What Is Sales Operations?
A Complete Guide

Sales operations is a strategic function that supports, enables and drives effective sales objectives, strategies and programs.

The Modern Sales Operations Function

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Sales operations provides the organization with the resources, processes, analytics and decision support needed to succeed.

A shifting B2B market presents key challenges that put sales operations and strategies at risk:

  • Organizations are under renewed pressure to provide a seamless customer experience across multiple channels.

  • The market for sales technology is rapidly evolving, causing B2B sales organizations to struggle in prioritizing their investments.

  • Poor data and analytics governance — coupled with low data literacy —  creates a “value ceiling” for sales analytics.

To achieve hypergrowth in this digital era, sales operations leaders must address and overcome these hurdles by investing in best practices and reorienting their sales operations teams.

3 ways to drive hypergrowth in the digital era

Leading sales operations

Evolving sales operations from a reactive, transactional function to a proactive, forward-looking capability that provides increased strategic value to the organization has significant implications for the structure, size and capabilities of the team. Advances in analytical and administrative tools can reduce manual work, while the importance of building a team steeped in technology skills, quantitative aptitude and business acumen increases. Sales ops teams must consider these broad changes as they participate in strategic planning and make decisions about scoping, structuring and management.

Questions to consider when leading sales operations:

  • How should we design and manage the sales ops team to support the end-to-end revenue process?

  • What new skills profiles will sales operations need, and from where will we source tomorrow’s talent?

  • What technology investments should we make to offset the increased costs of a higher-skilled sales operations team?

  • How should we prioritize the many capability-building initiatives that sales operations plans to execute?

Sales analytics

New data analytics and reporting platforms have provided impressive tools for sales operations, promising richer insights and direction to sales teams, sales managers and commercial leaders. In practice, however, an uncoordinated proliferation of data — often managed without quality standards and delivered without context — creates noise without helping those audiences achieve their objectives. It’s important to provide actionable insights that will improve and expedite stakeholders’ decision making.

Questions to consider to enhance sales analytics:

  • How do we prioritize the sales use cases where analytics will have the most impact and choose the right combination of advanced and traditional analytics to support those use cases?

  • What governance policies must we implement to ensure sales analytics align with business goals and that data meets quality standards?

  • How do we improve low data literacy within our commercial functions — especially among sellers and sales managers — to amplify the value of sales analytics?

Sales compensation

Changes in digital buying, virtual selling and sales technology all have a huge impact on sales compensation. Sales teams that underestimate or fail to adapt to these changes will struggle to effectively motivate their sellers. Outdated compensation plans are designed for a different time, a different customer market and a different seller profile than what we have today.

As the threat of seller attrition looms large, sales compensation becomes a crucial weapon in the race for talent attraction, motivation and retention. In the face of these challenges, progressive leaders are adapting their sales compensation designs to align with changing seller priorities, giving their commercial organizations a strategic advantage in a period of continued disruption.

Questions to consider for designing sales compensation:

  • How can we incorporate the changes in technology, sales analytics and the sales talent pool itself into our compensation design process?

  • How must we adjust our compensation plans to account for go-to-market strategies that are more volatile than we’ve seen in the past?

  • What metrics should we adopt to evaluate the success of our compensation plans under changing conditions?

  • How do we set quotas that challenge and reward sellers, especially during times of high uncertainty?

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Frequently asked questions

Sales operations measures and evaluates sales data to determine the effectiveness of a product, sales process or campaign.

Sales operations leverages the mountain of available data to help sales leaders make data-based decisions that improve the effectiveness of everything from sales force design and development to sales compensation, sales process and systems, and sales analytics and intelligence.

Sales operations supplies organizations with the resources, processes, analytics and decision support needed to succeed. It identifies key gaps in talent, tools, technology and processes and delivers a strategy to the sales organization/enablement leader to bridge those gaps.

Sales operations management involves accelerating the sales operations function toward optimal design for strategic and tactical sales success.

Sales operations strategy requires sales operations leaders to rethink their team’s structure, operating model, talent and capabilities to support the broader commercial organization in building forward-looking capabilities that provide increased strategic value. 

Some of the KPIs of sales operations are:

  • Improving operational effectiveness

  • Elevating sales performance and productivity

  • Maximizing the effectiveness of data and analytics

  • Developing, designing and administering strategically aligned sales compensation programs

Effective sales operations leaders supply their commercial organizations with the resources, processes, analytics and decision support needed to succeed. Progressive leaders can optimize sales productivity by anticipating demand for data insights, as well as shifting talent and technology needs.

Drive stronger performance on your mission-critical priorities.