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The Revenue Operations Blog

Forecasting and Communication with Kyle Phillips

November 22, 2021
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The Interview

Kluster's Take

Tom spoke with Kyle Phillips, Head of Operations at Fit Analytics. He gives his take on forecasting and communications.

Kyle uses data to understand which customers are coming in and when. He sees value in small digestible charts and complex analyses. His CRM system is critical. It manages pipelines but is also part of their marketing tools.

Real forecast visibility is a requirement for Kyle. He creates digestible chunks and more complex communications. He takes the time to think about what is relevant. The result is a highly responsive, agile organisation.


Transcription

Since I have been a leader and decision maker, I have always done it the same way. I always take people at the center of my decision.

Does it come from, uh, from a sales background. And, you know, I worked as a salesperson for a long time. And then in sales leadership before making the change into sales operations, um, since I have been a leader and decision maker, I have always done it the same way. I always take people at the center of my decision.

Um, Be that looking at people by skillsets or by what they actually need to develop into their next step. Um, it's usually how I actually make my decisions. Uh, I'm lucky in the team that I'm in now. I'm not just a decision maker, but I'm also a doer. And so I've got the ability to actually make decisions for the best of my people.

While meeting all of our operational goals. And so that's usually what I do, um, and think about it from also the people that we're supporting. So as an operations team, we, we function at about 25% of support and 75% development and what we do. Um, and so of the teams that we support, which are all mostly client facing people.

Um, so our sales team, our client success team, our integration management team. Um, but then also finance teams, legal teams, everything else, everything is always about the people. What do we need to do to make these people successful in their role? And so that's usually the core of how I, how I do it. Um, okay.

That's fantastic. Um, so the people are really important. You're right. Ops is a human sport. So, so the really interesting thing about this then is, is the relationship between sales ops and sales leadership, and particularly in dressing because he'd been a sales leader. Um, so what are the lines of demarcation here?

How do we form a great partnership with sales and how do we make sure we're enabling them? And how do we make sure we have this like joint vision and idea of what we need to do to be successful and to help those people be successful, as you mentioned,

There is the basic tenant of you need to know your audience. So, you know, but you know, that's always individual, you know, because one sales leader is going to be different from another sales leader. That's different from another, but that's always the foundation from where you go. But if we want to talk about things that would be, let's say best practice or something that's going to apply from situation to situation, um, is always anticipating what is going to happen next.

Um, operationally speaking, I think. The single most important thing we need to do as operations managers is so that we don't get into that reactive state and we stay into a proactive state. Um, so using my current company as an example, I know what it's like for them to sell this product. I know what's going to generally happen at certain points in the sales process because we've got an extremely long sales cycle in this company.

So I can anticipate generally when things are going to happen. And so I will know. Okay. They've got a pipeline that is built up of this many tears at this many times. We know what that general probability of closing that's going to be. I know that once we are about 30 days in with, you know, a tier four or tier three clients, you know, that they're going to.

Certain things to support them in that they're going to need a presentation of a certain level, or they're going to need certain data to back this up. So the anticipation of what it is that they're going to need at certain points, it's always one of those things that helps to keep the relationships smooth.

It is because they're not having to ask for things and they're able to stay focused on what they want to do. And that is usually a sales person's favorite state is focusing on what they want to focus on. I think the other time or the other thing as well is not wasting time. Um, you know, I think we. I tend to spend a little bit longer on decisions than I probably should, because I want to look at it from multiple angles and I want to make sure that I've got basis covered.

Um, but you know, always take the sales person's time into consideration. Um, you know, what is it that they need to actually shorten this point? And what's the most useful to them. Can we give them to that now and not having this discussion about what we're going to do? Um, or do we actually need to, to do a little bit of triage on the situation?

Um, That's kind of a, I guess we would say respect between business partners and, you know, just respecting one another's times, because it's not just the salespeople. That would be that way. The AM's the client partners, the finance team, they're all the same. We just respect one another's time when it comes to what we're doing.

Um, keeps it smooth. Um, as well as, since we are more or less working in a service capacity in that. You're using essentially you're being proactive. You're looking ahead. Um, and you mentioned that, you know, you know, what's going to happen assess and stage, and I'm interested to explore how, you know, that is it using previous, um, historical data and how things typically perform or is that your sales, leadership experience?

How do you know what's going to happen? A little bit of both, to be honest. Um, our company, we're a 10 year old company and we've been selling this product now for 10 years. So we've seen enough things that happen over and over again that we can, we can develop a general sense for how the sales pipe, the sales process is going to go with each other.

Um, so there is a little bit. Some of it also is my own experience and sales understanding how people receive information and, you know, did you give them the pricing too early? Did you give them the pricing too late? You know, knowing how that happens. Um, but you know, it's that right? There is a tooling thing.

So we. We, we are very public about our sales pipelines in this company. And I actually send out a company update email every Monday with current pipelines, not broken down by salesperson. Um, but overall, so I then know actually what they are by geographical region. And so I know what each of the AEs has going on.

And each of their pipelines, what their breakdown looks like and where their attention is actually going to have to go. We also log everything from email communications to meetings, to presentations and everything else. And my team manages the CRM system. So I've seen all of this stuff. So I've seen enough of them just time after time to know really what's going to kind of come next because it doesn't deviate just a whole lot.

Um, I would say, um, I can't mention the client publicly because it's part of our agreement with them. We'd go to the non-disclosure agreement. Um, but we had a very large client that approached us last year. And as soon as I saw this lead come in, I can see what's different about this than the others. And so at that point I get involved and I started pushing things to a certain location because I know what needs to happen next.

And that, that. Comes from my experience as a sales person, knowing what I would like to see when I'm enabled and kind of, you know, using the golden rule on that. Uh, but then also from being a sales leader and knowing what does a person need in order to do their best. So it comes from both, um, understanding both my business at where I work now, but then also utilizing the experience that I have.

Okay, this is really interesting that you push out your pipeline to the civil organization. It's not something I hear many people do. Um, so I'd love to hear the thoughts and the ideas and the objectives behind doing that. Um, and this one is probably going to be the easiest answer that I will give you throughout all of it.

Um, our product is extremely complex and sometimes down to. Clients having their own custom algorithms. And these algorithms can take weeks, months to develop in some instances. And so when our data engineering or data science teams know ahead of time, what is potentially on the horizon helps them prepare a little bit better.

So we try to increase the level of transparency. Now, when I was hired into this company originally, they gave me a broad spectrum goal of increasing transparency. And this is just one of them. Um, you know, they said we would really like to know. You know, when this might happen. And I said, okay, so we sat down, we did an analysis over time, figured out how to present it, push this out to everybody, but then we need to of course, anonymize it a little bit because we don't want them to know that, you know, this particular salesperson versus this particular sales person has a bigger pipeline.

So instead we just pushed it out by tier. Um, so what would be the estimated client size? Um, and then we show a little bit of geographic information. Kind of, but it's really just all about transparency and planning for other teams. Yeah. Great. So that, that's a massive alignment piece and isn't it, because then we're aligning the organization, even down to tech around our pipeline.

What's going to be happening in the future as well. Yeah, really, really cool love that. Um, you mentioned tooling, um, tooling is, is like the unofficial official domain of ops. So what's your key tooling to increase transparency. And how does it work? And particularly this is interesting, right? Because, um, you know, telling people stuff is one thing.

Getting it. So that information is digestible. It's a whole different ballpark. And I'm interested to hear how you do that, how you make sure people have the space, um, to hear it and to digest it. So, so I am really, really lucky. One of my members of my operations team is a data analyst and Python. Um, that's it, you know, it comes to a matter of hiring the skillset that she needs.

And so I've got someone who's capable of doing the smallest, most digestible charts to the most complex of analyses, because he also does customer facing reports as well. Uh, and so he's able to do a lot of this stuff. Um, Our CRM system is of course critical to all of this because not only does it manage our pipelines, but then it's also part of our marketing tools.

And then with that, I just have an internal audience or an audience that we call internal, which is just all of our company's employees. And so I'm able to actually send them information and, you know, In like an HTML based email format. It's where I can, some of them, you know, a distillation of a dashboard so that they can get digestible chunks, um, or I can send them more complex communications about things that they need that links them back to downloads or anything else.

Um, so for us, it's, you know, it's like I've got the skills hired, the skills that I need. I've got a tool that I can use across all of our agreed upon communication channels. And then finally, Relevance is trying to figure out actually, what is relevant for them, for them to, to see in here. Some people don't care about this pipeline, email.

They're more interested in the integrations pipeline, let's say, um, on the flip side of it, how long is it going to take us to go live with the customer? Because we actually do the same thing on the integration side that will display the pipeline and send that out. Uh, I believe that goes on Wednesday.

That's awesome. I've really loved this. Um, you know, when I mentioned at the beginning, it's about bringing people into the cadences, the workflows of processes that define forecast, and this is exactly what we're talking about. Um, so, you know, in a broad sense here card, like what does an awesome forecast process look like?

And then how do we take steps towards that? Because it does take time to develop. It really does. Um, we've got two primary. I'm starting down the line and then we'll have to work back on this one to tell you how we arrive at it. We've got, um, we have two primary pricing models and our preferred pricing model is actually performance-based pricing.

And that makes forecasting really, really difficult if we're going to be honest, um, as a. As a platform. What we're trying to do is help the customers of our clients feel more secure in their purchases. So in performance pricing for us, looks like how many units did we help our clients sell? How many of those units were returned?

And then, you know, we credit back what's returned. We charged them for what was actually purchased. So if we've got a client that's coming through, that's, let's say we have a fight five tier system that we use. Um, if we've got a tier one client, we know that potentially, you know, that can be a quarter of an eight years actual sales goal for that particular month, if they bring that in.

Uh, but then how many tier forests does it take to. Get to that same level. Um, there's a lot of flexibility in what the additional tiers look like. And so this is where the forecasting really comes in. So from, since I am also covering marketing operations, this deals with lead generation. So now we'll start a little bit further back, like at the beginning of what a forecast would actually look like, we need to maintain our.

Um, so this is not just what's inbound, but also what we would potentially outbound on all of these. We know the longterm value of an outbound lead versus the longterm value of an inbound lead is higher. So you know, that cold outreach is going to be more important to you usually buy anywhere from 12 to 15%, um, changes a little bit, and it's actually changed significantly with the pandemic.

We don't know what that long-term effect is really going to be yet. So we kind of stick with the same original 12 to 15% higher. So for us, we need to know, you know, um, web traffic is something that also affects this for us. So like, how do we figure out what web traffic changes are over time so that we can.

Really go after who we need to go after. So for us, it's about tooling. So we need a constant update on certain metrics for each of these clients. So at that point, we then know what our potential market is going to be. It's a really slim potential market that we work with because it's all it's fashion retailers.

And so from that, we know that it doesn't grow all of that fast either. So forecasting super-duper important because if you burn one of these leads, then you know, that's actually pretty serious for us. Um, but since we know what these metrics will actually translate into it, and we're trying to get an idea.

Have, you know, which clients are actually going to go for performance-based pricing and which ones are going to go for, let's say a fixed fee pricing. Um, that seems to change from time to time. It's one of our biggest challenges for forecasting. So we always try to go for, we always pitch this performance-based pricing first and then work our way down from there.

And then we will have to adjust our sales goals as we go along. So, but back onto the topic of forecasting we know from our metrics that we're able to gather about clients, what it is that we need to pull in in order to, to make that particular sales goal. Um, of course the forecast itself is based on, on growth and where we want to be in the growth for the company.

So we'll bring them in, know where they are, um, and then try to get them integrated. Well, For the sales team, that's actually the end of the game for them or the end of the line. They're ready to hit back to square one and start trying to acquire the next client again, because after that deal closure has done, then they are.

They're finished into the, there, part of it is finished, um, for the operations team. Of course, it's not because we've got the revenue operations component that comes along with that one. Um, for that the forecasting models look totally different. Um, we've got our finance based forecasting models, which are based off of previous two months and previous 12 months.

Um, so we know where they've been recently where they were a year ago. And so we do the revenue forecasting now. And then on my end, because I also manage the billing process for the company. Um, I have what each individual line item brings in for us. And so I can take their live data and run that through the model and say, okay, this month we're expecting X on revenue.

So we know what we expect in the revenue model, where that hits according to our goal, um, The part that we actually miss in the room missing right now, um, is how long does it actually take to integrate a client? Because I could tell you what the averages are by tier with the averages are by geography with the averages are by platform.

But unfortunately it doesn't really tell us anything. We can have some clients that, you know, let's say. We're good. Let's talk about tier fours. Um, as an example, these clients are going to be within a certain range. They may use custom backends. They may use an off the rack platform. Um, and you know, something that, that platform service that they've purchased is easier to integrate with because the technology is standard and, uh, but.

That integration may still take twice the amount of time as another company, because of the way that certain things are structured, they use API is whether they can use an API or not. Each of these clients is so technologically different that we can't really. Come up with an integration timeline, it's going to be consistent along them.

So we have an average and we try to use those averages. So revenue forecast competent in that backtrack along, um, how long we expect them to take, to integrate affects the actual number for the salespeople. And then once again, working back from there and what we expect from our sales pipelines, it's exceptionally difficult.

And honestly, it's one of those things that every time I feel like I get it right. If you ask me again in two days, I'll feel like I have it wrong. Yeah. I think that doesn't answer the question all that well, but, well, it presents a really interesting next question, right? Because you know, when you look at tech and you look at SAS, um, what people are trying to do is create a process that's repeatable at scale.

Um, but in your instance, that for good reason, that's very challenging. Um, because there is a lot of variation essentially, and it sounds like you've had to build a Heidi rat, like highly responsive and mobile organization across the board. And it presents a few interesting intricacies, um, not just, you know, how do we see your head, but also how do we set expectations for example?

And as much as you can talk about it, you know, how do you set expectations for the board here? Um, when we are going for an acquisition or funding, um, how do we know what our multiples are going to be, or what's going to happen next? When there is a huge degree of diversity in every single one of your prospects or your co and your clients and how they work.

And you know, that one, it's always a particular challenge, uh, because it's like, you can see some of the bigger names that we're working with. Um, there are the clients that are quite public about, um, who we work with. Like, let's say ACS, um, you know, So it's just quite public about the fact that they use our data and all of that.

Well, were they supposed to be actually, we did a lot with them and to customize their platform, their integration took an extremely long time. Um, if we had another client, let's say that's of the size of ASIS come along, they wanted something SIF similar to what they had. It may take us month in order to deliver what they need.

Um, simply because the integration has to be perfect and that's what we, we deliver. Um, I think in that case, our prior performance speaks quite a bit for us and what we've done, even though we're not able to say exactly when we can definitely hang our hat on. That we do deliver it. Um, so from a board perspective, um, they're, they're generally happy with that.

Uh, as least as far as I know, um, they've always been generally happy with them, uh, but then as far as the forecast goes and where we want to be with that, um, we're always practical in what we do. Um, I'm not going to say we undershoot the target that we could actually do, but we're honest about where we've been.

Um, sometimes being honest means standing up and saying, we may not deliver exactly what you expect this quarter, but by having been honest about it all along, we maintain that level of trust between between the different teams and the different stakeholders. Um, and I think that trust is critical in order for us to be able to maintain the environment that way.

Um, like I said, at the beginning, it's about managing those human relationships and drivers and that's. Yeah. Okay. Final question for you then, if you're in a room full of sales ops and robots superstars, what would you ask them?

You know, there's always a question that I want to ask people. Um, and. To be honest. I think every time I encounter somebody else who works in another form of operations in the same way that I do, we have the, actually the same conversation. We always ask each other what CRM systems you use. And because everybody has one of their loyal to, um, if they have three and I've used three in different locations, in different situations, just depending upon what I needed, but I always want to know what CRM system, that, what CRM system that they're using.

Um, but you know, I don't think that really answers the question. I think there's maybe a question that I would be too embarrassed to ask out loud. Um, and it's every once in a while, I'll reach a moment where I asked myself, why on earth do I do this? Um, you know, why have I chosen to do this job? Because. I love to plan and I love to execute and, uh, but this job can be so reactive from time to time.

So honestly, I think the question that I would probably ask them is how do you sleep at night with all of the reactive choices that we have to make? Because sometimes I'd lay awake and I think about them, you know, how can I solve this next? And so sometimes I just wonder, you know, how are they feeling about how we handle all of that?

And. I guess to answer my own question. Um, I think as much as I like to say that I love to plan. I also like being challenged and I like it when somebody comes and they say, we've got a fire, can you please put this out? And you know, suddenly I have to come in and.