As a sales professional, your job is focused on helping your prospects and customers solve challenges with your product, service, or solution.
It sounds a lot easier said than done.
Sure, your role is absolutely critical, but today, closing new business and retaining existing accounts involves so much more than just you.
There’s also marketing, sales development, customer success, operations, procurement, and legal, just to name a few.
As buying cycles become more complex, more organizations are approaching sales as a team sport – one where several key players help push each deal across the goal line.
That’s where sales operations and sales enablement comes into play.
Sales operation vs sales enablement
Both functions work to improve sales force productivity and support reps before, during, and after the buying process.
But if you’re not familiar with either term, then it’s natural to wonder: What’s sales operations? And, is there a difference between sales ops and sales enablement?
First things first.
The definition of sales operations varies by organization, but at a high level, it’s about increasing the productivity and effectiveness of the sales team by reducing friction in the sales process.
Sirius Decision describes sales operations as “a force multiplier” and “the critical link between the development and the execution of the sales strategy and go-to-market strategy.”
Meanwhile, SalesHacker says it refers to the department, role, activities, and processes within a sales organization that support, enable, and drive front line sales teams to sell better, faster, and more efficiently.
Bottom line: If you have a sales operations team, they play a critical role in helping you achieve peak sales performance.
But wait, what’s the difference between sales ops and sales enablement?
Oftentimes, sales operations and sales enablement are seen as two sides of the same coin, with the overall goal of improving sales results.
While they share this common thread of driving predictable sales results, each side tackles the same goal from different perspectives. And each needs the other to move the needle.
Sales operations, on the one hand, is focused on building the foundation of a selling system, to provide a platform for the sales force to be as effective as possible.
That includes outlining the sales process, ideally based on an integrated methodology, powered by a CRM platform. They define the stages of the sales process, and how to manage the pipeline and build the sales forecast.
In all of these areas, the sales ops team defines the approach and provides the necessary tools so that sales managers and salespeople can operate most effectively.
Think of sales operations as the team of architects and engineers that design and build a house. They ensure the foundation is stable and robust, and that all of the major systems like the plumbing and electrical are functioning correctly.
Sales enablement, on the other hand, is focused on equipping and empowering the sales team to create value and relevancy as well as differentiation in every buyer interaction along the customer’s path.
That includes training the sales team on the related skills and competencies, equipping them with relevant and situational knowledge, plus enabling them with the right sales methodologies and strategies to effectively connect with the buyer.
Their responsibilities also include training and enablement of:
Think of sales enablement as the team of interior designers for a house. Once the foundation is built and the major systems are in place, they bring together all of the components to ensure a certain aesthetic flow and accessibility that delivers the best design and experience within the home.
Bottom line: The sales ops and sales enablement teams directly impact one another, as well as the sales team, that’s why it’s critical to make sure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities by clearly defining, documenting, and communicating expectations.
Everyone must work together every step of the way. But, given the commonalities between the functions of sales ops, sales enablement, and sales, it’s important to delineate where one ends and the other begins.
Now that we’re clear on the definition of sales operations and how it differs from sales enablement, let’s explore three things the sales operations team wants salespeople to know:
1. Your CRM is your friend.
Salespeople often misinterpret the value of using a customer relationship management (CRM) tool because they think it’s being used to police their activities and this couldn’t be further from the truth.
CRMs are adopted in order to enable and guide salespeople, not hinder their success.
However, the time-starved B2B buyer is also overwhelmed by the amount of content out there.
While today’s buyers may prefer to conduct research online themselves, it doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t interact with a salesperson during the process.
It’s easy to find information to help guide a decision, but that content isn’t always the right kind of information or it doesn’t answer all of the buyer’s questions.
That’s where the sales rep comes in.
Reps need to share relevant and insightful content that’s appropriate to the prospect’s stage in the sales cycle and aligns with your different types of buyer personas.
This means sharing content that provides a unique perspective on your prospect’s challenges, and provides them with actionable insights they can use to progress through their decision-making process.
Why it matters: Your sales ops team understands that you, the sales pro, needs to spend more time selling and less time hunting and pecking for the right resource.
Sales ops knows exactly where to find the right content asset that answers the most common questions your target audience asks at different stages of their buying journey.
So, the next time you find yourself frustrated by where a specific piece of content is, schedule time with one of your colleagues on the sales ops team and have them walk you through where to find the resources you most frequently need.
They’ll be eager to help and you’ll know precisely where to go next time. Win-win.
3. Current clients and existing accounts should be a top priority.
There’s nothing like the thrill of chasing a new prospect and landing the account, but acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing customer.
In fact, the success rate of selling to a customer you already have is 60-70%, while the success rate of selling to a new customer is 5-20%.
Certain customers—whether they're bigger, in a certain industry or location, you have a stronger relationship with, or they are just more open to new ideas—have greater opportunity for growth.
The first step in your account growth process should include targeting those accounts with the greatest opportunity and then working to develop a specific plan for each customer.
Why it matters: Your sales ops team prioritizes growth from all angles. They see and analyze all of the data in your CRM, marketing software, and other sales enablement technology, which allows them to draw insights and make decisions about sales strategy.
They ask questions like, “Which accounts are ripe for cross-selling? Which could use a price increase?”
Sales ops will usually then pass these answers on to you, encouraging you to increase your share of wallet and take action on the most profitable angles rather than wasting time pushing every single existing account to purchase more.
More often than not, this may mean focusing on existing customers rather than new deals.
Building the bridge between sales operations and the sales team
Sales ops directly impacts what the sales team is doing which means communication between these two teams is essential.
Sales ops must deeply understand the daily challenges and goals of the sales team, and the sales team must be open-minded to changes and suggestions about the sales process, pipeline, and procedures in place while also providing honest feedback for the sales ops team to take action on.
As a salesperson or sales manager, your sales ops team is one of your greatest resources.
They are the connective tissue that makes sure all your efforts are ultimately aligned with and supported by the right go-to-market approach.
They make that happen by digging into the process and performance of the sales team at both the individual and team level, and working to identify areas where the team shines but also highlighting spots that could stand to improve.
This insight allows sales ops to make valuable recommendations that not only benefits the sales team, but the entire business.
So, the next time your sales ops team requests feedback, suggests a new approach, shares a report, or optimizes the sales process, it’s for good reason.
It’s because they want you, the sales team, and overall business to accelerate growth, exceed goals, and make more sales easier.