My first job out of college was working as an account manager for a business process outsourcing unit of a telecom company based in Indianapolis, but I spent six months of my tenure there working in their satellite office in Inner Mongolia, China.
I never figured out a concise way of explaining what my job actually was. Whenever someone asked me about my job, I would avoid the awkward blank stares and empty, “Oh yeah, that sounds like cool work,” by ignoring the question altogether and steering the conversation to, “You lived in China? That’s crazy, tell me about that!”
Sales Operations pros don’t have such an easy out. Their job is incredibly important, complex, and nearly impossible to describe to the average person on the street (or to Uncle Joe over Thanksgiving turkey), but most Sales Ops pros can’t rely on the convenient, “let’s talk about China,” technique to rescue them from the “tell me what you do,” question.
So, how can someone who works in Sales Operations explain what they do all day to anyone who doesn’t already know?
The Quick Pitch (Gauging Interest)
To explain your job effectively, you have to get a good sense of how interested the person you’re talking to actually is in what you do. Come up with a quick, one sentence description of Sales Operations, picking out just the most fundamental details of your job, and leaving the rest unsaid. It could be something like:
“I work in Sales Operations. Basically, I analyze sales performance and look for ways to improve the sales team.”
The primary goal of this sentence is to communicate the essence of your job as clearly and concisely as possible. The secondary, more subtle goal is to prevent you from having to go into a lengthy explanation of sales process, territory assignment, and the nightmares of sales reports for someone who could care less.
This first example is the simple, 10,000 foot view that’s useful when the person you are talking to at least has some business experience similar to yours. For people who are clueless about sales and the lingo that goes along with it, metaphors are invaluable. Try something like:
“Sales Operations is a whole bunch of tasks that are designed to support the sales team. If our sales reps are NASCAR drivers, we’re the engineers and pit crew.”
This very high level metaphor cuts out the nuances and paints a big picture that still provides a reasonable description of what you do. Either approach works — just start at the most basic level possible, and let people dig in on their own if they want to hear more.
If the response you get is, “Oh, cool. Got it,” then awesome! You told them everything they actually wanted to know. If they come back and say, “Well, what type of analysis do you do?”, or “What’s a sales equivalent of a tire change?”, then even better! You can start talking about the meat and potatoes of the job.
The Job Description
Once you get past the high-level view and the examples, you’re free to say whatever you want about your job. The thing to remember at this point is, people won’t remember any specifics you tell them. It’s pointless to list off a whole bunch of daily responsibilities because no matter how hard we try, our brains just aren’t programmed to remember lists.
The reality is even people who want to hear about your job don’t really care about what you do — they care about the goal of what you do. So that’s the takeaway you should leave them with.
An example of how you can continue the conversation here is:
“The goal of my job is to streamline our sales efforts. We do whatever we can to measure sales activity more effectively, and use the information we gather to make it as easy and rewarding as possible for our sales team to win new clients.”
You leave out all the jargon, and give your listener an understanding of what the point of your job is. The final layer to unpeel is how you go about doing it.
To explain the core of Sales Operations work to the people who really want to know (almost exclusively family members and people who want jobs), your best bet is to provide an example.
Even with engaged listeners, you don’t want to overdo it. If you let yourself dive too far into the nuts and bolts of your job, you are likely to fall back on business-lingo and either bore or confuse your listener.
Examples help you boil the wide-range of responsibilities and tasks you have to deal with into one digestible tidbit. Let’s say you just implemented a sales analytics solution like InsightSquared to help make your sales team more data driven. You could say:
“Well, one project I just worked on was to put an analytics solution in place. We weren’t hitting our sales goals, and our VP wanted more data on why. Our team had a hunch it was because our salespeople weren’t managing their deals properly, but we didn’t have a way to track them properly. So we implemented this new tool that they can use to organize their work more easily, and it will help get us more accurate data so we can troubleshoot the process they follow and put other solutions in place to make the job of selling as simple as possible.”
Boiling everything down to a single story will be much easier for your audience to remember than a whole list of tasks and responsibilities would be, and it also gives them a flavor of your daily work without boring them.
Once you’ve provided a concrete example, you will have almost certainly satisfied your listener’s curiosity about your job. In the process, you may also distill an important insight about your work — namely, once you cut out all extraneous details, what is the single most important function that you fill?
If all else fails and the people you talk to just can’t get their heads around your work, just send them this video and have done with it.
Oh, and if you ever get tired of Sales Ops work and feel like getting on the phones, this method is also a great way to get below the surface of your prospects’ needs and make a sale.