Sales is often described as being part art and part science. Successful sales organisations run on that finely tuned partnership between sales leaders and sales operations. It’s a delicate balance, however, and bad relationships, miscommunication and lack of alignment all threaten to rock the boat.
We spoke to our community of top sales operations professionals to find out how they work with sales leaders. Trust, transparency and alignment were key themes, as well as taking on the role of the challenger.
Darryl Heffernan, VP Sales Operations, Kofax
Trust is critical. The Head of Sales and sales ops obviously see a lot of confidential information. So that trust is key. But also in terms of being able to drive strategy and planning, having that challenger role is really important. Having that relationship to be able to challenge each other’s ideas, or bounce ideas off each other and not to take offence on it is key. And to be able to look at it and amend but also be able to delegate, to know and trust that someone is going to pick something up and run with it. You need to build a great relationship to be the most productive and successful and to enjoy what you do.
In terms of presenting controversial findings to your sales leader in a tactful way, data is key. It’s always good if you can show data that would help enlighten the situation and let them come to their own conclusions.
It’s also important to understand the implications. It is very hard to think through all the implications of a change and the domino effect that can have. So it’s a good idea to give a couple of options and recommendations and then make sure to track the effects so that you can make any other necessary changes when needed.
Read our interview with Darryl.
Rebecca Silverstein, Manager of Sales Operations, Smartling
I think that the more aligned you are, the more effective you can be. Having an understanding that we are looking to achieve the same thing – more revenue – and really focusing on what is going to have the biggest impact on that is really important. It’s also important to understand their role and their point of view– for example, at the end of the year, the sales leader will likely be on closing out deals. And it’s probably not the best time to talk about purchasing a new tool.
And then also asking how you can help. As opposed to, “Here are all the things I want to do”, the conversation should be, “What is the biggest problem that you think we should tackle?” Alignment is really important.
When it comes to delivering feedback and potentially bad news, it’s always challenging. But what I have learnt, and am still working on, is to frame it as “This is where we are at; we are all on the same page here and we might have an opportunity to improve.” It’s more tactful than pointing the finger and blaming. Having a solution, or at least the ability to spark a conversation framed around what the end result is, can result in a more positive conversation.
Read our interview with Rebecca.
Marissa White, Founder, Sales Ops Help
I would liken the relationship to Batman and Robin, Batman being the sales leader and Robin being sales ops. If Batman is not around, Robin can still kill bad guys. The roles are powerful in their own rights, but obviously the two together are a lot more powerful. As a sales ops leader it’s also nice to be able to come to the table and be part of that extended leadership team and not just be the secretary behind a CRO.
That chemistry between the two is really important. Ideally you should know what each other are thinking all the time. Likewise, you need someone who has sales ops’ back.
Read our interview with Marissa.
Stephen Haltom, Director of Sales Operations, AppDynamics
I think five to ten years ago, a VP Sales would have had a very basic understanding of the health of their pipeline and how it was progressing. They could go look into tool like Salesforce and assess whether their team was generating pipeline consistently etc. And then post quarter end they could go pull the results.
But I think trends are an asset that sales operations provide. It’s an approach that is much more scientific and validated by the data itself. The sales leaders I’ve worked with operate from much more of a gut feel because they spend time with their reps every day (or at least the good ones do!) But sales operations is where it becomes more science that art.
I don’t think the average sales leader would have had time to test a lot of their theories out either, whereas now they can ask sales ops to do that for them.
It’s really important to align with what your sales Leader cares about, not just what you think is important.
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.
Read our interview with Stephen.