I get asked, “What should I look for when hiring someone for Sales Operations?” or “What skills should I have to break into Sales Operations?” a lot. Thinking about the best and worst Sales Operations professionals I’ve worked with over the years, I’ve come up with four skills that the best have and the worst lack. These are skills I look out for when hiring or interviewing candidates, and the things that are much harder to teach.
Empathy for Sales
This is the number one attribute I look for in a candidate. The biggest trap I see a sales operations professional get into is where they fail to appreciate the amount of work required for a sales or account management team to be successful. This then manifests as resentment and tension between the teams. I was an Account Manager for a year in my mid 20s. I consider this the best experience I’ve ever had in my work life. First, it taught me that I never want to work in sales and secondly, it helped me realize how frantically busy they are every day. If you don’t have this empathy for them, then you probably won’t be as effective at finding ways to improve their work lives as you would otherwise. Assume they’re always busier than you are and work with that in mind.
If you don’t have empathy for what sales does you probably won’t have this either. Another danger of sales operations is following into the Us vs. Them mentality instead of a We mentality. The best sales operations professionals I’ve worked with have always had a customer service mindset, the worst have seemed annoyed every time a member of the sales team talks to them. “How can I help?” versus “What do you want now?” The main goal of any sales operations person should be to enable the sales team to hit their goals by giving them the help they need. If you feel this is not the case for you, a little introspection may be in order.
Always assume you’re not the smartest person in the conversation. I think we’ve all had co-workers at one point or another who thought they had all the answers every time. Think about one person in your life like that, do you enjoy working with them? Spending time with them? Maybe, but if I had to guess I’d say no. I think if you lack humility then you are keeping yourself from listening, which means you could end up missing some important problem or a clever solution to one.
Good sales operators are natural tinkerers. They’re constantly curious about why something works the way it does or why we do things one way. They question problems and processes constantly trying to find a better or different way of doing things. They dig into numbers and data in an attempt to gain deeper insights into the way things work or what the future could hold. Those lacking curiosity may not be ‘bad’ at their job but they’ll never be better than their fellow workers who are curious.
You may have read all of this and wondered about Excel or Salesforce experience. Software skills are what I tend to call ‘hard’ skills, which by that I just mean they’re teachable and anyone can learn given enough time. Unless interviewing for a very technical role, like a Salesforce Developer, I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on hard skills. If you are a candidate looking to get into sales operations, proficiency in Excel or SQL or Salesforce will give you a leg up on the competition, but once you’re hired they won’t be the things that make you into the most effective version of yourself.