Sales operations is a known but underutilized function for many organizations. Here, we discuss how to effectively utilize sales operations by using big data, understanding customer value, and collaborating with other parts of the organization.
In this article:
- Defining Sales Operations
- Leveraging Big Data to Increase Revenue
- Optimizing the Sales Process
- Why It’s Essential to Have a Good Communication Strategy
- How Sales Automation Can Help
- Usual Reports People Look For
Sales Operations: How to Effectively Utilize to Achieve Company Goals
Sri Chakravarty is the Vice President of Strategic Sales Operations in Ashley Furniture, a furniture store chain based in Tampa, Florida. He specializes in developing systems and processes that increase profitability and efficiency in all their stores.
Outside of work, he’s an amateur baker and especially loves to bake bread.
Defining Sales Operations
What is Sales Operations? Sales operations is a multi-purpose business function, but at its core, it works with sales to increase profit, liaises with sales and operations to make sure they’re in alignment, and helps management ensure strategies are implemented.
Sales operations is a relatively new function. Unlike other functions like finance, sales, and marketing, its primary responsibilities aren’t very well-defined.
For this reason, companies take advantage of this flexibility and assign tasks to the sales operations team based on current needs. You can ask 16 different sales operations managers what they do in their role and get 16 different job descriptions in return.
That said, each organization is free to define its own interpretation of the role.
Leveraging Big Data to Increase Revenue
What is Big Data? This refers to the extremely large sets of data used for analysis to reveal trends, patterns, and associations. This data are interpreted within the context of human behavior and interactions.
Helping the sales team is a good first place where sales operations can help.
The presence of big data and analytics tools are a gold mine for sales teams, but it shouldn’t be their sole responsibility to get new customers and grow sales. They usually don’t have enough bandwidth to locate where the opportunities are within massive data sets and where they should focus their attention to.
For example, the demographic trend over the last few years is for people to move from the northern parts of the United States like Chicago, Philadelphia or New York, to the southern areas like Tampa, Atlanta, or Dallas.
This greatly affects how sales teams can target certain populations. As they focus more on getting customers on the ground, they neither have the time nor the skill set to focus on the big picture.
Once sales operations assess the metrics they have amassed and identify leads the organization should be targeting, the sales reps on the ground can then focus on building relationships with those desired prospects and eventually close deals.
Optimizing the Sales Process
Another opportunity for sales operations is on sales and operations planning, particularly the process optimization of various customer-centric sales processes.
When thinking about process improvement, consider all the touch-points within the organization. This encompasses the moment the salesperson gets an order from the customer to the point the product gets shipped.
Some of these touch-points include:
- Demand planning
- Customer service
The role of sales operations is to make sure everyone’s performing on cue, and the entire process is in sync. It ensures the proper implementation of all processes and nothing goes unaccounted.
The main question to answer is: What gets lost in transit? What slips through the cracks?
Why It’s Essential to Have a Good Communication Strategy
For example, a salesperson places in a large order from a customer. Along the way, the credit department refused to approve the order because the customer maxed out his/her credit limit.
On the one hand, the salesperson is happy that they did a job well done. However, the customer is now angry because his/her order wasn’t approved.
Because of this, customer service is having issues due to the constant calls from the customer.
Sales operations is in the perfect position to keep these issues in check because they have the bird’s eye view of the entire process.
In this example, they can ask the salesperson to stop getting the order until they can ensure that the customer has enough credit to pay for that lot.
While systems can address some of the issues, you still need the right communication strategy for inter-team team hand-offs. This ensures the process remains smooth and well-oiled in a world where business functions can come from a different state or even a different country.
Each touch-point has its own specific lead times, which can lead to delays. Each point of delay stretches out the process until the order eventually gets lost in transit.
How Sales Automation Can Help
One of the pitfalls of having a lot of data is people err on the side of reporting too much. If there’s email fatigue, there’s also reporting fatigue.
Having reports for everything generates too much noise. This means nobody reads the reports anymore and because of that, you lose important information.
As Steve Jobs once said, what you keep in is more important and you have to figure out what you let go. It’s the “less is more” philosophy.
Sales operations should own reporting not because they should keep an eye on everyone but to make all functions accountable.
Reports aren’t just accountability metrics. Sales operations also lays the foundation and ensures they report the right things to their stakeholders.
How then can sales operations work with sales to make this happen? The rule of thumb is for sales operations to give sales employees the information when they want it.
This is where sales automation comes into play. Having a CRM in place enables the salesperson to have the right data when they need it.
Usual Reports People Look For
Some reports people look for are the sales growth for that day compared to the sales growth on the same day last year. Others include the sales compensation structure and what the sales funnel looks like.
On the other hand, people tend to miss looking into sales performance based on the number of units. Demand planning and sales forecasting need these numbers, so they could prepare the supply chain to meet the forecasted demand.
Those are just some of the opportunities where sales operations can leverage for revenue growth and sustained profitability. I hope this has answered some of your questions and made this concept clearer.
What is sales operations for you? How do you define success for a sales operations manager? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.