Having its origins at Xerox in the 1970s, sales operations played a key role in forecast management, strategic planning, and territory design. It was meant to perform all the behind-the-scenes tasks nobody wanted to do but is essential for the team’s success. Fast forward four decades, and sales operations is one of the fastest growing roles in sales, with its reach into every aspect of the sales process.
Sales operations that are standardized and well-established create a consistent flow of leads through the pipeline. Without it, sales activities can quickly fall into a state of disarray, with opportunities slipping through the cracks and decreasing revenue. About 85% of sales professionals believe that sales operations have become more strategic over the years, according to the SaleforceState of Sales report. In the same survey, 90% say that sales operations teams play an important role in driving growth.
What is sales operations?
Sales operations is a system of standardized processes that govern all aspects of sales, from sales strategy, lead management, territory structuring, and alignment to sales commission plans, optimization, automation, data analytics, training, and reporting. It enables sales companies to consistently generate leads, foster relationships, and close sales to drive revenue.
Sales operations set day-to-day targets for the reps and their managers. This includes tasks such as completion of pipeline stages and diligent data entry for the reps, and employee motivation, compensation, and resource allocation for the managers. A well-structured and formalized sales operation clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of each team member and sets up processes in place to ensure compliance.
Scope and responsibilities of sales operation
The sales ops teams may consist of a handful of individuals to over a dozen of experts in a team, depending on the size of the organization and scope of operations. Their task is to drive productivity, efficiency, and business impact of the sales teams. Here are the areas the sales operations process can influence:
1. Sales team organization
The sales ops influence the organization of sales teams to maximize their efficiency and performance. They would also restructure the teams to encourage good sales behaviors and buffer against low performance. For instance, sales ops would take individual reps' strengths and weaknesses into account and reposition them to deal with the customers they perform their best.
2. Sales team communications
Sales ops build the communication structure in the teams to ensure transparency and team alignment. They would use various channels for reporting on sales and campaigns along with announcements, news and sales wins. They would ensure all the communication needed to reach peak performance is in place and the reps are making full use of it.
3. Sales strategy
Sales operations are tasked with coming up with sales strategy plans based on their data analysis and forecasting. They set future sales goals and come up with strategies for the teams to shorten sales cycles, improve conversions and maximize sales wins.
Achieving predictable performance requires sales reps to be well-trained in their roles. Sales operations take up the responsibility of training both the existing and new reps. They would also create mentorship programs and team-building activities to foster a healthy work culture that motivates sales reps and improve engagement.
5. Territory definition
Sales territories determine the number of variables for sales reps, such as their prospect pool, total business, available commissions, and even the workload. Since sales ops are responsible for forecasting and strategy, they are also in charge of territories to ensure the best reps are placed in the right areas.
6. Technology management
Sales ops bridge the gap between the tech teams and the sales reps to introduce the right tools and training needed to help the reps perform optimally. They are also responsible for training and implementation of the technology that streamlines the sales process.
7. Lead generation
Sales ops manage administrative tasks such as appointment bookings and lead generation with contacts and leads. With this task taken care of separately, the sales teams can focus more on selling and nurturing leads. They clearly communicate who in the sales teams can follow buyer personas and who gets to take the marketing qualifying leads.
8. Sales representative support
The main function of sales ops is to streamline the process so salespeople are efficient at their jobs. It is done through various tasks such as mentorship, training for the role, drawing up contacts, providing leads, and managing transactions. They would also support the sales rep in other ways by enabling technology and communications that help nurture and close more leads.
9. Sales data management
Sales data is crucial to understand the performance of the sales process, campaign, product, and even strategy. Sales ops use this data to come up with modifications to existing processes or to create new sales plans if the data indicates the necessity. Data from competitor research, market trends, and internal performance are also used to modify sales strategy and set new goals.
10. Sales forecasting
Sales forecasting is an essential step that sets up a reference for future performance for the sales teams. Sales ops use data from previous cycles, performance, and existing market trends to make sales estimates for the month, quarter, or year. Forecasts help with important business decisions such as hiring new resources, spotting inefficiencies in sales teams or strategies, and pivoting to new approaches in times of crisis.
11. Sales Incentive Planning
Sales incentives are needed to motivate reps to achieve or exceed their sales goals. It is offered in addition to the standard compensation, and the sales operations are tasked with choosing from the different types of incentive programs. Creating great incentive programs by sales ops is a way of showing the sales reps that their work is being appreciated and they are valued employees to the organization.
12. Sales Gamification
Sales gamification uses game mechanics, dynamics, and techniques to encourage desired behaviors and sales performance. When applied correctly, gamification adds zest to the sales process and boosts engagement. While sales contests that have been in ex
How to structure your sales operation
Structuring your sales operations requires you to set clear sales goals and understand the unique challenges to accomplish the goals. Having established those parameters, your reps and managers will have better clarity to pursue the sales goals. Here are 6 steps to doing it right:
Step 1: Determine the scope of operations
The operational scope has to do with how your sales process is being run. For instance, your organization might utilize the traditional cold-calling strategy to pursue many leads at once or utilize content marketing and online advertising to generate high-quality leads only. The scope of operations is different for both scenarios and has its own set of sales processes, roles, supportive tasks, and core metrics. Working from the top down form there, you can come up with a strategy, set up a sales operation to cater to the strategy, and finally implement the resources to achieve goals.
Step 2: Create the sales process
The sales process is a standardized set of procedures to find prospects, get them aware of the product, nurture their interest, and finally nudge them toward a purchase. So the sales operations process would involve elements such as cold calling, product introduction, lead qualification calls, and client meetings to present product proposals.
The typical sales process involves both a sales funnel and a sales pipeline. The sales funnel is a representation of where the prospects are in their buying journey. It includes stages such as brand awareness, interest in your product or service, considering an offer, and finally, making a purchase decision. The sales pipeline is the internal activities that help leads move through the funnel.
# Example 1
Here’s an example of the sales process of a company that takes a direct, high-volume approach to generate leads:
- Inside sales reps scope out leads online or on social media and enter their data into the CRM.
- Inside sales reps make cold calls to leads on the CRM to understand their level of interest and needs and set up sales presentations.
- Outside sales reps make sales presentations with interested prospects. If leads move through the funnel to pricing, a proposal is sent. If the presentation doesn’t convince, the leads are sent back for nurturing through emails and subsequent calls.
- Prospects move to the negotiating stage after the price quotation and are guided by the counsel on deliverables, terms, and pricing.
- Prospect makes a purchasing decision. If the deal is won, the client is onboarded and transferred to the account management team. If the deal is lost, the prospects are sent back to the nurturing stage.
# Example 2
Here’s an example of the sales process of a company that uses content marketing and online advertisements to generate leads:
- Prospect enters details on an online web form and is automatically assessed as a lead on the CRM to be assigned to a sales rep.
- The rep reaches out through email to schedule a meeting for sales qualifying. If the prospect agrees, a meeting is set; if not, the lead is added to an automated nurturing list.
- The sales rep talks to the client during the qualification meeting. If the lead drops out, the sales rep updates the CRM to disqualify the lead and remove it from the email list.
- Interested prospects negotiate with the reps and company counsel on terms, deliverables, and pricing.
- The prospect makes a purchasing decision after negotiation. If the deal is closed, the prospect is on-boarded as a client and transferred to the account management team. If the deal is lost, the prospect is sent back to the email list, and the nurturing loop to be contacted again after some time.
Step 3: Establish sales metrics and KPIs
Sales metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are essential to get an objective look at the performance of the sales teams with reference to historical numbers and forecasts. Here are some of the essential core metrics that can be put in place:
Pipeline conversion rates
These measure the efficiency of the pipeline and process. Some examples are:
- Lead qualification rate: the number of leads who qualify as prospects for the product or service.
- Proposal rate: indicates the number of leads who got a business proposal after a product demo or presentation.
- Deal closing rate: shows how many leads turned into clients.
Total activity counts
These give a measure of the efforts by reps into the sales process. Examples include:
- Total calls placed: number of cold calls made over a period of time.
- Phone time: The total time spent in minutes or hours on a phone call with the prospects.
- Email sent: total number of emails sent over a period of time for introductory purposes.
- Prospect data entries: total data entered into the CRM regarding leads, contacts, and other information.
Sales production metrics
These numbers indicate the total sales output. Examples include:
- Leads generated: these are the total leads generated over a time period.
- Deals closed: total numbers of prospects converted into clients or customers.
- Revenue generated: total sales revenue generated by the reps for a period of time.
Average duration metrics
These numbers are related to the average time spent on sales activities. Examples include:
- Length of the sales cycle: The average time it takes for reps to close a deal once the lead is generated.
- Lead follow-up time: the average time it takes for a sales rep to contact the lead after the initial lead generation.
Step 4: Incorporate Supportive sales tasks
Supporting tasks include all other activities that contribute to the optimization of the sales process. These include administrative tasks, recruitment, onboarding, training, and every other task that directly influences the sales process. Examples include:
- Creating sales forecasting to estimate future growth and revenue.
- Coming up with marketing material for the products to distribute at an upcoming event.
- Invoicing and billing customers.
- Tracking sales commissions and incentives that motivate the reps to perform at their best.
- Sales and incentive gamification to keep engagement levels high and close more deals.
- Researching market trends to offer insights into sales operations.
Step 5: Determine team roles and quotas
Once you have the sales process and the metrics established, it's time to assign team roles and quotas. A clear definition of roles, tasks, and responsibilities is essential to maintain a good degree of control and predictability over the sales process. There will be several aspects regarding the assignment of roles, such as:
- The number of full-time or part-time sales reps you would need to fulfill your goals.
- Adequately dividing tasks to reps and team members of the right skill sets and levels.
- The degree to which each manager overlooks the sales process.
- Setting sales quotas for individual reps based on their experience.
Step 6: Incorporate sales enablement tools
The process of sales operations lays down the framework for the sales process, determines tasks, and sets targets and roles, and responsibilities to get things off the ground. Sales enablement is what improves the sales operation process and systems by removing impediments to efficiency and incorporating tasks that boost productivity.
Sales enablement can occur as a solution as simple as rearranging the sales teams to incorporating technology that streamlines the processes. For example, if you notice that a sales unit consistently has longer sales cycles because of non-sales tasks that take up the rep’s time, then introducing an automated tool would shorten cycle time and boost efficiency.
Measuring the success of sales operation
The success of sales operations reflects on a number of parameters, such as revenue and how closely it matches or exceeds forecasts. Success in the long term means to meet set goals consistently and predictably, and this can be measured in a number of metrics such as:
- Forecast accuracy: this is a critical metric that affirms your understanding of the prevailing internal and external sales variables. Forecast accuracy is the percentage difference between the predicted revenue and the actual revenue.
- Average sales cycle length: it is the average time between the generation of a lead to communication with the rep and closing a deal. The shorter the sales cycle length, the better the team is performing.
- Average quarterly revenue per rep: this metric tells you how well your sales team is performing. It is calculated by the quarterly revenue divided by the total sales reps in the team.
- Average selling time of a rep: this metric shows how much time the sales rep is spending on selling tasks versus non-selling tasks. The higher this metric is, the better it is for sales.
- Win rate: The win rate tells you how many deals the sales reps have closed. It is an indicator of the efficiency of the sales operation and enablement process.
Important tools for sales operation teams
The efficiency of sales operation can be significantly boosted by incorporating software that organizes, evaluate, manage and streamline the sales process. Here are some of the essential tools for the sales operations process:
1. CRM software
CRM software can greatly improve the efficiency of the whole sales department by organizing all the data in one place. Reps and managers can track deals in the pipeline and view real-time reports on performance. Aspects of the workflow can also be automated, and insights into the process can be gleaned through AI-enabled features in the tools. With access to all data on the dashboard, reps and managers can instantly generate reports and make forecasts to track performance and key metrics.
2. Sales enablement tools
Sale enablement tools allow you to manage all the content and material from one location. You can create, edit, manage and share all the content and resources with the reps and marketing teams to aid cross-team functionality and collaboration. Sales enablement tools also help onboard new reps faster and assist in their training.
3. Sales gamification tools
Sales gamification tool make the selling process fun and takes away the boredom from the task. Reps need to move past rejections and deals that fall through to stay sharp and engaged at their work. Gamification tools keep the drums beating by rewarding behaviors and not just results and maintain the momentum of the sales teams. Compass, a leading sales gamification tool, makes the whole process easier for organizations to gamify their incentive programs. With simple tools for program design, analytics, live dashboards, target-setting and milestone-based interactive game templates organizations can efficiently manage their incentive programs.
4. Territory planning tools
Territory planning tools can also be considered as part of sales enablement and often come in the suite. These improve the efficiency of the sales teams by assigning the right territories to the right sales reps and ensuring the target market is covered in full. Getting the territory planning right is essential to ensure all the reps have a fair shot at reaching their numbers while moving the whole unit forward.
5. Sales Incentive/Commission Tools
Sales incentives and commissions are critical for the motivation and engagement of sales reps and to ensure they go the extra mile to meet and exceed their targets. Different organizations use various incentive plans to reward their sales reps appropriately to encourage the best sales behaviors. When performed manually, incentive management is error-ridden and cumbersome.
Sales reps under such circumstances resort to shadow accounting which would waste time that can otherwise be used for selling. Incentive tools keep plans transparent and eliminate errors in commission calculation which would boost trust in reps and maintain their focus on selling more.
With Compass, organizations can automate their incentive programs and eliminate issues such as mismatched incentive amounts, frequent corrections and delays in incentive payouts. On the positive side, they can see clear communication, increased productivity, and savings on incentive budgets by eliminating inefficiency.
Sales operation plays a role in everything that goes into generating sales revenue. Leveraging technology, sales teams are able to better manage their data to glean insights, automate non-selling tasks to increase productive time, and gamify the sales process to maintain motivation and engagement. The future of sales operations is set to experience more technological proliferation that will significantly boost the productivity of sales reps.