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Sales operations explained: key roles, metrics, and essential technologies

Sales and Revenue Operations Sales Management

Let’s take a page from the book of sales operations (sales ops) and give you an answer as efficiently as possible.

Here’s the answer to “What is sales ops,” in a nutshell:

You have a sales strategy and you have people on the ground to execute it. Sales operations make that plan a reality in the most friction-free and efficient way possible. 

And here’s the bigger nutshell version:

Sales ops improves a slew of activities and processes, such as sales strategy, business analytics, sales workflows, sales admin, technology purchases, etc. It makes them better through training and best practices, tools, and skills improvement. (And you know data’s gonna back everything they do, right? It’ll show up here soon enough.)

Sales ops covers a lot, because it has to. That’s how it ensures alignment between plans and reality, and helps everyone on your sales and go-to-market teams be their highest-performing selves. Sales ops moves you from a fragmented sales model to an agile and customer-focused one.

Got bottlenecks or friction in your sales processes? 

Lacking best practices? 

Need smoother comms tools? 

Throw up the Bat-Signal and sales ops are on their way. The best sales ops teams are so far ahead of the curve that in some cases, they may start fixing problems before you even find them.

(Fun fact: If you combined the whole shebang of sales ops, marketing, and customer success, you’d have a revenue operations team, or rev ops. Read more about that team and its functions here. Once you know the value of a rev ops team, you’ll wanna check out Gong’s revenue operations platform.)

As Steve Silver put it for Forrester, when answering, “What is sales ops”: It’s a force multiplier. That means it gives your sales team what it needs to accomplish more. 

Have a team of 20? Sales ops can get them to operate like they’re a team of 25 or 30. 

Your sales ops team should be your first line of defense (and offense) as a sales organization. It’s where you go before you add new members to your sales function.

Two goals. (A sales brace, if you will…)

Feel like you’ve got an answer to, “What is sales ops?” Great. Let’s move to its inner workings.

Everything your sales ops team does is in the name of making the sales process as smooth and efficient as possible (that’s goal #1), so reps can excel and win more often (that’s goal #2).

Look, if there are insights to uncover, you can be sure that sales ops will find them. They live to analyze, strategize, operationalize, and measure. 

Here’s the iterative process they use to reach the goals named above:

Step 1: A data-backed strategy

These folks love numbers, comparisons, and analyses. Got reams of sales data? Perfection. They’re game to dig into the details on performance metrics and process optimization, create new strategies for things like rep incentives and training, and analyze potential tech solutions and tools. They do that for your sales team and across the entire buyer journey (customer success, etc.). When you’re ready to grow, they’ll send you in the right direction.

Step 2: Operations

Better known as “Take those plans and make ‘em real.”

This is where your sales ops team gets right into the nitty gritty with your reps; where they work the process together, as sales happen. 

Some of your sales ops staff can take on administrative duties that would normally distract your reps from their sales work. That might include contract lifecycle management, maintaining comms channels, facilitating inter- and intra-team collaboration on major deals, and allocating accounts.

Step 3: Optimization

Hopefully it’s clear from the tasks we’ve outlined so far that sales ops is truly, madly, deeply focused on creating a smoother sales process for the sake of your customers, sales reps, and your go-to-market teams.

But how do they know their actions work?

They track the results of everything they do as a sales ops machine. That requires setting a baseline, measuring metrics, and keeping tabs on KPIs for each of their activities. (Finally, data measurement. It was bound to make an appearance. I mean… it’s a Gong article for Pete’s sake.) 

That’s done with an eye to finding solutions for wherever there are gaps (in coaching, workflows, etc.). Once they’ve found the gaps, they’ll bring in solutions, like tools (think CRM and contract management tools), templates, frameworks, and content assets, or more intangible ones such as coaching, skills improvement, etc..

(Psst: Did someone say template? Here’s a freebie from us: It’s a sales tracking template that makes it easy as pie to enter your data and pull out amazing insights that keep your deals on track to closing.)

Altogether, sales ops should speed up the sales cycle, boost the number and size of closed-won deals, and send your annual revenue skyward.

Oh, what to measure…

Let’s go a step beyond “What is sales ops” to give you clarity on which numbers they’ll watch on your team and across the customer journey. The big ones are named below, but they’ll vary from org to org, depending on your product and sales process. Here’s what your standard sales report should include:

Quota attainment: Not to be confused with quota itself, this is the percentage of your sales team that hits 100% of quota over a specified period (say, Q2).

Why it matters: Low quota attainment can stem from several things – like a skill gap issue on the team (in which case it’s a sales enablement issue), or a sales process issue like too few accounts in books or poor account qualification (a sales ops issue).

Average win rate: Of all the deals your reps close, how many are closed-won?

Why it matters: A low close rate can indicate several problems, and some come down to your sales process (like qualification criteria). Teams generally aim for 20%. (Gong customers aim higher than that).

Sales cycle length: Start to close, how much time does your average deal take?

Why it matters: Reps have a finite amount of time and they can only manage so many deals at once. The longer each deal takes to close out, the fewer deals they can move through.

Average deal size: Dollar value of closed won deals (by segment or product line).

Why it matters: Training your reps to close core deals is useful (so keep doing it!), but pay attention to your average deal size. Some segments have higher willingness to pay (something your ops team should know). Specific skills are associated with closing larger deals and you should coach reps on them. (Yes, Gong is perfectly suited to help you with this task.)

Time spent selling: Do your people spend half their days selling? A quarter? Three quarters? You need to find out.

Why it matters: If your people put too much time into tasks other than sales (admin, meetings, etc.), it’s time to make some changes. Selling is what they’re here to do.

Lead response time: How quickly do your reps respond when there’s a bite on the line? …As in, when a potential buyer has responded to a CTA or other lead gen tactic.

Why it matters: You want to generate trust and respect from the word go. Make your buyer feel like a priority by responding to them ASAP.

Pipeline coverage: How much pipeline do you have relative to your gap to quota.

Why it matters: This will give your team an indication of whether you have enough pipeline to cover your quota. You can also consider weighted pipeline (how much is in your current pipeline weighted by stage).

Pipeline efficiency: Do your sellers manage their pipelines well? Poorly? Appropriately? In other words, do they take customers on a direct path to closing or do they meander?

Why it matters: You want your reps to move buyers through the pipeline as directly and efficiently as possible. (Not by rushing them through it, mind you — that can do more damage than good.)

(While we’re riffing on pipelines, you should check out our pipeline management software, if you haven’t already. You and your sales ops crew can use it to see which of your deals are at risk, which opportunities to roll up in your forecast, and more.) 

Forecast accuracy: Were your recent forecasts accurate? How does your forecast compare with actuals? 

Why it matters: Your reputation is built on your forecast and so are plenty of leadership’s business decisions. If you botch this number, it’ll cost you more than a bit of revenue.

(Kick things up a notch at your org with the most comprehensive forecasting software around. From Gong, of course. There’s nothing quite like [almost] having a crystal ball.)

# of prospect meetings: How many meetings do your sellers book compared with the number of prospecting activities they complete?

Why it matters: Concerned about efficiency? You should be… especially if you have a seller who seems busy but doesn’t book many meetings.

Who you gonna hire?

It’s time to move from “what is sales ops” to “who is sales ops”. The people on your sales ops team fall into three categories:

Of course, there are the analysts who collect, sort, and interpret relevant data. They work to  pinpoint places where your sales process needs a spit shine or a top-to-bottom reno.

It’s your sales operations specialists who work to find (or build!) new systems and tools to make your team more effective and efficient. They zero in on the areas where your analysts detect problems.

When new tools are implemented, they’re often maintained by technical team members, such as a Salesforce administrator. That keeps administrative tasks out of the hands of your sales reps, who would rather be selling anyway. Technical sales ops members are skilled at keeping your technical environment clean. That means they keep your team’s data tidy and up-to-date… all the better for the analysts who look at it to set the whole cycle going again in an iterative process.

Which tools have your back?

The people part is up to you and your HR team. Who they choose depends on which gaps you have now and how progressive (aggressive?) your org wants to be in terms of driving deals via sales ops. 

What we can tell you is this: There are some good places to start if you want to invest in sales ops technology and tools. Here’s our 2¢ worth:

If you don’t already have a customer relationship management (CRM) system, it’s absolutely the baseline for starting your sales ops team. It’s a way to organize data and information about each customer interaction with your team. It’s also the first place your sales analysts will go to find data about your sales process.

Connecting with sales intelligence software companies and data providers is your next step in grabbing data for analysis. They help you collect specific data, or charge you for access to their own data on things such as who your target contacts might be, based on your ideal customer persona.

Forecasting software is another option to consider, though you should take its predictions with a grain of salt. It doesn’t draw conclusions based on what’s happening in your pipeline now. Rather, it takes numbers from your team’s past performance and lets you tweak them a bit based on a few variables (say, deal size or likelihood to close, etc.), to estimate future sales. It’s helpful, but more as a stoplight system (think red, yellow, green) than as an arbiter of truth.

Finally, you have revenue operations software, which incorporates everything under the sun into one clear picture of your pipeline at any point in time. It’s sales ops and beyond.  It takes your forecasting to a whole new level using spick-and-span-level data to give you total pipeline visibility. Not only does it up your game on the predictive front, it also gives you real-time warnings on deals that are at risk, and lets you pinpoint what went wrong on any closed-lost deals. Oh… and did we mention that it tracks data across sales and marketing and customer success? It’s an Oscar-worthy motion picture, not a polaroid from one moment in time.

How to get your hero cape

Click on Gong.

Daydream for a moment about your team being its best self, thanks to sales ops and Gong’s revenue generation capabilities.

Picture what it would be like to have solid, ground-breaking data on your side at all times: for predictions, in real-time, and for hindsight.

Hint: It’s phenomenal. It’s practically like having superpowers.

Then hit this: See Gong in action.

If you’re itching to do data capture and analysis right away, we see you. At Gong, we reward that kind of enthusiasm with a free forecasting template to get you moving a little faster in the world of sales ops. 

Snag it. Use it. Get a better grip on reality.

See the magic of Gong in action

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