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Sales ops has long been the unsung heroes of the sales team PHOTO: Samuel Zeller

Salespeople get the kudos, earn the bonuses and get their names on the leader boards. The deals salespeople are credited with closing determine their career trajectories.

Behind the curtain is the salesperson’s sales ops team. Without this team, the salesperson’s path to success would be impossibly rocky. 

Sales Ops, The Unsung Heroes of Sales 

Sales ops executes a wide range of tactical tasks to set sales up for success: they ensure content is in place when sales needs it, help develop territories, onboard new salespeople and are responsible for ongoing training of sales pros and managing the commissions process. If sales ops fails at any of these or a number of other tasks, salespeople feel it, right in the commissions check.

Sales ops has long been the unsung heroes of the sales process. But automation, analytics and improved reporting are coming together to position sales ops as the gatekeepers to a wealth of sales performance data, data that can help leaders make better and more profitable decisions. 

In short, sales ops is becoming the business’s single best source of visibility into sales performance, giving it an important strategic role — as long as businesses and sales ops professionals themselves are prepared to seize the opportunity.

Sales Ops' Direct Line to Data

Increasing automation of the sales process doesn’t just increase sales productivity. These systems also collect data, meaning they make it possible to quantify parts of the sales process. 

Obviously, the ultimate metric is sales, which commissions management software can capture. But other metrics are just as important — most notably, margin. If one salesperson sells the most in dollar value but another generates more profit, that’s something important to identify and study. Do profitable salespeople engage in certain behaviors that others don’t, and can you pass on those behaviors to the rest of the sales force?

Commissions holds a wealth of data. When you start adding in other data sets that are currently captured by configure price quote (CPQ), sales enablement, territory and quota, contract lifecycle management (CLM), training and other automated systems, you can uncover complex relationships between behavior and results. 

For example, a profitable salesperson may use automated training resources more than his peers, enabling him to close deals through more knowledgeable answers to buyers’ questions instead of relying on discounts. His deals may be of longer contract duration. Or he may consistently use guided selling delivered in CPQ to up-sell each buyer additional products and services.

This is already taking place. And the data is being collected anywhere an automated set of sales processes is in use — but the data lies in disparate systems, preventing the analytical tools from looking at these data sets in relation to each other. Add to that, the difficulty of some of these tools means only a few people have access to them.

A new generation of analytics products is simplifying the interfaces with drag-and-drop query building and more. These products put analysis in the hands of anyone who needs visibility into the data for actionable insights — and that means sales ops.

Pivoting Towards a Strategic Sales Ops Role 

Of course, all the analytical power in the world is useless without the data. With so much sales information scattered across different systems, many businesses will find this the most daunting task. 

A business has to decide between: one, investing in the integration projects you need now to make all sales data available to your analytics platform, or two, investing in a set of connected applications that deliver ready-to-correlate data. Either way, some investment will be required.

But, this is not simply a money issue. Money isn’t invested — and technologies and new business practices are not adopted — without the right mindset.

As my colleague Christine Dorrion said, “You have to get away from the tactical thinking, and start with an understanding of the data in relation to your objectives. What do you want to accomplish with the data you have? Is there historical information you can get that you did not know before? Do you have a plan to use that in a predictive way? What will you do with the data? And are there steps you can take to ensure that everyone who will use the results of analysis has confidence in the data?” 

All of these ideas have to be thought through within the specific context of your business. Once those ideas are solidified, they must be built into your sales operations strategy.

Leadership also needs to shift its thinking, too. Instead of continuing to view sales ops as a mere helpmate of sales, leadership needs to view it as a strategic partner to drive more data-informed decision making. 

The environments that most sales ops professionals work in are not yet engineered to allow sales ops to take on a strategic role. But as business leaders start to lean more on a data-driven view of what’s going on in sales, sales ops is best positioned to deliver the visibility needed to understand sales problems and devise the best answers to them. 

The businesses that recognize this and make the pivot to a more strategically-oriented take on sales ops will become more agile, more productive and will extend the insights of sales ops across the entire business.