How to be a Successful Sales Operations Manager
- 1 – Introduction
- 2 – What is sales operations?
- 3 – How is sales operations different from sales enablement?
- 4 – Structure of a sales operations department
- 5 – What does a sales operations manager do?
- 6 – How to go from good to great
- 7 – Challenges sales operations managers face
- 8 – Conclusion – the unsung heroes of sales
In the first of a series of articles on sales operations from FunnelFox, we look at the role of the sales operations manager.
Good sales operations managers are more than number crunchers. They’re secret superheroes.
They, alongside their teams, if they have them, are typically behind the scenes. They don’t typically get the glory of closing deals or the credit that comes with it. But, those that do would not be able to do so without the sales operations manager helping them. They perform an essential role.
In this article, we’re going to explore:
- What a sales operations manager actually does
- How they fit within the sales team and wider organisation
- What a sales operations manager needs to do to perform their role successfully
First, let’s briefly examine what sales operations is.
What is sales operations?
Different organizations use sales operations in different ways. But in general, the role of a sales operations team is to increase the effectiveness, efficiency and output of the sales team.
Here are some features of the sales process often covered by sales operations:
- Inventory management
- Developing sales and revenue generation strategy
- Formulating sales territories and quotas
- Devising comp plans
- Data analysis
- Running the technology side of the sales team (CRM, sales enablement software, reporting etc.)
Within the wider organization, sales operations will often be based within the sales team, but will act as the conduit between sales and other departments, such as IT and finance, where there is some overlap.
You could say that if a sales team is a racing car, sales operations is the driver and technology is the fuel. You won’t win a race without a combination of all three. Plus, the higher the quality of all three, the better the performance. Sales operations guides the car around the track, keeping it on the racing line.
Sales operations has become a vital function.
How is sales operations different from sales enablement?
Many organizations will have a sales enablement team as well as a sales operations team. Or, sales operations will take on some sales enablement responsibilities. So, what is the difference?
Sales enablement is more relevant to the start of the sales process than sales operations. Sales enablement could be involved in the inbound marketing side of the journey, creating awareness and informing prospects about your product, for example.
Sales operations will be utilized more towards the end of the process, such as at the negotiation stage. They will also be concerned with the structure of the sales process, such as sales territories and compensation plans.
Usually, a sales enablement team will be responsible for enacting on a decision made by the sales operations team after analyzing the data. For example, if the data showed that conversion rates after the product demo stage were decreasing, because sales reps were not spending long enough on the demo to make the customer understand the impact of the product, it would be sales enablement that would build a training program to help them give better demos.
Organizations that maintain both sales operations and sales enablement departments must ensure everyone is clear about what they do, to avoid conflicts and job duplication. Ideally, these teams will work to a completely different set of targets.
Structure of a sales operations department
The structure and reporting lines in a sales operations department will vary between organizations, depending on their size and existing structure. However, most will adhere to the following standard top-to-bottom structure:
- Director or VP of Sales Operations – The overall manager of the sales operations department and the smaller teams within it. The holder of this role will report to the C-suite. They will work in close alignment with the company’s senior leaders to ensure sales operations fits in with the overall strategy.
- Sales operations manager – Manager of the sales ops team on a day to day level, a sales operations manager will have experience of sales methodologies, tech, data and more. (See next paragraph for more information)
- Sales operations analyst – The holder of this role deals with the data in the organization and it is likely they will be experienced in this area. They will be responsible for data collecting, modelling and analysis. They will also work with the sales team to ensure they are sufficiently data-driven.
- Sales operations rep – The entry-level position in a sales operations department. Reps will learn the ropes of sales operations by generating reports and getting to grips with the tech.
A team structured in this way will have a good balance of skills, from analysis to sales processes to project management. While there will be a strong focus on data and numbers, sales operations team members need to think creatively around how to apply that data to improve the sales process. They must think strategically but also not be afraid to dive into the weeds, if there are individual steps of the sales process which could be tweaked to produce improvements.
While there are clear lines of reporting and progression in a team structure like this, in reality, a sales operations team will work closely and collaboratively with each other.
What does a sales operations manager do?
First and foremost, the sales operations manager is responsible for running the sales operations team. Like any other manager, their priority is their people. After that, it’s all about technology and data.
Combining knowledge of sales with knowledge of sales technology, they will know about sales methodologies, and how salespeople turn prospects into customers.
Sales operations managers will also be CRM experts. They will know how a CRM can streamline your sales process and how the smart use of data can improve results.
Responsibility for choosing which one to use, implement and roll out will fall to the sales ops manager. They then ensure that it works. Whether it’s managing leads, looking for errors or implementing the API, it all goes through the sales operations manager and their team.
Tech purchases and implementations will come under the sales operation managers’ remit. They will build the sales stack that helps the sales team perform to the highest standard.
The sales operations manager will work with other sales managers to make smarter decisions. In today’s world of sales, data should be the primary factor in the decision-making process. They will make sure everyone has the right data, pulled from the CRM or other software, and collate properly. They will assist other sales managers to interpret the data, making sure they are focusing on the metrics that matter.
Finally, the sales ops manager will often be the liaison between sales and the wider organisation. They will provide the sales data which shows the C-Suite how well sales is performing. They will work with the finance department on technology procurement and IT on implementation.
How to go from good to great
There are many factors that separate a great sales operations manager from the crowd.
Define your role
Firstly, a successful sales ops manager will define a clear role for themselves and set boundaries as to the purpose of sales operations.
Sales operations are not merely assistants to the reps or number crunchers. They play a big part in the success of the sales process within their organization.
There is often confusion between the roles of sales enablement and sales operations, because they are both behind the scenes and often tech-based. However, a good sales operations manager will set lines of demarcation.
Have a mission
Next, a great sales operations manager will define a mission for themselves and their team, by asking the following questions:
- Why is there a sales operations team at all?
- Is it to take the number-crunching tasks away from the customer-facing team so they can actually sell? Or is it more strategic?
- Are you driving efficiency or moving the sales team towards a more data or tech-oriented sales process?
- Make sure you, and the rest of your organisation, know what you are doing.
A passion for tech
The most important factor for a successful sales operations manager is an understanding of technology.
They should be passionate about technology and how it can improve the sales process. They will stay ahead of trends and understand how it may be able to help.
The sales operations manager will understand that you need to have a reason to bring in new tech. For example, automation software, as well as automation features within your CRM can bring many benefits to a sales team. Social selling is currently in vogue.
Get the right tech – not all the tech
New pieces of technology can make a significant difference to your sales team’s performance. However, there is such a thing as too much. How can you expect a sales rep to achieve top performance if they are constantly switching between 25 pieces of software?
Each piece of tech that you add to your technology stack should have a clearly defined role in the sales process. You need to take into account the time it will take to train the team to use it, as well as the time it will take to use on an everyday basis, when evaluating its worth.
Generally speaking, however, anything that can automate data entry tasks for salespeople will be seen as a good thing. Salespeople want to be selling, not performing manual tasks. Automation also leads to fewer mistakes when entering data, meaning your company can be more confident in its numbers.
Lead by example
A sales operations manager will lead and encourage reps who may be reticent to use technology by demonstrating how it produces data for the greater good. They will help with training and make sure the sales team has all it needs to succeed.
To really get to know the sales team, how they operate and the challenges they face, it is a good idea for the sales operations manager and their team to shadow sales reps regularly. Once a quarter is ideal. Watch them sell, see how they navigate the software, experience the sales process in action. It will help you put yourself in their shoes, build rapport, as well as identify areas for improvement.
Never stop moving forward
Finally, a great sales operations manager will proactively look for ways to improve – continuously. They will spot clues in the data that other people may not be able to see.
They will identify new software developments that no one else thought was possible to deliver benefits. The best sales operations manager won’t just report data; they will put it into a context and make recommendations on how to improve.
A good sales operations manager will never be satisfied. They will always be looking to innovate. The sales process should be living and breathing, continually in flux, never finished. Test your ideas against the standard way of doing things to find improvements. While you don’t want to confuse your sales reps by making too many changes, incremental changes combine to make a big difference.
Be a connector
Sales operations managers should be the bridge between sales leaders and their reps. They make sure everyone is on the same page during the sales process. Using data, sales operations managers can provide evidence of great performance, as well as areas ripe for improvement.
A good sales operations manager will liaise regularly with other departments in the organization, including:
This helps sales ops managers explain their role in improving sales results, as well as addressing any challenges that arise. It is important that other departments know what the sales operations team is doing, as well as value the contribution they make. These regular check-ins may also give sales operations managers ideas about initiatives they can put in the enhance the sales process. Sometimes, you need to think differently.
For these reasons, in organizations, sales operations managers need a level of authority to make decisions. They play an essential role in driving performance in a sales team, so they need a say at the top table.
Challenges sales operations managers face
A sizeable proportion of a sales operations manager’s role is solving problems. It’s part of the job description. As a sales operations manager, you will need to overcome obstacles placed in front from you by factors inside and outside your organization. Here are some challenges you may encounter:
- Blurred lines – Everyone in your company needs to know what you do and what you are responsible for. If they do not understand this, problems can arise, such as job duplication.
- No structure in the sales process – If your organization does not already have a clearly defined sales process, you will struggle to improve it. Sales processes improve step by individual step, marginal gains making a big difference to the whole. If your company is not structured enough, you must attempt to enforce one.
- Not enough authority – Even if a sales operations manager reports into a VP of Sales Operations, they must still have enough authority to make decisions, on a day-to-day basis, but also in the long-term. For example, are you a decision-maker on what sales software to purchase for your organization?
- Working with other teams – Sales operations teams cannot be successful in a silo. You must be able to work with the rest of the sales team, as well as other areas of your company, without them feeling like you are treading on their toes.
- Technology changes fast – The pace of technological change can be hard to keep up with, but a sales operations manager must always have their finger on the pulse. You must ensure that your skills, as well as those of your team, are always up-to-date.
Finding a balance
The role of a sales operations manager requires you to find a balance between taking a strategic, big-picture view and more tactical, day-to-day activities. You may be responsible for drawing up new strategies to take your product to market, allocate patches for sales reps and formulating compensation plans. You do this while you hire team members, manage them in their roles and more. It’s a challenge, but it’s possible. When you do it well, the rewards are there for you.
The unsung heroes of sales
Ultimately, while the sales operations manager may be in the background when it comes to helping customers and closing deals, the sales team would suffer without them.
As technology and data become ever more vital to the sales process, the influence of the sales operations manager will grow and grow.
It’s great to have automated systems that minimize menial tasks for reps, and provide them with all the information they need to help customers.
However, there is always a need for someone to run these systems smoothly and look for ways to improve. That’s why the sales operation manager role is here to stay.