Sales operations: Finding ways to work smarter

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In a recent webinar, Dana Therrien, Service Director for Sales Operations Strategies at SiriusDecisions, shared a fresh way to look at the tactical and strategic accountabilities of modern sales operations and how to use that knowledge to create a strategy for optimizing resource allocation. Read the recap below, or watch the on-demand recording.

Rethinking sales operations

Sales operations has long been tasked with many time- and resource-consuming tactical functions. Often, that demanding work doesn’t leave sufficient resources to fully answer the strategy and planning questions coming from sales management. One way to look at the situation: Sales ops leaders spend their days putting out fires, leaving few resources to find ways to prevent them.

To help organizations create a resource allocation strategy that covers the higher-level work while addressing the tactical functions, SiriusDecisions developed a multilayer process for categorizing and evaluating everything that falls under the umbrella of sales operations.

Leveraging the SiriusDecisions Sunburst Model™

Dana discussed how to leverage the SiriusDecisions Sunburst Model™—first by breaking down the sales operations roles, responsibilities, and functions into key accountabilities, and then building out the detail, with the inner ring representing tactical items and the outer ring higher-level strategic functions.

sales operations roles, responsibilities, functions, accountabilities
SiriusDecisions’ Sunburst Model shows sales operations roles, responsibilities, functions, and accountabilities. The inner ring represents tactical items, and the outer ring gives higher-level strategic functions.

The Labor Grid

Once you’ve created your own Sunburst diagram, another valuable way to identify where to find efficiencies in your sales operations processes is to categorize the items in your sunburst into a Labor Grid, similar to the way the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank classifies Census Bureau labor information.

Types of work categorized by U.S. Federal Reserve Bank and the Census Bureau.
The Fed’s labor grid is a useful tool for categorizing sales-related work.

Where an item belongs in this grid isn’t always obvious. In the Fed’s example, sales agents fall into the upper-left quadrant, aka routine cognitive—even though that work may initially appear to be non-routine cognitive (upper-right quadrant). Organizations, however, invest a lot of money ensuring their sales process is repeatable, and sales people are held to that process. So sales agents have routine tasks they need to apply cognitively because every customer is different.

Going through this process highlights how certain jobs include items from both the inner and outer Sunburst rings and provides a better understanding of how resources are currently being used. That’s when the opportunities for reallocation become clear.

Dana provided an overview of how some sales operations jobs and functions can fit in each quadrant:

  • Place functions relating to operational business intelligence, BI, in the lower-left, routine-manual quadrant; dashboarding and data governance—inner ring items. Support staff assisting sales reps to manage and track their day-to-day business falls in this area.
  • Analytical BI functions such as forecasting, ad-hoc reporting, and ad-hoc analysis go in the routine cognitive quadrant. These are the repeatable strategy and planning tasks that require some specialization and analysis—inner ring and a few outer ring items. Though staff needs to be well trained to answer questions in areas such as sales rep productivity, much of the work is routine.
  • Functions in the non-routine cognitive quadrant draw exclusively from the outer Sunburst ring: data strategy, aligned metrics, and predictive analytics. The focus of sales intelligence in the Sunburst Model is exclusively user empowerment: providing sales people what they need to analyze performance against plan and giving them the intelligence on customers and competition necessary to choose, evaluate, and change decisions and actions. The highest-level positions reside here.
  • The non-routine manual quadrant items are a mix of analytical and intellectual, and inner and outer ring, functions. Customer and prospect insights are here. The people hired to run data science, to be the keeper of the numbers, fit here. This staff informs strategy and planning, as well as manages sales intelligence.

The allocation layer

Another approach with the categorization process is to look at which accountabilities should be centralized and which should be offshored or outsourced. Companies should decide which roles are the most tactical and could be replaced with technology or offshoring, freeing resources for higher-level strategy and planning functions.

Linking job classifications to staffing strategies
This grid can help you align staffing strategy with job classifications.

Left-side jobs, functions, and responsibilities represent the best opportunities to contain or reduce costs and staff. That opens up resources for higher-level, right-side needs such as hiring more skilled staff. This reallocation also allows for investing in strategic tools to contain the need for highly expensive head count. These are changes necessary for sales operations to provide excellent tactical support, as well as make the high-level contributions sales management demands that help fuel an organization’s success.

Laddering sales operations strategies to a company plan

Once sales operations’ roles and accountabilities have been identified, it’s time to tie this back to the business strategy. A cohesive business system can bring together data, people, and departmental plans to align sales priorities and cross-department collaboration. With visibility into the same data, you can model potential sales expansion scenarios to effectively structure sales operations teams. This centralized visibility can result in:

  1. An increase in the speed of sales operations’—or any team’s—planning process
  2. A team’s ability to execute in a timely manner and quickly respond to the plan
  3. Visibility into key global, regional, and departmental KPIs and metrics

For more on how to connect corporate strategy to sales execution, including how tools such as Excel may limit your potential, watch the webinar, “Sales operations: Finding ways to work smarter,” and read the research brief, “Sales operations: What can be outsource, offshored, and automated.”


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