What marketers need to understand about sales operations

Sales operations has been around a while—since the 1970s, in some organisations—but knowledge about the function’s role is limited. This role is also changing with the rise in analytics and data-driven decision-making. Here are ten things that marketers need to understand about sales operations.

Originally, sales operations covered sales planning, forecasting, compensation and territory design. It now also incorporates analytics on sales force planning and structure, managing territories, providing support for automation of sales systems, including CRM systems, and modelling. It is, effectively, the sales support function of the business.

  • Although often outsourced in the past, the function is increasingly being brought in-house

The number of internal sales operations teams is said to be rising, as more companies turn away from outsourcing. This is probably the result of several factors, including simpler analytics tools, meaning that more can be done by ‘non-expert’ analysts, and the rise in more general sales technology, such as CRM systems, over the last 10 to 15 years.

  • Sales operations requires a wide range of skills

Although it is hard to generalise, an article in Harvard Business Review recently discussed an advertisement for a sales operations leader. The skills required covered two broad (some might say incompatible) areas, strategy and operations. The author noted that the sort of person who would be attracted to the strategy role (someone creative, who wanted a lot of variety in their job) would probably be unsuitable for the operational aspects, requiring a tolerance of routine and strong attention to detail.

  • The dichotomy of sales operations means that those responsible have to build broad teams

The two very different aspects of sales operations require very different skills. This means that teams are likely to be made up of two distinct types of people. This is a challenge in building an effective team, and in turn means that sales operations leaders have to be skilled facilitators and team leaders. Perhaps even more than having the technical or strategic skills themselves, they need to be able to bring people together effectively.

  • There are a range of ways to access the skills needed

Some organisations manage the dichotomy between strategy and operational requirements by outsourcing one or other element. Others, however, widen the team to involve those from other areas of the business, who have the necessary skills to contribute effectively. For the more strategic and creative elements, this is likely to include marketers.

The survey identified best practices in sales operations and asked sales professionals whether their company was using these. The average company was using only 40% of best practices, and even the top performing companies were only using an average of around 60%. What’s more, although most respondents felt technology was important in improving sales performance, only about a quarter of companies were actually using state-of-the-art technology in sales operations.

  • Investment in sales operations is essential, not ‘nice to have’

McKinsey research suggests that companies that invest equally in front-line sales and sales support (sales operations) do considerably better than companies that invest less in sales support. Underinvesting in sales supports adds to the burden on front-line sales—and that, in turn, affects the customer’s experience, often negatively.

  • Alignment of sales and marketing is a key driver in sales operations

As sales cycles become more fluid, and customers seek more information online before speaking to a member of the sales team, alignment between sales and marketing has become more important. With potential overlap between roles, it is important that sales and marketing work together and coherently. A high-performing sales operations function is essential for that.

  • There are four key areas of alignment that companies should consider

Alignment is particularly important across planning, lead management, data management and measurement. Bringing processes and teams together in these areas can contribute to considerably better performance, and improved efficiency of sales and marketing alike.

  • Some companies are moving from sales ops to a combined marketing and sales (revenue) function instead

Revenue operations can be considered as a combined sales and marketing operations function. Revenue ops are designed to work across the whole customer lifecycle, providing analytical and strategic support across all aspects of the business in a more coherent way. The whole aim is to improve revenue and support growth within the company.





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