Sales Operations, or Sales Ops, includes everything from lead management and sales strategy to sales process optimization, compensation plans, sales automation, training, and data analytics and reporting. The goal of Sales Operations is to plan, organize and enhance the sales organization in an effort to maximize productivity.
Why does Sales Operations matter? Quite simply, Sales Ops helps sales teams perform better, hit goals faster, and lead smoother sales processes. Senior leaders and sales managers can leverage Sales Ops teams to synthesize data about the sales experience in order to make it more effective. Companies with world-class Sales Operations teams see a leap of 20% to 30% in sales productivity, according to McKinsey.
What Does a Sales Operations Team Do?
At a high level, Sales Operations works to create predictable revenue by streamlining the sales process with best practices and automation. Sales Ops teams then analyze data from sales teams to uncover insights and create reports that help guide sales strategy.
Here are the key tasks of a Sales Operations team:
- Make the sales process more efficient
- Find and scale best practices
- Report on sales performance
- Lead sales planning
Let's look at each task in more detail:
Make the sales process more efficient
The average sales rep spends just one-third of their time selling. The vision of Sales Operations is to take manual work off of the sales rep’s plate, so they can focus all their time on selling. For example, automating customer relationship management (CRM) software can handle data entry like logging sales calls. Artificial intelligence (AI) can also help sales reps pinpoint the hottest prospects in a mountain of leads.
Find and scale best practices
Sales Ops teams spend a lot of their time identifying what is and isn’t working in the sales process. When they see trends or behaviors that result in more efficient selling, they can turn these into best practices for the entire sales team, shortening the sales cycle.
Report on sales performance
You can’t grow what you don’t know. Sales Ops goes from data to insights, building the information center that sales teams depend on to make critical decisions. They create assessments of likely sales performance, like forecasts. They also report on metrics — everything from the big picture of business health (like revenue) to deep-dive metrics on sales activity (like the number of customer objections).
Lead sales planning
Sales Ops works with sales leaders to lay out the vision and strategy for the next several years. Then, they work to achieve it one year at a time through strategic planning in four areas:
- Territory planning assigns the right reps to the right territories to hit targets.
- Capacity planning determines whether to hire more people to hit sales goals, and if so, how many.
- Quota planning sets expectations for sales rep performance, based on forecast targets.
- Compensation planning incentivizes the right behaviors for sales reps to hit their goals.
Sales Operations Roles and Responsibilities
Sales Operations teams can be as small as one person or encompass dozens of experts. To structure your team for success, start by bringing in a generalist who can handle core Sales Ops functions, especially sales process improvements and technology management. Then add new roles as you grow, from leadership who can scale the team to specialists like data analysts.
Vice President or Director of Sales Operations: This role leads the department and partners with other leaders like the chief revenue officer and vice president of sales. They create higher-level strategies that drive efficiency, productivity, and top-line growth across the company.
Sales Operations Manager: This role turns executive direction into reality using day-to-day processes and tools. They also focus on bringing the best out of their people by defining and implementing best practices.
Sales Operations Representative: This role is entry level and handles day-to-day tasks like tracking the progress of goals, entering data, updating reports, and providing administrative support for sales reps.
Sales Operations Analyst: This role leans on CRM software and other data sources to make recommendations for improvements and to create performance reports.
Important Tools for a Sales Operations Team
Sales Operations tools begin with a CRM, which allows teams to manage the pipeline from a single source of truth. Sales Ops may also rely on other purpose-built tools – like those that offer intelligent lead insights or sales planning capabilities. These tools can be built right into the CRM (what we do at Salesforce), or they can be integrated as stand-alone solutions.
CRM Software offers reps, managers, and leaders a single place to track deals in the sales pipeline and view reports on sales performance. It’s also where features like workflow automation and AI-driven deal insights can be used to improve selling efficiency and close rates. Important CRM features include:
- Revenue intelligence uses AI to guide sellers to next steps and identifies red flags in the sales process.
- Process automation reduces manual work and streamlines painful business processes. For example, automating finance approvals like deal discounts can help sales close deals faster, and RFP response automation can help you pursue more opportunities.
- Dashboards and reports make it easier for Sales Ops to build reports without help from IT. This includes sales forecasting reports and sales dashboards that track team performance and key metrics.
Sales Enablement Tools help onboard new reps faster with tools for coaching, step-by-step sales process guidance, and content and resources to help sellers move deals forward.
Territory Planning Tools assign the right reps to the right territories to make sure all your target markets are covered. Sales Ops is responsible for making sure that territories are logical for the sales rep’s travel, and balanced across the team so everyone has a fair shot at hitting their numbers.
Measuring the Success of Sales Operations
To measure the success of Sales Ops, use sales reporting tools that show you the most important information at a glance — for example, the amount of revenue earned per rep and the speed of the sales cycle. When these are built into the CRM, you can dig in and take action on the fly.
Here are the most important metrics to watch:
Average quarterly revenue per rep: This metric describes how efficient a sales team is. To calculate, divide your total quarterly revenue by the number of sales reps.
Average selling time of a sales rep: This metric is a marker for productivity. It measures how much time your sales rep spends selling versus non-selling tasks like logging call notes. A CRM can help calculate this metric by classifying and measuring customer-facing tasks on a sales rep’s calendar.
Forecast accuracy: This shows how well you tracked to the forecast you set. To calculate, determine the percentage difference between your predicted revenue and actual revenue.
Average sales cycle length: This is the length of time that passes between when a sales rep opens up a line of communication with a prospect and when they finally close the deal. A CRM can track this for you.
Win rate: This refers to how many customer deals you close. It’s a marker for how successful your sales enablement is: Effective onboarding and training means reps are likely to close deals faster. Calculate win rate by dividing the number of closed/won deals by the total number of opportunities in your pipeline.
Sales Operations Best Practices
Here are some best practices for building a successful Sales Operations team:
Define a mission statement. Aligning everyone on your Sales Ops team and broader sales team is crucial. Write a mission statement defining your objectives and purpose, then share it company-wide.
Actively collaborate with other teams. Consistently check in with Sales Enablement, Marketing, and Sales to see whether you’re tackling the right work, addressing the important issues, and not re-doing anything that’s already been done. You should also hold periodic meetings.
Establish strong leadership. Make sure Sales Operations is led by a vice president, director, or manager. This professional should report to the president, CEO, or COO — or, alternatively, a high-level sales leader. It’s important that Sales Ops has a relatively direct line to the executives.
Shadow the sales team. Make it mandatory for members of your Sales Ops team to shadow salespeople once per quarter. This gives them the chance to witness first-hand the common challenges in sales, as well as see the impact their work can have. It also allows the two departments to forge a stronger connection.
Introduce technology wisely. Use technology to automate as much as possible for salespeople. Not only do tedious manual processes take time away from selling, they’re also bad for morale and lead to expensive mistakes.
Don't hesitate to innovate. Sales Operations should be continually innovating. A sales process should always be in flux as you learn new things about your prospects and customers, the market changes, and your products evolve.
Sales Operations is the backbone of modern sales organizations. As selling becomes more data-driven and technology-enabled, Sales Ops plays an increasingly vital role in driving sales productivity and growth.
At forward-looking companies, Sales Operations is expanding beyond a support function into a strategic driver of sales transformation. The most innovative Sales Ops teams are using advanced analytics, artificial intelligence, and process automation to achieve significant improvements in sales efficiency and performance, dramatically impacting the bottom line.
To build a world-class Sales Operations function, focus on hiring analytic and technical talent, investing in cutting-edge sales tools, and cultivating a culture of experimentation. Give your Sales Ops leaders a seat at the executive table and the resources to execute sweeping, data-proven changes to your sales processes.
While sales will always depend on the human touch, the future of selling is digital. Sales Operations professionals have an opportunity to shape that future by further optimizing the sales experience through technology and actionable insights. For companies that get it right, the rewards will be well worth the effort.
The role of Sales Operations will only grow from here. For those looking to drive transformational change, there has never been a more exciting time to be in Sales Ops. The possibilities are endless - as long as you have the vision and tools to achieve them.