The Three Levers of Sales Operations

Guest blog by Joe Rodden, Sales Systems Manager at Catalant Technologies

One of the most impactful ‘Aha!’ moments of my career in sales operations came from a former boss who I deeply respect and trust. It was the beginning of a new fiscal year and as so often can happen in sales ops our small, three-man sales systems team was moved underneath a new umbrella. The most glaring mandate we had was, “This whole selling process is broken, it needs to be fixed. You’re the systems guys, fix it.”

And so we got to work.

Meticulously we laid out every single individual step in the process, every click, every action. After doing this we realized we hadn’t got too far and decided to take a different approach to the effort. We took a step back and decided to create an imaginary company, envision how it would go to market, and then lay out the high level solution for each step of the process. This is when I was first introduced to the concept of the “Three Levers of Sales Operations.” The three strings we can tug to get results — and how important it is to identify which to pull to get those results. At a very high level let’s call these: Systems, Training and Management.

Systems. With the advent of CRM technologies, sales operations is typically the team that designs and implements sales processes into some form of CRM. I often find myself saying that actually building new functionality in Salesforce is the easiest part of my job. The reason I say this is that systems issues are often the easiest problems to solve. Unlike the other two, the solution is (comparatively) rather clear cut, the problem easily identified, and the solution directly controllable. One common example and one that I’ve seen in every company is preventing sales reps from editing opportunities post close.

Training. Probably the most easily understood and most often confused of the three levers. This would come to you in the form of a rep confessing, “I don’t know how to do x” “Great! Let me show you!”. So why do I say this is the most often confused of the three? I often find that “more training” gets touted as a solution for a half-baked process in a system that’s so confusing and over-engineered that it’s almost impossible valueless. On the other side, reps simply not doing their job such as updating their forecast, entering opportunities, etc. isn’t a training issue. It’s just a good old management problem. The good news is that true training issues are relatively simple to solve provided you have the right resources available.

Management. The hardest of the three to solve mainly due to sales ops typically having the least direct control. That doesn’t mean we dust ourselves off and call it a day when we identify the primary level we need to pull is management. I’d like to pause for a second to explain the difference between control and influence here. To give an example, I have an overweight cat named Gus. I can’t control how much Gus weighs, but I can influence it by controlling how much I give him to eat. To bring this into sales operations terms (and move away from overweight house pets) if a rep simply isn’t logging any activities can you make him? No, but their manager can. We can help by highlighting these issues to management, giving management the tools they need to monitor their reps, manage their behaviors, and ultimately influence our sales objectives.

When designing new solutions and processes or trying to improve on what’s come before I always first ask myself, “What type of problem is this?” “Why do I do this?” Because I’ve learned the hard way that trying to solve a problem with the wrong solution only makes it infinitely harder and more frustrating to do so. You can spin your wheels for hours on end coming up with clever solutions and workarounds but if you’re not primarily using the right lever this will typically end in frustration for you and your sales team.