#TextGen Episode 7 Interview with Cliff Simon

James Martin
#TextGen Episode 7 Interview with Cliff Simon


In this episode, Cliff Simon with the Carabiner Group joins us to share what he's learned helping nonprofits implement Salesforce and processes that reduce costs, saves time, and drives growth.  Cliff has worked in various RevOps roles with organizations of all sizes and has lots to share.

You can connect with Cliff in the TextGen group or on LinkedIn here


#TextGen Podcast

James (00:10):

Hey, there. This is James, your host to #TextGen. Today.I'm going to invite a special guest named Cliff Simon from Carabiner Group to join us for a discussion on RevOps. Now, if you're not familiar with the termRevOps, basically, what that means is it's all operations kind of forward facing the revenue via sales or marketing, 0really popular right now with companies, particularly subscription-based or SaaS companies to de-silo marketing and sales, and have maybe a CRO or a RevOps leader lead or be charged for revenues so that all revenue systems and people and teams are moving in the same direction, looking at the analytics of really de-siloing, if you would, sales and marketing. Cliff and I are part of a RevOps community together. We both work in that space. We both love and serve non-profits. When I was just talking with cliff about his role at Carabiner Group, the non-profits he's working with implementing Salesforce, some of his work there, I thought it would be a great guest to have for you today on #TextGen. Let's get started with Cliff Simon with Carabiner Group. I hope you enjoy today's episode.

James (01:21):

Hey, welcome back to #TextGen. This is your host, James, and I'm excited today to introduce you to Cliff Simon. Cliff, how are you, sir?

Cliff (01:28):

I'm doing well, James. Thanks for having me on your program.

James (01:31):

You bet. I'm glad to have you here. Hey, listen, you and I were talking recently and you were talking about your role with the CarabinerGroup, helping non-profits implement Salesforce the right way. We talked about some of the pitfalls and some of the things that we should consider, I think, with any CRM, particularly with Salesforce, right?

Cliff (01:50):


James (01:50):

So I thought, ''Hey, there's an idea. Let's bring Cliff on and ask him some questions about Salesforce.'' So here we are.

Cliff (01:57):

Yeah. So what do you want to ask me? [Laughter]

James (01:58):

So Cliff, you know what, I have a lot of questions for you. Before I get there, why don't you tell the audience a little bit about who you are, your background, and what led you to doing the work that you do today?

Cliff (02:08):

Yeah, sure. My name's Cliff. I am the VP of sales and revenue at Carabiner Group. We are a hyper-growth Salesforce consultancy startup. Try saying that five times fast.

James (02:18):

Yeah. High growth sales consultancy startup.

Cliff (02:18):


James (02:18):

Did I say [it] right?

Cliff (02:22):

No. [Laughter]. But we're an eight-month old company born out of the pandemic remote first. My role here is development and sales. I also handle content marketing, operations, do some of the finance and I also manage our partnerships channels. So a couple of things. Basically, everything in the company that's not the actual consultants doing the work.

James (02:48):

Got it. Okay.

Cliff (02:48):

As far as my background, I spent the last 10 years in B2B sales, both in the mid-market and enterprise segments, spent the last seven years in SaaS, and the last three and a half in FinTech. It's been a really fun journey getting to see how things work. I've been in a management role before and in that particular instance, I was doing a lot of the RevOps kind of function. It's something I have a passion for. I like process improvement. I'm very process oriented. I think my sales team appreciates that a bit, even though there's lots of reports and dashboards.

Cliff (03:24):

As far as my background itself, when it comes to the passion for nonprofits, I really involved my church from a young age and just saw the benefit of serving and being able to give back into the community and to others. That's something that was really pushed into me from a young age. I think it's great. I did some of the volunteer work when I was younger in the missions trips whether that's domestic or abroad. I feel like in most of the situations, I got a lot more out of it than I actually ended up getting, which is crazy.

James (03:54):

Yeah. I always have...

Cliff (03:54):

It seems to be the way that it works that way, right?

James (04:01):

Yeah, yeah.

Cliff (04:01):

But as a company, we actually have a non-profit that we sponsor. My my boss, our managing director, has his own non-profit that he sits on the board of called Michael's Way. They work with children who are the victims of domestic violence in the bay area.

James (04:16):


Cliff (04:16):

We do a decent amount of work with non-profits at a discounted rate to be able to offer them efficiencies in the way that they're operating from Salesforce.

James (04:25):

Yeah. Cliff, I love it. A couple of things that you said,I just want to make sure our audience kind of unpacks, as you said, RevOps.Let's get a working definition of RevOps. When I say RevOps, what do I mean?

Cliff (04:35):

So RevOps, I guess, might be a slightly newer term for a lot of folks out there. Typically you might think that as operations, sales operations, marketing operations, customer success operations, where the SaaS -the software and the service world has really taken that - is that anything that touches revenue from a business standpoint and operations are being funneled together so that all of those things are becoming aligned. It's allowing for better business continuity and a merging of the resources that you're able to do more with the tech stack and the personnel that you actually already have.

James (05:12):

Got it, okay. It's all things focused on revenue operations. So that could be sales, marketing. I know in the past, a lot of this had been pretty siloed, right. And I know we're talking about non-profits here, but that would be like donor development, marketing, communications events, philanthropy.

Cliff (05:27):

Exactly. All of that, in the past, was typically siloed into separate people. They were not communicating. They weren't able to share that data back and forth. Now, because you're utilizing tools that can give you that capability, pushing all of that together so you can figure out, ''Hey, ifI have this donor on my list, how can I get that person to come and support another part of my particular foundation'', or where else can they get?Typically, people are very interested in being involved deeply with the organizations that they partner with. By offering that data to the entire subset within the organization, you're usually able to see better gains from a monetary standpoint or from a service standpoint, people being involved.

James (06:12):

Yeah. You know, it is amazing if you're thinking about it,Cliff, when you removed the silos between communications and just marketing and donor development or, in this case, sales and marketing, it's amazing how much clarity you have with that data, yeah? You get a lot more insights, it would seem, as to what's actually working when you complete that loop. Do you find that to be true?

Cliff (06:33):

A hundred percent. When you're only looking at part of a picture, you'll never know what's actually going on. It's like the old story or analogy rather. You have three different guys trying to kill an elephant and each one of them describes a different part of it so differently but they're only seeing a piece of the whole. When you're able to take all of that data together and then look at it from those multiple angles holistically, you're able to get a really good understanding of where you are. It helps from a forecasting perspective, a budgeting perspective, and lets you know where your weak points actually are as opposed to where you think they might be.

James (07:07):

Yeah. Now you mentioned that some of this is fairly newer way of thinking, and you also said software as a service or SaaS. Why do you think technology companies, subscription-based companies like SaaS companies, are really focused on revenue ops? What do you feel like works for them? Then, let's draw a parallel to the non-profit world.

Cliff (07:24):

Yeah. I think the reason that they're pushing so aggressively the RevOps, that unification space, is because they're trying todo more with less. There is a bigger demand from investors and venture capitalists to make sure that they're getting the most out of their investment.Most of these companies, from a founder standpoint, have really tight or very strict definitions as far as what success looks like so that they don't lose more equity. So usually, year over year, doubling, right? A hundred percent growth is required. If you don't hit that mark, you're probably getting up another five to 10% of your company. So if they can invest those resources lessons into the operation side of it by enabling them to do more with what they currently have by opening up those lines of communications, maybe they can focus more on creating a better product, or more on selling, or more on marketing to actually drive leads or drive revenue.

James (08:19):

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense to me from a SaaS perspective. That's just something that...

Cliff (08:22):

So on the non-profit side, especially that we work with a lot of universities right now, in that space they're having huge contraction when it comes to events, but the place that they're seeing big growth is around advocacy with their donor base, so that these donors are very responsive and understanding of the fact that there's not this big revenue influx that these universities typically see both now you have people from different departments who typically own their donor, sharing it with the rest of the university. And they're able to actualize more funds because that donor's like, ''Oh, well, if you..." They might be an arts person, right, and they're donating to the art program at the college. But now that they realize that there's a need maybe within the English department, or within the music department, and they were going more into sculpture. We're seeing that kind of advancement where just by sharing a couple of those data points and reaching out to that donor and letting them know what's actually happening within the university, they're very responsive and very empathetic.

James (09:30):

Empathetic, yeah.

Cliff (09:31):

To the needs because they're now bringing in money from events.

James (09:35):

Yeah, got it. Yeah. I think that's brilliant. I know we're just working on a blog post now at Rally about the power of re-occurring giving and what non-profits can learn about the subscription model, especially when it comes to laying a base of consistent donations kind of normalizing your revenue, so to speak, right?

Cliff (09:52):


James (09:52):

And a big part of that is to build systems. It sounds like in de-silo - kind of using that term a lot - but break down the silos between departments so that they work at one cohesive unit. And they're all focused on revenue top line , right? Growth, whatever that looks like. The other thing you mentioned, Cliff, that I want to just make sure our listeners hit on is you aid something about dashboards. I know a lot of times we throw around like KPI or key performance indicators, but what kind of dashboards are you seeing? Let me ask you this question, how are dashboards fitting into this conversation of working in a cohesive unit?

Cliff (10:27):

So typically, again, those things, in the past, would be designated for individual contributors or like a manager, but none of that was really being shared outside of the organization or within other parts of the organization. Me, being an executive, was being able to look at that. But now what's happening more and more is people are tying in the efforts of marketing.So the folks on the frontlines of trying to drive that Lead Gen. to what they're actually bringing in from a dollar perspective. So no longer is it just about how many people they're touching, but what does that actually looking like from a revenue perspective and what are they actually bringing in? How are they earning their paycheck, right?

James (11:08):

Got it.

Cliff (11:08):

Same kind of thing on the non-profit side. How can we tie the efforts of our admissions team to actual bodies and seats? Or how are we able to take a look at the folks that are managing our alumni base to active revenue dollars that are coming back to the back to the institution?

James (11:26):

Got it, okay. So it's really identifying, what's working so you can do more of what's working. Or may not even be what, but who's working, and then drill in to say, ''Hey, Cliff, when we put him on a campaign or a program, he's performing really, really well.'' And we know that because we've defined success or measuring inside. Is that what I'm hearing you say?

Cliff (11:45):

I think that's really important, but I think the part that's even more important than that is understanding what's not working. When you can figure out the things that are your actual pitfalls, the things that are the time suck that are pulling resources away, it allows you to focus on things that are being beneficial for the business or for, in this case, anon-profit.

James (12:05):

Yeah. I know it doesn't always hold a hundred percent true, but it seems to me that 80% of our income comes from 20% of our efforts.If we can find where we're getting waste and put -- maybe the analogy is putting more gas in the right engine, right? [Laugher].

Cliff (12:16):

Yeah, yeah.

James (12:16):

So I don't know. Break it down here. But you get the idea.How do we drive more towards that 20% to drive significant growth? Is that right?

Cliff (12:27):

That's a hundred percent correct.

Cliff (12:29):

So you talked a little bit about your experience with churches and some missions and work there, but I'd love to learn a little bit more about the man named Cliff and your background. Where'd you grow up and tell us about you personally.

Cliff (12:43):

Sure. I'm originally regionally from the Netherlands. I was born in Amsterdam. We moved to the states when I was about three, grew up in New Jersey. I've been involved in life here in New Jersey ever since I did a little stint away for college. I love soccer, I love hockey. What else I'd tell you? I'm married. My wife and I have a little one-year-old boy. We've got a little girl on the way in August.

James (13:07):

Nice. Congrats.

Cliff (13:07):

Yeah. We bought a house just last year, so we're incredibly blessed. Yeah, life is good.

James (13:16):

I love it. Cliff, and you've worked with these organizations, like your churches, and different roles, what have you seen them do well - like, really, really well - when it comes to either member engagement, community engagement? What's worked really well for you, from your observations?

Cliff (13:32):

Yeah. I I've seen a couple of different things, both occupationally and just in my personal life. I'm in a very small church right now. The church I was at prior to this was far larger, and the one before that, even bigger than that. It's very interesting to see the different level of dynamics when you have a ton of resources and they're being executed well, versus people who are having large member base that don't necessarily have all the resources but they're trying to get there, versus a team of small folks who are just bootstrapping it because they're trying to be as thrifty as possible because they're small, right? You'll never know. One family leaving or two families leaving could have a huge effect on the bottom line for the year. WhatI've noticed a lot with churches is typically that obstacle is very difficult to fill. It takes someone of a professional nature to really do it. You can just make so much more money in the private sector, right?

James (14:33):


Cliff (14:33):

The folks that we bring onboard, on average, theSalesforce administrator, makes $92,000 a year. You're not going to get that working at your local non-profit. It's hard to always find good, solid talent that's going to be there that can lead the charge from a strategic and operational standpoint. I think that's one of the hardest things. There's always good people that have the big hearts that are trying to do the right thing. What I've noticed is that they're most successful when they're implementing something that's been proven, when they have executive sponsorship to get that done, and they're getting buy-in from everyone throughout the organization. Whether that's employees, whether that is the executive team or the actual members within a church or within a non-profit, right? Making sure that all the cohesive pieces are pulling together in the same direction, and following that makes such a big difference.

James (15:33):

Yeah. Cliff, that's absolutely right. As you know, I do some fractional work, which is a code for part-time kind of service with nonprofits to just help them get systems set up. What we like to do is connect people with organizations that they believe in that they want to serve in either a volunteer capacity or a part-time capacity, or in a consultant role -it sounds like some of the work that you're doing - so they can really get that expertise, because I think what our listeners, if I could get one thing through to the organizations that I'm even involved with, is that you really can invest in these things and see results if you're clear on what success looks like and you're laying down those dashboards and those systems. But you bringing in expertise will get you there a lot, lot faster. Bringing in someone that really can help you get there. Would you agree with that? What do you see on that front?

Cliff (16:24):

I think having that directional guidance is super important. The other piece of it is, a lot of the times while I've seen this happen, time and time again, is people come in, they've got really good passion, they're trying to get something done, and they make a gut buy or they're not necessarily thinking about how everything works together. And now you got to spend in areas where it's being either redundant or it's not being utilized effectively enough, where that's been really could have been utilized better elsewhere, especially at a non-profit where funds are typically tight and you have to do as much as you can with very little. So making sure that you have the tools that can really empower you to go as far as you can with that dollar are so important. So having somebody that seen it and done it before, as opposed to trying to go it on your own, just totally lends itself to better results.

James (17:26):

Yeah. No, I hear that. Yeah. I always tell people, ''Look, you can take the next 25, 30 years and figure it out on your own - read, I don't know, 300, 400 books and take these classes, and I'll send you the list of books and the courses or docs - or you can hire someone that has done it before. They can really walk you down that path and save you a whole lot of heartache and trouble, provided they're clear on what success looks like, they're on their stated objective and goals, and that you've agreed to the outcome and they're being measured and accountable to that outcome.'' They have to be accountable, period.

Cliff (17:55):

That's the hard thing, right? In my role, which isSalesforce consulting, there's just such a lot of work, right? Salesforce went being a $3 billion company to a $17 billion company in three years, consultants come and go. They just give you a very tight SOW. They do the SOW to the letter, and don't really care about customization or helping you out, and they're gone and they take your money. I think that's where we, and other consultancies that picked up the mantle and said, ''No, we want to partner with people for the long-term and offer accountability, offer the ability to learn your business, or to learn your instinct, and what you're about, what your ethos is to actually build something out that matters that pertains to you.

James (18:36):

Yeah. Makes sense.

Cliff (18:36):

I just wish more people would do this as that way.

James (18:42):

Yeah. I love it. That's absolutely right, 100%. When you think about Salesforce and how others are using it - we talked about the consultants and the need for expertise - but what are some of the ways that you see them using it in a more creative way? How are some things that you see recently that you're like, ''Hey, these are some instances of it being used the right way?

Cliff (19:00):

Yeah. We're actually doing a really large non-profit rollout at the moment. It's the second largest collegiate athletic association in the country. But I think we're doing it for about 60 users. We're doing anon-profit service pack for them. Next, we are building out a community cloud for 1100 users. This is going to be utilized by over 520 universities and colleges where they're going to be passing back and forth athletic information from coaches and athletic directors, and it's going to save them a lot of headaches. Right now, they've got a really manual process. This is something that, I think, a lot of non-profits deal with, where they're taking in all of this information. Maybe it's coming in via email, maybe it's coming in via paper, but there's no way for them to accurately deal with all of them. It's very manual. They have to put it into the system instead or sending out forms and collecting all this information, tying it back into Salesforce. Then anytime a form needs to go out, it's automatically being generated through Salesforce.So, instead of having to collate PDFs and that sort of thing, you can click a couple buttons, merge them all together, send it out the door. Any signatures on that form are all legal binding, we have a full audit trail, holds up in court kind of thing. I think trying to find those manual processes where we can then take it and drive those specific efficiencies.

James (20:24):

Good. Okay. Awesome. That's a large scale, but on a smaller scale, will you find also -- obviously, no matter what size there's probably inefficiencies, right? But how do we tie those inefficiencies back to generating more revenue, more, more more donations? Obviously, fund the work that we're doing. What are some ways that you're seeing them take those efficiencies and drive more to the top line?

Cliff (20:47):

Yeah. In that exact kind of instance, right, typically it takes a lot of time to manually put those packets together. Now, you're saying the more faster and the more you get out there, the more you're seeing them come back and return. On the other side, it's trying to drive efficiencies for the people that are actually working within the CRM. If they're spending less time in there, and it's a more linear process, it's easier to onboard your volunteers to get them to do the work in there. It take them less time to learn it and do it. So you're gaining just by gaining time. You can't get more time.The more time that they're spending in front of folks talking, the more time that they're on the phone with donors, the more likely they are to bring in more dollars.

James (21:31):

Yeah. It sounds like it's time efficiency. And then what you said earlier, it's about knowing what's working and what's not working, right? The more data and one cohesive system you have. That's a big of a challenge with any organization, but non-profit is specifically plagued with it. We have all this data, but we have no insights. It's hard to know where to start, but to start with just really understanding your process and your funnel, your revenue operations, so to speak, you can begin to then, as you said earlier, identify what's not working and then drive more money to either fix it or focus on what is working, is that right?

Cliff (22:04):

Exactly. Dashboards are a great place to do that, as we've mentioned before. Very visual. My rule of thumb with the dashboard is, if I'm looking at it and I can't derive some type of new learning within 15 to 20seconds, it's not worth it.

James (22:17):

Got it, okay.

Cliff (22:17):

It has to be effective. It has to give me an idea of an action that I can take immediately and walk away with something. So that's what we do.

James (22:27):

Yeah. Inside in 15 to 20 seconds, you said, and then something that's actionable that I can actually do something. Coming to the dashboard with an expectation of what you want to walk away with it. Is that right?

Cliff (22:39):


James (22:41):

Okay, perfect. I love it. Cliff, all these installations you've done and the work you've done, where do you feel like organizations - we talked about what's working and what's not working. Where can we see some improvements?

Cliff (22:50):

I think I need to keep harping on the same thing, but manual processes are the biggest time suck. It's the area where you can put the least amount of money and get the biggest return on investment. When we do the same thing with our financial services clients, we're seeing efficiencies increase anywhere from 75 to 90%.

James (23:09):


Cliff (23:10):

And yeah, we work with some legal clinics and on the nonprofit side again. Again, just being able to offer them a way to be able to pass documents back and forth between them and their clients, getting NDAs in place or whatever legal things need to be done from from the settlements or divorce cases, what have you. Being able to walk through that very quickly allows that legal person who's donating their time, that always donate their time, to get through the cases and actually get to the meat of it with that allotted time, and then talk to the defendant or talk to the person that they're working with and doing their their time, as opposed to spending all of the time trying to go through documentation together.

James (23:50):

Yeah. Makes sense. It seems like they're a lot more effective and they're a lot less frustrated and, in the end, a better experience for being involved.

Cliff (23:56):

Yeah.That's the idea, right? Because, ultimately, you're trying to setup the client.

James (24:02):

Cool. Cliff, you know, my favorite question - we're going to wrap up here in a minute - but one of my favorite questions of all times is, what do you wish somebody would have taught you when you were younger? It could pertain to the conversations we're having, or it could be something completely out of left field. What do you feel, like, if somebody had said, ''Hey, Cliff, as you're starting your career, consider this.'' Not so sure younger Cliff would have listened to the older Cliff, but what would you have said anyway?

Cliff (24:25):

Wake up 20 minutes earlier.

James (24:27):

[Laughter] I love it, 20 minutes earlier. Why is that?

Cliff (24:29):

Younger Cliff was habitually 10 to 15 minutes late for work.

James (24:37):

Okay. So be on time.

Cliff (24:37):

Even though I did great work, it probably left a bad taste in some folks' mouths over the years.

James (24:41):

I love it.

Cliff (24:41):

That would be My number one thing. My wife would agree.

James (24:48):

Yeah. I totally appreciate that, Cliff. I think what that leads itself too is a question of -- and if I were coaching Cliff, I'd say,''Cliff, what do you want out of your day? What do you want out of your life, and how do you get there?'' Right? ''What's the one thing you can change tomorrow morning that would set you up for a success that would be different than what you did this morning?'' And it sounds like waking up earlier is a great word. I love it. I'm going to write that.

Cliff (25:10):

Still working on it. [Laughter]

James (25:14):

Still working on it. That's right. We've never arrived that way. [Laughter] That's great.

Cliff (25:18):

No. Not this.

James (25:20):

Cliff, Carabiner group. I know we're connected onLinkedIn. I know you're part of the #TextGen community, but what else can we do to get in touch with you and how does one take a conversation with you further,Cliff?

Cliff (25:32):

Yeah. You can reach out to me at cliff@carabinergroup.com.Our website is carabinergroup.com. I'm on LinkedIn. I'm on Slack, on a bunch of different channels. Cliff Simon on Instagram, it's a business account as well.

James (25:47):

I was going to say Cliff Simon with two F's, right? Is that right? Cliff Simon?

Cliff (25:51):

That's correct. Yeah.

James (25:51):

On LinkedIn? And then, of course, if you're part of #TextGen you can find him there. So just swing by rallycorp.com/textgen - and then fill out the form and you'll drop into the group and you'll find Cliff there. Easy enough.

Cliff (26:07):

Awesome. Thank you.

James (26:09):

All right. Hey, Cliff, any closing thoughts as we wrap things up?

Cliff (26:14):

Not too many. Just keep your data clean. I think it's difficult to do anything well when you got dirty data, and invest in your people. Just treat them well.

James (26:25):

I love it. Keep the people clean and [laughter] -- keep the people clean? That's funny. Keep the data clean and invest in your people. You know what, you out to clean your people, right?

Cliff (26:34):

Tonight's bath night, so my son will be nice and clean.

James (26:36):

Yeah. I think you're 20 minutes earlier, so then maybe we can pay attention and get what you just said, right? [Laughter].

Cliff (26:40):

[Laughter] Awesome.

James (26:45):

All right, Cliff. Hey, I appreciate you my friend. Thanks again.

Cliff (26:46):

Bye bye. Thanks so much. Bye.

James (26:51):

Well, that's a wrap. Thanks again for your time today,Cliff, and joining us for #TextGen. Now, I hope you got something out of this session together. If nothing else, just the thought of really implementing processes and systems that can help you scale. And then look at revenue operations as a way to potentially de-silo, your different groups, be it major donors, re-occurring giving, development programs, marketing communications, anything that's really forward-facing into your donor base, into your marketing communications, and development role. So that is a wrap here today on #TextGen.We look forward to seeing you next time. Thank you again for listening, and we wish you the very best and brightest in the upcoming week. Have a fantastic day.


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