Sales operations establishes systems, strategies, and communication tools to support and streamline the sales team. Can you afford to work without one? [Stockwerk-Fotodesign / Adobe Stock]
If you're running a successful B2B company, your sales operations (sales ops) crew is likely the unsung hero of your sales process. Business leaders sometimes make the mistake of seeing sales operations (increasingly known as revenue operations) as a cost instead of a potential revenue driver. But companies in the know, like Snowflake and McAfee, know sales ops helps everyone do their job better. In fact, according to our State of Sales report, 89% of sales professionals said sales ops plays an indispensable role in growing the business.
As a senior principal with TwentyPine, a recruiting firm that specializes in placing qualified candidates in revenue operations roles, I've worked with companies of all sizes. About 80% of the time, the sales ops person I place is the first in the role at the company. The position's landscape is expanding and changing year-over-year as more companies realize the tangible benefits of a built-out sales ops function.
What is Sales Operations (Sales Ops)?
The driving organizational force behind a sales team, sales operations/sales ops establishes systems, strategies, and communication methods to ensure the entire sales process is executed effectively. It helps sales reps focus on what they do best: selling.
If your company doesn't have a sales ops team already, these are the four reasons why you should invest in one right now.
1. Sales operations teams free up time and energy
The stronger your sales op team, the more efficient and productive your sales team will be. Sales ops people analyze and streamline your internal processes so sales teams aren't as distracted or bogged down. "I want salespeople to have their feet on the street selling," said Lauren Hughes, the head of Sales Operations and Strategy at Attentive, a mobile messaging platform. "I want salespeople to be client-facing, focused on selling solutions. Let me handle everything internally so they can focus externally."
If your sales teams spend precious hours manually entering customer data, for example, a sales ops professional would research ways to automate that task. The end result is a sales team better able to deliver on customers' needs.
According to a survey conducted by McKinsey among 12,000 sales professionals, sales ops teams drive up to a 10% increase in sales productivity each year.
Julia Herman, vice president and head of Global Sales Operations at ABBYY, agrees a sales ops team is a needed investment. "When you have sales operations, you help the sales team spend more time selling," she said. "If you look at the cost of a salesperson versus a sales operations person, and how much time they put back into the sales team every day so they can sell, that's a very easy calculation."
According to a survey conducted by McKinsey among 12,000 sales professionals, sales ops teams drive up to a 10% increase in sales productivity each year. (And I would say that estimate is on the conservative side.)
In my work, I've heard so many stories of people reducing the average sales cycle by days, weeks - or even months - through productivity and process improvements. I've also seen sales ops increase top-of-funnel by removing busy work and administrative burden. This allows sales reps to make more phone calls and/or send more emails per day.
See how Sales Cloud can automate time-consuming processes
Make sure your reps are focused on selling. Cut out unnecessary busywork with the automation tools of Sales Cloud.
2. Sales ops helps you scale
"Many companies assume the same go-to-market strategies will be effective as they scale up, but that's often not the case," said Brandon Jones, head of Revenue Strategy and Operations at Komodo Health, which specializes in software for the healthcare industry. "Hiring a strategic ops leader as a partner to the head of sales helps you think through how you build a scalable, repeatable, predictable revenue engine. [It shows] the blueprint needed to get from the skateboard to the Ferrari."
Unfortunately, there's a large gap between companies that strategically scale and those that don't. Say a company has 10 salespeople, and they plan to hire 40 more over the next 12 months. If they go about it with zero strategy or focus on operations, it could lead to a "Wild West" situation where territories overlap and reps argue over accounts and leads. Onboarding gets inefficient, commission plans get costly, data gets messy, and margins shrink. There isn't a repeatable sales process to codify across the team.
A company might be successful and make a few million dollars a year in revenue. But if the goal is to surpass $100 million, there will come an inflection point where growth isn't only about more volume. Smart sales operations leaders help their company figure out why they're successful and synthesize those best practices across the team, making results predictable. In other words, sales ops takes the process of scaling from an art to a science.
Sales operations should be baked into how you do business. It's important to have a sales ops division in place before you embark on a period of growth - not during or after. When sales ops is treated as an afterthought, it can hurt a company down the line and lead to morecleaning, fixing, and redoing.
3. Sales operations creates funnel visibility data across departments
Aside from helping the sales team sell more, sales ops demystifies the sales funnel for other departments to help everyone make decisions based on data. Here are just some of the visibility questions that the sales ops team can answer:
Where are deals getting stuck in the sales cycle?
Are they in the discovery, proposal, or negotiation stage?
What kinds of companies are buying your product?
What causes a company to choose a competitor's product?
"If marketing doesn't know the lifecycle of a buyer journey and how prospects are interacting with marketing versus sales, or have the proper analytics around lead sources, it's difficult to optimize marketing spend," Jones said. "I've seen brilliant heads of sales and marketing who aren't able to make data-driven decisions because they don't have visibility into the funnel. This will hamstring meaningful growth at scale."
I want salespeople to have their feet on the street selling. I want salespeople to be client-facing, focused on selling solutions. Let me handle everything internally so they can focus externally.
Lauren Hughes, head of Sales Operations and Strategy, Attentive
If you're implementing your customer relationship management platform (CRM) the right way from day one, you set the stage to move with agility. This is more efficient than working backwards to find out why a deal didn't close or why a target wasn't met. Hughes advises sales ops team members to "…build for the future of the business, not just for what the needs are today." They should also keep the end user in mind. "The more clunky and complicated a system is for the end user, the less adoption and accuracy of data you'll have."
Sales ops uses CRM data to paint a holistic picture of your customer journey. It can tell you if the pipeline is healthy or if your forecast is accurate. And when paired with artificial intelligence (AI)-driven insights, like those offered by Sales Cloud Einstein, problems and opportunities are easily identified. Sales ops helps figure out what's working and develops best practices throughout the go-to-market organization at speed.
A strategic sales ops leader can help you become a data-driven decision maker and confront problems. Get help answering questions like:
Do you deploy your best reps to your best territories or to the difficult territories?
What's the ROI on sales versus business development hires?
Should you expand to a new industry or go deeper into our current target industries?
It's necessary for teams to input all relevant data about sales into your CRM - the center of your sales universe where all the data lives. "What is the sales process, who are you selling to, how are you selling, and what are the sales stages and entry/exit criteria for each stage?" Herman asked. "It's important to put as much of that in Salesforce as possible."
4. Sales ops experts communicate and minimize risks
Sales operations leaders may notice risks that heads of sales miss because those leaders are laser-focused on closing deals. "As a strategic thought partner to the head of sales, ops can be proactive in not only identifying risks in the forecast, but recommending strategies to mitigate that risk and determining which levers should be pulled to drive change," Jones said.
While sales leaders may be busy executing sales goals, sales ops leaders have the time to dig into the data and use those insights to design incentives and create strategic sales plans.
If it looks like your sales team will miss your target in six months, a sales ops person can sound the alarm proactively to suggest solutions that will keep your reps on track.
"Sales leaders need a partner to figure out the best way to get to their revenue goal," Jones noted. "Do you need twice as many reps to hit the revenue target or can your reps be more efficient with this training or this technology or this messaging?"
Think of the head of sales ops as a check and balance for the head of sales. "[Sales leaders] have a sales instinct, but sales ops leaders bring the justification based on what the data shows," added Herman. "My role is to eliminate surprises as much as possible, and make things go according to plan."
To sum it up, sales ops professionals help your sales team devote energy to what they do best: selling. They enable you to catch potential problems early and allow your business to stay agile. In an economic environment that's becoming increasingly unpredictable, a dedicated sales operations crew can help ensure your revenue stays predictable.
Uncover more trends from top sales teams
Read the complete State of Sales report