If you’re in sales ops, stop reading. You’ve got at least 25 other things to do on your plate – what the Sales Management Association (SMA) refers to as a “disparate combination of tactical and strategic responsibilities.” With the profusion of analytical, detail-oriented skills required for the job, along with the call for you to design incentive programs, forecast sales, as well as support and create change, it’s no wonder that one of the qualities you’re most admired for is the ability to adapt.
“Refocusing Sales Operations” is based on data the SMA collected from 110 companies between July and October of 2016, and gauges sales operations’ strategic and tactical responsibilities, the challenges it faces in balancing the two, and the implications for sales ops departments’ future organizational role.
In general, the research suggests that people in and outside of sales ops view the function as having more responsibility for, and dedicating more people to, tactical as opposed to strategic activities. The same can be said about competencies. This is the case even though 58% of firms hold sales ops chiefly accountable for leading sales force change, 60% for sales technology investment, and 67% for performance management.
That they’re more recognized for tactical rather than strategic abilities is also curious, as firms entrust sales ops with many strategic tasks. Leadership supports them, other departments value them as a strategic partner, they’re “uniquely positioned to impact firm performance,” and they represent “a vital function for realizing sales force change.”
So, why is a department entrusted with so many high-level activities earning mediocre grades in the areas where it could be proving itself, pushing the entire organization towards a more stable, successful future?
For one, there’s the endless to-do list: the day-to-day demands of critical tasks like reporting and analytics, as well as the pressure to support other departments. Another reason that most everyone polled agrees on is understaffing. 63% of respondents report that their sales ops departments don’t have the number of staff needed to put strategic activities front and center. But the piece that most directly represents “a significant area of concern for sales ops practitioners,” particularly considering the expectations firms have of them, is their lack of focus on best practices and technological advances that could lessen the weight of everyday tasks.
The SMA indicates that technology could play a tremendous role in helping sales ops to raise its game: up-to-date departments perform at 10% to 37% better than those that haven’t stayed current. “Many sales ops departments (40%) do not stay abreast of changing technology and sales operations practices,” the researchers note. “This may reflect the impact of understaffing, or an excessive focus on tactical issues at the expense of strategic – two potentially self-reinforcing circumstances present in most respondents’ sales ops departments.”
Also of serious concern is sales ops’ questionable ability to support the sales force. Of the 6 (out of 15) areas in which respondents find the function to be deficient, perhaps sales forecast accuracy is the most worrisome. Only 23% of sales forces benefit from this capability. Sales reps’ ability to optimize selling time is also inadequate: just 39% of the respondents’ sales forces use their selling time in the most productive or efficient way possible.
With so many challenges to overcome, responsibilities to undertake, and important requests to fulfill, sales ops risks becoming either a dumping ground for administrative work or the department that exists to help other departments succeed. The question now is whether or not sales ops can dig its way out from under, drawing on the full force of its qualifications to lead its own much-needed change initiatives – and make a lasting mark.
To find out the 25 activities for which sales operations is responsible and to see how respondents answered probing questions about sales ops’ capabilities, download the full report, Refocusing Sales Operations, below.
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.