When Xerox first established a sales ops group in the 1970s, the discipline of sales operations was born. J. Patrick Kelly, who back then led the sales operations team at Xerox, described the role as “all the nasty number things that you don’t want to do but need to do to make a great sales force.”
With more and more complex sales cycles and advanced sales technology, sales operations became increasingly important. By now, it’s an integral part of every mature sales organization. But what exactly is sales operations?
In this guide, you’ll get an introduction to sales operations, why it’s vital for your organization's sales success, and how you can implement a winning sales operations process.
What is Sales Operations?
Let’s start with the basics and define sales operations before digging deeper into the essential functions and importance.
The core aim of the sales operations team is to enable frontline sellers to sell more efficiently. They leverage technology and design lean processes to reduce friction in the sales process and increase productivity.
Furthermore, the sales operations team analyzes data to improve sales performance continually.
Some confuse sales ops with sales enablement, but they are separate functions. We will go in detail into the differences later in this guide.
What are the key functions of Sales Operation Teams?
Let’s take a closer look at what sales operations teams do in their day to day work. In their roles, sales ops handle a wide range of responsibilities, including:
1. Sales data analytics and performance measurement
Sales ops takes care of measuring sales data to determine the effectiveness of the overall sales process. The learnings generated from the analysis can verify a product’s success and a sales strategy and can be decisive to implement a new sales plan.
2. Sales tool evaluation and maintenance
Sales operations oversees the implementation and management of all tools used within the sales team. They aim to optimize the daily workflow for frontline sellers and increase their time actively selling.
3. Sales forecasting
By collecting and analyzing all the sales data, sales ops can identify trends and forecast future sales. Sales forecasting is crucial for building a resilient sales organization that can detect risk early on and avoid this.
4. Compensation and incentive plans
Sales ops also manages compensation and incentive plans. They are responsible for tracking rep performance and establishing processes to acknowledge outstanding performance and resolve poor performance.
Why is Sales Operations important?
Sales operations brings order to the chaos. The world of sales has become increasingly complex in the past couple of years. The world wide web and modern sales technology have cleared the way to strategic, multi-channel sales processes where every single action can be tracked and analyzed. On top of that, the business world, in general, has become more and more competitive: there are more solutions on the market, the prospects are better informed, and the number of marketing and sales messages one receives every day has skyrocketed.
All this makes sales operations in today’s sales world indispensable. Someone has to make sense of all the data collected and keep an overview of the possibilities modern technology has to offer. Sales operations has to back up the frontline sellers and be their wingman so they can do what they should: close deals. Efficiently.
How to measure success in Sales Operations
As always, when tracking success, it's crucial to define clear goals in the beginning. Set yourself yearly and quarterly plans and individual goals for larger projects like implementing a new tool. Make sure that your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-related. For example, “increasing productivity” wouldn’t be a properly phrased goal. Instead, try something like “Shorten the sales cycle by 15% by the end of 2021.”
When you have SMART goals defined, it’s easy to measure the success of your activities. Here are 7 key metrics sales operations should always track:
- Win rate - how many opportunities turn into a closed deal?
- Sales cycle length - how long does it take your reps on average to turn a lead into a customer?
- Sales time vs. overhead time - how much time are your reps spending actively selling, and how much do they spend on other tasks such as admin stuff and internal meetings?
- Sales efficiency - What proportion of quota do you expect your sales reps to attain?
- Lead response time - how long does it take until a sales rep contacts a new lead?
- Ramp time - how long does it take new hires to be able to work fully independently?
- Sales rep turnover - How big is your rep turnover?
Sales Operations best practices
Whether you’re just about to establish a sales operations group or already have one and are looking for some ideas to improve it. Here are our 6 top tips for a successful sales ops process.
Formulate a mission.
Without a clearly defined purpose and mission, your sales operations team is destined to fail. So when establishing a sales ops team, the first step should always be to figure out the Why. A good sales operations mission statement could be “Optimize the sales organization’s productivity” or “Free the sales team to focus solely on revenue-generating activities.”
Establish scalable processes.
Sales operations should be the organization’s central hub for all sales-related functions. They should cover everything from documenting the sales strategy and defining how to determine compensation/incentive plans and territories to how sales ops interacts with other departments and develops and socializes new (or improved) processes.
Make a clear distinction between sales operations and sales enablement.
Given the common confusion between sales operations and sales enablement, it’s essential to clearly define each team’s responsibilities. Both disciplines impact each other and, depending on how well defined the roles are, this can be a boost for sales success or lead to messy confusion.
Cooperate with other departments.
Exchange regularly with sales enablement, sales, marketing, and other relevant departments to address the latest metrics and issues. Take the chance to learn about impending changes that might affect sales performance or sales ops tasks.
Make (purposeful) use of technology.
The sales tech landscape contains nearly 1,000 tools, and every tool helps you x something your revenue. But don’t get lost in this tool jungle! Evaluate tools carefully and ensure not to overwhelm your sales team with too many tools. Every tool should have a clear purpose and bring value to your team.
Go beyond the basics.
Yes, one of the core responsibilities of sales ops is to track sales performance metrics. But don’t stop with collecting the data. Interpret performance data and continuously think about ways to improve.
If you’re interested in more real-world sales operations best practices, make sure to check out this article from our friends at Kluster. They’ve asked over 20 sales operation leaders for their insights.
What is the difference between Sales Operations and Sales Enablement?
As mentioned already in the introduction to this guide, sales operations get’s often confused with sales enablement. So we want to give a short overview of the difference between those two disciplines.
As you’ve learned in this guide, the core focus of sales operations is to increase sales efficiency and productivity. To do so, they track sales performance, evaluate and implement sales tools, and manage compensation and incentive plans. To summarize, they handle an array of behind-the-scenes tasks to reduce friction in the sales process.
However, sales enablement is a strategic, overarching role to equip sellers with the content they need to have valuable customer interactions. Its activities include designing onboarding and training processes, creating sales content, and improving sales-readiness. Learn everything about sales enablement in our free guide.
How in-call assistants can support sales operations in boosting sales performance
In-call assistants are like a co-pilot for customer interactions. They combine the conversation analytics functionality of a classic conversation intelligence tool with AI sales assistants’ automation and artificial intelligence abilities. The output is actionable recommendations for the next steps based on best practices and previous customer interactions.
You can get a detailed overview of the features of in-call assistants in this article.
So, what are the benefits of an in-call assistant for sales operations?
In-call assistants help increase productivity and sales performance in 4 ways.
1. Shorter sales cycles
Forgetting is human. But to forget asking essential questions in a qualification call can lead to longer sales cycles and, in the worst-case, wasting time on non-relevant prospects and missing quota. With an in-call assistant by their side, sales reps will never miss a step and can vastly shorten your sales cycle and ensure you focus your energy on the right deals.
2. More time actively selling
In-call assistants automate repetitive tasks such as meeting documentation and CRM updates. This way, your reps need to spend less time on admin and can focus their energy on talking to prospects and closing deals.
3. Reduced ramp time
In-call assistants assist new hires with a clear guideline for their customer calls and provide relevant information right when needed. Thanks to this, real-time support reps can make customer calls by themselves quicker and with less training.
4. Market insights
All customer conversations get recorded and transcribed by the in-call assistant. The transcript and recording are searchable for specific topics and keywords and can give exact details into customer reactions to specific products, questions, or sales tactics.
On top of all this, they offer a massive value for colleagues from the sales enablement group, such as providing a possibility to equip reps with relevant content smartly and quickly and align sales messaging.
Get a detailed overview of the benefits of using an in-call assistant in our free ebook “The ROI of in-call assistants.”
In an increasingly complex and technology-driven sales world, sales operations has become an indispensable role in every sales organization. It’s crucial to ensure a lean sales process and workflow for frontline sellers so they can focus on their prospects. Without sales operations, sales teams can’t achieve peak performance. So follow the tips and best practices in this guide and help your sales team thrive.