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A Glimpse into the Future: 6 Sales Operations Trends Expected to Drive Success in 2018

In a world in which disruption has become the norm, the rules of success change constantly. Each year, new trends and technological developments force sales operations leaders and sales executives to reevaluate their strategies and technical arsenal – with revenue growth as the ultimate goal. The faster they adapt, the more they can leverage these changes and turn them into a competitive advantage.

The first step is to acknowledge the tremendous power within sales operations to transform sales results. Tapping into this potential will fuel greater revenue growth. According to McKinsey, “companies that build world-class sales operations functions can realize one-time improvements of 20 to 30 percent in sales productivity, with sustained annual increases as high as 5 to 10 percent.”

But what is the best growth strategy? What should sales operations professionals keep an eye on in 2018 to remain competitive? And where should sales organizations allocate their resources?

At the brink of the new year, all sales leaders are trying to answer these questions. And while technology cannot yet turn our computer screens into crystal balls that provide a detailed view of the future, solid human immersion in the world of sales operations – mixed with data and analytics – can provide strong evidence of what that future most likely holds.

Over the past year, I’ve been conducting my own assessment of the evolution of sales operations. Discussions with sales professionals around the world have helped me identify emerging trends that innovative sales ops teams can leverage to drive growth in 2018.

1. Enhancing Productivity with Process Automation

Let’s start with the essentials: salespeople. They bridge the gap between your customers and the products/services you offer, build credibility and trust in your company, and, if they’re motivated and incentivized, bring in revenue. Given the key role that reps play in the sales organization, it comes as a surprise—an alarming one—that they spend sixty-four percent of their time not selling. That’s five hours per day on activities and processes like reporting, dashboarding, searching for content, and completing other administrative and CRM-related tasks. None of which get your product out there.

Imagine how many potential deals go unrealized because sales reps, trapped at their desks, don’t have time to focus on the job they were hired to do. Look beyond the sales force, and you’ll find that misplaced energy and productivity loss extend to sales leaders and executives, who spend a good part of their day performing tactical activities. Reading reports and analyzing data take their focus away from implementing the company’s strategic priorities.

By tapping into the power of process and service automation in 2018, sales operations leaders can redirect sales professionals to zero in on those activities that contribute most meaningfully to the company’s health. Meanwhile, technology can take over repetitive or time-consuming tasks and perform them faster and more efficiently. Automate well, and you’ll enhance productivity while reducing costs. You’ll also improve predictions, outcomes, and accuracy.

According to McKinsey, “optimizing sales operations with automated tools or dedicated back-office units for specific tasks can improve revenue by 10 to 25 percent and reduce back-office costs by 20 to 30 percent.” Moreover, “at a macroeconomic level automation could raise productivity growth on a global basis by as much as 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually.

2. Moving to a Platform-as-a-Service to adapt to constant change

There’s more. The rise of process and service automation will empower sales operations to easily automate, tailor and extend the core processes that keep the organization running smoothly. No coding required.

How is this possible? Moving to A Platform-as-a Service (PaaS) enables users to create applications using software components that are built into the platform. The aha moment you have on Tuesday can easily be developed into a real application, and then streamlined into one integrated platform, within a couple of weeks. To top it off, an integrated platform will enable each new and existing component to communicate seamlessly with the others.

In a nutshell, PaaS gives sales organizations the agility to meet dynamic, continually changing business and technical requirements.

3. A Strong Focus on Strategy and Planning

Technology is just one of the forces that will drive sales success next year. Strategic growth planning and execution is the other. To this, sales ops is critical. But contradictions abound. As organizations have evolved and grown, sales ops has taken on too many tactical tasks, leaving the function with no real time to step back and think about the higher needs of the organization. According to a study conducted by the SMA, only 46% of firms agree that their sales ops people focus appropriately on strategy.

Even so, the benefits of a strategically geared sales operations function aren’t lost on those at the top.

As noted by McKinsey, “what sets the best sales operations organizations apart is their influential leadership roles among their peers…In many of these leading companies, the sales operations leader acts as the COO of the sales organization and the right-hand person to the senior sales leader.”

When given a voice, sales ops increases efficiency, drives change, and instills a culture of continuous improvement within the organization. Deeply involved in all areas of sales, sales operations leaders understand the company’s strategies and priorities, are able to translate them into relatable indicators, and can track them via dashboards and scorecards — moving the entire organization closer to its strategic goals.

4. An Increasing Need for Data Science

At the same time, the goal of stepping up sales performance and growing revenue propels great sales ops teams to provide everyone in the sales organization with the most efficient tools and the most powerful data.

Sales reporting, data governance, dashboarding, ad-hoc analysis, business intelligence, the procurement of tools, and data management processes combine to keep sales ops on their toes. But this plethora of responsibilities leaves the function without the capacity to collect and analyze all the data the company needs to remain successful. Consequently, sales leaders, salespeople, and executive and board leadership teams are losing patience with sales operations’ lack of sales intelligence capabilities.

According to a new report by Sirius Decisions, the need to produce more intuitive and actionable data for all levels of the sales organization is fueling investments in data science solutions for sales operations teams.

Considered the future of sales intelligence, data science is a complex capability that enables the cleaning, maintenance, analysis and immediate availability of good data from a multitude of sources. Once the data is captured and curated, data science helps sales leaders predict results and make better-informed choices.

Which deals to prioritize? How long it will take to close a deal? What message will win over a specific customer? Which customers will churn? What changes will optimize performance within the organization? Advanced analytics – part of data science – provides an accurate answer for each of these questions and more. Raw data is easily analyzed and turned into insights that determine the best course of action.

According to Aberdeen, predictive analytics users retain 27% more of their customers, while sales organizations that enrich their sales forecasting with sales analytics grow revenue at a 63% greater rate year-over-year than those who don’t.

5. New Tools to Engage the Sales Force

Data science, advanced analytics, and most sales technologies were developed to help large and complex sales organizations thrive in a highly competitive world. They enable companies to capture data about leads, accounts, and opportunities; they also generate accurate forecasts and predict future outcomes. But according to Sirius Decisions, because most of these tools provide limited value to sales reps, adoption levels remain low.

Investing in sales technology that engages salespeople and improves their productivity is a challenge that sales ops must rise to in 2018. Sirius Decisions analysts recommend that sales ops leaders “conduct an annual technology assessment to maximize the value of past and current technology investments and guide future investments in solutions, process improvements and skill enhancements.” And they encourage sales ops leaders to always perform this assessment with the sales rep’s interests in mind.

Configuration, pricing and quoting tools, and mobile apps are among the most rep-friendly solutions driving adoption and productivity. Constantly on the move, sales reps need apps that go where they go and ensure instant access to key information about clients and prospects. Tools that facilitate collaboration and constant communication with managers and colleagues. That make personalized dashboards, with which up-to-the-moment business metrics can be visualized and acted on, immediately available. And that, taken together, empower reps to exceed individual and team sales goals.

6. Incentive Management: Understanding ASC 606 (IFRS 15)

2018 will also be the year a new corporate accounting rule in the United States changes the way commission expenses are recognized. The rule will affect all sales organizations.

ASC 606 (in the US) and IFRS 15 (internationally) require the amortization of commission expenses for individual salespeople over the length of contracts, if those contracts span longer than a year (previously, expenses would have been recognized immediately).

Sales Operations will have to prepare for and understand the effects of this disruption, as compliance is expected to impact an entire range of sales operations and finance leaders –- from the CFO’s, as decision makers, to end users, like accounting managers, finance managers, and compensation administrators.

Sales organizations will need to ensure that commission expense administrators systematically differentiate between contracts of one year or less and those that span a longer period. It’s also crucial that the company’s sales compensation management platform be robust and powerful enough to capture the required data. But the most substantive need is for organizations to focus on designing compensation plans that continue to motivate salespeople and drive the right sales behaviors.

Preparation is a prerequisite for success. While it’s true that no one can predict exactly what’s going to happen with your company, keeping track of future trends, and tapping into the forces expected to drive success in the year to come will help sales operations drive change and improve sales productivity.

Refocusing Sales Operations

What should sales operations focus on? Get your free copy of this benchmark research conducted by the Sales Management Association for key insights into today’s sales operations function.

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Mihai Popoaca

Senior Vice President, Professional Services

Mihai has more than 17 years of experience delivering business results for clients, with a focus on ongoing, successful relationship management through the design and implementation of dynamic sales performance systems. He currently leads Optymyze’s Professional Services organization globally and provides the overall direction of the organization’s growth initiatives.

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