Finding the Next Sales Ops Hero (Part 1)
Written by
Ari Klionsky

I don’t sell software anymore — I make everyone else sell software better. I joined sales ops because I was ready to give up carrying a bag — but not the tempo of sales. In doing that, I’ve moved from a “hunter/gatherer” to “strategy/financial/business consultant” for the sales team. Sound interesting? I’ve laid out the skills and experiences that will help you in sales ops and what will hold you back.

What is Sales Ops anyway?

Sales ops covers all the areas that support the sales team; the exact functions differ slightly based on each company’s specific needs. At Five9, it includes deals/transaction management, compensation/commissions, sales enablement, forecasting/planning, data analysis, and sales systems (like Salesforce, commissions systems, etc.). Sales Ops partners across the company with marketing, finance, support, product development, etc. to help drive process improvements.

You need diverse skills. First, systems. You need to master your CRM/pipeline/prospecting systems like Salesforce.com.  It’s a balance, though. You need to offer tools that help you and sales management analyze sales successes and shortcomings, but not over-burden reps with data entry.   

And there will be no shortage of vendors telling you they’ll make your world better. When you’re inundated with vendor promises, it's your job to evaluate and implement tools that will make a massive impact.

And know Excel really well; you’ll be using it a lot.

Your sales team will come to you with questions on contracts and pricing. You need to know when to say “yes” and, just as important, when to say “no.”  Whether it’s because of mix, margin, or billing terms, you’ll have to veto deals that aren’t good for the company. You’ll also need to know your limits and when to bring in the big guns — lawyers, CFO, etc. — to craft deals that benefit both your company and the customer. Sales Ops needs to be extremely tactical one minute and strategic the next and also balance rigidity of hard and fast “rules” with creative flexibility to get deals done.

You need to be able to look at your organization, figure out what’s wrong and suggest improvements. You’ll get questions like:

- Where in the sales process are deals getting bogged down? Why?
- Are we anticipating the customer’s buying process?
- Does sales  have right materials at each phase of the buying/selling process?
- How accurate are reps’/teams’/regions’ forecasts?  
- Does our comp plan(s) incent the right behavior and reinforce company goals?
- How do we compare to last quarter/year — what can we learn from that?

I saved the best for last: Your ability to collaborate with your teammates may be more important than whether you can answer those questions. You’ll fail if you can’t work with partners and other departments like finance and sales to push through cross-functional initiatives.

If all this strikes a chord, a few positions make the transition to sales ops easy. In my next post, I’ll go through each one in detail.