ABM Playbook

Real-time revenue forecasting

In this episode of Lets Talk ABM, Kyle Coleman, VP Revenue, Growth & Enablement at Clari, explores the importance of real-time revenue forecasting in ABM.

Date published: Date modified: 2021-01-15 strategicabm 550 60

Kyle Coleman
VP Revenue, Growth & Enablement, Clari

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Kyle Coleman

Kyle leads the Growth engine at Clari, the revenue operations platform. Kyle is an experienced Sales & Marketing leader with a passion for people development, identifying & solving problems, creating & optimizing processes, and unifying departments across the revenue organisation.

Declan heads up marketing at strategicabm. After some 20 years working as a CMO in the Professional Services, SaaS and EdTech sectors, Declan is now Agency-side building the Strategic IC brand and sharing our clients’ ABM success stories.

Watch this webinar to learn:

  • Why risk identification is key to a successful sales pipeline 
  • The role of Clari in your ABM tech stack 
  • How Clari helps companies do better ABM
  • The role of AI and machine learning in revenue operations
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Real-time revenue forecasting

The full transcript

Declan Mukeen (Strategic IC) - So today I'm joined by Kyle Coleman, VP of Revenue Growth and Enablement at Clari. Kyle, thank you for joining us today.

Perhaps you can tell me a little bit about yourself and Clari and maybe something that people don't know.

Kyle Coleman (Clari) - Yeah, sure, so I began my career in tech about eight years ago at a company called Looker, a BI and analytics company based in Santa Cruz, California. I was the sixth employee there and over the course of about six years, we scaled up to about 800 employees. Took revenue to over a hundred million and then was acquired by Google in the summer of 2019 for two and a half-billion dollars.

So that one went pretty well. I led the SDR team at that point, really scaling up the team, the tools, technology process, all of that sort of thing. And working in close partnership across the aisle with my pals in demand generation and marketing, pretty much the entire time. I reported directly to our CMO for the majority of the time. I jumped over to Clari in February, March of 2019. And I initially took on enablement, as well as sales development.

There was something of a vacuum in leadership on the marketing side. So I gravitated toward the demand in ABM components because I had experienced doing it at Looker. And it became official in the fall of 2019 that I took on this growth and enablement role, which is demand gen, field marketing, SDR, as well as sales enablement.

So an interesting purview, that's all about creating and accelerating pipeline and revenue.

Declan (Strategic IC) - Yeah, which obviously a lot of companies are migrating that way at the moment in terms of these kinds of growth roles and chief revenue officers.

Kyle (Clari) - Exactly.

Declan (Strategic IC) - Question for you then. So Clari, tell us a little bit about Clari. We'll dig into it in a bit more detail later, but just give us an overview of who Clari is, what kind of company is it?

Kyle (Clari) - Sure, so Clari is a Revenue Operations platform that is useful for pretty much any stakeholder across the revenue department, the revenue engine. So everything from marketing to sales, SDR, customer success, your C-suite, your Board of Directors even. And anybody who has a stake in creating and closing revenue and growing revenue at your company, Clari makes an impact. So it makes it very, very easy for individual salespeople to submit their forecasts.

There are predictive AI and machine learning algorithms that are assigning scores to all the different active deals and predicting likelihood to close.

So we always have a really good finger on the pulse of what's happening in the current quarter, as well as from more of a top of funnel use case, I have a really good idea of what's going to happen in next quarter and Q+2 because I have a really, really nice and sophisticated view of all the different pipeline and pipeline categories that we have, as well as historical conversion rates for those different pipeline categories and real-time calculations of how much pipeline coverage I need to create in order to support the revenue targets for upcoming quarters.

So a whole myriad of use cases across the revenue engine, all about streamlining that process of creating revenue.

Declan (Strategic IC) - Okay, well, listen, we'll dig into that little bit more detail as we go through our conversation, but just… We were obviously talking the other day and we're all living through rather extraordinary times at the moment. And you're on the West Coast of the United States and obviously, we're over here in Europe, but on a personal level, what have you learned over the course of the last couple of months?

Kyle (Clari) - Yeah, the biggest learning for me Declan has been, and I knew this already, but this has been a really nice forcing function for the lesson to really hit home, which is individual autonomy is extremely important for people to excel in their roles.

I think creating… My job as a leader, I view it to create the structure for what needs to happen and why it needs to happen. So how is what we're doing in pursuit of broader company goals? But it's up to the individuals to, bottoms up, how are they going to make it happen? It's totally up to them. And so this work from home environment has taken this philosophy to an entirely different level because we can't literally see what people are doing-

Declan- Yeah.

Kyle (Clari) - ... hour by hour, day by day. We have check-ins with folks across the SDR and demand teams and field marketing teams, but being far more hands-off across the board at Clari than we had been in the past and the results have been fantastic.

The productivity has been incredibly impressive. The output, the throughput, the speed, the coordination that individual teams are using, it's just been really inspiring to see how the various individual contributors are able to just excel in their role without direct oversight from a managerial layer.

Declan (Strategic IC) - So that probably points to a new way of working if and when we return to a level of normality, right?

Kyle (Clari) - I certainly think so. I think there's going to be much more of an appetite for allowing remote work, having more kinds of hybrid roles where… The headquarter is still very important, don't get me wrong. There's something irreplaceable about having everybody in the same room with a blank whiteboard and just seeing what happens. So I don't feel like we can completely replicate that yet with the technology that we have as fantastic as Zoom has been for us all. But I think that companies will be much more open-minded about entertaining some sort of hybrid setup, where they have some remote employees, some headquarters employees and they just figure it out.

Declan (Strategic IC) - Now you talk a lot about a new category; Revenue Operations, talk us through that. You mentioned it at the beginning there somewhat, but talk us through that a little bit. How do you see that as being important for organisations?

Kyle (Clari) - Yeah, sure thing, so, Revenue Operations is a fledgling sort of category that's in its nascency right now. And it means different things to different people as new categories do. If you'd have asked people five years ago, what customer success was? You would have gotten five different answers from five different people, and that's kind of where Revenue Operations is right now.

A lot of people think that Revenue Operations is simply a coming together of sales ops, marketing ops and CS ops. And that is not wrong, but it's too limited a view from Clari's perspective. Clari thinks about Revenue Operations as the suite of people and tools and technologies that make up your entire revenue process. So a lot of companies think about revenue just as the outcome that happens as a result of running a business...

Declan (Strategic IC) - Yeah.

Kyle (Clari) - ... where Clari thinks about it as a process that can be broken down and analysed into its component parts. And every one of those component parts is its own little flywheel that helps complete this entire revenue process on the whole. So that's what Revenue Operations is. It's understanding what your revenue process is and it's breaking it down and optimising every single handoff, every single little conversion lever along the way.

Declan (Strategic IC) - And that's where obviously Clari comes in to be able to look at an organisation to try to look at those flywheels, as you say.

Kyle (Clari) - That's exactly right, exactly right. So for example a lot of the handoffs that we think about from a Revenue Operations and a revenue process standpoint have to do with forecasting. So my handoff to the sales team is about current quarter and our quarter forecasting. And that the sales team's handoff to CS is about closing business and renewal opportunities. And then the CS team is forecasting, how much they think is going to churn, what their expansion and upsell looks like. And so there's a forecast component to every part of this revenue process that drives predictability and informs the operating plan from a finance perspective so that the entire company understands what's happening and what we can do as a result.

Declan (Strategic IC) - So is this linked to some of the messaging that I've seen around Clari, which is around visibility, responsibility, and transparency?

Kyle (Clari) - Exactly right.

Declan (Strategic IC) - And so when you talk about visibility and transparency, you also talked about, at the beginning of the conversation, a little bit around the kind of the ability to have predictable revenue.

Kyle (Clari) - Yeah, exactly. So the way that Clari allows this to happen, and again, this is somewhat tool agnostic because you can do a lot of this analysis just in your own CRM. It just takes a lot more effort. It takes a lot more work and some fancy footwork by your operations teams. But what Clari allows every company to do is to look at the aggregate level. So the pipeline categories that I talked about and assess the health of, we have X million dollars in our commit category, what does that mean? And Clari surfaces, "Hey, in the last four quarters, "here's how you've converted, "that commit pipeline to close." And so we know, okay, we can expect and predict that this X million dollars in committed pipeline inventory is going to turn into X million dollars in actual closed business and revenue. And we can do that for every single pipeline stage or category that we have from a top of funnel perspective - very, very useful. Secondly from--

Declan (Strategic IC) - And this...

Kyle (Clari) - Oh, go ahead.

Declan (Strategic IC) - ...Sorry Kyle. And this is where you mentioned that you're deploying artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Kyle (Clari) - Exactly, exactly. So this is kind of on the… That's the aggregate level that I just explained, on a more individual deal level. Every single active opportunity gets a score of 0 to 100. 100 is, is this opportunity behaving like a closed-won opportunity in the past? And a 0 is closed lost.

So what we're able to do from a deal acceleration standpoint in close partnership with sales is we're able to very quickly see which of these deals, the larger deals, are in a later stage category. Let's say they're in a commit category, we're expecting them to close, but the CRM score is low. Why is that CRM score low? So that's our likelihood to close, we call it our CRM score. And if we see that trend happening, then we from a marketing and ABM standpoint are able to say, "These are the accounts. "These are the opportunities that deserve an outsize amount of our Account-based Marketing dollars, "because they're the ones that we're banking on. They're the big deals that we've already, they're in the commit category. We need to do whatever we can to create more surround sound or get in front of the buying committee, or just build more awareness for Clari to help move this deal forward.

And so that deal level perspective and the predictive components of that deal level perspective is really unifying for the entire revenue engine.

Declan (Strategic IC) - And you just alluded then to Account-Based Marketing, ABM. How do you see Clari helping companies do better ABM?

Kyle (Clari) - Yeah, really good question. So I just outlined one key way, which is having a really quick and fully transparent lens into the accounts that need the most attention and will make the biggest impact on the business.

So in my past, the way that I have "prioritised" accounts for ABM has been basically whoever the loudest rep was. Which rep is kicking and screaming the loudest, and more often than not the squeakiest wheel gets the grease. And that's… There are some virtues of that, but there are probably more negatives to that. And what ends up happening is we direct our ABM dollars to not the right accounts or for the wrong reasons I should say. And so what Clari allows you to do is have, again, everybody has the same view, so we can all see which accounts are actually, A, the right size and will actually impact the business from a revenue standpoint. And B, actually need the support, which ones are not trending as well as they need to. 

And what are the plays that we have in our kind of a la carte menu of ABM that are applicable to these various scenarios? And so in my… Every one on one that I have with, our sales leadership, our area vice presidents, this is the conversation.

We look at their active pipeline inventory for the current quarter and for the next quarter, and we bucket each one of the at-risk deals into various kinds of plays that we can run, and then we go and execute. And so the third way that Clari then helps is that we can monitor exactly what's happening in real-time. And we have a really, really good idea of is our ABM programme actually making a difference here. We can look at stage progression. We can look at deal size changes. We can monitor that CRM score. And we know always, are the programmes we're running, actually making a difference from a revenue standpoint.

Declan (Strategic IC) - So that links in nicely to the whole theme of data. Obviously, data is the foundation of any successful ABM programme. Are there any insights you can give us around that?

Kyle (Clari) - Yeah, sure thing. So there's a few different sorts of data points that are important for ABM, well there's so many. We use 6sense for our intent data. I assume that the audience is pretty familiar with 6sense.

Declan (Strategic IC) - Yeah.

Kyle (Clari) - But super useful to understand what companies are searching for from an anonymous web activity standpoint. And Clari, and any company, defines the set of keywords that matter to them. And then 6sense tells us, "Hey, this company is searching for "like sales forecasting or sales productivity "or something like that." And that is a cue that our SDR and our sales team uses to then prioritise that account for outreach. So intent data and ABM, super useful for prioritising accounts to get open the door. But then ABM is also useful for acceleration and for closing the door on these accounts through the various motions that I just described.

Making sure that the data that we see is accurate is probably the hardest part of inflight deals because salespeople are not famous for their data appending or CRM cleanliness skills. And so what Clari helps with is Clari will connect automatically to your sellers' email and calendar clients, and ingest and harvest all of that email and calendar activity back into your database automatically so you can see are our sellers actually engaged with this company? What kind of emails have been exchanged? When is the next meeting coming up? When was the last meeting? What can we do to help get the right people in the room?

Clari is also automatically capturing every attendee that's on a meeting. So if somebody doesn't exist in our CRM and that CMO, let's say, is on that next call that we have, Clari we'll take that person, add them as a contact in our CRM, enrich the contact record and add them to the opportunity. So we have full attribution type tracking as well.

Declan (Strategic IC) - So in your experience, where would you say that the majority of companies fail when it comes to their kind of sales process? Or is it on the human side? Is it on the process side? Is it on the technology side or...?

Kyle (Clari) - Yeah, from a sales process standpoint, I think it's probably more on the human side in a couple of key ways. One is from a deal acceleration or deal execution, pardon me, standpoint where sales management is so focused on interrogating reps about basic facts about a deal that they don't spend enough time actually coaching their reps and providing the right guidance to help that deal close.

So simply by not, or I should say, simply by exposing the data and allowing for that kind of transparency and visibility into every deal,

Clari helps avoid that completely because everybody has the same set of facts right in front of them, automatically capturing activity, et cetera. And so the conversations that Clari users are able to have is really one of strategy and execution. Now, the second part that people fall down on is the coordination between teams. And people get, I think as companies grow, especially in silos start to form a bit more and specialties start to creep in, teams become less disposed to actually working with each other and get so focused on their own success metrics like how MQLs are we producing that they forget that MQLs are meaningless, unless it actually turns into revenue.

Declan (Strategic IC) - Yeah

Kyle (Clari) - And so...

Kyle (Clari) - Keeping that constant working or the togetherness of these various members of the revenue organisation is extremely important for companies to do this well. And that's what I like most about ABM is that by necessity, it includes marketing, SDR, sales, CS, execs, everybody who's involved. So you make sure that process is one that can and should include everybody and everybody therefore is accountable for its success.

Declan (Strategic IC) - Yeah, now obviously you're there at home in California. And I'm obviously at home here in Spain. Are you and your organisation, are you finding it harder or easier to have conversations with your customers and prospects?

Kyle (Clari) - Good question. I would say the first couple of weeks as we got used to this, or as we kind of delved into the uncertainty of the current events, things were pretty slow from a conversation standpoint with both prospects and customers. Just nobody had bandwidth to talk to external vendors because they were just trying to get their whole house in order. And we were the same way. I was beating people away and it was very, very busy, but it didn't feel as productive as a result, 'cause it was just figuring things out. The dust has settled a bit and there's more certainty, obviously not complete certainty now, but more certainty than there was before. Companies, for the large part, have replanned their operating plan. So they understand their budget, their finances, things like that. And from what I can tell, especially at the top of the funnel, people are still interested in hearing what's out there. 

People are still interested in evaluating vendors because they know that maybe business hasn't returned to normal quite yet, but it will at some point. And so keeping your finger on the pulse of the vendors that can help you accomplish what you're trying to accomplish, is super important. So I would say that there's momentum at the top of the funnel. I think that getting things through the funnel still is going to be a little bit slower than it was pre-COVID, but hopefully, that tide will start to change soon.

Declan (Strategic IC) - Yeah, and linked to that Kyle, what advice would you give to companies at the moment looking to prospect?

Kyle (Clari) - Yeah, I could give that the vague and general be empathetic type messaging,

Declan (Strategic IC) - Yeah.

Kyle (Clari) - but I don't think that that's super useful. The, again, and I'm going to go back to the ABM sort of mindset here. Another thing that I like about the ABM mindset is it forces you, as a marketing and sales organisation, to really understand the accounts and why the accounts should care about you. And so therefore my advice to top of the funnel leaders, SDRs, salespeople, is one-to-one messaging right now, wins the day. I promise you quality based outreach, quality-based campaigns that are one-to-one, or one-to-few if you want to take an industry based approach, that is going to be what sets you up for success and really resonates with the companies that you're reaching out to. It is not about quantity at this point.

You're going to burn yourself if you just business as usual, keep the pedal down on all the cadences and the nurture streams and everything you had going pre COVID. You have to rethink your strategy and think about how your company and product and solution aligns with the strategic growth initiatives of the companies that you're the best fit for right now.

Declan (Strategic IC) - I think that's excellent advice, Kyle. And I think that definitely is something that we're seeing also here in Europe. Just finally you're incredibly active on LinkedIn. And I follow you, I follow your posts and I engage with many of the things that you write about. How important is that channel for you? And what learnings do you have to share on best practise?

Kyle (Clari) - Yeah, great question, Declan. I started doing this and being more active on LinkedIn at the beginning of the year, really as kind of a challenge to myself to set time aside every day with just a pen and a paper to think and to write. We've become so addicted to the devices and things like that. And I'm still guilty of that, (laughs) I don't want to absolve myself of that particular addiction. But it's been really nice just to set 15 or 30 minutes aside and just write. And it turns out the only thing that I really ever think about is work.

And so LinkedIn turned into a pretty nice outlet for me to share my thoughts and my experiences,

Declan (Strategic IC) - Yeah.

Kyle (Clari) - and things like that.

From a value to Clari perspective, it's been extremely beneficial, maybe not the bottom line quite yet from a revenue standpoint, but certainly for recruiting, for awareness, for driving attendance to different events and things like that.

And I'm particularly well suited for this because our target market, salespeople, are the most active people on LinkedIn. So this advice maybe won't translate to everybody out there, but I think to a certain extent it will.

My advice is don't just post a link for a webinar and expect people to engage. Have a perspective about why that webinar matters, the value that people are going to get.

And if you can weave that value into more of a narrative, this is the type of information that people like to consume.

People like to consume stories and they like to understand narrative, and they want to see that you have a perspective. So if you can kind of do all of those things in 1300 characters, which LinkedIn allows, then you're going to set yourself up for a tonne of success. I think one post… And the other nice thing is that you can get your whole company to engage around these posts as well. And so recently we ran a webinar that was specific for sales ops people, and I wrote a post about it.

And then what we had was all of the individual sellers, they tagged their prospects or customers in the comments section of my post. And we drove like 150 registrations to this one event, we sold it out in a flash. And so it's a really useful tactic to go beyond kind of the traditional branded posts and make sure that your employees have a perspective and have a voice because people buy from people. And so having your people be active on LinkedIn is a really nice way to make sure that happens.

Declan (Strategic IC) - Well, I mean, I can definitely say that, having said that I've been following you for some time now, and I think you're having a huge impact and you're definitely creating a personal brand for yourself. That is standing out from the noise, so to speak. So it's definitely working. And I think the comment you mentioned around the webinars, we've definitely seen the same thing ourselves with our own approach to social selling that if you can create a voice, if you can create a story, then people will engage and they will follow. And I think the… You don't necessarily see the dollars coming in straight away, but you definitely see engagement and you definitely see people wanting to learn more.

Kyle (Clari) - That's exactly right, I couldn't agree more.

Declan (Strategic IC) - Yeah, Kyle, it's been a pleasure talking to you today. Thank you very much for joining me and I hope everything is okay there for you in California on the West Coast.

Kyle (Clari) - Likewise, be well Declan, appreciate it.