No matter the size of your business, a great sales operations team is both strategic and tactical. The best timing for building a sales operations function depends on the nature of your sales process and the value you place on effective and efficient selling.
My time in sales operations has helped me connect the dots between startup and scale. I was part of a six-person company, a 110,000 person company, as well as several “tweeners” that grew up and are somewhere in between. I’ve survived the chaos of a startup sales team that is brand new and have also seen what happens when little companies grow up, including the common pitfall of trying to take a one-size-fits-all approach to implement the same sales operations structure that worked somewhere else.
The territories, quota model, incentive structure, processes, and policies that I have developed over the past year and a half at SendGrid are unique to our business model, our products, and our sales process.
So, what IS sales operations?
Sales operations (often now referred to as “revenue operations” to include renewal management, customer success strategies, and account management operations) is vital for a business needing to strategically aim their sales resources, quickly fuel their go-to-market engine, and build a flexible and scalable business operations foundation.
In my opinion, great sales operations doesn’t mean committing to and implementing large scale sweeping initiatives that look good on the CEO’s annual execution plan (although that might be politically savvy) instead, great sales operations should deploy guerrilla tactics for quickly evaluating and implementing changes to help move the organization forward: helping sales to sell more (at a lower cost of sale) to the right prospects. It also means helping your account management team build processes and strategic programs to lower your cost of service, decrease churn, improve customer satisfaction, increase customer expansion, and create raving fans.
When should I build sales operations?
Determining the right timing for bringing in sales operations is tricky. Experienced sales and account management leaders know that their primary responsibility is to effectively manage, coach, and develop their people, as well as to help their team meet their sales goals by bringing new customers on board and by keeping customers happy.
Those same seasoned sales leaders recognize that when they are spending the majority of their day doing operational work (territories, policies, processes, analytics, training, incentives, etc.), they won’t have bandwidth to do their own job of managing their team and prospects/customers well. This is when building a dedicated sales operations team makes sense. But, don’t wait until it’s obvious that your teams need operations support. Hire a sales operations expert who can manage all aspects of ops.
What will sales ops do for me?
Building a sales operations function will help sales and account management teams to better achieve or exceed their goals. As a tech company grows, early leaders in senior positions will need to begin to “take off some of their hats” and delegate responsibility to the leaders in their organization. Early in the lifecycle of the company, the CEO will likely hire a head of sales or a handful of sales reps and “take off their sales hat” so she/he can focus on corporate strategy.
A great sales ops team knows how to influence business strategy and execute tactical change by helping field teams become more and more productive. This can manifest in several ways: 1) your average deal size goes up, 2) your closed-won deal count goes up, 3) both (which is preferred) and your revenue contributed per active sales rep or demand gen rep may go up.
You should expect efficiency gains through more streamlined processes and documented policies. You should also expect a more hungry field (sales reps + acct manager) team, motivated by their incentive plan to land new customers, and protect or expand their book-of-business. You’ll have a chief of staff, a strategic partner in building a world-class revenue team.
Finally, you should expect to start making important decisions based on relevant data. When done right, sales operations can help replicate and amplify the success of your teams, while at the same time helping you “build a better rocket ship” so your go-to-market engine not only revs ups, but is designed to leave the stratosphere, taking your team from startup to scale.