With a mission to unify information technology (IT) for its customers, Ivanti is streamlining infrastructure for more than 75 percent of the Fortune 100. But as the Salt Lake City-based software company was about to embark on a major acquisition, its leadership realized that it needed to be better prepared before doubling its size.
I spoke to Mark Chamberlain, vice president of global sales operations at Ivanti, about growth through acquisition, the importance of planning, and the process of embracing change.
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If you’re more of a reader, below you’ll find the transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity. You can find our other Workday Podcasts here.
Greg Thomas: Imagine you’re running finance for a rapidly growing company, working on an acquisition that would double the size of your organization. Everything’s going well but, at some point, the deal falls through. Stuff happens in business, but what if you felt a small sense of relief because, through the process, you realized you didn’t have all the right tools for success.
I’m Greg Thomas, and today on the Workday Podcast, we’re joined by Mark Chamberlain, vice president of global sales operations at Ivanti. He’ll share what he’s learned about growing through acquisitions, the importance of planning, and what it’s like to spend time on both the finance and sales sides of the house. Welcome, Mark.
Mark Chamberlain: Thank you very much, Greg.
Thomas: So glad you’re here. To start us off, tell listeners a little bit more about Ivanti and what you do there.
Chamberlain: Ivanti is a software company based in Salt Lake City. We sell software into corporations to help the IT organization manage the infrastructure securely and efficiently. I’ve been there for 10 years. For most of that time, I was in a vice president of finance role, responsible for traditional FP&A functions along with the financial activities related to M&A. Then, about two years ago, there was an opportunity to move over to run the Global Sales Operations team, and I’ve been doing that ever since. They are very different but, in a lot of ways, they’re the exact same.
Thomas: What’s the scope and size of Ivanti? How big of a business are you?
Chamberlain: Ivanti currently is about $450 million, 1,800 people, offices in 23 countries. Over the 10 years that I’ve been there, it’s grown from about $120 million to $450 million, with even faster growth on the EBITDA line. A lot of that growth has been through acquisitions, where we’ve either consolidated the market or done acquisitions in adjacent product spaces to expand our portfolio and our offering with the intent of offering a one-stop shop for IT organizations to manage their infrastructure.
Thomas: I know you were telling me that at the point at which you guys looked at bringing on a new planning solution, the company was a little bit smaller, a lot of stuff was going on. Walk us through that.
Chamberlain: Those were interesting days. It was me and two or three other people in the finance organization. We were doing the traditional thing and essentially running almost all our planning and reporting out of Excel, which is great. It’s super flexible. You can do all sorts of things with it, but when we started going down this acquisition path and the one that you referred to in your opening statement was the one that really frightened me. It scared me to death. It made me realize that there was just no possible way to scale the business doing what we were doing. There was just no way.
At the time, when budgeting cycles would roll around or we had to do a new forecast, we could do it, but it was a heavy lift—it was working until 2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. for a couple days, but it would get done. Then, all of a sudden when we’re staring at this massive acquisition, I realized there was just literally no possible way to move forward the way that we were doing things.
Thomas: That was somewhat of an “ah-ha” moment—that the way you were planning needed to change.
Thomas: Where’d you go from there?
Chamberlain: We looked at all the top vendors, including Adaptive Insights, certainly. We boiled it down to two or three top ones and what we found, what was really interesting, was that the technology seemed fairly similar. You did it in different ways, but you got it done more or less the same. The biggest difference that I noticed was the partnership and the relationship that we had established with the different vendors as we went through that process.
Some of them were more like, “Here it is. Take it or leave it.” Adaptive Insights was very much the opposite, where its team spent a lot of time trying to understand our business, not just as it was structured today but where I thought it was going, in particular our focus on mergers and acquisitions. Adaptive Insights brought a lot of best practices to the table as well. It wasn’t me just sitting down and saying, “Here’s what I need to do.” It was a very collaborative effort where the team said, “Hey, we do this for a living. This is what we’ve seen.”
That was really the trigger point that caused us to go to Adaptive Insights and five years later, here we are still. It’s been a really good relationship. I can’t emphasize enough how many times they’ve jumped in to help us out on a moment’s notice. It’s been a really good partnership.
Thomas: Let’s come back to the partnership in a minute. Let me back you up a little bit. Before you saw that you needed a change—we were talking before we started rolling tape—you guys were doing pretty well in Excel. It wasn’t maybe the world’s happiest rainbows and unicorns kind of situation but, as you put it to me before, you said, “It’s doing a good enough job.” What did you need to be able to do from a planning perspective, from looking at the business and partnering with the rest of the organization, that you just couldn’t do where you were?
Chamberlain: There were a lot of things. The way that we were doing planning at the time was in Excel Workbooks, and it had different tabs for people and non-people expenses. There were all sorts of assumptions and formulas built into the background. It worked. It worked fine, actually. We were running it all around the world. What you would find is, when you consolidated all those files back together, there’s a lot of smart people out there. They would find ways to manipulate the file, even though it was locked down, or change formulas or whatever. Not with bad intent, but just to reflect their business better.
When you consolidated all of that, you didn’t really know what you were looking at. You couldn’t be confident in the numbers. That was one thing. Another thing was this was also during a period of significant foreign exchange fluctuation. The CFO would come to me and say, “Hey, Mark, what if the British pound goes to this, or what if the euro goes to that? Can you push that all the way through the P&L, bookings, revenue, expenses, everything? I need to understand what the impact is on EBITDA.”
That’s all possible in Excel but the answer is always, “Yeah, I’ll get it to you tomorrow morning. Can you give me till noon?” Then literally I’d work sometimes all night to do that and make sure that everything was tying out, and these were things that were going to go to the board and everything—our budget and everybody’s bonuses and stock vesting—was going to be based on this. So you could do it, but it had a high dependency on people and, any time you have that, there’s a much higher error rate.
Thomas: You’re also asking people to put in extra time all the time. People are usually willing to put in that extra effort when they need to but, if you’re burning the candle at both ends, day in, day out, that’s a rough place for a team to be.
Chamberlain: Yeah, you can’t sprint a marathon.
Thomas: Let me come back to that partnership angle that you brought up. I think about cloud software in particular. It’s Software as a Service. You’re not buying a box and installing software. When you think about how you want to be able to work and what’s important to you, does partnership and that ongoing relationship play into your thought process?
Chamberlain: Yeah, that was critical. No disrespect intended here, but I think the process in the industry is moving toward functions like finance wanting to own its applications and not necessarily be dependent on the IT organization. Not that it’s not highly capable, but you just don’t like to be put in a queue. When you have something that needs to be done, it’s important to you. You don’t want it to be prioritized against other projects—you want it to be done.
That was one of the really important factors that we looked at when we were doing our evaluations. We needed something that would be powerful enough to do what we needed to do. We needed the front end to be simple enough that, not only could we use it in finance, but non-financial budget managers throughout the company could also use it. That partnership was important because when you start to go down that path, you are occasionally going to run into technical issues that I, as a financial professional, am not capable or competent to solve.
You do need to have a strong partnership with somebody that you can rely on to jump in and help you improve situations when they don’t work out the way that you want them to.
Thomas: You talked a little bit about involving other parts of the business in that planning process. How does that look today as you look across the company? I know you’ve switched roles, but have you been successful in devolving a bit of that planning responsibility out to those different lines of business?
Chamberlain: Absolutely. The thing I didn’t appreciate in the moment was that I was very hesitant to delegate certain tasks when we were using Excel, because it was just such a sensitive model. Things could break very easily, and when you’re using a planning tool, you can lock down assumptions. You can delegate without worrying that things are going to change. You know exactly what assumptions are being baked into the numbers that you’re looking at.
That was a very nice change in my lifestyle. And unexpected, quite frankly. I didn’t appreciate that at the time.
Thomas: I like the way you put it earlier. People don’t have bad intentions, but if there’s something that somebody can knock off the shelf, it’s probably accidentally going to get knocked off the shelf at some point.
Chamberlain: That’s right.
Thomas: Then you have to say how many dishes did we have up there before? That’s a huge benefit to not have to worry about those inadvertent, unexpected changes.
Then you switched roles. You’re on the Sales Ops side. I think you’ve now adopted a different methodology for doing sales planning as well. What does that look like?
Chamberlain: Yeah, we have. Adaptive Insights actually came out with a new module, midway or near the end of last year, for sales and quota planning. In our planning process, that’s really the front end. We have to understand the product road map. Then, after you understand the product road map, you have to assess what the sales team can sell. There’s a lot of variables that go into that. There are different productivity outputs that you’re going to get with a rep in one geography versus another geography, selling one product versus another product. They have very different cost structures. There are different assumptions in how quickly one type of rep can ramp to full productivity versus another one.
All of that was being done in Excel. It worked, but it just consumes all of your time and you don’t have a lot of time left over to analyze and understand and build a narrative around how best to structure the business. During the heat of the budgeting cycle, you’re turning your budgets a couple times a week. You need that ability to be really flexible. Again, Adaptive Insights has been super responsive. The team has come in with a lot of best practices, a lot of things.
In fact, probably one of the very best pieces of advice that I got from Adaptive Insights, after spending a bunch of time to understand our revenue model and our bookings model and our whole quarterly planning process, was when the team said, “Hey, Mark. Have you ever thought about simplifying your model?” I explained to them all the reasons why, yes, I thought about that but I couldn’t do that because you lose a lot of precision.
They just walked me through and helped me understand that you might lose a little bit of precision, but it’s probably not material in relation to the amount of effort that you’re putting in to get that. Sure enough, that turned out to be true and so we were able to simplify our models. I would probably say it’s 25 percent as complex as it used to be. Then, when you start to automate—
Thomas: That’s a lot.
Chamberlain: Yeah, it’s huge, huge productivity. It was wasted effort. It didn’t feel like it but, after we went through the process and we stepped back, we realized we were essentially getting the exact same answer in a fraction of the time. Then, when you take that simpler model and you automate it, then you have even greater productivity. The real benefit to this isn’t that we’re going home early every day, but you have time to now understand the business and figure out how to optimize it, whereas before, you were just trying to roll the numbers up and be able to report it.
Thomas: Sometimes what people really want is time back to think, to work on strategy, to plan. When you get rid of some of that menial work, that really helps with that. I want to shift gears here a little bit. You’ve had an interesting path. You were in finance. Now you’re in sales. I’m not sure which side of that fence is the dark side and which side is not.
Chamberlain: Depends on who you ask.
Thomas: Probably so, but that’s an interesting perspective. How do you think that having a foot at least at some point during your career in each of those camps, has informed your perspective?
Chamberlain: What you find in those two different disciplines is the same, I think, with what you find in life generally: that one side of the story is rarely complete. That’s true in life. It’s true in business. It’s true in sales and finance. Having that different perspective helps me step back when there’s conflict and be able to understand and appreciate both sides and really work through the issues in a way that you can find a solution that is acceptable to both sides. You have to appreciate where both sides are coming from in order to get to that spot.
Thomas: You can probably help your sales team understand the perspective of the finance person and vice versa.
Chamberlain: Yeah, absolutely. That’s it. The sales guys feel like the finance guys are trying to make it difficult to do business. The finance guys feel like the sales guys are trying to hide things from them. You have to have both sides understand that, no, here’s the perspective from the finance side and this is the way that we grow the business financially. This is the way that we continue to do acquisitions—by producing financial results. You help the finance guys understand that deals aren’t always structured the way that you think.
Thomas: As a leader of organizations, what have you taken away from that that informs the way you lead your team now and maybe coach even some of the folks who are still on that finance side of the fence?
Chamberlain: Yeah, and I still have significant involvement on the finance side as well. The way that I approach it, and strongly encourage my team to look at this as well, is you need to be transparent. You need to communicate openly, and you need to trust the other side. As you do that, you usually get to the same place that you would have anyway, but you get there a lot faster because there’s not as much discovery and digging by both parties trying to find out what the real intent is.
It’s a compounding effect because you build trust and then the next decision goes even faster.
Thomas: Yeah, our listeners can hear some of the background noise. We’re here at Workday Rising, and there’s been a lot of talk about culture and that notion of a high-trust environment and that, when people have that trust, it unlocks a lot of latent potential. People are willing to go the extra mile and that’s what you’re just describing.
Chamberlain: That’s right.
Thomas: What does your world look like today in the land of active planning? You’re still probably doing similar things, but maybe you’re spending your time differently. Maybe the relationships are different. Can you walk us through that?
Chamberlain: We’re spending our time on more strategic topics that move the business forward. There’s a lot less of the swinging pendulum where you try this, it didn’t work. You swing it all the way back and you tried that and it didn’t work.
Thomas: What you didn’t describe in there are some of the things that you might hear in another conversation about this. “We argued about the data. We argued about who had the right perspective.” You start from that position of believing the numbers. We believe the reality that we’re looking at and then you can move on from there.
Chamberlain: That’s right and that’s one thing that I did notice when I came over to the sales side. Even though we’re using Adaptive Insights throughout the company, there were still conversations happening on the sales side, which I didn’t appreciate when I was in finance. I was able to go in and say, “No, look. These are the numbers. We need to tie back to Adaptive Insights, because that goes back to our core ERP and everything ties back.”
If we think that the numbers are misrepresenting the business, then that’s a different conversation. We need to be able to explain why.
Thomas: When you look to the future, what are you most excited about in terms of what you see as the possibilities for your role, for the company overall, as you just embrace more and more of this way of thinking about the world?
Chamberlain: I love change, which sounds funny.
Thomas: You don’t hear that often.
Chamberlain: Yeah, which sounds funny because I’ve been with Ivanti for 10 years now. The change has happened within the company where we’re constantly doing acquisitions. That always gets me fired up. I always get excited about that, because it’s a new challenge. I see a lot of these planning technologies starting to come together. Things that were really frustrating in the past are becoming more systematized.
Just as one example, our CFO used to spend hours and hours every week just trying to reconcile head count. That was after the finance department made its best attempt. That kind of relationship with the data, that should be automated. What you see is the top industry players starting to move toward a consolidation, bringing those different data elements together. It’s exciting. It opens a whole new world for people in finance where they have more time to spend on more strategic opportunities.
Thomas: Let’s bring it home for the listeners. If someone’s listening and thinking, “I want to live in that world,” what advice would you give people in order to embrace this world?
Chamberlain: I would say, number one, acknowledge that it’s scary. Change can be scary. Moving from something that you’re comfortable with, in terms of reporting or analyzing or modeling or whatever, to a different system, is a scary thing. The reality is, after you make that leap, your life is going to be much better. You’re going to become a lot more strategic to the business.
The one piece of advice that I would offer is to choose your partner carefully. The technology is critical, but so is that partnership and their focus on the customer and really understanding your business.
Thomas: Good advice. That’s all the time we have for today. I want to thank Mark Chamberlain for visiting us at the Workday Podcast. I’m Greg Thomas. Thanks for listening. If you’ve liked what you heard, please subscribe. Thank you.