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February 01, 2016
If Your Sales Ops Leader Doesn’t Sound Like This, You’re Losing Money
With our team, product, and customer base growing, we need our reps to be their best — effective, efficient, and consistently doing what works. It’s time for a new kind of leader on the sales team who can cut through the noise, refine rep actions, and arm reps to make a persuasive case in every sales opportunity.
Meet Kharisma Moraski.
You’ve heard us talk about elevating the sales ops role. Now that it’s time for a dedicated sales ops leader, we needed the best. That’s Kharisma. A former sales leader, she is now redefining the ops role. She knows how to bring a sales team to a new level of performance as she shifts breezily between strategy — defining personas, company characteristics, and business cases — and nitty-gritty tactics from sales tools to territory assignments.
In our usual spirit of sharing what we know to benefit all sales teams, we sat down with Kharisma to get her take on Sales Ops:
1. Why is Sales Ops important?
Think about buying a house. So often, a house looks beautiful, but inspection exposes sub-par plumbing, electric, or materials. You can see — maybe even want to see — yourself living in that house. But buying it will mean expensive remodeling, hassle, and long-term pain. Your beautiful investment would become a money-pit nightmare.
Companies underinvesting in sales ops are building poorly-built houses. Early on they look fine, even exciting. But cracks become chasms and you find yourself hit by the one-two punch of wasting money on ineffective sales initiatives and missing out on revenue. Your investment in sales fails to hit its potential because it lacks infrastructure and a solid foundation.
What’s especially sad is companies facing this sort of breakdown immediately blame reps and sales leaders when the real problem is lack of ops investment.
2. Can you talk about one of your more interesting Sales Ops projects?
Sales ops is where vision for growth meets execution. So it probably won’t surprise you that my favorite projects pushed me to keep one foot in each camp.
At Trulia, I built the company’s infrastructure from ground up — we needed a lasting foundation to drive more revenue, faster. The challenge was we were already growing quickly — so we needed territory and channel planning, comp plans, quotas, new analytics, inside and field sales handoffs, better team communications — everything. The new foundation we built became the visible expression of our company sales strategy. How can you not love doing that?
I’ll go a little deeper on inside sales and field sales handoffs. It seems easy, but doing it poorly means a shocking amount of lost revenue. Deals fall through the cracks and no one even knows. So one piece of advice I’d give organizations with both inside sales and field reps is to design and reinforce seamless coordination. The old saying that selling is a team sport is true — unless everyone works from the same playbook, sales organizations can’t operate at full power. And smooth coordination is never an accident.
3. Who should Sales Ops report into?
You’re not shying away from the controversial stuff — I like that. First, this really will differ among organizations based on culture and structure. But some things are universal: a peer relationship is more real and honest than a reporting relationship. So it is, or at least should be, more effective.
In most cases, a VP of Sales Ops reports to the VP of Sales. I’m not saying this can’t work, but the VP of Sales Ops is all about process and execution and VP of Sales is all about growth and vision. They are both critical and intimately interrelated, but not the same. So a reporting relationship can lead to conflict, typically showing up as a sacrifice of long-term performance for short-term gain.
When the VP of Sales and VP of Sales Ops report into the same person (or simply maintain a discipline about working as peers), you have the best collaboration toward a common goal. This is a little like the reason VPs of Sales and Marketing are separate, but of course the relationship between Sales and Sales Ops is even closer on a daily basis.
In larger companies, I’ve also seen Sales Ops report to Finance. But no matter where Sales Ops sits, the top goal remains the same: increasing revenue in the short and medium term by making sales scalable.
4. Why do Sales Ops leaders need a seat at the executive table?
Sales ops needs a seat at the executive table because … what is vision without execution? Both need equal representation. In manufacturing, they talk about “designing for manufacturability.” In the same way, strategy absolutely drives Sales ops priorities. At the same time, execution insight from sales ops must inform strategy. Everyone would agree a seemingly-brilliant but unworkable strategy is waste of time, but we’ve all seen it.
The best sales ops leaders aren’t afraid to draw conclusions different from those of the rest of the executive team. One of the responsibilities of sales ops is to tell sales leadership the truth, even when it’s not pretty. If the VP of Sales says, "We've got a $10 million pipeline, it's amazing," but next month the sales don’t materialize, that $10 million pipeline is BS. And if the VP of Sales Ops didn’t know that — in advance — they are the one falling down on the job.
Again, we want to think of the VP of Sales Ops as process and execution and VP of Sales as growth and vision. Together they are a phenomenal machine. If you arbitrarily set only one place at the table, you have to pick between the two. So what do you care about most? Believing in your $10M pipeline or knowing what’s real to make the number?
5. So, is there a power struggle between Sales vs. Ops?
Yes and No. I’ve talked about some natural areas of tension, but never forget: sales and operations share the same goal. Not just a general shared goal like “company success,” but a very specific one: make the number … quarter after quarter.
The best sales ops leaders help the sales team spend more time selling and less time worrying about reporting, cross-functional coordination, and operational management. Most VPs of sales are strong leaders of people, recruiters and "rain makers." But they don't typically love staring at spreadsheets, analyzing metrics, and working out optimal compensation systems to align incentives with strategy. Why force a dynamic sales leader to do what they dislike and may not emphasize? That’s the role of sales ops.
Similarly, sales and marketing alignment is critical — but hard to execute. VPs of Sales can be too busy chasing deals and coaching their managers and reps to be in the office discussing competitive intelligence with marketing. Again, that’s the role of sales ops.
Having been in both roles, I know sales and sales ops leaders are business partners — advisors, mutual champions, truth tellers. Businesses need both roles to function. For the VPs of Sales to crush their number, they need infrastructure they can trust and Sales Ops can double the effectiveness of their sales force. For the VP of Sales Ops to drive that effectiveness, they need the sales team to trust that ops is making their lives better. It’s a great partnership because the VP of Sales is fixated on the future while the VP of Sales Ops also looks backward to identify opportunities for improvement … and delivers on those opportunities.
6. What’s the #1 thing that sets you up for success in your role at Clari?
Without a doubt, I’m a better sales ops leader because I have have been a quota bearing rep and sales manager. I understand the pain points from all sides. I am 100% invested in making sales successful. We’ve discussed areas of tension and I’m not pretending they don’t exist. But potential tension is nothing when the sales team knows my commitment to their success. This empathy will help a ton as I’m making process changes to make us even better in the future.
7. So, why Clari?
This is a big question because I wasn’t looking. But then I heard their vision for elevating sales ops — eliminating the data entry and basic reporting gofer tasks so ops can get to the more important work of growing the business. They want sales ops to be the right hand source of data and insight for the VP of Sales. It sounded like me talking. It’s like a person who likes to build rockets working in their garage … or taking a job at NASA. At Clari, I could run sales ops in a new way and at the same time help thousands of others ops people to see the light.
I knew I wanted in.