Sales Operations and Grenades

2016 is the year every sales leader will be thinking about sales operations as a more strategic arm for their business. After EXCEED, the need to bring Sales Ops leaders together was even more clear. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend TOPO’s Sales Ops Council, their second-ever small gathering of Sales Ops professionals.

With EXCEED’s focus on sales operations, I’ve recently been thinking about Sales Ops leaders’ breadth of responsibilities and their challenges when it comes to prioritization. The lists are varied and endless: at the Sales Ops Council, we heard about a wide range of initiatives, from “making CRM the source of truth,” to doing better account planning and mapping power relationships, to integrating teams and sales processes after $100M acquisitions.

Photo by Craig Rosenberg.

Choosing the Right Challenge

Bill Schwidder, VP of Business Operations at Zenefits, talked about one of the biggest challenges in sales ops: the “grenades.” His clever name described lofty initiatives that are important yet complex. Sales ops sits on a minefield of grenades. The task for Sales Ops leaders is to pick and choose their grenades carefully, and then commit to planning and executing a flawless strategy that solves for the chosen grenade. Nods of empathy went around the room as everyone reflected on their own day-to-day grenades.

The Four Mandates

Tom Gadd, Director of Sales Ops at Nitro, Inc., then explained his 4 mandates of sales operations: 

  • Efficiency
  • Effectiveness
  • Where we’ve been
  • Where we’re going

Tom described efficiency as the path toward reducing the selling effort required for the same output.  This concept is sometimes confused with effectiveness, which is about increasing selling effort.  He advised the room to identify ways to move from a reactive to a proactive approach, and to consider how you can make meaningful impact as opposed to being asked for. In a tongue-in-cheek way, Tom basically says, “No,” every time someone asks him for a report.  (He’s obviously not doing that to be rude, but to understand more about the need and not be a task-master.) When Sales Ops leaders are asked for a report, he suggests asking the following in response:

  • What decision(s) does this data support?
  • What story are you trying to tell?
  • Do these results impact revenue?

What’s next?

The discussion ended with the fourth mandate of “Where we’re going,” which was all about sales forecasting. As Tom described, sales forecasting requires a tight alignment of process and technology.  The combination of MEDDIC with rigorous processes has improved Nitro’s sales forecasting, but it somehow still manages to end with the following: “We export CRM data and still do a lot in Excel.”   

Sales forecasting is only the beginning of “where we’re going.” Craig Rosenberg, TOPO Co-Founder and Chief Analyst, opened the council by remarking on the energy of the group in front of him. At the end of the session, the need for a network to harness that energy was clearer than ever. If you’re in Sales Ops, join your peer Sales Ops leaders in the EXCEED community to continue the conversation.

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