Jerry Bonura is a senior principal at TwentyPine, a boutique talent acquisition firm focused on revenue operations leadership. He works with SaaS companies in hyper-growth mode to recruit a variety of revenue operations leaders.
If you’re running a successful B2B company in 2020, your sales operations (ops) crew is likely the unsung heroes of your sales process. And yet, so many understand so little about what they do. Business leaders sometimes make the mistake of seeing sales operations (increasingly known as revenue operations) as a cost, instead of a potential revenue driver.
But insiders — companies that range from Snowflake to McAfee — know sales ops is the secret sauce to maximize efficiency. According to this year’s State of Sales report, 89% of sales professionals say sales ops play an indispensable role in growing the business. When it is done right, sales ops helps everyone do their job better.
As a senior principal with TwentyPine, a recruiting firm that specializes in placing qualified candidates in revenue operations roles, I’ve worked with companies of all sizes. About 80% of the time, the sales ops person I place is the first in the role at the company. This is evidence of the position’s landscape expanding and changing year-over-year, as more companies realize the tangible benefits of a built-out sales ops function.
If your company doesn’t have a sales ops team already, these are the four reasons why you should invest in one right now.
The stronger your sales op team is, the more efficient and productive your sales team will be. Sales ops people analyze and streamline your internal processes so sales teams aren’t as distracted or bogged down. “I want salespeople to have their feet on the street selling,” said Lauren Hughes, the head of Sales Operations and Strategy at Attentive, a mobile messaging platform. “I want salespeople to be client-facing, focused on selling solutions. Let me handle everything internally so they can focus externally.”
If your sales teams spend precious hours manually entering customer data, for example, a sales ops professional would research ways to automate that step. The end result is a sales team better able to deliver on customers’ needs.
Julia Herman, vice president and head of Global Sales Operations at ABBYY, agrees a sales op team is a needed investment. “When you have sales operations you help the sales team spend more time selling,” she said. “If you look at the cost of a salesperson versus a sales operations person, and how much time they’ll put back into the sales team’s day-to-day to sell, that’s a very easy calculation.”
According to a survey conducted by McKinsey among 12,000 sales professionals, sales ops teams drive up to a 10% increase in sales productivity each year. (And I would say that estimate is on the conservative side.)
In my work, I've heard so many stories of people reducing the average sales cycle by days, weeks — or even months — through productivity and process improvements. I’ve also seen sales ops increase top of funnel by removing busy work and administrative burden, which allows sales reps to make more phone calls and/or send more emails per day.
Learn more about how Sales Cloud can help your sales teams automate busywork.
“Many companies assume the same go-to-market strategies will be effective as they scale up, but that’s often not the case,” said Brandon Jones, head of Revenue Strategy and Operations at Komodo Health, which specializes in software for the healthcare industry. “Hiring a strategic ops leader as a partner to the head of sales helps you think through how you build a scalable, repeatable, predictable revenue engine. [It shows] the blueprint needed to get from the skateboard to the Ferrari.”
Unfortunately, there’s a large gap between companies that strategically scale and those that don’t. Say a company has 10 salespeople, and they plan to hire 40 more over the next 12 months. If they go about it with zero strategy or focus on operations, it could lead to a “Wild West” situation where territories overlap and reps argue over accounts and leads. Onboarding gets inefficient, commission plans get costly, data gets messy, and margins shrink. There isn’t a repeatable sales process to codify across the entire team.
“As a strategic thought partner to the head of sales, ops can be proactive in not only identifying risks in the forecast but recommending strategies to mitigate that risk”
A company might be successful and make a few million dollars a year in revenue, but if the goal is to surpass $100 million, there will come an inflection point where growth isn’t only about more volume. Smart sales operations leaders help their company strategize about growth, figuring out why they’re successful, and synthesizing those best practices across the team, making results predictable. Sales ops takes the process of scaling from an art to a science.
Sales operations should be baked into how you do business. It’s important to have a sales ops division in place before you embark on a period of growth — not during or after. When sales ops is treated as an afterthought, it can hurt a company down the line and lead to more cleaning, fixing, and redoing.
Aside from helping the sales team sell more, sales ops can demystify the sales funnel for other departments. It empowers everyone to make decisions based on data. Where are deals getting stuck in the sales cycle? Is it in the discovery, proposal, or negotiation stage? What kinds of companies are buying your product? What causes a company to choose a competitor’s product? These are all visibility questions that the ops team can answer.
“If marketing doesn’t know the lifecycle of a buyer journey and how prospects are interacting with marketing versus sales, or have the proper analytics around lead sources, it’s difficult to optimize marketing spend,” Jones said. “I’ve seen brilliant heads of Sales and Marketing that aren’t able to make data-driven decisions because they don’t have visibility into the funnel. This will hamstring meaningful growth at scale.”
If you’re implementing your customer relationship management platform (CRM) the right way from day one, you set the stage for being able to move with agility at critical times. This is more efficient than having to work backwards to find out why a deal didn’t close or why a target wasn’t met. Hughes advises to “build for the future of the business, not just for what the needs are today,” while keeping the end user in mind, adding “the more clunky and complicated a system is for the end user, the less adoption, and accuracy of data, you’ll have."
Sales ops use data to paint a holistic picture of your customer journey and can tell you if the pipeline is healthy or if your forecast is accurate. In other words, sales ops can identify what’s working well and develop best practices throughout the entire go-to-market organization.
“My role is to eliminate surprises as much as possible, and make things go according to plan.”
A strategic sales ops leader can help you become a data-driven decision maker and confront problems like: do you deploy your best reps to your best territories or to the difficult territories? What’s the ROI on more sales versus business development hires? Should we expand to a new industry or go deeper into the current industries we sell into?
In order to do that, you have to make sure your team uses your CRM the way it’s meant to be used and inputs data about sales. Your CRM should be the center of your sales universe because it’s where all the data lives. “What is the sales process, who are we selling to, how are we selling, and what are the sales stages and entry/exit criteria for each stage?” Herman said. “It’s important to put as much of that in Salesforce as possible.”
Sales operations leaders may notice risks heads of sales miss, because those leaders are often laser focused on closing deals. “As a strategic thought partner to the head of sales, ops can be proactive in not only identifying risks in the forecast but recommending strategies to mitigate that risk and what levers could be pulled to drive change,” Jones said.
While sales leaders may be busy executing on sales goals, sales ops leaders have the time to dig into the data and use those insights to design incentives and create strategic sales plans.
If it looks like your sales team will miss your target in six months, a sales ops person can sound the alarm proactively to suggest solutions that will get you back on track.
“Sales leaders need a partner to challenge them and figure out the best way to get to their revenue goal,” Jones tells me. “Do we need twice as many reps to hit the revenue target or can our reps be more efficient with this training or this technology or this messaging?”
Think of a head of sales ops as a check and balance to the head of sales. “They have a sales instinct, but I bring the justification based on what the data shows,” adds Herman. “My role is to eliminate surprises as much as possible, and make things go according to plan.”
To sum it up, sales ops help your sales team devote energy to what they do best: selling. They enable you to catch potential problems early and allow your business to stay agile. In an economic environment that’s becoming increasingly unpredictable, working with a dedicated sales operations crew can help ensure your revenue stays predictable.
To uncover more trends that top sales teams must harness to make — and surpass — their numbers, be sure to read the full State of Sales report today.