Why You Should Think of Sales Operations as Sales Optimization

One of the most exciting developments shaking up sales teams is the realization among sales leadership that Sales Operations can be so much more than a custodial, reporting role. We call it Sales Optimization.

I have been in sales for 22 years, and Sales Operations for 7. The practice has changed dramatically in that span, especially in the very recent past. For a long time, the main responsibility of Sales Operations was administration. They oversaw the systems that kept all the elements of the sales team plugged in together. They reported on the sales pipeline. They pulled the strings behind the scenes so that the organization stayed up and running.

The job has largely been a reactive one, looking in the rearview mirror and reporting to the driver. The one thing we’ve been largely unable to do is proactively increase the performance of our teams. But that has begun to change. Sales Operations have an opportunity to become Sales Optimizers with a mission to tune all parts of their organization to maximize the effectiveness of the sales team.

Software is Eating the Sales Team

A new wave of marketing and sales technology has called into question everything from team structure to compensation, to the tools used to do the job. Sales Operations are at the center of this shift, responsible for shepherding their teams along the growth curve from nascent start-up to market dominance.

The growing stack of tools brought to bear in modern sales teams is opening up a whole new world of data-driven insights, collectible in real-time by those with the skills to do so. Sales Operations have an opportunity now to do more for their organizations than ever before. As overseers of this toolset and the world in which they live (CRM and email), it falls to them to find real world applications that make an impact on the performance of our sales teams.

Expanding the Role of Sales Operations

When you’re hiring a Sales Operations person, you get what you pay for. Those who are early to the practice are typically constrained to CRM administration. They live in Salesforce, and ensure their sales team’s database stays up to date and that nothing breaks. They run a few reports when necessary, but overall it’s a very limited job. After gaining more experience, they take on more responsibility. They’re in charge of not just CRM administration, but a multitude of other functions, like managing lead disbursement, investigating and administering new software tools, deal pricing and contracting, even payroll depending on the organization.

What they lack is their understanding of the sales process and how to incentivize the behaviors that actually drive revenue. For example, Sales Operations might read the instructions and implement Xactly for compensation, but do they understand the nuances of compensation plans and how to incentivize the best behavior? They might implement Salesloft for Sales Development, but do they know how many calls an SDR should make or how many meetings they should set each week? Likewise, Sales Operations might implement Datahug, but do they understand the current sales cycle, or how many people are typically involved in a deal?

Sales Optimization Quadrant

By developing this joint skillset, Sales Operations are the most well-positioned individuals in the company to champion Sales Optimization. They’re intimately familiar with the data the team generates, thanks to the systems they’re already in charge of running. Their world is where this opportunity exists. They can advocate for the sales team across the organization because they know what the sales team needs, linking Marketing, Sales and Customer Success. When enabled to do so, a Sales Optimizer can look at the big picture and take on more responsibility. They can bring game-changing decisions straight to the VP of Sales, with the data to back it up.

Instead of simply running reports reactively when a new forecast or performance review is necessary, Sales Operations can proactively examine the pipeline to catch problems in advance. They can create an ecosystem of tools and insights to help the team respond to change. They can identify where deals slow down or fall out of the pipeline. And they can optimize the activity of the entire organization, translating individual successes into best practices for the team.

Optimizating Sales Operations

So what does this mean for company leadership? There are three things to do to capitalize on the shift to Sales Optimization. First, meet with your VP of Sales. Get their take on the state of affairs in the sales team. Is their attitude on sales data-driven or old school? Second, meet whoever is in charge of Sales Operations. This is usually delegated to someone under the VP of Sales. They should have a firm understanding of the data and tools deployed that make the sales team work. Ask them what they’d do to optimize the organization. You may be surprised at the amount of ideas they have. Third, give both the VP of Sales and the Head of Sales Operations an initiative to bring the sales team into the modern era by creating an end-to-end system for objectively analyzing the performance of the team, and optimizing it with these data-driven insights.

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