If you’ve ever thought about becoming a lawyer, the path is pretty clear:

  1. Get a Bachelor’s degree
  2. Take the LSAT
  3. Earn your JD
  4. Pass the bar

The process may not be easy, but at least it’s laid out. You know exactly what steps to take, including recommended classes and exam prep courses, in order to put yourself on a path to success.

When I think about sales operations, there is no defined route to take. In fact, my fellow ops colleagues have come from a variety of backgrounds: business majors, former teachers, sales reps turned ops pros, and more. You name it, I’ve probably seen it. We’re a diverse group of professionals, and we’ve all managed to find our place even if we happened to stumble into it.

With no clear path for sales operations, though, how can we get ahead? What skills are needed to become successful in the role, drive change across an organization, and impact the bottom line?

Attention to Detail
As a sales ops professional, your sales and leadership teams look to you to manage core processes and handle the nitty gritty details of contracts and order processing. That means paying attention to detail is imperative.

It’s also your job to provide your leaders with key reports, dashboards, and analytics. How many meetings were completed this week? How many more deals do we need to hit quota? What are our opportunities for penetrating whitespace?

As the go-to reporting expert, your data and numbers need to be spot on. Your VP of sales makes decisions that drive the company’s direction and relies on your reports and insights to do it, so focusing on even the tiniest details ensures you’re passing the correct information along.

See the Big Picture
As important as scrutinizing every last detail can be, an operations pro also needs to have the ability to step back and see the 10,000 foot view. What’s the big picture? What goals are we pursuing and how can ops help the team get there?

When you’re in the weeds every day, it’s often easy to lose the forest for the trees. But instead of getting too bogged down by minutiae, a successful sales operator can see how the work they’re doing impacts the company overall. This skill is useful for helping break down silos that inevitably pop up over time. Understanding how teams need to work together is key, and operations is primed to help connect the dots here.

Seeing the big picture is also helpful when it comes to removing bottlenecks and streamlining processes. If you can keep the overarching goals at the forefront, you’ll easily prove the value of operations by breaking down barriers and getting impactful work done.

Communicate Up and Down the Organization
Communicating well is a must for anyone in sales operations. As the glue that connects various departments across the organization, sales ops needs to be in constant talks with all of them to ensure alignment on goals. You’ll also need to hone your ability to persuade and negotiate to push projects forward and get buy-in from key stakeholders.

In addition, the ability to communicate well with colleagues at all levels of the organization is paramount. From individual contributors to C-level, sales ops professionals have to listen well, understand problems, and then provide solutions. That may require training for your sales team or providing your CEO with a concise, high-level overview of sales performance. Know your audience and tailor your message accordingly.

Demonstrate Empathy
Working with sales day in and day out can often be frustrating when you work in sales operations. They can’t even update their opportunities and still seem to get all the glory! It can often leave you feeling somewhat annoyed and a bit overlooked.

That’s where empathy comes into play. Sales reps have a tough gig. They’re inundated with information from every group in the company: marketing announcing their latest campaign, new sales processes, the latest product release. It never ends.

They also have the responsibility of managing deals and nurturing relationships with customers and prospects. And on top of all that, they’re the team whose results are the most easily measured out of anyone in the organization. Their performance is constantly scrutinized, and a couple of bad months can leave them on the chopping block. Like I said, it’s not an easy gig.

To get a better feel for what sales goes through, try taking the time to shadow someone, ask questions, or put yourself in their shoes, especially if you’ve never been in the role yourself. Even if you have, it’s a good practice. Truly understanding a day in the life of a rep will be tremendously helpful when working to streamline the processes they’re bound by. It will also go a long way toward improving your relationship with the team.

Be Proactive and Willing to Learn
With no defined career path for sales operations, most of us have been thrown into the deep end to tread water while simultaneously learning how to swim. We’ve Googled our hearts out, spent countless hours reading blogs, knocked out Trailhead modules, pored over Excel tutorials, and more just to figure out how to keep ourselves and our teams afloat.

Thus, being hungry to learn new skills and level up is essential for anyone in the sales operations role. And, since there’s no template, you’re the one who has to own the learning process. You have to be proactive. Set the time aside daily or weekly and dig in. No one will hold your hand to figure out the myriad tasks that sales ops pros ultimately handle. This one’s entirely up to you. As long as you’re ambitious and willing to learn, you’re all set.

Bringing It All Together
Are you surprised that Salesforce, Excel, and other tools are missing from the list? Don’t be. These hard skills are easily learned on the job, and there are plenty of online resources for them as well. In the grand scheme of things, the metaskills outlined above are what make a strong sales operations professional and will enable you to continue to learn, grow, and evolve in your role. By distinguishing between the details and the big picture, being a strong communicator, demonstrating empathy, and always being ready to learn, you’re well on your way to a successful sales ops career.


Stefanie Tial is the Director of Commercial Operations at The Rainmaker Group and the creator of Next Level Sales Ops, a site dedicated to hungry Sales Ops pros looking to level up in their careers. She has helped build out the Sales Ops function at two Atlanta-based software companies and been part of $1.84B in acquisitions as a result. 

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