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Unscripted with Erica Schultz: Achieving Operational Excellence

May 20, 2022
By Jeff Richards

Confluent’s President of Field Operations Erica Schultz is all about scalable systems—and relentless calendar management. 

“If I'm honest, there are moments where I'm nailing it and there are other moments where I'm like, ‘I’m not spending my time in the ways I want to spend my time,’” Erica recently told me. “I'm sure you can relate, but I try to play offense as much as I can. I often feel like I'm playing defense.” 

For all the stressed-out founders, CEOs, CROs, and GTM execs out there, this unscripted conversation is for you:

How do you deliver performance?

Erica Schultz: “I do think in terms of a few key systems… These are things that are a constant work in progress. You're never done, but you have to spend a lot of energy getting them right. [This includes:]

  • A pipeline generation system [that’s] repeatable, predictable, and scalable: Starting with your core quota-carrying reps, can you hire, enable, and ramp predictably in any region in the world? 
  • Customer success: Once your customers sign the contract, can you reliably get them successful, live, thriving, and realizing value?
  • Sales execution: Once you've generated pipeline and something has been declared a viable opportunity, what's your conversion rate on that pipeline? How can you constantly tweak the sales process to shorten your sales cycles and increase win rates?
  • Planning: Capacity planning, building your annual operating plan, [and] eventually your long-range plan including sales comp plan design—that's a muscle that has to be well-formed by the time you go public because now you're going out to the market. You're saying, ‘Here's what we're going to do’ and you have to have confidence to deliver on that.”

What do you look for in people and culture?

Erica: “I need to make sure I have a leadership team who knows how to go off, build those systems, and help them thrive… And you need leaders who know how to lead across—like inside the organization and into other organizations to get something done… You’ve got to start with the right leaders who have the right what and then the right how. They're also building a culture as they're doing all of this. And then a lot of the other things really fall into place.”

How do you think about industry experience versus raw skills?

Erica: “It’s always a balance. As you scale and the teams get bigger, you do have to get better at bringing in people from adjacent companies or industries and then training them up a little bit… Smart people who are systems thinkers and good learners—a number of them can make the transition.” 

Jeff: “Are there things you look for, or is it just all performance-based? When you're running a private technology company, one of the challenges is you can't recruit the same… A lot of our private technology companies are taking a bet on somebody who doesn't have the 15-year proven track record, but they're looking for those signals that they could scale into that role.”

Erica: “It's definitely performance—that's always one ingredient. And then I'm looking for a lot of the meta stuff:

  • Is this person committed to their own development?
  • Do they seek out mentorship and coaching?
  • Do they have a growth mindset?
  • Are they good at playing with others across the team?
  • Are they a systems thinker?
  • Are they a builder?
  • Can they bring structure and shape to things that don't exist yet? 

… You might be early in your career, but if you can bring structure and shape to something that's not yet codified, that's a huge skill set.”

How has remote work impacted your teams?

Erica: “I think it's really important as leaders and in our companies that we think about, ‘Okay, what is our new world of work? And how are we going to keep people connected, productive, and flexible?’ For us, we are remote first and we're hybrid… We’re trying to be really intentional about what is the right cadence to get together in person. So for my leadership team, we're getting together twice a quarter for like a day or day and a half in person and trying to keep it focused on more planning, discussion, and strategy where we can actually collaborate together… Yes, everyone can be productive from home, but it's great to come in, do a team huddle, and go to lunch together. So kind of balancing the work and the fun.”

How do you recharge?

Erica: “A lot of it comes down to relentless calendar management… Wherever it is, I put it on the calendar, and it's locked in. So time to work out to keep myself sane goes on the calendar… And then you have to be a little flexible—your kids need you for something or you have to go on a trip that you didn't plan for… I take a portfolio approach: Some days and weeks are great. Some days and weeks are not. And on balance, hopefully we get it mostly right.” 

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