Sales operations 101: Definition, roles, and best practices
Optimizing your sales operations is the secret to developing a well-trained, well-supported, and successful sales team. Learn how sales operations works and discover exactly how it can help secure a lucrative future for your business.
By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer
Last updated October 6, 2022
With technology and the digital realm evolving daily, the success of a company requires more foresight and planning than ever before. Indeed, 89 percent of sales professionals say that sales operations is critical to growing their business. But what is sales operations and how can it help secure the future of your company?
Below, we’ll explore the details of this flexible methodology and how a great sales operations team can deliver some serious benefits to your business.
What is sales operations?
Sales operations refers to any tool, plan, or training your company uses to enable its sales staff to deliver their best work. It may seem like a vague term, but having a clear sales operations plan can greatly increase success rates for your sales team.
Sales ops provides a systemic approach to sales. While many companies already use a variety of tools to run their sales process, not every company creates an overarching sales and operations plan to manage the efficiency and productivity of those tools. A successful sales ops team can drive revenue by analyzing the effects of existing software integration (including contact management software), department communication, and company best practices.
Sales operations vs. sales enablement
Sales operations and sales enablement do share a common goal: to increase efficiency and sales at your business. But these teams tend to have different day-to-day jobs at a company, particularly in regards to where they intersect with the full sales funnel.
While team roles do differ from organization to organization, in general, sales enablement teams focus on giving support to sales reps on the ground. Their work typically centers around the earlier stages of the sales funnel.
Alternatively, sales ops tend to offer support and guidance on bigger-picture issues. This can include managing tech, reporting and forecasting, territory mapping, and other higher-level strategies. Sales ops focus on the later stages of the sales funnel and have a larger sales jurisdiction in general.
What does sales operations do?
The main purpose of a sales operations team is S&OP—sales and operations planning. Such a plan, if executed well, ensures that all the moving parts of a business are working together. This means collaborating across departments and updating sales and budget forecasts in order to balance the company’s ever-changing supply and demand.
Sales operations’ primary goal is to smooth out the cracks in the sales process so that sales team members can do their jobs without worrying about other behind-the-scenes tasks. There are three areas that sales ops must navigate: systemic planning, technological tools, and company training.
We’ll take an in-depth look at these areas below.
Why is sales operations important?
Creating and maintaining a sales operations team is a serious business expense. New staff, new software, and additional time and attention to detail can make S&OP a big investment. Research, however, says that the return on investment is well worth it.
Collaboration shows measurable benefits
The average worker spends 25 percent of their workday on email-related tasks, yet only 38 percent of those emails are revenue-generating. By not collaborating effectively, cross-departmental emailing leads to lost information and lower engagement, which ultimately adds up to lost revenue.
Sales operations creates systems in which all parties have access to the information they need. This eliminates misplaced information and crossed wires while increasing engagement with relevant content.
S&OP creates a clear outline of how different departments can work together
Collaboration and communication don’t just magically happen. Your teams need a clear outline of what their individual tasks are, as well as a framework for how and when to reach out to other departments.
Sales and operations planning gives you a blueprint for managing those cross-departmental tasks, so you can be sure that each team knows exactly what their responsibilities are. This lets you easily track everyone’s KPIs while also eliminating opportunities for confusion or miscommunication.
Greater organization leads to clarity
Companies that use sales operations see 28 percent higher revenue growth than companies that don’t. This isn’t a coincidence. Without a set plan for the entirety of a business, revenue growth halts any time communication or data analysis processes need to be reworked.
Having a sales ops plan doesn’t guarantee a perfect fiscal year. But it does provide you with a full portrait of all the steps your team has taken up to any given point. This allows you to look back and reconfigure your sales operations strategy if your final numbers aren’t what you wanted them to be.
In a way, sales ops is like a map that shows you every step you’ve taken on your journey, letting you pinpoint exactly where you started veering off-course and away from your desired endpoint.
Ultimately, sales operations leads to an improvement in sales. Numerous companies using a sales operations team see improvements in inventory management, budget forecasting, promotional planning, and product lifecycle management.
And the process is mutually beneficial. Sales ops gives the sales team a reliable plan, and the sales team provides sales ops new and improved metrics for sales ops to build even better strategies going forward. These policies have a ripple effect, improving every part of the sales process all the way to customer relations.
What are the roles and responsibilities of a sales operation team?
S&OP provides a practical way of mapping out a company’s future in the near term. Rather than setting extreme goals for 10 years down the line, most sales and operations plans look no more than a year into the future. These specific goals demand specific sales operations roles and responsibilities.
We can break down a sales operations team’s responsibilities into clearly defined stages:
- Data gathering: In the data gathering stage, sales ops staff work with the sales department to collect statistics on previous sales. This typically happens once a month. Then sales ops analyzes trends and provides updated forecasts. This stage builds the foundation for all future planning.
- Demand planning: In the demand planning stage, sales ops analyzes demand for the product. Forecasts from the previous stage are confirmed or revised, any changes are accounted for, and demand sources are examined for any specific promotion or launch opportunities. It’s essential that this stage takes place before supply planning and doesn’t coincide with it. Demand is external, supply is internal.
- Supply planning: The supply planning stage builds on both data and demand by assessing current inventory and capacity. These assessments then determine if any construction or cleaning needs to occur and allow for inventory targets to be set. This stage is only successful when preceded by a thorough demand planning stage.
- Plan reconciliation: Once supply and demand have both been assessed, the plans can be brought together for compliments and contradictions. This stage is also where any budget concerns can inspire edits.
- Finalize and release the plan: In the final stage, the sales ops plan is signed off on and released for implementation. Remember, once implemented, all plans must be regularly reassessed.
Different sales op team members will play different roles in carrying out these responsibilities. While each team can be comprised of whatever specific jobs best suit the company, here are a few sales operations roles you’ll see in a traditional sales op team:
- Sales Operations Manager: The SO manager is essentially the head of S&OP strategy. They create a sales plan, assign territories, and analyze forecasting for future strategizing.
- Sales Effectiveness Manager: The sales effectiveness manager is responsible for improving training methodology and company practices. They handle onboarding, design and implement sales training, and come up with ideas for the continuous improvement of the company.
- Sales Operations Analyst: An SO analyst deals with data. They use their analytical acumen to identify market trends and then provide support to the marketing and accounting teams. They may also identify elements of the business that would benefit from automation.
- Technical Operations Advisor: A technical operations advisor works on the tech side of sales operations. They track and organize key metrics, focus on boosting efficiency, and administrate the sales CRM.
- Sales Planning Specialist: A sales planning specialist focuses on coordination and organization. They aid sales reps by organizing pricing and contract information, working out scheduling, and assisting with communication and collaboration across departments.
Sales operations team structure
Sales operations is structured into four main areas: technology, training, strategy, and administration. Let’s discuss how sales operations functions in each category.
Despite years of progress, technology integration remains a significant hurdle for sales departments. A good salesperson is first and foremost an expert in people— not software (with the exception of Saas sales). As a result, sales teams using a large number of technologies can find their sales staff overwhelmed and their expensive software underused.
Sales ops steps in by managing the software each team uses and taking care of data analysis. Sales operations frequently manages the following technology platforms:
- CRM software (such as Zendesk Sell)
- BI services
- Communication and conferencing tools
- Content management software
- Email automation
- Performance management software
- Data analytics software
During onboarding, most new salespeople are trained on the company’s sales process and the products they will be selling. But they’re not always trained on big-picture items or the company’s overall sales strategy.
When utilized well, sales ops can help ensure new hires are fully versed in product training, sales methodology, and marketing. Cross-departmental training from the start gives new salespeople a more complete view of how everyone’s work contributes to their own targets, making it easier for them to understand how and with whom to communicate down the line.
This is also an opportunity for sales ops to create training programs that prioritize the company’s particular needs — whether that’s unique selling, customer acquisition, lead qualification, lead generation, or best closing techniques.
When sales ops first emerged, it mostly focused on pure data analysis. Over time, this key function has evolved, and sales ops now tends to use data to create improved business strategies.
Sales ops teams can contribute strategic thinking company-wide: from the creation of incentive programming to new software selection. The important thing is that these data-driven strategies are coming from a department whose focus isn’t only on one section of the business, but on the entire picture.
Sales managers are so often overworked that it can be easy for things to slip through the cracks in their sales management. This is why sales operations is so important. Sales operations frequently works as administrative support for:
- Recruitment and training
- Implementation and management of compensation
- Allocation of sales districts and groupings
- Communication and collaboration supervision
This extra support helps sales managers keep better track of their team’s progress and step in wherever help is needed most.
Sales operations best practices
Continuously running a smooth S&OP is a hard task. Therefore, it’s beneficial to have a set of best practices for your sales operation plans. Here are a few of our recommendations for keeping your S&OP on track:
- Assign one person to take the lead. As sales ops work to bridge gaps between sales, marketing, supply, and demand, it’s essential to have an authority figure who can see the big picture and identify where problems are slowing down sales.
- Pick your company’s key metrics. Not every company has the same weaknesses and strengths. Focusing on every measurable metric is more chaotic than useful, so identify the areas that need the most improvement, and reevaluate down the line as necessary.
- Store everything. Nothing runs perfectly the first time you use it, and sales operations plans are no different. As you learn how to implement your sales and operations plan, accept that strategies will have to evolve until you land on the plan that works best. To do this, keep a clear record of every adjustment you make and the outcomes. That way, you can always look back and see what worked and what didn’t, giving you better insight into what changes to make going forward.
- Back up your sales operations department. A plan is only as good as its implementation. Without the company fostering cross-departmental communication and collaboration, no amount of data planning is going to increase productivity. Give your sales operations team the workplace environment necessary for success.
In an ideal world, every business would function as one unit, with everyone working towards a common goal. Unfortunately, as businesses grow, so do the disagreements between departments. To promote company well-being, we recommend that sales operations focus on three key values:
- Unification: A sales and operations plan goes beyond individual department KPIs. Rather, it’s an overall plan for the company that allocates different responsibilities to each department. This gives everyone a clear understanding of how their different responsibilities serve the company’s unified strategy.
- Integration: Many departments use similar software or organizational tools but still can’t seem to share information effectively. Lead management software and CRM software are used industry-wide, but communication gaps can occur if each department is running its own version or files.
Sales operations helps to integrate existing software throughout departments, creating a more cohesive system where sharing information is fast and easy.
- Communication: At the end of the day, a business can’t run smoothly if teams aren’t communicating efficiently with one another. Even if your teams don’t meet regularly, they need a way to share information and keep everyone informed of their progress towards larger-picture goals. Using a sales and operations plan offers everyone a clear strategy for requesting and sharing the information they need to perform their individual tasks. This ensures that nothing falls through the cracks, even as tasks pass from one team to another.
How Zendesk can reform your sales operations process
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that streamlined software and seamless implementation are key to a successful sales operation process. And as one of the leading providers of sales software today, Zendesk is designed to set your team up for success.
With a variety of customizable products from Zendesk Sell to Zendesk Sunshine, we provide scalable options for new businesses and enterprise-level organizations alike. Our user-friendly CRM software promotes productivity, process, and pipeline visibility for all teams. Zendesk also easily integrates with all of the popular internal and external sales tools you’re already using, like Mailchimp, Slack, and JIRA.
With Zendesk, your sales operations team can get a bird’s-eye view of where your company is today so they can make a difference tomorrow. Get started by requesting a demo or signing up for a 14-day free trial today.
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