Sales ops moves pretty fast. To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, if you’re taking the time to stop and look around too long, you’re probably getting left behind.
Though sales operations has been around for decades, the role has exploded recently. In 2013, just under 20 percent of organizations had a dedicated sales ops role. By 2018, that number was close to 60 percent.
The inevitable growing pains associated with that kind of quick growth are starting to surface. According to management consulting firm McKinsey, even high-performing sales ops teams demonstrate best practices on only 60 percent of their functions.
What’s keeping sales ops pros from functioning at the highest level possible?
Sales operations challenges and best practices
To start with, sales ops job descriptions are simultaneously broad and narrow. With so much ambiguity inherent in the role, strategy and priorities are hard to set.
On the analytics side, there tends to be either way too much or not enough good data. And the tech tools that were supposed to save sales from all this chaos tend to be unsupported, underused, and providing a poor return on investment.
So, what can you do to make sure your own sales ops parade is on the right route?
Let’s break down these key challenges facing sales ops today and then look at how to remedy them.
1. Priority paralysis
Clear priorities are key to the success of any department. Many sales ops teams think they have their sales charter on lock: help salespeople sell more effectively. Simple enough.
But what exactly does that directive include or exclude? Of those included, which tasks or activities take precedence? And, more importantly, who gets to decide these things?
Unfortunately, the majority of today’s sales operations teams are not setting their own priorities. For 18 percent of those teams, their priorities are set by others. For about 60 percent, priorities are set in coordination with the company's leadership team and narrowly-focused on either operations and technology OR analytic support.
At first glance, it might seem normal that only around a fifth of all sales ops teams are driving their own priorities. While this may be the norm, it’s definitely not optimal.
Research shows that sales operations with their own formalized long-term plan and vision saw a 15.2-point improvement in quota attainment.
So, what’s the difference?
Sales ops teams with their own charter and plan are thinking proactively. They’re foreseeing challenges and getting ahead of them. The rest are reacting to outside forces and prioritizing whichever issue is ‘loudest’ that day.
Maybe the leadership team wants sales ops to realign the sales compensation plan because a new fiscal year is starting soon when, if you were ranking by priority, CRM upgrades are actually what should be the focus.
That’s not to say that sales ops priorities shouldn’t align with overall company goals. They definitely should. But if the sales ops team has its own charter or sales mission statement, it makes prioritizing tasks and projects much easier when you have a ‘north star’ vision to refer back to.
At Proposify, we use the rocks-pebbles-sand analogy for priority setting and time management, with a slight amendment to the usual set-up.
Here’s how we view it: Rocks are the overarching company goals that everyone is working towards. Pebbles are our departmental priorities that support the company goals. And sand represents the ongoing things we always do that don’t directly tie in with the big goals but are contributing to success.
This helps us sort out where to place our time and effort. Instead of everything being considered a ‘priority’ and our to-do list becoming ever longer without any organization, we have a good idea of our departmental bandwidth at any given time. This makes us able to say no to people and projects that aren’t aligned with our rocks or pebbles or defer them until they do.
With everyone inside and out of the sales ops team clear on the role and responsibilities of sales ops, you avoid misaligned priorities, wasted efforts, and frustrating confusion. Sales ops can’t operate in a vacuum but having defined priorities can decrease external forces that distract you from achieving your targets.
2. Forecasting frustrations
Part of the ability to proactively work on challenges is the ability to see them coming up on the horizon. This is why forecasting is so important in sales.
Sales forecasting is considered by some as an ‘old-school’ function of sales ops. It has grown into a more holistic strategy approach that includes multiple levels of data analysis and reporting.
With so much on the modern sales ops’ plate, sales forecasting is often left solely to sales managers and their reps. Makes sense, right? They’re the ones on the frontline.
But this approach doesn’t always properly manage expectations around your pipeline. For example, reps tend to be too optimistic about close possibilities and managers sometimes don’t investigate reps’ commits well enough. The data becomes more subjective and less effective.
A casually-structured process like this has a negative impact on more than just your forecast. On the other hand, having a formal structure for forecasting, one that involves sales AND sales ops, improves win rates by 13 percent.
Sales ops should leverage sales managers’ frontline experiences and firsthand knowledge and combine that with KPIs and other data-driven insights to create long- and short-term strategic plans, not just forecasts. This leads to greater predictability in both performance and results, which gives you better forecasts.
3. Tool trouble
There are many ways that technology and tools make your sales reps’ lives—and yours—easier. But there are just as many ways that this relationship between people and software can easily go south.
Take the CRM, for instance. For most sales teams, their CRM is their one true source and data repository. But only a quarter of all sales teams say that they are very confident in the accuracy of their CRM data.
This is bad news for sales ops too. CRM data is used in forecasting and strategic planning so it needs to be accurate for sales ops to be effective.
The solution could be more CRM use. Less than half of all sales teams have an ideal CRM adoption rate. An ideal rate is above 90 percent and it’s a key predictor of positive sales results.
So, speaking of prioritization, if your sales team’s CRM usage is lacklustre, you’re going to need to optimize there instead of adding more tools and tech to make up for the incorrect or lack of data.
The next question sales ops should be asking is: what’s holding the sales team back from using the CRM or other tools properly?
Maybe their time is eaten up with taxing manual tasks so they only do the least amount of reporting possible. It could be that the data is okay but it’s the way that it’s collected and managed that’s causing the issues.
Look at how information is gathered in your CRM. For example, an account-based view of records is more beneficial than individual ones floating around. Enforce minimum data collection requirements and have a system set up (human or AI) to review incomplete records and prevent duplication.
What else could be going on with your CRM? Maybe your salespeople don’t have enough training or ongoing support. Maybe it doesn’t integrate with the rest of your tech stack the way you thought it would.
This is why making sure every piece of tech has a strong purpose is so important. Sales ops should know the sales process inside and out but shadowing sales reps offers a better understanding of their daily challenges, how they use the current tech stack, and where more (or less, or different) automation or tech would help.
This in-depth knowledge will also help you get buy-in when you make changes to your sales tech stack.
Sales operations best practices
If the studies cited above prove anything, it’s that even the most productive and effective sales ops teams still have room for improvement.
Okay, time to be the hero. How will you deal with any roadblocks that are limiting your sales ops success?