You might have the most talented salespeople in the world – reps who are exceptional at engaging prospects, asking the right questions and closing the deal – but if you don’t get the sales operations piece right, they simply won’t perform as well as they could. That’s because they won’t have the systems and processes in place to complement their natural ability.
What is sales operations? As sales engagement and automation experts, we at Mailshake understand the need for sales ops to support growing sales teams. So we’ve put together this guide to all things sales operations, with everything from the why to the how. Learn why a sales ops team is so important, their roles and responsibilities, essential techniques and KPIs to measure success.
Sales operations involves providing data insights and strategies to reduce friction and support the sales team. This may include responsibilities like data management and lead generation.
In a nutshell, sales operations is all about allowing reps to spend more of their time selling, and less on things like admin, meetings and low-value, labor-intensive tasks.
By building a more efficient sales unit, sales ops helps you achieve the results you need to move your business forward.
Often, this means implementing a system for selling that ensures all reps are working toward the same goals, rather than doing their own thing.
Some salespeople see operations as a barrier to their selling efforts – they think that putting structures and processes in place to define best practices and introduce a consistent approach is restricting their natural flair.
However, sales operations is valuable because it removes friction from your sales process – the stuff that’s slowing your reps down and distracting them from the all-important business of speaking to prospects.
That means they’ll be more efficient and more productive, which in turn gives them more opportunities to close deals and drive revenue.
Here are more crucial benefits of sales operations functions:
Sales operations and sales enablement are both about positioning you to sell more, but they’re not quite the same. So, what’s the difference?
Broadly speaking, sales ops involves evaluating the best options for the sales team and making strategic decisions about those options. Sales enablement is then about implementing those decisions.
To give an example, on a strategic level, sales ops might establish that reps aren’t spending enough time on qualifying prospects, which is producing inefficiencies later on in the process. Sales enablement would then provide training sessions and materials to help reps qualify leads more effectively.
The two disciplines also tend to be involved in different parts of the sales process:
What does sales operations do? The specific responsibilities of the sales operations department will vary slightly from one organization to another, but broadly speaking, they’ll touch on the following areas:
You can’t build a more efficient sales process through guesswork – your decisions need to be driven by data.
That’s why sales ops needs to take the lead on managing and analyzing all relevant sales data, digging into the numbers to produce actionable recommendations.
The specific metrics and KPIs they track will depend on the numbers that matter most to your business. For example, if you only sell a single product for a fixed fee, average contract value isn’t relevant, but it might be if you offer multiple tiers or bespoke pricing.
That said, here are a few things that your sales ops unit should consider tracking:
Forecasting is often left to sales leaders, but it’s difficult.
Spend too long on it, and the figures will quickly become irrelevant. Put too little thought in upfront, and it’ll be pretty meaningless – you might as well have just picked some random numbers.
Because the ops team has access to a wealth of data, they’re often best positioned to predict future revenue generation and activity levels. This allows sales leaders to identify potential issues before they arise and course-correct to avoid them.
Sales affects everyone within your organization.
The C-suite wants you to smash your sales targets. Team leaders want you to push their products. Everyone wants a pay raise, a promotion, a bigger budget or to hire new team members. And none of that is possible if the sales team isn’t performing.
Understandably, many stakeholders want to have their say on sales strategy, processes and reporting.
That’s a lot of extra noise for your front-line salespeople to deal with.
Instead of involving your reps, leave the job of stakeholder management and communications to your ops team.
Because they have access to all that data, and because they have a top-level view of sales processes and performance rather than getting bogged down in the deal, sales operations is in a fantastic position to develop effective new systems and strategies. This includes things that:
Not only that, but they can also take the lead on communicating any changes in approach to sales leaders and other key stakeholders.
No salesperson is the full package. Whether they’re an experienced long-serving rep or a new starter, there’s always room for improvement – and that often comes through training.
The sales ops team will often take responsibility for creating and delivering training sessions and other collateral.
They might also build and implement a sales mentoring program to create support systems, share best practices and improve morale.
In addition, sales ops will often take the lead on training reps to use new sales software. This is because it’s often the ops team who will first identify a need for new software to make the sales process more efficient, and they’ll often choose the software as well.
Many salespeople struggle with finding leads. It eats up a lot of their time and often doesn’t yield great results.
Sales ops can bring efficiency to this vital part of your sales operation.
For instance, they can build processes that increase alignment between your sales and marketing functions. That can help you answer questions like:
Performance management is another vital part of sales that can be handled by your ops team in the form of:
They can also take the lead on regular performance reviews, or support sales leaders on how to carry out those reviews on their own.
How do you assess the effectiveness of a sales campaign, a new process or a product launch?
By measuring and evaluating the data. This is a key responsibility of the sales operations function.
By digging into the numbers, the sales ops team is able to determine the success of your current sales strategies. If things aren’t working out as expected, they’re well placed to advise on a new approach or process.
Beyond this, sales ops will also use things like external benchmarks, competitor analysis and internal performance data to build out new sales strategies where necessary.
To boost sales efficiency, sales operations may work with the IT department to manage various technologies and helpful sales tools, such as the CRM or sales engagement platform.
Because there are so many sales tools out there with varying degrees of complexity, sales ops can help manage your tech stack. Sales ops can take time off the sales team’s plate by integrating apps, customizing the CRM and sales dashboard, and setting up task automation.
Traditionally, sales was all about knocking on doors. That meant every salesperson had a defined geographic territory to ensure that no one stepped on each other’s toes.
Field sales is less common today, and even when it does still happen, it’s rare that the field sales agent will be going in cold – generally, the prospect will have spoken to someone else on the seller’s side first.
However, that doesn’t mean territories are no longer relevant. They just might not be geographic anymore.
Different salespeople are naturally better at speaking to different types of prospects or dealing with different types of organizations. Some might love the immediacy and accessibility of startups, while others might thrive on the more involved, relationship-driven world of enterprise sales.
Your ops team should be taking the lead on defining territories across your sales function and assigning leads accordingly.
There are different positions within a sales ops team, all with important functions. Here’s a description of each type of sales operations job:
So, how is the sales operations team structured? Of course, based on specific needs, every company may structure their team differently. Here’s just one example of a sales ops team structure:
With such wide-ranging responsibilities, it can be difficult for sales ops teams to work out what to do next.
What will make the biggest impact? Revamping lead qualification or streamlining prospecting? Improving alignment with marketing or the C-suite? Building a new training program or coaching existing sales leaders?
Here are a few general techniques for running an effective sales ops function.
It’s important to create a company-wide mission statement to align your sales ops and sales team members. A mission statement should state your overall objectives. To avoid sounding too vague or unoriginal, include clear and unique language.
Here are some examples of standout mission statements:
Sales ops doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If the measures they put in place don’t have buy-in from the front-line sales team, they’re just not going to work.
What’s more, while sales ops is great at delivering data-driven insights, they lack hands-on experience of speaking to prospects and selling your product.
That’s why all strategic decisions should be made as a collaboration between ops and front-line sales leaders.
This approach reduces the risk of the ops function making conclusions based on data that aren’t applicable or practical in the real world.
Throughout this article, we’ve discussed the importance of ensuring that sales ops has access to all the necessary data.
So as a starting point, the ops unit should lead the setup of all relevant sales analytics tools.
What tools do they need? Well, that depends on the metrics they want to focus on, so they’ll also need to figure out the types of questions they want to answer down the line. Things like:
No sales process is perfect.
If you have one in place already, there’s a good chance it falls apart from time to time.
And if you don’t have a formalized process in place, you definitely need one. Otherwise, you don’t even have a sales team – you just have a bunch of individuals doing whatever they feel like.
Whatever position you’re currently in, sales ops should have all the data they need to identify inefficiencies and build something smarter. If they don’t already have the data, they should at least have the analytics tools in place to gather it.
You might want to give ops some guidance on the specific parts of your sales process that may need improvement.
Alternatively, give them free rein to scour the whole process, seek out inefficiencies and put measures in place to eradicate them.
As mentioned earlier, some salespeople view sales ops as a barrier to their selling. To dispel this idea and form a better connection between the two teams, have sales ops members regularly shadow the sales team. Shadowing salespeople once a quarter will help sales operations reps better understand the sales team’s pain points and day-to-day work.
The sales ops team should always be innovating and proactively setting sales goals. To stay successful, the team should always have a forward-thinking mindset. One study showed that sales teams with a reactive strategy had quota attainment 14% lower than teams that used a proactive strategy.
How do you measure the success of a sales ops team? Here are several more examples of KPIs for sales operations:
With this, you can take valuable information and goals into account as you build your sales operations team. While you’re at it, book a demo to see how Mailshake can help support your sales and sales ops teams by prospecting at scale.