I recently observed one of the most effective working relationships I’ve seen between a head of sales and the SVP of Sales Operations. The proof is evident in their shared success together growing revenue at Pandora. I asked these two leaders to be on the show to demonstrate how the relationship between the head of sales and the head of sales operations should work.
Pandora is one of the great growth stories over the last decade. Take a moment this morning to read my interview between a head of sales and head of sales operations as they describe the best way to work together. What struck me instantly about this working relationship is how Brian, the head of sales looks to his sales operations leader as more than just support. Many sales leaders boast of developing the strategy and having sales operations support it. Sales leaders in the audience can learn from Brian’s approach to leveraging sales operations as a strategic partner. It’s no coincidence that Brian has hit his number consistently over six years. If you prefer to watch the video of the interview, click here.
The Pandora commercial sales team recently visited SBI’s executive briefing center, The Studio. The Senior Vice President of Monetization, Brian Mikalis, brought his senior team including Steven Turacek, the SVP of Sales Operations. I asked Steven and Brian to demonstrate how the relationship between the head of sales and the head of sales operations should work. We referenced the Sales Operations phase of the workbook on pages 314 – 318 of the PDF.
I personally found this interview with Brian and Steven to be the best living and breathing example of how each of these key roles sets each other up for success, and that of the company. It’s an inspiring demonstration.
Why this topic? B2B sales excellence is part art and part science. Typically, the head of sales is the artist and the head of sales operations is the scientist. If the partnership between the head of sales and the head of sales ops is not running smoothly, the delicate balance of art and science gets out of whack which often translates to missing the number. For example, too much art and poor decisions get made and too much science and relationships become commodities. Neither of which is good. It’s difficult to grow revenue faster than your industry’s growth rate and faster than your competitors. The Revenue Growth Diagnostic interactive tool will help you determine if you are likely or unlikely to make your number.
Brian Mikalis is the Senior Vice President of Monetization for Pandora serving as the head of sales the past nine years. Brian’s goal is to hit his number every quarter and grow market penetration with deeper customer relationships. Steven Turacek is the Vice President of Business Operations and Planning. Steven supports all of ad sales for the last six years acting as the business manager and analytical strategic consultant to the sales leadership team. Steven leads the sales operations team responsible for informing the strategy, developing execution plans and monitoring the pulse of the business to course correct where necessary. Steven’s goal is to help Brian hit his goal and as well as to drive an efficiency across our organization so that Pandora can scale with the growth seen over the last six years.
Greg Alexander: Brian, I’m going to start out with you. My first question is for the audience who may not know you, please describe your role and share with the audience what your goals are.
Brian Mikalis: I’m the Senior Vice President of Monetization, which means that I oversee our inside sales team, our team that manages any of our excess at inventory as well as our programmatic or automated sales team. This is my ninth year with the company. Our goals are pretty simple; we want to hit our numbers every quarter and we want to be able to grow kind of our penetration of the market and our relationships with customers.
Greg Alexander: Steven, I’m going to ask you the same question. For the benefit of the audience, tell me a little bit about your role and your goals.
Steven Turacek: I’m the Vice President of Business Operations and Planning. I support all of ad sales. I share a boss with Brian and our chief revenue officer. For the last six years, I’ve been acting as sort of the business manager and analytical strategic consultant to all my sales leadership team nationwide, with the goal of trying to sort of help inform the strategy, help develop the execution plans and then continually to monitor and keep a pace on the pulse of the business so that we can kind of course correct where necessary. My goal is to help him hit his goal and as well as to drive an efficiency across our organization so that we can scale with the growth that we’ve seen over the last six years.
Greg Alexander: Okay fantastic. I have you cast Brian as artist, and I have Steven cast as scientist. I know that’s partially correct. I don’t want to incorrectly label you, but for our little demonstration today those our roles that I’d like to play. Brian, how does your role and goals differ from Steven’s?
Brian Mikalis: I’d say the role differs one, I manage the sales team and all the personnel, the relationships with the customers. There’s probably more that is similar. We kind of build the strategy together. In the beginning of the year we’ll recommend the things that we want to do based upon some of the feedback that we’ve gotten from the market. We’ll run those things by Steven and his team. We’ll make a recommendation on the type head count that we want and the areas that we want to fund, but we’ll usually work very closely with the sales operations team to just kind of vet those ideas a little bit further. I think that’s when the science comes in. One thing that’s kind of interesting particularly for our inside sales group, is we’ve been growing both our outside and our inside sales team continually every year, and I think Stephen and the sales operations team will help us look at where there’s the most opportunity in the market by running a lot of that science, and then trying to plan the business around that going into the following year.
Greg Alexander: You mentioned earlier in your response to that question that you work together to build the strategy.
Brian Mikalis: Right.
Greg Alexander: Sometimes when I ask that question of the sales leader, he’s a little boastful and he sticks his chest our and says, “I develop the strategy and sales ops is just my support function.” But you didn’t answer it that way. You answered very much as a collaboration. Why do you take that approach and has it worked for you?
Brian Mikalis: I think it’s worked great. We’ve been doing it together for almost six years now. I think in the beginning it might’ve been a little bit more how you described it. To where we would try to build a plan and then we would meet some resistance because we couldn’t get the head count that we wanted or we couldn’t get the budget to hire the people that we wanted. I think over time we just started to do things together. What we learned is just earlier in the process that we can bring sales operations in and the more that it’s just a true partnership, the faster we get things done. So, we’re not butting heads, we’re just building the plan together.
Greg Alexander: My compliments to you being open to having a partnership with sales ops. I will tell you it’s a little rare. Let me come to you Steven, and I’m going to ask you the same question. How does your role and goals differ from your partner here in Brian?
Steven Turacek: I would say from a role perspective certainly Brian kind of eluded to some the difference where he’s managing most of our client relationships and external. My role is primarily to manage a lot of the internal relationships with our cross functional business partners just to make sure that we’re running our ad sales business as a proper grown-up business. I’m trying to remove those obstacles that can sometimes creep into a corporate culture so that Brian can focus his efforts on his ultimate goal of hitting his number. I would say from our overall goals, while I tend to lean towards efficiency and planning at scale, Brian and I do share a same boss, and so we ultimately do have the same goal. We both need to hit that that number. My failure prohibits him from hitting his number, just like his failure prohibits me from hitting our boss’s number. It’s very symbiotic in that respect.
Greg Alexander: You mentioned managing the internal relationships. Sometimes I hear from sales ops leaders that the internal sale is harder than the external sale. Is that true?
Steven Turacek: I don’t do a lot of external sales, so I don’t know if I can speak to that. But you will occasionally have some internal obstacles. Certain people, certain functions, often have opinions about how sales should be run despite perhaps some limited exposure to how sales is run. So, there is a lot of bargaining, negotiating, education that goes into that process as you build those relationships with your cross functional partners. But again, you do that, you put in that time, and you invest in that education so that ultimately, you’re removing barriers and you can move fluidly, quickly and efficiently as an organization.
Greg Alexander: Just one more quick question for you. Pandora’s been one of the great growth stories over the last decade. When was the appropriate time for somebody like yourself, a senior sales ops leader to enter the organization? Some of our listeners and watchers don’t have sales ops yet. Is there a moment in the evolution of the company where it makes sense?
Steven Turacek: From my experience it’s typically been, or Pandora it was around the time that we were going public. There’s a heightened level of discipline, a heightened level of control that needs to be applied in some rigor. So again, kind of leaning back on my primary function as being a business manager and making the thing run like a business, that’s about the inflection point you start to need it. Whether that’s at 100 employees, at 200 employees. I think I was employed 375. But there’s a certain inflection point of revenue, people and then certainly kind of on the precipice of going public that it’s required.
Greg Alexander: Brian, what is it that Stephen does that drives you crazy?
Brian Mikalis: He says no a lot. I feel like our leadership teams can come up with all kinds of crazy ideas, where we can try to boost productivity. A lot of times it might be an off-site here, or some type of SPIFF for the sales team here, and we can’t always do those things. But we do bring a lot of those ideas to Steve and his team. They approve some of them, but they also say no a lot. It’s very understandable. Seriously though, I think it’s … I wouldn’t say this drives me crazy, but an area for improvement Steve.
It’s not only for me. I think we have a great relationship, but I think when some of the sales managers on my team might be working with some people on your team. When you hear no without the answer, the reason why, that’s probably the most frustrating thing for sales leaders. I think when you start to really understand they’re either trying to go to go to bat for you or they give you that real explanation of, well, therefore we can’t do it, it just kind of helps us think through what we’re going to ask for in the future and not just bring them every crazy idea that comes into our head.
Greg Alexander: Many, many moons ago I was an AMC and I was in your role, and one of my co-founders at SBI, Mike Drapeau was in Stephen’s role. I nicknamed him “The No Machine.” Every time I asked him for something financial the answer was no, and it drove me crazy. So, I sympathize with you. We’re now going to flip the coin. Steven, what does Brian do that drives you absolutely bonkers?
Steven Turacek: Okay, well, he asks for stuff a lot, a lot. Again, I wouldn’t classify this as crazy, but I think one area that’s probably a struggle for sales ops and sales in general is the pace the play. These guys are in a very fast moving business, clients are fast moving and sometimes the plates already spinning before I get wind of it. We’re on opposite ends of the country, and I find out I’m already four conversations in and HR’s asking me questions, and legal staff asking me questions, and what are they doing over there, and who’s going crazy. So, then I lose a part of my day to some damage control and explanation, and what’s the business problem we’re trying to solve here guys. I’m of an operation’s background so my preference is always methodical, slow and orderly, sales doesn’t get the luxury of operating in that type of environment and therefore neither do I.
Greg Alexander: To follow up; you’re in New York and Brian you’re in San Francisco?
Brian Mikalis: Yes
Greg Alexander: That’s an interesting twist. Normally sales and sales ops is in the same building. You guys are three time zones away. Stephen does that make it more difficult or have you guys been able to find a rhythm around the geographic distance?
Steven Turacek: I’d say we have found a rhythm. I think our business in general is varied. We have a sales organization in 38 different markets across the US, so we’ve had to figure as a company how we can maintain that rhythm and that level of communication. I would say specifically for Brian and me as leaders, I have built out a team and have dedicated resources for him on the West Coast that he can go to on a day-to-day basis. We have our weekly check-ins, plus check-ins as needed as events come up. We also have our overall sales leadership meeting. It’s just a question of keeping that rhythm and communication up, and Brian makes the trips to New York, I’m out in the Oakland office. We try and get as much face time as we can despite the geographical differences.
Greg Alexander: Brian, I asked you what Stephen did that drove you nuts, I’m not going to ask you what does he do to help you be successful?
Brian Mikalis: I’d say the sales operations team is really our compass. They’re kind of giving us the guide of where we should go next. A lot of that comes from the daily reporting, the weekly reporting, monthly, quarterly, and it’s helping us develop our KPIs to run the business, and then reporting on those on a regular basis so that when we see hey we’re doing really well here, but we could use some help over here we can then pivot and communicate that to the team and make sure that everyone is moving in the right direction. Without those analytics, without the help on the strategy, we’d be a little lost. I think just by working together and developing all those KPIs it just really gives us the right path to be on.
Greg Alexander: In the opening I described art and science, and I said, “Too much art and we make poor decisions.” So, he’s providing you the information that you need to allow you to make wise decisions, did I capture that correctly.
Brian Mikalis: Absolutely, yeah. A lot of times we’d come up with a kind of a theory at the beginning of a quarter, or every year, it’s like here’s how we think things are going to go, but we must measure it to make sure that we’re on track. Without the help of the sales operations team we would never know if we’re really on the right path or not.
Greg Alexander: Okay. Steven, what does Brian do that contributes to the success of sales ops, yourself, your team, what do they do to help you be successful?
Steven Turacek: I think the number one thing, and Brian kind of alluded to it at the very top of the segment, was he views his relationship with sales operations as a true partnership. We have full transparency with each other. We’re not being brought in at the 11th hour and we’re ready to go. He views us as a partner and brings us in from the beginning and keeps us involved every step of the way, through the strategic planning, through the operation plan, execution, development, and then monitor, report, analyze and refine. We’re with his team end to end in their sales process.
Greg Alexander: Brian, if you were to give a piece of advice to the audience, maybe kind of the keys to the productive partnership between sales leadership and sales ops, what would be the main thing that you would advise our listeners and watches to embrace?
Brian Mikalis: I would say it’s trust and communication. We’ve been fortunate enough to have been working together for six years so we’ve developed this trust. I can bring Steven an idea. I know he’s going to be open to hearing it out. He’s not going to shoot it down right away. Communication, we talked about it earlier, it’s just setting up a regular cadence. We’re in a meeting together every Monday morning, on Tuesday we’re in a one-on-one together, we’re constantly trading emails back and forth. Some of the sales leaders on my team when they bring ideas up, like, “You need to check with sales operations. It’s hard for me to give you guys guidance on this idea that you came up with without at least getting know someone on Steven’s team to weigh in on this.” It’s bringing them in early. It’s trusting that they’re going to try to do the right thing for the businesses, because we’re all in this together. We all want to hit that number, and then communicating often as possible.
Greg Alexander: You guys have been working together roughly six years, which is a long time. There’s a lot of turnover in sales leadership and sales ops sometimes. It’s weird to see a partnership of this length. Did you trust right away or did it take time to earn that trust?
Brian Mikalis: I think it took some time. I’m not saying that I mistrusted you.
Greg Alexander: Well trust must be earned.
Brian Mikalis: Yeah, it took some time. We had to establish that cadence of just that regular communication. We are on opposite coasts, so every time we get together in person, every time we would share a drink together at a bar, you just start to get to know each other a little bit more. It takes a little bit of time, but once you’ve built that up it’s been well worth it.
Greg Alexander: Steven, let me ask you the question. If you were to speak to our audience representing the sales ops community and you were to advise them on the keys to this productive relationship with sales leadership, what would be the things you would advise them on?
Steven Turacek: I think I’d certainly and wholeheartedly agree with Brian first. Trust is the biggest factor to the success of any relationship. I’ve certainly in previous lives had some sales leaders that couldn’t really be trusted, so it’s a very welcoming experience to have built the trust and rapport that we’ve got here within the Pandora sales community. I would say transparency from both sides. Brian also alluded to that, where he is transparent with us on what their plans are and what they need to go out and do and execute. I’m transparent with him on the reasons why we can and cannot do certain things, when I remember to be. The third thing is just to always remember that ultimately, we have the same goal. He’s got a revenue goal he’s got to hit, and my job is to enable him to make sure he hits that, because ultimately, it’s just one number, it’s the Pandora number, and we’re all on the hook for it. Making sure that we’re always conscious that at the end of the day our goals are perfectly aligned.
Greg Alexander: Fantastic. Trust, communication, transparency, those are three really good words for us to remember from today’s session, so thank you for sharing that. So, guys, that’s it for a demonstration. I want to really thank you for contributing back to the body of knowledge. This is an area that we all need to get better on. Sales leadership and sales ops must work together if we’re going to make a number. Your advice today and your example today for our audiences is a real positive, so thanks for giving us your knowledge. Appreciate it.
Brian Mikalis: Thanks for having us.
I wanted to share the full transcript with the audience to enable you to dive deep into how this team at Pandora works successfully together to make the number.
If you would like to spend some time with me like Brain and Steven did from the Pandora team, come see me in Dallas at The Studio, SBI’s multimillion dollar, one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art executive briefing center. A visit to The Studio increases the probability of making your number because the sessions are built on the proven strength and stability of SBI, the industry leader in B2B sales and marketing.