Five things I learned at TOPO Summit

This year was my first time attending TOPO Summit, a gathering of Sales Ops, Marketing Ops, and MarTech professionals in San Francisco. It was the perfect blend of strategy and tactics with 1,100 of my friends. Here are some of the key things I learned:

Personalization is in the uncanny valley

The MarTech panel had a fierce debate about what personalization should be. Jon Miller, Co-Founder of Engagio, put it best: "Personalization is in the uncanny valley." The uncanny valley is a concept from animation. As we move from obviously computer generated to obviously human, there's a gap that makes us feel uncomfortable, even revolted. Today's marketing personalization is in the uncanny valley.

At Engagio, they use their own platform to mix automation with a human touch. For example, Marketing can create a personalized mass email to be sent by the CEO. The CEO can quickly swipe through the list of prospects and see when a message needs to be tailored, for example, if he just played golf with a prospect the previous weekend.

Think of your own personalization efforts as a spectrum from obviously marketing to obviously human, with an uncanny valley you want to avoid.

Ops teams are eating the world

TOPO had five stages – keynotes, ABM, Sales Ops, Marketing Ops, and Tech. The most compelling content came from the Ops stages, moving the conversation from the shape of the funnel (is it flipped? is it circular?) to strategies that identify how to give Sales and Marketing teams superpowers.

What struck me is how everyone defined Sales Ops or Marketing Ops in a slightly different way, with significant overlap in the roles. Tracy Zirbel from Cisco Meraki gave a compelling case for Sales Ops as solving the gap between your goals and your capacity. For Cisco Meraki, the aptly named Sales Operations Systems (or S.O.S.) is responsible for project management, technical solution design, change management, and enablement. As a cross-departmental organization, the S.O.S. team built a Sales/Product dashboard to inform Product Management of the top features requested by new prospects, directly in Salesforce. They grew the Ops team from 1 to 6, and systems administrators went from 50 to 12!

Follow the story

The keynotes weren't what you'd expect for a Sales and Marketing conference – storytelling from Pixar to Russian sports scandals. Bryan Fogel shared his journey creating the documentary IcarusIt started as "Supersize Me, but for doping", instead Bryan became an investigative journalist, reshaped the world's political landscape, and undermined decades of Olympic history to seek the truth. You'll have to watch Icarus to see why.

The big lesson for me: if we start with a story already written and seek out data to validate it, we can lose sight of a better story. Follow the data, keep an open mind, and allow the data to take you somewhere new, somewhere bigger — and you can (literally) change the world.

Simplify Everything

Jairaj Sounderrajan from Twilio ran through the complexity of managing a modern Sales Operations team. His three tips: simplify everything, focus, and align everyone.

Simplify Everything

The job of Sales Operations is to create high-velocity sales throughput. To do this, you need to radically simplify everything: remove obstacles, clean up systems, simplify processes. At Twilio, Jairaj led an audit of Salesforce fields to clean up and simplify what reps need to enter. In the process, they discovered they had a high-velocity deal that could use a simplified process, and in doing so created a Light Opportunity Layout in Salesforce to make life easier for the reps.


My favorite line from the show was Jairaj stating "For Sales, selling is essential. Everything else is optional."

As Twilio focused on Sales Enablement, they heard complaints from the Sales team about the speed for contracts to get turned around. They had an SLA, wasn't that enough? No. They needed to move faster to hit targets as deal volume increased at the end of the quarter. To solve this they created an end-of-quarter war room, bringing Finance, Legal, and other resources for Sales into one room.

Align everyone

Every team is looking at the data slightly differently. Sales Operations needs to own and define the definitions, aligning with teams like Finance, Marketing, and Customer Success. Jairaj shared a story of how Sales presented the executive team a rosy picture of rep payback periods, only to be countered by Finance with the exact same data! Which team was right? Why was there a gap?

It turns out they used different definitions of estimated ARR (eARR). Sales looked at eARR as forecasted growth based on historicals. Finance looked at eARR as committed bookings. This gap created misalignment at the executive level; Twilio solved this with common definitions across the organization to ensure that when someone talked about a metric, it meant the same thing to every employee.

Focus on the business problem before the technology

It's easy for tech to dominate the conversation. There's technology landscapes, stack awards, magic quadrants everywhere – it's all shiny and new. 90% of the content at TOPO Summit wasn't about tech, it was about focusing on your people, your strategy, and your operations to solve core business problems. Tech is part of that conversation, but it isn't the start or the end.

Technology can free up your people, enable your strategy, or improve your operations. But if Sales doesn't have the internal support and enablement to close deals, and Marketing doesn't have the authority to help them, how are these tools going to help you be successful?

I'll be there next year

TOPO Summit is my favourite conference of 2017 so far. Scott, Craig, and the whole TOPO team did a fantastic job choosing great speakers, sponsors, and setting up an excellent venue for networking. I'll be there next year and you should come, too.