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Sales Operations: Creating a System of Action

Sales operations is the backbone of sales success. Today’s reps rely on sales ops to manage compensation, maintain Salesforce & other sales tools, and to solve the many problems that get in the way of closing deals. They serve as a system of record for sales data.

Most companies stop here, only focusing on reactively supporting their sales reps. To truly become a hub of innovation, sales ops leaders need to take their function to the next level by becoming a system of action. The best organizations run sales ops like a product team where sales success is the product and sales reps are the users. 

A brief history of sales ops

Originally, sales ops was simply a component of the finance team, in charge of managing variable commissions and compensation plans. In short, they were compensation analysts. As tools, like Salesforce, became a necessary part of running a business, we saw the rise of the Salesforce admin as a key member of the ops team. 

Still, this function has remained reactive, with many organizations viewing their sales ops teams as a system of record. This is a waste of their operational talent. Great organizations have the potential to get so much more from their sales operations team. 

At the most innovative companies, this function resembles a product organization rather than a finance sub-team. That means treating sales reps as users and always thinking about how to improve the user experience. 

Reps are the users, sales is the product

If the sales rep is the user, then the sales team, as a whole, is the product. Just like with other product teams, sales ops must have quarterly goals and sprints to release new features. They’re the engine that continuously innovates for the sales team. 

There are 4 ways that your sales ops team can accelerate sales success at your organization: 

  1. Ongoing, consistent evaluation and piloting of tools 

Be thoughtful about how your reps are spending their time and what you include in your technology stack strategy. With so many free one month trials available for all types of tools, there’s no reason not to constantly pilot options to find the best fit for your team. Ideally, plan on running 1 or 2 pilots at any given time. 

  1. Nurture a deep understanding of sales rep behavior

Ask how reps approach their day. How do they work with the systems you have in place? How do they move with customers through a sales cycle? Find ways to free up their time and make their lives easier. 

  1. Innovate the sales funnel from end to end

Find out how to segment better. How to move opportunities through the sales stages faster. Align lifecycle marketing to support sales reps by providing the right content to reps at the right time. 

What tricks can we uncover to help reps move faster? How do we close better? How do we make the handoff to account managers smoother? How can we upsell more? How do we trigger notifications when the time comes to upsell or renew? Ultimately, you need to get reps excited about your change management process so they get on board with your innovation strategy. 

  1. Sales ops should have a people ops component 

Find out which incentives perform the best for reps. Define promotion paths that make sense and are fair, equitable, and quantitatively managed. Try to take a 70/30 approach. 70% of your time should be dedicated to offense, like creating better rep experiences and processes. 30% of your time should be dedicated to keeping the lights on. Most organizations have it backwards. 

Sales ops teams that are running at peak performance release new features, tools, and workflows every quarter, just like a product team. If they aren’t shipping things and only maintaining the status quo–are they even moving the needle forward for your sales team? 

→ For a playbook on how to organize your Sales Operations team, click here. ←

Be the API for the sales team 

I like to think of sales operations as the “API” for the sales team. They’re the connector that every other department in your organization uses to plug into sales. If marketing needs something from sales, sales ops is the team responsible for packaging, understanding, and working with marketing to roll it out to sales. The same goes for the product and finance team. 

Sales ops must be the experts at rolling out changes and processes to their core user base–their sales reps. That’s why great sales ops people are constantly meeting and shadowing their reps and sales managers. 

Don’t just spend time with Sales VPs and Directors. After all, they aren’t on the front line. Take a rep or a manager to lunch and shadow sales calls. These can be free form conversations or hyper-focused discussions on specific things, like new processes or compensation plans. 

Align your sales ops with your sales team

Traditionally, sales ops teams report to the COO or CFO, and their priorities aren’t always aligned with the success of their reps. Instead, sales ops should report directly to the sales organization. This puts sales reps and sales ops on the same team. 

Sales ops should be on a variable compensation plan just like the sales org. At my last company, the sales ops team followed my plan as the sales leader, not the reps’ comp plans. They were paid how I was paid. This created a broad alignment across all sales teams. 

Sales ops need to understand what it's like to be on a comp plan. This helps them have more empathy and changes their perspective. Ultimately, if you support a revenue generating team, you should share in both the highs and the lows. When there’s a backlog of features that could improve the reps’ day, and they don’t get shipped, sales ops will understand the hit it takes on their payout too. 

Prepare for success

Realigning your sales ops team to be in lockstep with your sales reps is a big change. I recommend having at least one person who is swift at making admin changes. Someone that’s ferocious about enabling and helping sales reps. Combine this person with a Head of Operations who thinks about the big picture. Together, your sales ops team and sales reps can work together to speed up innovation and close more deals.  

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