Unsung heroes: why sales ops deserves more respect (and better tools)

Where does your company keep its unsung heroes? If you’re like most companies, you can find them in Sales Operations. They set the stage for every sale, and while they may not appear on any leaderboards or get called out for applause at sales meetings, their efforts ensure that your sales machine keeps churning and that your sales people feel supported. sales opsBut who supports sales ops? Everyone wants sales ops’ help: Onboard new hires faster and get them productive sooner than ever, make sure that every rep has access to content exactly when they need it and exactly on topic for each customer, and give managers help with coaching. Also, they may play a collaborative role with managers in setting quotas, determining territories and perfecting the comp plan. That’s just counting the defined roles for sales ops; often, they are tasked with tackling complex, multi-faceted problems within sales. Scott Santucci, a director at the Alexander Group and founder of the Sales Enablement Society, coined a term for people tasked with tackling out-of-control sales enablement situations: “the vice president of broken stuff.” Sales ops can be a job like that: lots of responsibility, problems that can be hard to define, in an organization full of strong personalities and quickly shifting priorities. So, when sales ops people succeed – and they do succeed often – they deserve a lot of accolades. They aren’t just herding cats – they’re herding cats with attention deficit disorder that are wearing jetpacks. In order for them to succeed, your organization has to enable them to focus on the tasks that require their expertise. Time spent planning an effective incentive program is time well spent. Time sunk into the management of that program through manual or badly automated processes is not well spent. Similarly, time committed to developing a winning strategy for sales enablement is valuable. Time absorbed by the manual management of content is not being used effectively. Sales ops, like every other role within the organization, is under increasing time pressure. If you want to help them succeed, provide them with solutions that allow them to move the less valuable (but still necessary) tasks into automated solutions and to use time on the valuable tasks that depend on human expertise. Here’s where a little investment can help make sales ops personnel’s lives much easier and make your sales teams more productive: On-boarding solution: Having an automated system to manage the process of onboarding is an enormous help in ensuring that new hires get a standardized welcome to the company and a uniform set of initial training. Achieving this with a manual process is becoming nearly impossible; “onboarding” is evolving to be more complex as product mixes expand and as concepts like the customer experience grow in importance. Trying to oversee this with a spreadsheet – especially in rapidly growing sales organizations – is guaranteed to leave some holes in the new hires’ knowledge and to steal time from other, more strategic sales ops tasks. Training and coaching solutions: It’s not enough to train salespeople in the onboarding phase, then release them into the wild. A study of 540 companies conducted by the Association for Talent Development shows that continuous investments in training and reinforcement result in over 50 percent higher net sales per employee, nearly 40 percent higher gross profits per employee and a 20 percent higher ratio in market-to-book value. But many organizations consider training to be over with on-boarding, or it’s an ad-hoc thing that is done only when the market exposes holes in the sales team’s knowledge. If you want sales ops to have a hand in managing this, however, you need to invest in coaching solutions and learning solutions that help managers get the right coaching to sales people using a learning platform that’s effective. Asking sales ops to study sales KPIs without the tools to do so not only means insights would be discovered long after they would have been useful, minimizing coaching effectiveness, they would also limit the number of KPIs that could be monitored. And without the right training solution in place to automate ongoing instruction, salespeople get less instruction, are less well informed, and as the statistics suggest, fall behind competitors with effective training programs. Sales content management solution: These days, getting content really isn’t the problem. According to the Content Marketing Institute, marketing departments spent an average of 28 percent of their total budgets on content in both 2014 and 2015. But creating the content is an academic exercise if no one reads it, or uses it – and sales ops often get stuck being the ones who function as “librarians.” If you want to free sales ops up to improve processes, get a good sales content solution in place – one that uses data on content freshness, content effectiveness and content appropriateness (pus some feedback from sales and, ideally, users) to automatically serve up the right content for the customer persona and their stage in the buying process. Not only does that make life easier for sales ops and makes your sales force more effective, it give time back to sales, too – the average salesperson spends as much as 30 hours a month searching for content or creating it him or herself. Incentive compensation solution: Without an automated solution, your comp manager’s life can be very difficult. It can also put sales ops in a difficult position when it comes to putting the levers in place to properly motivate the sales force. Inserting changes – whether they’re temporary, like a spiff or semi-permanent, like a bonus based on customer feedback – is not only difficult but it can take a long time. By the time the plan manager has integrated the change, the conditions the change was intended to address may have changed. With an automated solution, changes to the plan can be modeled and taken live in very short order, allowing sales ops to have a faster and more direct impact on sales results. Territory and quota solution: Sales ops must work with sales management to help establish sales territories and to provide input on quota numbers. Without an automated solution, it’s very hard to bring sales data into these discussions; the emphasis should be on the strategic decisions that will drive the business, not on the process of data importation. It’s also much harder to make territory decision based on the performance of individual sales people, and as a result many of the determinations devolve back into something driven by managers’ intuition instead of hard numbers. Automate territory and quota, and the situation reverses completely – decisions can be made not with hunches but with historical data as their underpinnings. Sales ops is relieved of the task of data-wrangling and can instead help managers understand the data so they can make better decisions. If you’re one of these unsung heroes – or if you want to make sure your own team of unsung heroes is enabled to perform at their peak – attend our Dreamforce session at 11:30 a.m., October 4 at the Marriott Marquis hotel. Ben Gomez, senior manager, sales effectiveness & integration at Healthfirst and Rick Austinson, senior director, IT at Xirrus will be joined by CallidusCloud’s own VP of global sales & channel operations and enablement, Christine Dorrion, where they’ll discuss the most pressing issues facing Sales Ops professionals now and in the coming year. To attend the session, register here.

By Chris Bucholtz | September 27th, 2016 | Dreamforce

About the Author: Chris Bucholtz

Chris Bucholtz

Chris Bucholtz is the content marketing director at CallidusCloud and writes on a host of topics, including sales, marketing and customer experience. The former editor of InsideCRM, his weekly column has run in CRM Buyer since 2009. When he's not pondering ways to acquire and keep customers, Chris is also an avid builder of scale model airplanes.