SalesTechStar Interview with Art Harding, Chief Operating Officer at People.ai
Art Harding, Chief Operating Officer at People.ai chats about a few proven SalesOps and RevOps practices in this chat with SalesTechStar:
Welcome to this SalesTechStar chat Art, tell us about yourself and more about being COO at People.ai
Thanks for having me! I’ve been involved in sales, services and operations for over 20 years at various B2B and enterprise companies, growing with multiple public traded companies (Veritas, VMware and Riverbed) to and through $1B in annual revenue. As COO, I’m passionate about modernizing GTM functions (Marketing, Sales and Services) with data, automation and the emerging AI-powered capabilities for People.ai and our customers. I believe the digital transformation of go-to-market has been happening for years and leveraging AI is the next logical chapter in optimizing performance. AI lets leaders re-allocate their time from governance and inspection of systems and processes to coaching and performance management unlocking our team’s full potential. Our role as sales, marketing and services leaders is to drive business performance not – compliance with systems and processes.
How are you seeing focus areas and trends in Revenue Operations change today? What are some of the RevOps / Ops processes and tools that are becoming more critical?
RevOps is the industry’s reaction to the modernization of legacy go-to-market capabilities. The rapid proliferation of data and automation has increased the complexity, volume and orchestration required cross functionally for operating teams as we optimize the buyer and customer journey.
Centralizing operating functions can increase alignment and control over these teams’ priorities and projects.
We must move beyond the struggles of cross functional alignment across sales, marketing and services into a more aggressive integration of their collective capabilities driving the buyer and customer journey.
For example, the integration of sales ops and marketing ops improves the consistency and quality of how data is captured and disseminated. While many of us recognize it is table stakes for our teams to scale more and more insights into tangible actions, we may not be as aware of how crucial quality cross functional systems of record about our pipeline, accounts, and teams will be for unlocking the potential of the available automation and AI. Basically – your potential for leveraging AI and automation is only as good as your operating team’s ability to capture and manage meaningful data.
It’s also important to remember that while our sales processes are changing – the buyer expectations and behaviors are changing as well. The accelerating changes in our buyers process means our focus on modernizing must be from the perspective of the buyer experience. This thinking empowers integrated RevOps teams, with account-based marketing (ABM), and focused account sales strategies to deliver improved productivity – higher win rates, improved ASP, and shorter sales cycles.
What are some of the most common challenges you still see B2B sales teams struggle with when it comes to RevOps processes?
The number one challenge is our reliance on the quantity of data we ask sales reps to manually and accurately provide for which crucial decisions and systems are dependent. The toil is obvious, but the value and importance are not obvious – therefore intuitively – sellers have little to no incentive to provide what is needed to empower operating capabilities.
For instance, many B2B sales teams are still stuck in manual mode. All of their historical data on wins and losses, salesperson activities, marketing campaigns, etc., is living in spreadsheets, emails and other siloed tools. Data manually entered into key systems of record are the absolute minimum required and provided infrequently – if at all. This means even the best-intended salespeople must switch between multiple tools, where they input and organize data. This results in sellers building their own systems in a way that makes sense to them, but may not be available or relevant to their team members.
This issue becomes heightened once reps leave the organization and their institutional knowledge of data input processes isn’t preserved. As a result, comparing data becomes difficult and can be incomplete and inaccurate.
When sales teams try to fix the manual entry problem by investing in various CRM tools, another common challenge occurs: data dump. More isn’t always better. Too many tools produce a massive amount of data that’s unreliable for achieving desired results. Sales teams don’t have the time nor the desire to dig through hundreds of different data points to come to a decision, particularly after investing so much in providing the data in the first place. Data should be captured with the lowest lift possible, and served back in the form of actionable suggestions at the right time, in the right place and with the least amount of effort by the customer facing team who will perform the action. Bottom line – our marketing, sales and services teams are paid to focus outside our organization – not be pulled into doing business with ourselves tangled up in systems and data.
A few of the core revenue operations processes and automation that you feel B2B teams need to be placing more attention on?
I see the top productivity opportunity for GTM is to stop doing so much business with ourselves internally. After all of this investment in technology – specifically CRM and collaboration – why is the operating cadence internally still so heavy. Annual plans done once a year, weekly forecast calls and QBR (quarterly business reviews) are great examples of what I believe will be relics of our past in the near future.
Why are we still having face-to-face forecast calls to talk and tell stories about the status of our opportunities – collectively we have invested countless millions of dollars in systems, processes and methodologies to manage and monitor the progress of opportunities. I believe we are going to see a massive shift in the energy historically invested in forecasting – which is calling a number – and move that energy to pipeline creation and health, which are leading indicators of your forecast. Accurate forecasting is crucial for managing expense and investment. Unfortunately – forecasting does nothing to improve business growth and performance. It is a bottom-line function – not a top-line function. Trying to improve our businesses on our forecast call is the equivalent of trying to improve my health while standing on a scale. Growth and business performance are powered by pipeline creation, conversion and coverage – this also helps with accurate forecasting. I believe the forecast call is an endangered species and will be extinct in the coming years, and will be replaced with increased attention on pipeline performance.
Account Planning and QBRs – these artifacts of our analog past – require heavy manual data entry, human-intensive analysis and interpretation and are often stale before we have finished publishing them. The contents of these are often peppered with historical results and retrospective details – and with our last ounce of energy, we discuss how to action and what to do next. In the near future, and with companies like People.ai – we envision very low to no manual effort from the teams to collect, study and produce data – and believe the output of these planning and review cadences will migrate to review of leading indicators and AI-powered suggested actionable steps.
Some thoughts on the top trends you feel will shape the overall Sales/SalesOps-RevOps space?
Retrospective overviews of the past, manual data entry, meetings to review compliance and completeness of data, and delays in getting meaningful insights – will be replaced with just in time actions performed with the aid of technology or completely with technology.
As we reduce the amount of time we spend internally doing business with ourselves we will create a new challenge. Are we ready as leaders to coach in this data-driven AI-assisted world? Gut feels and cliches will only get us so far – as the effort to capture, synthesize and share data dissipates – are we ready to unlock pipeline and performance in sales coaching sessions?
Chasing and cleansing manually entered data, forces sales operations teams into providing and working with stale, lagging outcomes rather than just in time leading indicators. This will accelerate time to action and support more energy for improving how we perform our craft vs recording statistics about what we have done. Inspection without coaching is micro-management – if we have the insights – how ready are you to coach from the front on what needs to happen now vs evaluating what happened last week or last quarter?
Some last thoughts, takeaways, before we wrap up!
Hug your operators! Companies that underinvest or undervalue operations will fail in their attempts to evolve. Operations is often viewed as a cost center – akin to a G&A function. I believe the sales and marketing digital transformation makes the operating teams an integrated part of the sales and marketing teams. The line between operations, sales and marketing is converging. Your operational leaders must be partnered across the buyer and customer journey, aggressive fierce leaders looking to set and manage boundaries with the business for the purpose of innovating and delivering improved efficiency, effectiveness and transformation. If you view and run your operating function like a deli counter – you ask they provide…you will fall further and further behind.
Any form of transformation that’s going to be achieved will be led by the operations and technology team, which requires B2B organizations and executives to empower, support and invest in them.
People.ai delivers a leading revenue operations and intelligence (ROI) platform. Using patented AI technology, it transforms business activity such as email, meetings, and contacts, into account and opportunity management solutions that increase sales rep productivity, accelerate revenue growth, and maximize marketing ROI. Companies such as AppDynamics, DataRobot, Ivanti, Okta, and Zoom rely on People.ai to unlock growth.
Art Harding is Chief Operating Officer at People.ai
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