The ideal situation, if you’re running a small or medium-sized business, is that your growth trajectory is such that eventually your sales team can’t manage on its own.

That may sound counter-intuitive, but many successful enterprises have reached a critical tipping point where they no longer simply need someone (or a group of someones) to handle field sales, inside sales, channel sales and so on. Eventually, as the volume of customers multiplies and the range of products and services grows, the sales process can become more complex. This is when what’s known as “sales operations” comes in — the group that develops and helps run processes that make sales teams run more efficiently.

That doesn’t mean the need for sales ops only comes once a company employs thousands or trades on the stock market. In fact, sales ops might be considered an equally important ingredient for SMBs who want to be taken as seriously by major customers as much bigger or more established players in the same sector. It might mean sales ops are run by the president/owner or a few other of senior-level decision-makers. The important thing is to understand what sales ops is all about and that you have the necessary framework in place to optimize them over time.

Sales Ops Tasks You May Already Be Doing

If the average SMB owner were allowed to job shadow the sales ops team of a large enterprise, they may see many high-priority tasks that look very familiar to their own daily activities. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Ensuring offers and contracts are carefully vetted
  • Managing commissions
  • Order tracking
  • Data cleansing
  • Data management (CRM)

In sales ops parlance, these areas fall under the area of sales effectiveness. They are typically the kinds of things that start to become ad hoc and inconsistent when companies start to hit a higher threshold in terms of headcount, sales volume, or both. SMBs may have many of these things under control, but notice how the list above goes from things that tend to require manual quality control to areas that become essential information that gets fed into cloud-based tools. It’s great if contracts are and offers are done properly and the team gets paid, but longer-term success depends on making sure the learnings from each closed deal becomes the jumping-off point for the next one. This leads us to the next area of sales ops, and arguably the more critical one.

From Ops To Enablement

The best sales ops team not only police the way sales reps do their daily jobs. They work strategically with data to make sure reps are prepared to thrive in their jobs. That’s called sales enablement in many big companies, but it really means looking at all the information available in everything from CRM and marketing automation to advanced analytics tools to get answers to questions that might not even get asked. If you’re an SMB owner, this are things that need to be covered by you or a designate:

Go-to-Market Assessment: Say you’re introducing a new product or service that’s aiming at a customer that hasn’t been in your target audience before. How might their persona be different from those with which the sales team is currently familiar? What kind of research will they need to do to understand their pain points? For example, what times of year might represent a peak buying season, if any? What geographic coverage might be necessary? What kind of friction in the purchase process might make buying slower than expected? There might need to be a sales ops process or set of processes that ensures all these areas are taken into account before reps start making calls or going for meetings.

Sales Methodology Assessment: Is cold calling the best way to generate demand for your current offerings? In some cases, a digitally-enabled approach to sales might be necessarily, especially in B2B environments. Mobile apps could play an increasingly important role in how deals get closed, but don’t count on reps to figure it out on their own. Should social selling be a part of the mix? Figuring this out in advance can help determine the training or other sales op tactics you’ll require to get your team ready.

Forecasting And Reporting: Carrying out any kind of operation requires thinking of all the possible scenarios that could play out, and sales ops is no different. There’s already technology to offer firms more predictive intelligence about how customers will buy and when. Investigate not only those kinds of numbers but what other kinds of statistics will be important to report back to your sales team in order for them to manage their own accounts. Great reporting leads to great dashboards, which is how many sales pros prefer to see the opportunities before them.

A final area of sales ops worth thinking about — and which is also typically part of the SMB owner’s role — is hiring and onboarding. As you proactively and intentionally flesh out a sales ops strategy and hone your skills in this area, they will be among the first things you want to pass on to new recruits. After all, if selling is part of everyone’s job, maybe sales ops should be too.

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