2015 will be the year of the Sales Ops.
For too long, Sales Ops has toiled in the shadows, supporting the sales team that basks in the spotlight and accolades of all their Closed-Won deals. Yet, all the best closers in the world would not be quite so successful without the sales operations managers, admins and processes that lie beneath. This team has a dizzying array of functions and responsibilities, all of which touch all the key points of the Lead-to-Cash journey.
It’s time to start recognizing – and more importantly, enabling – the sales operations team. As buyers become smarter, processes more complex, technology more advanced and data more proliferative, sales operations will step to the forefront once and for all in 2015.
The Offensive Line of the Sales Team
To better understand the role and underscore the importance of the sales operations team, let’s think of the whole sales team as analogous to an American football team:
- The head coach or offensive coordinator is the Sales VP. He or she sets the overall strategy and crafts the playbook of how the overall team will hit its goal (i.e. scoring touchdowns), while working with individual contributors to improve personal skills through practice, study and technique coaching.
- The running backs are the Sales Development Representatives, or the prospecting team. Just as running backs churn out hard-fought yards incrementally to create higher-probability scoring chances (i.e driving into the red zone), so do SDRs tediously work the phones to find prospects that might turn into valuable opportunities.
- The quarterback and wide receivers are the Closers or Account Executives. These are your star players, the ones who ultimately put points on the board. They bask in the spotlight, receiving hearty congratulations and credit when they throw 60-yard bombs or make highlight-reel catches; on the flipside, they also get a fair share of blame when they throw backbreaking interceptions (i.e. missing quota or losing a valuable opportunity).
- The offensive linemen are the Sales Operations team. To the casual fan, the offensive line is often overlooked in terms of its importance to success of the overall team – it’s easy to tell when running backs, wide receivers and especially quarterbacks are doing their job and succeeding. Offensive line play is more nuanced.To the seasoned football eye – and more importantly, to coaches and general managers building out their rosters – offensive line play is unquestionably the most critical aspect of a team. Teams often talk about building their rosters “from the trenches, out” suggesting that it all starts with having a strong and cohesive line.The offensive line protects and supports the quarterback, allowing him to do what he does best. They have to adapt to fast-changing defenses and deliver exactly what the quarterback needs, in very real-time fashion. They pave the way for running backs to churn out incremental gains and obtain valuable territory. Their grunt work gives the wide receivers the time they need to get open downfield. Simply put, nobody on the offense would be put in a position to shine and score were it not for the unheralded work of the offensive line, i.e. the sales operations team.
The Many Hats of Sales Operations
Ironically, part of what makes Sales Ops so valuable is also what relegates it to the background of sales functions – they wear so many damn hats! Their categorical functions and responsibilities comprise and include, among others: data management, reporting, unearthing analytic insight, integrating platforms and systems, working with marketing and the lead generation team, hashing out financial terms and so much more. Their role is made all the more complicated by the fact that it is simultaneously very strategic in nature but also very detail-oriented and operationally-focused.
Strategically, the Sales Operations team must be intimately familiar with sales management and sales processes. After all, their role is to optimize the overall sales process and find room – and solutions – for improvement. This requires a certain element of creativity, in spotting trends and thinking outside the box to solve age-old problems.
They must be able to anticipate the analytics and reporting needs of the Sales VPs, marketing leads and finance teams that depend on their insights. If they identify optimization options – such as must-have sales tools, for example – they must triage those tools, and then be able to credibly and assertively communicate those solutions to the authority decision-makers above them. They must keep up with sales trends and best practices, pivoting and choosing the ones that best fit them.
Operationally, the Sales Operations team must be incredibly detail-oriented. After all, the crux of the role is a very technical and data-oriented one.
- It starts with data – With an overwhelming amount of sales data available to sales managers through Salesforce.com, there’s no excuse to not run your sales team by the numbers. For the Sales Operations team, this means aggregating all that data from myriad sources and making sure it’s clean and accurate.
- Getting actionable insights from data – Data for data’s sake is largely useless. It’s on the Sales Operations team to analyze that data, identify trends and generally make sense of it. They need to deliver actionable insights from that data that can be transformed into real process changes and best practices to be implemented.
- Alignment and connectivity – One of the most underrated aspects of a Sales Operations team is the role it plays as the connective tissue between the sales team and its customers, sales and marketing, finance with sales and really all the disparate functions of an organization. For starters, they have to understand the customer and how they’re buying, to make the necessary changes to the selling process. They have to set up the whole lead generation and hand-off process to ensure seamless sales and marketing alignment. They must work with finance to establish optimal pricing and create scalable and consistent contract structures.
- Reports don’t build themselves – All those reports that the Sales VP, the CEO and the Board need on a daily, weekly or otherwise regular basis? They certainly don’t build themselves. In fact, one of the most common complaints from Sales Operations teams is how much time they spend building out these reports; in 2015, if your Sales Operations team can find a product that greatly improves their efficiency in building out these reports, give it to them. You’ll both greatly appreciate the results.
In 2014 and before, sales improvement generally focused on improvements through individual performances; if each sales rep got incrementally better at selling, the team would see an overall lift. While this is true, it’s also not very scalable. True growth and improvement has to come from beyond, and that’s where Sales Operations comes in.
They are the team that analyzes both the strategic framework and the tactical best practices of sales performance management. They are the ones who implement structural improvements. They hold the entire sales organization together, working as one cohesive unit. They protect, grind, analyze, adapt and generally pave the way for the sales team to move forward toward its goal.
2015 is the year of Sales Operations. It’s time to recognize them, and enable them to continue enabling and supporting the rest of the sales organization.