The founder’s guide to sales operations
For those of us in startup world, we’ve all heard and lived the phrase: “Do things that don’t scale”.
With respect to sales, this mantra hits home for founders and sales managers. If you and your team have made it through the difficult and sobering process of finding product-market fit, congratulations. Now for the hard part: It’s time to scale your ability to bring more prospects into your sales process than ever before.
For founders or sales managers seeking advice on how to scale, that advice often includes hiring someone to manage your sales operations to help you scale your efforts.
But here’s my unsolicited advice: Don’t hire someone for sales ops just yet.
Sales operations isn’t a new thing
Like most trends and buzzwords in technology, a concept that might seem shiny and new is just an incrementally improved version of something that has existed for a long time. Companies have been hiring sales operations managers or supply chain managers for decades.
In simple terms, a “sales operations manager” is just a specific name for an analyst. It’s a role that calls for someone or software to interpret the results of a given process.
Despite the growing number of blog posts like this, sales ops isn’t new. However, the tools and methodologies are new. Today, the traits of a great sales operations manager must include the ability to interpret results through leveraging the new tools and technology that are available to them.
The #1 priority is simple
Sales operations should only prioritize one thing: Help your sales teams close more deals faster.
You don’t need to hire someone to start accomplishing that. Take a look at all the things a salesperson needs to do in order to close a deal and make a list of steps:
It will probably look like this:
- Reach the prospect.
- Qualify the prospect.
- Manage objections.
- Close the deal.
- Update the CRM about steps 1-4.
Obviously, each one of these steps includes several smaller steps. Save that battle for another day.
Now that you have the list of steps, apply an amount of time (percentage of their day) and repeated activities (calls, follow ups, proposals, etc) it takes to complete each step. Figure out which one of the steps seems the most painful and time intensive for your team. Which one is causing the most friction and preventing them from closing more deals?
Then start working on a plan to make that step suck less.
Start with a simple experiment
For most folks I speak with, getting started with sales ops always seems to be an overwhelming project. The doubts are often between not knowing where to start or what tools to use.
You can solve that by starting with just one experiment and a spreadsheet.
The most effective thing you can do is follow these 4 steps:
- Determine a metric you want to impact (close rate, reach rate, deal size, time to close, etc).
- Establish a goal for success or failure in percentage terms (10% increase/decrease).
- Introduce a specific change that you think will impact the end result. Make that the focus.
- Track the results.
How we doubled our close rate through sales ops
When I became the Head of Growth at Close, I noticed that we were only closing less than 50% of the opportunities our team was creating. Shameful.
For my first sales ops experiment, I wanted to see if I could get our opportunity to close rate to above 50% and stay there. By interviewing each member of our sales team, it was clear that we were creating far too many opportunities that weren’t qualified. They were wasting a ton of time following up with opportunities that should have never been created in the first place.
So I changed the qualification criteria for an opportunity. It became much harder to create an opportunity at Close.
Using the above 4-step process, here’s what I scoped out for the experiment:
- Metric we want to impact: Opportunity to close rate
- Goal for success failure: Reach a 50% opportunity to close rate.
- Change the opportunity qualification criteria.
- Track the opportunity to close rate on a rolling 30-day basis.
We started the experiment in July with a 47% opportunity to close rate. In August, we shot up to a 65% close rate. We created far less opportunities, and that affected revenue a little bit.
But the initial results were successful. We managed to get above a 50% opportunity to close rate without burning the whole company down.
Then in the coming months, we kept the same criteria and focused on other experiments and our performance on this specific metric kept improving each month:
In January we saw a 90% opportunity to close rate - effectively doubling our opportunity to close rate in 6 months!
Interpreting the results
It’s critical to think about what results your experiment could yield. Form a hypothesis. Using the above example from our own sales team, I expected our revenue numbers to suffer from a sales team being too scared to create an opportunity. If revenue was really impacted negatively, we would have abandoned the experiment and tried something else.
Revenue was impacted slightly, but it was only temporary. We began to exceed our goals and maintain or grow revenue at the same time.
Any time you describe an experiment to your team, you need to establish the expected results. You need to define success and failure and communicate what the action of each scenario will be once you have the results.
Symptoms require prescriptions
In sales operations, communicating the results is half the battle. Humans, especially salespeople, are naturally bad at taking actionable advice from data. You need to play the role of translator. Interpret the data and convert it into a language or steps your team will grasp.
In an attempt to take my own advice, here are some pro tips for communicating results to your team:
- NEVER provide only raw numbers. Always display comparisons to previous results to show growth or decline:
- BAD: Q2 Results = 100 closed deals
- GOOD: Q2 Results = 25% growth over last quarter, 100 closed deals
- Provide a written summary with any data set. If you can’t convert the data to a written summary, you don’t understand it and neither will your team.
- Symptoms require prescriptions. Provide your interpretation of the results and what you suggest the team do as a result. As an analyst, it’s your job to provide a recommendation. Don’t make your team fend for themselves.
- Avoid acronyms and complicated numbers. Round up and be as descriptive as possible.
- BAD: 13.723% wow mrr growth
- GOOD: 14% week-over-week monthly recurring revenue (MRR) growth
The road to hiring someone
When you think of sales ops as a series of small experiments, the workload instantly gets a lot smaller.
Just like you did with your sales process, cut the work into steps. Take the steps that involve repetition or data entry and outsource them to someone else. Once you find yourself informed with the outcome of a handful of experiments, it could be time for you to hit the job boards to recruit someone to help you turn the experiments into projects.
Which experiment will you start with first?