The job of a sales person is to sell – to focus every minute of his/her work day selling – because if he/she is not, then no one else is! But the expectation from a sales person is not just sales, there are myriad activities that are essentially non-customer facing but are necessary – sales strategy, planning, reviews, forecasting, reporting and logging in data in CRM tools, inter-departmental coordination, the list goes on… chipping away into the 2000 hours in the year that the sales person has to sell. Various surveys suggest that almost two-thirds of a sales person’s week is spent doing something other than selling. Less time in front of customer is equal to less sales – simple. And that is where the sales operations function can step in. Sales operation is essentially the processes, infrastructure and administrative support necessary to help a sales organization run effectively, efficiently and in support of business strategies and objectives. There is immense pressure on increasing the sales productivity given the drive for better top-line and bottom-line growth in all organizations, big or small today and the complex selling environment. A good sales operations team if properly structured and empowered can increase rate of sales and repeat sales, cut costs and improve margins all leading to a sales productivity increase.
Sales Operations can do the balancing act between strategy and execution from the annual, quarterly and monthly planning and analysis to the day-to-day support of the sales force – all the while enabling the front line salespeople to meet and exceed their sales and margin quotas. Here are five ways in which sales operations can be the sales productivity accelerators for the sales leadership:
Sales Enabler #1 – Identify the Focus based on the Goal: What is the company’s goal for the period – is it top line growth or bottom line growth? The Sales operations team can work closer to field-facing sales in times when top-line growth is the highest priority or work closer to internal organization-facing operations in times when bottom-line growth is the highest priority. The balance that has to be done here by the sales operations team is not to become a “sales prevention” team nor allow a “cowboy/cowgirl” style of unregulated selling. This is what will drive sales operations focus and roles (great inputs by Eryc Branham here) for the period to support and enable sales leadership. For example – field facing activities like account planning, RFP support, lead generation and field marketing campaigns could take precedence over commission planning, contract vetting and approvals and finance alignment.
Sales Enabler #2 – Provide Knowledge out of the Data: With all the CRM and Social Media tools and technology available to sales today, data collection is not a problem (if you have solved the technology problem that is – Enterprise resource projects are notorious for their low success rates for achieving the intended outcomes – another area where sales operations can support sales leadership in the selection of the right tools, in getting them to perform the way they should and in increasing tool usage and acceptability within sales teams along with ensuring data quality). What is needed is extraction of the right set of data, comparing it against trends and benchmarks and providing recommendations to the Sales leaders to help them decide the strategic direction they need to take. Sales Operations can be the expert on and the single source of authentic knowledge for the sales organization.
Sales Enabler #3 – Process Setting and Ownership: An effective sales process can go a long way in improving the win rate and increasing the repeat sales. A sales process is effective when it balances the needs of three stakeholders – the needs of the customer, the needs of sales person to meet his/her numbers and the needs of the rest of the organization to be able to execute on the sale. The sales operation team can not only help in the creation of the process but also take ownership of its documentation, adoption and implementation and support the sales people through opportunity to a win-win for all stakeholders.
Sales Enabler #4 – Metrics and Dashboards: One of my favorite topics and pet projects. Metrics need to be aligned to business strategy and objectives – metrics should not only measure the past performance but also act as leading indicators into the future and how it is developing over time. The selection of the right metrics (out of the many sales metrics that are used today) for the sales dashboards also depends on the audience. For example, leading metrics for the sales reps would need to be around their pipeline (sales cycle times and win/loss ratios per stage, etc. to determine pipeline volume requirements and key selling strategies). Sales Leaders would need to have consolidated pipeline and trend information and associated metrics (% of stuck opportunities, overall opportunity age, etc) so that they can help their teams achieve the desired outcomes. The sales operations team can model the data and propose the right sales metrics to the sales team and sales leaders based on what insights they need to meet and exceed their performance objectives.
Sales Enabler #5 – Be the Bridge between Sales and the rest of the Organization: The sales team has to be customer facing and focused on selling and winning deals. But, they can’t do this alone – they need the support of many functions (marketing, finance, delivery, legal, etc) within the organization to succeed. The sales operations team can be the liaison between the sales teams and other functions and help trigger a customer focused culture within the organization by reducing inter-function friction. The key here is of course to work towards driving a respect and trust based culture through providing the understanding of each other’s priorities and challenges. Sometime, sales operations will be the advocate and sometimes the buffer to balance conflicting pressures – a less stressed happy sales engine will be the result.
So in the end, the sales leader should be willing to assign and empower the sales operations team so that they in turn can enable the sales leadership by giving them the gift of time and the necessary insights to achieve the balance between meeting short-term quarterly expectations and the long-term planning needed to ensure the next million/billion dollars.
Where else do you think the sales operations team can enable sales leadership and help the sales force be more effective ? What challenges have you faced as a sales operations professional ? I would love to hear back and learn from you.