Automation Guide

Sales Operations : Definition & Best Practices

Published , Updated 6 mn
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Hugo Lebras

Expert Growth B2B

Hugo is head of growth at Octolis, a new generation CDP. With solid experience on all B2B growth drivers, Hugo regularly shares best practices and hot takes on Salesdorado

In an organisation, sales operations refers to the function whose role is to improve the effectiveness of salespeople. The term is sometimes translated into French as “planification des ventes et des opérations”.

In this article, we will look at what sales operations is in practice, starting with a description of its scope. We will also look at the differences between a sales manager and a sales operations manager, between sales enablement and sales operations, the KPIs used by sales operations, best practices and much more.

What are the key functions of Sales Operations?

The scope of sales operations has expanded significantly over time. It now includes all the functions and areas that help sales people to improve their strategic vision and achieve their performance objectives. The functions of sales operations managers vary greatly from one industry to another, and even between companies in the same industry. However, there are a number of key functions that can be identified and that are shared by all those involved in sales operations.

#1 The strategy

First function: strategy. Initially, sales operations teams were mainly concerned with financial analysis, reporting and sales forecasts. With the explosion in the volume of business information available, the level of skills in data analysis and reporting increased. The scope of sales operations has broadened and has gradually included new areas: optimisation of sales processes, analysis of KPIs and other performance indicators, formulation of incentive programmes (commissions), evaluation of sales training needs, evaluation and implementation of sales methodologies, selection of software and tools, organisation of sales territories, etc. A sales operations manager is now a strategist who has an understanding of all subjects.

#2 Operations

Sales operations professionals have to manage administrative and operational tasks in order to allow salespeople to focus and improve on what they do best: selling. In concrete terms, sales operations professionals are responsible for :

  • Sales force recruitment, onboarding and training.
  • The implementation of incentive programmes
  • The distribution of accounts and sales territories.
  • Maintenance of collaborative tools.

#3 Processes and performance

Sales operations was created to optimise sales performance. To achieve this, sales operations has the task of streamlining processes to make sales cycles smoother and faster, and to enable salespeople to close more deals. This is where analysis and calculation work has the most impact. Here are some of the activities that fall within the scope of this function:

  • Selection of KPIs
  • Training and coaching
  • Optimisation and implementation of sales processes: workflows, sales activities, lead generation, conversion rates
  • Implementation of business methodologies and frameworks.
  • Optimisation of sales tools: CRM, Marketing Automation, Data Analytics, contract management, forms and templates, etc.

#4 Tools and technologies

Tools and technologies are now everywhere. Sales teams are increasingly harnessing the power of analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve performance and productivity. The complexity of these tools and technologies can distract the sales force and waste their time. This is why the implementation and management of the tools is generally entrusted to sales operations. This concerns all tools: CRM, business intelligence services, data analysis software, communication or collaborative management tools, marketing automation tools, reporting tools, etc.

Discover our complete guide to the art of setting up effective sales processes.

How to structure the sales operations team?

The organisational structure of the teams responsible for managing sales operations varies greatly. It varies from one sector to another, but also between companies in the same sector. Nevertheless, there are organisational and structuring models to start from when organising the Sales Operations department. The scope of Sales Operations depends closely on the size of the company.

Broadly speaking, three cases can be distinguished:

  • The company generates less than one million euros in recurring revenue per year. In this case, the people in charge of sales operations are mainly responsible for CRM management, building and analysing reports and calculating commissions.
  • The company generates more than EUR 1 million in AAR. In this case, the scope of sales operations can include sales performance management. In concrete terms, this means activities such as: on-boarding, training, certification, etc.
  • The company generates more than ten million AAR. It becomes relevant to set up a dedicated sales operations department, headed by a director. This department will be responsible for strategic planning, growth strategy, sales territory design, commission programmes, forecasting activities, etc.

The difference between sales management and sales operations

The objective of sales operations is to support sales managers not only in achieving their objectives but also in developing the skills of the teams they manage. To this end, the sales operations manager takes on the administrative and operational tasks required to run a sales organisation. This frees up the time of the sales managers, who can focus on their core business: supporting sales people, making tactical and strategic decisions to improve sales performance in the long term.

Depending on the maturity of the organisation, sales operations managers may supervise the following processes/areas

  • Reporting and foresight work for strategic planning
  • Recruitment of sales staff, their on-boarding, their training
  • Knowledge base management
  • Customer contract life cycle management
  • Implementation of compensation programs (commission calculation models, etc.)
  • Control of processes, monitoring of methodologies, etc.
  • Management and maintenance of technologies/tools (CRM…).

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Sales Operations metrics and KPIs

As with everything, the choice of metrics and KPIs is specific to each organisation. They depend on the specificities of the organisation, its own objectives and its priorities. The choice and monitoring of KPIs makes it possible to identify the areas for improvement in the organisation, and the commercial actions to be implemented to optimise the performance of sales staff in the long term. Their role is therefore decisive. Here are some examples of KPIs used by sales operations teams:

  • Sales target achievement rate. This is a calculation of the percentage of salespeople who have achieved 100% of their objectives during a given period.
  • Average win rate, i.e. the ratio of contracts won.
  • The average sales cycle time, i.e. the time it takes on average to complete a sale (from lead generation).
  • Time spent on selling. This is the percentage of time spent by salespeople on their main activity: selling.
  • The response time of the leads. Only positive responses to a pitch or call to action are taken into account here.
  • The weighted value of the pipeline, i.e. the estimated value of the pipeline at a given point in the process.
  • Pipeline efficiency, which measures the effectiveness of salespeople in managing their pipelines.
  • Forecast accuracy. This involves calculating an error rate between past forecasts and present results.
  • The number of prospect appointments per period.

Find out how to evolve B2B sales processes to meet the demands of the modern decision maker.

The difference between Sales Enablement and Sales Operations

The terms “Sales Enablement” and “Sales Operations” are sometimes used interchangeably. However, they are not synonyms, even if the two activities have points in common. Like Sales Operations, Sales Enablement covers all actions taken to improve the efficiency of salespeople and, more generally, of the sales activity. The two are therefore not unrelated.

The main difference is a difference in scope. The scope of Sales Operations is much broader. Sales operations focuses on the entire sales organisation, its structure, processes, human resources and technologies. Sales enablement focuses only on the efficiency of salespeople and customer satisfaction. In a sense, sales enablement is a sub-activity or component of sales operations. Indeed, in many companies, sales enablement teams are attached to the sales operations department. But this is not always the case. In some companies, the two activities are separated.

As a general rule and when the company has both functions :

  • Sales operations deals with the operational part of the sale: territory planning, allocation of accounts and negotiations, transaction management, commissions, management of tools and technologies, etc.
  • Sales enablement focuses on aspects that directly impact the performance of salespeople: training of salespeople, process optimisation, etc.

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Sales Operations: best practices

Sales operations is a function that has emerged to bring rationality, science and best practice to the world of sales. Sales operations has become an integral part of sales organisations. However, as we have seen, sales operations can have different roles and functions in different companies. As a result, it is not easy to give universally valid practical advice.

The ideal organisation of sales operations depends on the culture of the company, its scale, its margins, its maturity and many other factors. SAVO Group has published a comprehensive study on best practices in the organisation of sales operations. These best practices, it should be noted, apply in the study to mature companies but can be implemented in other companies as well. Here are four of the best practices mentioned:

  • Sales operations and sales managers must work together to formulate strategic directions, distinguishing between two time frames: short-term and long-term. This work must be based on the experience of sales managers and the data analysed by sales operations. This collaborative work makes the work of sales operations more efficient. This collaboration can help sales ops to better predict performance and results, to identify and implement KPIs, to better allocate territories and accounts among sales force members, to better evaluate sales processes and sales force organisation, to devise more relevant compensation programmes, to identify the opportunity to implement new sales methodologies, etc.
  • Sales operations can nurture talent and make it easier for sales people to bring more value to the company and achieve their goals. How can they do this? By organising and managing the whole recruitment and onboarding process, organising product training, implementing sales methodologies, etc.
  • Sales operations can contribute to improving the efficiency of salespeople and boosting their motivation. How can this be done? By managing the following functions: internal communication, customer interviews and sharing verbatims with customers, improving processes, automating routine tasks that are far removed from the salesperson’s core business, managing CRM software and other tools, etc.
  • Sales operations, which, thanks to their data analysis, know customer behaviour well, can help the marketing department to fine-tune the brand message and improve the content offered. Sales operations can work with marketing on the structure of the conversion funnel, the content pushed to prospects, etc.

So, we hope that reading this article has helped you to see a little more clearly on the subject and that you understand a little better what sales operations are and what their role is within companies.

About the author

Profile picture for Hugo Lebras

Hugo Lebras

Hugo is head of growth at Octolis, a new generation CDP. With solid experience on all B2B growth drivers, Hugo regularly shares best practices and hot takes on Salesdorado