Over 40 years ago, Xerox established the world's first sales operations unit: a dedicated team to help salespeople sell faster, better and more efficiently. Their job? To take on activities such as forecasting, sales planning and territory design. Or in group leader J. Patrick Kelly’s words, “all the nasty number things that you don’t want to do, but need to do to make a great sales force.”
But this doesn’t mean sales ops plays a lesser role compared to the “real” salespeople. In fact, success of sales teams can be traced back to a strong sales ops competency—and in the highest performing teams, around half the members are in support roles.
Today, sales ops is about more than number crunching; it's emerging as a strategic function that’s critical to the efficiency and growth of your revenue engine.
Think of it this way: in motor racing, members of the pit crew don’t sit behind the wheel themselves, but are integral to getting the driver across the finish line. In other words, your sales rep may be the ones closing the deal, but sales ops is what gets them there.
So, what exactly does sales operations do? Well, there is no set answer, because the size and responsibilities of sales ops varies depending on the sales organization's needs.
Sales operations works with every aspect—inside and out of your organization—that touches sales. Its mission is tightly aligned with the goals and objectives of the sales team, ultimately increasing revenue by supporting the team and the process. This is done by:
Sales operations works as the VP of sales' additional pair of hands to ensure deadlines and deliverables are met. Besides ensuring that the VP’s strategic plans are managed to implementation, sales operations monitors the sales team’s performance, which then enables a faster reaction from the VP when high-level issues arise. This high level of trust and communication means they work seamlessly together with complementary skillsets; from the outside, it can even look like they share a brain.
Sales ops excels at ensuring that all information flows upwards, so when a CEO needs sales data, the numbers are ready, interpreted and at the VP’s disposal. This means that an executive report that would have taken days to prepare is ready within hours.
2. Supporting the sales team
Your sales operations team makes it their mission to find long-term solutions to issues that pull sales reps away from selling. This includes automating aspects of the sales process, helping with paperwork, and reminding everyone about critical milestones in the lifecycle of a deal.
Sales ops knows where all salespeople are at all times, both geographically and within their sales cycles. When a sales ops person notices that something hasn’t moved on the forecast, they will pick up the phone and find out why.
3. Training and onboarding new hires
Sales operations can and should play a major role in training and onboarding new sales hires. Too frequently, onboarding is conducted by trainers who do not understand sales, when ideally it should be conducted by someone intimately familiar with—and passionate about—your USP, your product or services, your customers and their pain points. In other words, someone with a firm handle on sales processes and tools. Someone like… you guessed it: sales operations.
One of sales operations' underappreciated talents is the ability to speak everyone's language, understand everyone's pain points, and respect everyone's goals. ‘Everyone’ meaning any aspect that touches sales, as well as suppliers, partners and customers.
With such a far-reaching impact over sales performance, it's unfortunate that in many organizations this vital component is non-performing or entirely absent. Whether you're looking to create a new sales operations team or give a boost to your existing department, consider partnering with expert advisors to install a team that perfectly fits your company's needs.