Sales Operations Is a Balancing Act

What we do in sales operations is based on structure and organization – it’s about defining standards that are needed across process, technology and go-to-market planning. We identify repeatable processes to improve sales efficiencies and productivity so that organizations can continue to grow. But as organizations look to scale their growth – not just grow but increase revenue while minimizing overhead – sales operations also needs to shift and consider balancing structure with flexibility.

Sales operations is a balancing act. We need to account for both structure and flexibility as we help make sense of what appears chaotic, especially as organizations look to scale their growth. (Click to tweet)

First, let’s take a look at how the scope of what sales operations does shifts as organizations grow.

In our 2018 Sales Operations Optimization Study, we noted that as organizations grow – both in company revenue size and in sales force size – they’re more likely to have a dedicated sales operations function. This is not surprising considering the increasing needs organizations have around building, monitoring and refining the selling system foundations (i.e., process, technology and go-to-market planning) as they grow.

As organizations grow, sales operations’ scope of responsibility also changes. In an early-stage startup business, sales operations (consisting of one or two people) is usually responsible for implementing and managing a CRM system and compiling forecast and pipeline management reports. As the business grows and the sales leader looks for ways to sustain that growth, they frequently turn to sales operations to define and document a repeatable sales process that is specific to their business.

Sales leaders also may request an inventory of which sales technologies are being used by their teams, as budget reviews start to focus more on optimizing spend. As organizations shift their focus to scaling growth, sales operations becomes more involved in go-to-market planning activities (i.e., segmentation, coverage and sales compensation), partnering with sales leaders to design the sales organization in an optimal manner to drive growth.

Many of you in sales operations will agree that these are expected additions to your scope of responsibility as your organization looks to scale growth. And most probably also would agree that building a solid foundation across data, process and technology becomes critical so that your sales operations team can do more with efficiency and accuracy.

Successful sales operations leaders know that building flexibility into structure is critical, especially if you want to keep up with shifting organizational needs. (Click to tweet)

So, what does it mean to build flexibility into structure? It means ensuring structures are in place and accounting for adjustments when needed; it means being experts at what we do while being open to feedback and new ideas; it means doing more than what we are asked to do.

Just like engineers design a building to be earthquake-proof by reinforcing the structure and creating a flexible foundation, sales operations should build a flexible selling system foundation. (Click to tweet) The foundations need to be designed with flexibility in mind so that we can respond to changing organizational needs without impacting the structure itself.

Below are some examples of how sales operations can transform what we do by balancing flexibility with structure.

– Deliver insights, not just reports. (Click to tweet) As discussed in last week’s blog, reports are a way to pull available data together in a structured and organized manner. Insights, on the other hand, use the report as a foundation to conduct analysis to compile information that helps sales leaders make business decisions. And it starts with knowing what decisions the sales leader is trying to make.

So the next time your sales leader asks you to pull a report together, ask for clarification around what decisions they are trying to make with the help of the report. Then proactively do the analysis, and compile insights that include key observations and recommendations they can review. The key here is not to be afraid to ask for clarification; by knowing more clearly why they need the reports, you can compile the needed analysis.

– Shift your focus from compliance to guidance. (Click to tweet) Sales operations is responsible for key business processes such as sales process and forecast process. Once the process is defined and documented, sales operations’ next focus is on adoption of the process. And adoption is usually mistakenly measured through the sales organization’s compliance to the process. If a process is meant to guide the sales organization to be more efficient and effective in what it does, then sales operations should focus less on compliance and more on providing guidance.

Be open to soliciting feedback from salespeople and sales managers. Is the process effective? How are they using it? What adjustments might need to be made? You might even consider taking advantage of the available sales technologies to automate and enhance the process itself. If we focus too much on compliance, we will lose sight of how effective the process is in the first place.

– Don’t just manage your sales tech stack, define it! (Click to tweet) When it comes to sales technologies, sales operations is responsible for managing the state of the sales tech stack. But just managing and administering sales technologies is not enough. Be proactive and define a sales tech roadmap aligned to your sales strategy and objectives. An important step in pulling a sales tech roadmap together is knowing what it’s going to take to get to the future state and how to address any gaps that exist today. These gaps should not be limited to technology gaps alone; rather, they also should account for resource and capability gaps, as sales technology may help address such gaps.

And keep an open mind when considering different sales technology options. Engage with other functions that interact with your sales force and your customers – marketing, customer success, service, finance and IT. They can bring a perspective that you might not have considered.


As the examples above illustrate, a simple shift – insights instead of reports, guidance versus compliance, and defining, not just managing sales tech stack – can help transform what sales operations does. (Click to tweet) Building a selling system foundation that can account for this type of flexibility will allow sales operations to be more fluid in what we do and adapt quickly to changing organizational needs.


Questions for you:

  • How flexible is your sales operations function in keeping up with changing organizational needs?
  • Do you find yourself managing reports more than providing insights to help sales leaders make business decisions?
  • What will it take to balance structure and flexibility in what sales operations does today?
  • What adjustments can you make to build flexibility into your sales operations function?


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