There are many moving parts in a successful sales organization.
If you know that you love strategizing to increase sales but don’t want to be an account executive, sales operations may be the right place for you.
What is Sales Operations?
Any customer-facing rep who’s worked at a midsize or enterprise company is familiar with sales operations.
Sales ops is responsible for supporting and enabling sales reps to sell efficiently and effectively. This includes everything from automating mundane tasks to lighten a rep’s workload to providing the overall strategic plan for the sales organization. Sales operations teams bring a system of selling and structure to a sales organization.
If you are considering a sales operations career, read on to learn more about what this team does, the skills required, and what a career path in sales ops looks like.
Why do we need Sales Operations?
In any sales organization, a sales rep has the primary relationship and responsibility to their customers. But a sales operations team will help with learning critical insights about a rep’s accounts, ensuring long-term customer success, and having a deep understanding of your customer base. With this in mind, sales ops set the metrics with which a sales org measures its success.
Here are a few sales operation metrics you might have seen before:
- Quota achievement
- Average win rate
- Average sales cycle duration
- Average deal size
- Lead response time
- Forecast accuracy
There are so many dependencies involved with any sales organization and this is especially the case with larger and more complex products and companies. In order to make everything work, the sales ops team handles all of the backend processes.
A career in sales, sales ops, or sales enablement?
Sales, sales ops and sales enablement teams all have the same goal. They want to increase revenue through effective sales strategies. But each team has very different roles in achieving this goal.
Account executives and SDRs are responsible for chasing the deal and consistently winning business each quarter. Salespeople are relationship builders. These teams focus on converting leads into customers by tailoring their pitches to address prospects’ specific needs.
Sales ops takes a high-level view of the sales organization. The focus is on things like reporting, territory management and later stage tasks such as contract negotiations and finance approvals.
Sales enablement is all about supporting the reps directly on the ground. These responsibilities include sales onboarding for new hires, ensuring that sales has customer-facing resources to fill the sales funnel, and providing training to reps on new company initiatives and product launches.
Developing your Sales Operations Skills
Sales operations is about analyzing data to make strategic decisions for the business. This can be categorized into four business objectives. A startup sales operations manager will handle all of these dimensions. A more mature company will have teams working on specific projects.
If you want to develop your sales operations skills to create new and impactful strategies, this is the team for you. Sales operations analysts and managers that work in this function focus on optimizing sales processes and ensuring sales technology and methodologies are a good fit. This team is responsible for high-level planning and goal setting with a focus on data analysis and sales forecasting.
If you’re a tech nerd and love learning about complex platforms and integrations, then this is the place for you. Projects you will work on include choosing and customizing a CRM system, integrating sales applications and tools, overseeing data management and reporting, and automating tasks away from the sales floor.
Want to lead the charge on educating your sales reps? The operations team function will be the right place to learn. Here, you can work on how to build out product and sales training requirements, managing knowledge bases, and developing rules and tools for contracts and other financial documents.
If you love seeing results and helping sales teams get paid, focusing on performance and sales incentives is up your alley. This function supports the implementation of sales methodologies and best practices. Here, you can use your sales operations skills to get into your reps’ heads by creating compensation and incentive plans. SPIFFs and accelerators are a fun way to encourage your sales teams and put money in their pockets.
Sales Operations Career Path
If the above functions sound interesting and you consider yourself a systems thinker, then sales operations is a great place to develop your analytical skills.
Let’s take a look at the roles available in a sales operations career path.
Sales Operations Analyst (or Specialist)
This is the entrance point for the sales operations career path, although some companies might start you as a sales operations representative if you have limited work experience. An analyst position requires around three years of experience in a sales operations role but for smaller businesses, that experience can come from other sales adjacent work.
For any role within sales operations, you must be able to work with different teams and conflicting priorities from product, marketing, engineering and, of course, sales. Problem-solving skills are also a must.
An analyst job posting usually includes these skills:
- Be a generalist – you will get exposure to a wide range of challenges, processes and data types that come together to a business run
- Be comfortable working within with sales and marketing databases—and with large sets of data.
- Be quick in addressing ad hoc requests and respond to cases from the sales team
- Be an operational thinker with strong analytical skills and an ability to communicate with business stakeholders
- Be the enforcer with sales reps about following rules and best practices
- Be a thought partner to your sales teams and their managers
- In the Bay area and other saturated job markets, you might even see the need for a bachelor’s or master’s degree as a preferred qualification.
- Knowledge of SQL is a big plus
Sr. Sales Operations Analyst
As a senior analyst, your purview will require a higher level understanding of the overall business and strategy goals and less of a focus on actioning tasks. Project management experience is a must here as your org rolls out process improvements and new tools. You will also be more involved with scaling the sales and operations teams.
A senior analyst job posting usually includes these skills:
- Ability to work with other departments that rely on your insights like finance, marketing, legal, deal desk and product.
- Larger companies require at least 5 years of prior experience in this field although these are not always set in stone
- Ability to work in Salesforce, Excel, Visio, Anaplan and other tools including familiarity with marketing software like Marketo.
- Communicating with sales leaders to design sales territories, identify and prioritize ideal customer accounts, and ensure that opportunity is balanced across territories and individual reps
- Be a team lead with a focus on coaching and mentoring
Sales Operations Manager
A sales operations manager will supervise a team of sales operations analysts. Leadership skills and sales ops knowledge are important for this role. A manager should understand sales processes and methodologies as well as how to drive the right sales behavior. This role upgrades you from a data specialist to a project and communication expert.
A manager job posting usually includes these skills:
- Business acumen – understand what it takes to increase sales and customer retention
- Pipeline management – detailed understanding of how the sales funnel and forecasting rules work
- Financial systems management – know how sales choices affect revenue goals
- Program management – juggle multiple projects at a time
- People management – ensure your team’s success within the broader company goals
- Partner with leadership to develop projects that really accelerate sales growth while improving processes
- Help drive annual planning and modeling projects with a focus on revenue and headcount
This role may not have structural guidance at smaller companies so a manager must be able to work autonomously in a results-driven environment.
Director of Sales Operations
For some organizations, this may be the senior-most person in the sales operation team. You will be managing managers and teaching them to lead their own teams. Likely, you will report into a VP of Sales or CRO. For more mature sales ops companies, you will report to a VP or Head of Sales Operations.
A director job posting usually includes these skills:
- Oversee the GTM strategy from infrastructure and automation to sales processes and regional performance
- Frequently develop and present information to senior executives
- Must have experience leading direct and project (matrixed) teams
- Possess a highly entrepreneurial mindset with little supervision
- You will also need to show a consistent track record of meeting and exceeding sales targets or other key KPIs at your past companies
- Enterprise companies require at least 10 years of related experience in strategy and operations for a sales organization
- Master’s degree in a related field like finance, mathematics, operations, or business is a plus.
VP of Sales Operations/Head of Sales Operations
The VP of Sales Operations (also sometimes called the Head of Sales Operations) is the ultimate job goal for an aspiring leader in sales operations. From here, some VPs may even set their sights on the Chief Revenue Officer title.
A VP job posting usually includes these skills:
- Prior success in leadership positions when managing a team of directors
- Develop complex operational and financial models
- Have superb presentation and communication skills
- Your professional experience should be specific to the company’s B2B or B2C sales environment
- Act as the chief advisor and go-to for the CRO
- Ownership of all sales business from lead to renewal
- Usage of statistical modeling to predict revenue and drive budgeting decisions
- Collaborate with HR and accounting when building sales compensation rules, procedures and policies
- If your company is growing and acquiring other businesses, you will be the one integrating the new product and teams into the established sales processes
- Master’s degree in a technical or financial field is often a requirement
- Run cross-company initiatives and build a performance-based culture
Accountability at this level is extremely important. While the sales org is the department that does the heavy lifting of securing revenue, the VP of sales ops is still directly tied to the achievement of sales, profit and other strategic objectives.
How to get started
If you want to change course and start your career in sales operations, you now know what skills you need to develop. If you’re not in ops, consider volunteering to join internal committees that help implement new software tools for the sales org. You’ll learn more about how to build sales processes and strategy while giving important input as a future user of the tool. If your experience is mostly with data and systems, find cross-functional projects that help you develop your soft skills.
And if you’re feeling like traditional sales is a better fit for you, learn more about how to build a career in sales from the ground up.