The evolution of sales operations: roles, responsibilities, and organizational design


SiriusDecisions, a research and advisory firm that focuses exclusively on business-to-business sales productivity and marketing, studies how sales reps spend their time. In one recent study, the company analyzed how much time sales spent on 39 activities, from responding to internal emails and calling customers to searching for sales content. The results of the study showed a significant difference between how sales reps spend their time in top-performing companies compared with average-performing companies. This blog discusses some study findings and outlines actions sales leaders can take based on them.

The SiriusDecisions Sales Operations Sunburst Model

First, some background: To help make sense of the sales operations role, SiriusDecisions devised a list of seven primary accountabilities that sales operations deliver to the company. Because the mission of sales operations is to drive sales productivity across the organization, SiriusDecisions then analyzed how much time and energy companies should devote to various accountabilities.

The research led to creation of the The SiriusDecisions Sales Operations Sunburst Model:

sales operations roles, responsibilities, functions, accountabilities

This graphic shows seven sales operations accountabilities (the words around the outside of the sunburst) and the specific functions within each. As you can see, sales strategy and planning and sales intelligence—the right half of the sunburst—comprise half of the model. This tells sales leaders that sales operations should focus the most time and energy on these two areas.

Sales strategy and planning needs to evolve

As a company grows, the sales operations organization typically moves from administering compensation plans to designing them. This is when sales leaders should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Are we aligned with corporate objectives?
  • Are we paying people for the behaviors we really want?
  • Are we getting the results from our compensation plans that we’d expect?

SiriusDecisions’ survey found that while three-fourths of respondents agree that compensation design is important, less than half say that they’re excellent at it. And yet, compensation is one of the top-line expenses that sales operations incur, so getting it right is essential.

Sales intelligence needs to deliver

As companies scale, sales operations moves from capturing and reporting disparate data points to delivering sales insights and actionable intelligence. While some organizations look to dashboarding for these deliverables, SiriusDecisions believes that dashboards are just a starting point—primarily because they offer only a static view of activity and are sometimes backward-looking.

To help meet the demands of modern sales organizations, sales operations needs to proactively deliver consumable, just-in-time insights that the sales force can leverage. For example, a news alert could trigger a message: “Your client got acquired. You might want to rethink that opportunity you thought would close this quarter.”

This kind of information is actionable for everybody in the sales organization.

The question of outsourcing

SiriusDecisions also found that some functions within sales operationss can be outsourced. However, outsourcing doesn’t necessarily mean that the work is performed by a third party. In some cases, it could be consolidated into a shared service center within the business—often known as a center of excellence. This practice is sometimes called “in-sourcing.”

Provided below are three main categories of work that SiriusDecisions said can be expedited, automated, outsourced, or in-sourced.

  • Administrative. This includes routine functions such as order validation, order processing, order tracking, and pricing optimization. These tasks are candidates for centralization, outsourcing, and in-sourcing.
  • Creative. This involves thought-driven work such as budgeting, planning, and compensation design. These functions could be delegated to a center of excellence for governance and standardization, with field-based resources for execution.
  • Delivery. These are routine, process-, or project-oriented tasks, and they are very strong candidates for centralization, standardization, streamlining, and even automation.

SiriusDecisions uses these three categories of work as a template to determine how to organize functions within sales operations and set the stage for growth. Companies that do this correctly may be able to bridge the gap between the tactical and the strategic, and save sales operations time that can be spent where it benefits the overall organization the most.

To learn more about how roles, responsibilities, and organizational design within sales operations have evolved, read the paper, “Sales Operations: What can be outsourced, offshored, or automated.

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Sales Operations: What can be outsourced, offshored, or automated

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