Categories Articles, Sales and Marketing

Sales operations are in a unique position in any company. Not only do they bridge the gap between sales leaders and their teams— therefore being the only people with knowledge of both the long-term goals of the executives and the day-to-day progress of the sales reps—they also combine insight and intelligence from marketing, finance, and other C-suite leaders into an overall perspective of the company.

In fact, they’re the Mycroft Holmes of the business world. Mycroft, Sherlock’s older brother, was a polymath at the beating heart of the government, he was:

“…the central exchange, the clearinghouse, which makes out the balance. All other men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience. [a minister] could get his separate advices from various departments, but only Mycroft can focus them all, and say offhand how each factor would affect the other.”

Sales ops are specialists, but their specialization is the ability to take data from all over the company and work to fulfill the goal of the leadership—increased growth. They can incorporate all the necessary information from multiple sources in a company and, through their analysis and reporting, make sure everyone is on the same page.

But they can do much more than that. By pulling together individual insights, they can help executives improve productivity and efficiency throughout the company, find ways to align what leaders want with what teams can achieve, and help the leadership plan ahead, look back, and predict the future.

Planning Ahead

Whether it’s just the next month, the next quarter, or the next year, being confident in your planning is paramount for any company. Without knowing where you intend to be, you can’t hire or prepare efficiently.

Sales VPs want to plan ahead—they want to be confident in the growth their team is going to achieve. But they won’t be able to achieve that growth without understanding the numbers that are the foundation: revenue and reps.

For sales ops, there are two metrics they can drill down into to show the leadership exactly where the team stands on both upcoming revenue and new hires: pipeline count and ramp rate.

Pipeline Count

By analyzing your pipeline, you can react ahead of time if you realize a pipeline shortfall is coming. Do you have the right mix of opportunities coming through, both in terms of stage and value?

By breaking down your pipeline by stage, you can track how the ratio of different stages is changing and see which stages are growing faster than the rest. You can also look at the potential value of your entire pipeline, or the value tied up in different stages.

By having these numbers, sales ops can prepare execs for any potential shortfalls in the later stages. This, in turn, can help them work with the sales team to move more open opportunities to the latter stages quicker.

Using this information, work with sales leaders to train their team on how to calculate pipeline coverage. This will give leaders a better understanding of their team’s pipeline, and help them give their reps the tools they need to better manage their personal pipeline on their own. Using the method outlined here, reps can self-identify whether they have enough value currently in their pipeline to achieve bookings goals.

This is an ideal activity for sales ops. They can help show each rep their own pipeline, and through open data and transparency, give them access to the numbers they need to calculate it. In this way, sales ops are helping leaders plan ahead by encouraging and empowering each team member to take ownership over their own numbers, and how they can change them.

Ramp Rate

You might have a good pipeline, but do you have the reps in place to take advantage of these opportunities? By drilling down into the ramp rate of new hires, sales ops can find out how quickly new reps ramp up and identify any outliers.

Whenever you take on new hires, it takes time to ramp up to full productivity. By tracking the average booking for new hires during their first months, you can answer 2 questions:

  • How are individuals ramping up and when they will be able to contribute fully to the team?
  • How are your onboarding and ramping processes working on average?

From the latter, sales ops can plan how many reps you’ll need to hit a growth goal, and how far in advance you’ll need to hire to have the people in place to succeed. But they are also in a position to help with onboarding and sales training to get new hires ramped quicker.

Seeing where in the ramp new hires are plateauing or struggling allows sales ops to work with sales leaders to develop optimal training programs to improve the core skills of the team. These should be tailored to each specific job, and then customized for each individual rep.

If you are training for the business development role, then drilling down into these four core competencies are a must during your ramp up:

  • Phone proficiency
  • Prospecting ability
  • Time management
  • CRM expertise

By analyzing this ramp up time, sales ops can optimize this training schedule to get the main skills nailed down without adding extra burden on the new hires. This lays helps lay the foundation for the leaders’ growth plans.

Looking Back

Leaders, especially sales leaders, are forward-focused. They’re always on the lookout for the next opportunity to help their team close out the quarter strong and move on to the next.

Sales ops can balance this out by being the mirror-image of the sales VP, looking back over the previous time periods and providing insights to help the VP move forward. They can then drill down on the current processes, optimizing them to make sure that next quarter is better.

Conversion Rate

By looking back over the previous year, sales ops can identify the shape and length of the current sales funnel, using this information to determine where it needs to be.

Finding the right shape is key. For example, many high-growth companies find that a martini-shaped funnel is the ideal shape to strive for. This is because these companies are using marketing efforts to attract a massive amount of leads, and then cherry-picking the very best from this big bunch.

Ultimately, reps might close fewer deals, but those deals will be of higher quality because they had an extensive qualification process. Sales ops role here is to help identify exactly the right shape of funnel, and show leaders where the important prospects are getting lost.

If 43% of opportunities are being lost between the evaluation and buyer procurement stage, then it might show that key stakeholders aren’t being brought into the process early enough and that reps need to make sure that they are communicating with the right people within the company to move the deal forward.

Through this analysis, sales ops can identify in which stages most opportunities are lost and then work with sales VPs to diagnose and correct these issues.

By finding these leaky points, sales ops can set out an actionable plan for sales leadership to optimize the funnel.

Activity Ratios

Looking back over the activity ratios of the previous year can help you track the effectiveness of each activity, how your team is performing, and if they are increasing efficiency over time.

Generally, the lower these numbers are the better, with ratios of around 1:1 showing optimum efficiency.

However, decreases in the numerator as well as increases in the denominator could lead to these ratios equalling out. If your opportunity:deal ratio is falling, then you are probably becoming more efficient at closing out deals, but it could also be due to diminishing opportunities.

This is where the Mycroftian sales ops person becomes critical—with their view into sales performance data, they are able to show sales leaders the raw numbers behind these ratios and help plan any troubleshooting or improvements. They can show which reps are really converting all their activity into true value, and which reps seem highly active but are, in fact, contributing little to the overall company.

Predicting the Future

A new avenue where sales ops are showing their true potential is predictive analysis.

This is subtly different to planning ahead. With the right data on sales cycle, likelihood of closing, and average value of deals, sales ops is capable of building models to forecast the future of the company.

Predictive Forecast

These predictive models look at the opportunities with a close date in a certain time interval and then estimate the potential bookings from these opportunities.

The model is based on two factors:

  • Personal Win Rate: How frequently the opportunity owner wins opportunities from this stage, based on the last 18 months of data.
  • Probability to Close in Period: How likely this opportunity is to close by the end of the period based on:
    • Days in Stage – how long it has been in the stage
    • Average Days to Close – how long an employee’s opportunities usually take to close from this stage
    • Days Remaining – how much time is left in the period

The model then multiples these together to produce the individual weighting for that opportunity. These are then summed to create the total predictive forecast.

With enough data from multiple customers, sales ops could even look at building predictive models categorized along value, sector, or size boundaries. This data can then be used to predict how future customers of that value, sector, or size are likely to behave.

For instance, if you worked with multiple financial sector firms, their data can be used to build up a model of how these companies behave during their buying cycle. If, on average, they have a 60% chance of closing, take 40 days to reach the deal stage, and a value of $1M, then you have a much better idea of how future sales cycles with financial firms will play out, as well as the potential value of these deals over time.

Given enough data from the front lines, sales ops can allow you to assess new customers early on in the sales cycle, determining whether the likelihood of them closing the deal. This gives executives a unique opportunity to predict what will happen and where they should aim their resources.

All of this allows sales ops to give leaders a snapshot of where the company has been, where it’s going, and how it’s going to get there.

By putting themselves at the heart of the sales process, collecting and collating all the data to improve the efficiency of the sales teams, sales ops can present exactly the information that the leaders need to determine the overall strategic goals of the companies and link that to the day-to-day tactical decisions of the reps.

With the data and insights available, sales ops can prove themselves a valuable asset to leadership, finding exactly where changes can be made to make the operation more efficient and help shape the strategic goals of the company.

Andrew Tate
Andrew Tate is a UK-born, US-based writer. He spent 10 years working as a scientist in labs around the world and now specializes in using data to tell stories.
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