Performance Improves When Sales Operations Sets Strategy

CSO Insight’s newly released 2018 Sales Operations Optimization Study has some interesting findings for organizations looking to improve sales performance. (Which, let’s face it, is pretty much everybody.)

Sales Operations Hits Mainstream

First, sales operations is becoming a mainstream function. The 2018 study found that the majority of organizations (63.9%) have a dedicated team. This was even higher when we looked specifically at technology-related businesses where 80.5% of respondents had a dedicated sales operations function.

Furthermore, sales operations isn’t fighting for a seat at the table quite as much as they used to. We studied 16 activities for which sales operations is commonly involved, and in 15 of these, our respondents said they were either “heavily involved” or took on a “leadership role.” Here are a few areas of responsibility where sales operations had the greatest responsibility:

  • Sales tool and technology management: 27.7% heavily involved 20.1% leadership role
  • CRM definition and update strategy: 22.3% heavily involved 24.5% leadership role
  • Forecast & Pipeline Management: 30.8% heavily involved 16.0% leadership role
  • Sales & Sales Support Enablement: 30.5% heavily involved 15.1% leadership role
  • Seller Performance Metrics: 30.2% heavily involved 15.0% leadership role
  • Sales Process Definition: 30.5% heavily involved 13.8% leadership role


So that’s the good news. The bad news is that, while sales operations may have a seat at the table, they’re letting others dictate their agenda, and that’s hindering their ability to impact performance.

Who Sets Sales Operations Priorities?

Almost any management guru will tell you the key to success is to set priorities that are tied to the objectives you want to achieve. One look at our own to-do lists is enough to tell us that there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything that might be done.

With that in mind, we asked respondents to our study how they set priorities. The largest percentage (32.1%) said they focus on operational and technology management, and another 28.6% said they focus on analytical and strategic support. While spending time on these areas is certainly worthwhile, the study also shows that sales ops isn’t quite living up to expectations. We won’t go into that here, but you can download the full report for more details.

More disturbing is the percentage of respondents that said they allow their priorities to be set by other teams (18.2%). Even worse, only 21.1% of respondents said they set priorities based on a formal charter or long-term plan. (click to tweet)

But, you may ask, what difference does it make who sets sales ops priorities if the team is doing what it needs to do to achieve organizational objectives? Glad you asked!

Oh, What a Difference a Charter Makes!

The results were dramatic when we compared our respondents’ approach to priority setting against their quota attainment rates. Those who allowed others to set their priorities had the lowest quota attainment rates (53.1%). A focus on operational technology or analytical support saw much higher levels of quota attainment at 60.0% and 61.4% respectively. The greatest success of all was seen by those with a formal charter (68.3%). (click to tweet)

These results tell me a couple of things. First, sales operations matters. It would be difficult to look at data like this and continue to believe sales operations is a “nice to have” function. If you aren’t one of the 63.9% of organizations with a dedicates sales operations team, maybe it’s time you create one.

Just as importantly, these results tell me that it’s time sales leaders and executive management let their sales operations teams grow up. Insist they create a charter that is tied to the organization’s objectives and back their approach up with data. (We can help with that.) Then hold them accountable for results. But don’t decide what sales ops priorities should be for them, and by all means, don’t relegate them to one specific function. Give them the freedom to make a difference.

In future posts, we’ll talk more about the types of priorities sales operations teams might consider setting by elaborating on what the study has to say about the correlation of specific initiatives to performance. If waiting isn’t your forte, you can download the full report here

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