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Why your sales operations sucks!

While companies put much effort in planning and rolling sales improvements including CRM, field sales gadgets and so on, an area that does not get sufficient focus in sales is the operations centre. For many companies, sales operation is an additional expense. Usually they would have a personal secretary or a junior clerk do the data management and generate basic reports. Sales operations also need people person with enough tact to obtain information without stepping on the boot. Companies do not recognize SOC has key role in ensuring data availability, data integrity, support and monitoring of the resources. Sales leaders in some companies don the role of SOC without dilution of their priorities which may leads to ineffective utilization of key resources.  Sales operations helps to capture the data related to sales activities, and help management make decisions based on data. Sales operations is not just a data sink, but a system to optimize the work and improve outcomes.

Companies investing in CRMs can gain higher ROI if they can plan and invest in a strong SOC.  To ensure your sales operations centre is effective, see it from a change management prism. Starting from the resources that fit the role, right systems and policies that help to capture data and reporting, approaches & signals from management to make SOC gain acceptance, and influence, and finally drive outcomes independently, SOC roll out needs detailed planning and flawless execution.  To create a successful sales operation centre you need to pursue it as a project, right from investing in the right resources, enabling them with appropriate process and decision rights, but also support it with right legitimacy and institutional mechanisms.

SOC Charter

Create a sales operations charter that defines the purpose, roles and rules of sales operations. While management is responsible to define the leads and opportunity stages, SOC owns the sales process, maintains and improves them in the CRM system. Data collection process is defined through these stages which should further be validated by SOC. The quality control and authenticity of data is continuously monitored by SOC. Post collection and validation integration with real-time events is done to generate the actionable insights. Once resource issues are addressed, it is time to prepare them for the intended applications.

Best fit person for SOC

On the resources front, people are the key lynch pins of the sales operations. SOC resources can be at a junior level (data analyst or sales support executives), sales operations analyst or sales ops manager. What is important is how passionate and driven he is to get outcomes. An ideal SOC needs to be good at communication in order to be on the same page with management and the entire team. The resource person needs to be good at decision-making and quick in analyzing information. Since, he needs to work with both people and technology, he needs to be someone who has a good bond with his co-workers, be empathic towards them, someone whom the team respects both formally due to position and informally as a person. He also has to be capable of grasping technology, able to work independently on CRM, generate reports, ask questions to sharpen the focus. Finally, Sales Operation resource has to be someone who is well versed with continuous improvement methods and continuously think of better ways to get things done.

Technology for SOC

Technology & other resources to capture data, assimilate, analyse, and reporting also need detailed planning and execution. Investing in the right integration tools, for e.g. – CRM can feed data to the finance team for the direct invoicing; marketing team can get regular insights about leads generated from various marketing efforts, can make the operation seamless. Integration with billing systems, ERP or even Outlook or Gmail can reduce the redundancy of data collection.

Sales team alignment with SOC

SOC effectiveness is dependent upon how others in the sales team contribute and respond.  To make SOC work smoothly, it is important to have buy-in from all the stakeholders. Prepare training sessions and all-hands. Incentivize sales people for update and continuous sharing of information. Without real-time data, SOC can’t generate useful insights. Conduct floor meeting and strategy meetings with all the resources concerned including SOC to detail out the role, process and expectations. Use these meetings to iron out any rough edges. Weekly sales review meetings must call out sales resources who has not updated information.

Management role in SOC effectiveness

Role of management in empowering and institutionalizing the role of SOC becomes critical. If SOC is a junior person, management must prop SOC initially till the process is institutionalized. Management must delegate areas where SOC can take decisions on own and revert wherever higher decision rights are needed. Once the CRM roll out happens, and SOC starts compiling & reporting data, there are possibilities of fault lines emerging. This could happen when sales stars don’t adhere to the SOC charter or data integrity challenges emerge. Management has to step in at this moment right away to nip at bud any such transgressions. Management must use these moments to reinforce the role of SOC and the sales process alignment expectations. Management must encourage SOC to come out with improvements in reports, analysis and responsiveness. Encourage SOC to go deeper on customer insights, including cycle time, payment timelines, etc.

SOC Reports  

One of the key problems in sales is to choose the right metric on which sales resources are measured. The metric chosen are often not in alignment with the sales objectives set by the management. If the objective of the business may be sales improvement by up-selling a new product to existing customers, then SOC metrics must be aligned to this. Ill-advised SOC often create too many reports measuring “input efforts” such as number of mails sent and calls made in a day. Measuring performance against the wrong metric results in ineffective incentive calculation. Beware, you may be setting up your sales to loose, not win. Compliance, Closure, Follow ups and collections are what SOC must help you capture for hunting teams. For harvesters, follow ups, revenue per visits, revenue from new services and defend revenues are good reports to make.

Guarding SOC from some pitfalls

From my experience, there are some common areas which lead to inefficient sales operations. Firstly, administrative overload that may divert SOC from its charter. We have seen companies assigning travel plans, event administration and admin support tasks. Secondly, in some companies SOC is not invited for key sales reviews and mostly relegated to backroom support. This exclusion leads to lack of alignment between sales focus and sales reviews.

Selected Bibliography

Adamson, B, Dixon, M and Toman,N. (2013) Dismantling the sales machine, Harvard Business Review, Nov 90-97

LaForge, R.W, Ingram, T.N. and Cravens, D.W (2009), Strategic alignment for sales organization transformation, Journal of Strategic Marketing, Vol 17, No3-4, 199-219.

Roberge, M, The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to go from $0 to $100 Million, John Wiley, 2015.

Ross, A.  and Tyler, M, Predictable Revenue: Turn Your Business Into a Sales Machine with the $100 Million Best Practices of Salesforce.com, Pebblestorm, 2011.

Sairam Ganapathy, Senior Assistant Consultant (Sales and Marketing)

** Photo Credit: Web