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The Revenue Operations Blog

An Empathetic View of Processes, John Marcus III

November 26, 2021
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The Interview

Kluster's Take

Tom spoke with John Marcus III, VP Global Revenue Operations at Digital.ai. He explains his empathetic view of processes.

John delivers a masterful piece on best practice process rollout. He has a background in sales, sales leadership and operations. John has founded companies and has an engineering training.

He tells his team that it’s not anyone’s fault that they are at the current confluence of events. However, they have a responsibility to move forward. This empathetic view of processes and understanding of private equity companies is key. They feed into process choices and the monitoring of metrics.

Transcription

Instead of requiring the reps to go and innovate themselves. Sales operations really needs to be the partner and the catalyst for that innovation. You need to be facilitating and helping with those experiments.

Um, my background is a, I'm kind of classically trained as an engineer, a they say recovering engineer, but I've spent my professional career in sales, sales, leadership, and then actually founding companies. So, um, I had been fortunate to have a balance between both sales and. And engineering and, and kind of straddling that line has given me some interesting opportunities to explore concepts that may not be first nature to people who are career salespeople and are definitely not first nature, maybe they're career engineers.

And, uh, in that I've been additionally fortunate to have good contacts, get relationships with individuals who have started exploring, you know, 15 years ago. This concept of, you know, being in sales and also bringing in the engineering side to, to be that sales hacker, if you will. And that was actually one of my first major roles back at HubSpot was to lead up the efforts around that.

That's a lot of the tools that you see today for sales optimization and process optimization. Really born out of the, um, small set of individuals that were thinking deeply on this. We had actually a phone call back in the day that we would just jump on it. It was like a call bridge and we'd just share ideas as to what worked and what didn't work.

And Hey, I'm writing this script in Python and, oh, I've got this Chrome plugin. And what ended up, uh, at the end of that line in my career was a transition into operations and what I didn't realize. A lot of what I was doing as a sales hacker, as a sales leader, as a founder, as, as an engineer, like all of that actually really played exactly into what is a very challenging role in between the field and the process, which is where sales operations comes from.

So that's where I'm at today. And I actually lead a team at digital. Uh, we are a global company where we help with value stream management and we help with all of the tools from planning all the way to analytics and testing in that software development life cycle. So my team, um, I have team in India in Bangalore and in general.

So I'm on the east coast here in Georgia and in Boston, in the U, uh, and then teams battered about the glove. So we work together to support all of our revenue teams. That's not just the sales team, but also our renewables team. We work deeply with marketing and marketing operations to make sure that we're creating one cohesive process for the entire revenue funnel.

So that's really my charge and what my team. Yeah, absolutely. And that case of pro process is something we'll come onto, but I did want to stop and pick up on something really interesting founded companies, led sales teams, led sales, operations teams. Um, I like what you say around so much of this is about the growth hacking, right?

It's about, um, especially in tech building that repeatable process, but why did that end in sales ops for you? Or why has it led to sales ops to you today? Because I can imagine there's lots of different avenues where you could have pursued that path. Yeah, it's interesting because growth hacking and sales hacking while very adjacent, or actually in my mind, a little bit different.

Most specifically sales hacking is focused on the sales rep and the sales motion itself. So a while growth hacking in corpuses encompasses a lot of like the front end of building the funnel and the pipeline and looking at repeatable experimentation. Um, I worked directly on the sales reps. So I came off the floor while at the same time, you know, working on my own self.

So, uh, the beginning of that, really for those who, um, started early on with the field soccer teams, they were sales reps, themselves looking for ways to hit their number easier, more consistently generate more pipeline for themselves and be able to close that pipeline. Um, now that, uh, methodology and that way of thinking, especially when it comes to something.

For many is a, uh, an art, not a science. Yeah, well, bringing that science to it, it brings a whole different level of discipline. Now we can test which of my call scripts are working or not working, which of my, um, demo and closing lines are not leading to closes given that they're equally qualified. And in that experimentation, in that measurement, there's a natural affinity to move to the operations side in, in my world, at least, because what happens is by measuring all of the things that you're doing.

And being able to tweak and make modifications to improve your own funnel. Well, why isn't that the same core to the entire revenue operations process? So it's a shift in thinking to say it is the responsibility of the rep to find their own deficiency, to say that revenue operations is a service. It isn't a center of excellence and of the piece of expertise, part of the DNA of a business that allows sales teams to move faster.

So instead of requiring the reps to go and innovate themselves, sales operations really needs to be the partner and the catalyst to that innovation. They need to be facilitating and helping with those experiments to be able to unblock the things that are, you know, wrote papers. And by getting all of that stuff out of the way, it allows sales teams to focus on the thing that they are so critical for talking with the prospect, engage with your prospect.

Don't worry about the paperwork and all of that other stuff. And that's a big piece of what we work on here at at least with my team at digital data, AI is transforming a lot of what are the, uh, manual processes are, where there's ambiguity in the sales process to really turn that into a more prescriptive way to move forward.

Yeah, that's really interesting. And I'd assume we'd conclude that when we have that prescriptive way to move forward in that structure allows for companies to scale that's when you you're allowed the growth and acceleration. Oh yeah. So there's actually something interesting there, and it's, it's a methodology that I've kind of grown into over the years and it's, it's people process.

Okay. It starts with your people and it's in that order, by the way. So you start with people who do you have in terms of your expertise, your skill matrices, the resources you have available to you, or where you can partner elsewhere in the business. So we can absorb people into the fold. Let's bring them into the fall.

The next is around process, identify and challenge. Why are we doing the things the way that we are doing. And make it part of your cadence to challenge these processes. And then finally technology technology sits at the end, because if we don't understand the challenge at hand, if we don't have the people organized around that challenge, no amount of technology is going to save us.

But if we do understand. It makes it very easy to go find a vendor to find a solution because you have experts within your team that are already on the front lines with the sales team, working to solve contract analysis or something to that effect. Or maybe we have an approvals process for discounting.

If we understand that deeply as a team partnered with our field sales team, we can then go and know right away, that is the technology that is going to solve our problem. And it's going to bring us this benefit. We can turn that into dollars and it makes it very easy case for finance. Yeah. Yeah. It's fascinating people process technology.

Let's bring this into hypothetical events. It's a great thing to work through. Um, so you have your people have your processes, have your technology. Let's imagine a scenario where what we want to achieve is I don't know, a more data led sales saying, you know, reps who really understand forecasting sales leaders who are using data in which to make decisions and coaching conversations.

And you're, you're looking for a piece of technology that enables. Now the challenge I put to you, John, and I'm really interested in how you dissect this is, um, could technology help actually with the process and the people, um, before they're like perfectly aligned or perfectly in that position. Could, could it be a move to kind of get the technology in place to help those other two?

Or do you think one after the other one after the other? If that makes sense? Yeah. Excellent question. So it depends on, um, how familiar you are with the problems. If you are entering into a whole new world and you have a sales team that is not forecasting, or it's a lot of, kind of throw grass into the breeze and see which way it's going.

And then you could probably benefit from. And some education, one of the, uh, triads that, uh, I spoke about a lot when selling HubSpot was software methodology and coaching. Okay. And there were software at HubSpot that was the technology that there was the methodology, which was kind of the inbound marketing book.

Like how do you do inbound marketing? Here are the, uh, you know, the prescriptive ways to describe what we would call content creation, what we called landing pages and lead conversion. And then there was the. Where you would work with your inbound marketing consultant to be able to learn with them. And with guided courses here, side-by-side to do inbound marketing and much like riding a bike.

You may have a really good idea as to what you need to do, but there's going to be some learning in flight. I try to get the teams aligned, um, not having the right people or specifically not having the right culture and mindset is going to just absolutely thwart any technological limits. If you have a team that's not bought in to the problem space and they aren't a believer that we need a solution for this, bringing in technology is just, you know, forcing a piece to a infant that doesn't like peas.

They're just going to spit them out. So getting the people in line, uh, specifically having them aligned with the goal is. Critical. I think that's mandatory. Not everybody needs to be a hundred percent bought in, but we definitely need to be pointing in the right direction. The process part of the methodology that I believe, um, you can rely on others for, I'll give an example.

If you're trying to bring in, um, BI tools and you're looking to do business intelligence with your end goal of say, we need to be more. In our forecasting, we need to bring in some machine learning tools, but we don't know, like, are opportunities structured properly? Do we have the right, um, you know, sales, cadence and forecasting motion?

Do we have the right information, people to feed these? That's where you compare with an expert and it may be a vendor. It may be an expert in the space that can help you with that to say, yeah, actually you do have the information you need to make accurate predictions or meaningful predictions. Rather machine learning is still a fickle beast.

And there's a bit of art in that even these days. So to have the process fully stubbed out and to know what you're challenging, isn't necessary, but it's going to make things a lot easier. If you understand your process and you know what you're challenging and you know where your challenges are, it's going to make it really easy to pick technology, but you may have a situation where you don't know what you don't know, and that's a good time to partner with someone else who does know all of the gotchas in terms of implementing whatever your end state wants to be.

Yeah. Yeah, that's super. Okay. Um, let's bring this to life then. Um, you know, because I love, I love how you start with the people because there's a people sport at the top level. Um, so how do we master the people? How do we master the beginning stage of that process? And let's start with the fundamental ways of driving communication between.

Uh, yeah, it's communication. One of the things that I do whenever I either come into an organization or I start one up is we get communication just down pat, we need a firm and honestly, clear way of communicating back and forth. The tools that we generally use in, in my organizations in the past have been something like a slack or HipChat somewhere, a real-time communication can happen and we can split people off, off to the.

Um, you can all be in the same office and you can huddle in a room, but there's still something to be said of a mid day minor problem that requires a few people to organize around. They can organize, solve it and move forward. So the ability to self-organize is absolutely fundamental to any high performing operations organism.

Other ways to self-organize, whether it's in the office or whether it's say on slack, um, might be via a project in the cloud. You may have something in a sauna. You may have something, just a folder in Google drive where we're working through files and the running log I have found has been really successful.

It's just a document is all it is. And every time you meet or you make meaningful progress on that, you'd go. Put your update in there. And then you kind of just put the newest information at the top and it kind of runs down like, uh, a bit of receipt paper. Now what you get out of that is for free, uh, issue tracking and you get your diff on all of your changes.

So you don't need get to be able to track all the changes here you can actually use. We're document and be able to keep that moving along to see where your progress goes. So the first is to set up the communication properly. The second is to make sure that you have a good, solid vision for your team and what that means.

So some of the key attributes that that might team live up to our kind of service mantra is really around three pillars. The first is transparency. If you don't have a transparent ops team, You're not doing it right. Unfortunately, seal teams have so much going on and I speak from my entire professional career being in sales that I need to know what's going on.

I'm really, I'm spinning a lot of plates in sales. I'm corralling a lot of cats to try to get these deals done. And I need to understand for any of my partners in the business, what's the. So things like ticketing systems and issue tracking, excellent way to build some transparency there, but being transparent in nature and not trying to hide something like, oh, give me that, I'll go take care of it.

But it's an opening it up and saying, Hey, here's a shared documents. So you can see what I'm working on and see how we're pulling together this RFP, which is 25 pages long, because who knows why, but we see those and the next bit is around. And making sure that we're accurate as a team. And we believe in accuracy as Paragon tenant of our team.

If we're not accurate, who else can they go to the data for? And, and that also is an acting accurate. Funny enough, a simple email decorum and like having Grammarly or as simple or tool to just clean up your text goes a really long way. You'd be surprised. Um, how many unfortunately sales teams from, from vendors or other companies that I've worked with?

Just like they're using a lot of shorthand speak there's no, please. And thank you. It's a lot of urgency without any of the. Compassion. There's no empathy in there. We need to lead with that. And that's part of being accurate in our communication, whether it's via email, whether it's via slack or anything along the light.

And the last bit is around service sales operations. As you mentioned, it is a people sport and it is a service organization. So when I look at our greater rev ops community and the teams, both that I manage and I partner with, we are focused on service first and foremost, we know that these are human.

Best part is they work at the same place that we do. So it's not like we're dealing with angry customers who want a refund on their cell phone dollars, something like that. It's actually people who are trying to get deals done. They have questions and the reaching out. So we need to lead with empathy. We need to.

First, uh, not assume malice, but rather ignorance. Cause we can sometimes have people come in with pretty strong requests and Hanlon's razor, uh, is what that is, uh, is, is a good, a good application when looking at how people can communicate and understanding. These are weird times. A lot of people are not used to working from home where a year into this pandemic here in the states.

And, um, with people working from home, some have gotten used to it and some are just burnt out. It's real hard coming off of Q4 and into Q1 and to stay pumped up and motivated when in the Northern hemisphere, it's kind of cold here in Boston, you know, just above freezing and. To be able to understand that people may write things without that same level of effort and just kind of taking that communication with a grain of salt.

That's really how you organize people. So it's getting into culture, getting the, the mission straight to point in the right direction is your, your first order of business. The second I would say would be, um, specifically around, uh, making sure that you've got the right skills. And just building a skills matrix of here are my people.

Here are the core tasks that we have as a team and understanding who maps to what areas that you've got covered appropriately. And if you've got covered from a skills perspective, and you've got cultural alignment, you're actually really set up for success, then you can go and start to channel. The processes themselves.

Why are we doing our closed one process this way? Why is it that we're using DocuSign versus conga sign? Are there benefits or disadvantages to one or the other, then you can really start to challenge it because as a team you're using that same lens in our case, transparency, accuracy, and service, to look at that particular problem and go to challenge them.

And you're working together. And you're using the empathetic view of that process. Cause I tell my team, it is, it's not our fault that we are at the confluence of events that we sit at today. However, it is our responsibility to move it forward. And that belies something that's intrinsic to any services organization.

We're not one to fault. We're not one of blame. We are one of responsibility. Yeah. Um, a small point, but you're right. It's incredible. How many different ways an email can be interpreted? Um, I wanted to go back to something again, um, and this, this idea of vision and having a solid vision of what you're trying to do and having alignment around this vision, don't often get to speak to someone and ops is also founded companies being CEOs, and I'm interested in how.

Um, that vision from the board or from the, from the C level, actually checkers down to the silo leads and what role ops plays in communicating that. Um, and, and, and I guess how this works into this general picture of. Yeah for our organization, we have really strong leadership at the top. That's able to put pretty clear points on what those business goals are.

And that's a great start. If you have very fuzzy business goals from the executive leadership team, it's going to be pretty hard to define and move forward your own business goals without some strong internal. So that's the kind of caveat at the end. If you have strong internal leadership, you have a high level of trust operating within your team, a very trusted verify organization within your operational scope.

Then you can do all right with more fuzzy goals at the top. But having a more tactical company goals is really important. And as a CEO, you don't have many jobs and one of them is to set the company vision. So the goal is to look at that and be able to figure out how do we support. That company goal and make sure that we have a vision that is in line with that, that what we think of as our kind of simple truths are tautological logical basis of being an operations team.

We need to make sure that that lines up with where we're trying to go as a company. Otherwise we're over here playing our own band to a different tune. So we need to be in alignment from a corporate person. But many times you can use systems like, um, objectives and key results. So, okay. Ours, and that's a framework that we use to break down some of those corporate goals and to try to understand what are the activities, what are the results that we could deliver that would support that?

So we work into it into a little bit of a different way. We look at the, uh, the key results in kind of the corporate level, um, outcomes. And then we say, okay, how can we support that? But then. Bump up a level. We try to get more abstract than that. We can do these exact things, but what does that tell us?

Like, what is the theme there? What is the objective? Oh, we're going to unlock the velocity of the revenue funnel. That's the objective. The way that we do that are through these particular key results, I will help the sales team to move faster by doing these particular results and those particular results.

Interestingly enough, directly tie to what our top line goals are. If it's revenue, if it's retention, if it's product, um, diversification across our portfolio, all of those tie back. And that makes it easier because then when the CEO gets on stage and CEO's talking about, Hey, here's where we're going. And here's what we're doing.

Your teams are already aligned. Like they see their version of that. They see the part of that picture that they have to tackle, and they have ownership over that because they built those goals with you and they, those, okay. Ours are something that as a team, you can reference back to over the course of the quarter or over the course of the half and say, actually, we're doing great.

We've got some room for improvement, let's shift our resources. And if you've organized your team in a way that it is very, um, open to challenging process to be, uh, open with others, then you end up with the situation where they will self-organize your team will self-organize around the deficiencies themselves.

It's a, it's a pretty interesting effect. Yeah, that's awesome. Um, John just wanted to check, how are you for time? Do you have a hard stop on the half? I do have a half hour stop, but I could probably go just a couple minutes over. Okay. Awesome. There's one question I really wanted to ask you still. Um, unfortunately I should have put more time in because we've gotten into so much interesting stuff.

Um, but if you're in a room full of rev sales, ops people, perhaps CRO sales leaders, but they're the best in the world. What would you ask them? The best leaders in the world? What would I ask them? Well, I'd be curious. I'd be curious most where they find the, the, the biggest transformation in their people.

One of my particular interest is in helping individuals to transform to their higher, the highest potential, or at least the higher potential. And part of that is getting the input of that individual to kind of see what their view of the world is and help them on that. 'cause when they can unpack that view of the world, they can say, yeah, actually I want to go do this thing.

And I see people coming over from sales, into sales, operations, or coming from engineering, into sales engineering. These changes from a career perspective they're done at the beginning of a route of interest. And to help others to begin down that route. Well, that's a hard thing to do. Change management is very difficult and to go and manage your own change from a career perspective, it's probably the, one of the most difficult things that you'll go through.

So to help others, to be able to open up the aperture a bit, to be able to look at more of what the possibilities in the world are. I would be curious what those leaders have found to work most successfully.