The Unsung Heroes of the Sales Process

February 6, 2017 Mark Emmons

They work quietly in the shadows. They are considered part of the supporting cast, not the leading actors. They aren’t the ones who bask in the cheers whenever a big deal closes.

But make no mistake, Sales Operations professionals are becoming the heart and soul of the modern revenue-generation team.

Their time has come.

“It isn’t very often Sales Ops gets recognized,” said Brett Rogers, the Sales Operations manager at Reflektive. “We’re generally the go-to people when things aren’t working, but are overlooked when things are running smoothly.”

Yet the reality is they are unsung heroes. Sales Ops is entrusted with making sure the increasingly complex sales engine is a finely tuned machine. They pore through the wealth of data accumulated by new technologies to derive insights that lead to smarter decision-making. They are the architects of an efficient, repeatable and scalable process.

Sales Ops creates order from chaos.

“They are the hidden keys to a sales team,” said Craig Rosenberg, the co-founder and chief analyst of the research firm TOPO. “It’s why VPs of sales are bringing these Sales Ops people with them wherever they go. They’ve become foundational for success in a sales organization. They’re a partner in crime that every sales leader needs. They’re like the fixers. They’re smoothing out roadblocks. It’s beautiful what they do. The sales leader gets all the glory, but they know full well who is helping make it happen.”

Sales Ops pros are influencing the critical decisions that have a direct impact on revenue. And the inaugural “People to Watch in Sales Operations” list is a way to shine a spotlight on people who are driving success at their companies. This isn’t about declaring the “best” in Sales Ops. There simply are too many emerging leaders in the field to make any such sweeping claim. But these are some of the hands-on practitioners who are changing the perception of what Sales Ops means in forward-thinking organizations.

They truly are Ops-Stars.

“I don’t think that Sales Operations spent much time in the boardroom in the past, but we’re definitely there now. I see that happening in more and more organizations as Sales Operations continues to be recognized as crucial to the development and effective execution of sales strategy.” — Tom Gadd, director of sales operations at Nitro

In the past, Sales Operations was generally viewed more as an administrative role. These were the helpers who did the day-to-day activities that supported the sales reps. It absolutely was important work. But they weren’t necessarily seen as vital to an organization’s success.

But that kind of thinking has become outdated thanks, in part, to the explosion of tech tools. The emergence of the CRM — especially cloud-based Salesforce — as a singular source of truth has put Sales Ops squarely at the forefront of understanding what really is happening in the sales cycle. There also are a growing number of solutions available to improve sales productivity through prospecting, enrichment, predictive analytics, lead management and so on.

The domain of Sales Ops is incorporating this brave new world of technology into a process that makes teams more productive.

“There is a constant stream of new strategies, tactics, and technologies around improving sales operations,” said Dhiraj Singh, the inside sales and operations manager at MemSQL. “The challenge is being able to filter through that stream of ideas so you can focus and execute. It also means you have to be willing and prepared to adapt quickly when things don’t go as planned.”

The role is complex. In fact, Sales Ops often can be misunderstood because it means different things from organization to organization.

“The most basic explanation of Sales Ops is a team that helps the sales team sell, provides metrics and analytics on their performance, and usually administers the company’s CRM,” said Ganka Bobeva-Rosevear, director of sales operations and enablement at PhishMe. “There are however very few Sales Ops teams that are limited to those functions. The way I see Sales Ops is as a trusted advisor. . . . The better organizations I have had the fortune to be a part of view Sales Ops as the glue that keeps everything together.”

Elaine Mao agreed that one of her challenges is educating business and sales partners on what Sales Operations actually does.

“Sales Ops wears so many hats and can drive value in so many areas,” said Mao, who heads Sales Operations, Strategy and Business Development at Uber. “However, there’s an important balance between being a ‘catch-all’ and prioritizing strategic impact. Along the same lines, there is also a balance between immediate short-term needs and longer-term revenue accelerating goals.”

That strategic impact is only going to grow as Sales Ops helps organizations navigate a rapidly changing landscape that includes emerging trends like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“I think Sales Ops is an exciting place to be as it becomes a more strategic role within companies. As more and more companies begin to realize the value of Sales Ops, there is great opportunity to implement efficiencies that can directly impact the bottom line.” — Brooke Treseder, director of sales system & strategy at Pentaho

At the end of the day, Sales Ops simply is about making the reps successful. Practitioners set the stage so that salespeople can shine. And it’s why in order to enjoy Sales Ops, you have to feel good about helping others succeed, said Jin Daikoku, director of inside sales at Netskope.

“As important as Sales Ops clearly is, it’s not a function that often garners open praise or appreciation,” Daikoku added. “People may say ‘thank you’ in a private environment. But you’re not likely to win an award and go on stage at your next SKO. That’s because rather than being the sun in the solar system, Sales Ops fills the gaps and removes the obstacles for the rest of the planets. Your job is to make it as easy as possible for someone to close a big deal and accept the reward. It’s about internal customer service.”

And “People to Watch in Sales Operations” is about recognizing some of those Ops-Stars who make all of that happen.

You can view the list here.

 

 

About the Author

Mark Emmons

Mark Emmons is the staff writer at LeanData. He previously was a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and Detroit Free Press. He can be reached at mark@leandatainc.com.

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