When it comes to creating a successful sales team, Kevin Ward knows that there is no one perfect formula.
As the current Senior Director of Sales and Marketing Operations at Electric, an IT platform, Ward has spent the past two years guiding their sales strategies and leading their team to success. He has extensive experience leading teams at other organizations as well, as Director of Operations at Nestio and Sales Operations Manager at Chartbeat.
His experience with multiple startups makes him more than qualified to discuss what makes sales successful in a variety of industries. We sat down with him to get his insights on sales technology, strategies, his daily schedule and collaborating with sales and marketing.
To listen to the whole interview:
First, can you introduce yourself.
I'm Kevin Ward. I've been working in SaaS operations for the last few years, mainly focused in series A to series D companies. I have been responsible for running everything from sales and marketing ops, to billing and finance team operations with a focus on early stage startups and B2B SaaS.
Question #1 What are your current favorite blogs, podcasts, books, etc, for keeping up with sales ops industry news?
Modern Sales Pros. I've been a member of that community for the last few years. It's grown to be pretty massive. There's a lot of good information there.
In terms of books, it depends on where people are in their career and what their focus is. I really liked the Sales Acceleration Formula and Radical Candor. In terms of podcasts, I listened to the Sales Hacker podcast every once in a while, but it mostly comes from Saastr and then just general news and Modern Sales Pro stuff.
Question #2 What is a piece of tech that your sales teams uses that you can't live without? How do they use it on a daily basis?
This one is really dependent on the type of company that you are and the stage that you are in. For earlier stages with a smaller sales team, something like Outreach or SalesLoft is going to be way too much of a heavy lift for you to implement.
But as you grow, your tech stack has to grow with you. Our tech stack evolved over the last year and now we have something that we’ll grow with for the next couple of years.
We used to have Yesware, which was fantastic for easy changes to cadence cycles. And moving over to something like Outreach wouldn't have been realistic at that point because we didn't have like the basic understanding of how we wanted our cadences to work and how we wanted to reach out to prospects.
Once you start to test your sales process and figure out what's working and what's not working, then it's a great time that you can really say "All right, I'm ready to implement something that's going to be a lift for us." But the adoption is going to be there because everybody's looking for something to make their lives easier.
In terms of lead management, I've seen LinkedIn Sales Nav work really well in some companies and really poorly in other companies, but it's industry specific. Like in real estate, LinkedIn was not nearly as effective as it is for some of the other companies that I've worked for.
But in general I think Salesforce is one that you have to use for everything. And beyond that, make sure that you have an auto email tool and make sure that you just like have some prospecting tools in there.
And then it just depends on where you are within your cycle. We're introducing Gong to the team right now, which was a big lift as far as integration and driving adoption.
You don't want to implement too much tech at any given time. You want to make sure that you're giving the team the ability to go all the way through and understand and implement and adopt everything and answer those questions. And then once you do that, it's easier to start adding on other pieces towards it.
Question #3: What is your typical day to day as a leader?
Now that I built out a team, it tends to be a lot more managing projects and focus and a lot less analyzing or building things.
But a lot of it (like ops in general because it's so cross functional and we work with so many other teams) is:
- Making sure that data flow is correct
- Ensuring we're not duplicating efforts
- Identifying the right gaps and focusing on the right areas that's going to be the most impactful for the business
And a lot of that has cross team effects too. For example if you're getting good data in the sales process, then it's going to pass over to give the CSM team more information about the customers that they're going to be supporting. And then again, that information goes directly back to the marketing team to understand who we should be marketing to and how we should market to them.
So I think it comes down to asking “Is this going to be impactful for us in the right ways or how are they going to impact the business overall”? And make sure that our main focus stays on making the sales process easy and our data very clean. Also making sure that we are reducing touch points that are necessary for a customer to become a customer.
A lot of the projects that we did in 2019 were really building out a lot of foundational stuff. A lot of what we're doing now is analyzing how that's working and making the tweaks on it.
So now we can identify the specific gaps, for example we needed to implement territories management. That was not just a one and done thing: we implemented it and then iterated on it.
Question #4: What are your thoughts on CRM integrations and generally how they help or hurt data integrity?
Everything that you do should be trying to help your data integrity not hurt it.
That comes back to the previous point of how everything flows for a customer life cycle. So the things that flow from Marketo or HubSpot or whatever marketing automation software shouldn't be everything because you're not trying to duplicate your software. You want to make sure that only the important information is getting into Salesforce and that's how you maintain better data quality. You also have to make sure that you put the right things in place.
A huge part of being an ops in general are finance numbers and knowing what we review and are what are foundational to the business. It's the same thing for CRM quality for an ops team. You want to make sure that if you're keeping information in there, everything has a point and you don't just flood your system with useless fields. I think a lot of sales ops in my experience have been not saying no, but saying let's identify how we do this the right way. And it's like let's not add a field for a specific campaign.
But a lot of people don't think like that. So it's not that you want to say no to something. It's like, “Let's figure out a way to make this more effective.” If the same thing comes up three times, then I'll implement a field for it. But it has to be like three separate occasions to kind of justify that.
Because otherwise you end up with just a lot of fields in there, a lot of complexity to your instance and you're not going to know which fields to report on or anything like that. My Salesforce admin went through a project later in Q4 to make a chart of all of the fields in Salesforce and what their purposes are. So we created a glossary for people that empowers them to
1. Understand which fields are being used and which are not being used
2. Which page layouts are good for field reporting
3. Easily run accurate reports by referencing this field glossary
So the more that you can maintain those (fields) and maintain data, the easier time you're going to have doing any portion of your job, which is from analysis to implementing processes. When you map over an integration and you have 700 fields that you're looking at, it's not super helpful.
When you're mapping over an integration and you know exactly which fields you're trying to get the information into, it makes it much more simplistic.
Question #5: How closely do you work with marketing in general?
I think it's fundamental for you to work with your marketing team consistently. You never want to silo anything out and your job in operations is to make sure that that's not happening. The same data flow that's coming through marketing is going to be going to your sales rep. So you want to make sure that it's in line with your data model.
What do you think about the leads marketing provides and how sales ops and marketing can work well together?
I hate the idea of finger pointing, say, “These are poor leads,”. It really comes down to are they targeting the right people? That targeting comes off of an ICP analysis that's then driven by what we convert on the sales team and what we retain.
If everybody's focused towards the same goal and everybody's focused on the same kind of customers that we're going after, then we should be getting great stuff. To do this, you want to make sure that you're doing something that's a focused effort and that's the same thing for Outbound. If we're finding information out about what kind of companies work and what kind of companies don't work for us, then we should have that same information to be relayed back to the marketing team for them to focus their efforts.
We're all driving towards the same goal, so we want to make sure that we're all getting the right information and standardizing that.
Question #6: How do you make your forecasts as accurate as possible?
We work directly with our VP of sales to forecast. But we actually look at it in a couple of different ways. We modeled it out multiple times to understand which data model is getting us the closest.
The VP of sales, David, looks at our forecast that we provided at the beginning of the month and that's based off of what our average stage rates are, along with looking at averages over the last four to six months.
For example, what is everything in pipeline, apply a specific close win rate to that and then apply some hedge on it, essentially. But if you can get the data quality really strong in there and make sure that everybody's utilizing the amount field correctly, the stages, and the close date. If you have stages, close date and the amount all correct in there, then you're going to have a really strong forecast. But to be able to get there, the importance comes down to working with the sales team and the sales managers to ensure that their team is continually updating that data.
Question #7: How have you set up your comp structure to support these overarching sales strategies and goals?
Comp always just goes to what the business needs. Comp is a great way to focus your reps to make sure that you can make something easy. But it's also great for something specific that you want people to be focused on and you can add that into a comp plan. I found that the biggest thing for comp is to make it simple to understand. Anybody that can't understand their comp plan is never going to really achieve it.
And it's also making sure that you have a really strong focus with communicating with your finance team. If all of these work out, does this model allow for us to have the growth that we want? And are we overpaying, are we underpaying? Are we within industry averages?
You don't want to make somebody feel like they're not making enough money, but you also want to make sure that it's in line with what the business goals are.
And there are always things that you can do, like spiffs on a certain month or something like that. But I think like the actual core compensation plan should be super simple and like super direct.
Question #8: What main big shifts or changes do you see in sales ops coming in the next few years?
I think there's two main things that I'd like to see the most and I'm starting to see it now.
One is to disassociate Salesforce administration with sales operations. They're two different things and you can be very analytical and be a great sales ops manager in terms of sales strategy, sales compensation, sales process, and even understanding the tech stack that you need. But Salesforce administration in a company is a massive thing and it takes a lot of effort. And so when you combine both of those roles, you don't get the focus that you need on either side. And so I found myself in that position before where it's a struggle. Like, what are the priorities here and what's going to get the most amount of attention and focus? There are people that are dedicated to (CRM administration), that are growing in that career, and they're much better people to hire for that position.
Second is increased collaboration, there's the big thing with revenue ops right now that I'm seeing pop up more and more. It's great, but you should always be collaborating with that stuff.
Whether you take full ownership of those metrics one way or another. That collaboration should always be there and you should always be focused on making sure that the data integrity is flowing from one place to the next. If you're in operations, again, you're in the center, you don't want to silo anything out. You want to make sure that everything's driving towards that same goal.
Kevin’s experience with a variety of companies gives him particular insights into what makes sales and marketing teams successful. Some of the critical elements he attributes to Electric’s success include:
- Group teaching is a valuable skill he uses to encourage sales reps to dig deeper into sales and their industry. Not only does the sales rep walk away with deeper knowledge on the subject matter, but he can pass that on to other members of the team.
- It takes intention to get your sales team to adopt new technology. Kevin gets as many issues out of the way before rolling it out to the whole team and continues to make improvements even after integration.
- Simplification can take some effort in the beginning, but it will make a difference in time saved in the long run. Improving the process of inputting fields, for example, makes sure that your sales team and leadership has quality data in the long run.
- A successful partnership between marketing and sales requires over-communication. Consider an SLA to make sure everyone is on the same page and understands what a quality lead means.
- Sales forecasting should include inputs from the team. Forecasting will continue to shift as the company, and deal sizes, grows.
With proper oversight, overcommunication between departments, and the right processes in place, sales teams will have what they need to be successful.
- CSM: Customer Success Management
- ICP Analysis: Ideal Customer Profile. Identifies the key environmental and behavioral attributes of valuable customers.
- SLA: Service Level Agreement. A contract that outlines the deliverables one party will agree to provide another. This can be between a business and its customer, or one department to another within a company.