Sales operations may very well be THE most important and unsung hero for sales teams big and small, inside and field, direct and channel. They often do thankless jobs with minimal resources, and when done well they can have a significant, more-than-material impact on your sales team’s efficiency and success.

Here are eight specific ways sales operations can impact sales productivity:

1. Active CRM ownership and optimization
Sales leadership should be actively involved in defining the sales process, including lead & opportunity stages, but sales ops should have active ownership of building, maintaining and improving how well that process is operated in the company’s CRM system. This includes ensuring that the right CRM system is chosen in the first place, customized to the way the company’s customer wants to buy, and optimized so that front-line sales personnel and their managers spend as little time in the system as possible (maximizing their time in front of customers and prospects).

2. Tools integration
This goes beyond choosing the right tools to support the sales process (more on that later). For most sales teams, the value and benefit of a great sales tool can be negated (or worse) if the sales team has to take precious time to operate multiple tools at once without integration. Separate windows, double-entry of data and incomplete data are just some of the problems inherent in buying tools without considering proper integration. Sales ops should own tool integration, and the resources to integrate new tools should be included in the cost of buying those tools in the first place.

3. Better reporting & dashboards
For reporting, the front-line reps, managers and sales leadership are the customers of the sales operations staff. Accordingly, sales ops should own and actively manage different versions of reporting and dashboards for each group to improve their visibility to what’s working, what needs improvement, and where everyone’s time and attention should be spent to maximize sales pipeline output. Significant time can be put into creating reports to begin with (ideally so that they’re fast and easy to use ongoing), but sales ops should also assume time will be needed to maintain and improve dashboards over time. As the business changes (new products, new sales structures, etc.), reporting needs to keep up to stay relevant and useful.

4. Process improvement
This is more than tools. What does it take to process an order? What steps, what paperwork, what’s required of the customer, of the sales rep, of the manager? Where does the process typically break down, and could certain process stages be improved, sped up or eliminated? How much time does it take for a rep to get back on the phone with another customer (after recording the conversation and status, finding the next prospect to call, etc.)? Process may be boring, but it’s the foundation on which successful, streamlined sales organizations are built.

5. Best practice collection, inventory and sharing
This responsibility normally falls to the sales managers, but sales ops can quickly create systems and processes for proactively capturing, organizing and making available a variety of sales best practices – from prospecting to messaging, follow-up advice, presentations and more. Sales ops should work actively with management to create the optimal systems, storage options and communication frequency with the sales floor. But this is a focus area most sales organizations either lack or spend little time managing. Sales ops can be a hero and visible driver of improvement by putting a little extra time into this one.

6. Vendor filter, triage and selection
You get calls constantly from vendors who have the “perfect” solution to make your sales team more successful. Sales ops may be the most appropriate component of the team to map prospective vendors against the company’s current and future/intended sales process, identifying functional holes, obstacles or choke points in the process and funnel and both identifying and vetting prospective vendors against what will have the most impact on sales productivity and results.

7. Comfortability with customers directly
Does your sales operations team speak with customers regularly? I’m constantly surprised at how many sales ops teams either don’t have regular contact with customers and prospects, or (worse) lack the skills to effectively communicate with customers when they do. Sales ops should understand the customer and their environment as well as the sales team, and should be proactive in addressing “operational” issues such as contracts, procurement, onboarding issues and more. Yes, the sales rep can do most or all of this. But, as a member of the rep and company’s team, sales ops can more proactively manage these operational issues and allow the rep to get back to selling.

8. Ownership of templates & collateral inventory, consistency, access
In most organizations, document management is a constant issue. There are too many sales support documents and customer-facing collateral pieces to choose from. Version control is a problem. And do you really want your reps spending 20 minutes looking for the New England health care case study? Sales ops can own management and organization of the collateral and template library, either in a shared-access drive or right within the CRM system. This means active management – pulling out old documents, working with sales reps and their managers to constantly improve accessability and speed of use, etc.

Would love to hear what I’m missing here. What does your sales operation team do that materially impacts your productivity? If you’re in sales operations, what’s missing from this list that your team delivers?

  • Crussell

    Great post Matt! Very timely for me as this is an area we are working hard to improve. Our sales op team is totally overworked and under appreciated. You covered most of the issues on my to do list and some I haven’t thought of. Good reminder to get the whole sales operations team involved in the improvement process. Charlie

    • Thanks, Charlie.  Glad it was useful to you!

  • Marge Murphy

    Sales operations is so often overlooked and it is critical for success. Thank you for reiterating this!

  • Carlos Loperena

    Great ideas.. I’m not too familiar with the Sales Ops term, might be a market difference. Is it the same as a Business development team? how do they relate or how are they different?

    • Hi Carlos,

      In my experience those are very different teams. The business development team, in most companies, is similar to sales in that it’s often going after deals with other companies to accelerate sales directly. The Sales Operations team often works in the background to support sales & business development with tools, technology, processes, etc.