What Star Trek Can Teach Us About Sales Operations


By Mark Donnolo and Michelle Seger

In high-performing companies, the sales operations function is the back-office engine that helps the sales organization drive revenue and profitability. Also called sales excellence or sales enablement, its primary purpose is to improve sales productivity and enable sales to attain outstanding results. This function often oversees or influences sales analytics, sales role and process definition, pipeline management, sales compensation, sales training, technology, and proposal management, among other key areas.

A good analogy is to think about sales as Captain Kirk at the helm, pushing for warp speed, while sales operations is more like Scotty, powering the mission from the engine room. It takes both to reach the next frontier of growth.

However, if it’s not working well, sales operations can become the dumping group for tasks and roles that sales doesn’t want. The engine room gets bogged down, weakening the team’s ability to drive growth. The team becomes lost in minutiae or caught up in putting out fires, losing focus on growth. To avoid this fate, sales operations leaders must define a clear strategy, build revenue-enhancing functions, and focus on a set of sales productivity initiatives that will demonstrate a return on investment and fuel future growth for the organization.

The Survey Says

To keep an eye on best practices, SalesGlobe regularly surveys a range of companies across industries. In our 2018 survey, 58 major companies participated, with one third in technology, one quarter in manufacturing, and the balance across industries. From our research and project work, we’ve defined a few primary actions sales leaders should take to optimize sales operations:

  • Create a sales operations charter.
  • Focus on the right functions.
  • Drive return on investment.

Create a Sales Operations Charter

The top challenges that sales operations teams face are competing priorities, internal conflict between business units or leadership, and inadequate investment. While many sales operations executives have the urge to simply fix these issues, they should start by defining their charter.

The charter is critical to define the purpose, roles, and rules of sales operations. To create one, sales operations leaders must understand who their internal customers are, what they need, what they are currently getting, and what defines success in the future. For most sales operations organizations, their charter will include driving sales productivity and business results through the sales organization.

In our experience, companies without a clear charter struggle with competing priorities of multiple division sales leaders because they don’t understand who their customer is. They also suffer from shouldering the burden of multiple noncritical administrative roles because they don’t know what defines success.

Focus on the Right Functions

Once the charter is established, the next step is to clearly define what functions sales operations should handle. One pain point for sales leaders is having to seek information and resources to support sales from multiple places.

Case in point: SalesGlobe worked with a global communications company where the sales leader had to go to the human resources, finance, and compensation departments to get the resources for sales talent assessment, sales training, sales compensation, and quotas he needed to lead his team. We worked with leadership to define the essential functions that enable growth through the sales process, mapping each of those to the team that could most efficiently manage it with a growth orientation. For example, moving a support function like sales compensation between sales operations, finance, or HR will create a different orientation toward growth, cost control, or administration, which can ultimately affect the business.

Drive Return on Investment

Finally, leaders should set ROI expectations for the sales operations organization based on its charter and functions. Without clear ROI statements, such as how an investment in a sales process design project with the sales operations team will create efficiencies or increased productivity, the organization leaves itself vulnerable to future reorganization or cost-cutting based on the latest management theory from a new senior executive. Be brave when defining and demonstrating your ROI, because it can be a clear demonstration of value to the company. For each project, generate a statement of costs, expected returns, and timeframes.

Creating a clear charter, defining your functions, and demonstrating your ROI will get your sales operations organization on a path to driving growth. Taking these steps to optimize sales operations should be part of every company’s overall revenue road map.

This article originally appeared on ATD.