Reflecting on TOPO Summit 2018

I am writing this post on my way back from the annual TOPO summit in San Francisco. Going into the summit, I was not sure what to expect since I am a bit sceptical about the value received from conferences. TOPO, however, was great, there was good content, yes. But more importantly, it was a summit that had attracted quite a few like-minded people. I must congratulate the TOPO team for having accomplished this. In order to have a great party, you need a connecting theme that is a shared bond among the attendees and the experience of connecting with like-minded folks become more of a celebration than the content itself.

The biggest win for me was to see that there is the desire to see lines blurring between the different ops teams. At we have been pushing for the consolidation of ops teams. In an account-centric engagement model the divisions between marketing operations, sales operations and customer operations is a recipe for building inefficiencies into how we engage with our accounts. It will also lead to a broken customer experience. I will state again – your prospects and customers don’t care about your org chart as such there is no reason for you to expose your organizational seams to them. We need to think of ONE operations team that drives the engagement from campaign to renewal. Only through looking at the full end to end engagement model can ops teams consolidate the tools explosion within the enterprise and control the exponential decay in the quality of data in their source CRM system. The growth ops framework – is about building an ops team that is accountable for the end to end process definition and the metrics highlight the efficiency of the process & policy for each stage from pre-sales, sales to renewals.

I spent most of my time in the Sales Operations track and the one common theme across the sessions was the emphasis on defining your sales process and associated policies. The need to have defined process and policies in place to help scale were being promoted over just using tools.

Art Harding from New Relic made a great point that at most places sales operations teams are seen as order takers. From my past experience, I have seen most sales operations teams being reactive and in the order taking mode. The only way for them to become strategic to the organization is to be asking the question - why? Sales Operations needs to be asking how what is being asked of them is helping drive alignment with the overall strategy of the company. Art also emphasized the need to simplify the tools stack. Whenever sales teams are complaining that a particular tool is not delivering on the value promised we in sales operations need to see if the issue is with the tool or is it because the tool lacks supporting well-defined policy and process.

Another session that caught my attention was that of AJ Gandhi from

He hit upon the same set of topics that we feel passionate about and share with our stakeholders. Sales is the most expensive function of the company and there is a gap between sales and non – sales executives in the company about why sales is so expensive. A well-run operations team can help bridge the gap and enable sales execs to show the ROI on the sales investment. That is correct- sales need’s to be looked at as an investment, not a cost centre. AJ also did a great take on the acronym OPS- Operations, Productivity and Strategy. I had never thought about it like this but it is so relevant. This captures everything that a well-functioning sales ops team must do. AJ pointed out “Systems, Process
and tools- Best Practices being applied consistently is a desire, inconsistently applied best practice is causing a huge drain & waste.”

Sales ops MUST BE the glue that brings sales strategy and sales execution

So the question begets why I am so passionate about the enforcement of processes and policies over tools. Much like Art, AJ, Lana Lee, Andy Mowat and others that I met at the
conference, I feel strongly that most teams are creating processes and policies after the fact. The policies are not well thought through since they are reactive in nature and not connected to the strategic goal of the company as a whole. The reactive nature makes the policy more about optimizing for the sales operations teams workload management versus enabling productivity of sales.

Despite the tools explosion, there is a love-hate relationship between the sales operations personnel, tools and the base CRM system.

They love it because the tools and the CRM bring the promise of much-needed rigour to the sales process. The kind of rigour that will allow them to drive up forecast accuracy and ensure the sales number is achieved. The CRM system also promises to bring the detailed operational sales data they so crave. Data that will allow them to help the business leaders to make sensible investment decisions that support planned growth.

The hate part of the relationship comes about because the CRM systems flatter to deceive. It makes these promises then completely fails to deliver against any of them. Leaving the sales ops team in a mire of daily or weekly exports into spreadsheets. Hour after countless hour is wasted trying to stitch these spreadsheets together. Best guess extrapolation starts to become the decision-making norm as data gaps big enough to drive a horse and cart through are exposed.

Organizations that are looking to scale their sales teams must invest in sales operations. The Sales Operations teams, in turn, must then invest in defining the policies for each sales event. Sales is a series of events. Each event should have an associated policy and exception paths to define how to handle the exception.

After defining the policies need to be enforced and policed to drive consistency of data collection into the base CRM system. The policies need to be rigorously enforced to all tools and people who are injecting data into the CRM system. In order to build a data-driven sales teams you need to invest in policies that keep the data relevant to your decision making.

That data is then used to track actuals against targets set as part of your
sales plan. The data then reflects the effectiveness of your sales strategy. You will also see the ROI on your tools investment and also perhaps be able to shrink your tools stack.The Growth Ops Framework will help you think
about how you should prioritize the creation and enforcement of policies.

Lastly, before I close, would like to thank Neil Harrington from TOPO for inviting
us down to the summit.

Call to Action: Growing sales teams should do a thorough audit of their
sales policies that are supporting the processes and then invest the time in
keeping the policies in sync with the growth of your organization.


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