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Sales Operations: We’re Here to Help (Aren’t We?)

July 25, 2016 | By Steve Silver

  • Sales operations is shifting from reporting and process management to helping increase productivity, reduce overhead and execute sales strategy
  • Poor implementation of sales technology can affect the productivity and credibility of sales operations
  • Fulfilling the sales operations mission requires close collaboration, communication and credibility with the sales organization

I recently hosted a roundtable discussion with a group of sales operations leaders representing a wide range of companies, from multi-billion-dollar enterprises to one-year-old startups. Discussion topics included the role of the first-line sales manager, sales compensation, the sales process, and pipeline management and lead conversion. A recurring theme was the evolution of sales operations from a tactical focus on reporting, finance and administration to a broader emphasis on increasing sales productivity, reducing administrative overhead and executing the sales strategy.

We agreed that a critical success factor to meeting this charter is for sales operations to understand and represent the voice of sales – acting as sales liaison to other functional groups such as IT, product and marketing. This is especially true when sales technology is concerned, as a poor technology implementation can have a negative impact on sales productivity and the credibility of sales operations.

We’ve previously discussed two mega-trends that are impacting sales technology. First, the proliferation of software as a service and cloud-based tools have altered the traditional centralized command-and-control nature of IT departments. Second, millennials, having grown up with mobile devices and video games, have different expectations than previous generations of the value received from technology and their end user experience.

With these trends, it’s easier than ever for sales operations to purchase and deploy new tools. Where sales productivity is concerned, however, technology can be a double-edged sword. Without careful process design, system and data integration – combined with a relentless focus on delivering end user functionality – you may end up wasting time, money and resources on another tool that sales reps will reject. Including sales in the process early and often can help mitigate risks. Here are some tips for capturing and including the “voice of sales” in technology decisions:

  • Include representation from sales when evaluating and selecting new technology. This can be a rotating seat on the technology steering committee or an ad hoc appointment to a vendor selection team. Having visible sales representation goes a long way toward building credibility and acceptance across the organization and increases the chances of delivering value from technology investments. Be sure to limit the time requirements on participants and provide recognition or other non-cash rewards to acknowledge reps’ time spent on non-revenue generating activity.
  • Establish a formal process for collecting, collating and sharing feedback from the field. In addition to feedback forms and electronic suggestion boxes, build 10 to 15 minutes into quarterly business reviews – with direct sales reps and channel partners – to discuss technology and productivity issues. Sales operations should capture and acknowledge feedback, comments and criticisms with an open mind and without being defensive. Acknowledgement of a concern is not the same as agreeing to add a feature or function. Following the quarterly business review, sales operations can evaluate the suggestions and respond with a prioritized list of improvements or an updated roadmap.
  • Pilot any new technology before a broad rollout. Take a page from agile development principles and implement new technology with a small group of users to test concepts, processes and usability. Sales operations can complete a phased rollout to the full organization after collecting and incorporating feedback from the pilot.
  • Be wary of too many cooks in the tech kitchen. We constantly hear about excess or unused fields and objects being included in sales tools (e.g. the sales force automation system). These usually involve some bit of information about an account, opportunity or contact that the organization expects a sales rep to enter. While well intended, these seemingly small transactions quickly add up to big time sinks for sales reps. Sales operations must ruthlessly evaluate and eliminate any data entry by sales that doesn’t have measurable value or could be collected elsewhere.

In order to fulfill the promise of “we’re here to help,” sales operations must build credibility and trust across the sales organization. As with any relationship, good intentions are not enough. Building trust takes time, commitment and demonstrated results. Listening to the voice of the field is a critical success factor in this process.

Steve Silver

Steve Silver is a Senior Research Director of Sales Operations Strategies at SiriusDecisions. Steve brings with him more than 20 years of executive-level experience spanning sales operations, sales and product marketing. Follow Steve on Twitter @jstevensilver.