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The Role of Sales Operations at Top-of-Funnel

Guest: Sean Lane, Director of Sales Operations at Drift

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About This Episode

It’s not just getting the leads into the hands of the right people at the right time.

It’s getting the right leads into the hands of the right people at the right time.

Today, we have a very exciting episode with Sean Lane, Director of Sales Operations at Drift and host of Drift’s podcast, Operations with Sean Lane.

Our conversation focused on sales operations at the top of the funnel — generating pipeline.

Curious about sales operations? This is your episode.

The right leads

Getting the right leads into the right hands at the right time sounds simple, but it’s actually remarkably complex.

“Doing it right vs. doing it wrong can be the difference maker of whether your company is making your goals or not,” Sean said.

There’s a lot of noise out there at the top of the funnel. “You’re starting at this really, really wide funnel and trying to figure out what to do with it,” he said.

Naturally, you want to figure out the people in the funnel who are going to be the best fit (and therefore worth your time).

The right leads should be your starting place, with the aim of becoming more advanced at selecting these.

Sean pointed people to 2 starting places.

1. The fit of the company itself

Basically, how good of a fit is that company for your product?

“This doesn’t have to be some crazy algorithm. It’s just finding the commonalities of those companies,” Sean said.

2. Type of behavior that the lead is showing

The level of interest of someone who reads your blog is going to be different from someone who has a conversation with a widget on your site.

“We want to start to stratify those levels of intent, so we’re taking those people with the higher levels of intent and making sure that those are making it to the team faster,” Sean explained.

Speed is the priority

Once upon a time, Drift had one giant generic sales team. Now, however, it has started to segment its sales team in order to align types of companies with sellers who specialize.

“That’s where a whole new layer gets introduced. How do you make sure that those leads are actually getting to the right people?” Sean pointed out.

From homegrown solutions to distribution engines, you need a process for where your leads are going to go.

“Half the battle is making sure that this thing is so obvious and so easy to get to for the people that you want to then take action on it,” Sean said.

He has spent countless meeting hours making sure that this tiny component of their go to market process is airtight: getting the right lead to the right person.

“Speed to lead is an important metric,” Sean said.

The speed with which you match a lead to a rep has to be frictionless.

“Honestly, that’s something that you have to put the onus just as much on the systems and on the operations team as you would on the sales team,” he said.

A response within 5 minutes is so much more effective than a response that takes 20 minutes.

Sean deliberately chose to prioritize speed as the North Star of operations. “Regardless of anything that happened, we were never going to sacrifice speed,” he said.

That determination helps him make decisions about other metrics: if it takes too long, he doesn’t want it.

“It’s all about meeting the customer where they’re at — at that moment,” he said.

The real customers of sales ops

Other companies have fraught relationships between sales ops and other departments. As if, somehow, they aren’t all on the same side.

“All of the salespeople at Drift, all of the sales leaders and marketers and customer success folks — they’re my customers,” Sean said. “My job is to make them better at their job.”

A massively important part of the role of sales ops is to have a good relationship with the people who are supposed to be your customers… the people within your own company.

1. Build relationships within your company

Doing right by the people in your company matters. “Especially when you’re dealing with salespeople, you are going to impact their livelihood based off of decisions that you make,” Sean said.

Recognizing that your choices affect people’s lives makes account mapping or lead distribution more than an esoteric exercise.

A lesson Sean learned from hosting his podcast: “Sales needs to buy into the data you have… but you have to give them a reason to buy into it.”

It’s imperative to take the time for your sales team to give you the necessary feedback to get as close to perfect as you can with a set of data.

2. Agree on how to prioritize decisions

After your relationships are solid, then you can start to make hard decisions together. (Without trust, there’s no reason someone should give your word any credit, right?)

Speed doesn’t have to be the priority, per se. It could be revenue or customer experience.

No matter what it is, establishing the priority makes it easier to a) say no to something new that has a lesser impact or b) make the trade off when the new thing is actually more valuable.

“But if you haven’t thought about how to measure those new projects or apply a certain dollar amount to them, it becomes really hard to have any sort of prioritization conversation at all,” Sean said.

For all the time that he’s spent tightening the top of the funnel, Sean won’t be stopping there.

“We’re going to continue to work our way further down that funnel as we move up market,” he said.

Get in touch with Sean about optimizing sales operations at his LinkedIn.

For more engaging sales conversations, subscribe to The Sales Engagement Podcast on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or on our website.

About The Podcast

The Sales Engagement podcast is the #1 podcast focused on engaging your customers and prospects in the modern sales era. This show features real-life stories and best practices from revenue leaders doing the job day in and day out, in a casual, radio-like talk show.

Each episode features modern tactics, strategies, hacks, and tips to get the most out of your sales engagement strategy and help you navigate the next generation of sales. You’ll find energetic talks that will provide you with real actionable value around building meaningful connections and creating a better selling experience through authentic conversations that you can measure.

The Sales Engagement podcast is here to help B2B sales leaders, customer success leaders, and marketing leaders innovate and usher in the next era of modern sales by building pipeline, up-selling customers, and ultimately generating more revenue with more efficiency.

Hosted by Joe Vignolo, Senior Content Managing Editor at Outreach, and Mark Kosoglow, Vice President of Sales at Outreach.

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