How To Get Into Sales Operations With No Former Experience

Justin Murphy who studied History in school, and is fascinated by Roman strategy and WWII tank doctrine, didn’t see a life in Sales Operations being his next step. But by taking his love for strategy, and some awesome connections, he’s now worked in two Sales Operations roles. He was one of the first members of the Revenue Operations Team when PandaDoc was around 150 employees. Now he works as a Sales Operations Manager at Fleetsmith. Taking the SAAS company to the next level as he works to keep the entire company working smoothly.

How did you decide Sales Operations was the best role for you to begin with and how did you get started in it?

So my job is to work with our sales team and basically I help manage our sales force, our different tools. I work on their commission structures when they have an issue. I’m the guy they go to. So, I actually do not do any customer-facing phone calls. How I actually got into it is kind of interesting, because I was an athlete in school. I was rowing for the Cal team. I rowed for the US team a bunch and I won. I decided to try my hand at the Olympic team, but US rowing is not funded.

I needed a job. And how I actually got into operations is one of the guys that rowed at Cal. He connected me to another rower from BU who has worked in operations and he basically was like, “what are your rowing times?” I told him and he said, “Well if you want an internship, I can give you one.” I was very lucky because I had no idea what tech was or operations or sales force or what I wanted to do.

Sales Operations Involves Strategy

I studied history in school. Operations, is a lot of strategy, a lot of planning. And those are things that I didn’t study, I studied Roman grand strategy, I studied world war II tank doctrine. I played a lot of video games like civilization, hearts of iron is my favorite game of all time.

But, I found Ops, especially sales operations, to be really similar to those things where you’re managing pieces and planning and trying to figure out what you’re going to do now, what’s, the impact in three months, six months, nine months, in a year and what should you be doing? So that’s how I got into it.

So the difference between sales and sales operations is, its much heavier on the operations side, not the sales side?

Yes. I’m a secret sales guy. What I mean by that is I manage our two different vendor relationships.

If I’m paying you $25,000 for your service, I want you to use my service. Cause even if I sell you $10,000 of my service, I can now argue that that contract is no longer at $25,000 but $15,000 because one of my big responsibilities is I have to prove the value of the different pieces of software we’re using. I’m a support role. I don’t carry a number, but when one of the metrics that I’m, sales oftentimes like sales operations, reports to sales.

There’s a new business trend where operations all live under a different operations team. But basically that cost center doesn’t produce anything. So in startups, as you get more mature, your sales team will be judged. It’s a real-life story. Here (Where I work) basically it came down that our board said, okay, in order for you guys to raise more money or to progress your sales team efficiencies you need to be at two costs production. So if I spent $1 on our sales team, we’ll get $2 back. Justin, what tools can we cut? How can we make our team more efficient? How can we either lower the costs of our team or how can we make them more productive? What are we not using, maybe we need to cut the ops team? So those are the kind of problems that I get tasked with figuring out.

So you got started at Panda doc by someone asking you about your rowing times and then kind of offered you this operation roles. How did you transfer from Panda doc to fleet Smith?

Yeah, so, great question. So I was at PandaDoc for almost two years and it was going really well and I learned a lot, I had a lot of success, like a lot of success there.

Basically, the reason I transitioned, two of the people I worked with at PandaDoc worked at fleet Smith said, we want you to come in and build the sales ops department from the ground up. And if you do really well you can build a revenue operations function, which basically sales ops, marketing ops, customer success ops all roll into. And that was just a really unique opportunity. The other guy, my competition, they were interviewing had like 10 years experience in sales ops. To get a chance like that to do that, it was just a really special opportunity and I just didn’t want to pass it up so I transitioned.

What did week one look like for you?

Like I said I jumped right in and this is why I was actually happy to take this call because I want to help people, be able to get to where I was at with no former experience. My first week at PandaDoc…I just had no idea about anything. I had never worked a job like this before. I was super lost and they’d just given me Salesforce access. My boss just told me to update the billing country on the accounts so we could bill them more accurately. PandaDoc has like over 100,000 accounts. So I was just there like, okay, this is a great way to learn what’s going on. The first few days, I just literally sat there and just input the billing address But getting the job at PandaDoc like that was pure luck.

I’m very thankful and very lucky because, my desk was here, and across from me was our Lilian, our sales enablement manager whose job is to basically build the collateral to help with the training. Like if I’m building the system. He is the one who goes and says. Hey, this is how I want you to talk. Or this is when you’re running your call, you might need to improve this piece a little bit more. It’s like a coach. So I had her across from me.

Next to her was our enterprise sales rep who’s like the best sales rep at PandaDoc. He has the most experience. Then there was Reed who’s another Praxis guy and then my boss. So I had this very unique hub of experience.

Lilian, the sales enablement manager really helped me with my communication and my writing, I would write 10-page novels about what I found and she’d be like, Justin, this isn’t really actionable. I’m not going to read this novel.

You need to boil it down. Cause I was a history major. I was just writing essays. So that’s kind of a long-winded answer to my first week at PandaDoc.

My first week at Fleet Smith, I just hit the ground running within the first week. One thing, a sales ops is responsible for in Salesforce there’s a thing called an opportunity, which is basically a potential deal and an opportunity. It’s different stages like first call, second call, pricing signature. So in my first week, I rebuilt all our stages and rebuilt our entire sales strategy, They brought me in to basically hit the ground running.

Actually, back to PandaDoc, I was brought in as an intern or a contractor for three months and my boss quit two weeks in. (The guy who hired me)and my new boss was basically like, we’re going to let you go. But I just kept showing up because I just needed the job. He kept saying, I’m going to replace you. But he hadn’t hired someone different yet, and one of our tools, SalesLoft, which basically your database sales ops sits on top of it. Would track the emails we were sending people.

I could see when you clicked into them, I can see when you viewed them if you forward them. It just like does the engagement tracking and some other stuff, but it has this ability to set up automation rules and that’s what an ops guy does. My job is to automate manual tasks to increase efficiency. So in Salesforce, how it works. You know like the contact me part of it or email me so I could go on your website and put like Justin Murphy, than that would then show up right in your inbox? Correct. So in Salesforce, how it works is you hook up your website to Salesforce to then put that in, it would show up in Salesforce as a new lead.

SalesLoft has automation rules that basically says there was a new person who signed up, let’s take them and let’s put them into a series of emails automatically and send them emails. So say you’re selling me something and wanted the demo requests. That comes from your website and the Salesforce. SalesLoft sees that and puts it into our demo cadence And now I’m automatically receiving emails like, Hey, thanks for your demo requests before I set up on a call. Can you give me a little bit more information on what you’re trying to achieve?

If you look over the course of two weeks of sending 10 emails, different people respond throughout the journey. I could request a demo right now, but say my house burns down, I need to go deal with that. Right. I’m not going to answer your first email. I’m going to forget. I might’ve read it. I don’t know if you ever text someone and you look at it and then you respond in your head and then you put your phone away. Two weeks later. It’s like, Oh dang. I didn’t answer that person. And so by setting up those rules, basically that made me invaluable cause my boss didn’t know how I built them. And he ended up keeping me on.

Do you have any tips on how to show a hiring manager you’re fit for the role?

That’s a great question. One of the reasons I joined Fleet Smith was to help be involved and I get to hire a lot of people. I’m on all our hiring calls, which has been really interesting because I’ve always gone into interviews with basically saying, this is a guy we want with the benefit of the doubt, having now being on the other side of the conversation and hiring people, it’s really hard to get hired.

I think the first thing is before you even get on the call, you need to know what you want. All the people we’re interviewing right now, I literally tell them one of the first things is full transparency, we’re not looking to hire a junior person because we don’t have infrastructure to support it. And what I mean by that is that we don’t have, like if we hired entry-level sales role, we don’t have an entry-level sales role manager. I start with that because I tell these people right away who I’m hiring.

A lot of them are like this a bad fit for me because I need mentorship.

So, before even getting on the call, knowing the criteria you want from the company. I knew coming to FleetSmith, I didn’t really care about mentorship. I wanted to own things. I wanted to build things. I wanted new experiences. That’s what excited me.

So knowing that before you go into the call what the role is and kind of going like, what those non-negotiables are for you, like mentorship, whatever those are. And then what the role is.

When you go to make yourself as a hiring manager, I think you need to be honest and recognize your strengths and weaknesses.

I had one person who lied to me about a nonprofit on the resume for 30 minutes. I figured out it was fake and I just asked him questions about it for 30 minutes until the end of the call when he was like, yeah, I have a confession to make. I kind of stopped a few years ago. And I was like, I know I’m on your website. It literally has not been active for four years. That looks really bad, right? So I think being honest, knowing what you want and for someone like you who’s coming through professional program, like Praxis, finding a company that has the infrastructure set up that’s going to support you to learn.

Because once you’ve done like a year and you know how Salesforce works, once you know how to use these tools and you have experience on the phone, then you’re a whole different candidate.

What does your role look like day to day?

FleetSmith is very different than PandaDoc. I worked a lot with our European team so I was up at 5:00 AM to prep. FleetSmith’s a little bit different. I get up around seven.

That’s actually a question in an interview question we ask is like, especially for entry-level sales roles, what is your day look like? Because what they’re looking for in that role as someone who has structure. I’m going to get up at this time, I’m going to do my activities, I’m going to make some calls, I’m going to prospect on LinkedIn, I’m going to do this. And then, at the end of the day I’m going to do my research.

I want to work hard, I’m going to get up at six. Don’t lie, obviously if you’re not gonna get up at six. Authenticity, right? Be honest about yourself, be true to yourself. I’m always looking to hire people. And so the worst is like for the nonprofit guy, right? He’s a great sales rep, but he lied about a nonprofit. That’s a big red flag for me. Is that the guy I want to work with?

But my day looks like get up early, I come in, I answer emails. Um, and then, unfortunately, I’m just in meetings like constantly cause we are hiring so much. There’s so many meetings and we’re building so much stuff.

The Heinz Kadarian was this German general in war “The ball and chain of armored warfare is logistics.” And what he meant by that is like if you have a tank division, right? It can only drive as far as its fuel can reach it. If you don’t have fuel, it can’t drive, it can’t attack the German tank and their whole strategy was built on that.

The reason I say that, which is kind of a weird thing to say on this call, but it’s modern like business and especially in SAAS. Operations are the ball and chain of growth. And what I mean by that is we could hire 30 people tomorrow, but if there’s no process reporting infrastructure and support, those people are not going to be successful.

So my job is to make sure those people are successful. I work really long hours. I was up at seven and then I’ll usually go to the gym and then I’ll usually get back online. Some days I’m working til 2:00 AM, Just because my job is limited by other people’s performances. So if I need to buy a tool and the legal got me the red lines tonight and I’m trying to buy the tool by the end of the month, well I just need to pass it along tonight.

Because if I wait until tomorrow, it’s probably not going to hit that timeline. There’s a lot of pressure on ops always, and it’s very intense for me who is very ambitious. I love it.

That’s why I joined a really fast-growing startup because I wanted the pressure, I wanted the ownership because I would either win big and I’d be a hero. Or I’d fail badly and I’d lose a lot and I would just get a regular job.

What’s the most difficult part and the most rewarding part about your job?

My job is to build stuff. So when I talk about those sales stages, I came in and built seven sales stages in the first week, the greatest thing is to see it’d be adopted into work. Like that’s like wow you built something that your business needed, it’s working. People are happy. They’re closing more deals faster for bigger amounts. I’m happy. And the most rewarding thing is to see yourself build something especially when people aren’t sure how it’s going to work. I think that’s really important. With Sales Ops you need to have a system and mindset that not everyone else has.

The hardest part and the most frustrating part is firefighting. Automation never works all the time. I’m sure you have a computer and it glitches out. Same thing with Salesforce. It glitches out and trying to manage basically the small firefighting. Like staying up until 2:00 AM making sure this new system is ready to launch and then to wake up to emails and Slack messages saying your shit is broken is very frustrating. And so that’s why I try to go to the gym and do a little meditation and get the frustration out. The rewarding thing is if you take that feedback and can put your ego aside and then rebuild into it and make it better and then everyone’s happy that’s the best. But taking a breath, understanding we’re all in this together sometimes can be very difficult.

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