What Is Sales Operations? A Complete Guide

Discover how sales ops leads to faster, smarter selling for your entire team.

Time to read: 8 minutes

When J. Patrick Kelly invented sales operations at Xerox in the 1970s, he described it as “all the nasty number things you don’t want to do, but need to do to make a great sales force.”

Fast-forward to today, and sales ops has gone from doing a number of things to doing all the things. 82% of sales professionals say sales ops plays a critical role in growing their business, according to the latest Trends in Sales Ops research report. Sales operations professionals have long been the experts in process efficiency, but leaders are increasingly looking to them to boost productivity in resource-tight times. They’re responsible for bringing data and technology to every corner of the sales process, so sales can do more with less.

It’s a lot. But help is on the way. Below, we share how sales operations can thrive — not just survive — as its responsibilities grow. You’ll discover the secrets of a great sales ops team, and how to build one yourself.

What you’ll learn:


What is sales operations?

Sales operations uses systems and technology to ensure that sales teams reach their targets. Sales ops grounds this work in data — how many reps to hire, where to place them for the best coverage, and how to incentivize them to hit targets. The goals? Efficiency, excellence, and optimising the sales process every day.

Why does sales operations matter?

The keyword of the day is efficiency — deepening business impact without spending more time and money. Sales ops makes this possible by supporting sales leaders and reps with optimised technology that drives strategy and more productive work.

Sales leaders get tools — like performance dashboards and automated forecasting — that support planning and key decisions. Sales reps get tools like enablement and AI-powered recommendations that make selling easier and faster.

The result is big, juicy revenue. In fact, companies with world-class sales operations teams see an overall cost reduction of 10 to 15 percent, according to McKinsey.

It’s all about taming the wild, wild west of sales. Imagine that dusty scene where sales reps argue over accounts, drown in administrative tasks, shoot from the hip in every sales conversation, and improvise about what to do next. Meanwhile, sales leaders can’t find the data they need to set confident targets — and find pipeline blockages that put these targets at risk.

With sales operations, improvisation gives way to data-proven action, improving the return on time and energy investment across the sales team. In the section below, we share how.

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What does sales operations do to the sales process?

At a high level, sales operations works to create predictable revenue by streamlining the sales process with best practices and automation. Then, sales ops leads analyse data from sales teams to uncover insights and create reports that help guide sales strategy.

Here are the key tasks of sales ops teams in more detail:

🕝 Make the sales process more efficient.

The average sales rep spends just 28% of their time selling. The vision of sales operations is to take manual work off of the sales rep’s plate, so they can focus all their time on selling. Tech Consolidation has helped sales ops improve efficiency with 94% of sales organisations planning to consolidate their tech stack in the next 12 months, according to the latest Trends in Sales Ops report.

For example, weaving automation into customer relationship management (CRM) software can take care of data entry like logging sales calls. Artificial intelligence (AI) can also help sales reps pinpoint the hottest prospects in a mountain of leads so they can reach out to the most important ones. Salesforce’s Customer 360 helps to increase productivity with automation using AI and real-time data across every team to boost productivity, accelerate collaboration and focus on the highest value activities.

🏆 Find and scale best practices.

Sales ops teams spend a lot of their time identifying what is and isn’t working in the sales process. When they see trends or behaviours that result in more efficient selling, they can turn these into best practices for the entire sales team, shortening the sales cycle.

For example, you might zero in on a rep who’s crushing their quota and determine that it’s because of a specific outreach cadence — the order and timing of steps that the sales rep goes through to move prospects through the sales pipeline. Sales ops would then bake that sequence into the overall sales process to improve team performance and help new hires hit quota faster.

🎯 Report on sales performance.

You can’t grow what you don’t know. Sales ops goes from data to insights, building the information centre that sales teams depend on to make critical decisions. They create assessments of likely sales performance, like forecasts. They also report on metrics — everything from the big picture of business health (like revenue) all the way down to deep-dive metrics on sales activity (like the number of customer objections that were missed).

Sales operations then flags problem areas and recommends the next steps, so sales leaders can course-correct to hit targets.


Set aggressive sales forecasts — and hit them.

Good forecasting predicts growth. Great forecasting creates it. Discover how to increase forecast accuracy by up to 50% using this step-by-step blueprint.

🌍 Lead sales planning.

Sales ops works with sales leaders to lay out the vision and strategy for the next several years. Then, they work to achieve it one year at a time. They do this through strategic planning, which falls into four buckets:

  • Territory planning ensures the right reps are assigned to the right territories to hit targets
  • Capacity planning determines whether to hire more people to hit sales goals and if so, how many.
  • Quota planning sets expectations for sales rep performance based on forecast targets.
  • Compensation planning incentivises the right behaviours for sales reps to hit their goals.

What are the roles and responsibilities of a sales operations team?

Sales operations teams can be as small as one person or encompass dozens of experts. To structure your team for success, start by bringing in a generalist who can handle core sales ops functions, especially sales process improvements and technology management. Then add new roles as you grow, from leadership who can scale the team to specialists like data analysts.

Let’s look at key roles that frame a successful sales ops team:

  • Vice president or director of sales operations: This role leads the department and partners with other leaders like the chief revenue officer and vice president of sales. They create higher-level strategies that drive efficiency, productivity, and top-line growth
  • Sales operations manager: This role turns executive direction into reality using day-to-day processes and tools. They also focus on bringing the best out of their people by defining and implementing best practices.
  • Sales operations representative: This role is entry-level and handles day-to-day tasks like tracking the progress of goals, entering data, updating reports, and providing administrative support for sales reps.
  • Sales operations analyst: This role leans on CRM software and other data sources to make recommendations for improvements and to create performance reports.

Ready to find talent? There’s plenty to be had. A quick LinkedIn search shows more than 7.2 million people with job titles for “sales operations.” But the best talent might be in your backyard. Start by looking internally at your sales reps in case any want to make the switch, or at analysts in other domains (like data scientists or HR operations).

What are the most important tools for a sales operations team?

Sales operations tools begin with a CRM, which allows teams to manage the pipeline from a single source of truth. Sales ops may also rely on other purpose-built tools – like those that offer intelligent lead insights or sales planning capabilities. These tools can be built right into the CRM (what we do at Salesforce), or they can be integrated as stand-alone solutions.

Let's take a look at the most important tools for a sales ops team.

🔎 CRM Software

A CRM offers reps, managers, and leaders a single place to track deals in the sales pipeline and view reports on sales performance. It’s also where features like workflow automation and AI-driven deal insights can be used to improve selling efficiency and close rates. However, our latest Trends in Sales Ops report found that only 37% of sales professionals strongly agree that their organisation fully utilises its CRM.

Here are important CRM features in more detail:

  • One trusted platform to cut costs and reduce complexity. One trusted platform to cut costs and reduce complexity. By consolidating tech stacks to one shared view of your customer data with Salesforce Customer 360, the world's #1 CRM, you can unite your teams and equip them with best-in-class apps that are easy to use.
    According to our latest Trends in Sales Ops report, one trusted platform is a growing desire for sales reps with two-thirds of reps saying they’re overwhelmed by all the sales apps.
  • Revenue intelligence uses AI to guide sellers to the next steps (“This customer is ready for an upsell,” for example) and identifies red flags in the sales process, like a missed customer objections. The latest Trends in Sales Ops report found eight in 10 leaders and sales ops professionals with AI say it has improved the use of rep time at least moderately.
  • Process automation reduces manual work and streamlines painful business processes. For example, automating finance approvals like deal discounts can help sales close deals faster.
  • Dashboards and reports make it easier for sales ops to build reports without help from IT. This includes sales forecasting reports and sales dashboards that track team performance and key metrics.

📈 Sales Enablement Tools

Nearly 70% of sales professionals say selling is more challenging now than before the pandemic, and 82% report having to adapt quickly to this new landscape. Sales enablement tools can help you onboard new reps faster with tools for coaching, step-by-step sales process guidance, and content and resources to help sellers move deals forward.

📍 Territory Planning Tools

A great sales territory plan can make your team more productive. It assigns the right reps to the right territories to ensure all your target markets are covered. Sales ops is responsible for making sure that territories are logical for the sales rep’s travel, and balanced across the team so everyone has a fair shot at hitting their numbers.

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How do you measure the success of sales operations?

To measure the success of sales ops, use sales reporting tools that show you the essential information at a glance — for example, the amount of revenue earned per rep and the speed of the sales cycle. When these are built into the CRM, you can dig in and take action on the fly.

Here are the most important metrics to watch out for:

  • Average quarterly revenue per rep: This metric describes a sales team's efficiency. To calculate the average revenue per sales rep, divide your total quarterly revenue by the number of sales reps.
  • Average selling time of a sales rep: This metric is a marker for productivity. It measures how much time your sales rep spends selling versus non-selling tasks like logging call notes. A CRM can help calculate this metric by classifying and measuring customer-facing tasks on a sales rep’s calendar.
  • Forecast accuracy: This critical metric shows how well you tracked to the forecast you set. To calculate forecast accuracy, determine the percentage difference between your predicted revenue and actual revenue.
  • Average sales cycle length: This is the length of time that passes between when a sales rep opens up a line of communication with a prospect and when they finally close the deal. A CRM can track this for you.
  • Win rate: This refers to how many customers deals you close. It’s a marker for how successful your sales enablement is: Effective onboarding and training means reps are likely to close deals faster. Calculate the win rate by dividing the number of closed/won deals by the total number of opportunities in your pipeline.

Sales ops steps into the spotlight.

The focus of sales is shifting. It used to be about driving individual performance. Now it’s about driving the efficiency of the sales process itself. That’s a job for a sales ops, and it’s why their role keeps expanding, with no signs of slowing down.

At the end of the day, sales will always be about human connection: one rep talking to one customer. The job of sales ops is to use data, structure, and technology to keep the focus on this human element where it belongs — whether it’s by automating non-selling tasks or guiding sales reps through conversations with AI.

Sales keeps the lights on, it’s been said — and it’s true. But sales ops run the wire.


More Resources


10 New Sales Statistics Reveal How Teams Are Achieving Success Now


Learn the Basics of Sales Ops