Sales Operations – What It Is, Why It Matters to Your Business & Best Practices

The evolving Sales Ops field covers a range of functions and responsibilities and aims at reducing friction in the sales process to enhance sales productivity, revenue, and profits. Earlier, the equation was simple, the more reps, the more sales. In today’s ever-evolving world of sales, it is no longer that simple. Therefore, Sales Ops has moved from the sidelines to center stage.

While sales reps focus on selling, Sales Operations can be rendered as effective as possible by processes such as data collection analysis, lead management, recruiting and training, process optimization, communication and reporting, and increasingly by sales and revenue strategies.

A Quick Introduction to Sales Operations

A lot has been written about what Sales Operations are, so we will just touch on the core principles.

Sales Operations (also called Selling Ops) eliminates inefficiencies in the sales cycle, making salespeople more efficient and effective. This department is responsible for a number of roles and responsibilities — anything and all that helps sales teams achieve accelerated and sustainable growth.

The Rising Importance of Sales Operations

The hot topic in today ‘s sales business circles is how to manage people, money, and automation. At its heart, these are the Sales Operations dilemma. The question is whether more reps, making more calls or increasing automation and investment in tech stack will win the day. It’s our belief that this is a false dichotomy but it is an issue that illustrates the growing importance of Sales Operations.

Sales Operations technology is evolving so rapidly that it can be challenging to keep up with the pace of change. Thousands of small technology providers are coming up with safer, quicker, and cheaper ways to conduct critical Sales Ops functions. This requires Sales Ops to stay on top of an ever-changing landscape and become an expert on emerging technologies and trends.

A crucial aspect of Sales Operations is the implementation of a plan that meets the goals of the company. Sales Operations professionals are charged with identifying a high-level vision for the sales organization and designing a plan that will be used to achieve these goals. While it can involve assessing and selecting the best technology, this job goes beyond the evaluation and tactical deployment of technology.

In addition, Sales Ops can contribute to the performance of the sales department by assuming the burden of administrative and operational tasks. In order to ensure that sales reps have the experience and expertise to succeed, Sales Ops should take the lead in recruiting, training, and knowledge development.

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Sales Enablement vs. Sales Ops: Understanding The Overlap

Several businesses have formed new sales enablement units in recent years to assist Sales Ops. The overall objective of both teams is the same: to increase sales efficiency and productivity and in turn to increase profits. In view of this overlap, it is important for the teams to be clear about their respective roles and the need to work together. Organizations shall specify the respective responsibilities differently, so confusion is understandable.

The sales enablement team often deals with salespeople more closely and contributes best at the early stages of sales growth. The sales enablement team also supports salespeople during the negotiation and closing stages. Here is how the responsibilities are often divided:

Sales Enablement

  • Process and product training of sales staff
  • Lightens the distribution process
  • Sales performance reporting
  • Communicating with Sales team
  • Helps to engage customers with tools and analysis

Sales Operations

  • Sales and account allocation planning
  • Proposal and contract management
  • Sales compensation and incentives
  • Projection and recording of revenue
  • Data and process management

 

Common Challenges for Sales Ops

Different internal and external factors may cause problems for Sales Ops. Here are some that frequently occur.

  • Continuously evolving market and technology environments without emphasis and clarification of mission and responsibilities can be hard to follow.
  • Unclear or changing priorities can lead to confusion in the functions and roles of Sales Operations. Nobody else can be confident if executives and administrators are uncertain.
  • New tasks, positions, and teams may be added simultaneously, and duties and responsibilities must be reorganized constantly.
  • Sales and marketing interaction require constant attention to maintaining the efficiency and division of function.
  • Unclear steps in the selling process or absence of any formal selling system make maximizing sales difficult and for the team to work efficiently.
  • It can be a struggle to find sales managers who can carry out both strategic and operational tasks.
  • Difficulties in coordination increase as teams, such as in the national or global enterprise, expand geographically.
  • The absence of sufficient technologies and advanced data skills may also hinder performance.
  • In challenging times, managers can treat Sales Operations as “cost centers”, which leads to less effective salespeople and reduced sales.
  • Outdated CRM and inaccurate customer data, for example, can hold back success. You need a reliable data partner to ensure data accuracy. 

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Sales Operations Best Practices

The Sales Operations team structure varies from business to business. While Sales Ops have become an integral part of the sales organization, there are variations in the structure, role, and implementation across businesses and industries. Smaller businesses may easily hire a professional market growth manager. On the other hand, a larger enterprise will prefer to set up a team of technical experts, product managers, and sales operation managers.

Whether you are an SMB or large enterprise, follow these best practices to ensure that your Sales Ops team runs smoothly and stays productive.

1. Determine Relevant KPIs

Fortunately, there is no lack of metrics and KPIs for tracking revenue. However, the challenge is to identify the other metrics that can have a direct impact on revenue. While Sales Ops managers track metrics such as total volume, selling cycles, and hit rate, they also dig deeper into the nitty-gritty details. The goal is to be able to accurately predict revenue, not just track it.

The sales team, for instance, knows their hit rate, but can they say at what point of the selling cycle the majority of deals are lost and why? The sales team will also know how well they performed in the past month, but do they know what revenue segment the most profitable customers come from?

Sales Ops come in here. They can provide a review of the entire selling process in order to provide answers to these questions. When the process has been mapped, it can then be optimized.

Pro Tip: Break down the metrics and test them thoroughly. Deep dive into the methods for tracking them and the team’s results to find the places where they excel and the places where they can be improved.

 

2. Identify Problems Before They Get Out of Hand

When you have a deeper understanding of your team’s performance, you will find trends that help you identify weaknesses and gaps. 

For instance, what is stopping sales reps from hitting their targets? A Sales Ops manager can tell that last week, not only did the conversion rate fall, but be able to analyze and tell you why it fell.

How?

Even more, since they have a comprehensive view of the entire selling cycle, expert Sales Ops managers will be able to predict trends early enough to avoid a conversion rate drop off or quickly address it when it does occur. 

Pro Tip: Say something if you see something. Communicate early and often and keep the communication two way. Your reps can be your most valuable source of intel but they will only feel enabled to speak up when you keep them in the loop.

3. Avoid Quick Fixes at the Expense of Optimizing Processes

Sales is a fast-paced world and problems are more prevalent than the time to repair them. Rushing and quick fixes ultimately lead to the failure of a good process and routine. Serious problem-solving degenerates rapidly into fast and dirty patches.

Chronic firefighting absorbs resources from Sales Ops. Identify a root cause and solution, rather than superficial temporary fixes. Long-term sustainable solutions eliminate the underlying problems that have the greatest impact on the success of the sales team as a whole and eliminate the need for subsequent quick fixes to address the underlying problem and even your previous fixes.

ProTip: Try to solve actual problems rather than make unsustainable easy solutions. Don’t let quick fixes take your focus from the foundations of the success of your sales team and their deals.

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4. Focus on Technology Evaluation

When Sales Operations doesn’t fully think through the operationalization and adoption of a tool it wastes time, budget, and creates distractions. More and more sales departments often add up the cost of all the tools that have been purchased for “productivity” and find they are spending too much on solutions that do not offer real returns.

 

5. Make Sure Your Data Is Accurate and Up-To-Date

Data is a major part of a Sales Ops role. Without precise, fresh, and accurate data, the work of Sales Ops becomes difficult. In many organizations, Sales Ops managers act as the administrator of different selling tools like CRM and B2B data portals.

You must ensure that everybody correctly uses these databases, and enters all the necessary information. Set specific guidelines and rules such that everyone in the company uses CRM in a similar manner.

Your CRM data decays at breakneck speed. New companies are launched, businesses shut down, and people change jobs. This makes your data unreliable. These data decay issues mean that it is vital for organizations to have an established data maintenance program and ideally a reliable source for accurate and up to date data.

If you have a B2B data partner, make sure that the data provider has a process to keep the data accurate and complete throughout the association.

If you can provide accurate and detailed data to your sales team, they can have a greater understanding of their prospects and improve their outreach efforts. Reliable data equips the sales team with the intelligence necessary to perform their jobs better and more effectively.

Wrapping Up

The reasons why you need to develop your Sales Ops unit are obvious. The days of simply adding more salespeople equalling more sales are over (to the degree they ever truly existed). By combining data, knowledge, and technology, Sales Operations are now vital pieces of all sales organizations – big or small. When you set up the Sales Ops functions well, you will see improvement in both efficiency and revenue.