22Sep

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.

0 Comments:

    • Kavita Verma
    • October 14, 2012
    • Reply

    A very good insight to what Sales operations fuction can do for the betterment of Sales function as well as for organization as a whole.
    I am just wondering how difficult it would be to introduce sales operations as separate function in an organization where Sales team is handling everthing on their own from customer facing to CRM tool handling, data analysis, trend indicators and metrics handling( even though that is very inefficient way of handling things). Will it be a challenge for the sales person to adapt to the processes set by Sales operations and to get exposed to the organization with respect to metrics/dashboards for his/her performances. Will it be a challenge for sales operations team to overcome such opposing behaviours from sales team during initial setups.

    • Suchitra Mishra
    • October 21, 2012
    • Reply

    Hello Kavita,

    Thanks for dropping by. Great question and point made by you here. Any change introduced into an existing organizational structure is always met with resistance – for the simple fact that people are more comfortable with a status quo – adapting to a org change means stepping out of their comfort zones and an apprehension of loss of control. What I have found works in such cases is to demonstrate the value that the new function could provide in small steps to the leaders of the sales teams – to quantify the benefits and prove to the team that the “new way” would actually be more comfortable and help them work better. Collaboration is key (read http://blogbysuchitra.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/five-practices-for-getting-into-the-collaboration-zone/) and the sales leaders, once convinced would set the path for the rest of the teams to follow.

    Regards,
    Suchitra Mishra

    • bank accounts offshore
    • October 30, 2012
    • Reply

    Sales costs are increasing, sales organizations are becoming more complex and BtoB buyers continue to indicate that sales reps are out of touch with their needs. This blog, intended for sales and sales operations executives, will explore the key issues in managing a sophisticated selling process and complex sales organization.

    • Brent Downey
    • January 04, 2013
    • Reply

    Reblogged this on The Story of Our Lives.

    • Five Sales Performance Metrics Key to Successful Business Operations « Suchitra Mishra
    • January 27, 2013
    • Reply

    […] from time to time based on the granularity of information available. Again, here is where the operations team can play a big role in ensuring that data strategy, quality and integrity is maintained in all systems – and garbage […]

    • Needha Kumar
    • July 17, 2013
    • Reply

    Hi

    Could you please suggest me some books for detailed study of sales operations. Thanks.

    Needha

    • Five Ways Sales Operations can Enable Sales Lea...
    • July 30, 2013
    • Reply

    […] 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, …  […]

    • Hsueh-Li Wang
    • May 11, 2014
    • Reply

    Hi Suchitra,
    Your article offers great food for thoughts, very pin-pointing. I wonder if you could share your opinion on carrying out implementation of sales metrics, best practices and process improvements across multiple sales entities across different regions? To be more precise, should the implementation be done regionally and then aligned across all regions concerned with the regional leaders? If you have other thoughts on this or if you think my question can be completed by more granularity, please advise. Many thanks.

      • Suchitra Mishra
      • May 11, 2014
      • Reply

      Hello Hsueh-Li,

      Thanks for dropping by and glad you found my post useful. In response to your question on implementation of sales processes and metrics, here is what has worked well for me. Whether sales teams are distributed domain wise or region wise, there has to be both motivation and push for them to dedicate some time away from their regular selling activities to learn, understand and adopt new processes and metrics. So I start from the top – the CEO/global sales head needs to be convinced of the benefits of the new process first. There has to be a mandate in the form of an official communication from him to all sales teams globally (this is the push part). Then reach out to the regional/domain sales lead who is most approachable and interested in new initiatives and understands the value of process and metrics. He/She is your new best friend. Work with him to implement the new initiative in the team under him. Once done, announce this in the organization — “XXX regional/domain team is the FIRST to implement the fantastic new initiatives. Bravo and thanks to the team.” Reward and recognition is important (that is the motivation part). Learn from the experiences here and then approach the other teams with one successful implementation under your belt.
      Senior Management Push and Peer Pressure are powerful factors that help in getting new processes or improvements rapidly adopted across the organisation.

      Hope this helps. You can also check this post of mine for more : http://blogbysuchitra.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/from-idea-to-execution-five-pointers-to-getting-things-done-in-complex-organizations-business-operations-performance-management/

      Do let me know your thoughts on the above as well. Good luck with your initiative.

      Regards,
      Suchitra Mishra

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