The Biggest Mistake That Ops Teams Make

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This is a podcast episode titled, The Biggest Mistake That Ops Teams Make. The summary for this episode is: On this episode of Operations, Sean explores a common trap that Ops teams fall into. And spoiler alert – it’s not what you think. Listen to the full episode to learn what the trap is, how and why Ops teams fall into it, and four actions you can take today (and every day) to make sure you don’t get stuck in the trap.

Sean Lane: Hey everybody, welcome back to Operations, the show where we look under the hood of companies in hypergrowth. My name is Sean Lane. Today we're going to do something a little bit different than we've done on most of our previous episodes. And the main reason for that is something caught my attention in the last couple of weeks that I just wanted to talk through with you all. And the thing that's caught my attention is a lot of different blog posts, content, emails. I get a lot of sales ops and operations related content sent to me, but one of the things that I keep noticing inside of this content is this trend of titles that have to do with the relationship between particularly sales people and sales operations. And the titles that come through on some of these, certainly they're trying to get me to click and they're pretty successful at that, but the titles themselves are things like three tips to get salespeople to listen to sales ops, or an open letter to salespeople from sales operations. And these different articles while maybe full with some practical information and some tips to help you solve some of the operations problems that you might come across, the advice is fine, the tips make sense, but here's the thing. The root of articles like this, the catalyst for their existence is completely backwards. And today on this episode, I want to talk to you about a mistake that a lot of operations teams fall into. It's super- common, but also completely unnecessary. It's easy to fall into when you're in the throws of hypergrowth. And so today on this show, I want to talk about what this mistake is and outline some very specific ways that we can avoid this mistake together. So let's go back to those articles. You go into and you read them and they have tips like, hey, you should encourage salespeople to provide you with screenshots. You should provide them with common sense descriptions. One of them which blew my mind was you should use non- threatening words when speaking to salespeople. Like some of this stuff is fine, but some of it is insane. And the advice might be fine, but ultimately what happens here is you have to go back and look at the framing of the relationship between sales operations, and salespeople. And what I mean by that is when you have articles like this, it tells me two major things. It tells me, one, that the communication is really, really broken between sales and sales operations for these articles to exist inside of certain companies. And two, there is this perception that sales teams are screwing stuff up so frequently and so badly that you need to then merit pieces of content from operations folks in order to try and fix them. And what that tells me is this major mistake that we've been working towards. And the mistake that teams make is they forget who the customer is. I'm going to repeat that. The biggest mistake that operations teams make is they forget who the customer is. Now, some operations teams will build processes, they'll build policies, there'll build rules based off of what is best for them as opposed to what is best for their internal customers, which in the case of sales operations are salespeople. When I think about my role at Drift, my first and most important customers are the sales reps. If you're in marketing operations, that's marketing folks. If you're in customer success operations, it's the CSMs. Our job simply put is to make them better at their job. And I am certainly guilty of forgetting this. And so this episode is just as much for me as it is for other folks. I heard a quote recently that I think is really applicable in this situation, which is ops teams have to be the psychologists for their organizations. You have to know what people are thinking. You have to look around corners to anticipate where problems are going to exist. What's bothering them? And ultimately prescribe remedies that will help fix those problems or at least lessen how painful they are for your internal customers. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm in ops, so I recognize like certain things are always going to potentially upset the balance of things that people are looking for, but you need to put the organization in the best position to succeed and put those internal customers in a position to succeed. Especially if your companies are growing quickly, this can be incredibly difficult. Everyone internally has different levels of institutional knowledge, different levels of experience from other companies. And so every time you put a new process in place, you risk upsetting that balance a little bit. So with this in mind and this idea of keeping your internal customers in mind, I wanted to talk through four practical ways that I think you can help to avoid this mistake. So, ready? Here we go. Action number one, set proper expectations. Tell the teams that you're supporting, that they are your most important customer and tell them often. If they know that you have their best interest at heart, then that's going to really help with that relationship. I hear different perspectives from different companies all the time about these like tenuous and stressful relationships between sales and sales ops in particular, but I really just think that that comes down to expectation setting. If you know that they have the best interest at heart, then that's going to help build this mutual respect to develop over time. Now, you have to deliver on those expectations, but ultimately if you set the expectations right, you deliver on them, one little thing that you deliver or one insight will buy you a ton of goodwill. And that goes a long way. Okay, that's number one, set proper expectations. Action number two, treat them like a customer. The tips in these blog posts that I was mentioning, some of them make sense, but the general premise of all of them is if you want help from sales ops, here's a whole bunch of hoops that you need jump through in order to get that help. And what that reminds me of is the idea of like calling Comcast for customer support. And nobody likes calling Comcast or reaching out to giant companies where their customer experience is not put at the center. We talk at Drift a lot about the idea that B2B companies are continuing to act more and more like B2C companies here in 2019 and beyond, and your internal interactions with your internal customers should be no different. We should be modeling our interactions with those teams the same way that companies like Amazon or Zappos model their customer experience interaction. So if your internal teams, if your sales team, or your marketing team thinks about you the same way that you think about Comcast, you've got a problem and you're never going to make any progress. Okay, that's number two, treat them like a customer. Action number three, trust first. I'm going to tell you right now I'm guilty of this one all the time. But if someone brings you an issue, don't immediately assume that the fault is theirs. I definitely know that if I built it, I'm immediately going to second guess whether or not someone is using it wrong or how could it possibly be broken if I was the one that spent the time building this? But let's follow that Amazon and Zappos customer centric model here and take a moment to empathize with the situation that your internal customer is in. Figure out what the pain point is bringing them inside of their day and put yourself in their shoes because clearly if they're bringing it to you, it's hindering them from doing their job or doing their job well. So I'll never forget. I was at a previous company and we were interviewing someone for a sales enablement role, and one of the sales leaders in their feedback after the interview said," This candidate is incredibly rare in the fact that she is both very talented when it comes to sales enablement, and she actually likes salespeople as well." And like that blew my mind. That's insane that that is a rare quality. Think about the reputation that we must have as operations folks for someone to say that actually liking salespeople is a rare trait that they want to seek out in candidates. But you can see that how perceptions like that lead to the types of blog posts and articles that I'm talking about. Okay, that's number three, trust first. Last one, number four, do what they do. It's as simple as that. Do what they do. Do what your internal customers, salespeople, marketing people, customer success people do, or ask them what they do. I'm not saying that you actually need to sit down and get on a phone and do a sales call because they're better at that than we are and that's probably for the past, but what I mean is you have to understand what goes into the steps of a customer journey. What does it take for them to go through a demo? What does it take for them to create an opportunity? What does it take for them to insert all the information that we as a company are asking of them? And you'll gain a much better appreciation of what those internal customers have to go through in order to get a deal done, service a customer, get a marketing campaign out the door. And so, at Drift, what we try to do is carve out time to spend with individual reps, team leads, directors, because the last thing that we want to do is be out of touch with what their life looks like. This is a hard thing to do and it's something that I struggle with and it's something that we have to constantly remind ourselves to do, but the ability to be truly empathetic and put yourself in their shoes or in the shoes of any internal customers you have, it goes a long way. And it seems like a simple thing, but a lot of people don't do it. And so if you can, you're going to set yourself apart. Okay, so to recap, biggest mistake that companies make as they're going through this hypergrowth phase and building out their ops teams is they forget who their internal customers are. To avoid that, the four things you can do, one, set proper expectations, two, treat them like a customer, three, trust first, and four, do what they do. So some of you are thinking," Great, I'm already doing all these things." Good for you. Some of you are probably thinking," We've gone so far in the opposite direction. It's going to be hard for me to correct that." So no matter which camp you're in, it's never too late to work on these things. And so what I would challenge you all to do and something that I challenged myself to do and challenge our team here to do every single day is can you practice at least one of these four things every single day? If you can leave at the end of the day and say," Okay, I practiced at least one of those," then you're heading in the right direction. All right, I know it's a little bit of a different type of episode for us, but I wanted to get that out there and talk through it. If you have feedback or you have thoughts about these types of articles that you're seeing or any of the four practical things that I talked about, send it to me. Tweet at me @ seanybiz, send me a LinkedIn message. And if you're enjoying the show, leave us a five star review, excuse me, a six star review on Apple Podcasts. That's going to do it for me. See you next time.


On this episode of Operations, Sean explores a common trap that Ops teams fall into. And spoiler alert – it’s not what you think. Listen to the full episode to learn what the trap is, how and why Ops teams fall into it, and four actions you can take today (and every day) to make sure you don’t get stuck in the trap.