The sales operations function is on a transformative journey. In working with many leaders, it’s clear that any sales operations organization can be plotted along a maturity continuum.
My colleague and fellow Gartner for Sales Leaders analyst, Steve Herz, has identified this continuum as consisting of three main phases:
- Commodity – excellence means fast and accurate service
- Capability – differentiated skills and offerings
- Competitive Advantage – unlocks value and reveals strategic insights
In many organizations, sales operations originated from a fulfillment or support function. The premise was that an operational team would lift burdens from the sales force. This would allow for more face time with customers, improve data entry and relieve administrative burdens. By design, the sales operations team was built to react to the needs of the sales force. However, it didn’t take long before progressive leaders in sales operations positioned themselves to be far more than a reactive resource.
There were many drivers in moving sales operations from a reactive resource to a proactive capability including the:
- Rising complexity of selling and the sales process
- Interconnectivity and stewardship of sales and back-office systems
- Increased business partnership between sales leaders and sales operations
In short, the sales ecosystem has become more sophisticated, received more funding and attracted more attention. Sales operations were in a perfect spot to fill this new need – they differentiated their skills and developed domain expertise. Moreover, a true business partnership relationship was born between sales and sales operations.
Even within sales operations, deeper functional expertise was created around systems, reporting, process, compensation and so on. Sales operations generalists used these subject matter experts as a complement to improve effectiveness. For some organizations, the combination of generalists and specialists led to a shift in mindset and a path for future growth.
Today, the more mature sales operations teams are undergoing another transformation. As Steve Herz describes:
“Advances in technology and access to big data are pushing even greater complexity deeper into the selling organization. From its central, coordinating perspective, sales operations can now unlock strategic sales and go-to-market insights that are inaccessible to other functions.”
Using reporting as an example, sales operations started by producing descriptive reports in response to requests. The next step was to push proactive and interactive diagnostic reports (or dashboards). The new goal for progressive sales operations leaders is to provide access to analytics that delivers prescriptive and predictive insights.
Sales operations have continued to shift from being reactive to proactive to predictive.
Sales operations leaders have a great opportunity to unlock value and help take their organizations to the next level. This is the sales operations evolution in becoming the latest source of competitive sales advantage.