Sales Operations Best Practices

9 min read

Sales operations is so much more than just the team who provides reporting. It’s a multi-faceted job that involves liaising with many people across the organisation, strategising, enabling salespeople and more.

We spoke to our community of sales operations leaders to find out what the best practices are that make up this role.

1. Get to know your salespeople

Stephen Haltom, Director of Sales Operations, AppDynamics

It’s about getting into their world and speaking their language. I think that really comes across when you present the data to them. By living in their world, you naturally have a lot more conversations with them and often you can vet your approach before you even start. It’s about developing rapport and trust from the onset so that when you do have something challenging, you have a lot more credibility.

Catherine Mandungu, Director of Sales Operations, Ometria

You will do things quicker if you understand sales. Sales ops is there to support the sales reps. If you don’t understand them, you can’t support them. And if you’re just implementing things because you think it will be quicker, but you don’t understand the salesperson behind it, problems can arise. When you’re first learning about sales it might slow you down initially because it’s a learning curve but, in the end, you’ll be quicker because you will understand exactly what tech stack to employ, which processes to employ etc.

Nikesh Shah, EMEA Sales Operations Analyst, Salesforce

Because I came into Sales Ops from sales rather than coming from an operations background, I understand what it’s like to be on the front line of sales, which I think is crucial and has helped me in my role. I can take a step back, put myself in the salesperson’s shoes and understand the dynamics between the salesperson and sales manager.

2. Be in tune with top-level company objectives

Brandon Bussey, Director of Revenue Operations, Lucid

One of Lucid‘s founders came from Google and a lot of our culture has come from the Google model, a key example being OKRs (objectives and key results). Every quarter, we look at what our objectives are and the results that define those. As we’re studying our OKRs, we make sure they impact each of those four metrics, although culture and transparency are not as quantifiable.

It’s crucial to make sure you’re not creating your OKRs in a vacuum but thinking of the wider company objectives and making sure your objectives align to those.

Claire Maisonnave-Couterou, EMEA Sales Operations Manager, Kyriba

The most important pillar of sales operations is to understand the business and the needs of the customer. This is really important for each analysis. Everything you do should be geared towards aligning your solution with the customer’s needs. After that, the priority is revenue but first of all it’s the customer. In sales ops, you need to be customer centric.

Nikesh Shah, EMEA Sales Operations Analyst, Salesforce

Being in tune with top-level company objectives is crucial for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the sales ops function will build crucial processes and suggest different strategies. Being in tune with company objectives will help to measure the impact and value of this. Secondly, any changes or suggestions put forward may affect the rest of the business. If you don’t have a commercial leader in place whose sole focus is to oversee the entire commercial operation of the business, which in relatively early stage startups you sometimes don’t have the luxury of having, then Sales Ops will need to understand how changes in the sales team will impact marketing, customer success, product and the subsequent top-level objective.

Stephen Haltom, Director of Sales Operations, AppDynamics

In my experience, a lot of sales ops leaders come in Gung Ho with great ideas about how they’re going to change the world of sales. And a lot of it winds up not resonating, not being relevant, and not being the top priority for the sales leader. If you have your priorities and they’re not aligned with the core concerns and the priorities of the sales leader, it doesn’t invalidate the work you’re doing, but it’s just less likely to make an impact with them. For me, it’s really important to align with what your sales Leader cares about, not just what you think is important.

Philip Minasian, Sales Operations & Inside Sales Manager, Gigster

If you are a new sales ops person, start slow. Make sure you are tackling what the managers care about and then, not only provide them with the numbers, give them insight and analysis. Understand why you are pulling a metric is more important than how many you pull. Because at the end of the day, you could pull everything but it is not going to matter unless you can actually make a recommendation from it. That’s why sales ops has a job. Because it has to be accompanied by a recommendation. Otherwise it is simply just a metric. 

3. Be transparent and communicate with other teams

Robin Yeoman, Director of International Sales Operations, Snowflake Computing

In my six months at Snowflake, I’ve noticed a few disconnects between things like who owns finding accounts, who owns the data behind that etc. And if those things don’t align then you get conflict. So I think I learned very early on that in order to make those things work, you’ve got to be fairly transparent. And you’ve got to form these partnerships with people, so for instance, I’ve been working very closely with the account-based marketing team. My job is to ensure that the data they’re giving sales in order to run campaigns is also good enough for us to run territories.

And if we’re not seeing that as a joint product and a joint project for us to get together on, it falls between the cracks a little bit. It’s about managing those conversations. People have different aims in their projects and it’s about making sure that they come together close enough for you both to get a win out of it.

Michael Newton, Sales Operations and Analysis Manager, Perkbox

At Perkbox, we’ve formed an Operations Tribe. We have some unorthodox organisational structures where we arrange our seating by topics, rather than departments. If there is a particular topic you want to work on, such as operations, you might get Sales Ops sitting with Marketing Ops and our Data Analyst, all on one table.

An issue that we’re also hoping to solve with this Operations Tribe is the gaps in our software. Pieces of software are owned by different departments so we thought that by doing this we could pool all our software together.

Brandon Bussey, Director of Revenue Operations, Lucid

Together with our Head of Enablement, I sit with product marketing at least once a month and we also have weekly meetings to ensure that we’re constantly working in alignment. And then the demand gen side works closely with the SDR team. We all meet at least monthly to talk about initiatives.

Cris Santos, Director, EMEA & LATAM Sales Strategy & Operations, Docusign

At Docusign, we set up a pipeline council meeting. These are weekly meetings for marketing, sales and sales ops discuss how we’re tracking against our pipeline targets. It’s a forum for accountability and for people to discuss what activities they’re doing. Even if all lights are green, we can analyse which events have been successful and then it’s about replicating them.

At the end of the day, organisations are made of people, so we need to make sure we get those people together. We have the marketing team spread across different countries so they’re not sitting here with the main sales team, but we go and see them all the time, they come to see us, and we have regular contact over the phone. I think that explains a lot of the success here at DocuSign; people are very open to dialogue and willing to cooperate in a holistic way.

4. Master your sales stack

Jay Khiroya, Head of Operations, Doctify

Start at the very top. Look at marketing, MQLs into sales funnel, their journey throughout the whole funnel and how the various tools help and impact this.

Go to stagger tools in phases. Don’t buy or invest in two tools at once. Have it as a road map. For example, my biggest problem could be “my biggest customers can’t print or sign”. Then fine, invest in an e signature tool, make sure you implement it effectively, it fits in your workflow and people are effectively trained.

Then go to the next stage and implement the next tool.

Shadow the entire lead/prospect journey, assess the tools, and ensure they are making people more not less efficient.

Justin Kersey, VP of Sales, Merrill Corporation

There’s definitely a trend of throwing technology at salespeople and eventually that becomes cumbersome for the seller to actually do their job. They don’t know which tool they’re meant to use to do research, to get historical data, to get analytics, to push a quote through. They’re bombarded with information. So, I think now sales ops has to pump the brakes a little bit and peel some of that back to make it a more efficient and effective process. It’s about leveraging the CRM to serve up information that’s relevant depending on the stage within the sales cycle, the nature of the client, the territory that we’re selling etc.

Brandon Bussey, Director of Revenue Operations, Lucid

For 2019, I’m looking at purchasing a sales enablement tool to evolve our tech stack and enable the sales reps. Rather than me doing a bunch of demos, I put together a team of sales leaders and reps and presented five categories (including enablement software, insight management, call recording etc) and we discussed which would be the most useful and chose a category. Then enablement and I surveyed the market and came up with who we think the top two to three players are for us and we had them come in and run demos with that same panel. We’re currently at the stage of doing the POC. Then I’ll sit down and find out what they thought. This is proving to be a much more impactful approach because the sales leaders and sales reps have more involvement. It doesn’t feel like Brandon from his glass castle is making decisions by himself. It’s their choice as much as mine.

Anna Inman, Sales Operations Director, Tungsten Network

If I had unlimited budget, I would implement something alongside every single stage of the sales process. There’s been some interesting technology around lead generation process and how can you get those leads into the business at the right time for the customer and the right time for you. Opportunity intelligence is an interesting area to look at as well.

It doesn’t make sense to buy tools all at once though. You have to learn what works in your sales process and identify the gaps. It might be that your team are great at looking at customer information. They know how to map their customers inside out. In which case you don’t need a tool for it.

5. Simplify and accelerate the sales process

Jay Khiroya, Head of Operations, Doctify

Before you design your sales process, start by asking the sales team what they currently do to turn leads into customers, and what tasks and activities are executed along the journey. Ensure you go through each step and task, asking what their thinking is behind each action they are taking. It’s imperative you do this with at least a few members (if you have that team size). Even with an embedded sales process, you will find each rep carries out different tasks and activities to achieve certain milestones.

Start to map out all the steps and activities taken, and the milestones they achieve. Group them together, and you will start to slowly see your sales path.

Sales processes should be built and improved upon on a basis that becomes a natural way of thinking. This is key to building a successful, efficient and productive sales process.

Ensure your sales stages are clearly defined and make sense (and can be taught extremely quickly) to anybody new that walks into your organisation. Designing a sales process is about growth, scale and making your sales team efficient as quickly as possible.

6. Avoid analysis paralysis

Brandon Bussey, Director of Revenue Operations, Lucid

With Lucid’s land and expand strategy, we have a load of data on our users. If we were to just let the salespeople have full access to that they would be overwhelmed. Wading through the noise is really critical. So, the trend that I’m trying to drive is not getting more data but trying to get less data that is more actionable.

Cris Santos, Director, Sales Strategy & Operations

Sometimes it’s not the amount of data you work on, it’s how much of that is actionable. I’ve seen, even here at DocuSign, my team create tons of dashboards. And you end up not talking about what those numbers actually represent. So, a measurement of success for us is continually making our reports more efficient and drive decisions and ideas around the trends we’ve identified.

Philip Minasian, Sales Operations & Inside Sales Manager, Gigster

My philosophy is never pull data for data’s sake. You never want to be the guy in the company that has all the data, but no actionable insights that come from it. For a new person starting in sales operations, it’s important to not go overboard on the metrics that you want the show your CRO or the sales manager. Sit down with them and align on the key KPI’s that they use to manage their team and take those as the lowest hanging fruit to what you can constantly report in on. You need to make sure that what you are doing is aligning how managers run and operate their day to day teams. If you throw too much at them, then they ignore it. No one wants to be completely inundated with 100 metrics but no insights.

7. Be tactful

Robin Yeoman, Director of International Sales Operations, Snowflake

The soft skills of sales ops are so important for anyone looking to work in this space.

And I think that’s sometimes overlooked when you’re typically seen as a data cruncher with your head down in your laptop. But actually, you have to deliver some fairly tough conversations sometimes. So, you’re giving people bad news, such as telling them this deal won’t work or telling them they’re stepping outside of the rules. I always look for really good soft skills when I’m hiring. I assess whether they’re able to amend their tone and their clarity and then making sure that they’re having the right conversation with the right people. Because it’s a very emotive piece, a salesperson arguing with sales ops, and it happens all the time. But if you can manage to take the emotion out of it and make it a very fact-based clear conversation, it makes things a lot easier. And that’s something I’ve learned over the years. Once you figure that out it becomes, it becomes a lot easier.

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