Does Your Sales Operations Function Succumb to these Five Common Pitfalls?

Sales Operations organizations come in many shapes and sizes. At the very least, Sales Operations typically handles the core “blocking and tackling” functions such as territory assignments, quota adjustments and sales compensation administration. In some cases, Sales Operations plays an important role in more strategic tasks including coverage model design, role and organization design and capacity planning. Most companies expand the scope and investment of their sales operations function as they grow bigger and more complex. Fortune 1000 B2B companies typically spend anywhere from 1% to 5% of sales just on sales operations headcount and programs.

Regardless of the scope of responsibilities of the Sales Operations function, the goal is the same: to drive greater sales productivity. However there are some common pitfalls that can cause problems, and occasionally hinder sales effectiveness rather than help it. Here are five pitfalls and some advice on how to avoid them.

#1) Sales Ops Buried by the Administrivia Avalanche.

In this instance, sales ops is actually asked to help with some meaningful sales effectiveness work – process, roles, territories, quotas – but is so buried in crediting decisions, exceptions management, comp administration and commissions complaints, they have insufficient time or bandwidth to adequately support these other efforts. Management has placed unrealistic expectations on what sales operations can handle and in essence, is set up to fail. It’s common over time for sales operations to become a sort of “dumping ground” for sales administration tasks that don’t clearly find a home somewhere else.

#2) Sales Ops Relegated to the “Children’s Table.”

Sales operations, perhaps related to the above issue, is simply not invited to key meetings or discussions on growth strategy and sales coverage. This exclusion often creates a gap or lack of alignment between the company growth imperatives and the focus and actions of sales operations. This can cause the wrong prioritization of tasks and or investments of time and resources. One of the key reasons behind issues #1 and #2 is usually poor sales operations role definition. Why shouldn’t we expect the “Business-Intelligence-Reporter-Territory-Planner-Comp-Designer-and-Administrator” role to be successful? Just as sales roles require clear definition of products, customers and process, so do Sales Operations roles. For Sales Operations jobs, customers are internal and “products” are internal sales enablers, but the same ground rules apply for ensuring clarity of purpose and efficiency of work.

#3) Sales Ops Falls into the Big Data “Black Hole.”

How often do leaders turn to Sales Ops for answers, when the data for such answers is seemingly unattainable? Nothing is more frustrating to the sales operations team than the inability to access or acquire the necessary data to help sales. Other times there is data, but the cleanliness of the data is so questionable that anything sales operations produces with it comes immediately under question or fire. Before asking Sales Operations to own, manage, process, and/or report on any kind of data, ensure the underlying data is “clean” and universally accepted as valid. Otherwise, Sales Operations’ credibility is undermined from the outset and a “garbage-in, garbage-out” albatross will forever be attached to any data-related outputs from Sales Operations. From channel partner sales data to CRM funnel information to sales compensation numbers and everything in between, credible systems and data flows are vital for Sales Operations to do its job.

#4) Sales Ops Succumbs to an Opaque Annual Planning Process.

Do you ever hear leaders complain about why quotas or comp plans are rolled out three months into the new year instead of in the first week? And how often does the Sales Operations team fall squarely in the target zone of blame for such delays? The reality is often that business and sales leaders do not stick to a disciplined timeline for completing key sales planning tasks, and so the downstream efforts of Sales Operations get compromised and squeezed into unmanageable time frames. The lack of a clearly defined and properly agreed upon annual sales planning process across the company is at the root of these types of delays. Make sure that business units and other functions such as IT, Finance, and HR all commit to and execute on meeting key process deadlines so Sales Operations can deliver on key milestones and launch dates.

#5) Sales Ops Afraid of its Multiple “Shadows.”

Creating a true Sales Operations “center of excellence” for one or more functions requires commitment from the entire company to that single team and the prevention of all investment in duplicative shadow resources. Senior executive direction and management is required to prevent business leaders from spending money to reproduce Sales Operations functions out of distrust or conflict with the central Sales Operations organization.

The pitfalls outlined above can marginalize Sales Operations’ efforts and derail activities intended to enhance sales productivity. Is your company experiencing any of them? Start addressing such pitfalls now so that Sales Operations can help drive revenue impact, increase sales effectiveness, and reduce inefficiencies for your sales organization.

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