Ben Chen, Sales Engineering Manager at Clari, leads an elite team that specializes in discovery, demos, product knowledge, and security reviews in the commercial space.
“Our team is like the Navy SEALS. We are Clari’s special operations team when it comes to helping our sales reps close deals,” says Ben. “A big part of our success is answering our customers’ questions on how we protect their information.”
Clari, a revenue operations platform, is seeing massive growth in its prospects and new deals. Many of those new opportunities requested security reviews or requests for proposals (RFPs). In fact, last quarter, Ben’s team had to process 120 security questionnaires that contained a total of 5,000 questions—all of which can be time-consuming and slow down deals.
Ben made it his mission to master security questionnaires and create a repeatable process that would allow his team to complete them quickly and accurately. His innovation in the area of security questionnaires has earned him a reputation as, “Dr. Ben.”
However, Ben wasn’t always interested in making security his specialty.
“I started with Clari as a junior sales engineer,” says Ben. “When my boss made me a security subject matter expert, I didn’t want the role. I was afraid of security and saw my new duties as a curse.”
Here’s how Ben transformed from a reluctant subject matter expert into a security superstar who made Clari’s questionnaire process 7x faster.
Why Security Is Key to Winning Commercial Business
Ben quickly realized that Clari’s focus on security could give the company a competitive advantage.
“Security is embedded into how we design our product,” says Ben. “This allows us to sell to companies that are very concerned about data privacy, including customers that work with the FBI and CIA.”
Ben soon embraced his new role and earned a reputation as a security expert.
When Silvano Silva joined Clari as Chief Security Officer in 2018, Ben saw an opportunity to partner with him. Together, they built a fast, repeatable security questionnaire process that has helped Ben shorten the sales cycles and close more deals.
Here are Ben’s top five tips on how to partner with Security to move deals forward faster (and make yourself irreplaceable in the process):
1. Establish your security questionnaire process
“When Silvano and I started working together, we didn’t have a streamlined process for managing security reviews,” says Ben. “So, we sat down and defined exactly how we would get security questionnaires done quickly and shorten sales cycles.”
Now, everyone who works on a security questionnaire knows what they need to do and how long they have to do it.
Here are Ben and Silvano’s top tips on how to define your process:
- Decide who is qualified to answer security questions. At Clari, only employees trained in security—such as sales engineers and members of the security team—can handle these requests. Sales and customer support reps are generally not qualified to discuss these topics.
- Define the ways you receive security requests. Clari receives questionnaires in four different formats:
1. Requests for security information via email
2. Requests for specific documents
3. Portal RFPs
4. Document RFPs
- Set timelines. How many days does a sales engineer have to process a request? How long does your security team have to review it?
- Create a RACI chart when you work with cross-functional teams. Who is Responsible, Accountable, Counsel, and Informed (RACI) during each project?
2. Get the right tools
Last quarter, Clari’s commercial team received 120 security questionnaires that contained more than 5,000 questions. To handle the increased demand—without throwing more people at the problem—Ben built a tech stack that focuses on speed and efficiencies.
He chose Loopio’s RFP response software, as it centralizes Clari’s security knowledge and makes it easy for sales engineers to collaborate and process security questionnaires quickly.
“Hitting our sales numbers is all about speed and volume,” says Ben. “Loopio streamlines our processes so that security isn’t a blocker, and we can close deals faster.”
Ben also uses Atlassian JIRA and Highspot to streamline the security questionnaire process.
Atlassian JIRA allows Silvano to track exactly where a security questionnaire is in its completion process. He can see when sales engineers hand off questionnaires and when the security team reviews them. Each ticket also has a Loopio project link included.
After exporting their documentation from Loopio, the commercial team also uses Highspot to track engagement when sending completed questionnaires to customers.
3. Focus on change management
“When you deploy a new process or technology, your reputation is on the line,” says Ben. “Your success depends upon how quickly you drive adoption.”
While this can seem scary, Ben stresses that you don’t need to worry if you get support and commitment from stakeholders. To do this, Ben recommends taking the following steps:
- Assign a champion to each team. Clari recently deployed sales enablement software to five of its teams. Since each one had a designated champion to assist users, Clari achieved a 94% adoption rate one week after training.
- Educate stakeholders on the value. People are more likely to adopt a new process if they understand how it will make their lives easier. Brainstorm ways stakeholders will benefit when you streamline your security questionnaire and RFP processes. For example:
- They won’t need to reinvent the wheel for each RFP
- They can find RFP content quickly and easily
- Since they will spend less time completing RFPs, they can spend more time on strategic initiatives or simply finish work on time
- Build training into each employee’s ramp-up period. New hires receive pre-recorded training sessions that walk them through the security questionnaire process and how to use the relevant technology. Ben also tests each employee on their knowledge to certify that they can perform each task correctly.
4. Start a Center of Excellence
Before Ben and Silvano partnered, Clari’s answers to security questionnaires were scattered all over the place.
They established a Center of Excellence that contains everything the Clari team needs to know when responding to security questionnaires. People throughout the company can go there for leadership, best practices, and standard operating procedures.
“The Center of Excellence has changed my entire career,” says Ben. “If I had stayed in my original role as a junior sales engineer, I would have been replaceable in a down-market.”
“But now, with the Center of Excellence, Clari’s executives think of Silvano and me when they think of security. They trust our partnership, as it has always delivered results. This has elevated my career so that I went from replaceable to irreplaceable.”
5. Measure your success
“You can’t improve what you don't measure,” says Ben.
Ben’s KPIs are related to improving sales efficiencies and the quality of Clari’s RFPs.
“We want to do things faster so that we can handle a large volume of security questionnaires,” says Ben. “But we also want the quality of our responses to improve over time.”
Staying focused on these KPIs has helped Ben make Clari’s security questionnaire process 7x faster, which shortened sales cycles from two weeks to just two days.
Ben recommends asking yourself the following questions to determine which KPIs matter the most:
- What do we want to achieve?
- How do we benefit our customers?
- How do we help our external stakeholders?
- How can we tighten our partnerships?
“Our KPIs are related to improving our sales efficiencies and the quality of our RFPs,” says Ben.
Streamlining your security questionnaire processes won’t just help you win business—it also boosts careers. Just take Ben, for example.
“I’ve had quite a few promotions at Clari, and speeding our security questionnaire response times has been a big part of this,” says Ben.