Strategic BizOps Profile: Phoebe Farber Brings People Together
InsightSquared’s Phoebe Farber, Sales Operations Manager, shares her thoughts on business operations in the second of our occasional series of Strategic BizOps Profiles. You can read our first profile of Hubspot’s David McNeil here.
Stephanie Fox: Kids don’t typically aspire to go into business operations when they grow up. How did you end up in this role?
Phoebe Farber: In my last year at Northeastern University, I joined a small tech startup here in Boston called Attend, which was acquired last August by DC-based Event Farm. Some friends from the Entrepreneur Club had impressed us all by starting the company and raising $1m in Series A funding right after graduating. In my final semester, I had a few days a week without classes so I just reached out and asked “What do you need?” They said, “Sales help,“ and though I had no experience at all, I jumped right in.
A few months later, they hired Jim McDonough as VP of Sales to create a more formal sales structure, and I became a Business Development Rep (BDR). In that role, I gained a basic understanding of Salesforce.com. Over time, I showed an aptitude for typical sales ops responsibilities and Jim helped me transition into the role full time. I was like a fish to water — it really turned out to be a good fit in the end.
SF: You’re known as a great networker, Phoebe. As your role at Attend was coming to an end, how did you find your way to InsightSquared? Did an Attend alumnus help you get your foot in the door?
PF: Actually no! Early on I realized that as great as Attend was, it was small, so I knew I would need to build my own network to continue to learn and grow in my role. I started out by inviting people in sales and marketing ops to join me for coffee, and over time that investment has paid off.
I had run a couple of networking breakfasts earlier in the year, and in December 2016 I hosted “Ops-Giving,” a business operations meetup which gave me a great reason to reach out to every ops person I know. I got to track down a few ops superstars and invite them to be involved! I realized that if I wanted to have the kind of responsibility they have now later in my own career, I should get to know them. [Phoebe’s OpsGiving event featured Liz Cain, VP of Go-to-Market at OpenView Ventures; Evan Robinson, Director of Sales Operations, InsightSquared; Heidi Rawding, Director of Sales Operations at RapidMiner; Eric Sargent, VP Sales, SmartBear Software; and Eva Maloney, Director of Sales & Marketing Operations, AppNeta.]
SF: How are you structuring community-building efforts to support the BizOps professional?
PF: When I got started, I was selfish: I wanted somewhere I could go with my own questions, and I had pretty much exhausted Google, so I thought I would try to build a community of trusted people in my field. My personal network came from that need, and creating a community was my attempt to accomplish that at scale. I started with a few breakfast meetups, thanks to the encouragement of my former boss, Jenna Keegan (then Director of Demand Generation at Attend). When I expressed an interest in organizing meetups, Joe Chernov, VP of Marketing at InsightSquared, offered the use of company space. My early events were really just about networking, with no structure or speakers. Over time, I started identifying who I thought the thought leaders were, and reached out to them to speak or participate in a panel. Boston is a tight-knit community, so it’s been surprisingly easy to just get hold of people and grab coffee with them.
I would hope that the Boston Sales & Marketing Ops LinkedIn group I started, which has recently merged with the group started by Heidi Rawding, will flourish, because the more people who get involved, the better for all of us. I’m starting to see that people are posting more to the group and getting more engaged. We’ve grown from fewer than 10 people in early 2016 to over 170 in about a year.
SF: What’s some of the best advice you’ve received about how to do BizOps right?
PF: One conversation that comes to mind is one I had with Eva. I learned that she is responsible for both marketing and sales ops, and I was impressed. I cold emailed her one day and asked for some advice. She talked to me about looking at the strength of all the systems at hand and focusing on leveraging the strengths of your tools rather than forcing functionality where you think it “should” be. She also broke the ops career into a binary execution vs. strategy dichotomy which was a helpful heuristic for me. It’s a smart framework I use to look at my progress in my early career.
SF: What do you like most about being in BizOps?
PF: At it’s core, sales ops or BizOps is about enabling salespeople through building efficient systems and processes. It’s all about strategic problem solving. It’s really satisfying when everything is working, you can see the impact of your efforts and see the sales team succeed, in part because of your contribution. On the personal side, I like working with salespeople. They’re bubbly and enthusiastic and they listen to loud music all day! At InsightSquared, there are about 50 reps and it’s a young, fun group. I appreciate that Sales Ops gives me the opportunity to work with people in different functions, from our BI lead to my customer success counterpart to my colleagues in marketing ops. It’s given me great exposure to the way the company operates, and it’s easier to see how my work impacts other teams and vice versa.
SF: How is your BizOps team structured at InsightSquared?
PF: There are six of us working together as an informal team. Three of us in Sales Ops report up to the CFO, with a team member reporting to Customer Success and another to Marketing. We also have a colleague who manages Business Intelligence who also reports to the CFO.
The Sales Ops team is very structured, with regular sprints that are managed like any other agile development process but with a Kanban tint. We write up a weekly email to key stakeholders to share what we’ve accomplished in the past week and what we plan to work on in the upcoming week. I have a standing weekly meeting with my marketing ops counterpart to help ensure we’re in lockstep. We also get together socially to make sure we keep lines of communication open. It’s a great group.
SF: What kinds of BizOps projects do you have coming up?
PF: I’m really excited about 2017. We have some pretty cutting-edge stuff coming up related to account-based selling and marketing. Our VP of Inside Sales is building a program around interpreting company signals to see when companies might be ready to engage with a BI solution like ours, which has led us to engage with new vendors and orchestrate some really exciting processes. Getting those signals into our CRM will help our sales team reach out at the right time with the right message, which should enable them to be more successful. That’s always the goal.
SF: “Account-based” is on everyone’s lips these days. What’s the impetus at InsightSquared?
PF: It’s a powerful approach. We moved to account-based sales and marketing at Attend, and I was actually looking to do more with that when I was looking for my next position. I’m go glad it’s a big focus here at InsightSquared. The systems and processes we have are meant to streamline the outreach effort of the BDRs, develop account ownership, and generate MQAs rather than MQLs. We’re always iterating and learning, especially as the movement as a whole grows and evolves.
SF: Sounds like you really enjoy what you do. Is there anything you wish was different about BizOps?
PF: One thing I feel is hindering the progression of the role for some people are the gaps in knowledge, both technical and operational. This happens when people are entirely self-taught. I’ve been lucky because InsightSquared has recently made the commitment to invest in formal training for me. When I was getting started in sales ops, I used Trailhead (Salesforce.com’s learning portal) and the Salesforce Success Community, but there’s only so far that the “how to” stuff can take you and more often than not it was just trial-by-fire. It would have been easier if someone was able to show me the way. I’ve got the basics down now, certainly, but as we move toward more complex models with Lightning Process Builder and APEX, it becomes pretty challenging.
SF: Do you think the BizOps function is well understood?
PF: [Laughs.] No! I’m only three years into the workforce, but from what I’ve observed, it’s really evolved from what was essentially just a report building role in the 90’s to a much more integrated role now. I’m not sure that sales teams themselves really understand what Sales Ops is and what we can offer.
SF: What has to happen outside of Sales Ops for Sales Ops to succeed?
PF: I think that it all starts from management. Sales Ops is so much stronger when you have sales leadership that understands the strategic value of the Sales Ops function, believes in the importance of data integrity, and sees the logic to what we’re doing.
SF: Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years?
PF: I’m not entirely sure at this point. I intend to invest in my hard skills — shoring up my technology background, gaining Apex/SQL/Python skills and continuing to be more proficient in Salesforce. I really hope to be a sponge and learn from my colleagues and other mentors around the company and I’m looking to grow my career in the business ops function. I hope I’m still creating and contributing to the community and still learning, so we’ll see where that all takes me.
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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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