In our last blog post on the evolution of sales ops, we talked about dividing all your sales ops tasks into 4 categories (Manual Routine, Cognitive Routine, Manual Non-Routine, and Cognitive Non-Routine), according to SiriusDecision’s matrix. This was explained on their recent webcast.

The categorization is not to prioritize what’s important and what’s not but to deal with cutting costs through automation or outsourcing, so you have the time and budget to expand into more strategic activities.

It’s important to do this exercise, no matter what is going on at your business. Even if things are running smoothly at the moment, it will allow sales ops to concentrate on the most value-added tasks, so they can get strategic faster and have an important role in C-level decision making.

If you don’t do this yourself it may be imposed on you under duress during an unforeseen emergency – let’s say, a company reorganization, acquisition, or a new project that needs to be completed.

Years ago I was put into a situation where we acquired a company, and had to very quickly merge sales teams. This means new comp plans and quotas and a host of other things that are needed to get the sales team up and running. There was really no choice in the matter–we had to drop what we were doing. If we didn’t, we would have been looking at a loss of focus, missed quotas, and the kind of churn you don’t want to see during an acquisition period. Having a prioritization plan left us room for those Cognitive Non-Routine, urgent tasks that are so strategic for any company.

So, let’s take a look at prioritizing tasks so you can be prepared for any situation.

Manual Routine

So, what should you automate in house and why? Look first into the Manual Routine category for tasks that are done every quarter–or every year–perhaps through entering data onto a spreadsheet and running some numbers, then rechecking and sending the calculations onto finance. This would include the core calculation function of incentive compensation. Or perhaps, the sending out of compensation plans to the sales team for signed approvals.

Automation is key in these tasks. In order to embark upon automation see if a) there is a software program that does this, b) it is mature, and c) it is trustworthy. This involves a bit of homework and perhaps, talking to users who may use that program. Then you need to see if it makes financial sense to purchase and maintain the software. To see if a purchase makes sense, calculate your labor costs, the cost of errors, and the “opportunity cost” of not being able to do something strategic because you are working on manual routine tasks.

Some of these tasks may not be fully covered by a software program and may require Excel or other skills. Those tasks could be outsourced to skilled individuals.

Cognitive Routine

Look at Cognitive Routine tasks second. An example of this type of task is figuring out if a given incentive plan, content strategy, or training program is working as expected. This takes some analysis, cognition, and domain expertise. A low-level contributor, or even IT, cannot make these judgments.

However, you can cut down significantly on the time required for this task by automating most of it. A well-designed report-writing tool is necessary. Reports need a lot of data populated by software that tracks actions and transactions and links them to results, such as closed deals, for example, or employee churn. In other words, you need a foundational system of both interactions and transaction (most CRM systems only do part of this).

Even more time can be cut from this with analytics. Analytics are different than reporting in that more insights and trends are surfaced. Judgments on plan effectiveness can take minutes, not days, if you have the right systems in place.

In general, this is the category where the least amount of outsourcing is appropriate. It requires both good software and someone with deep domain expertise in sales operations and the particular nuances of your company.

Manual Non-Routine

Non-Routine Manual is the area where some outsourcing may be appropriate. These are tasks that come up on an ad hoc basis and involve manual effort without a huge amount of technical skills.

For example, preparing for a conference, researching for an account team on a big deal, or compiling lists of past deals with certain characteristics. If you are in sales ops, you know that these come up often and can be big disruptors to your plans.

A resource–perhaps in a geography with lower salaries–that can handle these tasks remotely with little overhead is ideal. But some foundational automation (i.e. a CRM system) can help.

Cognitive Non-Routine

Finally, Non-routine Cognitive, is the area where sales ops can shine and add the most value to C-level requests and activities. These are the strategic contributions that help set the direction of the company. Should we hire more sales reps? Is supporting a certain product requiring more sales cost than its worth? Should we open a new office in a new region? Should we set up a different sales overlay to sell a new product or drop incentives for another product? This also includes those unexpected things like an acquisition, as was mentioned earlier.

While an acquisition is impossible to plan for, these don’t always have to be due to events beyond your control. For example, you can leave time to proactively discover problems, opportunities, issues, or trends and find out the core reasons why they are occurring and come up with a plan.

Having the right software in place that can both collect the data and make it accessible is needed, because coming into meetings with hunches usually falls flat. Analytics can add that special piece of insight that clinches whatever case you are making.

It can also make those unexpected things like creating new plans for an acquisition much easier to pull off.

Cognitive Non-Routine, however, cannot just be solved by software. It requires creative thinking and wisdom from sales ops management. So, there’s a heavy human element. But in order for a human–you, for example–to have time to come up with these insights, you need to clear a space in terms of time and budget. Prioritizing and automating tasks will help you achieve this.

One last important point is that completely outsourcing key operations to a third party can put you out of touch with day to day issues. Sales operations cannot be looked at like handling payroll, which can be outsourced with no issues.

Intimately knowing these issues is key to the function of sales ops, and the company. You should understand the systems and be able to make changes on the fly.

You should also keep the data at hand to get to those strategic insights fast. Keeping strategic functions close will help you contribute to key company decisions.