Five Steps to Setting Your Sales Operations Team up for Success

As a sales operations leader, when was the last time you took the time to ensure your sales operations team is set up for success? With so much to do, it’s easy for sales operations to take on too much. And if we’re not careful, this can result in an overtasked and overworked team, impacting not only the quality of our deliverables but also the team’s morale.

As sales operations leaders, we must take the time to pause and think through how to set our teams up for success. (Click to tweet)

Sales operations’ scope can be vast and varied. In last year’s Sales Operations Optimization Study, we looked at four main areas of responsibility across a total of 16 activities that fall under a sales operations function. These activities include go-to-market planning, sales performance measurement, forecast and pipeline management, reporting and analysis, and sales tech stack management, to name a few. And let’s not forget the other special projects that your sales leaders and teams need your help with.

What we do in sales operations is like designing, building and maintaining a sales highway. (Click to tweet) You first design the highway, then work to gain the support of people impacted by the highway, then build the highway. Once it’s built and vehicles start using it, you shift to maintenance mode – filling potholes, refreshing the paint on the highway lanes and so on – all the while keeping an eye out for any improvements that might be required.

For your sales highway to run smoothly, sales operations has a critical role in proactively identifying and recommending areas for improvement while also managing daily operations. (Click to tweet)

Here are five steps sales operations leaders can take to be proactive in setting their teams up for success:

Step 1: Partner with sales leaders, and define your priorities. (Click to tweet) Sales operations priorities should be clearly defined so that we can be more proactive vs. ad hoc and reactive. We found in our 2018 Sales Operations Optimization Study that organizations with a formal charter or more structured approach to sales operations saw a 15.2-percentage-point improvement in quota attainment compared to those whose priorities were set by others.

Partner with your sales leaders to jointly develop a mid- to long-term plan that accounts for the agreed-upon priority items. Review and validate with sales leadership what you understand to be the areas that require your team’s support, in alignment with their sales strategy and initiatives. At the same time, help them understand what it takes to keep the selling system foundations operating smoothly so that their sales teams can be efficient and productive. Jointly defining your priorities with sales leadership will you help you and your sales operations team better balance your efforts to provide both visible and “behind the scenes” support.

Step 2: Be aware of what your team is working on. (Click to tweet) Find out what your sales operations team is currently working on. It will help you in a number of ways.  First, it will help you assess the state of your sales highway (selling system foundation). For example, if you have a CRM in place and find out that multiple people are manually updating, deduplicating or cleaning up CRM data, maybe it’s time for you to consider defining a CRM data management process and automating the manual process with the help of data cleansing technologies. Second, it will help you understand what else your teams are being asked to support. It might be an opportunity for you to look at what else your sales organization needs support on that is not yet accounted for and reprioritize your team’s efforts accordingly.

If your team is taking on too many ad-hoc requests unnecessarily, it’s a great coaching moment. Work with your team, and coach them on how to prioritize their work, manage expectations and manage their time wisely. Remember: Coaching is not micromanaging. Coach them so that they can be better equipped to work more efficiently and effectively. And finally, knowing what your team is working on gives you better insight into where they might need support – whether it’s additional resources, sales tools or technologies, or even skills development. Without the right level of support, your team will not be successful, and neither will the sales organization you and your team support.

Step 3: Strengthen cross-functional relationships, and foster collaboration with IT, finance, HR, legal and sales enablement. (Click to tweet) Sales operations supports the sales organization, but we cannot do it alone – especially since what we do touches cross-functional workflows, processes and systems. Proactively reach out to IT, finance, HR, legal and sales enablement if you haven’t already; don’t wait for them to take the first step. And remember: Facilitate a two-way dialogue, not a one-way monologue!

Keep them informed on what you and your team are working on, and gather their feedback – whether it’s on a project you are working on or how your team is doing in general. Engaging with them and listening to their feedback is the first step toward fostering a more collaborative relationship. You also should ask them for an overview of the priorities they are working on. You might identify areas where you and your sales operations team can assist or support them that they might not have thought to engage you on. Schedule regular touchpoints with your functional partners. You can always start out with 1:1s between you and the functional leaders and, as you strengthen your relationships, it may be time to shift to a more formal quarterly review with your respective teams. As a sales operations leader, by fostering collaborative relationships with your cross-functional partners, you are helping to build a bridge between your sales operations team and theirs.

Step 4: Build and gain the trust of your sales managers and salespeople. (Click to tweet) Sales operations exists to support the sales organization – across sales leadership, sales managers and salespeople. To do this effectively, you and your team need to build and gain the trust of the sales managers and salespeople you support. You can do this by first understanding what challenges the sales teams are facing on the front lines – where are they spending their time, what will help them be more efficient and productive. Where possible, you and your team should spend time with sales teams “in the field,” whether joining them on prospecting calls or demo meetings or driving with them to customer accounts.

Once you understand their challenges, the next step is to recommend options to overcome them. As an expert in sales process and sales technology, don’t hesitate to make recommendations that at times might be other than what the sales managers and salespeople asked for. They may not know that an alternate option is available in the first place.

Step 5: Be present, listen, and engage with your team. (Click to tweet) As a sales operations leader, you know there’s a lot to get done. If you are feeling the pressure, your team is feeling it too. The most important step you need to consciously make an effort to take, even with your hectic schedule, is to spend time with your team. Spending time with them is more than having a team building event or going out to lunch. It means being present when you are with them – putting aside what you are doing and giving them your full attention. When they need your help, listen. Is it simply help with a project they are working on, or is it a cry for help that might be hidden under their words? They might be feeling overwhelmed and not have enough resources to get the job done.

Engage with them. Ask them about their project and how they are doing personally and professionally, and even have a creative brainstorming session on something other than what they are working on. You will find out more about the current state of your team just by spending more time with them – so that you can help them be successful.

 

In sales operations, we strive to provide high-quality deliverables to our sales organization. To continue to do this, it’s crucial for sales operations leaders to maintain the well-being of the sales operations team. It is our responsibility as sales operations leaders to make sure our teams are focused, engaged and motivated so that we can keep the sales highway running smoothly. (Click to tweet)

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On a separate note, it’s not too late to join our Annual Sales Operations & Technology Study – click here to get started. As a thank you for your participation, you will be among the first to receive the full report before it’s available on the open market. Thank you!

 

Questions for you:

  • When was the last time you paused to reflect on how to set your team up for success?
  • Are your sales operations team’s efforts aligned to the sales strategy and objectives?
  • Do you partner with sales leadership to define what your sales operations team can and should work on?
  • Do you know how many priorities your sales operations team is managing at any one time?

 

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