Sales operations are the processes and systems that enable a sales team to effectively generate leads, manage relationships, and generate new customers. They help sales teams streamline the sales process by doing things such as developing sales strategies, creating compensation plans, and training team members.
What Are Sales Operations?
Sales operations can be broken down into the various activities, processes, and strategies used by businesses to close more deals. It encompasses the actions required to get a prospect from awareness to close and to find ways to remove manual processes for sales reps so they can spend their time doing what they do best—negotiating with customers and closing deals. 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 reps’ time to warm up new leads and create additional sales opportunities.
Did you know? According to Forrester, sales reps spend an average of about 26% of their time selling to prospects and 9.7% of their time talking to them about other non-sales activities. The rest of their time (about 36.5%) is dedicated to preparing to engage with prospects, such as creating proposals and research, with a leftover of 27.2% of time on administrative duties. Sales operations teams can help by making a plan on how to reduce the largest sales productivity drain and take over some of those responsibilities.
Why Sales Operations Are Important
Sales operations, which are sometimes referred to as sales ops, are a critical part of sales management because complex sales cycles offer plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong that can jeopardize sales. With a proper sales operations program in place, you ensure essential tasks are completed, such as:
- Making sure sales contracts are signed
- Collecting revenue from new customers
- Keeping track of customer renewals to retain business and forecast sales
- Ensuring new customers are properly trained on how to best use your products and services
- Eliminating bottlenecks in the sales process
- Discovering resources to help sales have effective client meetings
- Researching market trends and developing ways to leverage them to increase sales
- Creating and analyzing sales reports
- Keeping sales reps motivated, e.g., sales contests
One of the best ways sales operations professionals can save time and make sales operations more efficient is by using customer relationship management (CRM) software. A CRM, such as HubSpot CRM, offers email templates, call tracking and recording, live chat, and promotes transparency—all for free. Sign up to get started today.
Benefits & Drawbacks of Sales Operations
There are plenty of reasons to implement a sales operations program into your overall sales plan. However, it comes with a unique set of benefits and drawbacks. Before creating a sales operations plan, consider the advantages and challenges it presents.
Sales Operations Benefits
Sales Operations Drawbacks
Sales ops teams can quickly spot problems and trends, giving sales managers more time to work on closing pending deals or resolving immediate issues.
It can be expensive to hire a sales operations team.
Sales ops teams address sales inefficiencies to improve sales meetings.
When problems exist, sales operations can tend to be the catch-all for resolving them rather than using a collaborative approach.
Sales ops teams focus on reporting and analytics to help the sales team find buying trends for prospects to generate more revenue.
If sales ops roles aren’t clearly defined, it can cause conflict between sales reps and sales ops team members when they don’t agree on changes.
How to Structure Your Sales Operations Program
The structure of your sales operations program will vary depending on the main goals you want to accomplish, 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.
Here are the steps to developing an effective sales operations team:
1. Define Your Purpose & Scope
The overall purpose of creating a sales operations program is to make your sales process as effective as possible—but that can look different for every small business. For example, you may have inefficiencies in your current sales process and you need a team to create a process that makes it more effective. Or, you may need someone to dig into sales activity reports and make training suggestions based on where in the sales process your team is struggling.
Define an area or two where you can make a big impact and start there. When your team expands, widen your sales operations scope and look for other opportunities where sales ops functions could create efficiencies.
2. Evaluate Challenges & Solutions
Examine the challenges your team will face. This will help you identify areas where you can create processes or systems that will make your sales reps more efficient and effective. Then, engage your sales organization to determine the skill sets and solutions you’ll need in order to overcome those challenges.
3. Set Goals for Your team
Set specific goals for your team to ensure everyone knows what they are responsible for, why it’s relevant, and when it should be done. Make sure these goals align with the company and sales goals and culture. Some examples of sales operations goal could include:
- Decrease the amount of time spent on admin work by sales reps by 50%
- Remove the top three bottlenecks in the sales process causing canceled sales
- Identify the most crucial areas for sales training that aren’t being met and propose a training plan
It’s an excellent idea to use the SMART goal format to bring these goals to life. It helps each sales operations team create specific, measurable, realistic goals that are relevant to the entire sales team and have clear expectations.
4. 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.
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. Some of the most common sales operations roles and responsibilities include:
- Sales Operations Representative: An entry-level sales ops employee who learns how to coordinate pre- and post-sales activities and works with marketing and sales automation tools.
- Sales Operations Analyst: This employee works on reporting and analytics that help streamline the sales process, such as data mining and quality, sales methodologies, and CRMs. They also must be able to work within several departments, including sales, product, marketing, and so forth.
- VP of Sales Operations: This position manages the entire sales operations team and should be well-versed in leadership, training, and sales enablement. They know how to create detailed financial and operational models using business intelligence software.
5. Hire & Onboard New Sales Ops Members
Once you have your team structure in place, hire these individuals and set your sales ops team into motion. Make introductions to foster team rapport and know who they should go to for specific questions and support. Train them on the tools and software you use as well as the company mission and vision to integrate them into your organization.
Sales Operations vs Sales Enablement
Sales operations is the overall strategy and processes you use within your sales organization, while sales enablement is how you make those processes more efficient for your sales reps. Sales operations have more of an impact on strategy and overall processes, 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.
Sales Operations Examples
Sales Enablement Examples
Develops talking points for company products
Develops sales territory design
Creates resources that resolve sales issues
Creates compensation plans
Provides training to improve the sales process
Develops negotiation and closing strategies
Sales Operations Core Metrics
There are a number of key metrics that you’ll want your team to track as part of your strategy. For example, 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 upon renewal. Some core sales operations metrics to consider:
- Conversion rate: Watch the conversion rate to monitor the correlation between sales activities during the sales process.
- 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, look at if the changes affect the deal size to effectively forecast sales.
- Phone time: If you’re working with an inside sales team, tracking the amount of time they spend on customer calls is key. If there is an increase or decrease in the number of phone calls they make, see if this is having an impact on the number and size of deals closed.
- Number of email correspondences: Sales reps spend just as much time communicating with prospects and customers via email as they do on the phone. This is why it’s important to continually monitor the number of email correspondences and other metrics like open rates and click-through rates.
- Time spent on email correspondence: If your team is sending more and more email, create email templates and use a CRM like Freshsales, which 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 the length of time of follow-up to closed deals to see if there’s a positive correlation between quick follow-up and closing 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.
Who Sales Operations Is Right 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 improve the efficiency of your sales process.
- Lengthy sales process: For organizations with lengthy sales processes, sales operations can help simplify the process by resolving bottlenecks.
- Complex product lines: If you have a wide range of products, sales operations can assist by assessing training needs to understand 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.
Tools & Software for Sales Operations Success
You need the right tools and software to help you with a variety of functions from process mapping to reporting. You’ll also need tools that will help you and even your sales team complete and track activities that are part of your sales process. Here are a few of the types of tools and software you should consider for sale operations:
- Automation tools: Automation tools allow sales operations to run smoothly by eliminating manual tasks and opportunities for errors. Most CRMs, such as Freshsales, allow you to automate things such as setting up triggers for emails to go out after a prospect visits your website or fills out a form on your landing page.
- Task management software: Task management tools allow you to perform tasks and check them off your list. Many tools, such as Asana, also allow you to set up reminders so important tasks don’t slip through the cracks.
- Project and post-sale management software: When the sale is complete, project management and post-sale management tools let you continue building relationships without losing presales data. Software such as Monday.com helps you stay on track with projects so you don’t lose customers.
- Analytics and reporting tools: Analytics and reporting tools inform you where problems and opportunities lie. You can use sales reports and analytics to create and measure changes in the sales process that can either help you save or make money.
As you look to streamline your sales operations, there is fortunately no shortage of software available to help your sales organization thrive and be as efficient as possible. For example, Freshsales is designed specifically for small businesses and comes with automation tools, task management features, robust analytics and reporting, and pipeline management.
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 or you have a long sales cycle with complex products or delivery systems, chances are a sales operations team can help you make those processes more efficient.
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 it has 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, and VP of sales operations.
Sales operations are a key function that helps ensure sales teams hit their goals by removing obstacles, inefficiencies, and streamlining the sales process 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.