Scaling your business with Sales Operations

Matt Tharp's picture

Scaling your sales organization requires more than reps and leaders. A critical and sometimes misunderstood function of high growth sales teams is the operations function. There is no one-size-fits-all playbook, but this post can help you think through the key factors in growing and building your sales ops team.

Variables to consider

Every business must consider different variables that may change how and when you add sales operations. Global or highly distributed teams may require more operational support sooner. Hypergrowth organizations trying to scale sales aggressively may want to consider investing in sales operations sooner, and investing in the reporting/forecasting component of sales ops.  Simple products may require less training resources. However, a good rule of thumb is if you have at least 10+ sales reps, it’s time to think about operations.

What is sales operations?

Sales operations, or “Sales Ops” to which it’s most commonly referred, is typically made up of a set of functions designed to help with the back-office functions of the sales organizations. This most often includes roles like:

  • Sales process management

  • CRM Implementation management

  • Sales tool development

  • Reporting (monthly/quarterly), Forecasting, Quota attainment

  • Pricing/Discounting governance

When should you think about building sales ops?

As soon as sales leaders start a formal forecasting process and need more experienced data analysis, it’s a good time to start having dedicated sales ops headcount. For a while, and with only a few reps you can survive being opportunistic but once you get to 10 or more reps, it’s time to start being more strategic and leveraging advanced analytics to forecast and plan. The super power of the average sales leader is not statistical modeling and analytics - they should optimize around working on critical deals and large customers, not building spreadsheets and pivot tables for the CFO. 50%-70% of a sales leader’s time should be spent engaging the sales team and improving performance, especially with a team under 50. As the team starts to grow and you have managers/directors to engage with reps directly, a sales leader can start focusing more on planning for scale and using data driven, repeatable models for sales growth.

Who owns sales ops?

There isn’t a standard, but organization size has the greatest influence on the reporting structure of sales ops. In many organizations, especially larger enterprises, sales ops is likely to report to the sales VP/SVP. In smaller organizations, it’s more common to see sales ops report to business operations leaders like the CFO or CEO. While the teams are small, the sales ops function is almost entirely dedicated to internal reporting, analysis, and helping with compensation, but as teams scale sales ops is more likely to add functions dedicated to sales deal support and pricing/proposal development. At the end of the day, the sales leader has to own the number and needs a strong sales ops function to help create a clear plan for what’s probably, and what’s possible, so the organization can build strategic plans.

When to scale?

Here is a rough guide for how and when to scale your sales ops organization:

Sales team size 25-50

  • 3-5 dedicated resources

  • Focused primarily on sales forecasting

  • CRM/Sales process implementation

  • Performance reporting

Sales team size 50-100

  • 5-10 resources

  • Sales forecasting

  • Process management/governance

  • Performance process (incentive structures, gamification)

  • Pipeline management

  • Performance reporting

Sales team size 100+

  • Sales ops leader

  • Sales forecasting

  • Process management/governance

  • Performance process (incentive structures, gamification)

  • Pipeline management

  • Team level performance reporting

  • Territory optimization

  • RFP/RFQ

  • Contracts

These are rough guides and how they apply to each unique team will be largely based on the experience of the sales ops team and sales leadership. The more experienced they are in building a sales org, the more autonomous each can function and ops can act as a connector between the sales leader and finance org. Regardless, in a well functioning organization sales ops and sales leadership should be connected at the hip.