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How does one even get into a ProServe role?
There doesn’t seem to be one direct path that everyone is able to follow.
RevOps Therapist and founder and CEO of Greaser Consulting, Jordan Greaser, interviews Nicole Ambion, now Practice Director for NORAM Field Services Team on the Outreach Professional Services Team, about her journey.
From Toronto to the US, from support engineers to running ProServe teams, Nicole has an interesting story to share, as well as ideas on how to lead one of these teams.
Hello, this is Jordan, the owner and CEO of Greaser Consulting. On this episode, we have Nicole with us, who is the director, one of the directors over there on the professional services team at Outreach. Listen, she started early in the ProServe team at Outreach; there was like 10 people or something like that at the time. Now they have about 100 folks running around. And she’s got an interesting journey from Toronto to the US, from support engineers to running ProServe teams, which, you know, drastically different roles from like really transactional “click this button,” or “here’s how you think about this,” to high-level strategy and whatever else. Really fascinating conversation today, where we’re going to talk about project management; we’re going to talk about change management, even within your internal teams as companies grow and, and how do you make that shift. And how in the world do you even get into ProServe? You know, we both actually kind of joke; this is a little bit of a spoiler of, man, it’s not like you look out there and you just go, “oh, ProServe, let me go get to it.” There’s sort of a checkered path to get there. So I think if you’re on the ProServe, success side of the house, even if you’re just in a growing company, thinking about how roles change and develop, I know you’re really going to enjoy today’s episode. So as always lean in, enjoy. And here we go.
Say you want some clarity in sales and marketing and SEP. Well, we have just the remedy: our podcast, RevOps Therapy. Yeah.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s podcast. I’ve got Nicole with me. Nicole, go ahead and introduce yourself.
Yeah, thank you for having me. My name is Nicole Ambion. I am the practice director for the North American Field Services team on the Outreach professional services team. I’ve been with Outreach now for about four and a half years. I joined back in 2018, when the team was really small. That’s where I met you. And I’ve been in the CX world now for almost 12 years.
What does a field director do in ProServe? What does that even mean?
So I oversee all of our commercial and above-size accounts. So any professional services engagements that come in that are fairly large, I oversee all of those projects. I have an assortment of specialties on my team. So I have project managers, program managers, transformation consultants, senior consultants, all with varying degrees in terms of their own expertise in Outreach. And we execute on all of these large, ambiguous-type projects where we get to experiment and try different things through our own methodology. It’s really fun; we get to see kind of the biggest and best type projects, and then we get to build stuff that doesn’t exist. So a lot of our own methodology, if we don’t have something that supports like really mega projects, that’s where we get to kind of build and decide what comes of it. And then we also get to work with partners a lot in the field. So we have a pretty big partner network that works with Outreach. And our partners get to support a lot of our field projects, too. So we do co-delivery with them. So it’s a lot of cross-functional work that we get to do as a team. But it’s all of our largest projects, which makes it even more excitement, exciting, in my opinion.
So I gotta, I gotta ask you, you said “the real mega projects.” Is that is that like, is that a company segment? You’ve got, like, mid-market, enterprise, strategic, real mega?
Real Mega. They usually come in, interestingly enough, in Salesforce. So in the backend, it’s all custom. It only shows up as custom. And that’s when I know, “Okay, this one’s a big boy.” Yeah, mega.
Yeah, I like it. So I got to ask you, and it really this is the whole frame of today’s show is just like, how do you even get into ProServe? And the reason I say that is when, whenever you go out and you look at the tech landscape, and you look at what you’re trying to get into, at least for me, I mean, I was clueless. There’s like SDR, AE, customer success. What’s the difference in customer success and account management? Like, like, I don’t even know what the difference of that was. And so then now, there’s this whole bucket of ProServe. Some companies have it; some companies don’t have it. And I know, you know, you said you spent 10 years plus in the success side of the house, like, I mean, walk me through your journey a little bit because I… listen, I’m in ProServe today, and I still don’t even know how you get there.
It’s true. So I started at a company. I’m originally from Toronto, and I started at a tech company out there called Achievers. And when I first dropped into tech back in 2011, I was a support engineer. So I used to work on all of the ticketing that came in through our support function. And now some of those titles are like success engineer, support engineer, but basically, you’re the customer service line. So that’s my start in tech. That was my start in the CX world. And about a year after I started, my boss at the time, who’s now someone I look up to as my mentor, she let me know about project management. And where you tend to see a lot of project management is in either program management, where you’re doing a large program or project oversight, or in professional services. We had a professional services team at Achievers, but it was a lot more senior than where I was currently at in my career, all of one year experience that I had. And so I kind of progressed and wanted to understand what it was like to be in CS. And Customer Success means success in the account after implementation. It means finding new opportunities, growing that account, expansions, renewals, ongoing retention, or adoption. And so once I got to kind of the end of my career at Achievers, I ended up moving to the US back in 2015. And I started a sales services team. Now this was an interesting leap for me because I went from only living in CS, to then taking a leap and trying to understand what a whole new industry would be like and then building a sales services org, so I’ve never sold. I didn’t know what PS was, and then I was learning the market that, that, that company was in was SEO. So it was like the trifecta of trying to figure out, how did I get in the situation? And now how am I going to sell a consulting service to people that I don’t even know how I’m going to get through that? So I ended up landing kind of in this fluky manner, at this tech company, and I moved to Silicon Valley. And after I got there, they said, “Hey, do you want to move to Seattle?” And I said, “it wasn’t in the plans. But sure, why not.” And my journey throughout building the sales services org was I became kind of a geo leader out of Seattle. I was trying to figure out, what does it mean to sell services? What am I selling? And then how do I build kind of the pricing and packaging; there’s a whole operations, a RevOps side to it. Building decks and stories and showing value of why someone should purchase services. That all kind of landed at the same time. But my whole journey to get into the sales services org was they were looking at my resume and saying, “you know, you understand the customer’s journey. Why don’t you come in and help us sell what happens before they become a customer and they’re kind of this prospect?” The thing that got me through was actually project management. So my love, I would say, of project management and being organized and staying on top of things. And the one thing that I realized, made me a really great consultant when I joined Outreach was my anticipation or knowing or assuming what a customer would probably want to do or get out of it; it helps with the storytelling; it helps with showing value and impact; it helps with identifying what the customer is probably going to ask for and then being prepared with those answers. So all of those things kind of led me through this journey that I had with building the sales services org. And then Outreach kind of landed in my radar back in 2018. And then I, I ended up taking a very different role than the sales services role I was in. I ended up becoming an IC, and I wanted to understand what it’s like to actually implement. So our shared manager at the time took a chance on me and he’s, he kind of said, “you know, I want you to come in and help us build up this enterprise methodology of what it would be like to implement.” And I don’t know how I got my foot in the door even then, but he took a chance on me, and I learned what it was like to implement. So I had this kind of engineering-type, problem-solving background from when I was at my first role as a technical support engineer. I had some CX project management, program oversight, doing enterprise projects, and then I had the sales background. And then I got to Outreach and I’ve never implemented. The first thing I’m trying to figure out is “okay, so what is it like after I’ve sold it and I know how to maintain it? I just don’t know this middle part.” So then I get into Outreach, and I was employee 10 on the services team. And I remember getting my first customer within like, I think, two weeks maybe of getting there. I didn’t know my left from right.
Yea, they didn’t, they didn’t wait too long.
No. And I remember hearing you on training calls and everyone on the floor; the floor was just full of energy was buzzing. And the whole time I was like, “I don’t even know what I’m doing. Like I don’t actually know how to implement here.” Because I have all, I only know two sides of the story. And I don’t know this middle part, which is services. So every kind of land, job I’ve landed in, in services has kind of been fluky. It’s been by chance, has been by luck; it’s timing. And I’ve just been using this different skill set of like project management, anticipation, and consulting. But also knowing the customer journey a little bit and trying to dismantle that and make it more fragmented. So I understood like, how did I insert, insert my own skill set into that? It’s been, it’s been a journey.
Let’s like popcorn, a couple of questions. It’s gonna feel like it’s a little bit all over the map, but it actually is going somewhere. So one of the things that folks that come out of support get in trouble for all the time is technically knowing the answer. But not contextually knowing the answer. Right. And so for example, it doesn’t matter what the software is; I know that if you click this button, it does that action. So the answer is yes or no. But I might not understand why you’re clicking it, or how you’re clicking it. Or if you should even click it at all based on what you really need to do something over here. And so you know, folks coming out of support tend to be really good at what they do. But they can often struggle, at least right out of the gate of like, sort of rewiring their mind a little bit to go and catch the context first, before this is what the button does. Right. So I’m like, fascinated to know, like, you’re in this really, really strong strategy-related position today. But your start was in that almost transactional, technical side? And so I mean, am I like talking out of left field here? Or is this like a hurdle? I don’t know if I want to say it’s a hurdle, because you almost said that this was the first building block. Right? But like, walk me through this process of moving from that type of mindset, to “No, I got to understand the strategy.”
Yeah, completely. And I think one thing that really differentiates when you move into less of a solutioning role, and more of a let me understand the big picture is especially true when you’re sitting in the enterprise space. So when you’re working with these really large customers that might have 1000 plus users, not every, in Outreach’s instance, not every rep is built the same, not every button is meant to work in the same way for every team. And I remember joining Outreach, and one of the things that we were always like, “Huh, I wonder why we miss that” and it was all workflow. It’s all to your point, it’s understanding the “why” behind someone would want a button turned on, or they would want a certain thing to work in a specific light. And when I started, even as an engineer, like doing the, the support engineer piece, “why” became kind of my best friend. That was the best term; I always tell my team like, “sometimes you just gotta turn on your toddler brain.” And you just got to ask why. Ask why until you understand what their ask is behind getting these buttons turned on. And you can’t be so quick to assume a solution; you have to understand the why. And the why will probably unfold other things. I found that in my time too, although it was pretty foundational to be more problem-solving, be curious if you will, be interested in learning how things work. When you’re doing implementations or project management, you don’t want a solution for the customer; you actually want the customer to tell you what type of solution that they want, and then figure out how the product can best fit or if there is a gap or you know, some workarounds, but it doesn’t really… you don’t want to be so quick to the solution, instead you want to ask why first, sometimes.
That makes me think of, I think it was a guy from Force Management. We were in this big sales training and all this stuff. And he was talking about how his first consulting job his boss sent him out to this hospital. And it was about how they needed to change all these things. And so he jumps on-site, gets on site, looks at all the problems, come in, comes into the guy and says, “Listen, here’s everything you need to do to do it better.” And he said the guy basically threw him out of the office and said “it won’t work, blah, blah, blah.” He said he goes back with his tail between his legs. His boss is like, “what’d you do here? I hear it was a disaster.” He’s like, “Man, I found all the gaps. I gave him the solution. I did all that.” And the boss goes talks to him and says “Listen,” he says, “Here’s the deal. You found everything that needs to happen, but you missed the main point. The main point is you need to have the, like, the customer feel like they came up with the solution.” He’s like, “it’s all those things, but the customer, and then the customer almost wants to sit there and go, did I need a consultant for this?” And he’s like, “if you do that, then you have done the job; it’ll get full adoption, and everything will work.” And that small little frame change, he said, from there on out his consulting just took off. It was unbelievable. And you know, it sounds like a similar thing to what you’re saying, right there. You think it’s this, but it’s actually that.
Yeah, I tease with my team. And with the, I usually tell them like, “Hey, don’t lead the witness.” But that’s exactly what you kind of want to do. You want to make the customer feel heard, feel seen. And then it helps with the change management element of it too. Because, there’s tool set, skillset, mindset; once you get the customer to change their mindset about how a tool set will work and they don’t see it as so transactional but could be wall-to-wall, every team could use it. And here’s how you do it. As soon as they start associating that change, it makes your job a lot easier, because then it becomes more conversational. And it becomes, “hey, I want to help you solve all these business problems.” They trust you; they let you in because they know that you’re not going to come in and bombard them and tell them, hey, you’re gonna go and do XYZ differently. And this is why instead; they’re a part of that discussion.
So I warned you it’d feel like popcorn; this next question’s about project management. Your scenario there of you come in with this really strong project management standpoint and then two weeks later, you’re thrown into the platform, and you’re supposed to do implementations. And it’s like, “what am I?” and by the way, saying that you’ve heard me training? That was a really polite way to say, to hear me screaming from across the room. Cause when I get on calls… I’m just saying, when I get, when I get on calls, and I’m training, I mean, I got the big projection voice, right? It’s time to go. My point is, my point, though, it’s asking this project management question is, everybody knows they need project management. Like, that’s what makes a really strong consultant. But I feel like company after company, shoot, I’ve dealt with this at my own company is like, when does the technical expert talk? And when does the project manager talk? And is the project manager supposed to be the technical expert? Or are they not? Like, how do you, how do you mirror the concept of project management with like some of the technical work as well, because it doesn’t always fit so nicely?
Totally, yeah. And I think it depends on where the company is at. When I joined Outreach, there wasn’t room for you to be specialized in anything. You had to know anything that could come your way at any given minute of a call. We were actually laughing about this, this week. But when we were reflecting back, some of the, the old heads that are still on the team, right now, when we were thinking about some of the projects that we had, I was implementing, after maybe four or five months of being out at Outreach, 1000 seats solo; I was the project manager, program manager, transformation consultant, tech consultant, the actual consultant letting the customer know how to go in their trainer, and we’re on-site, maybe every other week, helping customers. In today’s day, though, on the services team, it is wildly different; you have maybe six people working on an account for every 1000 seats or whatever the split might be based on the complexity of the account. And so I think, thinking about where I was at in 2018, when I joined Outreach, I had to figure out who, out of the six people I had to play, at any given time on any account, which superpower or secret sauce, I was gonna pour it on that customer during that call, and it could change, again, at any given minute, depending on who was asked me a question because they could be super risk-averse, the types of question maybe we’re talking about timeline, or budget or launch, or it could be like, “hey, I want to go and look at my plugin settings inside of the platform.” And I instantly had to switch, and we were gonna go super technical. And I was going to start to unfold some of your workflow. And then we’re going to switch back and we’re gonna talk about timelines again. And so it felt like at that time, you couldn’t just be one or the other, or one of six; you had to be all of the things. But in today’s day and age, I oversee some of our projects and program managers as well. I don’t like my project managers knowing too much technically, cause I think it, it can diverge their skill set a little bit. Instead, I want them to know enough to be able to alert but not alarm. I want them to know if they’re sitting in a conversation and they hear certain elements of a technical call going left. I want them to know that things are going left. I want them to know that hey, this is going to be bad or this is going to affect our bottom line, which is budget, timeline, or adoption. But I don’t want them knowing how to, you know, configure the plugin by any means, because I think that their expertise could be used elsewhere. And the same goes for other folks. I feel like you just need to know enough to do damage or be deadly as the saying goes, but you don’t need to be an expert, because that’s not where your secret sauce lives; it lives in these other specialties of either project or technical.
Do those swim lanes come together naturally? Like just the more… We’re standing up a ProServe shop today. Okay, so we’re at, we’re at, you know, Nicole’s Software BBQ 101. Right? And you’re, you’re setting up a brand new team, like in general, right, you have to have the generalists to get started, right? Folks that can kind of do everything. But let’s just say, this thing’s been growing out year one, year two, year three, year four, you know, wherever that part is in the life cycle. And like, there’s obviously different motions, different swim lanes. Is that something where, like, you have to sit down and constantly be doing gap analysis; you have to constantly be re-looking at things? Or is it just like, naturally, over time, as people start to work, you’re gonna start to see in projects that, oh, like, we’re going to navigate into these four different areas. So we need these four functions to happen. And then you start to train for it, or is that something you have to actively attempt to discover and sort of force distinguish almost?
Yeah, I think from a leadership perspective, you have to constantly be analyzing it; you have to constantly be looking at, what could we be doing better? How could we be running more efficiently? What are the things that we could be doing to make our customer and our team experience better? When we all started on the services team, I don’t really think that we had a lot of time; I think we all knew what needed to change. But time wasn’t on our side by any means. We had 1000s of customers waiting for our time and attention. And at that time, I’m sure our leadership team was kind of like, “listen, we’ll get to it, we will get to it, don’t you worry.” And with time, we did. But we also needed our team, our own methodology, our shop to improve to be able to make room for that. It’s almost like when you’re trying to learn a new sport. You can’t all of a sudden, just, you know, get on a field or on a reg or whatever court you’re gonna play on and just start running plays; it’s almost like you have to understand the fundamentals of the game first, you have to know how to play. And then later on, if you, you know, become really good at that sport, then you can start running plays; you can start looking at the game very differently. And I think where the services team was at the time, when we all started, it was very much so in the “let’s just figure out how to get from the start of the day to the end of the day and get some of these customers through the door.” And then as we started to mature as an organization, yeah, we could start bringing in things like a PSA tool; we could start doing more formal project management with actual project plans. We could start tracking our time and looking at budgets, bringing in pricing and packaging, building out SALs,. You could become more mature so you could look at the game very differently. And it wasn’t so one-sided survival mode, just get to 4pm as quickly as you could.
The thing that you just said there… I actually remember… this is like this is going way too far into politics. But there was a little bit of a power struggle back in the day, which was like, are we going to do the waterfall method? Or are we going to be agile? Right? And so are we going to like, here’s the company plan all the way out here? And so if the company plans that we’re gonna build everything, and all the steps all the way back to the training over here, and the agile is like, “that’s the company plan; day-to-day, we’re gonna wake up and figure out, replan, replan just as we go to get to that thing.” And I remember this, you know, this sort of huge struggle between the worlds, eventually the agile folks won over; the waterfall folks went to the wayside. And now it sounds like you’re, like, almost back in waterfall today. But my question and that is, is that just a natural evolution of growing out a team? Is that early on you can’t waterfall everything, because things are going to change so quickly? But as you develop, you have to move into a waterfall system, or is that like a is that a false pathway that I’m talking about?
It kind of feels like both… I was actually reflecting on this about a month ago because there’s still parts of my team that run pretty agile. Even looking at a team now like services when we started with 10 people and now we’re close to 100. We’re global, and you can’t really run super agile because it doesn’t help with scale. It doesn’t help with enablement and it creates too much noise. But I like to run agile on certain initiatives because I think we’re still in this state where I love welcoming new ideas. I’m not in the field like I used to be. And so my team is boots on the ground if you will. And when they see things or they say “Hey, I would love to try this change,” I kind of say, “Cool, go test it out in your next project, go test it out. And I want you to go find every blind spot that you can possibly find. I want you to figure out what the customer is going to come back to and ask you; I want you to figure out what types of ops or revenue operation things that we need to think about. Are there hours? Are there SAL changes? Do we have to let the other teams know? What are the types of things that could go wrong? Go find every possible wrong turning point that you can, and then let me know how it goes. While the rest of our team runs in this waterfall motion, while they all follow the methodology, I want you to go and like kind of stir some stuff up over there, but figure it out.”
How much, how much testing is actually required? Cause I hear everybody say, go test, go test, go test. Is “go test” try it on one client? Is it, we’re going to try it on the next 10 clients? Is it the next one? Like how much testing is required for you to say, we’re going to, we’re going to shift the waterfall now?
We have been testing out a change to our own methodology now for about four to five months. And in my opinion, I think you need very different customers; I think you need very different consultants running it. So it can’t just be from one person; you actually need someone who has a very different working style too, to go and test out this new methodology or change or process. And then it needs to happen in multiple portfolios; you need to do active feedback; you need to look for every blind spot, as I mentioned; and you need to think about what it’s like as an IC implementing this, but what are the types of questions that your leadership team is going to ask you? And have you accounted for them? Have you answered those questions? It needs to be… it’s pretty long and drawn out, especially with an organization of this size. It’s not like before where you can just yell out on the floor, like “hey, I just created a new spreadsheet; I’m sharing it with you all. Try it on your next call.” It’s not like that anymore. It’s, it’s months and months of testing and, and checking it out. And then making sure it fits into the larger waterfall methodology. And then making sure that it makes sense for our customers too.
Nicole, the folks on the team… Let me back up, when you’re building out something, everybody has this goal or aspiration of, we want to go public, or we want to get to 100 people or we want to get to this revenue or whatever. Okay, and the folks that are there at the very beginning, tend to be the generalists that are going to be willing to do everything. But as you get more structured, and you get more process, and you get more honed in, the same people that are saying, let’s get to 100, okay, and like they genuinely want to get there, like the organization changes, and the organization changes and all of a sudden the expectation of the role changes, right? Of like, you’re not gonna just gonna yell out spreadsheet anymore, right? Like, doesn’t matter if you have, like, let’s talk about some internal change management as like one of our last questions here. Like, how do you get folks that were there early to still stay invested, whenever the chunk of the pie gets a lot smaller?
Personally, what I’ve done with my own team, and I’ve moved from IC, to practice manager taking over two different types of teams, and now overseeing kind of the entire team that I was, basically, I grew up on, as our friend Mark Lutz likes to say; he likes to remind me of that. What I look at now is actually helping them be a part of the journey. So I know exactly what my skill sets are. And I know exactly what my team skill sets are. And I like to engage them as a part of the solution. So my style of leadership is also ensuring that my team is coming with me. And I’m not marching ahead of them. But I’m right there in the pack. And so a lot of these times when we’re building out new jobs, or figuring out what it means, as a team or a role, what’s your charter? What are your goals? What are we helping solve? I like for them to be a part of it. I like to get the real real, if you will, understanding, you know, what is it that they’re doing every day? Are we doing the right things? Are we solving the right things? Are we involved at the right times? Are there things that we should be changing? And I’ve always found that helping them be a part of the journey, and not me telling them how to go and do it changes that mindset. It allows them to be involved in improving their own skill sets, but also ensuring that they know exactly how to execute they know how to be the SMEs or the subject matter experts on every conversation as it relates to their role; they get to be involved in and share their own value and the impact that they’re going to have on the organization. And that helps with the change management piece because now they, they trust me they see the value in their role; they see the value in what they bring to the organization. And they’re part of that building process, which, in my opinion, you join a startup, that’s exactly what you’re going to love to do; you want to build, you want to be a part of the solution and problem-solving.
You talked though about you don’t want a project manager to know too many technical things or whatever else. Those folks that were there early that were the generalists, they do know all of that. And so like, how do you say to them, stay in your lane? Right? Whenever the like, the actual thought, though, is like, well, all lanes are my lane, right? How do you do that?
I honestly think that it depends on that person’s journey. I think that this is the largest company I’ve ever worked for, ever. It’s also the closest I’ve ever been to an IPO. I think that as you go through a startup journey, and folks that have spent time in any startup of any size, know that there are personal, personalities that I would say that really drive well, based on the size of that startup. I’ve never worked at a startup where there were 50 people, but I imagined that even then being a generalist meant you were probably the CMO for one day, maybe doing marketing campaigns on LinkedIn. And then the next day, you’re probably the head of sales again; that doesn’t jive well for everyone, depending on their own journey, or the things that they like. And I think as a, as a company grows, especially as a team grows, sometimes you’re just not going to want to just be able to stay in your lane. And what really empowers you or makes you feel whole is actually being a part of building everything which means as, as a company, as you grow, sometimes you see people leave, because that’s actually where their heart belongs; they want to be in that generalist role; they like to have the big open pool to swim in and not have swim lanes. And that’s okay, because that’s part of their journey. And I think as someone who’s gone through a pretty small company where I was, you know, 200 under employees, you know, to now where we’re almost 15, or 1600. This is a very different world. I’m used to, and I’m still learning what it’s like here, but I’m finding my different opportunities to find those things that I can help be a part of building or growing. So I get that startup-like passion that I get to be involved in, but also learn what it’s like to be a pre-IPO company.
Well, Nicole, I’m just, I’m looking at the clock here and turns out we’re out of time. I have like six more questions to ask ya. So we’ll have to do a part two somewhere down the line. But listen, I appreciate you coming on today for the listeners, I hope you enjoy just listening to Nicole’s sort of path into PS and then the ways that support and success and strategy and swim lanes and all this has to work together. Nicole, if somebody wants to get a hold of you, how do they do it?
You can find me on LinkedIn, Nicole Ambion, you can also reach out to me either over email, but LinkedIn is probably your best bet. I stay pretty low-key.
Okay. All right Nicole. Well, listen, good talking to you and looking forward to talking to you next time. Okay.
Thanks, Jordan. See ya. Bye.
Hot dog. That was a great episode. Thanks for listening. If you want to learn more about Greaser Consulting or any information you heard on today’s episode, visit us online at www.greaserconsulting.com. Be sure to click the follow button and the bell icon to be notified on the latest here at RevOps Therapy. Thanks and see you real soon.