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Seven Sales Operations Trends for 2019

September 18, 2018 | By Dana Therrien

  • SiriusDecisions has identified seven trends that should drive the priorities of sales operations leaders in 2019
  • Artificial intelligence is increasing sales’ effectiveness and efficiency
  • Sales and marketing are finally eliminating the artificial barriers between them

The last year has been exciting for the SiriusDecisions Sales Operations Strategies service, with interest in the profession continuing to explode. We set new records for the number of clients we work with, the number of “inquiry” conversations we have with them and the volume of data they help us collect. Our client interactions and research have revealed seven major trends we see developing for sales operations:

Sales Operations Planning Assumptions

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is making sales more productive and effective. The last 18 months have seen major development in AI. It’s not just leading to accurate sales forecasts, it’s also tracking and automatically logging sales activities (e.g. calls, meetings, emails, texts), tracking and analyzing contacts, providing sentiment analysis, and virtually coaching reps by suggesting next best actions to take. We see AI exponentially increasing the impact sales operations has on sales results by enabling sales operations to finally provide sales reps at all levels with the sales intelligence they deserve to receive. For the first time, reps are empowered to be the CEO of their own territories.
  • Sales and marketing are finally beginning to cooperate with each other in developing sales plans. Last year, SiriusDecisions introduced the latest iteration of the Demand Waterfall®: the Demand Unit Waterfall™. A demand unit is the collection of individuals who have a need for a company’s product or who participate in the purchasing decision. Marketing really needs to know who sales is talking to; otherwise, it can’t measure the effectiveness and return of demand efforts. Thanks to AI, we’re now capturing contact-level information at the opportunity level automatically. This gives sales operations the ability to focus on persona targeting planning and effectiveness, too. Sales and marketing are now sitting together in the planning room with finance, crunching the numbers and figuring out where to invest in campaigns, marketing resources, account-based marketing and events – and ensuring that sales and marketing plans align to the corporate goals and strategies.
  • Sales operations can better leverage sales compensation in sales planning. Some of the best and most useful data for sales planning is contained in the sales compensation management (SCM) system, but this data is often difficult to extract in time for planning season. SCM data requires a higher level of inspection because it affects employees’ earnings. The need for this extra due diligence sometimes creates a lag of a month or more in finalizing compensation data. Up until now, this lag has made it almost impossible to rely on these data feeds when setting quotas for the next fiscal year. To address this issue, SCM vendors are building planning capabilities into their solutions or integrating with other technologies. If you’re still calculating compensation in spreadsheets, or you’re using an SCM system that doesn’t integrate with planning and doesn’t intend to add this capability in the near future, it’s time to make a change.
  • Sales force automation (SFA) systems are starting to work for sales reps. Nobody likes administrative work, especially if they need to enter the same data in multiple places, if nobody looks at the data, or – worst of all – if the data they input provides nothing in return. SFA vendors have finally figured out that their systems have been informational black holes for sales reps and haven’t helped them sell more effectively – so, SFA vendors are improving their interfaces. These improved systems are capturing information automatically so that reps spend less time doing data entry, and they’re analyzing the data they capture to help reps target the best prospects and accounts, offload tasks such as calendaring, and guide reps using insights from the SFA data. SFA systems are finally becoming a valuable tool for reps and sales operations.
  • Sales operations can stop guessing the causes of poor sales productivity. Sales reps’ complaints about poor sales process are often legitimate, but without data to quantify the issue and validate these complaints, getting support for devoting resources to resolving them is difficult. Therefore, sales operations leaders are increasingly turning to companies like SiriusDecisions to conduct annual sales activity studies on their behalf. In the data we’ve collected over the years, we’ve found that sales reps spend on average only 26.6 percent of their time selling to customers (13 hours per week), and 9.7 percent of their time talking to customers about escalations and other non-sales activity. Much of the rest of sales reps’ time (36.5 percent) is devoted to preparing to engage with a customer (e.g. preparing proposals, searching for content), with the remaining 27.2 percent spent on internal administrative activities. Sales operations leaders can formulate a plan to focus on the greatest sales productivity drains only when they understand objectively how sales reps are spending their time.
  • Sales operations can assess and take control of overblown sales technology investments. Thousands – maybe tens of thousands – of sales productivity tools are available for sales and sales operations, and those low monthly fees for technology have amounted to a lot of bills over the years. Sales operations is finally realizing it’s paying for a great deal of tools that nobody is using. When you add up the bills for the SFA system, the marketing automation platform and all the ancillary technologies needed to make them work, do you really need to be spending $10,000 to $20,000 per rep per year? If so, what are you getting for that $20,000? It’s a question worth asking, and it’s probably time to cut the cord in many cases.
  • The SFA system is starting to recede into the background. SFA is moving into the background because more and more SFA systems are meeting sales reps where they are rather than asking them to come to them. SFA is part of reps’ email and meeting applications, bringing account and opportunity information to them automatically through natural language processing. Though I usually don’t like to mention vendors by name, I have to acknowledge that LinkedIn is doing some really cool things. Account and contact information already reside in LinkedIn, so why bother exporting that to the SFA system? Reps spend so much time on LinkedIn, so why not just bring the SFA data to it? Why not bring email and meeting data there, too? Why ever leave LinkedIn if that’s where reps prefer to spend their time? Companies are already out there working to make the SFA system disappear, which means reps will no longer input opportunities or update their stages – the “SFA” will do all of that for them in the background.

There has never been a better time to be in sales operations. We’re seeing greater alignment between sales and marketing than ever before; in fact, many companies are combining the marketing operations and sales operations functions into a single revenue operations team. Sales operations should start studying marketing operations, and vice versa. Imagine unleashing the combined power of these teams!

Sales Operations Planning Assumptions

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Dana Therrien

Dana Therrien is the Service Director of Sales Operations Strategies at SiriusDecisions. Dana is an expert in business planning, analytics and reporting, quota setting and management, territory design, sales process optimization, sales force automation, go-to-market strategy design and execution, sales compensation design, and administration. Follow him on Twitter @danatherrien.

The SiriusDecisions Demand Unit Waterfall™

The SiriusDecisions Demand Unit Waterfall™

<p>Best-in-class demand marketing leaders build and optimize aligned demand management processes to increase marke... Download Now
<p>Best-in-class demand marketing leaders build and optimize aligned demand management processes to increase marketing’s contribution to pipeline and growth. The SiriusDecisions Demand Unit Waterfall has evolved to better support leaders in their efforts by focusing on buying groups, their needs, and solution match and providing a framework for understanding how effective an organization is... Download Now
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