At a recent Chief Sales Executive Operations Forum, Alexander Group explored how high-impact Sales Operations groups are enabling the Sales function to both add value to the customers they serve and achieve more strategic positioning for their companies.

Through a recent survey of Sales Operations practices, Alexander Group found that Sales Ops functions typically follow an evolutionary pattern that consists of four distinct phases:

The highest octane Sales Ops groups (Phase III) are in the growth business…they are in partnership with their field sales team to build and execute growth strategy. They do this by providing “business intelligence” to their field sales partners through insights and tools that can lead to net new revenue growth.

The CSE Operations Forum provided examples of what such top Sales Ops functions actually do to deliver consistently impressive results. These groups:

  • Take the lead in identifying customer needs
  • Boldly enhance sales productivity
  • Make sales enablement a priority

This three part series will cover what we learned about each of these points.


One keynote described a “eureka moment.” Paige Wittman of Andersen noted that “competitors had invested in low-end products while we had invested in the high end. Eureka! We realized we needed to play a different game than the competition.” What kind of game? A game where sales must sell and deliver more value to command a higher price. As another executive put it, “The first step to adding value is mastery of customer issues. Next is to reach executives who care about these issues. To do that, salespeople need better content.”

According to another executive, this sometimes means “un-teaching customers how to buy…we cannot afford to deliver insights at transaction pricing. We need to get away from talking about unit price and into discussing the total cost and benefit of ownership.” This type of discussion cannot happen at the Procurement level…it is a C–suite discussion. Sellers need the ammunition—the content—to have a meaningful discussion with executives who can impact the income statement.

Knowing this, Sales Ops is stepping in to uncover C-suite customer needs which product-centric marketing organizations often struggle to provide. Using survey technology to capture the “voice of the customer” as well as direct research with both customers and channel partners to add depth of understanding, leading Sales Ops groups are discovering the challenges that customers face and codifying (often by vertical) how select high performing sellers use innovative combinations of products and services to address these challenges. Paige Wittman added, “Sales Ops is charged with finding the insights. We prefer these insights to be discovered fast and be ‘good enough’ over meticulous, perfect and really slow.” Speed counts. To accelerate this capability, some companies are building vertical expertise directly into their Ops groups.

In many cases Sales Ops is not alone in the search for customer needs…they often take the lead in developing a productive, outcome-based relationship with Marketing. Several executives noted that to encourage such a relationship, Marketing resources have been re-deployed from HQ to the field as “Customer Marketing” groups that are much closer to the action. One executive indicated that his company had shifted more than two-thirds of its Marketing resources from HQ to the field. “The insight is in the trenches, so that is where our marketing resources are.” Marketing and Sales Ops, working together to discover insight and competitive advantage, are better than two groups working separately.

By leveraging Sales’ deep connections with the customer, Sales Ops’ ability to analyze large databases, and Marketing’s ability to spot trends and package materials, more and better customer insights are being discovered and made available to sellers. In some cases, these insights are sent “up the line to product development for possible investment.” Sales Ops groups are literally influencing the competitive positioning and future product lines of their companies. This mission-critical contribution has moved the role of Sales Operations a long way from merely sending out the commission accounting report.

Read Part 2 or Part 3 of this blog series or download the full executive summary whitepaper:

We invite you to learn more about Alexander Group’s 2014 Chief Sales Executive Reinvention Forum or read more about Insight-led Selling.

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