Abheek Dhawan on Data

This is part of a series of interviews with B2B marketers. In this post we're talking with Abheek Dhawan, Business Operations Lead at Shopify Plus, about data.

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Abheek Dhawan and I work in Business Operations at Shopify Plus. Specifically, I focus on sales and marketing ops. 

Before we had you at The Marketing Leap (awesome talk by the way!), I didn't completely understand the Shopify—Shopify Plus relationship, can you explain it?
It's an interesting question because Shopify Plus is evolving really quickly. The differences between the two organizations will probably become more distinct over time. However—at our core—we will always remain very much aligned with Shopify’s vision and mission. 

Simply put, Shopify is an entrepreneurship company. The goal is to help people build and grow businesses with as few hurdles as possible. Shopify Plus does the exact same thing, just for larger merchants.

Shopify Plus started because we had numerous “home-grown” businesses that started on Shopify but outgrew the platform... companies like Tattly, Dodocase, and MVMT Watches. As businesses grow, they need special attention and features. So Shopify Plus came in to provide dedicated account and launch managers, along with additional features like zero transaction fees and customized checkouts. 

Essentially, the main difference is that Shopify Plus clients are high-volume, high-transaction businesses, and our goal is to help them be lean and entrepreneurial.

It started with upgrading 'home-grown' businesses that originated on Shopify, but over time, we've focused on bringing on new businesses to the platform. So now we have clients like Red Bull, Budweiser, Ellen Degeneres, and Oreo

That's an impressive list of clients! 

Now looking at your role. You're all about the data, what kind of infrastructure do you have for data at Shopify Plus?
If you look at Shopify Plus, we're still building a lot of that infrastructure. Since we’re a fast growing business, we look at a lot of sales data. We take that sales data from our CRM and model it in our BI tool, Tableau

Figuring out what information is important to different parts of the organization is something we're now working on. What's important to merchant success vs. sales? What's important to sales vs. developers? We're working on figuring these kinds of things out.

So on the highest level, Tableau. Below that, we extract information from our CRM and marketing automation tool to run our own analysis.

You were a core part of the data team starting out, that is now building out to a much larger team. How are you finding that process?
It's been an interesting journey. There were just two people on the operations team for Shopify Plus when I joined last September. I was the only one really working on data and business intelligence, and since then, our business operations team has grown to three analysts and one coordinator. 

The team is responsible for having an overall understanding of our organization and working within different teams of the organization to drive strategy and execute on projects.

The way we've structured the team, each analyst has a focus; for me, it's sales and marketing. The other two analysts focus on merchant success, talent acquisition, training and development, and other groups.

Each of us have certain groups that we work closely with, and we communicate heavily with the leads of each respective group. That relationship lets us understand exactly how we can help them; whether that be providing metrics to assess their team’s performance, managing a new tool implementation, or providing ad hoc analyses to make business decisions.

"We avoid using lagging indicators because that only measures what's happened in the past."

So you own the sales and marketing side of the data. I'm curious to know what kind of metrics you track and how granular do you get?
We're in expansion mode right now as a company, so on the highest level, it's the number of deals signed. Then the way our plans work, it's a monthly fee, so MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) is something we look at. That's the highest level, and from there, we get more and more granular. 

We'll look at what type of deals were signed—new customers vs. upgrades, average contract value, the sales cycle—and how different it is when comparing an upgrade sale to a new customer sale. 

From there we can get very granular, but essentially we do our best to find out as much as possible, and then determine what needs improvement and what is repeatable if it works well. 

So the idea is we'll focus on certain key insights to make business decisions. Then there is additional information that we'll provide to the sales manager. Once we find out what they want to see on a weekly basis, let's say sales engagement, we'll show them forward indicators like how many brand new leads our sales reps are reaching out to. We avoid using lagging indicators like month over month deals, because that only measures things that have happened in the past... we try to be more forward looking. 

Have you seen a noticeable difference in those processes since you started at Shopify Plus?
Yeah, [laughs] I'd say it's gotten a lot more sophisticated over time. 

At the onset, it was very basic. We were really just looking at things like how many deals we signed that month. Over time, it's became more and more complex. We started looking at other deal attributes, lead volume, etc. More recently we started looking at lead quality, rather than just focusing on lead growth. 

We’re now doing lead scoring so we can better assess the quality of leads coming in. This also makes it possible for us to give marketing better targets that take into account the conversion rates, rather than just volume targets. So with those types of numbers, we are better able to start predicting things like monthly targets and conversion rates which would've been impossible when we were just starting out. 

So the work you do, specifically on the sales and marketing side, how does that get used in the day-to-day at Shopify Plus?
A lot of the work that our team does gets used in the day-to-day by different teams.

We create and provide reporting to the different team leads, so they can see the day-to-day and week-to-week performance of their teams. We figure out what is most important in certain roles, and provide metrics to the different managers based on that information. That way, they can go on Tableau at anytime and see that real-time data. We also create TV dashboards so that certain things are available for everyone to see, and it helps us be more aligned as an organization.

Another example is something we’re working on right now that will impact how we assign accounts to our merchant success managers. Right now, we assign based on ‘capacity’ which is the number of accounts each manager has, but that isn’t a very telling number. Some accounts are very high-touch and need someone to talk to every day, while other accounts only require a couple of emails per week. So now, we're working on a method to predict the needs of each new account we bring on right as they sign. So in the future, our MSMs’ capacity will be based on a score, rather than just number of accounts. 

"As a team grows at a rapid pace, it's easy to get disjointed from the overall strategy."

A big part of your job deals with communication between sales and marketing and making sure they are well aligned. I've also heard you talk about the importance of keeping teams like customer success and development involved with the same sort of communication. Why do you think that's so important?
It's so important so be aligned as an organization when you're growing fast. 

Our sales team has quadrupled over the last year and our merchant success team has grown at an even faster rate. As the teams grow at this pace, it's easy for everyone to start working on things that are disjointed with the overall strategy, so it's important to have alignment and a constant feedback loop. 

The messaging that sales uses during the sales process directly affects merchant success because they’re setting expectations that the merchant success team can do X, Y, and Z. Our merchant success managers (MSM) then need to be able to provide X, Y, and Z, and at a high quality. It's important to have those feedback loops in place so we're consistent in delivering a smooth process for our merchants.

At one point, our merchant success team told us that the information sales was inputting into the CRM wasn't telling them enough information to have a knowledgeable first call with the client. For example, the client just spent the last month talking with a salesperson, they shouldn't have to explain their business all over again to their MSM. So having that feedback loop going back to sales, we're able to put in a process that says, provide these four key pieces of information so that when the MSM is ready to reach out, they have the necessary information to do so.

For us, it's all about the client experience. So, when the client gets a call to speak with an MSM for the first time, and they already know everything about that customer and their business, it shows that we care. 

Similarly, the connection between sales and product development is critical. Who is it that talks to customers the most? Sales. They are on the phones all day, giving demos, etc. So we track why we lose each deal. Sometimes it's a sales reason, like the client just went cold, but sometimes it's a product reason. We track what those product reasons are so that we can provide that data to our product/dev teams, and they can build what it is that customers find important and can allocate resources accordingly.

How do you get buy-in for different projects whether they're big or small?
I was going to say this as a joke, but it's actually important... knowing the right people and having good rapport with them is a big part of it. If I'm going to someone with an idea I have, and I have a good track record with them, chances of them having a positive response are pretty high. 

Apart from that, testing out the theory beforehand helps. One example is a current project; lead scoring. To start out, using Excel we'll manually score a sample of our leads coming in. Based on a number of factors, we'll score the leads as (for example) A, B, and so forth. Then we'll look to see if As are converting better than Bs and if Bs are converting better than Cs. Then we iterate on that until we have a model that works. When you have that model, that's when you take it to the decision maker so you have some actual data to back up you idea. 

So you show through that manual, hard-work that you believe in the idea, and with that, have the data to show the idea has value and is worth doing…

So you've got things like Tableau and Hubspot, what does the rest of your marketing stack look like and can you mention any gaps you see today?
We have Hubspot CRM, which is growing alongside us, and they provide great support and are very receptive to feedback. We’ve recently started using the Hubspot marketing automation tool as well, which really expands on the CRM’s capabilities and gives us a lot more horsepower.

It's tough to say what our gaps are today because we're not currently using what we have to it’s full potential. Once we start to, then we'll be able to identify what's missing. 

Roles surrounding data, roles like yours, are becoming more and more in demand. People looking for data analysts, where can they find another Abheek?
Well, there's three great schools all here in Kitchener-Waterloo. University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier, and Conestoga College all pump out some amazing talent into the area. 

I came from the Math and Business double degree program; doing Math at Waterloo and Business at Laurier. It's a great program because most students have the necessary technical skills to understand data, and at the same time they have great business acumen to be able to make business decisions. So people coming out of that program are a great fit for roles like Product, Business Ops, Sales Ops, and Marketing Ops.

"The best resource is people."

Do you have any resources you'd recommend on the topic?
The best resource is people. 

Going back to your event, The Marketing Leap, I had the opportunity to meet all sorts of great people, all in this region that I had never met, and maybe never would have had the opportunity to meet. 

I ended up reaching out and meeting with Joe Gelata from Vidyard, Jacqui Murphy from Auvik, Hana Abaza from Uberflip and a few others through The Marketing Leap. So that's been the number one resource for me. 

Apart from that, there's a number of great blogs out there. Tomasz Tunguz has a great one about data that I follow. Other than that, I hop onto a number of webinars when I have the time. Because I don’t have much experience in this field, I’m always trying to absorb knowledge wherever I can find it!

Toughest question. What is your favorite 90's dance song?
Well, I was born in India, and I spent a lot of my childhood there before moving here in 2003. So most of the 90's music I was listening to wasn't in English, but there were a few songs that got really popular in India. So some from Venga Boys, and then Saturday Night by Whigfield and (I can't believe I'm going to say this, but) Barbie Girl by Aqua were both huge in India. 

In terms of English music, those were my 90's jams. 

[Both laugh] I think our audience is going to like those. 

That's all the questions I've got for you today. Thanks again Abheek!

Thanks for having me