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Being Adaptable While Preparing an Organization for Growth

Mark Lerner:

Alright everybody. Welcome to this episode of the Revamp podcast. Really excited for today’s guest. A long time coming. He and I have chatted a bunch via DM on LinkedIn, but I’m glad to actually have him on the episode. Today is James. So James, why don’t you go ahead and tell the folks at home a little bit about yourself, what you’re doing now, your career, how you got to where you’re at.

James Hunsberger:

Thanks, Mark. Happy to be here. So as he mentioned, I’m James Hunsberger. I’ve been in the Salesforce ecosystem for 12 or 13 years, but my background is primarily in operations. I was one of those lucky early accidental admins that you don’t hear about quite as often anymore, but I took it and ran with it. I’ve got backgrounds in CPQ consulting in large and small org management, and I’ve even done product development for an ISV that some of y’all may have heard of, which is Rattle. Most recently I joined Miro. I’m the head of their sales systems technology organization, which is a fancy way of saying I run the Salesforce development and BSA organizations. So we work heavily across the platform and very excited to kind of hear and talk to Mark today about what it takes to kind of get an org ready for that next stage of development growth and possibly an IPO down the road.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, and that’s super, that’s a big jump, right? You were at a kind of earlier stage company and I think pretty much anyone that’s watching this or listening to this has heard of Miro at this point or used it. I certainly have. I was actually doing a podcast earlier today and we were talking about our favorite tools for road roadmapping things, and I think every single person mentioned Miro, so I think it’s almost kind of synonymous with that. So it must be interesting to step into that role, like you said, in a company that’s on its next stage of growth and going to that kind of what we all think of as the promised land of basically if you work in tech.

I’m interested from your perspective, obviously we are in a moment or it’s been more than a moment at this point of a lot of change. A lot of market forces are at play, external forces. We had kind of a black swan of covid and then the economic impacts thereafter. Things have settled a little bit, but as you step into this role and are trying to usher this organization into this next stage, this idea of being agile and flexible to adapt to things and enable the ability to move quickly and not be rigid, how do you plan for that and what steps do you take and how do you even think about it?

James Hunsberger:

Well, I love the question because I’m coming in with the benefit of hindsight and Miro. You talked about the black swan of Covid and talk about nailing the timing on a collaborative white space when all of a sudden it was needed. Miro threaded that needle and grew like crazy. I wasn’t here for it, but I can tell from the ongoing documentation what I can see in Salesforce, the stakeholders that I’ve talked to that have been here 3, 4, 5 years, what happened in that hypergrowth stage and how you do have to recognize your moment in time and see that there’s a opportunity to seize a market, build a new industry, and recognize that if you aren’t agile, if you can’t move fast, you will miss that opportunity and there’s a certain banking of that tech debt that sooner or later comes due and that’s where the stage we’re currently at.

I’m not saying that we don’t still have high aspirations for growth, but we do need to do it more sustainably. We can’t just have 2, 3, 4 releases in a week where we’re just shipping something that some sales leader decided that they needed while they’re going to bed at night. So you do have to start taking that longer term view of agility, but if you break it down into those smaller digestible chunks where you’re constantly feeding your team on what’s in the next release and you’re talking to the people about who that’s going to impact, they feel that constant agility, but you can still front load it with good architecture reviews, making sure that you’re closely aligned with revenue operations, with a center of excellence, with a good strong architect that understands end-to-end business architecture and enterprise architecture. You can still achieve a certain level of agility where even 2, 3, 4 weeks later, you’re shipping something pretty substantial, but you understand the trade-offs and understand the impact and really get to a value driven organization where you know that this is going to make a difference in the frontline revenue numbers and how you can prioritize that against the ever expanding tech debt backlog and use that almost as leverage to say, we can give you this fast, but we’re going to have to come back to it later to fix it.

And making sure you have those conversations up front so everyone understands when that tech debt grim reefer comes knocking that you just got to take care of it if you’re going to keep growing and more importantly, become compliant with these important public opportunities that we’re all trying to get to.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, yeah, that’s interesting. I mean, it must be difficult to step into a organization that grew. Obviously they were on the positive end of receiving or stepping into an opportunity at the right place at the right time, and whereas a rocket ship, there were quite a few companies, some of them actually didn’t sustain it. Their entire business model was based on the fact that everyone couldn’t go to work and they weren’t able to shift into the new market. It seems like Miro has been able to sustain itself, which is really a great sign, but you step into a role where a company was on this insane hypergrowth trajectory, I assume under the hood a lot of things technically, operationally they probably didn’t have time to make it perfect, and so there’s probably a lot of that debt. Have you had to put on your detective hat or is it known? Is it

James Hunsberger:

Well, even a great world-class org is going to have that tech debt, but yes, that has been peeling off layers of seeing what scurries out from when you expose it to light. But the area that helped me in deciding why to take this role and what I saw as even though there was tech debt, an opportunity for success, a couple of items. First off, I can’t say this enough. My manager is excellent. Trevor did my role before he got promoted to the head of business technology and he’s been here for four years, so he knows and has that institutional knowledge where with these rocket ships, you see people churn in out come vest, a little move on. I’m guilty of that in some previous roles, but the fact that I had this reference line to a lot of experiential building, a lot of understanding about how we got here, what the decision making was, what the trade-offs were, that helps in a big way, but it’s a virtuous cycle.

At some point, you are making these decisions based on speed, based on agility, based on trying to tap into a market and hit a go live goal that often is condensed and as long as you’re ready to pay the piper, understand and maybe even document during that go live, make sure that during that additional scope creep that you’re saying, Nope, we’re putting our foot down. We’re not going to hit our date. We will consider it. We will get back to it. We will once x, Y, and Z is done, make sure that we fix it for you. You get a lot of credibility and so often it’s difficult to maintain that laser focus on delivering revenue, delivering that next phase of the company that if you don’t come back to that, yes, you are digging yourself very quickly a shallow grave, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t with good governance, start putting up some guardrails that make it a little bit easier to come back to it.

We’re not perfect and it’ll take a lot more personnel to get to a point where I feel confident that we’ve eliminated any platform concerns, but at the same time, if you’re staying up to speed with the GTM organization and keeping up with all of the great product enhancements that are coming down the road, you can build that trust with your stakeholders and so many of these organizations, whether you’re in revenue operations, whether you’re in BizTech, that mutual trust and that ability to temporarily be the bad guy to your other cohorts to make sure that they understand, look, I really wanted this, but James said we had to tap the brakes, or No, I really didn’t want to do an off cycle release, but Eugene really needs a shift. If you can have that working relationship where you’re occasionally volunteering to be a little bit of the bad guy, it can really strengthen that depth of trust that you have with your cohort, and that’s what I think is most important for stepping into this larger size of an organization.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, I mean that’s a certain kind of people skills that I think especially when you transition from a much smaller company where those institutional kind of norms may not exist where especially if there’s one or two salespeople, they won’t take no for an answer, and so it becomes a much more of a challenging thing to say, be the bad guy, like you said, for the greater good. I’m going to jump into that aspect of things in a second, but as you’re in this role where the company went on that hypergrowth trajectory where everyone kind of was worked from home, had to do everything online and now has kind of shifted gears to a more sustainable growth model, has there been a change internally in terms of business system tooling, that kind of thing? Some of the things that we’ve seen broadly our consolidation where there was a time where every team kind of got their own pick of whatever they wanted and there was a proliferation, and broadly we’ve been seeing more consolidation and using tools and maybe having to tweak them a little bit more, but not these kind of point solutions. Is that a similar thing that’s playing out with you?

James Hunsberger:

Well, you’re describing the dark side of that agility, which is if you allow everyone to run at their own speed, select their own tools, yes, you’re going to end up with a fractured system that doesn’t talk together, and that’s okay. I think the zeitgeist of the moment has allowed some of those lessons to seep in. None of us knew that yes, best in class point solution, which I’ve seen various metrics, whereas anywhere from 12 to 16 tools on average, the just in the sales organization was the standard and you’re seeing a retraction. First off, these individual platforms have gotten better about expanding their engineering teams and adapting their platform for multi application utilization. Think of the gongs, the Apollos, they started out with more narrowly defined use cases and then because they had top tier engineering teams were able to adapt and make headway. Maybe it’s not an a plus solution, but if you can get to an A minus solution without any context switching, allowing your reps to work in a single interaction layer that does have its own benefits, that does have its own efficiency gains, it doesn’t matter if you have an a plus solution if no one’s using it correctly and an a minus solution where maybe you don’t need those features, but you get everyone adopting it.

That’s a huge part of it. So this comes back to how interdependent business technology has become on enablement, on revenue operations, on these individual stakeholders and really good embedded operations personnel. They be called BSAs. They can be called ops specialists, but they’re the glue that hold us together because they’re identifying the user journey. They’re working with architects to understand what will and won’t fly, and doing a lot of that conversation handling. And then as you start consolidating tools, mural’s own product roadmap. Yes, it started out as a collaborative white space where it was just kind of this open-ended, infinitely adaptable tool that in sometimes is intimidating by bringing in some of these features around Jira integration, upgrading our ability to diagram things like Salesforce or AWS and bringing in that shared nomenclature with those platforms and making it really easy to adjust and adapt for those teams.

That is opening up new avenues around professional services around these other ICP personas in these orgs that maybe previously were using Asana or monday.com as a point solution for ticket management or request management, the more you can get into a collaborative space and layer on top of them and build some of that feature parity in that is the direction that I see a lot of tools going. And even at Rattle, we saw this opportunity that so much work was being done in Slack, understanding that interaction layer and bringing in the right level of specificity to Slack. Yes, you don’t want to writing a novel about closing deals specifically about why it won in Slack, but yes, lower level interactions, that’s a great place to have it. So the more that these organizations are settling in best of class primary solutions, sooner or later, we’ll springboard back. It’s hard to maintain every vertical and every horizontal Salesforce itself is kind of an example of that where HubSpot’s adaptability has started to close that gap, but it doesn’t change the fact that once data is captive, and once you have that layers of data that can interact with each other in your workflows, it is definitely a force multiplier and something that people love to see, especially as you can also maybe negotiate some favorable pricing along those lines.

Mark Lerner:

And I think when a system has you captive with your data and they realize the stickiness of it, there’s a lot of leverage on their side.

James Hunsberger:

Change cost is a real thing that you have to calculate in any one of these conversations, even if you’re on a B tier tool, if you have three months of cutover where no one’s getting what they want out of it, maybe you want to stay with B here for a little bit longer.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah. So talking about that shift that you mentioned, and I agree, I see it being kind of broadly the zeitgeist of the moment in a pretty drastic turnaround from what it was like not so long ago. Does that put you or somebody in a role that’s dealing with business systems that’s in operations in a position where you have to fill the gap, where some of those point solutions are not taken away and you have to either make the primary system do something it’s not natively meant to do, whether that’s with internal tooling or whatever. Does someone in an ops role now have extra pressure to step into that breach?

James Hunsberger:

I certainly think so. There is so much consideration that goes into tool consolidation, build versus buy, and in many ways it’s the antithesis of what we were talking about earlier, which is that move fast, that agile approach. This becomes a very waterfall like classic project where you have to do stakeholder interviews, you have to do use case parallels, you have to do analysis on feature parity, and in terms of enablement, oftentimes the opportunity cost in terms of man hours, in terms of development hours, do we not build something that is revenue generating in order to save a couple hundred grand on tooling that may be the correct revenue model, or it may when you do the hard math not be as beneficial as you originally thought because it detracts from your ability to save reps time in other areas. So it’s a very vague question because I’m a consultant in another life, and it was always, oh, well, let’s be vague about this.

Let’s not over promise. But the unfortunate reality is you have to have domain expertise, and we all have our pet tools that we grew up with. I happened to have a little bit of a bias when you’re talking about SalesLoft because I was previously involved so heavily in optimization of that tool. But every time I meet with our new outreach CSM and see how they’re learning from each other and starting to build additional features that basically recognize, yeah, SalesLoft was better in this or I was better in that, and it starts almost moving towards a singularity of best practices and just good short development cycles. It’s very easy to start to get trapped into this. Everyone has the same similar product offerings. A couple years ago, the idea of champion tracking, non-existent user gems went out, captured that, but before, you know what? Ample market, bluebirds Apollo pocus, they’re all doing some variation of this, and if LinkedIn ever upgrade sales nav, guess that’s where everyone else is pulling their data from. They could kill the market in one’s signature of the pen if they really wanted to lock people out. So it’s a strange new world, and AI is only making that more complex as it becomes easy to analyze your competitor roadmap and understand what you want to pick and choose and try and go to the mat on.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, the amount of money that’s being left on the table by LinkedIn, and I guess Microsoft is,

James Hunsberger:

Well, I should be glad because if they lock Salesforce out of that agreement, all of us are scrambling,

Mark Lerner:

Right? But yeah, I mean the amount of value that money they could extract for the value they provide instead of us all having to figure out ways to scrape their data or whatever, that’s a conversation for another day. So I kind of wanted to just take a step back and take it from the personal angle because you’ve been on an interesting journey and I think your experience is probably indicative. I think I’ve had similar experience over the last few years as well, having to adapt to a changing environment and changing jobs and being different roles that are the same role, but much different company size. And so how does that affect you? If somebody’s listening or watching at home that is on the cusp of a similar scenario, how could you maybe impart some wisdom so that they can learn from maybe your challenge or not and maybe take it a different way?

James Hunsberger:

Well, wisdom sounds way too self-aggrandizing for me to claim, but I will describe the lucky path that I happen to trod and how some decisions increase the likelihood of luck finding me. So first off, any background in business operations, whether you’re a technical or focusing more on business and analytics is going to be a huge help. I started it as an excelon. Many of us did. And that translates because ultimately every one of these tools out there is some level of UI based visualization for table relationships. What did this person say? When did they say it? What should we do with that information and how do we track and report that in a way that is meaningful for other people in our organization to digest quickly without having to have deep, deep understanding? Yes, that is an oversimplification, but at a certain point you get a little gray in your hair and you start seeing tools come and go.

It’s hard to resist. It’s hard to resist that boil boiling down. But I will say this, the thing that has served me very well is obviously curiosity and the ability to self-teach Trailhead, Salesforce, all of these tools and that idea of democratized free learning was somewhat revolutionary 10 years ago. I know everyone has their own university and everyone’s building their own community now, but Salesforce going from just forums where you had to dig and dig and dig and hope someone was kind enough to answer your question when you were a newbie to having formalized learning paths and a true organizational focus on curating that experience. That’s hard, and it’s come a long way since then. But the luck that I had and what helped me double down on those areas was constant learning, but also breadth of experience. Anyone on this call, the one thing that I universally recommend whether the mentees I’m working with started with Salesforce 10 years ago or 10 months ago, is consulting will expose you to a lot of best practices.

And I’m not just talking about how do you write a scope of work, how do you get into an org quickly and show impact, but also understand there are things that you cannot change without kind of creating a mess for yourself. So it helps you really assess quickly on what you can and cannot do and helps set a very grounded expectation about how you measure success. It also gives you a lot of communication skills, gives you that idea of servant leadership where you are embedded in these companies, you’re having an opportunity to change their trajectory, but ultimately they are the decision makers. And it gives you a big opportunity to think about how those relationships are managed because if you keep developing your career and you are like me, and through luck or happenstance or skill, you get promoted a couple times, sooner or later you’re going to be managing consulting engagements.

It is a almost universal likelihood that in larger companies, there are some level of contractors, some level of professional services engagements for a tool acquisition you’re going to go through. So understanding the pains of being a consultant and going into someone else’s organ, someone else’s livelihood, and carrying enough confidence that they have the belief you’ll deliver something that is meaningful for them and at the same time enough humility to talk to them and understand their concerns and being very empathetic about what they’re trying to achieve. Consulting is a great way to do that. Yes, I personally have a bias towards small companies. I love startups, so I will always recommend startups, but I also understand that’s not the best blood pressure moderation type of recommendation to make, but also seeing a big org red tape and your understanding and embracing of red tape will help you decide what level of work you want to be in.

I loved Okta for being that post IPO company that was really, really rigorous about their SOX compliance, about everything that they had to do to be a public company to do from an architectural rigor standpoint. It informed me and prepared me in a weird way to both go to a much smaller org and start building up those processes and then come to Miro, which is kind of between those two extremes and having that experience where I could understand and empathize and sympathize really with that move fast break things and we’ll fix it live type of mentality with this, at some point, going slower means you go faster because you’re spending less time fixing things after the fact. Your reps have that confidence that every release is going to be clean. Yes, there will be small bugs, but you don’t break things. So those all lend themselves well to me. I’m not going to say anyone could luck into those types of roles the way I did it was a very different industry 5, 10, 15 years ago, but that’s how I got here, and I’m very grateful every day that it happened the way it did.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, I forgot who said it or if they said it this way, but you want to create the largest surface area possible for luck or serendipity.

James Hunsberger:

I like that.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, you want to do as much as you can to be in the right place at the right time. If you’re just sitting at home and hoping that something falls in your lap, it’s not going to happen. But if you go out there and try new things and put yourself in situations like doing consulting on the side or whatever it is. So as we wrap things up here, I think there’s a level of concern not only in our world, but I think broadly everyone, as AI becomes more robust, I think there’s an extreme fear. The extreme side of the robots are going to take all our jobs and this is hopeless. There’s another extreme that it’s like this is a crypto 2.0 and it’s just kind of a fat, I’m assuming, well, I’m somewhere in the middle, but how does somebody kind of protect and make themselves more valuable in a changing expectation market where the future that you are more valuable?

James Hunsberger:

Well, this is going to be a heavily biased answer, but I’ll give you mine just and keep it with a grain of salt. This was a conversation that I had five or eight years ago when offshoring was starting to become a really big phase, and how do you protect that? And I’m not saying that offshoring is as linear as AI or as foundational of a threat as the most concerned influences out there. It might think it might be, but I will say this, what has served me very well is communication and refining the craft of understanding the true business articulations that are most important, understanding your audience, being able to speak to technical people, being able to speak to salespeople, GTM folks, being able to speak to executives in a language and a level of formality that they feel is appropriate and lends you the right level of credibility.

I haven’t seen, which probably means it’s either too good to be recognized or it’s just not there yet. ai do that level of audience recognition where you can tailor the experiential thing that you’ve built up over 10, 15 years and blend that in a way that you are not being condescending, you’re not being patronizing, but you are trying to be the most effective that you can be in the conation timeframe that you have with the person you’re talking to and using that feedback as a way to evolve from there. That’s the only thing that I can hopefully say, I’ve got a lead on the computers because I’m not a good enough developer that probably some of these rock applications could probably pass me. It’s been a couple of years since I was had on keyboard, but I’m hopeful that my ongoing ability to do audience recognition and blend my experience from operations, from technical architecture, and from this executive conversation, even board level conversation into a way that makes me really valuable as the person talking to the machines and then talking to the people and being a little bit of an intermediary.

Mark Lerner:

I think that’s super profound. I totally agree that I like to say it’s not going to be the AI that takes your job. It’s going to be the person that knows how to use an AI that’s likely going to take your job or maybe not take your job, but going to make your job redundant. So as we round things out here, James, before we head out, you want, is there anywhere that the folks at home can maybe learn a little bit more about you or follow you or what you’re doing at Miro or maybe a

James Hunsberger:

Well, because I’m relatively new at Miro, my social media presence has died down a lot. I used to be active on a number of revenue operations communities, obviously rev ops, co-op, rev ops collective, the revenue collective, the, there’s a number of other ones that I’m forgetting that I feel shameful that I do, but it’s just one more lesson I can give you. The more you contribute, the more you learn, the more likely someone’s going to think of you when it comes up. I mentioned Trevor is a big reason why I ended up at Miro, and I think it was either a LinkedIn post or a conversation we had on Rev ops co-op that gave me this big surface area for luck to find me. So the more you can contribute, refine your skills, and don’t be afraid to lean into these other domains that are starting to overlap.

Certified Scrum product owner is a very different mindset that can help whether you’re a rev ops professional, a Salesforce professional business technology or a product owner, these ideas that these are universal concepts about how you handle both project management but also project delivery and go live and everything like that, huge benefit to level up and remove yourself maybe from the direct tactical line or at least folding in your experience as a direct tactical operator into that next level of managerial candidate. Because I think that’s what a lot of people are trying to get to and encourage everyone to think a little bit broadly about your skill sets because we do not know what AI is going to take away from us. So the more surface area you have, the more likely you are to survive the machine apocalypse.

Mark Lerner:

Exactly. So I will include a link to your LinkedIn in the notes of the episode. And James, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today and have a great weekend.

James Hunsberger:

Thanks so much, mark. Enjoy your weekend as well. Bye.