“Perfection is achieved not when there is something to add, but when there is nothing more to take away.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) In this edition of the Quote-to-Cash Masters series, we sat down with Marc Flaum, Sr. Manager of World Wide Sales Operations at Citrix, to discuss his extensive career, and dive deep into his experience with enterprise application & process architecture – specifically his experience with the Apttus Quote-to-Cash Platform. Having first started his career in IT and then transitioned into the Sales Operations role, Marc brings a well-rounded perspective to his current role, a perspective that he was kind enough to share with us for this blog series. Below, you will find questions concerning everything from Marc’s personal career story and his philosophy around modern Sales Operations at Citrix, to Sales Operations’ role as the evangelist and advice for someone looking to get into the Sales Operations field.
Q: In what role did you begin your career at Citrix and how did you get to your current role?
A: I started my career at Citrix as a database administrator, and worked my way up through the IT department. After a brief stint in the Business Development ISV team, I shifted into Sales Operations. My background in IT has given me a technical grounding, which is very helpful in my current role as Senior Manager of World Wide Sales and Services.
I’ve always been a geek at heart, so I find it interesting to think about the technical details, such as which hardware we are going to leverage for each system or project. “What kind of storage are we going to use to build this? While I don’t always have time to spend thinking about the nitty gritty details, I do find them intriguing. From an applications architecture perspective, I’ve always managed systems at the highest strategic level – staying focused on how & why different systems should connect and the details behind these integrations.
I was first introduced to Apttus when I was an Enterprise Architect within IT; I was the tech lead for Citrix CLM evaluation and implementation. I made the switch to Sales Operations, where I ended up leading the evaluation and selection of Apttus CPQ as well. I had a more birds eye view in the Sales Operations role, which allowed me to view the various business requirements from separate departments (e.g. sales, services and legal) as one whole ‘Quote-to-Cash’ requirement.
The CPQ project was a very interesting one, and we learned a lot about our own business processes by conducting it. On the surface, people don’t realize how difficult CPQ is to master, and only when they dig into it do they realize how complex it is. When dealing with a critical business process like CPQ, you become a master of everything; marketing, revenue ops, legal and contract, supply chain, renewals, ecommerce, pricing & discounting, partners and other channel strategies; then multiply those by all available product lines. When you think about CPQ in this way, it quickly becomes clear how difficult it is to master.
Q: What is your philosophy around implementing and managing applications as part of a modern Sales Operations team?
A: My philosophy is that our function exists to do 2 things: Enable Sales Operations agility by reducing the dependency on it, and simplify the user experience.
If you think about the first in terms of resource allocation and business agility, it makes perfect sense. The IT team members should be the surgeons – the specialized resources if you will. You don’t go to a surgeon if you need a Band-Aid, for example. Additionally, when you work at a public company like Citrix, changes to an easily configurable system’s process can be made much faster if the change does not require IT resources. We are a more flexible company if the Sales Operations team can make changes to the existing system, instead of having to go through the audit hoops often associated with using IT resources. What I like about these easily configurable systems, such as Apttus, is it that it allows the Sales Operations team to “enable business departments with increased application responsibilities.”
The second goal is all about simplicity. The best Sales Operations teams think about ways to make the business users more efficient. The natural way to accomplish this is to figure out the starting point for any process, and work forward from there – start to finish. My team does this and asks themselves, “How can the user do their job with the least number of clicks, while still doing the job correctly?” Quote –to-Cash is all about taking that core concept and driving it down the entire stream to order processing, contracting and revenue recognition
The other concept that comes to mind here is the idea that perfection is simplicity, and simplicity is inherently tied to usability. So, a lot of what Citrix Sales Operations does is usability focused, not feature focused. As a global company, we have 900 sales reps and there just isn’t enough time in a day to train them on every new feature of each system. Instead, we make it usable and intuitive, simplicity is perfection.
“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Q: What did you mean by, “Enabling business departments with increased application responsibilities”?
A: IT has, over the years, changed from what I see as the traditional IT functions. IT has become something of a plumber, called upon to fix certain things that require specialized attention. Sales Operations has now become more self-sufficient, and now marketing has an operations team/function as well. These departmental operation teams are called “citizen developers”, further blurring the line between ops and IT. The flexibility of simple systems like Cloud CRM has enabled departments to take more ownership of their applications. Shared components like the customer object in a CRM system is where you leverage the IT team to mitigate the risks around how these add-on systems interact with each other and the whole.
It’s easy to think about it in terms of a wheel’s hub & spokes. The CRM platform is the hub of a wheel, providing the core platform on which all the Citrix business units can build their processes. The AppExchange applications, like Apttus, are the spokes of the wheel, providing deeper functionality in specific areas where needed. So, the sales operations team now manages the “CPQ spoke”, while the legal operations team can self-administer the “CLM spoke” with little-to-no intervention by the IT team. IT then focuses its time managing the hub itself, how the spokes integrate to it and how they integrate with each other.
And that’s why we leverage the IT team for our initial deployment of each spoke, and, when it comes time to push packages, make upgrades and all that fun stuff. The IT team does these specialized functions in order to keep the bigger picture. They reduce the risk of breaking the entire wheel with a bad spoke, in keeping with our metaphor.
Q: What do you see as the benefit of consolidating, integrating and connecting different systems? Is there a caveat to intersystem connectivity?
A: When I was down to picking Apttus CPQ or another system, the choice was easy because we already had a skilled resource that we could leverage to deploy and manage Apttus. We had years of experience on the Apttus development platform, so why would I want to manage niche skillset or platform. Once you have a hub platform that is strong enough to host meaningful applications, you can use your internal team to manage that hub and the accompanying side systems.
The caveat here is the classic proverb, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” As you commit to a single platform, you also commit to that one vendor. As such, you have less leverage going forward. Sure you reap the benefits described earlier, but when it comes time to negotiate a renewal, you are critically tied to that system and the choice to move away gets harder and harder.
Q: I see a trend in the Citrix story around the enabling of more cloud services and the reduction of on premise applications. How does this fit into your philosophy/strategy?
A: It’s no secret that Citrix is a huge preponderant of cloud applications. Very early on, I was an adopter and evangelist of the “cloud first” ideology, and in the last few years we have migrated to more and more cloud solutions. HR and T&E functions are two more recent functions that come to mind as examples. We are migrating as much as possible to the web or SaaS model because it’s something that has always worked for us. Now that the customer can architect something themselves that looks and feels like on-premise, why does it really matter where the server is?
We now also get the value add of the partner community, because we can turn on certain applications and connect them to different partner’s systems, while saving time and cost.
Q: You mentioned evangelizing for cloud technology early on. Do you see this as the role of the Sales Operations professional, to be an evangelist?
A: Yes, I believe that a good architect makes someone believe that an existing idea is theirs. It tends to take one and half years of talking about something for someone to say “Hey I got this great idea.” I’ve certainly seen myself as an evangelist for Apttus CPQ at Citrix these past few years. As a result of this, the view of the Apttus application within Citrix has now changed from an application to a platform.
For example, our next project is a vision for E-Commerce with Apttus CPQ as the hub. Now that it is so engrained in our process and success, we can build upon it in new ways such as E-Commerce and machine learning. Apttus’ switch from “a spoke” to “a hub” could not have happened without years of using, simplifying, perfecting and yes evangelizing for the system.
We are also looking at a pricing module with seamless integration to Apttus CPQ to display pricing options to drive our strategy around discounting hardware. There are a lot of projects in 2017 that come down to the simple question, “How can we use Apttus?” And this is a product of the past 2 years of evangelizing the solution within our company.
I think that this is a major function of Sales Operations, educating users and executives alike about the tools at their disposal so that one day they say, “Aha! I have a good idea on how we can fix this problem with Apttus.” Even though you may have known for a while, it’s important for the business to come up with their idea because it tends to drive better buy in and user adoption later on. They also have a better understanding of the problems they are trying to solve.
What was interesting about the CPQ project is that one day a sales person said to me “This is the first project that’s for me. Most other projects are for management; they provide insights to the management team and often don’t do anything for me, the user.” That was very exciting for me because it validated my philosophy about perfection=simplicity=usability. The CPQ project actually made their lives easier; after all, no one wants to be seen as a roadblock or detractor to business.
Q: What would be your advice to a young professional looking to go into a career in Sales Operations?
A: Start off somewhere else, start off in an adjacent field such as Sales or IT, Order Services or Channel Operations. Because the knowledge you need to be successful in the Sales Operations field is better leveraged with a broad background. This makes you a more well-rounded individual and professional. Sales Operations is also not something you typically start off in, so if you don’t have a degree in it off the bat, that’s ok.