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Sales Operations Demystified: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How To Do It Right

Max Altschuler

January 3rd, 2018

sales operations principles planning

What is Sales Operations?

Sales operations refers to the unit, role, activities and processes within a sales organization that support, enable, and drive front line sales teams to sell better, faster, and more efficiently.

Through strategically implemented training, software tools and engagement techniques, sales ops leaders enable sales reps to focus more on selling in order to drive business results. 

But perhaps more than anything else, sales operations brings a system to selling. This often overlooked and sometimes under-appreciated department uses data to drive strategy, best practices to guide training, and technology to hack success.

Because of its broad scope and deep impact on both top line (productivity) and bottom line (efficiency) performance, the sales ops department has become a strategic and indispensable component of a mature sales organization, especially in the enterprise, SaaS and B2B space.  

What are the key functions of a sales operations group?

Sales Ops has expanded its role to include nearly all functions that provide strategic insight needed by a sales team to achieve sustainable growth.

The composition, hierarchy, and primary role of sales ops may differ across industries and even across similar businesses of diverse sizes, but many of today’s sales ops leaders perform a standard core set of functions.

Here’s everything we’ll cover in this guide.

Sales Ops: Table of Contents

Strategy

Sales ops originally functioned as a small team of number crunchers who executed financial analyses, reporting, and sales forecasting. As the volume of business information exploded, sales ops has evolved into a more powerful data analysis and reporting unit that can provide critical insight on the following areas:

  1. Sales Process Optimization
  2. Performance Metrics Analyses
  3. Formulation of Incentives Program
  4. Evaluation of Sales Team Training Needs
  5. Assessment and Adoption of Sales Methodologies
  6. Selection of Enablement Software and other Technology Tools
  7. Sales Territory Assignment and Growth Forecasting

Operations

Sales ops professionals assume administrative and operational tasks to allow hard-core sellers to focus and get better on what they do best: selling.

  1. Salesforce Recruitment, Onboarding and Training
  2. Implementation of Recommended Compensation and Incentives Program
  3. Allocation of Accounts and Sales Territories
  4. Maintenance of Communication and Collaboration Channels
  5. Contract Lifecycle Management

Process and Performance

Sales ops emerged to drive sales performance. To achieve that, sales operations people help streamline process to speed up the sales cycle and enable sellers to close more deals.

Understandably, this is where the number-crunching prowess of sales ops analysts has the most significant impact.

  1. Selection of Key Sales Metrics to Adopt
  2. Training & Development (Coaching and Mentoring)
  3. Optimization and Implementation of Sales Process
    • Workflows
    • Sales Activities
    • Lead Generation
    • Conversion Rates
  4. Implementation of Sales Frameworks, and Methodologies.
  5. Optimization of Sales Tools, Knowledge Base and other Assets
    • CRM
    • Automation
    • Data Analytics
    • Contract Management
    • Forms and Templates
    • Client Engagement & Outreach

Technology Adoption and Optimization

sales tools

Today, sales teams harness the power of big data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve performance and future proof profitability. But because tool complexity can distract sellers, sales ops should own the stack.

Here’s what Sales Ops leaders should own regarding the tech stack:

  1. Defragmentation & Integration of Technology Tools
  2. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Platform
  3. Business Intelligence Services
  4. Data Analytics Software
  5. Communication and Conferencing Tools
  6. Content Sharing and Management
  7. Contract Lifecycle Management
  8. Email Automation
  9. Performance Management Software

The Structure of an Agile Sales Operations Unit

Given the variance of organizational structures even among similarly scaled players in the same industry, pinning down the ideal structure for sales ops is nearly impossible. Even then, there are organizational models and structural templates you can build from.

Matt Cameron, managing partner at Sales Ops Central, wrote an excellent guide on how to build a sales ops unit for fast growing companies.

In the guide, Matt described the different stages — based on annual recurring revenue (ARR) — at which companies should hire its sales ops people.

Based on his matrix (see below), companies reeling in below one million dollars in ARR can hire a number of tech-savvy staff, analysts and administrators to:

  1. Manage the CRM.
  2. Generate, analyze and present reports.
  3. Manage compensation. 

Only when ARR consistently exceeds $1 million should the company hire a “Sales Effectiveness Manager” who will supervise talent on-boarding, training, and certification.

When ARR consistently exceeds $10 million, then a separate unit managed by a new Sales OpsDirector may be launched.

what is sales ops matrix table

In addition to the technical and sales enablement responsibilities, the newly formed Sales Ops unit will be responsible for the following tasks:

  1. Go-to-market strategy & planning
  2. Sales growth and operating plan
  3. Deals desk
  4. Territory design
  5. Compensation plan
  6. Forecasting
  7. Sales process enforcement

Sales Ops Manager vs Typical Sales Manager

project management collaboration

A sales ops unit aims to support sales managers not only to achieve targets but to optimize the talent pool (i.e., the sales floor) under their care.

To do this, a sales ops manager assumes many of the administrative and operational loads required to run a sales organization.

This frees up the sales manager to focus on leading sellers in meeting their quotas and making tactical decisions and strategic plans for long-term growth.     

Depending on organizational maturity, sales ops managers can assume leadership over the following processes/areas:

  1. Generate data-driven insight and forecasts for strategy planning
  2. Recruit, on board, and train sales staff
  3. Content and knowledge base management
  4. Customer contract life cycle management
  5. Implement compensation and incentives program
  6. Enforce processes, methodologies, and performance matrices
  7. Administer, synchronize and optimize technology stack including CRM

The Sales Operations Process


Among the key benefits of having a functional sales ops unit is the formulation, adoption and execution of an efficient sales process guiding the entire sales organization.

Established processes serve as templates and reference points salespeople return to when the road ahead turns hazy or a new challenge suddenly emerges.  

The gateway (i.e., demand) for sales ops in early-stage sales organizations may occur at different points in the sales process or in their structural and functional makeup.

For example, sales ops may emerge to assist the sales leader in handling:

  • Administrative tasks
  • Technical functions
  • Strategic responsibilities.

In many mature organizations, sales ops fully assume ownership of administrative and technical functions while lending sales leaders its analytical support where strategy formulations and other critical decision-making scenarios are concerned.

Here are some areas where sales ops deliver significant impact on process:   

  1. CRM administration and optimization
  2. Integration and synchronization of other tools in the technology stack
  3. Optimization and implementation of sales process
  4. Improvements in reporting workflow and accuracy
  5. Automations in selling/non-selling tasks
  6. Management of knowledge base and content assets
  7. Ownership of talent development and compensation

Common Sales Operations Metrics & KPIs

sales reporting process

Preferred metrics vary across teams and organizations. For sales ops, these key metrics provide insight not only on how to improve win rates but also on how the entire process can still be optimized.

The following (based on OpsPanda’s recommended list) are just a subset of all metrics commonly used by many sales operations units to evaluate past performance and to consistently improve organizational results in the long term:

Salesforce Quota Achievement Rate is the percentage of the sales team that have achieved 100% of quota during a given period.

Average Win Rate is the ratio of closed won deals over the total number of won and lost deals.

Average Sales Cycle Length is the average length of time it takes to close deals.  

Average Deal Size is the average value of deal sizes sellers are managing at any given point in the process.

Time Spent Selling Is the actual time sellers spend selling as compared to other tasks such as internal meetings, training, and administrative work.

Lead Response Time is the time it takes before leads respond positively to a pitch or call to action.

Weighted Pipeline Value is the estimated value of the pipeline at a given time in the process, used to make profit/loss forecasts.

Pipeline Efficiency measures how effective sellers are at managing their pipelines.  

Forecast Accuracy computes the rate of error of prior forecasts vs. actual results or performance.

Number of Prospect Meetings per Period is a measure of prospecting activity that compares the number of meetings individual sellers were able to set in a given period.

Sales Enablement vs Sales Operations

salesperson vs artificial intelligence

Sales operations and sales enablement are sometimes used interchangeably but they are not synonyms. They do coincide in several areas and share many goals. Both aim to significantly improve the performance of a sales organization.

Sales ops will focus on the entire organization and the structures, processes, human resources, and technologies that comprise it – meanwhile sales enablement will focus only on the efficiency and performance of sellers and the satisfaction and experience of customers.  

In this context, you may think of sales enablement (which historically emerged much later) as a subset of sales operations.

Many companies do in fact run sales enablement units under the umbrella of sales ops. But this is not always the case. Some run the two units as co-equal branches of the sales organization.

As a rule of thumb and where both are present, contemporary sales ops handle the operational side of selling (including territory planning, deal and account assignments, transactions management, compensation, and overall management of systems and technologies used by the organization).

On the other hand, sales enablement focuses on aspects that directly impact the performance of sellers (including staff training, sales communication, customer engagement tools, and process efficiencies).   

Sales Operations Best Practices

The sales ops unit is an entity that emerged to bring system, science, and best practices into the the world of selling.

However, while sales ops has become an integral part of the sales organization, variations in terms of structure, role, and implementation exist across businesses and industries such that one way of running a sales ops team may perfectly fit one company but not another.

Corporate culture, scale, target markets, and sales maturity are just some of the factors that shape the ideal sales ops structure for each organization.       

SAVO Group published a comprehensive report on best practices for sales operations in mature enterprises. Some of its salient points include:

Key Insight #1 – Sales ops and sales leaders should collaborate on strategy formulation by forging short-term and long-term game plans based on sales leaders’ field experience, market empathy, and domain experience combined with the sales ops unit’s data-driven insight. Sales ops can provide the following key inputs into the mix:

  • Higher predictability of performance and results
  • Identification and implementation of Key Performance Metrics (KPI)
  • Analysis of territory allocation and account assignment plan.
  • Evaluation of sales processes, and salesforce structure
  • Formulation of sustainable compensation plan
  • Assessment of go-to-market strategies and methodologies

Key Insight #2 – Sales ops can nurture talent and enable salespeople to deliver more value when it comes to achieving the overall sales strategy. On this front, sales ops can take ownership of the following processes:

  • Recruitment and onboarding
  • Product training
  • Sales methodology
  • Market training

Key Insight #3 – Sales ops can drive sales team team efficiency and motivation. They can do so by managing the following functions:

  • Internal communications
  • Review of external, customer-facing communications prior to broadcast/transmission
  • Process improvements
  • Automation for routine, non-core tasks
  • Administration of CRM and other tools

Key Insight #4 – Sales ops can work with marketing to fine-tune brand messaging and content. Because sales ops hold a trove of clients’ behavioral data, they can collaborate with marketing peers on:

  • Funnel structure development
  • Content development

Also published on Medium.

About the author

Max Altschuler

Max Altschuler is the founder and CEO of Sales Hacker, the leading community for the next generation of sales professionals. He’s the author of Hacking Sales: The Playbook for Building a High Velocity Sales Machine. Max has been published by the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Money, and more. He was named a top sales expert by both Salesforce and Inc, and keynotes conferences globally. He is also an avid investor and advisor for rapid growth startups.

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