Advice for the sales-ops newcomer – Dan Ross, Optimizely
Hampus Jakobsson talked shop with Optimizely’s Director of Sales Operations, Dan Ross. They got to discussing what tools he uses, what Optimizelys’ sales process looks like and his top tips for sales operations in general.
What is Optimizely?
Optimizely offers super fast, easy website A/B testing to increase visitor engagement, interactions and conversions. Customers include Disney, Starbucks and Ebay. They became a YCombinator graduate in 2010 following in the footsteps of Airbnb and Dropbox.
Number of employees: 170 with 40 based in sales
Locations: San Francisco, Amsterdam
Average number of opportunities/rep/quarter: 120
Opportunity time to close: From 1 day to 14 months
“Optimizely allows people, especially non-technical folks, to very quickly and easily execute A/B tests, multivariate tests and to optimize their site in a very flexible and nimble way.” Dan continues,“Our aim is to empower the world to make decisions using data not hunches.”
“Our aim is to empower the world to make decisions using data not hunches.”
Dan’s job is to make sure that the sales team is as productive, efficient and as happy as possible. “I have the unique challenge of being responsible for the sales team’s success but not managing any of them. I have to find creative ways to make them better at what they do, whether it’s training and enablement, systems efficiency and process, or lead flow or whatever. That’s my job.”
“I have the unique challenge of being responsible for the sales team’s success but not managing any of them.”
Ross started out with an interactive fitness equipment firm, his first foray into sales. Then, after “a brief stint in congress which was a lot of fun,” he worked as a technical sales trainer at what was then an up and comer, Livingsocial. Growing from leading “a dozen or so salespeople in a couple of cities to a 1,000 salespeople in 500 cities, he got to know the tools of the trade. Once promoted at Livingsocial, he was asked what he wanted to call his new role and team. Reflecting that his job now included sales but was also very operations oriented, he had the lightbulb moment when he put the two together- ‘sales operations manager’. Then he Googled the term and realized he was not the first to make the landmark discovery (Always good to realize you’re not alone). From that role, Dan moved to a more analysis and reporting heavy focused role at Clearside before arriving at Optimizely.
Where he is now is a “pretty balanced combination between enablement: training and professional development, as well as systems and process- and recording analysis. I love it because I don’t get bored and I get to know a lot about a lot of different things. What I’ve learned, too is to be flexible. Sales Ops is a jack of all trades but the importance of those trades vary from company to company and evolve rapidly over time.”
While there are many tasks to tick off, perhaps equally as important is the way his position relates to other departments in the company. “A large part of my job is empathy. With every decision I make, I need to consider the strategic impact of what we’re doing and balance that with how it affects our end user and the salesperson. It’s a really fun challenge and I find myself in a few arguments every now and then. I’m always trying to put myself in their shoes and I feel like having sold before, I can do that better than folks who haven’t sold before.”
“A large part of my job is empathy. With every decision I make, I need to consider the strategic impact of what we’re doing and balance that with how it affects our end user and the salesperson.”
Sales-ops Manager Tips and Tricks
“In the process of learning how my work impacts other departments, I have created an advisory board for myself. If I made a mistake in the past, it is that I did not fully appreciate the landscape of who I served and who served me. Anyone or any department’s job who could affect my salesperson’s job or vice versa is included. I found two folks in marketing, finance, HR, two people in product, three people in customer success. I make it a point of having a one on one with them or meeting with them in some capacity, at least every two weeks, just for an update of what’s going on, what they care about, what they need, or what I might need from them. What’s fun is, aside from the CEO, there’s probably no one else in the company who has as good of a sense of what everyone is doing day to day than I do. The more contextual knowledge that I have, the more effective it makes me in every other aspect of my day.”
The need for sales-ops
“The point in time when a company grows and needs to hire a sales ops person is also the point when people are moving into fewer areas of expertise. It is a time when people also start to get siloed and efforts start getting duplicated. That’s always a painful transition or can be a painful transition for companies. It usually is. “I wanted to make sure that my joining made this stage of our evolution.”
Advice for the sales-ops newcomer
There are times when Dan is asked for advice about salesops. “People are always curious about what I do.” He says they fall into one of two buckets- “The first one is people looking to get into sales ops and then the second one is people that are maybe starting out in it and want to figure out what they can do to learn more. I usually respond with questions, about what they love to do and what feels to them like push-ups. I’m a big fan of cutting out, of avoiding things you don’t like and aren’t good at and focus your energy and development on your innate skills. The rest will take care of itself.”
“I’m a big fan of cutting out, of avoiding things you don’t like and aren’t good at and focus your energy and development on your innate skills. The rest will take care of itself.”
At Optimizely, they are pretty averse to pushing people hard to log every little thing in the CRM. “We hire very creative, entrepreneurial people and we trust them to communicate in the most effective way for their customers but they all shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel.” Currently they use their CRM primarily as a bookings record, and the nature of the market makes predictions difficult. However, the goal is to use more CRM-data based trend analysis and predictions in the future.
“Our biggest data need today is to have someone solely focused our internal systems. More and more, we’re finding that little data gaps in the tools that sync with our CRM can cause massive challenges downstream. We are a company that empowers others to make data driven decisions through testing ideas and as such, no debate can be won without data on your side.”
3rd party tools
Asked about 3rd party tools they use, Dan starts ticking off a plethora of names. Zendesk, Toutapp, Marketo, Recurly, Totango, TaskRay and FunnelSource. The list goes on, but those are the ones they use every day. They are moving to Toutapp for email templates and tracking after doing A/B testing with other solutions they were using, in true Optimizely fashion.
Here are some of the 3rd party tools used by Optimizely
- Zendesk (customer support)
- Toutapp (email templates and tracking)
- Marketo (marketing automation)
- Recurly (subscription billing automation)
- Totango (customer success)
- TaskRay (project management)
- FunnelSource (forecasting and pipeline analytics)