What’s The Right Role For Sales Operations?

When we talk about sales, we talk about hard-nosed reps, savvy managers, charismatic VPs, and driven CEOs — well-defined, familiar characters in a play that has gone on since the birth of the modern sales organization.

The sales operations professional is another major character in this play, but she’s new, and most companies are still trying to figure her out.

Is she supposed to hover behind the scenes, acting as a guardian angel who steers the sales team away from danger? Or should she be up in the frontlines, arming reps with the tools and training they need to destroy quotas and kick profits through the roof?

What makes this character even harder to figure out is that she’s not sure what role she’s supposed to be playing, either. Should she just be focused on report building, or anticipating the needs of the VP and providing input on management decisions as well?

The ideal role for Sales Operations is to guide the sales team by developing a structured sales process, analyzing sales performance within the framework of that process, and implementing solutions based on the results of their analysis.

They have to start with high-level, strategic findings, and learn how to convert them into frontline enablement that helps sales reps, managers, and VPs to hit their numbers.

The following three steps are the key areas that sales operations has to focus on to solidify its role within the sales team and optimize your company’s sales process.

1. Improve Conversion Rates

Conversion rates serve as a roadmap for how to improve sales. Sales enablement has to be targeted to a specific problem to be effective, so understanding where the greatest inefficiencies are in the selling process is the first step to solving them.

Conversion rates are the most direct measure of a sales team’s efficiency — they show the percentage of opportunities that move from one stage of the selling process to the next (which is also why they’re a CEO’s favorite metrics).

If you notice that sales reps only convert a handful of leads into opportunities, but win a high percentage of the opportunities they work, it means that you have the most room for improvement around reaching and qualifying prospects.

On the flip side, if you see that a high proportion of leads are converting into opportunities, but the sales team is losing a lot of them at later stages, it means that they need a completely different set of training and tools.

For sales operations, conversion rates are the first stop to both identify what problems need to be solved and benchmark improvement as they put new solutions in place.

2. Shorten the Sales Cycle

You’ll hear this time and time again in sales, because it’s true: If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it. This adage is especially true for sales cycles — Managing the sales cycle is a matter of breaking it down into its individual parts and shaving days off of the most inefficient sections.

Shortening the sales cycle may mean implementing a new tool that streamlines the selling process, training reps to manage opportunities more effectively, or even cutting a step out altogether.

Regardless of what the ultimate solution ends up being, the long term resolution of the problem hinges on the sales operations team’s ability to perform the analysis that exposes the most glaring inefficiencies in the process.

Once those weaknesses have been identified, sales operations can roll their sleeves up alongside the sales managers and work together to implement solutions that move deals through the funnel more quickly.

3. Maximize Win Factors

Managers are too busy coaching and selling to spend time crunching numbers, so it’s up to sales operations to provide managers with the hard data they need to manage effectively.

When the sales team is small, good managers can use their intuition to identify each rep’s strengths and weaknesses. However, as your team scales, it becomes harder and harder to learn the nuances of each rep’s approach.

By calculating each rep’s win rates for opportunities of different sizes, for different products, and any other relevant variable, sales operations helps to strengthen the sales team as a whole by revealing which opportunities reps are most likely to win.

This information is gold for VPs and managers, as they can break the sales organization into specialized teams that can zero in on specific use cases for your product. An example of this would be to break sales down into enterprise, midmarket, and SMB teams, and assign reps to each team based on their historical performance with each type of opportunity.

Pulling the curtain back on strengths and weaknesses within the selling process also provides the sales operations team with more detail about where sales enablement projects will have the most impact. Intelligent management and laser-focused sales enablement lay the foundation for an optimized sales process.

The moral of this whole story is that the sales operations professional is no longer peripheral to strong sales performance — she creates and maintains the framework that every sales team needs to achieve sustainable, long-term growth.