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The Ultimate Guide to Sales Operations: What It Is and How to Implement It

Posted in: Sales and Marketing Management, Sales Enablement Strategy

This post was originally published in April 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

In the early days of sales operations, sales ops professionals measured financial analytics, conducted reports, and predicted sales forecasting. Mainly, they were problem-solving number crunchers. These days, they do all of that and much more.

Modern sales ops professionals play a vital role in the success of a sales organisation by staying ahead of problems and enabling the sales team to focus on selling. When implemented alongside strategic training, tools, and engagement techniques, sales operations can help sales teams become more productive and efficient and have a positive impact on both top- and bottom-line performance.

In this guide, we’ll give you everything you need to know to implement a revenue-driving sales operations team and cover topics including:

What Is Sales Operations?

Sales operations describes the functions and activities in sales organisations that keep sales teams efficient and effective. Sales operations teams primarily handle the administrative and technical tasks that would otherwise burden salespeople. A sales operations team also streamlines processes in order to improve sales productivity and give reps more time to engage with customers.

Much like how a supply chain operations team organises the movement of goods from point A to point B, a sales operations team works behind the scenes to ensure that the many parts of a sales team move smoothly as one. This includes everything from implementing key sales technology to administering compensation. Essentially, sales operations makes a sales team operational.

Why Is Sales Operations Important?

From handling technical functions to developing sales strategies, a sales operations team’s job is to help the sales team run more efficiently. By assuming the bulk of administrative tasks, a sales operations team allows reps to focus on revenue-driving activities and sales managers to concentrate on coaching and supporting their teams. Sellers receive the full support of their managers while the sales ops team generates data-driven insights, forecasts strategy plans, and makes sure that all of the necessary systems are in place. Sales ops frees up bandwidth for sellers to then use these resources to improve their performance.

What Is the Difference Between Sales Enablement and Sales Operations?

Buyer's JourneySales enablement focuses on preparing reps for buyer engagements by managing sales training programmes and readiness programmes, sales content, and other knowledge-based programmes. Sales operations, on the other hand, focuses on the tactical, day-to-day activities that a sales team needs to run smoothly, such as administering a CRM.

Typically, this means that sales enablement teams are primarily concerned with the awareness, consideration, and early elements of purchase stages of the buyer’s journey. In contrast, sales operations tends to be involved closer to the purchase stage because of the highly technical focus.

That doesn’t mean these two teams should work in silos, however. Often, they report to the same head of sales and share a responsibility for analysing the performance of sales in their own areas of expertise.

Here’s a quick breakdown of each team’s core responsibilities:

Sales Operations Core Responsibilities Sales Enablement Core Responsibilities
  • Growth forecasts of sales territories
  • Formulation and evaluation of sales incentive and compensation plans
  • Sales process optimisation and lead management
  • Implementation and administration of sales tools
  • Analysis and evaluation of performance metrics
  • Development of sales and revenue strategies
  • Planning and strategising go-to-market plans
  • Sales training, including content, process and training events (SKOs)
  • Content planning, mapping, management and analysis
  • Sales process, including process performance analytics
  • Sales communication
  • Customer engagement tools, processes, and analysis
  • Process, tools and training to increase sales efficiency
  • Performance analysis related to the above
These tasks fall under sales operations because they are focused on the technical and analytical motions that enable reps to move through the sales process more efficiently. These tasks fall under sales enablement because they are focused on driving rep efficiency and effectiveness during buyer engagements.

At the end of the day, sales enablement and sales operations share the same goal: increasing sales productivity. To maximise both teams, organisations should recognise their differences and optimise areas of collaboration.

Sales Operations Roles

Now that you have clarity on what sales operations teams do, here’s an example of how to organise a strong sales operations team:

Sales Operations Specialist

Earlier career but highly technical, this person is responsible for basic sales platform administration and data analysis. Look for someone who loves data and is eager to learn.

Sales Operations Analyst/Sales Operations Manager

A sales operations analyst or sales operations manager is typically responsible for analysing data in order to deliver strategic recommendations to sales operations, strategy, and initiatives. This person should have 2–3 years of experience under their belt and be comfortable navigating business intelligence platforms, building reports, and communicating insights clearly.

Senior Sales Operations Analyst/Senior Sales Operations Manager

The more experienced counterpart to the above role, a senior sales operations analyst or senior sales operations manager should bring 3–5 years of experience to the job. They should have a deep understanding of sales processes and technology and should be comfortable building and driving initiatives around optimising those systems. Sometimes at larger companies this role is specialised by initiative. For instance, you may encounter a business intelligence analyst, a growth analyst, a platforms and integrations analyst, and so on.

Manager of Sales Operations/Director of Sales Operations

A sales operations manager reports into a VP of Sales or Chief Revenue Officer, depending on your company’s size. As a manager, they are the hand guiding the execution of your sales operations strategy. Besides being proficient in key sales platforms, such as a CRM, or business intelligence platform, the ability to communicate plans with executives from across the organisation is essential. Their primary focus should be on ensuring smooth day-to-day operations and driving alignment between sales-adjacent teams. They should have at least 5–9 years of experience.

How to Build Sales Operations Strategy

Modern sales operations teams improve sales performance by speeding up the sales cycle and enabling reps to close deals faster. Sales excellence relies on the operations team’s ability to continuously streamline this process.

To do this, build your sales operations strategy by aligning key initiatives to:

  1. Improving workflow and accuracy reporting
  2. Automating any possible selling or non-selling tasks
  3. Aligning, evaluating, and integrating all tech stack tools
  4. Creating development, compensation, and incentive plans
  5. Overseeing sales process optimisation and implementation

Exactly which initiatives you put in place will vary based on your company and team’s maturity. For instance, a newly implemented sales operations team should begin addressing these goals by auditing the state of their CRM, delivering key integrations, building alignment with marketing, and developing a forecasting strategy.

A more mature sales operations team should focus on optimisation rather than implementation. This means reevaluating current processes and tools to see where adjustments can be made, whether that’s giving your CRM dashboards a facelift or adjusting compensation plans based for growing teams.

Key Metrics and KPIs

To measure the success of sales operations, organisations need to develop clear metrics. While specific numbers will vary from business to business, sales operations should focus on a few key elements to measure success. The biggest metrics for sales operations can be put into two categories: performance and efficiency.

Top performance metrics include:

  • Sales Quota Achievement Rate: The percentage of sellers who have completely hit their quota during a set time period
  • Win Rate: The amount of won deals compared to the total number of deals that were won and lost
  • Deal Size: The average value of deal sizes that sellers manage at any time
  • Sales Pipeline Value: The estimated value of the pipeline in a set time in the process (sales operations can also use this to make profit/loss forecasts)
  • Forecast Accuracy: The error rates of predicted forecasts versus actual results

Top efficiency metrics include:

  • Length of Sales Cycle: The average amount of time it takes for sellers to close
  • Selling Time: The actual time sellers are “in the field” selling compared to other duties like meetings, training, and administrative tasks
  • Lead Response Time: The time it takes leads to positively respond to pitches or calls to action
  • Prospect Meetings: The number of meetings each seller sets up in a set amount of time compared to the prospecting activity for that seller
  • Pipeline Efficiency: How effectively sellers manage their individual pipelines

Once you’ve determined your KPIs, review your performance quarterly at minimum. Sales operations teams have the added benefit of owning the systems of record where much of this data will lie. Therefore, you should build easily accessible dashboards with business intelligence and CRM systems to reference throughout the quarter, so that you can optimize your strategies accordingly.

Top Sales Operations Tools

Sales operations leaders will often utilize a tech stack that includes some or all of the following tools:

  1. Sales enablement platform
  2. Customer relationship management (CRM) platform
  3. Business intelligence services
  4. Software for data analytics
  5. Communication tools
  6. Content management system (CMS)
  7. Email and sales automation
  8. Software for performance management
  9. Contract lifecycle management

Ideally, each element of your tech stack will communicate with one another or, at minimum, your CRM. In order to ensure sellers can swiftly navigate between essential tools in their workflow, sales operations teams should prioritise deploying cross-platform integrations.

Find out more about essential sales tools for your tech stack.

Best Practices to Improve Sales Operations

Like most systems, sales operations practices vary from organisation to organisation. What works for one company may not always work for another. A company’s culture, size, market, and maturity all affect how sales ops functions within an organisation. No matter where your company finds itself, here are some of the best practices for sales operations.

Establish a sales operations charter

Sales operations leaders should know exactly why the team exists and what success will look like. Breaking these down into two simple, repeatable statements will give clarity to the mission and vision of your organisation’s specific sales operations goals. Teams can measure their success by examining how closely they stick to these statements on a quarterly or yearly basis.

Often, teams will document these elements in a charter that is then shared with other functions in the business. Doing so creates visibility around team scope and helps avoid confusion or project randomisation.

Collaborate on core strategy formulation

Sales operations should work alongside sales leaders and sales enablement leaders to form goals based on experience, market understanding, and experience in the territory. This experience, along with sales operations’ data-driven insight, helps create effective sales strategies.

Achieve tight alignment with other teams by holding weekly leadership syncs. Leaders should come prepared to discuss progress on major initiatives and prioritise work. This will ensure that your sales operations team is focused on completing the most impactful projects, and that adjacent functions have visibility into your work.

Motivate the team to increase efficiency

Sales operations has the ability to improve processes, automate non-core tasks, and administer CRM systems and other tools. When these functions are handled well, it transforms sales representatives’ ability to work efficiently and can have a dramatic impact on your bottom line.

Thus, whether it’s through quarterly MVP shoutouts, or by presenting your achievements at all-company meetings, it’s important to recognise and share your team’s success. The more you can support and motivate your team to deliver on high-priority initiatives, the more you can help your company succeed overall.

Integrate with marketing

When sales operations teams work closely with marketing teams, they can help develop a better sales funnel structure. That’s because marketing teams can utilise the data-driven insights collected by sales operations and measure their lead effectiveness. Additionally, alignment between marketing and sales ops protects the integrity of your account data and lead management.

Separate from your sales leadership sync, you should also regularly meet with marketing leaders to ensure that your marketing and sales platforms are fully integrated and that your priorities are aligned. You may also consider hosting office hours, where marketing program managers can ask technical questions in person, thus further reducing confusion email chains and misalignment.

Operationalise Your Sales Success

Sales operations can improve an organisation’s overall success by freeing up sales reps and providing them with the best resources to sell. When deployed with effective sales enablement, training, and engagement strategies, sales operations teams give sellers the boost they need to stay ahead of competitors and engage modern buyers.

With the best practices in this guide, you now have the framework you need to set up your sales ops to succeed. Dive deeper on winning methods to empower sales teams with Forrester’s latest State of Digitized Selling report.