Leveraging a Solid Foundation in Ops to Rise and Excel
We recently spoke with Emmanuelle Skala, former VP of Sales and Customer Success at DigitalOcean, about what it takes to excel in BizOps. She was a terrific panelist at our recent meetup, "From Hair on Fire to Highly Strategic: BizOps in Transition."
Stephanie Fox: You most recently served as VP Sales & Customer Success at DigitalOcean but you described yourself as Jack-of-all-trades when you got started in Ops. How has your Ops background shaped your perspective?
Emmanuelle Skala: After college, I had my first operations job working at Intel. This was ‘old school’ manufacturing operations. Here I learned the foundations of analytical thinking, process creation and project management. I started my career in Software Ops at Endeca where I started as a Jack-of-all-trades “business” person doing sales, partnerships and marketing. As the company scaled, I moved into Sales Ops and rose up through the ranks, ultimately working for the COO as the head of Business Operations. I think that was actually pretty pivotal in my career, getting me to the point most recently where I was the executive running two whole departments. My background in Ops gifted me with an understanding of how everything gets inter-connected and works at the ground level. I think it’s made me a more valuable executive, and so I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.
SF: I’ve heard many people who have worked in BizOps roles say that some senior executives don’t recognize that BizOps can be strategic. Did you experience that? And if so, what did you do to combat this issue?
ES: When I was in Ops there were of course days where I was super-tactical, creating dashboards, doing analysis and going through spreadsheets, but I never wanted to just be that person in the weeds. I made a real, conscious effort to show the strategic value of the kind of work that we were doing, and found champions in the organization to support me. I don’t think all executives get it, so if you really want to be more strategic in your BizOps role and get above the noise, you’ve got to find an executive who gets it. I proactively sought out executives who understood the value that Ops could add and worked with them to shine a bright light on the strategic value of what we were doing and my contribution to the business. I think that’s definitely helped my career.
SF: When execs are constantly making requests to BizOps it can create a really tactical dynamic that’s hard to break. How do you turn that around to move from a tactical reactive person to a strategic contributor to the business?
ES: I think a lot of requests from the executives come without the “Why.” They say “Just go do this,” and then you have two choices. You can just go do it — and you may be shooting in the dark because you don’t have enough context — or you can push back and ask questions so that you can better understand what questions the execs are ultimately trying to answer. For example, you can ask ‘What is the value of this data?’ And, ‘What decisions are we going to make based on this data?’ The more context you have, the more value you can bring to the organization and elevate your role.
SF: Having a broad understanding of the entire business can also be key to becoming a more strategic player. What can BizOps folks do in order to gain this understanding?
ES: The more you’re aware of the different functions you’re supporting and what really happens in those functions, the better you’re going to be able to support those functions. My advice is to go spend some time shadowing a sales rep. Go shadow someone in Customer Success. Spend a few days with someone in Marketing who really understands what they do. Afterwards you will end up being more strategic than just a person who can figure out Salesforce and provide look-ups. Towards the end of my time at Endeca, I made a decision that I needed to personally DO the job of the people I was operationally directing. I had become quite senior at Endeca but I felt like I had to go back in my career and take a different role in order to rebuild credibility. I decided to carry a bag and a quota so I would be able to say “I understand this, because I have done it.” This was the 2nd pivotal point in my career.
SF: What are the common traits among the absolute best BizOps people that you’ve worked with?
ES: You might think I’d say that being extremely detail-oriented is a key common trait for great BizOps people but actually being very detail-oriented is a double-edged sword. Earlier in my career one of my bosses told me I was too much in the weeds, and I really took that to heart. I knew if I wanted to become a CEO one day, I’d need to figure out what level of detail is enough so that I could say that I am thorough, but not so much that I lose sight of the bigger picture. I think that the best BizOps people I have ever worked with are the ones who have the right balance – they are detail-oriented but not so caught up in the detail that they miss the bigger picture.
SF: In your opinion should BizOps be centralized or decentralized in an organization?
ES: I think it should be centralized. Marketing, Sales and Customer Success are blending in the world of SaaS right now. Acquiring customers isn’t good enough anymore. You have to acquire, you have to show value, you have to retain and you have to develop to really see the entire lifecycle, so, I absolutely think there should be an executive who is leading that entire go-to-market function and that the BizOps person reports to that executive. It’s not like the enterprise software market in the ‘80s and ‘90s where Marketing handled awareness, Sales closed the deal and then Support managed the customer. That world is gone and so I think it’s definitely blending and I am a huge fan of a centralized structure, both at the Ops function and the Executive function.
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Steph served as Rekener’s Community Manager and CMO. A Rekener co-founder, she was previously Senior Director of Marketing at CCC, a $300M+ recurring revenue business, and served in marketing leadership roles at Vertical, @stake, Informio, DotContent and Meridian. Her first recurring revenue role was as an inside sales rep selling real-time stock pricing subscriptions.
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