A year ago the sales team at Advent Software confronted a problem: People in the organization weren’t speaking the same language.
This had nothing to do with the global reach of the company, which has 18 offices around the world on three continents. The real issue was the decentralized nature of its operations, consisting of a plethora of independently functioning business units covering various sectors and geographic regions, each with their own sales management and methods of providing sales information.
That structure had sufficed when the company was selling locally deployed enterprise software for back-office operations, but Advent, a 30-year-old software company based in San Francisco, was now moving to Cloud-based solutions that would be sold to the front offices of its existing customers. The new business model required a much more responsive and agile sales force.
Rising to the challenge, in 2013, the company created a global sales team. But to Chris Momsen, Advent’s executive vice president of sales and solution management, something was still missing. “We needed to change not only the way we were selling; we needed one set of numbers that everyone could believe in,” Momsen says.
The answer: As he was forming the global sales team, Momsen took the time to create a global sales operations and enablement function as well. Sales operations is often one of the most underappreciated roles within a company. The department comprises many support activities, such as training, sales enablement, and the forecasting and monitoring of key performance indicators—and while at times it may seem like a random hodgepodge, no sales team can function efficiently without it.
Yet, too often, the various functions get foisted on over-worked sales managers. “What we learned when we looked around: When you leave sales ops and sales enablement as a part-time job for local managers, it just doesn’t get done,” Momsen says today. “We needed much more rigor.”
Even though Advent had fostered a culture around sales managers “controlling their own little patch of the world,” team members embraced the new structure, realizing all the things they needed to do their jobs better. “They realized we could be operating at a whole other level,” said Chris Arana, the previous vice president of sales, whom Momsen asked to take charge of the new global sales operations and enablement team.
“We’re in a good spot because everything we’re bringing out
is a win for everyone in the organization.”
EVP Sales & Solutions Management
With the switch to new Cloud-based platform solutions, the company would have to change commercialization practices and implement a new quote to entitlement system to enable this new commercial model and allow the reps to provide quotes more quickly. Having Arana as a single point-of-contact at sales operations enabled them to implement the required infrastructure far more efficiently, according to Momsen and Arana. Before centralized sales ops, Advent IT, finance, renewals and order management would have had to get input from each business unit and its sales manager.
“It’s an important point because this has enabled us to move so much more quickly,” Arana says. “There’s no way we would have met the deadlines in my mind if we had to reach out to four or five sales managers every time we had to make a decision.”
Advent hired Sales Benchmark Index (SBI) to help them implement these changes to the sales operation. SBI was particularly helpful early on in checking sales managers’ expectations, “because they each had a long wish list,” Momsen says. SBI established a charter, prioritized the steps that needed to be taken, and identified some quick wins.
“When pretty quickly right out of the gate, you can point to a net new capability that fundamentally benefits the reps, and the managers and anyone producing revenue, it goes a long way towards getting buy-in on the next new initiative,” Momsen says. “Sales reps are pretty simple creatures in that regard.”
Within the first 6 months, the Advent sales team, as well as the executive management team, began to see major improvements in how the company did business, Arana explains. The biggest accomplishment was the level of data cleanup achieved, establishing “one source of truth,” which included the ability to put out a unified global pipeline and KPI report.
“The global pipeline and KPI report links our marketing efforts all the way through to our closed sales efforts,” Momsen says. “What that allows is for the marketing department and sales department to be on the same page when they are talking about effectiveness.”
In addition, Advent worked with SBI on account segmen- tation that will allow the company to assess much more accurately the opportunity by product within a given territory. “Sales Reps and managers have more actionable data to work with,” Arana says. But “the real win for them will come three to six months from now” when they can begin to translate the more robust data into new business.
“We’re not unraveling problems anymore,” Momsen says. “We’re in a good spot because everything we’re bringing out is a win for everyone in the organization. It’s not about people coming to us with gripes. It’s more like ‘Wow I’m getting something new; I’m getting something faster. This is positive.’ We’re trying to sequence out a bunch of things so we can keep that positive momentum going.”
“That’s the key,” Arana adds. “There are so many foundational elements that all build on each other. We’re going to continue to get more efficiencies in the quota and territory planning, rep compensation and the marketing efforts because we all are leveraging these same tools.”
Having a single point of contact for numbers also has made the finance operations more efficient since finance no longer has to deal with each business unit separately.
When Advent embarked on Cloud-based solutions, it needed the centralized data to help establish new business practices affecting the structure of deals and what needs to be monitored, as well as determining which deals are really profitable.
“We have a lot of legacy agreements,” Momsen says. “We’re going to make sure as we roll out the new we’re mindful of the old. A lot of times sales initiatives can die because the back office isn’t ready to support it, but having a central place where accounts receivable, billing, all that kind of stuff can go really helped get solutions to market more quickly.”
The centralization effort revealed an almost impenetrably complex infrastructure and ways of doing things that had evolved over three decades, but it also showed an the overwhelming appetite among departments to do away with legacy policies and procedures that no longer made sense.
“It’s a process and you can’t take on everything at once,” Arana says. “But the appetite for change surprised and encouraged me.”
“There’s no bottom line number yet available for the impact of sales operations, but we’ve demonstrated a lot of progress in a short period of time,” Momsen says. “Frankly, we’re not going to see the real ROI until next year when we can get quotas and comp plans out early and we have much more visibility into the territory. But I can say it’s the first time in our lives when we’ve had a bottoms-up sales forecast for next year going into the budget process. We’re so far ahead of our normal cadence.”
“They realized we could be operating at a whole other level.”
VP of Sales Operations & Enablement
Intuitively, it’s clear that having the visibility into operations lets you construct smarter strategies and deploy resources more intelligently, Momsen says. The challenge now is to help executives to use the data effectively. “The board loves the transparency,” he adds.
What’s the next step? “We can now pivot and begin to look at the sales enablement part, hiring an individual to implementing SAVO a knowledge management tool, collect competitive intelligence, and win/loss surveys, and set up a formal sales training program for onboarding new hires and continuous development,” says Arana. “Now that we have the foundation of the reporting, we’ll work to increase its value and provide more actionable insight to the executive team and the sales organization.”
Leading the Sales Team As CEO
This month, our cover story profiles Jack Lynch, the CEO of Renaissance Learning, the educational analytics company that counts Google Inc. among its investors and was acquired last year by private equity firm Hellman & Friedman for $1.1 billion. You’ll get a close-up look at how Lynch has worked to transform Renaissance’s sales operation and improve market penetration.