“What was your first job?”
It’s one of my favorite questions to ask a fellow professional in sales operations. Some of the answers include:
- Elementary school teacher
- Pharmacy Tech
- Insurance sales rep
- Cosmetics consultant
- Account Manager
- Financial analyst
Why the wide range?
Sales Operations is Still Developing
Sales operations as a profession is growing, yet it is a comparatively new function in businesses. I didn’t hear of sales ops until years after entering the workforce. As thought leadership evolves and new iterations of revenue and commercial operations take shape, visibility for the discipline is skyrocketing. Heck, we’re even gaining recognition in our own backyard, Trailhead. Gathering resources at my stage in career involves the practice of active networking, user conferences, sales leadership groups, slack channels, above par googling skills, and sheer grit to piece together a resource pool. Making this easy and available to others should be the next goal for myself and leaders in the field.
The Path is Indirect
While many find themselves in sales or revenue operations from different paths, one thing is constant. No one got a degree in the subject. Finance and management studies gave you models to take into the real world while our area did not. I personally got my B.S. in psychology with a pre-med concentration. I’ll let you figure that one out. It’s refreshing to find that more programs are providing courses, structure, and guides but universities and the field itself need to fill in the knowledge gaps.
Sales Ops is Many Disciplines in One
Thankfully once you’ve made your way into the field, the possibilities explode. I found the above graph from fullcast.io that does a fantastic job of describing many of the functions grouped under SOPs. Each organization has an operations structure to support its varying functions. As a result, many skillsets build the foundation of a strong team. It is this very nature and the need to respond to changes quickly that makes this department so exciting! A few are common categories:
We are deep in the age of tech-based solutions and finding answers to problems we didn’t know we had! Commanding the leading CRM, business intelligence, and marketing automation systems has massive business impact. This area draws the technically inclined where the role is to ensure that systems and processes are well connected, feeding the right information to each other and providing one-stop visibility into the operations of the commercial engine. It’s no easy task. Those who master the solutions drive the language of the business.
Good data is built from the ground up—same goes for a good data program. It is crucial that every layer from data entry to deep analytics speak the same language and have mechanisms to maintain data integrity. People who build a visual story and see the larger picture are enticed by these roles, tracking company performance against goals and displaying it in impactful ways.
Sales & Process Support
Planning, forecasting, and enablement don’t happen on their own. If you’re an organized person who likes working with people and driving behavior, this area will appeal to you. The responsibilities range from daily support of sales to developing the territories for regions of the world. Implementing the processes on the front line and keeping everyone accountable is the focus here.
How do You Build a Career Once You’re Here?
There are a few key areas to gain exposure while building your sales ops toolbelt in a sales growth-focused organization.
Order processing is like spying on both the customer and the company at the same time. What makes a “good” or “bad” deal? Are there features that customers commonly purchase together that you can proactively package? What are your common discount rates, and do they vary by region or vertical? Are there upsells that make sense to incentivize to your sales team? Knowledge in this area of business operations gives you direct feedback about the most important deals of all—the ones that are closing.
Like technological tools, there is no shortage of data in business today. Consumption of this information is the next challenge; executive reporting, quarterly business reviews, and daily dashboards all require a keen eye to slice data for different audiences. Advanced analysis includes command of business intelligence tools and data standards. Accuracy matters so building a foundation of solid reporting practices helps you design the processes that make sense when they scale.
Investing in technology means more than approving the budget to buy software. Evaluate the tools in your environment as a user and as a purchaser. Spend time learning best practice for your CRM, attend the user conferences for your tools, and confer with your network about how they are solving problems with them. Finally, take the time to get certified. When you’re doing the work to learn this you might as well stack your toolbelt with those professional certifications that matter.
While this list is by no means exclusive, these will get you started in key business areas immediately. Sales operations is rooted deeply within the heart of the commercial engine—it’s one of the greatest departments to gain a 360-degree view of a business’ need. You will work with teams critical to the business and drive customer acquisition and retention programs. There may not be a common path to the role but when you arrive, you’re needed somewhere.