Boost Sales Performance Through Effective Sales Operations

The sales operations function is expanding. Maximize sales productivity by anticipating what’s ahead.

The Modern Sales Operations Function

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Optimize sales operations performance with a comprehensive guide

Evolving sales operations from a reactive, transactional function to a proactive, strategic capability has big implications for the team and the enterprise. This resource bundle covers the relevant changes and provides ways to navigate them, including:

  • Mapping out a multiyear analytics strategy

  • Understanding the revenue tech stack

  • Implementing RevOps 

  • Benchmarking sales compensation 

  • Improving pipeline management and forecasting

  • Building skills to augment the team’s strategic value

Build a future-ready sales operations function

Navigate the disruptors that propel sales operations’ transformation, from buyer behaviors and analytics to the talent and technologies that support them.

Create an effective, efficient sales operations function

Sales operations functions are increasingly interconnected across the enterprise. A recent Gartner survey shows that the sales or revenue operations team commonly supports five or more groups, and allocates 68% of its time to nonclient functions.

The ongoing shift toward sales process optimization requires sales operations leaders to anticipate future organizational needs, within and outside the sales function. This requires rethinking how sales reps engage with customers and providing sellers guidance on when, and how, to interact with customers in ways that create value.

To that end, sales managers need better insight to effectively design and coach their teams. Poor data quality and analytics governance can impede consistent analytics interpretation. Adding to the challenge, low data literacy among commercial teams creates a “value ceiling” for sales analytics. With recent advances in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), sales operations leaders must weigh hiring new talent versus investing in new technologies.

To tackle these challenges, sales operations management should focus on three foundational priorities:

  1. End-to-end revenue process. For commercial functions to execute more effectively, replace functional silos with interconnected workflows aligned to customers’ needs.

  2. Data and analytics strategy. When a lack of governance and data literacy jeopardizes the value of sales analytics, act to ensure that stakeholders receive necessary insights.

  3. Technology transformation. Ensure that commercial teams reap value from technology investments designed to boost sales productivity.

Six critical actions can help meet the internal demands, external pressures and technology challenges inherent in today’s operations planning:

  1. Establish the organization’s mission and purpose by crafting a clear, concise statement and conducting an inventory of key stakeholders.

  2. Set a financial plan by partnering with the finance team, setting financial benchmarks, partitioning budgetary spend, developing a communication plan and planning to spend or save.

  3. Build a workforce plan by cataloging the critical skills needed for future success.

  4. Inventory key processes by conducting an output-process-input (OPI) analysis.

  5. Plan the tech stack by following a five-step plan-build-monitor guide.

  6. Manage operational risks by brainstorming all possible risks and scoring them for prioritization.

Future-proof sales operations staffing by focusing on the right skills

As B2B buyers move increasingly toward a digital experience, sales operations’ remit is quickly expanding — and the need for operations talent with strong analytical skills, business acumen and institutional knowledge is growing as well. More than 70% of sales operations leaders see STEM and M.B.A. skills as increasingly important for the future. Yet less than 35% of their current team members have these skills.

Sales operations leaders who are able to balance current and future needs as they develop and refine their talent strategy and sales operations org structure will be in a much better position to deliver on their expanding scope of responsibilities.

What skills do leaders consider important when hiring sales operations team members? Our research shows the following: 

  • Skills that support analytical insights, such as data visualization and analytic problem solving, are top priorities as sales operations expands its ability to guide sales leaders and sellers on key performance drivers and decisions.

  • Project management and effective oral communication also rank in the top five most important skills, as sales operations takes on more strategic initiatives, such as enabling sales managers and sellers to become more data-driven. These initiatives require more effective communication with executives and other internal functions.

  • Skills related to sales compensation design and administration continue to be in high demand as ongoing market uncertainty and changes to B2B buying make compensation design more challenging.

  • As forecasting models and tools become increasingly critical and complex, forecasting and modeling and technical aptitude are ranking higher as talent priorities.

The increased importance of these skills, combined with the challenges of sourcing new talent, will place more pressure on sales operations leaders. They must either develop these skills within the existing sales organizational structure or expand their hiring profiles to source new talent in nontraditional sales backgrounds.

Design sales operations roles and responsibilities that nurture top talent

CSOs rely on multiple seller roles to achieve annual plans, but poorly designed roles lead to missed targets, inferior customer experiences and frustrated sellers. Nearly nine out of 10 sellers are burned out and 54% are actively seeking new jobs.

Role design is a key step when developing a sales coverage model. However, most CSOs do not reevaluate sales roles until a problem arises or they have to completely transform their team. This leaves frontline sales managers and second-line sales leaders to inconsistently fill gaps as customer needs shift and the organization evolves. As a result, sellers begin to experience overlap in responsibilities, inconsistencies in how roles are deployed and burnout from being over capacity. The organization, in turn, misses revenue opportunities.

Common mistakes in designing sales operations roles and responsibilities include:

  • Defining a role too broadly

  • Assigning too many responsibilities for the role

  • Designing roles with overlapping responsibilities

  • Failing to update the role as responsibilities change

Attract high-quality candidates with well-defined roles

To avoid the pitfalls of poor role design, create a focused vision for what each role in the organization is responsible for accomplishing. Revisit these responsibilities annually (every six months during turbulent markets) to align the proper roles to the results and objectives in the annual plan. 

Other occasions to revisit role design include any sales realignment, mergers and acquisitions, or force majeure (the latter two on this list would require legal advice) that could impact customer engagement and launching new solutions.

When evaluating sales roles, engage human resources and the sales operations team for support. HR can benchmark job levels, work with sales compensation on pay mix and provide guidance on the risks associated with changing a role’s responsibilities. Sales operations should provide root cause analysis that quantifies any drop in a role’s productivity.

Adapt sales compensation to align with changing seller priorities

Changes in digital buying, virtual selling and sales technology all have a huge impact on sales compensation. Sales teams that underestimate or fail to adapt to these changes will struggle to effectively motivate their sellers.

As the threat of seller attrition looms large, sales compensation becomes a crucial weapon in the race for attracting, motivating and retaining top talent. In the face of these challenges, progressive leaders are adapting their sales compensation designs to align with changing seller priorities, giving their commercial organizations a strategic advantage in a period of continued disruption.

Questions to consider for designing sales compensation include:

  • How can we incorporate the changes in technology, sales analytics and the sales talent pool itself into our compensation design process?

  • How must we adjust our compensation plans to account for go‑to‑market strategies that are more volatile than we’ve seen in the past?

  • What metrics should we adopt to evaluate the success of our compensation plans under changing conditions?

  • How do we set quotas that challenge and reward sellers, especially during times of high uncertainty?

Foster an interconnected, end-to-end revenue operations model

The transformation to revenue operations (RevOps) is gaining momentum and evolving rapidly. More organizations are investing in resources and refining internal processes to support this new operating model. As early adopters prove its effectiveness, RevOps adoption will surge. By 2025, 75% of the highest-growth companies in the world will deploy the model.

Interest in revenue operations has grown quickly despite inconsistent definitions of what it means. Some organizations view it narrowly as a title change, others as an organizational structure; vendors define it as a software category. All of these options diminish its impact.

In reality, RevOps is a powerful operating model that enables organizations to run their business as an interconnected, end‑to‑end revenue process across GTM functions. The model breaks down organizational silos and allows organizations to operate with greater efficiency and predictability as data is collected and made observable through a trusted, communal source.

The RevOps model delivers the following benefits:

  • Efficiency. An interconnected, fully observable revenue process supports the entire customer life cycle, allowing organizations to pinpoint and address any roadblocks throughout the process.

  • Predictability. Key milestones that drive the revenue models are assigned ownership, benchmarked and monitored to ensure consistent performance.

  • Elasticity. RevOps supports multiple routes to market. These routes can be dynamically scaled up or down as needed in response to shifting priorities.

  • Resiliency. RevOps allows organizations to proactively identify potential revenue disruptions and make early adjustments to avoid them.

The key to a successful revenue operations strategy centers around assembling a coalition of GTM stakeholders. The GTM functions can remain separate but must integrate their operations and keep them aligned to accomplish the specific tasks required to drive revenue.

Sales and RevOps leaders play a key role in building and maintaining this coalition. Specifically, leaders should:

  • Generate and maintain executive support for the RevOps vision

  • Prioritize two or three strategic cross-functional problems to address via the RevOps model (e.g., metrics such as churn rates or new routes to market such as product-led growth)

  • Identify structural flaws prohibiting effective status quo collaboration (e.g., misaligned priorities)

  • Scope cross-functional responsibilities and change management strategy to address the key priorities

  • (Re)design roles to support the RevOps model

Convert sales analytics into applicable commercial intelligence

Commercial teams have a growing need for actionable business insights. With sales organizations increasingly reliant on digital systems to identify and engage prospects and customers, and track and manage those interactions, the volume of available sales data continues to grow. 

At the same time, sales leaders expect to receive increased value from the resulting analytics. This increases the pressure to deliver sales data analysis that leads to improved sales outcomes as all commercial functions align on objectives.

Sales operations leaders must assess, develop and improve their sales analytics to make their sellers more productive, and maximize their impact on commercial functions by delivering insights that drive well-informed decision making. 

To improve sales analytics, take the following actions:

  • Ensure executive support for transforming the sales analytics function by designing a clear and compelling vision for sales analytics that reflects the needs of all commercial functions.

  • Initiate a cross-functional data literacy program to ensure consumers of sales analytics derive meaningful value and consistent interpretation.

  • Develop a multiyear roadmap for sales analytics technology by identifying and prioritizing specific use cases where advanced technologies offer the highest potential commercial impact.

A successful sales analytics capability also requires a governance program that aligns with business objectives and includes a cross-functional team to ensure consistent execution and reporting, high-quality data and return on analytics investments. Led by sales and other commercial leaders, this team defines a single vision and steers analytics projects while setting success measures for the overall program.

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Frequently asked questions

Sales operations represents the strategic function that supports, enables and drives effective sales objectives, strategies and programs. An effective sales operations organization can optimize sales productivity by anticipating demand for data insights, talent and technology; surfacing insights that enable better decision making; and elevating sales performance.

The sales enablement and sales operations functions have a similar purpose: to maximize sales productivity. While sales operations focuses on end-to-end execution of the sales process — from data to talent to technologies — sales enablement focuses on the activities, systems, processes and information that promote knowledge-based sales interactions with clients and prospects.

Revenue operations (RevOps) is the convergence of go-to-market functions such as marketing, sales and customer service to create an end-to-end revenue process. The value of RevOps lies in its ability to break down organizational silos and allow organizations to operate with greater efficiency, resulting in predictable revenue.

Sales analytics is the practice of using sales data to generate insights that enable sales organizations to identify, model, understand and predict sales trends and outcomes. Sales analytics is vital to helping sales management understand buyer behaviors and pinpoint areas where sellers can improve productivity and business results.

Drive stronger performance on your mission-critical priorities.