Having spent almost 20 years in Sales and Sales Operations, I believe the Sales Operations role is still greatly underappreciated and largely undefined. Many people shy away from the profession because of its reputation as “sales cops”, or worse, “digital janitors”.
The latter analogy resonates a lot with me because I have spent so much of my career feeling like Matt Damon in the movie Good Will Hunting. I spent my days in fast growing startups surrounded by huge potential, but I was too busy cleaning up the messes (of CRM data) that were not my making to realize my true potential. Like the character, Will Hunting, I took the odd problem home to solve, but I was never able to focus enough of my energies on revenue generating activities.
However, like that same character, I learned that it was down to me to make the time to elevate myself in the organization and bring things to the table that were more substantive than basic reporting and data maintenance. I was lucky to be given the opportunity by David Sacks (former CEO of Yammer, now CEO of Zenefits) to shape my own Sales Ops team and the expectation was set from day one that we would need to be a source of competitive advantage for the company, as much as the administrators of the CRM. David had the foresight to know that in order for the sales team to have any success at all, Sales Operations had to first build out the structure and processes that could scale with the company.
Many things can give you a competitive advantage in sales. For example, we could have invested more in training or tools. I chose to start with something I loved: data.
While many people I meet obsess over the latest and greatest sales tool or data source, I find that the biggest unanswered question today is what to do with the data you get once you have it. To help answer that conversation for people early in their Sales Ops career, here are four basic ways I have used data to gain a competitive advantage for the companies I have worked for and how you can do the same.
Product Usage Data
Every company has an untapped source of sales data that doesn’t cost anything; who their users are and what they are doing. At Yammer, we lived and breathed usage data. I would come in each Monday morning and see huge spikes in the number of new signups in the system from the previous week. We sent lists of the domains with the most signups to our sales team and they followed up on the ones that, guessing from the domain, looked the biggest or were ones that they recognized the most. But, the results were patchy because we gave the sales team a lot of leeway around when and how to follow up with these companies. Worse, our reps spent an inordinate amount of time researching the domains to find out information about the account rather than actually selling.
Everything changed when I sat down with our engineering team and we began to connect the data we had in Salesforce to the data we had in our backend systems.
I collaborated with Peter Fishman (now VP of Analytics at Zenefits) and Derek Steer (now CEO of Mode Analytics) to close the disconnect between the usage data we had for people who signed up for Yammer and the firmographic information we had on the accounts in Salesforce. Based on this information, we began to learn who were most likely to talk to us and who were most likely to convert to paid customers. We started to trigger follow-ups not just on the basis of new account creation in Yammer, but based on the usage levels in real time. We knew that certain thresholds of engaged users made for great sales prospects and we directed the sales team around following up when accounts reached that threshold of engagement.
Individual’s Location Data
Last month at Datahug, we ran a Happy Hour in San Francisco and got 130 people into a room for an awesome evening of networking, speakers, beer and pizza. We put the event together on short notice, but I had been planning for this for almost a year. I made sure that as leads came in, we recorded the location of the individual correct in Salesforce regardless of where their company was headquartered. This is a top priority for our data enrichment team and the ongoing data cleanse means that when we decide to organize an event in any city in the world, I have a list of people ready to invite.
Finding and curating person and location-specific data isn’t just useful for tailoring clever marketing emails. Running location based targeting enables you to create online and offline connections to people. It helps not just with events, but also for connecting new prospects with power users in their area, or for making sure that if Russ Hearl, our new VP of Sales, is in town, our SDR team can easily drum up some face-to-face meetings at short notice.
The truth is most Sales Ops teams focus on getting the location of the company headquarters right, which is important as they need a source of truth for territory planning. The location of the individuals within that organization is much more relevant when you are looking to make a direct impact on pipeline generation or location based marketing efforts.
We hear every day about Account Based Selling and Account Based Marketing. I just call it Sales and Marketing, because aside from certain tactics and some new technology, it is the way that most enterprises have always done business.
New data providers pop up in this space every day. We used InsideView extensively at Yammer. Traditional vendors like Dun and Bradstreet and Hoovers are being challenged by feature rich products such like Datanyze and Clearbit. Companies like Datafox and Mattermark highlight specific trigger events that indicate a company is in buying mode and what you might want to say to them.
There is a right way and a wrong way to use this mountain of data.
The wrong way is to give your sales reps or pre-sales team pages of company profile data to navigate through as they search for the perfect hook to put into an email or figure out what accounts to go after. You’ll get lots of compliments for your email style, but at the cost of any real traction. This also leaves the sales team spending much of their time doing research as they attempt to craft the perfect email or prospect the right company rather than on the phone selling.
The right way to get value from this data is in targeting. If you can use the attributes of your ideal customer to identify more and more companies that look like them, you will start to build a highly repeatable sales process with shorter sales cycles and high win rates. You can make sure your SDR team are spending their time with prospects that have the highest likelihood to convert into customers.
In short, the true competitive advantage of company data is derived from your ability to direct a high volume of activity at highly qualified companies. Use person-based messaging, but steer clear from using data to cultivate the creative writing skills of your sales team. Leave email messaging and content creation to your marketing team.
Sales Team Behavior Data
Finally, the tactics above generally require data from external sources or other departments within your company. They also focus primarily on the top of the funnel.
There is one dataset that is already available, in one form or another, within your sales department. That is the data that shows the patterns of behavior of your sales team. Sales cycles are getting more complex. This happens because companies move up in the market and attempt to close bigger deals as they grow. In addition, there is what I call decision-maker inflation, where more and more people seem to be involved on the buying side of a deal every year, making each new account marginally more difficult for your sales reps to navigate.
Because of this additional complexity, there is a huge competitive disadvantage if you can’t properly coach and train your sales team to take the actions that make the biggest impact on win rates. That’s why getting an accurate gauge on the frequency of meetings, the number of people they are talking to at each account and the seniority of those people is essential for a modern Sales Ops organization.
This is a unique capability that my current company, Datahug, provides.
Deal Level Analysis Provided By Datahug
There are many ways that data can provide a competitive advantage and have a measurable impact on our sales velocity. Your sales team will thank you if you do it right. Like my friend Will Hunting, you will no longer be seen as the janitor of CRM.
Most importantly, you will be able to point your CEO towards concrete steps you have taken to optimize the effectiveness of your sales organization.
If you would like help on anything you read about here, please feel free to email me directly at email@example.com.
Also, our VP of Sales, Russ Hearl is running a webinar on 4/14 to discuss ways to build the ultimate sales machine. We’ll cover a lot of the material above in more detail then.