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 use 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 incentivise 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.

Discover the latest efficiency insights driving sales operations strategy.

Get the Trends in Sales Ops Report.


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How do you run a successful sales operations team?

Running a successful sales operations team is about igniting a culture of data-driven decision-making, strategic planning, and relentless customer focus. It also involves a deep understanding of human dynamics that fuel sales success.

Your goal is to empower your team to become the engine that drives revenue growth and competitive advantage.

Your sales operations management should focus on three foundational priorities:

1. Optimising workflows for effective execution:

- Streamline and integrate commercial functions to enhance the overall efficiency of the sales operations team.

Imagine you run a business where orders fly in like confetti – phone calls, emails, online forms – each landing in a different pile, demanding manual entry into your system. And inventory levels need separate updates. The process is painstaking, and customers are often in the dark.

But what if you implemented a unified system?

Streamlining and integrating commercial functions through a unified system can automate order processing, update inventory in real time, and seamlessly communicate with customers about their order status.

By doing so, sales operations teams can enhance efficiency, reduce errors, and provide a more cohesive and satisfying experience for customers throughout the sales process.

- Align interconnected workflows with customers’ specific needs and preferences to ensure a smoother and more customer-centric sales process.

Aligning workflows like order processing and data analytics with customer preferences allows sales ops to hyper-personalise customer experiences. This means understanding their preferred communication channels, their buying journey touchpoints, and their specific needs. This data-driven arsenal helps craft personalised pitches, recommend relevant products, and anticipate questions.

Aligning these workflows involves integrating systems, optimising processes, and fostering collaboration between different departments. The goal is to create a seamless, responsive, and customer-focused sales operation that can adapt to evolving market demands and customer expectations.

2. Safeguarding the value of sales analytics:

- Establish a robust governance framework for sales analytics to maintain data integrity and accuracy.

This ensures that the sales operations team has reliable insights to make informed decisions.

The framework should include clearly defined data quality standards, access control and security, data ownership and accountability, change management, and data validation and cleansing.

- Enhance data literacy within the sales operations team, providing necessary training and resources to ensure stakeholders can derive meaningful insights from the analytics.

3. Maximising technology investments for sales productivity:

  • Conduct a thorough analysis of your sales operations processes to identify areas where AI and ML can bring significant value.
  • Determine the technologies that align with your team's goals and can enhance sales ops efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Ensure chosen technologies integrate seamlessly with existing systems to avoid disruptions and streamline implementation.
  • Strike a balance between hiring skilled sales ops professionals and investing in technologies that can augment and complement human capabilities.
  • Ensure the sales operations team is well-equipped and trained to harness the full potential of technological tools, which then boosts overall sales productivity.

Salesforce Sales Cloud helps you maximise rep productivity, unlock valuable insights across the sales cycle, and automate processes and workflows on one platform.

Once you set the priorities, here’s how you can ensure that the team you build continues to thrive:

Clearly define the role of sales operations

Before diving into tactics, align your team with a clear mission statement articulating the role of operations in your overall sales engine. This statement should go beyond essential support, emphasising the team's strategic contribution to revenue growth and competitive advantage.

Set clear objectives and KPIs

Develop a data-driven sales operations strategy that aligns with your broader company goals. Identify key performance indicators (KPIs) like sales cycle length, conversion rates, and customer lifetime value. Monitor these KPIs and use the insights to refine your approach continuously.

Choose holistic performance analytics

Measure everything such as the number of quality leads generated, customer engagement rates, and the efficiency of internal processes. By measuring customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and the effectiveness of communication channels, your team will gain insights into the overall health of sales operations.

Track the impact of your sales operations’ initiatives on key KPIs. Be data driven in evaluating the effectiveness of your processes and tools.

Embrace a culture of continuous improvement. Experiment with new technologies, test different processes, and adapt to market changes. Be open to feedback and iterate based on data and real-world results.

Quick tips

  • Choose a mix of leading and lagging indicators that provide a holistic view of your team's performance. Include metrics related to efficiency, effectiveness, and customer satisfaction.
  • Regularly benchmark your team's performance against industry standards. Identify areas where your team outperforms competitors and areas for improvement.
  • Utilise predictive modelling to forecast future performance based on historical data. This assists in proactively addressing potential challenges and capitalising on emerging opportunities.
  • Design incentive structures that motivate and reward high performance. Align incentives with key objectives, encouraging the sales ops team to focus on activities that contribute most to your organisation's success.

Foster a collaborative culture

Success in sales operations is a team effort. Create a culture that encourages open communication, idea-sharing, and cross-functional collaboration. Like building a successful customer support team, where a positive work environment is crucial, fostering collaboration in sales operations leads to creative problem-solving and increased productivity.

Encourage collaboration with sales leadership

Work closely with sales leadership to align the sales ops team goals with the overall sales strategy. Regular communication ensures that the team is aware of the evolving needs and challenges faced by the sales force.

Bridge the gap between sales operations and the sales team

Encourage open communication and regular feedback loops. Actively participate in sales meetings and shadow reps to understand their challenges firsthand.

Build a culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing within the team

Encourage cross-functional initiatives and leverage the expertise of other departments like marketing and finance.

Quick tips

  • Establish unified communication channels between sales ops and marketing teams. Regular meetings, shared dashboards, and collaborative project management tools facilitate seamless information exchange.
  • Collaborate on the development of marketing and sales strategies. Ensure that marketing initiatives align with sales ops goals and priorities. For example, marketing content creation should involve sales ops inputs around customer pain points and preferred content formats. Similarly, sales ops insights can help identify bottlenecks in the sales funnel. Marketing can use these insights to adjust campaign messaging, targeting and lead scoring.
  • Integrate analytics platforms to provide teams with a unified view of performance metrics. This shared perspective fosters a sense of collective responsibility for organisational success.
  • Regularly review the quality and relevance of leads generated by collaborative team efforts, refining strategies based on real-time insights.

Set robust communication protocols.

Clear communication guidelines and example formats are excellent tools to foster a collaborative work culture. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Multichannel communication platforms: Utilise various communication platforms, such as instant messaging, project management tools, and video conferencing. This ensures efficient communication tailored to the nature of the message.
  • Clear communication guidelines: Establish clear guidelines for communication, ensuring that messages are concise, relevant, and easily understandable. Avoid information overload and promote effective knowledge transfer.

    For example:
    - Prioritise urgent emails.
    - Maintain a consistent and professional email format across all communications to include greetings, concise body, and clear calls-to-action.
    - Prioritise transparency in communication and use “BCC” sparingly.
  • Documented communication protocols: Document communication protocols to serve as a reference for team members.

    For example:
    - Reply to urgent emails within 1 business day and non-urgent emails within 2 business days.
    - Employ prefixes like "ACTION REQUIRED", "INFORMATION" or "UPDATE" for immediate content recognition.
    - CC team members for information purposes only, and use BCC when discretion is needed.

    This documentation aids in maintaining consistency, especially during personnel changes or periods of increased workload.
  • Regular team huddles: Conduct regular team huddles to keep everyone aligned and informed. These brief, focused meetings provide an opportunity to address immediate concerns and share important updates.

Implement proactive problem resolution strategies

By embracing proactive problem resolution, you can transform your sales operations team from reactive firefighters into proactive problem solvers. This creates a smooth, efficient, and customer-centric sales engine that drives sustainable success.

Here are some specific proactive problem-resolution strategies for sales operations teams:

  • Implement data-driven forecasting and analytics: Analyse sales data to identify potential roadblocks, predict customer churn, and monitor key performance indicators.
  • Develop a comprehensive risk management framework: Identify and assess potential risks throughout the sales cycle and implement mitigation strategies.
  • Establish clear escalation protocols: Define clear steps for identifying and resolving issues at different levels, ensuring timely intervention.
  • Emphasise root cause analysis: Implement a systematic approach to root cause analysis for challenges and setbacks. Understand the underlying issues before implementing solutions.
  • Deploy cross-departmental task forces: Bring together individuals with diverse expertise to develop and implement solutions collaboratively.
  • Encourage continuous improvement: Encourage team members to constantly seek better ways of doing things and reward innovative problem-solving.

Prioritise dynamic process optimisation

Standardised processes are the sheet music for your sales operations team. Define clear workflows for lead generation, qualification, nurturing, and handoff. Create detailed playbooks outlining the steps for every stage of the sales journey, ensuring consistency and maximising sales ops productivity. Remember, flexible processes are essential to adapt to changing market dynamics and customer needs.

Quick tips

  • Identify and streamline critical sales processes like opportunity management and forecasting.
  • Document every step of your sales processes. This aids in training new team members and serves as a reference for process improvement initiatives.
  • Establish feedback mechanisms to collect insights from sales representatives. Encourage them to provide feedback on existing processes and suggest improvements.
  • Embrace agile methodologies for process optimisation. Break down large projects into smaller, manageable tasks, allowing for quicker iterations and adaptability to changing market conditions.
  • Conduct cross-functional workshops involving team members from different departments. This collaborative approach brings diverse perspectives and fosters innovative process improvement ideas.

Also read: 4 Ways to Simplify Your Sales Operations

Integrate sales technology strategically.

As a crucial priority for your sales operations management, technology investment should be a facilitator for sales operations, rather than a solution. 


  • Tech stack integration: Integrate various sales technologies into a cohesive tech stack. From communication tools to artificial intelligence-driven sales forecasting. A well-integrated tech stack enhances the overall effectiveness of your sales ops team.
  • Tech stack audit: Conduct a comprehensive audit of your current sales technology stack. Identify redundancies, gaps, and areas for enhancement.
  • API integration: Ensure seamless communication between different tools in your tech stack through Application Programming Interface (API) integration. This facilitates a unified and efficient workflow.
  • AI-driven sales insights: Explore AI-driven tools like Sales Cloud Einstein for sales forecasting, trend analysis, and customer behaviour prediction. Leverage machine learning algorithms to extract actionable insights from large datasets.
  • Automation: Identify repetitive tasks within the sales process and automate them where possible. This saves time and reduces the likelihood of errors, allowing your team to focus on high-value activities.

Empower your sales ops team to become data champions

Data is the lifeblood of sales operations. Empower your team to collect, analyse, and interpret data effectively. Use data to identify trends, predict outcomes, and make data-driven decisions that optimise the sales funnel.

Visualise data through dashboards and reports to provide actionable insights for the team and leadership. Remember, data without action is merely potential.

Focus on customer-centric data management

This is crucial to ensure sustainable sales ops success. Leverage data to personalise the sales experience for each prospect and customer, ensuring a more relevant and engaging interaction.

Here’s how:

  • Customer segmentation: Divide your customer base into distinct segments based on industry, size, or buying behaviour. This allows for a more personalised and targeted approach.
  • Dynamic data enhancement: Implement a dynamic data enhancement strategy that continuously updates and enriches your customer data. Utilise third-party tools and services to fill in missing information and ensure the accuracy of your database.
  • Predictive analytics integration: Integrate tools to anticipate customer needs and behaviours. This empowers your sales ops team to engage with potential opportunities proactively.
  • Data privacy compliance: Prioritise data privacy and compliance. Ensure that your data management practices adhere to relevant regulations, fostering client trust.

Aim for intelligent pipeline management

Intelligent pipeline management uses data and analytics to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the sales process.

It gives reps the tools and insights they need to close more deals. On the other hand, it provides operations teams with the data and visibility they need to optimise the sales process and drive overall revenue growth.

Here are a few ways you can intelligently manage your pipeline:

  • Sales pipeline mapping: Develop a detailed map of your sales pipeline, outlining each stage from lead generation to conversion.
  • Pipeline velocity analysis: Implement tools that track the velocity of deals through the pipeline. Analyse the time it takes for deals to progress from one stage to another, identifying areas for acceleration.
  • Lead scoring optimisation: Refine your lead scoring system to prioritise high-value prospects. Use data insights to adjust scoring criteria based on historical conversion patterns.

Nurture your sales operations team with continuous training and development programs

The heart of any successful team is its people. Running a high-performing sales operations team requires ongoing development of interpersonal and professional skills.

What you can do:

  • Tailor training programs to individual needs. Identify each team member’s specific skills and knowledge gaps and create personalised learning paths.
  • Implement microlearning modules that deliver bite-sized, targeted content. This approach accommodates individual schedules, allowing continuous learning without overwhelming the team.
  • Introduce gamified elements into your training programs. Gamification enhances engagement, motivation, and knowledge retention among team members.
  • Establish certification programs for key competencies. Recognise and reward individuals who attain certifications, motivating others to invest in their professional development.

Maintain the human touch

A successful sales operations team is not just about tools and processes; it's about people. Invest in building strong relationships with your sales ops team, understanding their needs, and providing them with the support they need to succeed.

Create a supportive work environment that values and recognises the contributions of every team member, promoting higher job satisfaction, retention, and success.


The role of adaptive sales forecasting in driving sales ops success.

Unlike static forecasting methods, adaptive models constantly learn and adjust based on new data points, market fluctuations, and internal changes. This translates to more accurate forecasts, minimising surprises and allowing for proactive decision-making.

Adaptive sales forecasting also allows testing various "what-if" scenarios based on potential market shifts, competitor actions, or product launches. This empowers sales operations to anticipate potential risks and opportunities, preparing for different eventualities.

What you can do:

  • Implement data-driven forecasting models that leverage historical data and predictive analytics. This provides a more accurate representation of future sales performance.
  • Conduct scenario planning exercises to prepare for various market conditions. Identify potential risks and opportunities, allowing your team to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.
  • Calibrate forecasts regularly based on real-time data. This iterative approach enhances the precision of forecasts and supports effective resource allocation.
  • Encourage collaborative forecasting. It empowers sales operations by providing a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the sales landscape. Accurate forecasts inform strategic decisions beyond sales. They impact areas like marketing, finance, and product development.

    A collaborative approach fosters a sense of ownership and accountability among different teams, leading to greater commitment and buy-in for achieving sales goals.

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.



What is the difference between sales enablement and sales operations?

Sales enablement is the process of equipping sales teams with the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to engage with customers and close deals effectively. On the other hand, sales operations focus on optimising the overall sales process and ensuring it runs smoothly.

What are the five elements of sales operations?  

The five pillars of sales operations are data management, forecasting, technology, enablement, and training. They work together to optimise processes, empower reps with insights and tools, and drive revenue growth. Data fuels accurate forecasts, which guide efficient tech implementation. Enablement equips reps, while training polishes their skills, leading to a well-oiled sales machine.

What are the most crucial sales operations best practices?

Implement a robust sales operations technology stack, including CRM, marketing automation, and sales intelligence tools. You must also ensure the following to nurture a high-performing sales operations function.

1. Define clear goals and align sales and marketing
2. Use data for insights and action
3. Automate repetitive tasks
4. Invest in sales enablement and training
5. Foster collaboration and communication


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