How to improve data quality and clarity to fuel growth.

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- September 27, 2019

Branden Baldwin, Revenue Operations Leader at Degreed, shares how to fuel growth by focusing on the quality of data and creating clarity for everyone involved.

BoostUp: Could you share some of your priorities and mandates as a revenue operations leader?

Branden: Our key focus was to get to a point where we were not guessing with the data within Salesforce, and every decision was being made with real information to drive results.

Creating cross-functional data alignment became a priority. To ensure sales reps have all the information they need to know about their prospects—who will be the most successful customers, not just at sign up but to retain as well. We wanted teams responsible for renewal and upsells to have all these details even before getting into that stage. Since our sales reps are also responsible for renewals, we wanted them to have usage data as well when they’re getting prepped. With such information being brought forward, they could customize the conversation and fine-tune the experience with our prospects and customers. We also took into account marketing and finance’s perspective to bring together all the information which typically can be in different languages to create a common language between all these functions. Now everyone is aligned with the same objective to drive results and do not duplicate any work.

When I look at my day-to-day, the most significant obstacles were clarity and quality—quality of data and clarity for everybody involved to know what is going on in the organization. Bad quality of data reduces clarity because it increases interpretation and error, and these go hand-in-hand. That’s always my focus and something I will try to work on even going forward.

 

BoostUp: Provide us some context of the challenges you faced due to data quality and lack of clarity?

Branden: At a high-level, the questions are how is the quality of everything we do? Is it clear why we do it and how it will impact us? If we can’t answer those questions, then we have to re-evaluate everything we do.

The first challenge was our revenue information which was causing issues between multiple groups. We were faltering on our ACV calculation e.g. How was it being calculated? What was included? So we usually ended up with three different financial numbers for every closed deal. Our financial conversation was now about who is correct? Why were they right? What do we use as information, and how do we carry it forward? So the baseline itself was a problem.

Another challenge was when a customer is being handed over from sales to client success. Our sales reps would put the information on what the prospect wanted from their project, but they would have their interpretation. When client success got the customer, they spoke a different language which resulted in a bad experience for our customers. Due to varying interpretations between these two groups, customers either had to repeat what they had shared or got kicked off with an inappropriate project that didn’t make sense for them.

 

BoostUp: What was your starting point to overcome these challenges?

Branden: There were a few things we did. We were a small team and growing quickly year-over-year and understood some things would get left behind. So we started with simple fixes.

In the first phase, we created documentation and templates. e.g., with the client success issue, we created templates of a common language, so both sales and client success knew the things you need to ask the customers. We also created a data dictionary, where any term we use internally, was explained in the simplest terms. e.g., ACV, the teams involved could look it up and understand that’s the actual contracted value of year 1 for us. We also created the commonalities of language to help further drive this aspect. This helped align finance figures between all groups and they could explain the why behind their numbers.

So just setting up these conversations to make sure everyone had accountability and agreement to the standard drove the success. While there’s always improvement this was our baseline to make everything function.

 

BoostUp: How did you manage the data hygiene within the CRM? What was your approach?

Branden: We created a data warehouse that is central to everything distributed within our organization. As we were creating it we had to decide what is a central location for all this information, where does it need to be housed and then re-evaluate every integration we have with the data coming in or out.

When I took over years ago, I inherited a decent mess of data that we had opened up to sales reps in the early stages to add anything needed just to get the business going. There was no real accountability of the information entered into the system. Which, of course, created a mess from territory planning to marketing’s evaluation of leads. While marketing felt they were making a significant impact, but actually, in the end, we were lead poor rather than lead rich even with a lot of data.

So the first step for us was to figure out how to stop the bleeding. Understand where everything was coming in, lock it down, clean it up, and create a standard best practice. Then the next step was going beyond clean data to usable CRM data. How do we take all this data and make it usable because we might have a bunch of clean data now, but if reps don’t know how to use it, it doesn’t matter how clean the data is. We focussed on how reps get to the right things at the right time or have data presented to them at the right time.

It’s no longer just about if the data is clean or not, but how quickly can information drive success It is, in fact, a full-time job to understand what data is best, how do we get it quickly if we don’t have it, and where do we get it from that is reliable for everybody involved. We now have an analytics member dedicated to continually dive into this data to provide insights that would make things easier and also evaluate if we can make our decisions based on that data.

Over the past year that’s been the shift when we talk about data quality. The hardest part is understanding what is valuable and being aware it is an evolving process that requires time, evaluation, and analysis.

 

BoostUp: How do you prioritize what data is required to be in the system vs. what just creates noise? There are varied approaches here—The first is to have just one or two contacts. The second is let’s just put everybody in the CRM, and the third is let’s put people who matter.

Branden: We used to put anyone and everyone into the system. We would take activity data even if they send an email. If they just started talking to the opportunity, we put them in there. As a consequence, we now had this massive list of people we thought were involved in decision-making. However, in reality, only a third of those are involved that we really need to capture. We had created so much noise in these opportunities, in these accounts, did we actually know what’s happening and how to make them successful?

So we had to re-evaluate. When we did that, we found some large organizations that had 500 people in their account, but when we broke it down to really who mattered, we removed over 70% of them.

It is important to understand if the data is actionable or are you just creating noise which makes it less actionable to what you’re trying to accomplish. Are we filtering through and saying these are things that we consider crucial and these crucial conversations are what we tag going on with this account. So the deeper problem is not just connecting them but connecting what matters versus what does not matter.

I think there can be a happy ground of having everyone in the system and know who matters. It’s not just a question of whether you have everyone but backing it up with who is made visible at the right time. I could see maybe five million people, but then the sales leader sees only ten people that matter and marketing may see thirty people that matter to them.

 

BoostUp: How did all these changes bring about efficiency into the forecasting process? What’s still missing?

Branden: When I first took over sales operations we were growing pretty quickly and had gone through four head of sales in about three years. Much of our forecasting was relying on the deals that were scheduled for the quarter and then a basic comparison of what stage they were in. We didn’t consider anything deeper than that.

So when we came in, the board wanted to quickly know where we were going to be next quarter and the quarter after. Also, they wanted to know how reliable these numbers were since we were getting ready for another round of funding.

The first step was to figure out what additional information would be viable to get so we validate the actual stage of each opportunity based on where and how we were getting the current information.

What we found out was — One half of the sales organization was having conversations where there was valuable information shared in conference calls or text or whatever communication they use. But this was not captured in any form or system that we could use to report. Then the other half of the organization was just not having these conversations. There was no accountability. We had to figure out how do we get this data and how do we get people accountable to actually have these conversations to know if our deals are truly progressing or not?

We had looked at some technology and did a full evaluation but couldn’t justify the expense so wrote it off deciding we will just build something out. When we brought in a new VP of Sales to work with our CRO he felt confident that he could hold the reps accountable to add the data. Once we had alignment with our sales leadership, it flipped the entire way of thinking. Usually, when we talk about data and value-add for organizations, it’s all about can it be automated, how quickly can we take it out of the rep’s hands. However, our sales leadership wanted reps to have the accountability to insert information manually to drive that deal forward and it was an interesting approach.

Now during our weekly forecast review, reps themselves update the forecast based on the progression of their deals. We use some of their analytics, have gotten better at internal conversations and have seen improvement while presenting to the executive team. As reps are updating their information, we validate the deals and have created the standard of what the data means. I have a cleansing project every week when sales leadership meets so we have a better recording for the following week.

That’s where we are currently. We went from pure automation to automation that allows for a personal touch.

Where we have issues, it comes back to clarity. Let’s say our Head of Sales, or CRO, or the Rep, whoever has this great conversation they have information that is shared back and forth which is even more, in-depth than the data in the CRM. Where does that data go? How can that be consumed by our COO to know what’s going on in this deal? While we give him the available information, but he would say, I heard such a thing was happening on the deal. Now that’s not being tracked anywhere. It is an important part to consider how can such insights be consumed by members who are not in the conversation to build more value across the organization.

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