Sales operations is a group of behind-the-scenes activities and processes ensuring customers’ needs are met and leads are nurtured throughout the pipeline. It’s best for maturing sales organizations with complex sales cycles. Benefits include freeing up sales professionals’ time to focus on selling versus administrative work. Challenges include quickly creating processes in dynamic environments.
One way professionals responsible for sales operations can help free up sales teams’ time and make processes more efficient is by using technology like a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. A CRM like Freshsales, for example, has workflow automation features and email templates that can eliminate operational tasks. Sign up for a free trial to see if these tools can make your sales team more efficient.
What Is Sales Operations?
Sales operations creates and plays an active role in activities, processes, and even strategies that help sales teams close more deals. It encompasses the actions required to get a prospect from awareness to close and to find ways to take the sales rep out of the process where it makes sense. It also includes the evaluation of sales funnels and where inefficiencies and high drop-off rates are.
For instance, sales operations professionals for an insurance agency may create policy fulfillment departments to handle policy deliveries and client management roles that specialize in building client relationships to foster renewals and generate new business. These roles free up the primary sales rep’s time to focus on writing new policies and making warm introductions to client managers responsible for onboarding once the prospect becomes a customer.
How Sales Operations Work
Sales operations are important, especially in larger organizations selling in complex sales cycles, because there are a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong that could jeopardize the sale. It’s possible that contracts are not signed, which can cost you in revenue, or it’s possible that the product isn’t delivered, resulting in angry customers. Sales operations own these processes and make sure they deliver the end result: closed deals.
For instance, if you’re in a company that requires contracts to be signed and customers to be onboarded, there is plenty of room for the ball to be dropped. A good sales operations plan maps out the internal process, documents how it affects the customer journey, and defines ways to make it better without taking the sales team away from their primary role, which should be selling.
Sales operations can also help professionals recognize market opportunities. For instance, they may notice by running and analyzing sales reports that there’s an uptick in customers buying two specific products at the same time. They can research how the sales team may be driving this and work with marketing to understand market forces behind it. They can coordinate resources to roll out to the entire sales organization to take advantage of the trends.
If structured properly, sales operations saves your company time and resources, and can even help you make more money over time. This is because those tasked with sales operations look for bottlenecks in your sales process and present resources to address them so that teams can better focus on their primary role.
Sales Operations Roles & Responsibilities
The role of the sales operations professional covers a broad range of areas, including streamlining presales processes to making post-sale product delivery more efficient. They get involved in HR-related matters that affect sales, like compensation, training, or any area that touches the sales team’s day-to-day.
Sales operations professionals are also responsible for removing obstacles and making selling efforts more productive by offering training or suggesting strategies to take advantage of opportunities. They remove non-sales activities, like onboarding or product delivery, from sales teams’ areas of responsibility and find other ways for these activities to be completed. They also look at data that shows where bottlenecks are and make recommendations for improvement.
Sales Operations vs Sales Enablement
Many people use the term sales operations interchangeably with sales enablement, but the two are very different. Sales operations has more of an impact on strategy and overall process, while sales enablement has a focus of getting (or creating) tools sales reps need to do their jobs and to make sure the overall strategy is implemented in the right way.
For example, sales operations may notice a high number of returns on a particular product due to customer misunderstanding of what the product does. With this information, they work with product managers, trainers, or a sales enablement team (if the company has one) to address this issue. Actions a sales enablement team or others in a sales enablement role would handle would be to develop talking points the sales team can use in the sales process to reduce returns.
Sales operations spot (or are made aware of) issues and facilitates the issue being addressed, while sales enablement creates the resources that will resolve the issues at hand. Both of these functions work hand-in-hand; depending on the organization, there can be a lot of overlap. As long as both functions are fulfilled, sales processes will run much smoother.
Sales Operations Best Practices
Best practices for sales operations vary from organization to organization and even across industries. However, common themes in best practices include having systems for open communication and relationship building within and outside of the sales organization. Other themes include staying focused on your goals and your scope so that you’re not taken off track. And finally, using data to recognize problems and opportunities.
Here are additional details on best practices for sales operations:
- Communication: Create systems for open communication throughout the sales organization. This will lead to better assessments of challenges faced by sales and what they need to overcome them.
- Revisit goals and scope of sales operations: Always revisit the goals and the scope of your team. Develop a process for addressing pressing issues that may be out of your current scope and document issues that arise so that you can spot trends.
- Use data to recognize problems and opportunities: Create a process and even develop reports to spot problems and opportunities over time. This can be used to facilitate the creation of resources to address these things.
- Build relationships throughout the organization: More departments and teams than you think touch the customer journey and sales process. Get to know all the key players in the sales process because when a problem arises that touches them, you’ll need to gather everyone in these areas to work together to resolve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity.
Sales Operations Core Metrics
Depending on the purpose and scope of your sales operations team, there are a number of key metrics that you’ll want your team to track as part of your strategy. If your team is focused on making the sales pipeline from awareness to close more effective, you’ll want to track sales pipeline drop-off rates, or where in the process your prospects tell your sales team no and move on. If your team is focused on post-sale experience, focus on cancels after shipping time.
Here are a few core sales operations metrics to consider:
- Conversion rate: Watch the conversion rate to see if there’s a correlation between things happening in the sales process and any changes to the conversion rate or percentage of deals closed.
- Sales cycle length: Keep an eye on how long it takes to close deals. If this length of time increases, find out why. If it decreases, find out why. Then see if this change is causing an increase or decrease in deal size.
- Phone time: If you’re working with an inside sales team, monitoring phone time is key. If there is an increase or decrease in time spent on the phone, see if this is having an impact on the number and size of deals closed.
- Number of email correspondences: It’s possible that you have customers who don’t like talking on the phone and who want to communicate via email. If this is the case with your target audience, monitoring the number of email correspondences and other metrics, like open rates and click-through rates, are important to keep an eye on.
- Time spent on email correspondence: If your team is sending more and more email, create email templates and use a CRM, like Freshsales, that has email templates and automation tools to cut down on the amount of manual work.
- Lead follow-up time: If your organization is spending money on leads, you need to monitor how long it takes for your sales team to follow up with these leads and track the length of time of follow-up to closed deals to see if there’s a positive correlation between quick follow-up and getting the sale.
- Sales funnel drop-off rates: Find out where the leaks are in your sales funnel. If you’re losing people while you’re qualifying them and it’s because they’re not qualified, you need to look into better lead sources.
How to Structure a Sales Operations Team
The structure of your team will vary depending on its overall purpose, the challenges your sales organization faces, and the solutions you see sales operations presenting. Before creating roles or implementing systems, define the scope of your sales operations team so they know the activities and projects they should focus on. For sales teams of one or two, defining sales operations early on will establish efficiency fueled by automation and process repeatability.
Here are the steps you should follow to create a solid sales operations team structure:
Define Your Purpose
First define your purpose. You need to ask and contemplate why you are creating a sales operations team. Is it because of inefficiencies in your current sales process and you need a team to create a process that works? Is it because you need someone to dig into sales activity reports and make training suggestions based on where in the sales process your team is struggling? Ask these questions to define your purpose.
Evaluate Challenges & Solutions
Next, take a look at the sales operations challenges your team will face and the solutions they could offer. Engage your sales organization and find out what the most pressing challenges are. Then identify the skill sets it will take to resolve those challenges.
Challenges commonly faced by sales teams include:
- Administrative and repetitive tasks negatively impacting sales
- Inefficient onboarding processes
- Skills and product knowledge gaps causing decreases in sales
- Lack of resources to carry out important functions like lead generation
Solutions sales operations teams offer to resolve these challenges include:
- Identify technology that can perform repetitive tasks
- Create a more streamlined onboarding process backed by technology
- Hire business-to-business (B2B) sales training providers to address sales skills gaps
- Use analytics to build a case for marketing to invest in lead generation campaigns
After really looking at the challenges and solutions your particular sales organization faces, define the scope of your team. One thing you don’t want to do, especially at the beginning of creating a sales operations role or department, is to be a dumping ground for all sales problems. Define an area where you can make a big impact and focus on that area. When your team expands, then widen your scope.
Set Goals for Your Team
Based on your scope, set specific goals for your team. Make sure these goals align with company and sales goals. Also, make sure these goals are in scope with what your team was created to do.
Here are some examples of sales operations goals:
- To decrease the amount of time spent on admin work by sales reps by 50%
- To remove the top three bottlenecks in the sales process causing canceled sales
- To identify the most crucial areas for sales training that aren’t being met and propose a training plan
Define Sales Operations Roles Based on Needs
After your goals are set and your scope is defined, create a clear definition of what the sales operations role or roles will look like on your team. Will you have a person responsible for analyzing reports to spot inefficiencies? Will there be a person to document current sales processes, point out bottlenecks, and map out solutions? Determine what the roles will be on your team and clearly define what they will do.
Create Team Structure
After you’ve created the roles, create your team structure. Assuming you know how many people will be on your team, decide what the best reporting structure is for them. For instance, larger teams might have a sales operations director reporting to the VP of sales, while smaller organizations might simply assign the role of process improvement analyst to someone reporting to the sales operations manager.
Hire & Go Live
Once you have your team structure in place, hire these individuals and go live. Make introductions so that they are plugged into key areas in the company that touch sales operations. Constantly keep goals and scope in front of them so they stay focused and are not pulled into directions that are currently out of scope for your team.
Who Sales Operations Is Good For
Sales organizations that benefit from having defined sales operations tend to be larger organizations with more mature sales teams that can leverage experience when looking for ways to work more efficiently. They also tend to have more lengthy and complex sales processes. However, organizations across all types of industries can benefit from having a sales operations manager or robust sales operations systems.
Here are a few scenarios where sales operations teams or systems can help:
- Large sales organizations: If you have a large sales organization, chances are a sales operations function can help you gain efficiencies or achieve a higher level of success.
- Lengthy sales process: For organizations with lengthy sales processes, sales operations can help shorten or simplify the process by analyzing the process and facilitating the resolution of bottlenecks.
- Complex product lines: If you have complicated products, sales operations can assist by assessing training needs or by assessing the needs of customers in understanding the product better and more quickly.
- Multiple territories: Companies with multiple territories can work with sales operations to make sure each territory runs as smoothly and as efficiently as possible. They can also pass along best practices and wins from each team.
Companies in all types of industries can benefit from sales operations teams. To implement a sales operations team or function, developing systems and implementing tools and technology can bring your sales operations initiative from concept to reality.
Tools & Technologies for Sales Operations Success
In order to quickly implement a sales operations function for your business, you’ll need the right tools and technologies to help you with a variety of functions from process mapping to reporting. You’ll also need tools that will help you and your sales team complete and track activities that are part of your sales process.
The following is a category of tools and technologies you should consider for sale operations:
- Automation: Automation tools allow sales operations to run smoothly by eliminating manual tasks and opportunities for errors. With these tools, you can do things like set up triggers for emails to go out to customers after a sale with instructions for product use.
- Process mapping: Process mapping tools allow you to create a visual representation for your sales process. This helps keep the sales and the sales operations team focused on each sales stage and what needs to be done to move customers through to close.
- Task management: Task management tools allow you to perform tasks and check them off your list. They also allow you to set up reminders so important tasks don’t slip through the cracks.
- Project and post-sale management: When the sale is complete, project management and post-sale management tools let you continue building relationships without losing presales data. You can stay on track with projects so you don’t lose customers. Having software like Monday.com helps with project management.
- Analytics and reporting: Analytics and reporting informs you of where problems and opportunities lie. You can use sales analytics and reports to create and measure changes in the sales process that can either help you save or make money.
Most of the above tool categories can be found in full-featured CRMs like Freshsales. This CRM is affordably priced and comes with automation tools, task management features, robust analytics and reporting, and pipeline management. Sign up for a free trial to test these tools out in your sales operations endeavors.
Pros & Cons of Sales Operations
Pros of Sales Operations
Advantages to having a sales operations function include:
- The ability to quickly spot problems and trends: An advantage is having a team that can quickly spot problems and trends, and having this be their sole purpose. Sales managers can do this, but it takes away time from working with the sales team on closing pending deals or resolving immediate issues.
- The ability to rally resources to address issues and opportunities: This team should have the time to rally resources to address issues and take advantage of opportunities. Again, a sales manager could do this, but if this is a sales operations manager’s job, they can focus solely on this.
- Having a team to focus on efficiencies: Sales operations’ main focus is on sales efficiencies. Having a team to focus on this and address inefficiencies makes the sales team and process better and it frees up some of the sales manager’s time.
Cons of Sales Operations
Disadvantages to having a sales operations function include:
- Costs: It costs a lot of money to hire a sales operations team. If done right, the costs can outweigh the benefits in the right circumstances.
- Catch-all mentality: When problems exist, sales operations can tend to be the catch-all for resolving them. If this is allowed, the sales operations team will not be effective and will be reactionary instead of proactive and strategic.
- Time consuming: Putting together and running a sales operations team can be time-consuming. If run properly and if the team is focused on solving the most pressing problems or taking advantage of the biggest opportunities, it is worth the time.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do I need a sales operations team?
The answer to this question depends on how big your sales organization is, how long your sales cycle is, and how complex your product is. If you’re in a larger organization and you have a long sales cycle with complex products or delivery systems, chances are you need a sales operations function.
What is the role of a sales operations manager?
The sales operations manager ensures the team stays focused on its mission or purpose and completes projects within the scope that they have defined. They also measure their team against specific sales operations goals to help meet company objectives.
What are sales operations titles?
There are a variety of sales operations titles, including sales operations manager, sales operations analyst, sales operations specialist, sales operations coordinator, director of sales operations, VP of sales operations, and more.
Sales operations is a key function that helps ensure sales teams hit their goals. They do this by removing obstacles or by facilitating clearing a path to help them take advantage of opportunities. For larger organizations with long and complex sales cycles, the benefits of having a sales operations team outweigh the costs.
Sales operations teams are up to speed on the tools and technologies that help drive efficiencies or help sharpen skills that will result in increased sales. Sales professionals, including those in sales operations, rely on tools like Freshsales to automate repetitive tasks or get data that shows sales trends. Sign up for a free trial to see if Freshsales tools are right for you.