Earlier this year, my co-founder Rishi and I started on the road to bring efficiency to the sales team. We spoke to dozens of companies and people as we improved our understanding of the roles various people in sales teams play. We were especially intrigued by the sales operations function as the understanding of this function differ from company to company. There’s misalignment on what companies intend to achieve using the function, versus what folks in this role actually do.
Wikipedia says “Sales operations is a set of business activities and processes that help a sales organization run effectively, efficiently and in support of business strategies and objectives.”
I’m more inclined to agree with Hubspot’s definition that a sales operations (sales ops) professional is akin to a coxswain for salespeople. They provide the guidance and direction needed by the sales team to meet and exceed targets.
Yet, in various companies that we spoke with over the past few months, sales ops came to be little more than a back-office or support function for the sales teams. Whatever tasks the sales teams do not want, are dumped on to the sales ops person. So if your sales ops is managing lead lists and their assignment to reps, deduplicating and deleting leads, updating or managing custom fields in your CRM, or managing the integrations across apps, they are focused on the wrong tasks. Startups are perhaps most guilty of this structure for the sales ops
“An individual who provides the steadiness required to be good at supporting operations is unlikely to possess the competencies, such as outside-the-box thinking, needed for designing strategy. At the same time, an individual who is good at strategy probably lacks the process discipline required to be good at operational work. Asking a process/detail expert to do the work of an analysis/design expert, or vice versa, is a recipe for disaster.” – Harvard Business Review
This also translates into incorrect hiring. A person geared to provide support is more tactical and will not have relevant problem-solving skills or analytical thinking required by a strategic function. These analytical skills are required to evaluate your sales methodology, process and strategy, then identify areas of improvement and course correct. Mature companies are increasingly recognizing sales ops for the critical and strategic role they play and staffing it with appropriately skilled folks
There’s also some confusion between sales enablement and sales operations. The difference, however, is beautifully articulated in this video from Sales Benchmark Index. Sales enablement focuses on making a sales team more effective, and sales ops makes a sales team more efficient. Sales enablement hence, in my view is a subset of sales ops and not the only function they perform
Sales ops is primarily measured on whether the sales team is meeting their monthly/quarterly sales target or not. Yes, they provide some tactical support to make this happen, but largely they focus on
- Sales technology and methodology evaluation
- Forecast management
- Deal hygiene and approval process optimization
- Sales strategy and associated compensation/incentive plans
- Territory structuring, alignment and assignment
- Hiring, training and sales enablement
- Reports and analytics on team performance
If your company is still following the model that J.Patrick Kelly, the group leader of Xerox’s sales ops group in 1970, said about sales ops – it is “All the nasty number of things that you don’t want to do, but need to do to make a great sales force”, then it is high time you rethink your sales ops function. We have several experts such as me who can help you optimize your sales operations.
Image Credit: Staff Sgt. Mike Meares