A lot happens behind the scenes of a sales department.
While the excitement of value demonstrations, negotiations, and deals closing all lie in the forefront of selling, there are certain discreet actions taken by sales operations departments to make that all possible.
The role of sales operations teams might not be the most glamorous part of selling, but they offer the support needed to make the magic happen.
Sales operations, or sales ops, refers to the department or set of business activities that focuses on enabling sales teams to work in support of business goals, objectives, and strategies. These activities focus on determining methods for setting up the sales team so they can sell to their customers in the most efficient and successful way possible.
Sales operations leaders implement strategies, processes, and resources that enable sales teams to close deals and drive results. Overall, the idea is to make the sales team within the business as systematic as possible.
The purpose of bringing about this systematic element is so sales reps can master the process of selling that works for their customers. It also enables leaders to track progress and pick out areas within the sales process that need to be improved.
You might’ve already guessed, but let’s clarify the difference between sales operations and sales teams to avoid any future confusion.
The sales team is a customer-facing revenue generator. They are out in the field communicating with clients, moving them down the pipeline, and closing deals.
The sales operations team is the behind-the-scenes sidekick for the sales team. They evaluate the sales team’s current methods, find areas for improvement, and recommend strategies accordingly.
Essentially, the sales team looks to the sales operations team for information on how to improve their current approach to selling.
Sales operations and sales enablement are often confused with one another. They both support the sales team in reaching their goals, but they are distinctly different.
Sales operations focuses on things the sales team is currently doing and has done in the past. They analyze data and make decisions that will improve the processes and strategies currently being implemented by the sales team. The sales enablement team will then implement and roll out those decisions.
To ensure your sales team is successful, your sales, sales operations, and sales enablement teams need to align. A common struggle between these teams is crossover of responsibilities. Make sure to give each team their own goals and deliverables while also syncing them with those of the other departments. This way, there won’t be any confusion as to which department owns which responsibilities.
The importance of sales operations lies in its key purpose: to set your sales team up for success. It can become too much for your sales team to sell to your customers, identify problems within your sales strategy, and find realistic solutions all at once.
This is where your sales operations team steps in.
As sales reps focus on generating revenue, sales operations team members will concentrate on finding ways to make that easier.
Sales is anything but static. Your sales team can be the most skilled group of sellers out there, but without someone assessing their processes and creating new strategies, their efficiency will struggle. Hence the importance of having a sales operations department.
Selling is nothing without strategy. Pleasing customers is tricky, and reps need to constantly re-evaluate their strategy to efficiently make customers commit to a purchase.
The overall purpose of sales operations is to ensure the sales department is a well-oiled machine, selling left and right with as few obstacles as possible. This way, they can serve their intended purpose and benefit the business.
Sales operations teams will ideate, execute, and evaluate the following strategies to develop, implement, and optimize their team’s selling strategy.
The HR department has a hand in recruiting, hiring, and onboarding, but candidates also need to be evaluated by someone who has a deep knowledge of sales, especially the way reps work for that specific business.
The sales ops team will evaluate candidates to ensure they have what it takes to contribute to sales goals and that particular business. By equipping the sales team with new skilled team members, they are contributing to their efficiency.
This area of sales ops can also refer to training new and existing employees on different processes, software programs, or tools. Being a successful sales team requires that each member knows the ins and outs of each method being used and every resource at hand.
Sales ops also has a hand in training new team members, and ensuring the onboarding process is setting them up for success.
First, they will go through the sales training process with each new rep, giving them all of the information and resources they need to succeed. Then, the sales ops team will assess the training program by evaluating the performance of the new team member to pick out areas where they might have fallen short with the training.
If the new rep is struggling with cold calling, they will reassess that part of the training. Or if they are selling just fine the first time around but struggling to retain customers, sales ops will include more information on customer relationship management and the tools you can use to improve it.
Not every rep is best suited for handling every customer. Sales ops teams can designate which rep will be handling which account by considering the following factors:
This is not a time to guess or make random assignments. A lack of strategy when allocating accounts is a mistake, but the sales ops team will have the right information for doing so in a calculated manner.
Setting sales territories is more than just drawing borders on a map and designating reps to each sector.
Sales ops will determine each territory by first evaluating accounts at hand, the territories themselves, and the skills of the sales rep. They will then strategically create, manage, and set goals for the territories based on the available opportunities, and place reps according to their experience and amount of deals they can juggle at once.
After a couple of renewals, keeping track of a customer’s current legal stance with your business can get complicated. Sales ops teams will handle contract management, which organizes key contract stages for each customer: initiation, execution, and renewal/expiry.
The purpose of having the sales ops team control contract management is to remain consistent with language and contract templates, saving time and reducing errors.
Sales teams run on data. Let’s say that again. Sales teams run on data.
Sales ops will manage the data of the entire sales team, keeping current goals and objectives in mind. They will use the data at hand to track progress towards goals and evaluate where sales reps are excelling and where they are struggling. This will include the incorporation of sales metrics.
Along with hard numbers, data management can also refer to information on current clients. This might include contact information, descriptions of issues they’ve come across, or the estimated value of the relationship.
Your sales process needs to align with your typical customer’s buyer journey, and finding this happy medium requires some strategy.
Sales ops teams will take a deep dive into each stage of your sales process, paying special attention to conversion rates. If a particular conversion between two stages is struggling, sales ops will find a way to optimize that transition so more customers stay in the pipeline.
Sales ops will optimize the sales process to focus on conversions, shortening the sales-cycle length, and maximizing your win rate.
Your sales methodology refers to the principles and guidelines your sales reps follow as they sell your solution. Essentially, it lays out specific actions for a sales rep to take once the customer at hand has reached a certain point.
It’s crucial to ensure these approaches to your sales process are best suited for your solution and customer base. Optimizing your sales methodology goes hand in hand with doing the same for your sales process.
The actions your reps take need to be carefully planned. Push a prospect too hard, and they might feel overwhelmed. Leave them hanging with a bunch of unanswered questions, and they will feel frustrated. Sales ops teams will determine sets of questions to ask, rounds of content to distribute, and buying signals to jump on for reps.
It’s possible that lead generation is a part of your sales ops team’s responsibilities. It’s also possible that it belongs to another department or role, like BDRs.
Either way, generating leads for the sales team is definitely an action that enables them to sell more. Sales ops teams will determine strategies and tactics for fueling the sales pipeline full of promising leads.
The keyword there is promising. A full pipeline doesn’t necessarily mean a healthy pipeline. Sales ops will be responsible for ensuring these leads are likely to convert as opposed to not being qualified to buy the solution.
Measuring success can’t happen without tracking the right metrics for your sales team. Every business is different, meaning the metrics tracked might differ from business to business.
Sales operations teams are required to know the ins and outs of the business, and more specifically, the sales team. They will select the metrics that best represent whether the actions taken to achieve a certain goal or objective were a success, a failure, or are still in progress.
Performance metrics, or sales KPIs, reveal the overall success of your sales team and business. Analyzing these metrics and comparing them to previous time periods will help optimize every other area of your sales operations and business.
Analyzing sales performance metrics can also refer to determining whether or not you are focusing on the right ones. Sales ops teams will ensure that key performance metrics being measured directly correspond to the attainment of prioritized goals. If goals change or teams realize certain KPIs don’t speak to those goals, they will take them out of the mix.
Sales ops teams will analyze data, past performance, and trends to forecast future sales. Doing so accurately will allow the business to make well-informed decisions and estimate what future performance should look like.
A key part of sales forecasting includes picking out potential issues in the future. This way, the business can find ways to avoid or fix these problems before encountering them.
Sales reps expect to be paid for their work (obviously). Sales operations will craft the compensation plans for the sales team as well as incentive programs that fuel better performance.
Incentives can be as simple as offering a gift card to the rep that generates the most revenue, or implementing bonuses into your sales compensation plan.
Communication is key in any department within your business. Sales operations will ensure that communication between team members and with clients is as seamless as possible.
Gathering feedback from the sales team is crucial to maintaining communication channels. Since sales ops has different responsibilities, they might not pick up on a common hiccup the sales team is experiencing with a certain tool.
Your sales team’s software tools should help their efficiency in selling, not hinder it. There is plenty of strategy behind choosing the right software solution for a sales team. It’s the duty of sales ops to equip sales reps with an enabling set of software solutions and other tools they might need to succeed.
Your sales team is likely using more than one sales tool at once. This can complicate things, and transferring information between different software can be tedious.
Sales ops teams will integrate all your tools, ensuring that all the software is acting as one system. This way, all the systems will cooperate to ultimately deliver the specific functionality your business is looking for.
Related: It’s possible that your team has more software than necessary. You’re not alone - plenty of businesses waste their software spend on duplicate tools. Use G2 Track to manage your software spend and find duplicate software solutions you can get rid of.
Each department within your business is going to track metrics that best represent their success or areas that need improvement. Because most departments focus on different goals, their metrics will vary.
However, in the case of sales and sales operations, since they both have a primary goal of generating business and revenue for the company, some of their metrics will overlap and some will remain specific to that department.
Sales operations will also pay special attention to the metrics of the sales team because they use that past data to make decisions for the future.
Here are a couple of metrics that sales ops teams will always have an eye on.
Sales ops teams will measure the average amount of time it takes for a new hire to ramp up to gauge the effectiveness of their current onboarding program. A new hire has officially “ramped up” once they become fully productive and actually start contributing to the team.
Because the sales operations team is present to make the sales team’s job easier, they need to understand how they are currently performing. Whether or not reps are meeting their quota speaks directly to the success of the team.
Sales ops teams will look at the quota achievement rate, which shows the percentage of reps hitting their sales quota, to see where things currently are with overall success of the team.
Sales operations teams will also need to understand the conversion rate as prospects move down the sales pipeline. There are three key conversions that are the most important to grasp:
Your business's average sales cycle length speaks to the efficiency of your sales team. How quickly can they convert a prospect into a customer?
Both customers and reps prefer a short sales cycle. Reps don’t want to have potential closed deals hanging over their heads, and customers don’t want to be left hanging as they need support from a rep when they are trying to make a buying decision.
Sales ops will identify slow spots in the sales pipeline and find ways to speed things along.
Sales ops need to understand their business’ average deal size, as it plays a role in forecasting. Depending on the amount of customers currently in the pipeline, sales cycle length, and win rate, sales reps will calculate how much revenue they can expect for a particular time period.
While average deal size is important for sales ops to accurately forecast, they can get a more accurate depiction of the revenue to expect from the weighted sales pipeline value.
Pipeline value refers to the amount of potential revenue currently sitting in the sales pipeline. When that pipeline is weighted, that means the sales team has not only identified the value of all deals in the pipeline, but they place more on the ones that are most likely to close.
Sales ops teams will use weighted pipeline value on top of average deal size to forecast sales and make informed decisions.
On top of tracking how well the sales team is performing, sales ops needs their own metric to make sure their efforts are successful. This metric takes the form of forecast accuracy, which shows whether or nor a forecast matched an actual outcome.
If the sales ops team is consistently forecasting sales metrics that are inaccurate, they will rethink their strategy.
From the information above, you can see that the sales operations team has a lot of responsibilities, both in tasks and metrics to track. While the sales operations team structure will vary from business to business, depending on company size and structure, the work is often scattered among the following positions:
Anyone in any of the above positions needs to understand how the sales department works within that particular business. The departments need to be in constant communication with each other, so sales ops needs to be equipped with a team of collaborative, technical, and data-driven strategists. Of course, there are going to be processes set in place for sales ops teams to follow, but the mission could also benefit from some out-of-the-box thinking.
The outcome of a sales ops team’s efforts shows through the sales team’s success. To ensure their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed, the sales ops team will have to overcome the following challenges.
A lot of departments work to support the sales team: sales enablement, customer success, and even marketing. Because the overall mission of these departments is to set the sales team up for success, there can be some overlap and confusion when it comes to responsibilities.
Make sure that each department, especially sales enablement and sales operations, has their own specific set of tasks and deliverables. Overlap is inevitable, so make sure there is an action plan for these situations.
If there is no process or methodology to the way your sales team goes about selling, the sales ops team won’t have anything to work with. Make sure your business has a clearly defined sales process, funnel, and pipeline.
This will make the outcome of in-progress sales more predictable and give the sales ops team a better starting place when strategizing.
The sales and sales enablement teams are more responsible for taking action based on the ops team’s decision making. This can create a blurry image of when the sales ops team actually needs to take action themselves.
As your company grows and changes, your sales operations team, strategies, and tactics all need to adapt with it. Keeping pace with change can be difficult, but your sales operations team needs to be ready to act based on any alteration in the sales team or their primary goals.
Every department within a business requires some form of collaboration within that team. The sales ops team, however, can require collaboration from teams across the entire company based on the sales team’s current goals.
Getting everyone involved and on the same page can present quite the hurdle for sales operations teams.
The sales operations team mostly works behind the scenes, creating strategies that will make the sales team more efficient and systematic. When it comes time to recommend a new strategy, process, or approach for the sales team to implement, it can be tricky to immediately get 100% buy in from leadership outside of the ops team, since they weren’t involved in the ideation process.
The purpose of having a sales operations team is to ensure everything is set up to run smoothly, efficiently, and successfully for the sales team. This isn’t something that sales ops can achieve with a one and done action.
There are a few best practices that they always need to keep top of mind.
While “sales” is in the title of their department, the sales operations team doesn’t spend any of their time actually selling anything. Their duties revolve around supplying the sales team with what they need to support their goals, and taking care of any activity not directly related to selling.
To do so, sales ops needs to keep tabs on the sales team so they know exactly what they need to deliver.
Because sales teams and their approaches are always changing, the sales ops team needs to be ready to adjust. However, this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have some best practices established.
Make sure that sales ops teams across all locations of your business are tackling their work in the same way. Things like documentation, creating compensation plans, and designating territories should always remain consistent to avoid any confusion.
Sales ops is all about planning the sales team’s next move. But first, they need to establish a sales pipeline management plan to analyze its health. This includes sales ops looking at the pipeline, pointing out exactly where issues are arising, and strategizing a plan for avoiding them in the future.
Not all data that sales ops needs to analyze falls within the sales pipeline. There are other areas of sales that require data analysis, and the sales ops team needs to be ready for all of it. All in all, a good sales ops best practice is to be comfortable analyzing and drawing conclusions from any sales data handed to them.
Once a sale is made, the ops team is not done yet. Far from it, actually.
Sales operations is also responsible for finding ways to keep profitable customers as happy as possible. By analyzing past interactions, both successful and not, sales ops can pick out what typically makes a customer leave and what keeps them coming back for more.
Because reps are on the first line of defense when a cranky customer has an issue with your company’s solution, sales ops needs to be there to feed them the right information for the particular issue that person is experiencing. Again, everything they do is to lighten the burden for the sales team.
If you want one department keeping an eye on your competition, it’s sales operations. Part of having a successful sales department is outdoing your competitors, and nobody is going to analyze them and come back with takeaways more than the sales ops team.
The nature of their work has turned these people into analysts that can look at any opposing force and know exactly which move to make next.
And of course, as it goes for any department within any business, sales operations team members need to be expert communicators.
They should not only be constantly asking for input from sales, marketing, and customer success teams to find which issues need to be addressed, but they also need to be delivering outputs to those teams so everyone can be supporting sales in the most efficient ways possible.
Sales operations departments act as the unsung heroes of the sales department. They bring the systematic elements that sales teams need to be more informed, efficient, and successful.
If you’re looking for a way to revamp your sales strategy, sales operations can get you there.
Because data fuels the sales operations department, dashboards are their best friends. Learn how to create a sales dashboard and the metrics you should always keep at the forefront.
Mary Clare Novak is a Content Marketing Specialist at G2 in Chicago, where she is currently exploring topics related to sales and customer relationship management. In her free time, you can find her doing a crossword puzzle, listening to cover bands, or eating fish tacos. (she/her/hers)
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