Article

Sales operations: What it is and why you need it

Sales operations includes the systems, strategies, and tech required to support and promote a sales team to maximum success.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published November 11, 2021
Last updated November 11, 2021

Sales operations refers to any tool, plan, or training your company uses to enable its sales staff to deliver their best work. It may seem like a vague term, but having a clear sales operations plan can greatly increase the success of your sales team. Below, we’ll explore the details of sales operations and how this flexible methodology can deliver some serious benefits to your company.

Sales operations: What are sales ops' key functions and strategies?

Sales ops provides a systemic approach to sales. While many companies already use a variety of tools to run their sales process, not every company creates an overarching sales and operations plan to manage the efficiency and productivity of those tools. A successful sales ops team can drive revenue by analyzing the effects of existing software integration (including contact management software), department communication, and long-term employment of company best practices. Sales ops also works with the sales department to smoothly introduce any news sales technology or practices, such as a sales app, which could impact the sales pipeline.

What is the purpose of sales operations?

Sales operations’ primary goal is to smooth out the cracks in the sales process so that sales team members can do their jobs without worrying about other behind-the-scenes tasks. There are three areas that sales ops must navigate: systemic planning, technological tools, and company training.

Systemic planning

The main purpose of a sales operations team is S&OP—sales and operations planning. Such a plan, if executed well, ensures that all the moving parts of a business are working together. This means collaborating across departments and updating sales and budget forecasts in order to balance the company’s ever-changing supply and demand.

S&OP provides a practical way of mapping out a company’s future in the near term. Rather than setting extreme goals for 10 years down the line, most sales and operations plans look no more than a year forward into the company’s projections.

Technology

Despite years of progress, technology integration remains a significant hurdle for sales departments. A good salesperson is first and foremost an expert in people, not software (with the exception of Saas sales). As a result, sales teams using a large number of technologies can find their sales staff overwhelmed and their expensive software underused.

Sales ops steps in by managing the software each team uses and taking care of data analysis. Sales operations frequently manages the following technology platforms:

  • CRM software (such as Zendesk Sell)
  • BI services
  • Communication and conferencing tools
  • Content management software
  • Email automation
  • Performance management software
  • Data analytics software

Training

During onboarding, most new salespeople are trained on the company’s sales process and the products they will be selling. But they’re not always trained on big-picture items or the company’s overall sales strategy. Sales operations, as the company planner, can ensure new hires are fully versed in product training, sales methodology, and marketing. Cross-departmental training from the start gives new salespeople a more complete view of how everyone’s work contributes to their own targets, making it easier for them to understand how and with whom to communicate down the line.

Sales operations key functions

While sales ops angles and departmental organization may vary, most sales ops teams have three key focuses: strategy, administration, and optimization and efficiency. Let’s dive deeper into those functions and their potential sales outcomes.

Strategy

When sales ops first emerged, it mostly focused on pure data analysis. Over time, this key function has evolved, and sales ops now tends to use data to create improved business strategies.

Sales ops teams can contribute strategic thinking company-wide: from the creation of incentive programming to new software selection. The important thing is that these data-driven strategies are coming from a department whose focus isn’t only on one section of the business, but on the entire picture.

Administration

Sales managers are so often overworked that it can be easy for things to slip through the cracks. But sales operations frequently works as administrative support for:

  • Recruitment and training
  • Implementation and management of compensation
  • Allocation of sales districts and groupings
  • Communication and collaboration supervision

This extra support helps sales managers keep better track of their team’s progress and step in wherever help is needed most.

Optimization and efficiency

The sales operations department has the biggest impact in streamlining the marketing and sales cycle. Sales ops members boost sales by choosing key metrics, narrowing down tech assets, implementing sales frameworks, and altering lead generation. By simplifying the sales process, sales ops enables salespeople to gain more promising leads and follow through without getting stuck in a technological backlog.

Sales strategy and operations in process

Sales strategy and operations is quite a broad concept to implement. But it is possible to break it down into clear segments. The business industry now understands sales ops as a five-step process, first developed by Thomas F. Wallace and Robert A. Stahl in their book, Sales & Operations Planning.

The five steps to sales and operations planning:

  1. Data gathering: In the data gathering stage, sales ops staff work with the sales department to collect statistics on previous sales—typically on a monthly basis once a sales ops team is running—then analyze trends and report any forecasts. This stage builds the foundation for all future planning.
  2. Demand planning: In the demand planning stage, all focus lies on analyzing demand for the product. Forecasts from the previous stage are confirmed or changed, future changes are accounted for, and demand sources are examined for any specific promotion or launch opportunities. It is essential this stage comes before supply planning and does not coincide with it. Demand is external, supply is internal.
  3. Supply planning: The supply planning stage builds on both data and demand by assessing current inventory and capacity. These assessments then determine if any construction or cleaning needs to occur and allow for inventory targets to be set. This stage is only successful in response to a thorough demand planning stage.
  4. Plan reconciliation: Once supply and demand have both been assessed, the plans can be brought together for compliments and contradictions. This stage is also where any budget concerns can inspire edits.
  5. Finalize and release the plan: In the final stage, the sales ops plan is signed off on and released for implementation. Remember, once implemented, all plans must be regularly reassessed.

Why utilize sales and operations planning (S&OP)?

Creating and maintaining a sales operations team is a serious business expense. New staff, new software, and additional time and attention to detail can make S&OP a big investment. Research, however, says that the return on investment is well worth it.

  • Collaboration shows measurable benefits

    The average worker spends 25 percent of their workday on email-related tasks, yet only 38 percent of those emails are revenue-generating. By not collaborating effectively, cross-departmental emailing leads to lost information and lower engagement, which ultimately add up to lost revenue. Sales operations creates systems in which all parties have access to the information they need. This eliminates misplaced information and crossed wires while increasing engagement with relevant content.

  • S&OP creates a clear outline of how different departments can work together

    Collaboration and communication don't just magically happen. Your teams need a clear outline of what their individual tasks are, as well as a framework for how and when to reach out to other departments. Sales and operations planning gives you a blueprint for managing those cross-departmental tasks, so you can be sure that each team knows exactly what their responsibilities are. This lets you easily track everyone's KPIs while also eliminating opportunities for confusion or miscommunication.

  • Greater organization leads to clarity

    Companies that use sales operations see 28 percent higher revenue growth than companies that don’t. This isn’t a coincidence. Without a set plan for the entirety of a business, revenue growth halts anytime communication or data analysis. Having a sales ops plan doesn't guarantee a perfect fiscal year. But it does provide you with a full portrait of all the steps your team has taken up to any given point. This allows you to look back and reconfigure your strategy if your final numbers aren't what you wanted them to be. In a way, sales ops is like a map that shows you every step you've taken on your journey, letting you pinpoint exactly where you started veering off-course and away from your desired endpoint.

Operations and sales: A partnership built to last

Ultimately, sales operations leads to an improvement in sales. Numerous companies using a sales operations team see improvements in inventory management, budget forecasting, promotional planning, and product lifecycle management. The process is mutually beneficial. Sales ops gives the sales team a better return for their efforts, and in return, the sales team gives back new-and-improved metrics for sales ops to build even better strategies going forward. But like any partnership, it takes effort to keep operations running smoothly.

Unification, integration, communication

In an ideal world, every business would function as one unit, with everyone working towards a common goal. Unfortunately, as businesses grow, so do the disagreements between departments. Therefore, sales operations needs to focus on three key values:

  • Unification: A sales and operations plan goes beyond individual department KPIs. Rather, it’s an overall plan for the company, allocating different responsibilities to each department, giving everyone a clear understanding of how their different responsibilities serve the company’s unified and common purpose.

  • Integration: Many departments use similar software or organizational tools but still can’t seem to share information effectively. Lead management software and CRM software are used industry-wide, but communication gaps can occur if each department is running its own version or files. Sales operations helps to integrate existing software throughout departments, creating a more cohesive system where sharing information is fast and easy.

  • Communication: At the end of the day, business can't run smoothly if teams aren't communicating efficiently with each other. Even if your teams don't meet regularly, they need a way to pass information off to each other and keep everyone informed of where they stand in regards to meeting their goals. Using a sales and operations plan offers everyone a clear strategy for requesting and sharing the information they need to perform their individual tasks. This ensures that nothing falls through the cracks, even as tasks are passed from one team to another.

Best practices

Continuously running a smooth S&OP is a hard task. Therefore, it’s beneficial to have a set of best practices for your sales operation plans. Here are a few of our recommendations for keeping your S&OP on track:

  • Assign one person to take the lead. As sales ops works to bridge gaps between sales, marketing, supply, and demand, it’s essential to have someone of authority who is not a manager in any one area, but who is able to see the big picture and identify where problems are slowing down sales.

  • Pick your company’s key metrics. Not every company has the same weaknesses and strengths. Focusing on every measurable metric is more chaotic than useful, so identify the areas you most want to adjust, and reevaluate down the line as necessary.

  • Store everything. Nothing runs perfectly the first time you use it, and sales operations plans are no different. As you learn how to implement your sales and operations plan, accept that strategies will have to evolve until you land on the plan that works best. To do this, keep a clear record of every adjustment you make and the outcomes. That way, you can always look back and see what worked and what didn't, giving you better insight into what changes to make going forward.

  • Back up your sales operations department. A plan is only as good as its implementation. Without the company fostering cross-departmental communication and collaboration, no amount of data planning is going to increase productivity. Give your sales operations team the workplace environment necessary for success.

How Zendesk can reform your sales operations process

By now, we’ve determined that streamlined software and organization are key to a successful sales operation process. As one of the leading providers of sales software, Zendesk is the best tool to set your team up for success.

With a variety of customizable products from Zendesk Sell to Zendesk Sunshine, we provide scalable options for new businesses and enterprise-level organizations alike. Our user-friendly CRM software promotes productivity, process, and pipeline visibility for all teams. Zendesk is also easily integratable with a wide range of popular sales tools such as Mailchimp and JIRA.

With Zendesk, you can give your sales operations team a leading start to superior sales and operations planning.

Get started today by requesting a demo.

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