The only kick-ass guide to sales operations you'll ever need

by Steli Efti
sales ops team

Your sales team isn't meeting its potential. It's a hard truth. And I'm sorry to break it to you, but for most companies out there, it's true.

A sales operations team can change that.

If you want to make sure your sales team is firing on all cylinders and making as much money for your company as possible, you need sales ops.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that sales operations is a new field; it's not. It's gotten a lot of press lately, but the principles that guide sales ops have been around almost as long as sales. It's nothing new. It's just a way of doing it better.

Here's what we'll go over in this guide:

Let's start with the basics and define sales operations.

What is sales operations?

Sales operations is the team that handles the non-selling processes and tasks inherent in the sales process. This includes generating leads, outlining sales territories, setting up incentive programs, managing sales analytics, and more. Sales ops helps sales teams close more deals faster.

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When you look at a sales process, you see that selling is only one part of a complicated system. For example, here's a sales process we recommend for companies looking to scale:

  1. Prospecting
  2. Researching
  3. Connecting
  4. Presenting
  5. Addressing objections
  6. Closing
  7. Delivering
  8. Following up (asking for referrals)

Only points 4–6 actually focus on selling. The other four steps can be handled by a non-salesperson. And when your salespeople don't have to worry about those steps, they can focus on what they do best: closing deals.

But sales ops goes beyond the sales process. This team can do things like creating sales territories, structuring pay plans, monitoring analytics, developing sales strategies, and a whole lot more. In short, sales ops analyzes sales data and uses it to improve sales results.

Why is sales operations important?

Because there's so much more involved in a successful sales program than just selling. Here are just a few reasons why you need more support for your sales team:

  • Strategy and processes are crucial for success. Your sales team is great at selling. That doesn't mean they can establish new sales strategies or put processes in place. A good sales strategy can be the difference between success and failure.
  • Using salespeople for non-sales activities isn't efficient. Generating leads, managing your CRM, and running reports isn't a good use of your sales team's time, so get someone else to do it.
  • The modern sales organization creates a huge amount of data. Sales ops teams include people who can turn that data into action. Not only do salespeople not have time for that, but they often don't have the skills, either.
  • Sales technology changes quickly. The entire sales tech stack changes all the time. Someone needs to keep track of new technologies and make sure sales reps know how to use them.
  • Many groups and departments are required for a successful sales program. Sales ops is well-positioned to share useful sales data that influences other teams' decisions.
  • Pricing has an immediate effect on your sales team's performance. Lots of different teams think they should be in charge of your pricing. But it's fundamentally a sales issue. And sales ops can help you figure out the pricing structure that maximizes close rate and lifetime value.

Sales operations vs sales enablement: What’s the difference?

Lots of people define sales enablement differently, but Highspot does a good job of summing it up: "Sales enablement is the strategic, ongoing process of equipping sales teams with the content, guidance, and training they need to effectively engage buyers."

When sales teams have high-quality content (often created by the marketing team), they can share it with prospects to create a more powerful pitch. Guidance often comes in the form of mentorship and frequent feedback loops. And training, of course, develops and hones skills.

Sales ops handles the big picture, while sales enablement helps reps complete day-to-day activities. The difference between the two is often minimal, though, and some people argue that sales enablement is part of the sales operations process.

Sales enablement as a field is still growing and finding its place. In some companies, it takes a higher-level role, while in others, it focuses on sharing information between marketing and sales teams.

In many cases, you can get sales enablement content without bringing on a sales enablement team. So I recommend getting your sales ops up and running first.

Sales operations team structure: Roles & responsibilities

sales-operations-teamWhen you first start running sales ops, you'll probably do a lot of this yourself. But as your company grows, you'll need more help. Here are the sales operations roles you'll want to bring on.

Keep in mind that you won't hire them all at the same time. In the beginning, you'll probably have one or two people doing all of these tasks. Once they've gotten set up, you can expand your team.

Roles of the sales ops team members

Sales ops roles often have widely varying responsibilities, especially when you're getting started. But here's what they usually do:

Role Job Description
Sales Ops Manager Oversees reps and analysts to ensure sales team is getting the resources they need. Needs a deep understanding of sales processes.
Sales Ops Analyst Synthesizes data from CRM and other sources to make recommendations that improve sales performance. Needs strong data and Excel skills.
Sales Ops Rep Does day-to-day things to support sales strategy and teams. May conduct prospecting, appointment setting, and contract followup.


Some companies may include other sales operations roles, like "coordinator" or "business development/sales and operations specialist." Most of these roles align with those listed above or form a combination of them.

When you're starting your own sales ops team, start with a sales operations manager. They'll help you build out the rest of the team.

Want my best advice on hiring the right people and building a sales team? Get a free copy of my book The Sales Hiring Playbook today!Sales Hiring Playbook Cover

How to structure a sales team

So where does your sales ops team fit in with your sales and marketing structure? There's no right answer. Companies have different needs and existing sales team structures. But here's one way you might structure your team:

Event Org Chart Example

In this structure, everyone related to sales is under your sales VP. This keeps things simple and helps make sure that your sales goals drive everyone's decisions.

Below the VP are three groups: sales operations, sales, and account management.

Sales operations consists of a sales ops manager who oversees reps and analysts. If you're in a big company, you could have multiple managers and several groups of reps and analysts. But it could just be three people (and in the beginning, it'll probably only be your manager).

The sales group contains your sales development and sales teams. That could include a wide variety of people; you might have a sales development manager, a sales manager, team leaders, different types of sales reps, and so on. But all of these people belong in a single silo because they do one thing: move sales forward.

Finally, we have the account management group. In this group you'll find both account managers and customer success reps. In short, this group works with customers to make sure they're getting the results they need.

Why is account management under sales, you ask? Because in the end, it's all about increasing lifetime value. Your account managers and customer success reps make sure your customers stay customers. And, if at all possible, that they upgrade to a higher subscription level or more expensive product or service.

Sales operations team responsibilities

sales-operations-team-responsibilitiesSo what does a sales ops team actually do? Whatever they need to do to help your sales team succeed. That often includes the following:

  • Data management and analysis. This supports almost everything that your sales ops team does. Want to make sure your reps are making the most of your time? That your customers are delivering maximum lifetime value? That you're reducing turnover? The data will tell you how to do it.
  • Technology updating and training. Setting up a sales CRM is an ongoing process. Even Close, which we designed to be as simple as possible, can be customized and improved over time. Sales ops helps teams make the most of their tools.
  • Sales forecasting. Figuring out how much you're likely to sell is a complicated process. But because sales ops has access to so much data, it's a great team to task with predicting your revenue.
  • Lead generation and appointment setting. You need to find leads and get them on the phone make sales. Unfortunately, many salespeople don’t excel at this. Sales operations can take over the task to make it more efficient.
  • Sales strategy and communication. Because your ops team has a high-level view of the sales process and its results, they can develop strategies that work. And, just as importantly, they can communicate those strategies to the people who need to know them.
  • Interdepartmental relations. Everyone in your company is invested in sales, so they want input to the strategy process, reports on how things are going, and more. Your salespeople don't have time for that — that's a job for ops.
  • High-level and detailed presentations. Whether your executive team wants to know this quarter's numbers or the board needs information on the direction of the sales strategy, ops is prepared. They create both high-level and very detailed presentations and reports to get people the information they need.

Of course, your sales ops team can do a lot more. But these are some of the most common things they'll be doing.

7 KPIs & metrics to track for sales ops

Once you start your sales operations program, you need to keep track of key performance indicators (KPIs) to make sure it's working. Here are the seven most important sales operations analytics to monitor to get a handle on how your sales operations model is working.

1. Close rate

The number of sales you make divided by the number of people you pitch. (This is an important part of the AQC framework.) In short, it's how effective your sales team is at closing.

Your sales operations crew has a big effect on this metric. For example, when our own Head of Growth started at Close, he noticed that we had an abysmal 47% close rate. After changing our lead generation and qualifying strategies, we brought it up to 90%.

close-rate-chart

That change wasn't brought about by improving our selling techniques, and that's why sales ops is invested in close rate. They can help adjust lead generation, qualifying, sales process, sales strategy, pricing, and a wide range of other factors that affect close rate.

Almost every other sales ops metric comes back to this. If you're closing more deals, you're making more money. That's what your operations team is for.

2. Customer acquisition cost (CAC)

The amount of money you spend on marketing and sales divided by the number of new customers you get over a given time period. 

The less you pay to get a customer, the more they're worth to you in the long term. If you lower your CAC, you get more money from each customer without having to sell them more product or retain them longer. (Our friends at ProfitWell have written a great guide on calculating and optimizing CAC).

All of the things sales ops does to increase the close rate can also drop your customer acquisition cost. Shortening the sales cycle with better qualified prospects means you're spending fewer salesperson-hours on each sale, for example.

As your company grows, CAC becomes more important. Even a small decrease in the amount you spend can make a big change over dozens or hundreds of customers. Which is why it's one of the most important sales metrics to track.

3. Customer lifetime value (LTV)

Average revenue per user divided by customer churn. (For a more detailed explanation of how to calculate this, check out Profitwell's great breakdown of LTV for SaaS.)

How much money do you make from each customer? If you can increase that number, your total revenue will increase—without needing to bring in more clients. It makes every salesperson more efficient.

How might ops increase lifetime value? Pricing is a good place to start. Figuring out the price that offers the best value for customers while maximizing revenue is one of the central tasks of sales operations.

Effective lead generation helps get the right customers into the pipeline, too, which increases the likelihood that they'll spend money with your company. If it sounds like sales ops does a lot of work on lead generation, it's because they do. It's a super important task that's worth having a team of specialists handle.

And reducing churn makes a big difference. The longer your customers continue buying from you, the more money you'll make from them. Without more effort from sales.

4. Sales pipeline metrics

A variety of measurements that show sales teams how many leads and prospects are moving through the sales funnel and where they are.

How many leads do you have in the pipeline? How likely are you to close on the clients? What's their potential value?

All of these questions can be answered with data pulled from your sales pipeline. With a sales-focused CRM, getting the data is easy. In the Close CRM, for example, it's all displayed right where you can find it.

close-crm-opportunities-sm

But you'll need someone with the skills and experience to analyze that data and turn it into actionable ideas. That's where sales operations analysts and managers come in. They can track—and improve—those metrics.

5. Sales forecasting

Predictions, based on various models, of how much revenue a sales team will bring in over a specific amount of time.

Sales operations teams are experts in getting data from CRMs. And when you combine that with statistical and Excel skills, you get predictive power. Sales ops analysts can take data and make valuable predictions.

You might use that for resource planning, hiring, presenting to the board, or for getting more investors. There are all sorts of uses for accurate sales forecasts, but you need the people on staff who can make those forecasts.

If your forecasts are improving (i.e. you're bringing in more revenue over time and you're getting better at predicting it), your sales ops team is doing its job.

Not sure how to start forecasting your sales? Check out our list of 23+ sales forecast templates to get started. It has everything you need to find the right forecast template and learn how to use it.

6. Sales cycle length

Average amount of time between first contact with a prospect and closing a deal.

How long does it take to move a deal from first contact to close? If your sales ops team is doing its job, that number should be going down. With better leads, more efficient processes, and more time available for selling, salespeople should be posting faster results.

It might take a while to see a change in this KPI, so be patient. You might see movement in other factors before this changes, and that's fine. Everything's connected, and you'll start bringing in faster sales soon.

7. Time spent selling

time-spent-selling-kpiThe amount of time that reps spend on the phone or in a meeting room, as opposed to doing administrative tasks.

You may not be tracking this metric yet, but it's a good one to keep an eye on. How much time do your reps spend selling? There are a few ways to track this. 

The simplest way is to ask your salespeople; they know how much administrative work they're doing. And when they start to feel like they're doing less, sales ops is working.

You might also track it by the number of calls or emails your team sends out. The more calls, the more time your reps are spending selling. (One way to drastically increase the number of calls your sales reps make while also reducing the amount of time they spend manually dialing numbers, logging calls and waiting for a prospect to answer the phone is to use a predictive dialer.) And that's good. If you really want accurate data, though, you'll need to find a way to measure exactly how much time your reps spend selling vs. how much time they spend doing everything else.

Sales operations strategy: Process, framework, & steps to follow

Want to start your own sales operations team and get more out of your sales reps? Here are the things your sales operations manager (and any other team members you have) should work on. Follow this step-by-step process to develop a framework of support for your selling:

Step 1: Set up analytics

Sales ops needs a lot of data, and they know which data better than anyone else. So you’ll want to put them in charge of setting up sales analytics. That data will inform everything else they do, which is why it's important to get analytics set up right away.

This process also includes coming up with questions that your ops team wants to answer. This can take a while, so don't rush it; your investment in sales operations is a long-game play.

Once they've collected a bunch of data and started to see where your sales program needs improvement, they'll start taking action, so be patient until then. That's when it gets exciting.

Step 2: Nail down compensation

sales-team-compensation

Your sales ops team will help you get the right salespeople on your team. But before you do that, you need to figure out what you're going to pay them. Your sales operations team will look at data from your industry, within your company, and in your part of the country to figure out the best system of compensation.

Don't underestimate this point. The right salary and sales commission structure can make a huge difference in the performance of your sales team. That structure has to reward making the right kind of sales, not just any sale. And sales ops knows which sales you need to make.

Putting that system in place before you move on to the next steps of the framework will save you a lot of time down the road.

Step 3: Make a plan for hiring and onboarding

Once you have your compensation figured out, sales ops can start getting involved in hiring.

Sales ops actually has a surprising amount in common with human resources. Your ops team understands the compensation structure better than anyone else at your company, including where your team is strong and where it's lacking. They're also in communication with most of the other groups in your company.

In short, they're well positioned to have a say in sales hiring decisions. And once you hire, they can continue to guide the process through onboarding. Their knowledge of tools, processes, and training means they know what your salespeople need to know.

If you want some advice on how to onboard sales reps effectively, check out our free sales onboarding template.

Even if you're not hiring more salespeople yet, laying the groundwork for future hires is worth doing right away.

Step 4: Assign territories (or whatever method you use for assigning leads)

assign-territoriesIn the past, sales reps had geographic territories. They still might today, but it's more likely that your sales technology lets them sell to anyone, anywhere, at any time. But that doesn't mean they all sell to the same kinds of people.

Your sales ops team can look at data to make sure each rep is getting in touch with the prospects they're most likely to sell to. Some salespeople might have trouble selling to enterprises, for example, so ops will assign them small business leads.

If you do use territories, your ops team will make sure your reps are spread out to best make use of their time.

Making the adjustment to new assignments takes time and can be a pain in the ass. But get your ops team on this right away. You might be surprised how much of a difference it makes.

Step 5: Optimize your sales CRM

Are you getting the maximum benefit from your CRM? Probably not. CRMs are complicated, and when you first bought yours, you probably set it up as quickly as possible so you could start using it right away.

Even Close, which is very simple to use, can make your team much more productive. But your salespeople don't have the time to figure all of that out.

That's what ops is for. They'll help get your CRM set up so your sales group gets the most use out of it. They might also make sure that your data is of high quality, clean your database, and maintain the CRM to make it works properly. Some ops teams might take care of this while they're setting up analytics, but if they didn't, now's a good time to do it.

Again, this makes your sales team more efficient and lets them bring in more revenue. Seeing a pattern here?

Step 6: Plan product, sales, and CRM training

sales-team-training

There are three types of training that your sales team needs: product, sales, and CRM. How do you know what kind of training your team needs? Just ask sales ops. Based on the data they've collected, they'll see where your team is weak and recommend the best course for correcting that weakness.

They may or may not run the trainings depending on the topic and who's on your ops team. They might recommend an external training instead. Whatever the case, they'll have a good reason for it.

Once everything else is set up, it's worth looking into development. In fact, it's pretty much always worth looking into development. And your sales ops crew will help make sure you're making the most of it.

Step 7: Optimize the sales process

Your sales process is at the core of your sales team's success. But your process, frankly, probably sucks. If you don't spend time making sure that it's awesome, it's going to fall apart. And that happens. Maybe you didn't spend enough time setting it up in the first place. Or maybe it just got out of control as your company grew.

No matter how it got to where it is, sales ops now has the information they need to get it running at full speed again. They can see inefficiencies and identify ways to improve them.

This is where you get to set your ops team loose and let them do what they do best. If you don't have specific requests for what they should be improving, give them the authority to seek out and destroy inefficiencies in your processes. That's what you hired them for in the first place.

Sales operations best practices: Tips for success

Okay, so we've seen how to structure your team, what they should do, and when they should do it. Once your ops team is up and running, it's time to make sure they're getting what they need and delivering the results that will help grow your business.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure that happens.

Keep sight of the goal

Sales operations should ultimately do one thing: help salespeople close more deals faster. If your ops team is working on anything else, you're not getting the most of their time and effort.

Data-savvy problem solvers are bound to identify many problems and suggest great solutions. That's awesome. But if those problems and solutions aren't focused on improving your sales process, they're just distractions.

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How to do it: To help keep that focus, make sales operations metrics a big part of your sales ops program.

Focus on the right metrics

Remember that sales ops isn't just about selling to more people. It's about bringing in more revenue. That might mean you need to decrease churn to keep more customers paying you, increase LTV to get more out of each sale, or shorten the sales cycle. All of the sales metrics we talked about above are good measures of how your ops team is pushing sales.

How to do it: Review your metrics regularly and make sure your sales ops team knows that's how you'll measure their success.

Spend time on pricing

How much time have you spent making sure that your pricing structure is the best in your industry? Probably not nearly enough. You're not selling on price—you're selling on value—but you need to have the price structure that brings in the most revenue.

How to do it: Your sales ops team has the data and the smarts to make sure your pricing structure kicks ass. Make sure they know it's a priority.

Start with leads

Sales operations works with your reps throughout the entire sales process, from lead generation to follow-up. Make sure they start with leads.

Your entire sales funnel is built on the quality of your leads. If they suck, your reps will waste a lot of time and have little to show for it. If they're awesome, your reps will get great results. It's that simple.

Your sales ops team can increase the quality of your leads a few different ways. They can take over the entire lead generation process themselves, or they can use data to advise your salespeople on how to find better leads if they keep control of the process.

There are lots of other places to make improvements, too, but all of those places are built on a foundation of good leads. Starting here means your sales and ops teams can get the best results from future improvements.

How to do it: When your ops team starts to work on improving sales and operations, be sure to tell them that they should prioritize lead generation and improving lead quality. Once they've done that, they can move on to other tasks.

Work with marketing and sales enablement

work-with-marketingSales operations is a cross-functional team. They work with just about everyone, from sales to human resources. They can also be a huge help to both marketing and sales enablement teams.

Because sales ops and sales enablement are closely related, it makes sense for them to work together. If nothing else, to make sure that they don't overlap too much in what they're doing.

How to do it: Your marketing team is invested in leads, managing a lot of data, and analytics, and so is your sales ops group. Get them working together to make sure they're both getting what they need to support your sales process.

Don't neglect development

I mentioned how sales ops can identify training opportunities for your sales team. It's easy to skip over that—it costs money, you just brought on a few ops people, and your salespeople are already super busy.

But don't overlook it. Your sales team, your sales ops group, your marketing crew—hell, even you—need to continually improve your skills and knowledge. Let your sales ops team drive that process.

How to do it: When outlining your goals for the quarter or year, include professional development. Set a goal for the number of training hours your team will complete or some new skills they'll learn.

5 best software and tools for sales ops

1. Spotio

spotio-softwareIf your sales reps work in the field, Spotio will help them make more sales in less time. It combines sales intelligence with territory management, route mapping, canvassing features, and a whole lot more.

2. InsightSquared

insightsquared-pipeline-dashboard

With a focus on providing all-encompassing sales data to teams, InsightSquared is a great tool for sales ops. It provides an absolutely monumental amount of data that helps you improve the accuracy of your data and forecasting.

You can get insight into your pipeline, your sales team's results, forecasts, and a whole lot more. This is a seriously powerful tool. 

3. Close

close-crm-activity-overview-report

When we built Close, we focused on helping salespeople be more productive and close more deals. But we also knew that sales ops teams would be using it, too. So we rolled some sales ops functions into our CRM.

For one thing, we made sure that analytics are presented in an actionable way. Our reporting keeps everything simple so you don't need an advanced degree in statistics to understand it. These simple reports make it easy to identify a single metric and work toward improving it—exactly the process we discuss in our founder's guide to sales operations.

And because these sales ops features are built directly into the CRM, you don't need to figure out how to implement Salesforce (or hire someone else to do it) to make use of them. It's everything you need for sales and sales ops in an affordable, easy-to-use package.

4. fullcast.io

fullcast.io-dashboardWith three different modules that focus on three sales operations lifestages, fullcast.io is a great resource for any team interested in boosting their sales ops game.

The first module includes things like territory design, quota setting, and forecasting. The second packs funnel metrics, data visualization, and reporting. The final module is focused on enforcing your sales policies, including lead routing and privacy.

5. Grow.com

grow.com-sales-marketing-overview

You have data from a lot of sources. Grow.com helps you integrate all of those sources into a single source of information for your business. That's exactly what your sales ops team needs.

It also has built-in features for sharing your analytics and visualizations, which is super helpful when you're trying to align your entire team around what's happening.

Grow your company with sales ops

Your sales team is responsible for bringing revenue into your company. Your sales operations team helps them do it faster, better, and with a lot less hassle. It's a crucial part of your sales organization.

From lead generation to CRM training to reporting and analytics, your sales ops team can take your company's sales to the next level. If your company is dependent on sales (and who isn't?), you want to get on top of your sales ops. Whether that’s by simply having one person spend some part of their time on this, or building out an entire department—someone should think about how to support your sales team in generating more revenue.

You really don't need to go build an entire sales operations team on day one. Bring in one person to help support your team. Have them maximize the value you're getting out of your CRM and your sales process. Get them working with a simple, effective tool like Close that allows your team to scale as you grow.

Then start building from there. In no time at all, you'll have an absolutely indispensable team that's giving you a huge advantage over your competitors who haven't yet realized the value of sales ops.

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