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6 Key Areas to Optimize Sales Operations

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Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

It may not be considered the most glamorous aspect of sales management, but as business and technology have evolved, it’s widely acknowledged that getting sales operations right is imperative for a smoothly run, effective sales organization. On his blog, Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing even hails it as “THE most important and unsung hero for sales teams.”

Operations is the hub of sales organization efficiency. It’s responsible for how activities and outcomes are tracked, and how information is communicated to management for decision making—all with the goal of maximizing productivity.

That’s why operations is one of the eight components of the Sales Performance WheelSM, our framework for sales performance analysis. When we analyze a sales organization’s operational effectiveness, we tend to study the following six components:

  1. Data Management

    A clean and updated database is essential to sales success. At organizations of all sizes, sellers call names in the database that aren’t there, sellers don’t update their accounts and pipelines, and leads don’t get routed to sellers. A database can either enable selling success, or cripple it.

  2. Analytics and Reporting

    Most leaders want to know where success is happening, where failures are likely to crop up, and where the opportunities are to drive success. The foundation of a clean database starts this process. Analytics and reporting—the ability to make sense of it all—fuel decision making.

    80% of Elite and 58% of Top Performers agree that their reports allow them to analyze sales situations, actions, and results effectively, compared to only 37% of The Rest.

    Learn how we define Elite Performers, Top Performers, and The Rest.

  3. Forecasting

    Many businesses succeed or fail based on their outlook for sales in the next quarter or two. Without good forecasting, a business can either spend too much and lose margin, or spend too little and miss out on sales opportunities. Getting a handle on forecasting is not easy—only 60% of Elite companies believe sellers forecast their own pipelines accurately. However, that’s a lot better than The Rest at 19%.

  4. Pricing and Proposal Operations

    Time kills sales. Buyers get fired or reassigned, leave their jobs, bring in competitors, and more. And then there’s the Law of Diminishing Intent: the longer someone waits to do something, the less likely they are to do it.

    The faster sellers get help with pricing and proposals for important sales, the more sales they make. At Top-Performing companies, 75% of sellers adhere to established pricing guidelines, while only 56% at The Rest do. Pricing and proposal support needs to be fast, accurate, helpful, and designed to cater to the most important sales first.

    Read: How to Write a Proposal

  5. Quota Setting

    How high should you set quotas for various groups? It’s a question that many sales leaders grapple with. Quota-setting affects seller action planning, compensation expectations, turnover, motivation, and a host of other selling behaviors. Elite and Top Performers believe their performance targets are challenging at 83% and 82% respectively. The Rest come in at 72%. By definition, 100% of Elite and Top Performers meet their sales goals. Top Performers set higher goals and still achieve them.

  6. Accountability

    Perhaps one of the most common ailments of under-performing sales organizations is a lack of accountability. Management at Elite and Top-Performing Sales Organizations is significantly more likely to address under-performance issues (63% and 48% respectively), while The Rest is much less likely (31%).

    Letting under-performers linger too long reduces revenue, increases costs, and drags down margins. Further, it has a negative impact on culture. This is an area where gains in effectiveness improve both revenue and culture. With only 31% of The Rest and 48% of Top Performers succeeding in this area, the potential for improvement is obvious.

(Note: you might be wondering, “What about the sales technology stack?” We tend to look at technology through the lens of sales enablement, which is another category in the Sales Performance Wheel.)

Without a good handle on operations, sales organizations are inefficient and cost too much. Leaders have no visibility into how the organization is doing or what needs to change to drive performance higher.

If you want to make your sales operations more efficient, you should start with these 6 areas.

Last Updated September 28, 2023

Topics: Sales Management Sales Performance Improvement