Businesses need roadmaps. CEOs strive to keep their companies moving, so they have to know where they are, where they’re going, and most importantly, what they need to do to get there.
This is one of the reasons the field of Sales Operations has been invested in so heavily in the past decade. The whole point of Sales Operations is to maximize the efficiency of the sales team. To accomplish that goal, Sales Ops professionals have to master the administrative technique of change management.
Leaders of every department should be capable change managers, but it’s an especially important skill for Sales Ops because that department has a unique role that is solely focused on implementing change.
Sales managers have to worry about coaching, account execs are responsible for closing deals, and BDRs need to set appointments. But Sales Operations exists only to identify ways to make the sales team better and implement projects that will make those improvements happen.
To demonstrate this point, consider these 4 steps that lay the foundation for effective change management (boiled down from the 8 points John Kotter describes in his influential work on change management, Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail):
1. Establishing a Vision:
Process changes don’t go anywhere unless they have a direction. “Vision” is a term that’s repeated ad nauseum at most companies, but the concept is the foundation for implementing positive change within your company.
The caveat is that the vision you pursue has to be a concrete, well-defined goal that can be achieved through a series of incremental steps. Companies that seek to change existing processes simply because they aren’t satisfied with the status quo often end up in a worse position than where they started.
For Sales Operations, that means identifying inefficiencies in the sales process, mapping out the plan for eliminating them, and setting goals to measure the outcome — the plan is the Sales Ops vision, and it should be defined by measurable results (reduce the sales cycle by X amount, increase ASP by Y amount, etc.)
2. Developing a Coalition and Communicating Value
The second tenant of implementing change is to develop the management structure that will see the project through to its finish. Developing this structure consists of both assigning responsibility for the change projects, and establishing methods for communicating the underlying vision and process drivers behind the change.
As the business superglue whose function is to analyze weaknesses in existing sales processes and coordinate solutions with other departments, Sales Operations has the necessary resources and sway to push through changes that will keep your team competitive and efficient (or it should, at least).
To provide a concrete example, consider the adoption of a new CRM system. Sales Ops should be responsible for quarterbacking the process — working with finance to find budget, training sales reps on how to use it, working with marketing to integrate it with the marketing automation system, etc.
To do their job effectively, they need the ability to marshal resources and drive actions in every area of the organization. That’s why inter-office “diplomacy” and clear lines of communication are essential for an effective Sales Ops team.
3. Setting Incremental Goals
Sweeping changes are doomed to fail if they aren’t broken down into smaller milestones. A general initiative to “improve the sales process” won’t accomplish anything unless it’s simplified further into measurable steps like “implement a new CRM, improve reporting capability, implement necessary sales training and tools, adjust sales strategy.”
No business can complete a marathon without mile markers to show progress. Any executives that try to force their employees into making sweeping changes without milestones to show progress are setting themselves up for a massive failure.
4. Following Through
The most challenging hurdle to implementing change is making the changes stick over the long haul, so the ability to follow through is arguably the most vital change management skill to master. Even if employees adapt to a change in the short term, it’s just too easy to fall back into old habits.
Someone has to monitor new processes, measure outcomes, and ensure the changes both have the desired effect and are properly integrated into the company culture. Think about the example of CRM adoption again. All the value of the new CRM is wasted unless it’s being used consistently and correctly — the real battle isn’t the initial adoption, but ensuring that usage remains consistent over the lifetime of the system.
These four points should sound very familiar to Sales Operations professionals. Their entire job is predicated on executing these four steps effectively.
They perform analysis and diagnose the inefficiencies that act as barriers to the team’s success (vision), marshal necessary resources from across the company and align them to the sales teams needs (develop a coalition and communication), map out and execute small steps that optimize the sales process(incremental goals), and ultimately measure and maintain the new processes they implement (following through).
And if your Sales Operations team is struggling to get projects to stick? Review these four steps — the reason you’re struggling is most likely because you failed to complete one step satisfactorily before moving on to the next.
To excel in Sales Operations, don’t get bogged down with reporting, analysis, and technical evaluation — embrace your role as a master change manager.