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5 Ways to Develop a World-Class Sales Operations Function

November 18, 2020

Contributor: Jordan Bryan

Sales operations leaders can make these changes to improve functional effectiveness and deliver a competitive advantage that drives sales success.

What makes a world-class sales operations team? How close to world-class is your organization? A few changes in key areas can push your team ahead of the competition and drive the overall sales function to reach its business goals.

Gartner research shows that world-class sales operations teams are proficient at six key capabilities: Sales analytics and intelligence, sales force design and deployment, sales leadership support, sales process and systems, sales operations management and sales compensation.

Gartner shares the key capabilities of a world-class sales operations function.

“World-class sales operations leaders don’t just provide analysis,” says Craig Riley, Senior Principal Analyst, Gartner. “They also serve as chiefs of staff — coordinating everything from sales strategy to execution — within the sales function and among stakeholders outside of sales. Leaders succeed when the department serves as a focal point for key decisions.”  

The Gartner State of Sales Operations Report highlights five opportunities for CSOs and sales operations leaders to improve the function in 2020. 

No. 1: Improve data literacy

Forty-two percent of respondents rate sales analytics ROI as significantly higher than expected. This rating is consistent whether sales analytics is housed in sales operations or outside of sales and shared between multiple functions. 

There are still areas where the current ROI does not match the value that analytics can provide. Quota setting, territory planning and territory design are places analytics can be used to improve operational processes, but many sales leaders do not see them offering a high ROI.

Success in these areas requires creating a culture where “information as a second language” is the expectation. This means sales operations will need to take deliberate steps to align all stakeholders on the underlying purpose of analytics, the sources of the data, the definitions of the metrics and the interpretation of the analytics to reinforce the culture’s focus on data.

No. 2: Establish data-sharing practices and drive alignment

Today’s organizations are interconnected and require coordination with multiple stakeholders. As a result, sales operations teams regularly work with other functions. Gartner research finds that 57% of sales operations functions support marketing departments, 38% support product and 35% support finance.

The amount of data that will pass through the sales function is expected to increase, and sales operations will be relied on more than ever

Ensure that outside functions have the sales information and analysis necessary to make informed decisions. Be sure to monitor the data provided, as specific situations may call for changes. 

Read more: 2 Ways Sales Operations Improve Sales Manager Effectiveness

No. 3: Create a data-based decision-making culture

Accurate forecasts are not enough to gain organizational support. Sales leaders and sellers must feel comfortable making decisions based on the process and output. Gartner research finds that less than half of respondents say sales leaders and sellers in their organizations have high confidence in forecasting accuracy. This skepticism often results in sales leaders and sellers taking action based on intuition instead of evidence, which can negatively impact commercial outcomes.

Assuming forecasts are generally accurate, the problem is poor organizational perception. To overcome this, sales operations leaders must go beyond publishing regular forecasts and also track and communicate accuracy over time. Consider presenting a monthly or quarterly presentation of the forecasts compared to actual totals. 

Read more: Sync Sales Pipeline Management to the B2B Buying Journey

No. 4: Sales operations’ role changes

Talent needs for sales operations are changing. Despite the increase of automation, staff will still be required for many of the department’s tasks. Respondents expect data and analytics skills to be much more important for sales operations staff in the coming years than they are today. This is likely because the amount of data that will pass through the sales function is expected to increase, and sales operations will be relied on more than ever. 

As the volume of data and the number of different sources continue to increase, sales functions will need operations departments with analysis and synthesis skills. Sales operations will need to take a holistic view of all available data sources and combine them into actionable insights.

No. 5: Proactively approach cost management

Controlling costs — if not reducing them — in the face of market uncertainty is an effective strategy. Sales operations leaders can play a key role in sales expense mitigation by using metrics to drive better decision making and reveal hidden insights. 

For example, sales operations leaders can use strategic and analytical methods to determine the optimal sales force size based on a variety of dynamics, such as customer needs, seller capacity and ROI assessments.

Download full report: State of Sales Operations: Key Findings

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Recommended resources for Gartner clients*:

The State of Sales Operations.

*Note that some documents may not be available to all Gartner clients.