Sales Operations Best Practices

As sales organizations become more process driven and scientific, sales operations has taken on a new level of importance. There are thousands of sales operations professionals in the US alone and the function has become increasingly common. Despite that context, there’s a lack of clarity about ‘what is sales operations?’ and how it helps a go-to-market organization.

Sales Operations Best Practices: A Summary

What Does Sales Operations Do?

Sales operations has become a critical component of any go-to-market strategy. Why? A good sales operations team can be one of the most effective levers to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of your sales organization.

In this post we’ll take a look at sales operations best practices and how you can leverage them to drive more gains in your sales organization. But first, let’s summarize what sales operations does.

Sales operations is the driving force of strategy and tactics that boost sales team effectiveness and efficiency. It’s so much more than management of tools to support the sales team. And more than just reporting on sales execution — although both of these elements are important. In addition, they are also a key hub for coordinating activities across the broader organization. Let’s start there.

Companies that dedicate more time to managing the sales pipelines have 11% higher revenue growth.

How Sales Operations and Sales Leadership Can Partner

Sales operations is not just about the tactical execution. Of course there are many tactical programs and actions that sales operations manages. But they generally are placed within a broader framework that sales operations teams build and implement as part of their role as “chief of staff” for the chief revenue officer.

Sales leadership often sees the sales operations team as a key, strategic member of their team. And for good reason. They are critical for shaping and executing sales strategy. But what are the many ways that the two teams can work together?

Sales Operations and Measurement

2/3 of B2B organizations believe that analytics play an important role in driving business strategy.

The most effective sales organizations don’t necessarily blow out their sales targets each month. Rather, the most effective sales teams consistently meet their numbers and can repeat on it in a very predictable way. Financial markets crave predictability. And CEOs do too.

As a sales operations leader, you want to know if you put “X” amount of resources into your sales and marketing machine that you will consistently get “Y” results from the machine. That helps you to plan how much investment you need. It also helps sales operations to identify where there are divergences from plan.

Sales operations can help to uncover the key metrics of the sales organization in order to help guide decision making around where investment should take place. Sales operations plays a vital role in identifying what those metrics are, measuring them, interpreting the results, and acting on them.

Sales data helps with compensation and forecasting. And it is critical for decisions on adjusting the sales organization and go-to-market model. Sales operations has their finger on the analytics pulse, and can spot trends that lead to recommendations about how to adjust the sales strategy.

Sales Operations and Training

As sales teams become more sophisticated and move away from transactional sales, it becomes more important than ever for sales people to be valued by their prospects. That means high-quality, well-trained salespeople. Sales operations best practices here play a key role. To choose and implement approaches that support your sales strategy.

Product Training: Knowledge of your own products is critical. Your prospects of course can get some information directly from your website. But that’s not enough, they need to be experts. Sales operations can help by implementing programs that guide and educate reps to be knowledgeable about the products they sell.

Sales Methodology: Sales is a profession, and sales operations can help sales people to constantly improve their skills. Learning best practices and great sales methodologies boosts individual performance by salespeople and helps to improve the results of each opportunity pursuit. That’s by pushing best practices across the sales team.

Market Training: Sales people are most effective when they are challenging and informing prospects about how they can run their businesses better. That requires insight into the markets of their customers and the day-to-day challenges that they face. Sales operations can coordinate information that can help the whole sales team to be trusted advisors to their prospects.

Sales Mentoring: Coaching the sales team is a key way that sales operations can help. Using measurements and experience — and a global perspective that they bring — they can help sales leaders to better guide their team members to be more effective.

Best Practices and Guided Selling: The implementation of best practices by sales teams can drive more than a doubling of quota attainment. Sales operations can help identify which methodologies to evaluate and implement in the team to support a consistent, successful approach to selling.

Onboarding: A key metric for sales operations professionals relates to the onboarding of new reps. Time is money. So, how quickly can these team members get up to speed. Sales operations is often responsible for this key metric. That means putting together sales onboarding programs and ongoing reinforcement.

Driving Sales Strategy

Ineffective sales processes can cost businesses millions of dollars in lost revenue each year.

Sales operations also plays a key role in the strategic aspect of driving sales strategy. Let’s see some best practices for sales operations here.

Assessment of the Go-To-Market Model: This strategic challenge can be addressed by the data and insights of a sales operations leader. Especially since go-to-market strategies hinge on the cross-section of so many organizations — product, marketing, and sales leadership. Sales operations’ experience across sales teams and related fields help the team understand what sales model will be best practice.

Evaluation of Sales Processes: Your choice of sales methodology will depend on your company’s market, customer journey, and internal priorities. Evaluating a sales methodology is a key action that sales operations can help with — again because of their background and experience at seeing the bigger picture of the sales landscape.

Forecasting: Sales leaders are beholden to their numbers — hit them and you’re compensated well. Miss them, and, well. Sales operations plays an instrumental role in producing and assessing the reports and analytics. Using data and predictive models can help sales operations take an active role in this strategic function by making predictions of what will close ever more accurate.

Sales Team Organization

Sales team structure plays a key role in the effectiveness of a team. Sales operations can help guide and direct the structure and execution of a sales team.

Hiring: Having the right people in your team is a major determinant of the success of your sales organization. The wrong players can lead to demotivation and the right players can reinforce best practices. Sales operations can help to influence the job descriptions that are created and who is chosen to be a colleague.

Territory Choice: How you allocate target accounts and leads is another major influence on the success of your organization. If they are spread well — so there isn’t a misalignment between volume, skills, and strategic nature of the accounts — can be the difference between success and failure.

Financial Motivation: Sales operations can put on their measurement hat and see how compensation motivates individuals to perform more of the right actions. Sales operations often manages these programs — or at a minimum the inputs into these programs — so that sales people are constantly driving in the right direction.

Communication: There is so much great news happening in your organization. You want to get the word out to keep the team motivated on on-message. But communication can be a chore, and ignored by the salespeople themselves. Sales operations best practices need to focus on getting useful communication into the hands of the sales organization.

Team Efficiency

Sales is a high pressure profession. The precious time that they do have has to be maximized. And here sales operations can be a major help by eliminating rote activities that consume time without adding significant value — or can be automated. Any time that you can get reps focused back on core selling activities, sales operations will be winning.

Day-to-Day Efficiencies: Sales operations should take an analytical approach to their sales teams. Running time studies of what sales people do in a given day can help give a sense for what actions can be eliminated or improved to give more time back to core selling.

Executing Transactions: The sales process is full of many frictions — from quotes to contracts. Eliminating frictions can help get your team motivated because they’re not focused on mundane activities. It also helps because the customers themselves have a much better experience, so they are more likely to have a positive experience that continues after the purchase is made.

Outbound Communications: Sales people need to be sending compelling, accurate messages to their prospects. Doing so gets them engaged and excited to move forward. Sales operations’ analytical bend can help by evaluating which messages work as best practices and which need to be tuned.

CRM: The CRM is generally the hub of information and process for a sales team. And that means that the selection and ongoing operation of the CRM — like, say, Salesforce.com — is often in sales operations’ hands. Best practices typically involve ensuring data quality, particularly for forecasting purposes.

Sales Tools: The CRM is not the only sales tool — though many tools do integrate closely with it. There are tools that automate the sending of emails, calendering, and other tasks. Sales operations should be heavily involved in identifying needs and implementing and standardizing on technology that can give sales people a leg-up.

Sales Operations’ Relationship with Marketing

The opportunity cost of unused marketing content is approximately $2.5 million for an enterprise organization.

Today’s marketing teams are more analytical than ever. They’re looking at which leads advance, which programs are effective, and other key data points in order to make better marketing investment choices. And here sales operations can be a critical partner. This helps because marketing is a critical driver of more and better quality leads to the sales organization — a key driver of success.

Your prospects go on a ‘journey’ from initial awareness to being a customer and beyond. Do prospects really care about how you divide your go-to-market? No. They just want to make smart decisions that drive business value for their organizations.

So, sales operations and marketing must take a holistic approach to the journey. That is, looking at how prospects engage with different messages and value props throughout the journey. By taking a complete perspective on their needs, instead of slicing it into silos, you can get a more complete picture of the needs of your prospects.

Extend Insight Deeper into the Funnel

That’s great that you have marketing data on the performance of your marketing campaigns. But you need to know success rates deeper in the funnel. That’s where your sales operations friend will help. Get answers to questions like:

Which leads actually attended a sales call?

What are the conversion rates throughout the funnel?

Which programs contributed to the most qualified pipeline?

Identify Frictions in the Funnel

As a customer proceeds along her buying journey there will be frictions. Prospects may enter into a buying process and then quickly leave. And at the bottom of the funnel you may have opportunities that stall for no apparent reason. If you understood why these decisions and frictions happened you could better prevent them.

And most important, you could coordinate with marketing to address these challenges. Sales operations can help marketing teams by bringing the insight they learn from working with the sales organization in addition to the rich data they gather about conversions and losses.

Sales Operations and Content Effectiveness

Content is lifeblood to marketing teams. So marketing needs to know which content is truly driving business so they can produce more of it. Sales operations can rely on technology like SAVO to identify which content is successful and correlate it with actual revenue. Marketing can begin to answer questions like:

Which content are sales people actually using?

What are the sales contexts in which content is used?

What correlations can you draw between content use and successful deals?

Which messages are the most effective?

Marketing pushes out a lot of content via email and the website, not to mention other channels. As a result, they have rich insight that can help sales teams to use the most effective messages. Going the other direction works too. So sales teams can help marketing understand what content they should produce more of. Sales operations data can be vital for this.

Account Based Approaches

A key to a successful go-to-market is having the right accounts and right prospects in those accounts targeted. Sales operations can be a vital contributor here by helping teams to measure which accounts are the most likely to convert and should be focused on. And identifying which accounts should be added to the system.

Similarly, sales operations data can help marketing to understand which prospects should be added to their campaigns and where deficiencies in the corporate database are leaving money on the table. Either through missing contacts or absent contact information. The result of collaboration on sales operations best practices is a healthier database and more engaged prospects.

Sales Operations and Other Teams in Your Organization

Sales operations should also aggressively identify other opportunities for working with teams across your organization. Again, sales operations should be acting as an ‘information entrepreneur’ in the organization to tie teams together. Here are some examples:

Finance: Work with the finance organization to improve reporting and forecasting. As well, rely on finance to help build out compelling ROI models and business cases that showcase the value of your offer. After all, no one in the organization knows financial models as well as the finance team.

Human Resources: HR professionals are experts at motivating and incenting teams. Work with them to learn what kinds of compensation models can be put in place to get more results from your sales organization. Also, these same folks can be critical to help build out hiring plans and training to get the right people into your organization.

Customer Success: What can be more compelling for potential prospects than to hear the real-world successes of your existing customers. Work with success to nurture and advance these customers so you can better support sales efforts.

Production / Development / Manufacturing / Service Delivery: No matter what product or service you’re selling, this is something that gets overlooked. Your sales people are selling to practitioners. But do they know much about the real-world creation or implementation of your offer? Imagine the power of having a sales person that can speak knowledgeably about the “factory floor” side of your business.

Equipped with these ideas for sales operations best practices you can radically boost your overall sales effectiveness.

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