The Unconventional Journey from Sales to COO

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One thing has been made abundantly clear as I interview more COOs:

There is no “right” path to take to 

Moving from revenue to operations may seem like a leap, but I did it… 

And so did Mark Rosenthal, COO at HqO, who joined me on the COO Show to share the insights he learned on his journey.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The transition from revenue to operations
  • The role a COO plays in getting the alignment needed in order to scale
  • How to ensure your M&A strategy doesn’t fail

The Great Transition

Your background is in sales, but you sit in operations. How’s that transition working out for you?

Mark says he’s always been operational, executional, and data-driven in his approach, going all the way back to his first sales job. Back then — long before Salesforce — he created his own dinosaur-era version of a CRM. 

Mark kept a log of every single call he made, who answered, whether he left a message, and what was said. Then, he mined that data log for information, using it for the reverse pipeline math that people do in sales. 

When sales leadership opportunities came along, Mark again adopted an operational approach — going out in the field with the team to try to engage customers. 

Still, the transition to a COO role wasn’t an easy one. 

The hardest thing about making the transition has been not owning the number or the customer relationships. Otherwise, Mark says he’s applying the same principles as a COO that he established in 25 years of sales and go-to-market careers, just with a different scope.

Tools of the Trade

I asked Mark: What’s your favorite tool when it comes to data management and analysis?

Salesforce is the center of his universe.

Any new technology the company invests in has to integrate with or plug into Salesforce.

Okay, what about the Google Suite?

Mark’s team definitely uses Google Sheets, and Google Docs, and Google Slides. “We are big on collaboration within different business units of the company, so having those great collaboration tools is really important for us.”

And then, there’s Excel. Master Excel, and you can rule the universe. Excel (or if you prefer, Google Sheets) is a huge asset in data analysis. 

That said, don’t let spreadsheets rule. We’ve got sophisticated tools now, and a spreadsheet can quickly defeat the purpose of a multi-layered system.

A COO’s Customers

Mark said that the hardest thing about making the transition from sales to COO has been not really owning the number or the customer relationship anymore.

A COO’s customers are all the other members of the executive team. 

A COO’s job is to ensure clear organizational alignment and ownership across each team and project. 

A COO’s responsibility is to make sure the company has the right systems of accountability in place and is marshalling all the right resources, cross-functionally, to deliver for customers.

A No-fail A&M Strategy

The most common misconception about A&Ms is that they actually have value.

Everybody goes into an A&M with excitement and expectation. Revenue is going to grow! Markets are going to expand! New products are going to get developed!

But A&M is really hard.

The stats say 70-90 percent of them fail.

Will you buck the trend? 

Maybe. 

Google did. Facebook did. You might.

But to win at A&M, you have to…

Make sure you’ve got a clear vision for where you want to go with your merger or acquisition, and don’t get emotionally invested in the deal. Stay focused throughout the process. 

Even if you do your due diligence, you might not have a clear understanding of whether or not it makes sense to go forward. In those cases, the folks who are emotionally attached to the deal will win instead of the deal happening on its own merits.

Fundamentally, you have to find a way to bring the companies together. And that is really, really hard — much harder than it sounds.

Three Takeaways on A&M

  1. Understand the value of the business you’re acquiring or selling. 
  2. Make sure the deal is adding value in revenue growth, market expansion, or product development.
  3. Focus on integration and execution because if you don’t execute well, that often ends up just being a flat out failure.

Most importantly, remember that success at work — whether you’re in sales or operations — is all about relationships. And there are a lot of folks who would love to lock arms with you.

Bill Reed

COO at Sweet Fish

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