Sales Operations: The “Catch All” Team

What exactly does sales operations do in complex B2B sales organizations? It depends.

At least that was the answer of the 350 sales organizations who participated in our new Sales Operations Optimization Study. Sales operations does a little bit of everything. From forecasting to CRM maintenance, scenario modelling and more. If it involves analysis, the CRM or a spreadsheet, chances are your sales operations function (whether they be a dedicated group or not) has a hand in it.

We asked participants to rate 16 different activities regarding their level of involvement. They told us that they had at least “regular” involvement in all but one, marketing automation. (This is to be expected, considering the continued lack of integration between sales and marketing). But even absent marketing automation, that leaves sales operations with a very broad footprint.

But involvement does not translate into ownership. Few sales operations teams reported leading or driving the activities where they spent most of their time. The largest degree of control was in traditional ops territory of CRM maintenance and sales tool management.

It’s not surprising, given sales operations’ position as a support function. Yet, sales leaders also told us that the status quo needs to change. Leaders said the top challenge facing sales ops in the next 12 months is providing intelligence and insights to executives to inform decisions. This requires operations to take on a more strategic focus and more of a leadership role. Many sales operations teams are moving in the direction of becoming the strategic data hub for the sales organization, working as the revenue leader’s right hand (with enablement as the left). So how does an operations function evolve in this way?

  • Be proactive and intentional about your scope and purpose – see this recent blog.
  • Leverage new technologies to drive productivity. Not only do new AI-based technologies create opportunities to shorten the discovery phase of a sales cycle, for example, the way they go about it will simultaneously help you solve for traditional issues of CRM data accuracy and forecasting. (More on tech tools to come in a later post.)
  • Prioritize. The nature of operations is large and varied. Allocate your time and resources to the places where you can have the biggest impact

We analyzed organizations’ strength in the 16 activities and compared it to the selling results of win rates of forecasted deals and the percentage of salespeople making or exceeding goal. Several activities showed strong relationships and may well be worth a closer look for application of new technologies and approaches:

  • Designing sales organization structures – predicting the impact of organizational design decisions and recommending optimal structures. Examples include creating a customer success role or expanding/contracting managerial span of control.
  • Defining (revising) the sales process – defining and refining the selling processes that align with targeted customers’ buying processes. A “dynamic” process is defined, trained, reinforced and continuously revised with metrics. While operations today reports heavy involvement in sales process, only 27.9% felt like they had achieved dynamic process as a result.
  • Supporting sales enablement –either directly or in partnership with a formally dedicated Sales Enablement Function. (for extensive coverage of sales enablement, see our blog site)
  • Territory modelling and design – predicting the impact of territory assignment and recommending optimal models. This may also include account allocation, territory balancing and other ongoing administration of the territory management system.
  • Forecasting – owns the processes, systems and tools needed to create and refine forecasts for use by senior executives and other stakeholders. With salespeople winning only 47% of the deals they forecast, this is a continued challenge for ops.
  • Sales performance metrics – Extracting leading and lagging metrics from a broad range of systems, operations builds dashboards and reports that provide visibility into team and individual seller performance metrics.

As the default home for tools, technologies, reports and more, sales operations can easily get buried in the “today.” That would be a shame since the “tomorrow” in AI-driven sales offers such promise. Thus, it’s a good time to take a step back and think about sales operations and the role it plays within your sales system. What capabilities might you have that you aren’t optimizing?

Questions to Ask

  • What is the full scope of activities of my sales operation function?
  • What is the level of influence within these activities?
  • Are we exploring new approaches with enough rigor?
  • Is the allocation of our time and resources towards the activities which will create the greatest impact?

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