Talking Sales Operations with Peter Kazanjy

We recently had the pleasure of catching up with sales ops expert extraordinaire, founder of the Modern Sales Salon and author of Founding Sales Peter Kazanjy (Twitter, LinkedIn). As we talked, Pete shared advice for sales ops professionals looking to grow as strategic business partners, his thoughts on the impact of AI on the sales ops role and so much more. Check it out below!

Q: How did you start the Modern Sales Salon, and what is the goal of the organization?
When I was working at Monster after they acquired TalentBin, I was a little bummed out because I felt very distant from others who were as passionate about creating highly analytical sales processes as I was. So I organized the first meet-up just by inviting some folks from my personal network, and was joined by about 10-20 sales leaders and enablement and ops professionals.

It turned out that they were also feeling a bit isolated because, if you think about it, you can have a dozen reps in a given org, but you probably only have one or two sales ops or enablement people. There’s no one to bounce ideas off of or ask for advice. So there was a substantial appetite for this type of community and peer learning environment, and just two years later the group has grown to north of 3,000 people.

Q: When you ask someone in sales ops what his or her responsibilities are, you can get a pretty wide variety of responses. How would you define the sales ops role?
One of the ways that I like to define what sales ops should be in the business of is up-leveling the company by making everything in the sales org function more seamlessly, fluidly and effectively. And that extends to all parts of pipeline and process, from prospecting, to workflows associated with routing information to the right reps, to the tools reps are using and more.

Sales ops folks often come from a consulting, finance or engineering background, where they’re well-versed in creating a system, modeling it, instrumenting it with metrics, and looking for ways to improve it with people, processes and technology. Another way to think of ops is as the product manager of the sales org, tasked with weeding out “bugs,” or unnecessary costs and roadblocks, and implementing new “features” to improve performance.

Another component of sales ops that I think is often overlooked in enterprise organizations is discovering, engaging, vetting and hiring salespeople who you know are going to be successful. This is often left solely up to the recruiting org, but this is core to how you grow your business and should be optimized the same way you optimize the efficiency of your AEs.

Q: What is your advice for sales ops folks who are concerned about being pigeonholed as an admin or datamonkey? How can they break out of that role and become a more strategic part of the business?
The first step is to embrace that role I just mentioned of being the product manager for the sales org, and start thinking that way. Sales ops often has shiny object syndrome, where they get really excited about particular technologies. But instead, what you need to do is think about the optimization of the sales org as if you were the founder of the company.

Ask yourself, if raising revenue and making reps more efficient and lowering cost is the goal, what is the one most important thing we could add, or the biggest bug we could retire, to achieve this? If you start from that perspective, now you’re acting as a consultant to a sales leader or CEO, which is a much more strategic place to be.

One analogy that I love from The Lean Startup is, don’t go into a cave, build a product and then pop out and say “it’s done!” Instead, approach projects from a minimum viable product standpoint. Take that methodology and create a ranked a list of the biggest problems and opportunities in your sales organization, and as you address them, think about the most minimum viable product that could prove your hypothesis of what would address this problem or opportunity. At that point, yes, part of your job will be a datamonkey, but you will be a datamonkey in service of yourself.

Q: AI is sort of the hot topic in sales right now. How do you believe this type of technology will impact or change the sales operations role?
I think there’s a lot of confusion around AI, which is to be expected for new technology. Large incumbents have a tendency to let marketing orgs go wild when promoting “AI technology” without crystallizing what it actually does, and when you dig in, it’s often not much. In fact, remember when people were moving to the cloud and you had all these on-prem software providers basically re-wrapping their solutions and claiming they were “cloud-based?” That same “cloud-washing” is happening with AI. A lot of companies are “AI-washing” by trying to claim that their technology provides all these insights that really are not there.

So there is a lot of confusion, not just from vendor promotion, but also from our own general conception of AI from growing up watching the Jetsons. But I think that, if you read what the smart people are saying, where AI is really becoming successful is with very vertical applications where there is a fine-tuned learning loop, like Chorus uses machine learning to provide accurate call transcriptions and listens for keywords on calls to highlight problem areas, like if a rep doesn’t do BANT, for example.

Q: You teach two lessons in Base’s Sales Science Certification program. How do you see sales science impacting sales operations, and what is your advice for sales ops professionals hoping to transition into the up and coming Sales Scientist role?
Start employing the Scientific Method, which essentially means doing what we talked about: identify a problem, unpack it, hypothesize solutions and measure the results. Get out of the business of punching the clock, and start taking a more strategic and consultative approach.

Don’t just support sales processes or generate forecasts. Take these responsibilities to the next level by asking, what can we learn? What can be improved? What are our bottlenecks? And work to generate recommendations, or prescriptive sales insights, that can actually address these challenges and opportunities in a measurable and quantifiable way.

Enjoyed this interview with Pete? Come see him at Forecast 2017, where he will be moderating the panel “Optimizing Sales Ops with Sales Science Best Practices.” Get 50% off registration when you use the coupon code FORECAST50!

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