How I Buy – Shimona Mehta, Head of Revenue Acceleration, Shopify Plus

By Steve Woods in #HowIBuy

How I Buy – Shimona Mehta, Head of Revenue Acceleration, Shopify Plus

Building revenue is difficult, and building the systems to accelerate that revenue is often even harder.  Doing so at a speed of growth that is nearly unprecedented, however, is the ultimate challenge.

I had a chance to catch up with Shimona Mehta, head of revenue acceleration for Shopify Plus, one of the fastest growing businesses within Shopify, and she walked me through how she guides her team to think about the challenges of building the support systems to sustain and accelerate their revenue growth.

I hope you’ll enjoy this chat with Shimona as much as I did.

Let’s start at a high level – what is your role within Shopify Plus and what do you focus your efforts on?

I’ll start first with how we think.  It will give some context around the values that form the basis for our decisions.  It’s a combination of two things; building for the long term and getting shit done. We are one of the fastest growing tech companies in the world right now, which is great, but comes with a lot of pressure to build some foundation around what we’re doing.  Shopify Plus essentially started as an experiment within Shopify that became a real business overnight. With that we went from a small, scrappy group to over 400 people around the globe just a few years later. We think of it as building the rocket ship while we’re riding on it.

On the revenue team, we split our responsibilities into two main areas.  We have a sales delivery team that is tasked with delivering on the 2018 plan.  My job is revenue acceleration; I’m tasked with thinking about 2019 and beyond. I look at how we’re going to continue to transform our revenue model for the future.  

To do that, we need to combine three things.  First, we need to understand the journey of our customers and make it easier for them to engage with us and buy from us.  Second we need to continue to optimize our people through tools, training, and processes. Third, we look at moonshot experiments and crazy ideas for new revenue streams in the future.

It sounds like much of what you’re doing is unprecedented in the market.  How do you think about ideas, given that you’re going to be doing something that has never been done before?

Any of us on the team can honestly say that we’ve never done this before.  We have great experiences in environments that have similarities, but growing at the pace that we’re growing, and at such a high level of quality, is not something anyone has done before.  What has worked for us in the past is in no way guaranteed to work for us here.

We work hard to be data-informed.  We work closely with both operations and service design to understand the process at four levels.  At the foundation, we’ve mapped out our merchant’s journey from awareness through the sales process, to launch and beyond.  On top of that, at each step, we have mapped our sales processes and the various conversion rates. Over top of that, we map our sales workflows and the actions that sales makes.  As the fourth, and highest, level, we map in our values. Our number one value in sales is delivering a great customer experience, so we take this exercise very seriously.

When we examine those 4 layers, we look deeply to find the area that most needs to be fixed or optimized, without thinking too much about what the potential solution could be.  

So, the prioritization of where to focus is essentially a “data upwards” view of the world?

Yes, we’re very clearly oriented around the customer journey.  We are very purposeful about who we bring into the room for any discussion on what a solution to a perceived gap might look like.  When we’ve identified a gap we might bring in our service design experts out of UX, we might bring in engineering, we will usually bring a number of sales reps in, as well as operations and sales leadership.  It’s all about getting a broad perspective and diverse ideas on how we might solve a particular challenge.

However, before we think specifically about the tools that we might use to solve a challenge, we want to first look at the crazy ideas that might solve the problem in a new and different way.  

Where do you get your ideas?  How would an idea make it into your line of thinking in the first place?

When it comes to how I even figure out what’s out there and what’s best in class, my first step is a group of 5 to 10 people within the industry.  Some are peers, some are trusted vendors who I’ve worked with. I’ll shoot out a message along the lines of “here’s what we’re thinking, have you ever done anything like this?” and engage that group for their opinions.

What I find today is that many sales leaders are looking to cross-collaborate and share some of that ideation with each other, which is great.  

The next place I will go every time is, of course, Google.  Looking for ideas, perspectives, and reviews online is obviously key, and I’d agree with the commonly quoted stat that we’re most of the way along our decision process before engaging a vendor.

Interestingly though, 2 out of 3 of my demos today came out of sales reps at vendors reaching out to me with incredibly compelling arguments.  They had researched where we were at and had a great idea that fit a problem we were thinking deeply about. It was like opportunity and preparedness had met, and so I took the call.  

That’s very interesting – would you have taken those calls if it was not a burning need at that moment in time? Is there enough value in educating yourself for the future to take a call with a vendor?

We are trying to learn and think about best practices anywhere we are operating.  Two of the vendors I’m talking to right now, I started talking to a year ago. I was up front with them that we weren’t ready to start working with them at that moment in time, but I wanted to learn about their approach and how it would fit into Shopify Plus in the future.  

Over the last year they stayed in touch, stayed engaged with where our business was at, and continued to share interesting ideas and best practices.  They continued to learn about my business and how it evolved. As they learned, they shared new and creative ideas on how they might be able to help. That’s why today we’re in a much better position to move forward with them.

What happens then?  Walk us through what happens next with your team, how does that idea get introduced and digested by the team?

What we’ve started to do more and more is to separate the problem identification phase, the ideation phase, and the potential solution phase.  If we’re looking at ideas of how to approach a problem, we will deliberately and fully refrain from poking holes in it at that point in time. What we want to do is to allow an idea enough time to sink in and be digested for a while.  

If you start poking holes right away, you lose creativity in the room.

What’s the mindset of the more junior folks in the room?  What motivates them to throw risky ideas into the mix?

One of our core values here at Shopify is to make great decisions quickly.  We move so quickly that we need people at all levels to have the skills, the capabilities, and the mindset to make the decisions they need to make.

We’re also humble enough to know that none of us have all the answers.  All the way back to our hiring profiles, we’re looking for people who are high in intelligence, creativity, competitiveness, and teamwork.  We often start with our senior leaders throwing out some crazy ideas and showing vulnerability to create the psychological safety for more junior people to contribute their own interesting perspective.

Is there an innate bias against ideas that come from vendors?  Are vendor-sourced ideas given less weighting in the discussions?

I’ve been in three different demos with three different vendors today, so I can speak to that situation quite clearly.  I look for ideas, innovations, and best practices from my vendors. If you are coming to me and you understand my business, I’m fully open to how you think I might solve problems more effectively and more efficiently.

Given the level of depth that you get to in understanding where things are in need of improvement, how deep can, or should, a vendor salesperson get in truly understanding your challenges?

I’d hope that a couple of things happen.  One, if you understand my own personal profile around disruption and innovation in the sales process, you’ll have a good starting point of where my head is at.  If you have an understanding of how fast we’re growing, you’ll have a sense of the fact that we need to do things that are new, different, and challenging.

The landscape of sales is changing, and the need for sales reps to add more value faster is also common across most tech businesses.  We need that too, and techniques for getting us there are highly valued.

Let’s look next at the evaluation stage.  Once the gaps are understood and the ideas have been generated, how do you decide what to pursue?

At the scale and pace that we are operating at it’s extremely hard to decide what is going to work.  We need to understand what will work not just now, but in the near future as we continue to grow. It’s one of the reasons that we bring multiple people into an evaluation.  Anything that we’re looking at, I will pull in multiple stakeholders to make sure I haven’t missed anything on either our values or where we are heading towards as an organization.

Today alone I had brought in sales enablement, sales reps from around the world, multiple sales coaches, and knowledge management – and that’s just for the evaluation of a sales coaching tool.  I want to make sure I’m socializing my decisions, and covering my bases as much as possible. We’re not making decision by consensus, but I absolutely want the perspective of all stakeholder in my decision-making.

How do you structure that conversation to get the best thinking out of each person in the room?

I purposefully pull in different seniority levels, personality types, and functions.  That helps ensure that some cognitive biases are avoided. I do my best at the beginning to level-set at the beginning where we are at and what I’m hoping to get out of this stage of the evaluation.  

How does the decision ultimately get made?

At the end of the day, I’m the decision maker.  Everyone else in the room is a very heavy influencer, but it comes to me to make the call based on our values, future, and current challenges.  Generally, the decision on a particular course of action comes down to the questions of “are we going to build better sales reps?” and “are we going to deliver a better customer experience?”.  Those are the two questions that trump everything else. I will also always choose long term over short term.

 

Thanks Shimona, those are great insights.  I really appreciate your time in sharing them!

Steve Woods
CTO and Co-Founder