from the newly acquired teams. Companies do not buy other companies just because they're trying to gobble up competition, usually. There are also resources, talent, a space in the market that is really going to expand a go-to-market strategy. You can learn a lot from another company's deployments of software, technology, and processes. So, map it out and see how their data looks and feels.

Rule Two, prioritise the minimal viable product and limit scope creep. Everything is going to take way longer than you think it is going to take. Ambitious timelines are always going to be pressured from the top down, and from the bottom up.  Most stakeholders and leaders look to RevOps and ask, "Can we get this in two months? Can we get this in the next six months?"

Let’s make up a timeline where we have acquired a company back in September.  Our stakeholders ask, "by January 1st, we'd like to have the go-to-market, new business acquisition team all running out of the same Salesforce instance." What are the big questions you have to ask? Some of these questions change when you are tackling an integration from two companies that operated in the same space.  How do you tackle overlapping territories? How about overlapping customers?  What does your tech stack look like? You must think about the technologies that are being used. Maybe one team is on Sales Loft, and the other is on Outreach. Maybe one team isn't using anything like that, and they're living out of their inbox. These are all big, big fundamental questions, and you must make a plan on what you are trying to do with them.  Start by identifying, "What do they need to succeed in their roles on day one?"

That's how you limit scope creep. Scope creep is really easy for us.  RevOps people likely more guilty than most - Why? We feel like we can save the world. We want to fix everything. That's why we're here. We're like, "We will be your black ops inside the organisation and we'll find a way to get that to work." We find ourselves saying we can fix, or build something new before digging into it.

Success with Rule 2, means partner significantly with your go-to-market leadership. Sales and CS leadership are going to be thinking about things that they need to see. Choices will come up, what is something we need now, vs. a not now? Tools, processes, all fall into that split.  The AE team likely needs their emails synced to Salesforce.  However, maybe separate tool that is competing for your team’s resources is a signature scraper that can wait for later on down the road.  Chances are your stakeholders sound something like, "I need to be able to see activity in Salesforce. I need to be able to see meetings being set. I need to be able to see things like meeting held rates." If those specific metrics are day one requirements for a team that's migrating over onto a new instance, you have to see, well, what are the tools? What are the processes we need to get built in place to essentially bring these teams together so that they can succeed?

RB: Brilliant. If maybe we start with point one. It sounds like you might say it's the biggest effort. It just sounds so challenging because you're going to have different sales processes and you're still going into technicalities of Salesforce. You mentioned about this whole thing of the company being acquired might be much smarter at doing this, than the company's been acquired, which obviously goes through a whole change management thing for the whole company.

Can you tell me a little bit about that process? If you decide to borrow some things from the company that's being acquired, you've got two sets of people that are going to have a slight change there. How do you even begin to plan out how you're going to manage that change with all these humans that you've now got at your fingertips?

KD: I will shatter the illusion that revenue operations people are just a bunch of analysts and strategists that are looking at the data and giving bad news or good news.  It limits the perspective of what the role has evolved to do. I like to think revenue operations is more so relationship operations. We can't do everything on our own and the reality is, we're not the experts in everything. We are going to help take business problems and turn them into tactical implementations.

We need everybody to be involved to get us to that finish line. Step one, working sessions. Actual working sessions. Nowadays with Zoom, it makes things a little dicier, but you can still figure it out. I cannot recommend enough using collaboration tools, like Lucidchart, Miro. These various kind of smart-view, highly interactive applications allow teams to share ideas dynamically and on time, the same way we all would drawing on a whiteboard.  Slack threads and email threads are nice, but nothing is going to be even remotely comparable to just “face-to-face”, social distancing of course, communication.

Let's think about these working sessions. What should they accomplish? Well, you are going to want a working session that is stakeholder-specific to the business problem. Smaller is better. Think about contract management as a big rock to move. We're not going to want everybody under the sun for a contract management meeting. Think about the new business acquisition team, think about the finance team, anybody who is going to have a hand in this core business function. Get those people that touch that process in the room and start doing a customer journey.

It is the first step in this process and it's a fun exercise. It really is because what you're doing, you're getting everybody who's brain is somewhat involved in the architecturing of this universe to chart out, "Well, this is where the prospect enters the funnel. This is data that we track here. This is who owns this data." And as you move through this journey, you should see the data that flows in and out, the processes that happen, and who are the stewards of this data. Who's responsible for this section of the journey?

Line the customer journeys from both organisations against each other.  Explore how the journey of account A changes depending on the organisation. When we get to see them side-by-side, it makes the conversation interesting, as it fosters idea exchanges and new learning.  You’ll have a sales leader say, "I really like how you're handling appointment setting.”  Operations and Finance leaders will see things of their own, "I see account B doing this and we didn't try doing XYZ because we thought it would be too much of an administrative burden on our AEs. How did you make it work?"

This facilitates spinoff conversations for smaller subgroups to tackle these as work streams with integration focused deliverables. "All right, we thought that company A and B had challenges with XYZ. This new working group will meet and come back with a recommendation on what is our next steps.”

After each one of these larger working sessions bring it together in a meaningful recap. What are the major bodies of work that we want to go tackle? What are our project dependencies?  What can be done concurrently? Those questions then drive the vision for what this new combined, powerful company looks like.  It is a tapestry, a mosaic that aims to take the best parts of both.

RB: So once you've gone through that process, you've then got a situation where you decide on the new processes, which can be an amalgamation of a few different things, and you've got to roll out. This is something I've spoken to a lot of people about when there’s human beings involved. How would you start to think about adoption before the rollout? How would you get people involved, you have champions in there? Do you get input as an open door input policy? How does all that work so that when it actually reaches the fingertips of the people you're supporting that their expectations are aligned and they're excited about the new process that's coming out in an ideal world?

KD: One of the advantages of these working sessions is that inherently we're providing an avenue or a platform for ownership. These smaller working groups are actual stakeholders.  They partner with operations in identifying, "Hey, this is the better approach. This is the strategic approach." These individual work streams now are projects where those groups will identify project leads, project managers irrespective of hierarchy, and all that good stuff. You'll want to have these project owners champion for their solutions.   For example, "I think that we need to use a DocuSign integration with a Salesforce CPQ deployment." That is followed up with, " We agree that that's something that's better. We were handling it manually through templates loaded in DocuSign, that were then handled by our contract admin team.  We like the idea of using a CPQ to generate a quote." Now that the action item is agreed, move onto project planning.

Let’s call this number 3 on our handful of rules. Adoption with end-users is tied to the messaging more so than the implementation itself. That's where it really falls on revenue operations to really craft the right narrative with the go-to-market leaders. I think we've all been in enough environments where we are really excited about a new tool. We deploy it and it's a flop. I would be lying to you if I said every application, I've ever launched was smooth sailing. We learn from our mistakes. I learned a lot about messaging from those mistakes.

What are we trying to do when it comes to reps? What are we trying to do for SDRs, AEs, CSRs, marketing analysts, and associates? This includes everybody who is dependent on the larger environment of prospect and customer data.  We are trying to make their lives easier in order not to make it harder. We're trying to make it, so their jobs are more efficient and especially for the go-to-market teams that are generating revenue, help them make money.

We need keep those core tenants in mind and use those as the motivating pillar, we have to show them through the story.  This operational change results in A, which results in B, which results in more meetings, more opportunity win rate, higher average contract value. We have to align the process with the end results that is going to have value for the team.

It is a good second gut check.  Is the process I am putting out positively affecting the production output of the team that I'm trying to support? If the answer is no, you need to ask yourself, “Why are we doing this?”  If it's not going to actually help them in any way, then it means you have to go back to the whole definition of revenue operations. Is this a full cycle conversation? Is this just a band-aid for some other persistent problem? Do we need to take a look at the root cause of this?

RB: What you're basically saying here is ultimately everything you do and backup that creating a better environment for the sellers and the marketers and the CS people to work within. What you want to do is tie it to something, every project, every initiative, and every change to something that they understand. Also, whatever which is also it's a lever that makes the sales team go faster, or sell more efficiently or sell it more easily or whatever it may be, save them time.

KD: Yes. To give you a tangible example, and one of the more popular buzzwords right now, think predictive analytics. It can be very intimidating for someone who's not spending their time living in the world of statistics.  So, it’s pretty reasonable when they say, "Okay. What is this health model that you're throwing in my direction? Is this more data that I have to go look at and try to understand without any context?"

We as RevOps people are intimately aware that reps’ days are busy as can possibly be. They're updating Salesforce. They're reading emails. They're maintaining multi-threaded communication channels. Their jobs do not afford them the capacity to spend an hour reading some charts and to make some actionable decisions. We need to think about, if they're going to look at these charts and say "Hey, I know my customer's health already."

Thinking about the delivery is of utmost importance.  We need to convey that we are providing a lift into something they would not normally be able to do.

"Hey, in your inbox on Mondays, you're going to get a report that shows your at-risk customers and why based on some of the data we've seen," that I can promise you will be read, because why? It's not them going and digging through various reports and dashboards, it's spoon-fed. It is on a silver platter saying, "Here are your accounts to look at," and then we show them what happens if you don't touch these accounts? Well, maybe they leave at a 40% rate. You have a 40% churn on accounts that are at risk when they have this kind of usage behaviour.  We want to fix that and you can affect it by simply pushing them against these specific benchmarks that we know provide value to our customers. By eight months, nine months into their renewal, you can see a renewal increase by 10 to 15%.

That's the narrative. We're tying the work product, to the person who is most affected. I found data. I'm going to implement a process that allows you to action against it. The reason you want to action against it is because it is going to affect how you can boost your renewal rates. That's one of those examples of rep-affecting change management.

RB: It is beautifully simplified overview of what should be happening. Really nicely put. Thanks for sharing. Last question, you manage companies and there are different people. Not just the sales teams, I'm talking about people that are maybe doing RevOps and other companies. Sometimes, they end up going somewhere else, sometimes they end up working within your team. From your perspective, what's that like as knowing there's going to be a whole new bunch of people that are in and around your arena? Is it an excited feeling? Is it a daunting feeling? Is it, "I can't wait to see what these people are up to and learn from them?" What's that like for you?

KD: I would say it's very exciting. As you've actually said in the beginning of our conversation, RevOps people, generally speaking, are in the little bubble on their own. There aren’t a lot of like-minded personas within the company that are performing a similar function. Whenever I've been a part of an acquisition, and we get to interact with another RevOps team, it's like, "Hey, how's it going? Let's chat about this," because they're thinking the same things. Absolutely.

They're thinking, "We were joining a new team. We know how we do things, how do they do things? What are our similarities? Where are the differences? What is the work going to look like? Can we meet these timelines? Most importantly, am I going to be valued as part of this team?"

That's a really important people component there. As RevOps leaders in these kinds of spaces, we have to make a significant effort, a wilful investment in other RevOps teams that are joining our larger organisation to show them, we value their input, and we want them to be a part of this new uniform process.

We didn't just buy the brand. We didn't just buy the customers. We essentially invested in a relationship to take all the great aspects of the talent that made that other company so successful that it warranted an acquisition to begin with, right? We want to work with their talent.

I'm usually very excited because we get to explore different perspectives of thinking about how to manage customer data in a CRM. Or thinking about, "Well, how did you manage forecasting and pipeline coverage? What are the forecasting dashboards that you use? How do you conduct stand-ups or provide quarterly business reviews? What is the format for those things?" These are how you start to think and change. Every acquisition I've been through, I've learned something tremendous about how to tackle something new.

RB: Fantastic.

KD: Going back through the years, it's been truly a privilege to work with other RevOps teams because I was able to really expand my worldview on how we can tackle problems. I think keeping that positive mentality is going to be the real recipe for success at the end of the day.

RB: You're thinking, "Woo friends."

KD: Woo friends is the right way to go about it. Woo new friends.

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