It’s all about the customer in today’s digitally driven marketplace. Buyers are sophisticated and informed. In response to customers’ demands, revenue leaders are eager to transform from a “break-fix” mentality to an engage-adoption-partnership model. This was the topic 90+ sales and commercial ops executives deliberated at Alexander Group’s Chief Sales Executive Operations Forum recently. The 2-day event showcased the criticality of agility and adaptability to success and marketplace advantage, defining how to equip the sales function, broaden their influence and take charge of the revenue growth mandate.

Highlights and Takeaways

Keynote: Manage the Revenue Equation; Sales Operations Fills the Gaps
Nicholas Ellis, SVP, Global Sales Operations – CA Technologies

Nicholas Ellis

The customer journey has changed. Being “discoverable” and providing a positive user experience are crucial for converting customers. The new goal of marketing is to use “watermarking” to create unique messages that can be tracked for effectiveness. “More” is no longer better–quality leads are now the goal. Sales must now elevate above the accumulation buyers. Procurement and C-suite conversations demand higher level messages about total cost of ownership and product differentiation. The role of sales ops is to be a single source of truth, removing ambiguity and quantifying impact. Organizations that get this right will provide real value to their customers.

Keynote Panel: Manage the Revenue Equation
Nicholas Ellis, SVP, Global Sales Operations – CA Technologies
Steve MacKay, SVP – Aesculap
Ed Sahli, Vice President, Commercial Excellence – Honeywell/PMT

Nick Ellis, Steve MacKay, Ed Sahli

Following Ellis’ keynote, Steve MacKay and Ed Sahli joined Ellis and offered insights from their companies on managing the revenue equation. Ed Sahli noted the implementation of a new sales process at Honeywell/PMT. For example, they are now selling to higher levels within their customers’ organizations which means more focus around value and product differentiation. An emphasis on creating insights and training for new skill sets, along with new tools has helped them focus proactively on customer retention and lead gen/pipeline.

At Aesculap, disruption in the market also illuminated a necessity for new roles and skill sets, along with significant retraining. In the process, Aesculap recognized two areas that required both focus and resources: churn and improving sales goals. A changing market necessitates changes to the sales organization as well as the sales process to ensure continued revenue growth.

Briefing: How Revenue Growth Drives Sales Compensation
David Cichelli, SVP – Alexander Group

Alexander Group’s David Cichelli shared how organizations can drive revenue growth through strategic sales compensation design. The session also took an in-depth look at how a company’s growth phases impact the entire revenue growth model.

Executive Panel: Enable Your New Breed of Seller…and the Role of Digital Platforms
Wendy Bradley, Senior Director, Commercial Operations and Strategy – Waters Corporation
Dennis Cheng, Director, Sales Operations and Strategy – Boston Scientific

Wendy Bradley

The sales process is not as predictable as it once was. Customers demand so much more, often decide on purchase before a seller is involved, and expect sellers to know much more about them. Investing in and implementing digital solutions took concerted effort but was necessary to better enable sellers at both Waters Corporation and Boston Scientific. When work with Alexander Group at Waters Corporation uncovered customers’ desire for a different engagement model, the company built out commercial ops and grew it bottom up. Efforts to implement a social learning platform tailored to each seller’s learning path are paying off and addressing customers’ needs for solution selling. Wendy Bradley noted the importance of change management: It’s all about helping people see why we are doing this, the value, and what the benefit will be.

Dennis Cheng

For Boston Scientific, Dennis Cheng noted that some of their biggest challenges in driving user adoption of their digital investments included a lack of engagement between the sales and development teams, the need for a relationship between the IT business team and sales team, and the length of time from scope to launch. But the investment has provided flexibility to link sellers across divisions with central reporting, get other internal teams up to speed in terms of the selling function, and accelerate the time to productivity.

Both companies have faced the digital transformation head-on enabling sellers to find solutions for customers.

Executive Panel Briefing: Sales Ops Governance: Take the Lead to Deliver Results, Not Just Report Them
Brian Lime, Senior Director, Sales Operations – Land O’Lakes
Jose M. Perez, Senior Director, Commercial Operations – Mölnlycke

Brian Lime

Jose M. Perez

Brian Lime from Land O’Lakes and Jose Perez from Mölnlycke discussed sales ops governance and the call to deliver results, not simply report data. Perez offered an enticing vision of real quality data delivered “live” to the sellers, i.e., live data and live insights. But both Lime and Perez noted the struggle integrating reporting and analytics systems.

Here is where a sales ops team with varied roles and skill sets can help drive connectivity across systems. Jose noted the need for data scientists and data translators–people who can visualize data–plus people with true IT capabilities all working as sales ops team members.

Along the way to integrating data and reporting, both speakers recommended including sales leaders in the team to design the dashboards. Dashboards need to be agile and should be reviewed constantly.

Keynote: A Changing World Demands Sales Force Agility
Brian Burke, Recent General Manager, North America – Zimmer Biomet

Brian Burke

The changing role of sales is a result of changing customers. With the need to articulate and infiltrate customers’ journeys, companies need to reach customers early and impact their impressions before, during and after the sale. Where change is needed, sales operations can communicate that change and add tremendous value by managing the revenue generation engine.

Zimmer Biomet’s recent general manager of North America Brian Burke noted the hastening speed of change in marketing and in the marketplace. For companies to keep up, they need to try to predict with data and technology what will happen in the future. How and why do they use technology? And what are they learning from the data? Know what data is available, but present it to the right people in the right way.

A recurring theme at this year’s Sales Operations Forum was the need to have the right people and skill sets in place, whether that comes from inside or outside the organization. Brian observed that sales force agility is a necessary mindset now, not just a skill.

Burke attributes the success of the sales ops team at Zimmer Biomet to bringing together sales and marketing as often as possible, recognizing both sales and marketing define roles and success differently, and understanding the purpose of their organization.

Keynote: Building Value and Revenue Through the Sales Operations & Service Partnership
Tracy Long, Vice President, Service, Building Solutions, N.A. – Johnson Controls
Lisa Roy, Vice President, Sales Operations – Johnson Controls

Tracy Long

For Johnson Controls, a merger with Tyco prompted a new vision. The desire to be a technology leader vs. premier designer of products called for a connected product and system synergy. Tracy Long noted the difficulty of designing a data strategy for IoT, recognizing that usage of complex data demands a strong linkage between sales and service. Again, sales ops comes to the rescue as they are able to take a lead in defining the data collection strategy.

Lisa Roy highlighted the importance of carefully capturing data at each stage. At Johnson Controls, they segmented the customer buying process in buildings into three areas: strategic planning (where customers decide to buy or allocate funds in the future); building and construction (either building or renovating); and operating and maintaining (how one piece of equipment performs in comparison to another).

Lisa Roy

Lisa noted the power of these new investments, including analytical tools to understand the ROI of sellers. Key success factors include sales ops’ process of collecting data, organizing it and distributing it. A partnership with IT to clean up the data lake; reorganizing that data; and focusing on service, which had a huge impact on the customer life cycle, all contributed to a successful merger.

Keynote Panel: Rise of the Revenue Leader
Brian Burke, Recent General Manager, North America – Zimmer Biomet
Tracy Long, Vice President, Service, Building Solutions, N.A. – Johnson Controls
Lisa Roy, Vice President, Sales Operations – Johnson Controls

The executive panel from Johnson Controls and Zimmer Biomet honed in on the role sales operations plays in leveraging data to enable revenue growth resources. In particular, the importance of managing the “data lake” (a repositioning of raw data a company can query to analyze further) could not be overstated. Panelists stressed the need to drive accountability and data alignment by presenting the sales team and executive leadership with the right data and tools to effectively execute on the strategy. Sales ops is evolving to play key roles in these communication efforts. Given the right tools and data, sales is able to gain insights to local markets.

Lisa Roy suggested a top-down approach to align the data across sales, marketing and service. Data should be linked and credible; use a third party, such as finance, to confirm accuracy.

When it comes to selling internally to capture the investment, Roy takes a holistic view of the numbers. Look at each year’s budget, what initiatives are desired, and how they can work together. Then storyboard the data lake; have the 5-year plan and look at the sub-systems.

Sales ops is now about getting data to make fact-based decisions. Looking to the future of sales ops, panelists agreed as data and technology become more complex and sales ops plays more of a strategic role, they will likely have the ear of the C-suite.

Several roundtable discussions drilled further into the event topics. As organizations become more complicated, the need for more pre- and post-sales roles increases to ensure the maintenance and expansion of customer relationships. With the proliferation of specialists and increased opportunities to cross-sell, sales ops can fill the need as “control tower” to manage resources.

The trend is for sales operations to do more and more, taking on new roles with new skill sets, all in an effort to equip the sales function, broaden their influence and take charge of revenue growth. But many companies’ sales ops team have gaps. Some suggestions for filling those gaps included migrating the data to one central place but not to a single owner, managing up as a big part of running the modern sales ops group, and a need to upgrade sales ops members from a training and skill set perspective. And when defining the sales ops charter, consider sales time and “perceived risk.”

One thing remains clear: sales operations is on the rise. Successful organizations will maximize their sales ops teams to grow revenue and manage customers’ entire buyer journey.

Ready to continue the conversation and gain more compelling insights and takeaways? Be sure to save your seat, along with your executive team’s, at the Annual Forum in November.
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