Sales Beacon | Case Study: Increasing Cross-Functional Team Efficiency
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Increasing Cross-Functional Team Efficiency

A major Cloud Service Provider (CSP) was having trouble creating offers to potential customers. This was partly because each offer required inputs from many different departments – Legal, Procurement, Financial and others – and it was hard to create customer offers that included all the factors the CSP needed to consider. So, they engaged Sales Beacon to help smooth the offer creation process. This involved starting with a product-development methodology that was already in use and accepted as part of the company’s culture. A team member from Sales Beacon helped adapt this methodology to the offer creation process. That team member continues involvement in coordinating multi-discipline, cross-functional teams whose members each contribute their expertise. The result is that offers are completed in a shorter time, and have all the necessary aspects covered.

Q: Do you feel that this engagement with Sales Beacon has improved your life?

Immeasurably.

How do you bring together people from fields like Marketing, Legal, Financial and Procurement, to form a team with a common language and purpose? That’s the question our client, a major Software as a Service (SaaS) provider, was facing.

They were having trouble establishing what steps were required to put forward offers to prospective customers. Creating offers, a process that often takes several months, needed the support of many departments in the SaaS company, often including different individuals each time.

These offers had to work internally in that all the necessary steps had been taken, would work for the customer, and could also be implemented easily through the SaaS provider’s network of partner sales and service companies. There were a lot of moving parts to the process, and also many parts that should have moved but didn’t – steps that got missed, problems that stayed hidden until they emerged as time-sensitive crises, and frustration for many people involved.

So, the SaaS provider worked with Sales Beacon to adapt a methodology that was widely accepted within the company’s culture, so that it fit the offer creation lifecycle. Sales Beacon provided a virtual team member who took on the role of managing virtual team meetings using the accepted methodology, so that a smooth process was developed for offer creation.

Here’s the process from Sales Beacon’s viewpoint, followed by a lightly edited interview with one of the senior leaders in the CSP.

Sales Beacon’s role in the process of offer creation

The Offer Creation Cycle (OCC) concept started as a way to provide consistent updates to the CSP sales leadership for all of the SaaS offers that were going through a complex US federal government certification process, the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). This is a US government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for Cloud products and services.

At the time in late 2017, a three-person team within the CSP was the main point of contact across a wide range of stakeholders including Sales, Legal, Finance, individual Business Units (BUs), the Global Compliance Team, Marketing, Partners, and the department handling ordering and billing.

We needed a way to ensure everyone was focused on specific deliverables during a typical 12-18 month cycle to get a FedRAMP Authority to Operate (ATO). We developed a tool called the Offer Creation Cycle which became the basis of weekly meetings for each SaaS offering as well as a way to create executive summaries.

The “tool” was adapted from a well-established and well-accepted product development tool, abbreviated CPDM, which started as a PowerPoint deck. We broke down the lifecycle into four broad categories: Development, New Offer Introduction, Mainstream, and Improvement.

These categories were further expanded to identify specific tasks to be considered for each phase or category. This allowed the creation of individual project plans in Smartsheet where we could track progress and summarize information using the dashboard feature.

The OCC concept is important for Sales and Strategy leadership in that it allows them to have consistent visibility on FedRAMP progress across BUs.

The business impact includes the fact that there are multiple FedRAMP ATOs, one IL5 ATO is likely in the near term (IL5 is a higher level of compliance as needed for the Department of Defense), and multiple FedRAMP SaaS offerings in progress. The OCC process has helped to drive awareness across multiple functions and allows stakeholders to engage in the process at an optimal time.

The OCC template typically gets expanded to suit the needs of a particular BU once we engage on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

The story from the CSP perspective

Here is a lightly edited interview with a leader in the CSP, about the contribution of a Sales Beacon team member.

Q: What challenges were you facing, and really needed to solve, as it pertains to this offer creation life cycle?

The problem statement for us was that we have too many things happening as we work to bring offers through this very complex process. Too many things were happening ad hoc, or happening after we needed them to happen, and we didn’t know they needed to happen. This slowed down our ability to bring our commercial offers to our US public sector customers, our federal government customers in particular.

We were working with our business units to invest and build these offers, but too much of it was left to chance. We had a problem that no one really communicated, even though we had a cross-functional group working. There wasn’t really a structured way for everyone to communicate, to make sure that communication was followed through, that the things that needed to get done had in fact happened, and that people weren’t thinking that someone else was supposed to do them. The OCC, which we took from our product development management (CPDM) process, gave us a framework for how we could build a communication model between all these various parties.

This works, because we’ve already got something in place for product managers building products. Our group isn’t building products, but we’ve got all these various constituencies, and at least on the surface, it looks like we could adapt this process, and it would help put structure around it for us. This, we thought, might be in similar language, a nomenclature that others are familiar with. So, we wouldn’t be creating a new nomenclature.

Sales Beacon’s task was to translate that CPDM process into something we could use as a guideline for how we solve for that problem, which was to make sure that all these various constituencies on these projects are invested in this process, communicated regularly and that we found problems before they occurred.

Adapting a tool that already fits the culture, to a new purpose

Q: So, by engaging Sales Beacon and by adapting the process, you’re leveraging similar structures and frameworks and project management around how to go about doing all that.

The challenge for us is that we don’t actually make anything, we just make it better. We don’t make any of our company’s products. We don’t make marketing, we don’t make finance. We don’t make the overlay sales teams, we don’t make the direct sales teams. We don’t make the partner community, or the lawyers, or the contract vehicles. We don’t make any of those things.

But we can put a process in place – and I look at this as not as something that’s not meant to be a code, but rather a guideline. We don’t want it to become so rigorous that it becomes burdensome. It’s meant to be rigorous enough, but its strength is in its flexibility. The idea is that we’re able to bring these people together on a consistent basis, from very different backgrounds, who never thought about coming together until it was too late, but to bring them together. In this way, we want to establish that we’re making progress and uncover issues before they pop up.

The task was to take that and turn it into something that the Sales Beacon consultant could then project manage against. He would be able to say, we have these tasks that we have to complete for the build of the offer and getting the offer through the authorization process, and the tasks related to go to market, and now how do we tie marketing together with these various marketing groups? How does all that come together?

And so, I tasked him with translating it and putting it into a useable format whose strength was its flexibility. We don’t do all the steps all the time, but at least we know what we’re not doing. It gives him a way for him to manage having these very complex and disparate teams communicate with one another.

Q: One of the challenges is around cross-functional teams, because often it’s a tough thing to get Legal and Marketing and all these people into one forum and having everyone speaking a language that each understands, so I think that’s definitely something we’re good at doing.

The OCC is based on CPDM, although if you looked at it, you wouldn’t see it. It’s one thing to say, “This is the way we’re going to do it,” because our company has its own culture, it has its own way of doing things, so you’ve got to be able to adapt into that culture, and that’s what CPDM gave us. It gave us a way to apply a more traditional project management role, but we could do it through a process that is kind of the essence of the company culture. It’s how we build stuff.

And so, OCC was able to bring the project management piece into a process that is culturally acceptable. Even if they may have reservations at first, if you explain it, people say, “I get it. That rings a bell with me.” They’re familiar with how that process works.

It’s partly the little things, like having a similar nomenclature and tempo, and how we’re going to check through gates. That’s not necessarily how a normal, generic project management course of action would follow. But we can take strengths in project management, and you can say, what I want you to do is do this task, but do it in a way that matches our company’s culture.

As an analogy – it’s like when medical doctors put in a heart valve, or some kind of organ transplant. It’s not that the thing won’t work, the problem is that it gets rejected by the body. The idea we had was, how can we do the OCC process? We know that we want to do it differently, but we don’t want the body to reject it. How can we do this in a way that the body will accept it, and integrate it with the natural flow of how the body operates. I think that is becoming more and more the case with each one of these offers that we do. I credit your consultant for being able to take what we gave him, and figure out how we put all this stuff together.

Q: That’s an awesome analogy. It’s not the organ’s fault, but sometimes it’s not compatible with the body, and if you don’t take all the necessary precautions to check that out, to be sure that it is compatible, you can run into some serious challenges.

I do like that analogy. It’s like when we’re doing project management, sometimes we just get lucky. But I’m not a believer at all in luck, and I certainly don’t believe in random occurrences, and so when things work, there’s a reason why they work. A lot of times I look at it like you’re doing an organ transplant or you’re otherwise adding something in.

A doctor would prefer to graft skin from your own body onto another part that’s been damaged by a burn. They prefer to get it from your own body because you don’t want it to be rejected.

Generic project management tools would not get us what we really needed. I’m not saying it wouldn’t work to some level, but it wouldn’t have been as easy to integrate and adopt, and say, I’m not going to reject that, because it kind of looks like me.

People can kind of get that, because they go through similar things in product management. Legal gets it. Marketing gets it. The body didn’t reject it. That’s what we were looking for, and I think that your consultant did a good job at providing that.

Fitting in with the company culture helps get results

Q: Can you say how soon, after you began the process of engaging Sales Beacon, you started to see a difference in the process and how things were moving forward?

Considering that we had NO process, we saw a difference immediately. Before, there was no process. Now that we’ve added another person to the team, we’re looking at what do we need to add, how we make this thing part of the organism. It’s got to grow; it’s got to modify itself.

I would say that immediately, we found benefit in it coming into being. It was roughed out and your consultant has made changes on the fly, and each project has worked differently, for the culture of that group that he’s working with.

If you look at how he manages the OCC for other groups, they’re similar and yet different, because different people are involved, with different personalities. One of the things that he has been able to do is to come into each of those projects, with what’s now that standardized OCC template, and explain to people why each call is going to flow the way it does.

 

Then over time – and these are weekly calls over a long period of time – he’s able to adapt each one of those to the nature of the people and the task at hand. Every OCC looks different to a certain extent. They all have the same foundational pieces, but the pieces in between look different because of the nature of the project and the nature of the people. Its strength is flexibility.

We start out with this foundational aspect, this notional thing that we’re going to make practical, about leveraging CPDM. But we’re going to keep the nomenclature, we’re going to keep the structure as much as we can. However, we’re going to adapt it to what we need it to do, and we’re going to be really flexible in the middle of that. It’s more of a guideline than it is a code, based on the personalities and who we need to get involved.

Then when we need to report out on what has been done or accomplished, the Sales Beacon consultant works to put together a Smartsheet, and how we wrap it culturally back into a PowerPoint, so that others can see it. Our foundation is pretty consistent, and how we report out on the project is pretty consistent. But in between, what he does gives us the flexibility to accomplish what needs to be accomplished with the conditions under which we need to operate. I think that’s his real strength, that he’s been able to develop. Frankly, I just leave that to him and so when he does his stuff, he adapts it to each one of those situations the way he needs to and as long as we stay true to the core principle of it.

A deli sandwich approach to project management

Q: My analogy is that it’s kind of like a sandwich. A sandwich typically has bread on either side, that’s the foundation of the sandwich, but there’s an infinite array of possibilities for how you want to build your sandwich. But as long as you stay true to the fact that it needs to go between slices of bread, you still have a sandwich.

I think that’s a really good analogy. You can serve only cheeseburgers or you can go to the deli and they say they can put anything in there but basically, you’re getting a sandwich.

Have you ever heard of a deli called Jimmy John’s? Their brand is ‘freaky fast.’ I went in there once and made a mistake, for which I was summarily corrected. I wanted something toasted. And they were like, “Dude, no.” I said, “What do you mean?” They replied, “We do cold sandwiches. If you want that stuff, you go to Subway, but this is a deli. And by the way, if you stop talking, we’ll make you a sandwich freaky fast.”

Now, when they made it, I actually liked it. I actually like Jimmy John’s now, because I know when I go there, I know what I’m getting, and I’m getting it fast. Basically, they are true to what they are. They’ll give you cold cuts, and they’ll give you a number of options as long as it’s within their stated parameters, and they’re going to be really efficient at what they do.

That fits into your analogy about the sandwich. I think what we’ve been able to do, and the Sales Beacon consultant has been able to do, is to shape and mold this process. You know the top and bottom of this thing, like in a sandwich, is the OCC and how we report the process out.

The way we’re going to do this is to say that from these 15 options, we’re going to have Marketing, we’re going to have Legal, but maybe for this one we don’t need the contracts people involved yet, and then you get different people and you get different personalities. But I like that sandwich analogy, because like I said, the strength of the OCC is its flexibility in the middle. We can build you any kind of cold-cut sandwich you want, in the middle, but it’s going to be built like THIS, and it’s going to report out like THAT.

Q: Is there anything quantifiable about the improvements that were made, or any other metrics that you can share about this?

I don’t know. Every one of these projects and processes is so different, and dependent on so many different things. Funding, willingness to move forward, did they hire anyone. So, if you ask, did we shave six months off the process, I don’t have that kind of data to give you.

(Note: Client recounts a story, indicating he wants it kept confidential, about a project that did not go well because not all the steps had been attended to.)

When we started working on improvements, we said we needed to look at the process again. So, we got a resource who came over to help us, and she was from the BU, and so her thing was kind of focused on go-to-market activity. I watched that, and this time we were paid attention to. Do we have SKUs? Do we have an order entry process? At that time, they seemed like complex, organic-chemistry-type of equations. After we’d done a few more offers, we realized that was just simple mathematics. We didn’t even need algebra.

We thought we’d got this process all covered, and then we found a number of issues that we never thought of. Then I realized that somebody out there probably knows this stuff. These aren’t random problems, they’re things that show up all the time, we just don’t have a way to put the right people together. So, we asked, “Hey, do you guys know how to build SKUs?” And they said, “Well, if you’re going to build SKUs you need to build them a certain way so we can put them on certain contracts. Hold on, if you’re going to put them on contracts, what partners are we going to use?” Somebody else jumps in and says, “Partners? That means that we need to go through the right channels, because if that’s the case, provisioning matters.”

When we realized that, the Sales Beacon consultant and I talked about it, and I went hunting around for a process. I looked at CPDM, and I went to the consultant and I said, “I think we can adapt it.” At worst case, I think we can find out about problems three months earlier than we know about them today. Maybe we won’t know about it six months ahead. But at least we can put things in place so that people will have an opportunity to speak up. This means that if there’s a problem, we can say, “You were on the call six months ago, why didn’t you say something?” We couldn’t do any of that previously.

So, I can’t give you metrics. What I can tell you is that our offers now have SKUs when they come out, our offers now have a partner plan when they come out, and while we’re building the offer, we have an idea of which partner we’ll work with. For example, are our traditional partners going to sell this? Are our customers going to want to buy this service through a contract vehicle? If so, which of your top ten partners do you want to work with on this? If not, we’re going to have to build a partner model that will work for the kinds of partners that your customers will want to buy service from, compared to those that they bought product from.

Now, we’re able to have those conversations months and months before the offer is anywhere near baked, whereas before, we didn’t even know to ask them.

So that’s a really long way to say I don’t have the data, I can only give you anecdotal examples.

Q: What three words that would describe your experience working with Sales Beacon?

Professional, integrative, and diligent.

Q: Did you learn anything from working with Sales Beacon?

If I can net out what your consultant does for me, he allows me to be me. He’s like the other half of me that thinks through things. Maybe it seems to me to be too much thinking, but then I find out later it was probably the right amount, and I wouldn’t have thought about it at all.

Having him supporting me means I don’t have to take notes when I’m on a call, because I know that he’s there, he’s getting the parts that he knows we need to know about. So, I am much more comfortable just me being me, because I know that he is there doing all the stuff that he does, and so I’ve come to rely on that.

Q: Do you feel that this engagement with Sales Beacon has improved your life?

Immeasurably.