Interview with Scott Padjen, Sales Operations Manager at InVue

Rory Brown (RB): Firstly, Scott, I’d love to get a quick overview of your background, how you meandered your way into sales operations in the first place.

Scott Padjen (SP): I started off my career in finance. It wasn't my initial career path, as I initially wanted to be an attorney. But right around the time that I was graduating, the market bottomed out and I had to pivot and go in a different direction. I had a minor in finance and I was lucky to get a job being a financial analyst when I got out of school. I really just focused my career on helping businesses grow.

I was never in a traditional FP&A role; I was always on the operational finance side. It was finding efficiencies in networks and finding ways to improve performance and improve margins. I was lucky enough to move into a role outside of finance, and more into a strategy role. I was involved with anything from pricing strategy to moving into new marketplaces to identifying new market segments. I was looking at our performance from a financial standard point on a profitability level. So if you're a salesperson, you're largely based on driving revenue and it doesn't really necessarily matter, in some instances, if that revenue is profit or not. You really are just focused on hitting your targets, hitting your monthly targets and your yearly targets and you let the company deal with the profitability portion of it.

One of the largest things I undertook was this profitability matrix that I developed. It was really looking at all our large customers and some of our customers that we were working with, and we provided rebates and all these various kickbacks to them that allowed them to generate large portions of revenue with us. We had various levels of sales reps that were calling on these large national customers as well. One of the things that we realised is, we had too many pokers in the fire, and we were giving a little bit too much kickbacks to these companies. At the end of the day, we would say we were bringing in millions of dollars, but our profits were very small on some of these customers.

That was one of the things that I looked at and was able to reduce and put this new measurement in place for what really is a good customer what is, maybe a customer that we might need to pass on because it's just not going to be profitable for us in the long term. It was really focused on a lot of different strategic approaches and building out this particular portion of the business. I was even involved with like M&A activities, and a lot of things like that.

My current role is in sales operations and they really needed someone to help build a foundation for a good sales team. They had leaders in place that were there for coaching, but we just really didn't have the metrics in place to measure what success is, measure how we then make that a scalable model for growth.

The company I'm in now, we have a really strong and large growth target. How are we going to get to that growth target was really something that they needed help figuring out. I was asked to come on board and it was really nice because I had a clean slate. I had a start from scratch approach, which was neat and it's unique for some businesses. Some businesses they have some sort of sales operations group in place. Maybe they'll bring on someone that they want to expand upon, but this was just a clean slate.

I just dove right in, and started looking at everything from more of a revenue operations aspect, because I think more companies need to migrate towards that role. It's nice that we have sales operations, but since everything is so interconnected within the organisation, it's nice to make sure that everyone's aligned on the same KPIs, and everyone's moving to the same goal. Whereas in some organisations you'll have marketing trying to do their own thing, such as drive up click rates or something. Then you’ll have sales going in this direction and they're just not working in harmony. It's nice to be able to take that from scratch and make sure that we're all on the same page and we're all moving towards the same goal.

That's an overview of my career path and where I am today. We're not perfect right now. We're still building upon a lot of the processes and fine-tuning some of the forecasting models that we're doing and the forecasting tools that we're putting in place but I definitely have seen a large uptick in sales performance. We've seen more engagement from the sales team and we've started acquiring new customers as well.

RB: Nice. That brings us on to the key topic of today, which is building a sales tech stack for sales performance. Which is a big old topic. Maybe if we look at a bird's eye view, Scott, where does one start? What's the first thing you'd need to start considering before you even get going? What are the considerations before you even go out shopping?

SP: I think it starts with the same ways that you would apply to a customer. Ultimately, your sales team is your internal customer. You want to eliminate as much friction in their sales process as possible. Really just sitting down and interviewing, getting in the field. Sometimes getting in the field and understanding what's taking up most of their time, where do they see gaps in performance and how can you improve upon that can be really beneficial. Ultimately, building the right tech stack if you're looking at it, it really can make the difference between hitting or missing your quotas.

If you don't have the proper tools in place for your team to be successful, and you're not eliminating that friction there, it's really difficult for them to succeed. Ultimately, if they have a task that takes up an hour of their day, well, that's an hour of their day that they're not out selling and possibly bringing revenue to the company. You really want to look at these activities and these tasks that the sales team is being asked to do. Also, look at where some of the processes be removed or streamlined. Where you can improve upon some of the processes and generate a better output from that. If you're looking at your prospects, is there a better way that we can scrub leads that are coming into the sales team so that they have a better chance of turning those leads into an opportunity? The best approach is to look at your sales team as an internal customer and treat them in the same way that you would an outside customer. Just making sure that their path to success is outlined is as much as possible.

RB: You've mentioned here about finding areas that you can improve, make more streamlined, remove friction, increase efficiencies, and increase conversion rates. Before you start thinking about where to go first, what's giving you the information, what's directing you to where to go to fix first or where to remove friction first, where to improve efficiency first - how does that work?

SP: I really think it depends on what's going to be the biggest impact to the business, so what’s going to really bring in the most revenue. Ultimately, when you go to your executive team to ask for money to be able to purchase some of these technologies that are going to be improved, you need to be able to prove an ROI. And having that financial background has been beneficial to me because I've been able to say, "Okay, well, if we're able to increase our pipeline optimisation and get more leads into the pipeline that then turns into more opportunities, which then turns into more revenue," that, it's an easier sell to the executive team, it's really just being able to prove the ROI there.

It does take that initial work to really dig in and understand what levers you can pull that are going to do the biggest impact the quickest. Because what I've seen is, if we are able to prove results and prove results fairly quickly, it does allow the executive team to invest more in because they're seeing results in a quicker way. So really, starting with those items that are really going to make the most impact in the quickest manner I think is the best approach there.

RB: That makes a lot of sense. What'd be great is if you could maybe share an example of where there was a lack of process or there was friction or was a stumbling block or a drop off for the sales team and how you then sought some sort of technological, by the sounds of it, a tech based solution for that.

It could be the last thing that you integrated, or maybe something that stands out as a bit of a success story.

SP: Yes. When I initially came on board we had a homegrown CRM. So if you were looking at the sales funnel, it was very difficult to identify where the gaps were. If you were moving from discovery to a different phase in the sales funnel, what is causing that delay and why it was happening?

What I had to overcome was just digging into the details behind the length of the sales cycle, identifying where each gap was occurring and then put together a business proposal that was able to then show, for example, if we were to adopt a non-homegrown CRM here's where we could see success from shortening a sales cycle in these particular stages because it's going to be able to alert us in an appropriate manner to what's causing that delay in the different stage in the sales funnel there.

RB: What in your experience has seen the quickest results? A lot of people talk about start at the top of the funnel and the rest trickles through. That's assuming that you make incremental gains at any part of the funnel, not a huge gain at the bottom.

What have you seen that's had a big immediate impact by quickly changing it?

SP: Where we've seen the biggest impact is the quality of leads that are leading into the funnel. We weren’t doing a really good job of evaluating and grading our leads before they went into our sales team. So we were able to quickly clean that up and put in a better lead grading system that provided a more honed-in lead scoring that provided better leads and then we saw a quicker lead-to-opportunity conversion rate just by being able to adjust a fairly easy task that was able to just quickly generate a lot of results.

RB: Nice, okay. Any kind of data you can share there or to what extent did you see results improve?

SP: It was a significant bump. I think they were up to 20% increase in conversion from lead to opportunities just by honing in that lead scoring a little bit. We had to take a step back and say, "Okay, where are we trying to get leads from first? The leads that we are getting from, say, our website, are we asking the right questions to quickly narrow out those potential leads that really aren't going to fit our business and our products that we're trying to sell?"

We had to take a deep dive and look at things like our demographics and some of our online behaviour and our email engagement that we were doing. We just wanted to make sure that we were targeting the right audience for our products as well. We were casting a little bit too wide of a net. Some levers you had to pull there to reel that back in and just hone that in so we're seeing more results.

RB: What you touch on there is about sourcing the quality that goes into your pipeline early so that presumably the sales team are then focused on a leaner, more realistic sales pipeline that can convert, right?

SP: Absolutely. That’s really one of the most important things that I don't think a lot of companies put a lot of focus on. If you're sending a bunch of leads to your sales team, and they're going to have to sift through tons of stuff that's garbage that isn't going to ever return into a real actionable customer, then you're putting stuff out there that's just delaying and taking away from their focus from a customer that could potentially generate revenue for you.

RB: Moving towards the middle of the funnel, let's say opportunity to close in there. What sort of tech have you seen that's had a really positive impact on things like conversion and speed through that main section?

SP: Honestly, I've seen a pretty large increase of our engagement actually increase due to the coronavirus pandemic, which is odd to say. But we've taken this approach where we've adopted a virtual roadshow is what we're calling it. It's allowed us to engage using things like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, MailChimp, and things like that, where we've been able to engage pretty high-level individuals within our organisation at a pretty high success rate. If you're sitting in the office and you're sitting there, you have tons of people that are dropping and distracting you from your day there and you have meetings that you're constantly going in and out of. But what we're seeing is some of these top executives are working from home now their schedules have cleared up a little bit, because they've started to prioritise what they really should be doing throughout the day. It's really allowed us then to be able to engage with these high executives and get meetings on the books that we're actually able to engage with them and show off our products. It took us a lot longer to do and we were just knocking on doors and things like that.

Adopting more tools that are engaging them from a tech standpoint has really improved how fast we're reaching our customers and how fast are they moving into the funnel.

RB: Nowadays, it's been accelerated by the pandemic. We've got a situation where everyone's got so much digital space that they're willing to give out to people they don't know. That's basically what it is.

If you're going to get some of that space, and some of that time, you've got to do something extra special. Because everyone's in a cadence, everyone's in an outreach place somewhere probably multiple times over. They're being nurtured and worked through. How do you actually reach through and connect and actually grab these people? Anything you can share there about what you did to go above and beyond?

SP: We've really just tailored our message a little bit more. Since things have changed and we're engaged in a retail environment; obviously the retail environment's changed drastically since the pandemic but it's really how we're tailoring our message to the executives and prior to the pandemic, we were really focused on selling. I guess it was a broad range of products that fit a retailer's needs from that standpoint.

What we've really started to do is we've started to tailor our message on specific products to meet specific needs, instead of trying to go in there and pitch our whole book of products that might meet the needs of the retailer but we've started to really hone our message on if we're going to be engaged with someone who's, for example involved with mobile POS, we were really focused on how can we use Sales Navigator to make sure that we're getting in there and finding the right people so we can get those right people in the meeting and then we tailor our message specifically to that individual. We've seen a lot more success that way.

RB: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. Then getting towards the business end. So discussions, contracts. Obviously, there's obvious solutions, like DocuSign, so people aren't printing stuff off and signing signatures and getting it lost in the photocopier and all that kind of stuff.

Is there anything that you've seen that's had a really big impact at that side, other than the obvious stuff?

SP: Outside of the obvious stuff, we did adopt electronic versions of a lot of our contracts. And not from a contract standpoint, but from an order aspect, we've really started to build out our online order platform. We have this portal that allows our end retailers and our retail partners around the globe to basically go in there, look through our catalog. If they have questions, we have an online chat now that we've developed that they can engage with customer service and the customer success team there, but it really takes away us having to really go out there and sell them because they're able to then go make their orders and look at POs and look at a lot of different things that prior we had to engage customer service on and engage our sales team on. Now they can just go on and place orders and we've seen an uptick in revenue just because of that.

We've really adapted to the new environment and we've really built out a real robust online ordering system that is helping or helping our customers to basically place the orders themselves.

RB: One major question with all of this is, at the heart of it, you've got a sales team and humans are great at either adopting or deciding not to adopt things. Any tips and tricks you can share about how you, rolling out all this new tech, or these new processes, how you can ensure that they become part of the sales people's lives and it's not just another thing that they need to do.

SP: I think the biggest thing is really just is doing your homework ahead of time. If you're trying to force a technology and getting a sales team to adopt a technology that they don't really see as a benefit, then they're not going to use it. If you're doing your research upfront and identifying the challenge there and if you're identifying the heart of the problem, then you can develop the solutions that are going to be able to solve that for the sales team.

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