Why You Need Sales Ops, and Why Sales Ops Needs a Road Map

January 6, 2020

One question I hear most often when speaking with emerging companies is, “When should we add sales ops?” The answer is that it’s never too early.

My first few roles in tech were product management, solution consulting and industry marketing. Sales operations as a role did not exist, but on the side I started doing sales opsy things! Why don’t we manage to a pipeline, let’s start using a CRM, how should we sell? I built a basic sales model, defined some KPIs and documented how to use a CRM to help the team gain some insight into how we were selling and to drive better performance. In essence, I had jumped into the operational side of selling without even realizing that I was doing sales operations. But, I knew it was important. It wasn’t until several years later that a like-minded CRO asked me to work for him that I took on a formal and full-time sales operations role.

Since then, I’ve come to believe that sales ops is a non-negotiable part of any company that wants to successfully grow and scale in an efficient and durable way. And given the demand for sales operations professionals, it’s clear that many agree.

The good news is that you don’t need a large team like the ones I managed at Marketo and currently at Intercom. You can deliver measurable impact with just one person. I know this from experience; I was the sole sales operations employee at three previous companies, all focused on growth and all successful. No matter what size your team is or what size you are deciding to begin with, there are a few foundational concepts and elements that will help you get started on the right foot.

Sales Ops: The Big-Picture Definition

Done right, sales operations is the backbone of the go-to-market team. The mission of the sales ops team—whether it’s one person or a couple dozen—is to increase sales productivity and success in a sustainable and scalable way. This is accomplished by eliminating points of friction in the sales process so salespeople can focus on the activities that move a customer forward in the buyer journey.

Sales ops can cover many different areas including strategy, methodology, forecasting, enablement, systems, technology and change management. It touches all parts of the buyer journey, from the early stages of awareness to closing the deal to ongoing growth and success. Its responsibilities are at the intersection of multiple functional areas—sales, marketing, finance and customer success—and requires close collaboration with these teams. Sales ops is the discipline that implements and watches over the tactical, while also needing to take a holistic, longer-term view of company goals and the evolution of the sales team.

Because sales ops has a deeply integrated and comprehensive view of the entire customer lifecycle and the underlying internal process and systems that enable its execution, they often act as a sounding board for sales and other executives, advising on both strategy and execution. The sales ops team has a unique opportunity to affect both the top-line and bottom-line in an organization. By increasing both effectiveness and efficiency, they help to improve overall sales performance, which in turn drives growth while managing against customer acquisition costs (CAC).

Team Structure: An Overview of Roles and Responsibilities

While our sales ops team at Intercom has evolved to a full organization, an overview of our team structure is a good way to get a sense of all the different kinds of roles and responsibilities that can fall under the sales ops umbrella.

Our organization reports to our SVP of Sales and is broken down into three sub teams. We drive (and are measured against) the entire number for Intercom—new customer acquisition (both sales led and product led), upsells, cross-sells and retention.

Enablement Team

This team has one mission: make sure sales reps are the best they can be in terms of their skills and tradecraft. This team drives initiatives upleveling and delivering consistency in our ability to execute both transactional and value-based sales cycles. They also focus on ensuring that all the communications get to the sales team so everyone is up to date on their product knowledge, market insights, messaging and competitive positioning.

Sales Systems Team

This is a team of go-to-market engineers, business process analysts and system administrators whose mission is to leverage solutions to optimize the sales teams’ ability to effectively sell. This team includes engineers who code and build integrations as well as handling more traditional backend tasks including connecting CRMs and marketing automation to data warehouses and other tools that help us streamline various processes. This group also manages the administration of the solutions we use, including the help desk we turn to when we hit issues. This team also takes point on something we call a “productivity slam.” This is when the team goes out to identify the inefficiencies that exist and then work to proactively find a solution, often using automation.

Core Team

This team’s responsibility revolves around the traditional elements of sales ops: process, workflow, forecasting, planning, reporting, partnering with our regional sales leads and serving as a cross-functional partner with the marketing ops and finance teams.

In addition to managing day-to-day tactical activities, this group also leads the long-term visioning and strategic work around things like how we evolve our segmentation, create and stand up new teams and motions.

If I were to summarize in a single sentence, Core defines the strategy and business requirements, works with Systems to implement the processes and technology and Enablement manages the change.

The Sales Ops Roadmap: Key to Success

No matter the size of your sales operations team, it is impossible to keep up with the daily requests, fly bys asking to do “this and that” and larger projects. Everything the sales ops team does, outside of their core responsibilities, needs to be done through a formal roadmap process. A roadmap helps document the project and changes requests, identify the problems to be solved, align on the expected outcomes, prioritize and assign capacity. Just like a product roadmap, the sales ops roadmap will not only define the jobs to be done but also how you will be using your team’s capacity. It also helps to protect that capacity by delivering clear alignment and transparency on how and where the team’s resources will be deployed.

Executing a roadmap ensures that you don’t get derailed by the recency bias of the last, possibly, one-time crisis that arose, or committing to a constant stream of ad hoc requests that may seem easy to tackle when viewed one at a time, but always seem to add up to become a major resource drain.

A roadmap is also instrumental when it comes to managing stakeholders and their expectations. It delivers a formal, recorded mechanism to provide suggestions and requests and to have a voice in proposing “candidates” for potential future work (they know they have been heard!). It also provides a common framework that helps you communicate effectively and address questions more proactively and definitively. It allows you to explain not only what you’re doing, but what you’re not doing and why you’ve made those choices.

A sales ops roadmap should not be limited to sales requests and projects. It’s a mechanism that can also be used to align with marketing operations, finance and other internal partners. It provides those teams a view of our sales priorities, but can also be used to carve out capacity for cross-functional projects to ensure those are deployed together to achieve maximum results. Shared priorities drive alignment.

A sales ops roadmap is absolutely essential to scaling and driving success. It provides a formal manner for stakeholders to make requests, establishes use of capacity against shared priorities and provides ongoing accountability while protecting capacity.

This sets up sales operations to deliver value in a sustainable, scalable manner to drive growth.