Sales Operations is notoriously hard to get right. It straddles a fine line between strategic decision making and tactical frontline sales support. The members of sales operations teams can sit in marketing, sales, operations, and sometimes even the finance department.
Because of this, sales operations groups are typically poorly defined, lack direction, and end up sinking most of their time into emergency ad-hoc report building. For many companies, sales operations acts as a catch-all for administrative tasks that fall through the cracks between departments, and end up resembling an island of misfit toys.
Compare that state of the world with this definition of sales operations from Fraser Bullock, the Founder and Managing Director of Sorenson Capital:
“[Sales Operations] is having a plan. Not moving on an ad-hoc basis. It’s deploying tools, resources, leadership, and people in a way to achieve a goal. It’s a discipline, not an art.”
The core value of sales operations is to implement sales tools and align resources from every department within your company to maximize the effectiveness of the sales team — so using that team as on-demand report builders is a complete waste of their potential.
So how do you go about mastering the discipline Bullock refers to? How do you effectively incorporate sales operations into your overarching sales strategy?
Sales Operations leaders who hope to move beyond simple report building can follow this three step roadmap and turn their team into a vital strategic asset for their business.
1. Measure Everything
Sales operations is a scientific approach to sales — effective sales operations consists of observing the activity of the sales team, identifying inefficiencies, running tests to eliminate friction within the sales process, and then measuring the impact of the solutions.
Accordingly, bad data is kryptonite for sales operations. Without a foundation of data on which to base the sales process, the sales operations team is left in the dark, and can only guess at what they need to do to optimize the sales team’s activity.
That’s why the first step to moving sales operations beyond simple report building is to get reps to record their activities in detail, and to believe that they will benefit from the time they invest in recording data.
In some cases, this may be as simple as purchasing a CRM system that reps can easily use. But if reps are set in their ways and opposed to spending time tracking and reporting on their activity, it could also require a fundamental cultural shift. Regardless of the cost, if your company hopes for efficient and consistent sales, you need to start by measuring activity and creating a trustworthy database to collect it.
2. Educate the Sales Team
Even with a trustworthy foundation of data, the sales operations team is often still stuck in the role of report builder — unless the sales team understands what information they need to optimize their performance.
Until sales reps and managers are well versed in the fundamentals of data-driven sales management, they will rely on the Sales Operations team to do all of their analysis for them. This often results in a lot of conflicting demands, last minute requests, and late nights at the office for members of the Sales Ops team.
The holy grail for sales operations is a sales team that fully buys into a data-driven approach to sales, and understands how the data they record will ultimately help them to sell more effectively.
This understanding and support is a turning point in the life of any sales operations professional. Once the sales team knows what information they need to hone their sales performance and what questions to ask in order to get it, sales operations can automate the reports they need and free themselves up to focus on improving the sales process as a whole.
3. Arm the Sales Team
The final step to moving beyond ad hoc report building is to arm sales reps and managers with analytics tools that let them do the digging themselves. Data-driven sales reps can be a double edged sword — if they don’t have access to the database, they will demand more and more analysis from sales operations in order to fine tune their performance.
This is why analytics are such a powerful tool for sales operations. The best analytics tools package data for sales reps and managers and enable them to pull the insights they need to improve their sales process from their own historical performance.
Once individual reps, managers, and execs can get the answers they need without the help of the sales operations team, Sales Ops can fully invest their time into evaluating and implementing tools that will streamline the sales process as a whole. They optimize the sales process so that reps and managers only need to worry about sourcing and closing deals.
Sales operations teams are hamstrung when they spend their time pulling reports to solve one-off questions at every turn. To evolve beyond the company’s go-to report builder, sales ops has to ensure that the value of data is ingrained in the sales team’s DNA, teach individual producers how to use it, and implement sales enablement projects that will reward them for their efforts.