What Sales Ops Needs in a Technology Stack

January 20, 2017 Mark Emmons

There’s one thing that you’ll never hear a Sales Operations expert say:

You know, there just aren’t enough technology solutions in the market these days. I wish there were more.

Instead, Sales Ops professionals are drowning in tech tools. There are countless, cool-sounding gadgets that promise the world . . . and fabulous ROI. Every day, it seems, another new software solution debuts with breathless assurances that it will transform, disrupt and/or revolutionize your business.

It’s the era of The Shiny Toy.

We all can be distracted by a seductive sales pitch and become enamored with a tool — or a tool category — that ultimately doesn’t live up to the bold claims. Toys often break. Or they just disappoint. And it’s why the paradox of modern Sales Operations is that more tools are not making the lives of practitioners any easier as they build productive tech stacks.

“As you assess the Sales 2.0 ecosystem, there are so many great sales efficiency tools being released into the marketplace these days,” said Karan Singh, who is Cloudera’s director of sales strategy, programs & analytics for sales operations. “It has been critically important to parse through these to find the tools that are relevant to my sales organization and focus on implementing those. If an organization oversteers with its technology stack, not only is there significant financial overhead, your sales organization will end up paralyzed by tool proliferation.”

Jin Daikoku of Netskope has a similar view. There’s just so much out there, he said.

“It’s easy to become a shopaholic and say, ‘If I buy this, this and this, it will be awesome!’ ”

But rarely is everything awesome.

In fact, based on our extensive conversations within the Sales Operations community, we’ve found that the consensus is there are just too many tools out there. Even the best Sales Ops pros are concerned about their ability to navigate the noisy, saturated and just plain overwhelming world of sales tools. It’s stressful trying to separate fact from fiction . . . or even just understanding what’s out there.

In the words of Pete Kazanjy, the founder of the Modern Sales Pros forum: “One of the things that we’re used to at this point is that there are technologies that we don’t know exist that can solve problems that we didn’t know we had. But we have those problems.”

Mastering this emerging and often confusing world is a challenge. But as Sales Ops gains greater influence over budget, it’s crucial to know about the available tools, what problems they solve and what stage of the buyer’s journey they impact. That’s why we created the Sales Ops Hierarchy of Needs infographic. The idea is to take a closer look at what practitioners have told us are foundational categories of technologies that they use every day. And within each category, we’ve included some of the solutions that solve issues that revenue-generation teams face.

The hierarchy is not meant to be an exhaustive, all-inclusive list. It’s not a ranking, either. But it is intended to help get you thinking about what goes into designing a high-performing tool stack.

Everyone in Sales Ops wants the same thing — more information about technologies that can help them do their job better and their businesses to succeed. But the reality is the vast majority of tools on the market, at best, might provide incremental improvements. And at worst, they can be utter distractions.

As we’ve talked to practitioners, several themes have been repeated about how the industry is viewing technology.

Playing Well with Other Tools
As technology stacks expand, it becomes critically important to make sure that solutions work well with everything else. It’s not enough that a tool integrates easily with your CRM. When you turn on your new purchase, do other parts of the stack go haywire?

“You need to understand if a tool will work collaboratively with others because salespeople will tell you anything to sign,” said Jen Spencer, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Allbound. “You need to be empowered with information so you can ask the right questions.”

When Spencer described her technology stack at the 2016 Ops-Stars at Dreamforce Conference, she emphasized the importance of a holistic strategy.

“We’re constantly reminding ourselves that we don’t want to end up with this Frankenstein system where this team is working with that tool, and this other team over there is using something else,” she said. “It can be very, very easy to create separate stacks. It takes compromises in the technology that we choose and a focus on what’s best for the customer.”

What’s Right for Your Business
When it comes to software solutions, there is no right or wrong tool — only the tool that’s best for you. Every category is filled with useful products. But as Cloudera’s Singh said, it’s about finding the best-fit tool.

For Bernie Macht, another experienced Sales Ops pro, the greatest challenge in creating a productive stack is selecting solutions that actually will be used by the team. Adoption, he said, can be difficult.

“People get stuck in their old ways regardless of how well it is working for them,” said Macht, who runs MACHT Consulting. “I can design a new way to do something that reduces effort, or I can implement a new tool that provides more information or some added functionality. But it’s like trying to get a mule to move to get people onboard with the new thing.”

The best solutions, he added, are the ones that are easily embraced.

Creating a Stack That Grows with the Business
A technology stack needs to be flexible and ability to change as the business evolves. Maybe the team is small today. But the goal is to have a stack that will grow with the company.

“No one likes having to rip out a tool and replace it with something else,” said Alex Miller, Sales Operations manager at ProsperWorks. “That’s just a huge distraction for your sales team. Implementing a new tool takes time away from their jobs. That’s why I’m a huge believer in the idea of measure four times, cut once.”

Sales and marketing are becoming more science and less art. But there’s always going to be a human component to both. So you have to find the technologies that help accentuate the artistic element.

That means building a thoughtful stack based not on hype, but substance.

Visit Ops-Stars.com to see the Sales Ops Hierarchy of Needs infographic and other content for operations practitioners.

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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