In today’s business climate, where extended buying cycles reign supreme and scalability is coveted, Sales Ops are key to a successful sales organization. However, as it is a recent development of the sales arm, and its responsibilities are closely tied to both sales management and sales enablement, many of its functions remain hazy.
Let’s shed some light on the world of Sales Operations...
Sales operations have been around since the mid 1970’s, when XEROX developed the first Sales Ops team. The need developed when sales management could no longer juggle sales strategy, territory management, and data crunching with sales leadership.
Sales Ops emerged as a team of number crunchers who could remove those burdens from sales leaders, freeing them to focus on what they do best: Selling.
These days, sales operations roles vary from company to company, but their mission is still the same: Use data-driven insights to power business and enable sales teams to sell more efficiently.
The Role of The Sales Ops Team
An excellent metaphor for their role within a company was described by Enrico Nebbia, founder of Ekselia Partners, in an episode of the Outside Sales Talk podcast. He explains that selling is like motorcycle racing, in which sales leaders are the riders. No matter how great the rider is, if the motorcycle isn’t fast and nimble, they’ll never win.
Sales operations are the mechanics who provide the rider with the best possible motorcycle.
Sales Operations empower sales leaders by:
- Creating an optimized system for selling
- Streamlining the sales process
- Managing sales data to build effective strategy
- Creating market and pipeline forecasts
- Equipping teams with useful technology
- Enabling cross-team communication
Finding the right size and shape for a sales ops team can be a challenge for a firm. Much of it is determined by the workload a sales management team can take on. In the early days of a company, sales managers might be able to juggle sales ops duties with those of leadership. But that doesn’t scale. At some point, sales leaders need a sales operations team to share the workload.
It’s key to know what roles to add and when, based on your current and forecasted needs. If hiring a single sales ops role will make the existing sales team more effective, it is more valuable than a new sales rep.
Best Practices of Sales Operations
Now that their main roles are clear, let’s look at functions considered to be Best Practices for a Sales Operations unit.
Collaborate with Sales Leaders and Marketing
Sales Operations does not exist in a world by themselves. While they are a separate entity within the sales team, they need to collaborate with sales leaders and marketing to develop effective short term and long term strategies.
It’s their analysis that discovers issues within the sales process, like bottlenecks, poor agreement terms, missed opportunities, and churn risk, but it’s sales leaders’ job to implement changes.
Sales Operations also uses its insights to inform Marketing of what leads to conversions. They monitor prospects as they move through the marketing funnel, and work with Marketing heads to create strategies based on market forecasts and past conversion rates.
Working with leaders from both Marketing and Sales departments, they are able to align their respective funnels to be more effective.
In some companies, Sales Ops also creates and implements the actual sales process for the sales team. But it’s always best to combine their data-driven analysis with sales leaders’ field experience and market empathy. They should also shadow sales reps to better understand their daily experience and unique challenges.
Not only do these practices ensure strategies are grounded in reality, they allow Sales Ops to provide Guided Selling - the practice of coaching reps on specific skills, like when to follow up and with whom, as well as what selling methods to use.
When the sales and marketing funnels are aligned, strategies are more effective, sales processes are more efficient, and sales cycles move faster.
Implement CRM and Other Useful Tools
Sales Operations relies heavily on their data to provide qualified strategy and analysis.
The most useful tool to capture that data is a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software. These platforms hold all relevant data about customers, prospects, and their journey through the sales funnel. They document communications, preferences, and buying cycles. It is the most effective tool for revealing areas of weakness in the sales process, and their fixes.
Sales Ops should evaluate multiple CRM’s to determine which will be the best fit for their team. The right CRM is easily implemented, straightforward, and most importantly: widely used. Sales Ops must enforce its use for CRM data to be accurate and beneficial.
In addition to a CRM, sales operations should consider automation tools wherever possible. Any task that can be automated will give the team more time to focus on selling. Some of the most useful tools for a sales team are time management, prospecting, communication, and routing software.
As an example, Badger Maps is a highly useful tool for outside sales teams. It combines route planning, prospecting, and time management capabilities with CRM integration. The tool not only eliminates unnecessary admin work for reps, it streamlines the sales process, greatly improves CRM usage, and accelerates sales cycles.
Tools like this can have a profound effect on a company’s bottom line.
The most important thing when implementing any sales tool is to make sure it meets the team’s needs and will solve a problem. Unnecessary tools in a team’s stack cause clutter, and resulting inefficiency and frustration.
Sales Operations should be involved in all three of the following processes relating to new team members:
- Continued Training
Recruitment - Starting with recruitment, Sales Operations should have a hand in screening potential hires and selecting those who will have the greatest positive impact on the team.
Onboarding - Onboarding should involve adequate product and sales process training through a clearly defined process. New hires should get to know the company’s culture and values, co workers, managers, and customers. The onboarding process can take several months, but utilizing CRM data gives new hires pre-existing information which will accelerate the process.
Continued Training - A last, and often overlooked step, is the application of continued training. The sales process isn’t static. Sales teams need to adapt to the ever changing field as the process, product, and territories evolve. Review exercises on a products’ new features, or selling points to position above competitors are common examples of ongoing training.
Sales Operations should always be a step ahead of the change, anticipating problem areas, and finding room for growth. A sales team’s continued success depends on Sales Ops to accurately predict the changing tide.
Establish Common Practices within the Organization
Common practices ensure consistency throughout departments, territories, and branches of a firm. Sales Operations should take advantage of their perspective to establish common practices in:
- Sales Process Documentation
- Compensation and Incentives
Communication - There should be a defined channel for internal communication, as well as a clear process for outbound communication with prospects and customers. This applies to both the channel and frequency of outbound broadcasts, which can be screened by sales ops for quality control and consistency. Coaching and recommended scripts also promote consistency, and improve close rates.
Sales Process Documentation - Adherence to the sales process is important to maintaining an efficient sales cycle. Sales Operations can remove inconsistencies and track down issues by requiring documentation at every stage.
Compensation and Incentive Plans - Sales Operations can determine appropriate compensation and incentive plans to reward high achievers and inspire growth. Using quarterly rather than annual assessments are a great way to encourage positive sales behavior, and provide reps with timely feedback. To promote higher value long-term customers, sales ops can reduce incentives for new customer acquisitions, while offering kickbacks on future purchases from existing customers. Choosing the right compensation plan for any firm depends on the company’s unique features and needs.
Clearly Defined Vision of Labor
Due to the similarity between sales operations and sales enablement, it is crucial to outline a clear division of labor for the two departments.
Both teams should meet quarterly to eliminate redundancies and delegate responsibilities to have the greatest impact. In general, sales leaders should focus on reaching their quotas, so duties that fall outside of that umbrella should be tasked to Sales Operations.
In a similar vein, mission statements are a great way to align each department with a common goal. Every department should have a unique statement, but they should all be unified and supported by the same Go-to-Market strategy. Mission statements also provide a backbone for which all roles and responsibilities can be referred to.
When sales operations are implemented correctly, sales processes are streamlined, strategies are smarter, and sales cycles are faster. The result is profound business growth. According to Enrico Nebbia, Sales Ops can add as much as 10 - 15% to a business’s top line.
Use this as a guide to understanding the functions of a Sales Ops team, or implementing best practices for your existing team.