Profitable Sales Growth in Six Steps — Step 6: Leverage Sales Operations

Dharmendra Sahay and Scott Shimamoto

Selling has often been considered more art than science.

These days, however, the best sales forces are empowered by technology solutions and data.

Consider, for example, the relatively recent rise and growth of cloud-based applications, mobile technologies, social networks, big data, and sophisticated analytics. These trends and tools have been a gateway for many organizations to create greater sales force effectiveness.

In part, the march toward science is why sales operations continues to be increasingly vital to sales success. Why? According to Dharmendra Sahay and Scott Shimamoto, Principals at ZS Associates, sales operations is uniquely positioned to leverage data and technology to support the sales organization, diagnose issues, and design solutions. In fact, Sahay and Shimamoto define sales operations by six categorical functions, all of which have deep roots in science and technology:

  1. Data management. Sales operations managers help sales leaders pick and choose which data to examine. They also make sure data is clean, accurate, and complete (not to mention organized and rolled up into reports, ideally via a centralized and automated database).
  2. Platforms and systems. A sales organization’s CRM and other platforms or applications must be integrated, robust, and cost effective. The goal is for these assets to deliver value to the sales team in a scalable, flexible fashion.
  3. Reporting and administration. Sales leaders and the sales force don’t have much use for data that’s raw, inaccurate, or untimely. Efficient processes and accurate reports and dashboards enable sales leaders to respond to market challenges and drive revenue growth.
  4. Pricing and contracting support. Given the pace of business, it’s imperative that sales operations enables the sales team with high-quality proposals that can be turned around quickly and efficiently. Contracts must be positioned competitively; however, they must also fulfill company and customer objectives and establish mutual value.
  5. Analytics and business insight. Intelligent analysis of raw data can be invaluable for sales leaders: Which customers are most receptive to certain products? What are the best practices of top-selling reps in the organization? Analytics from sales operations can provide answers to these kinds of questions and help sales leaders base decisions on facts, not intuition.
  6. Lead generation and management. Many sales teams complain that leads from marketing are often useless. Meanwhile, marketers insist they’ve fulfilled their lead-generation objectives. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. The sales operations function can make generating, capturing, and following up on leads a seamless, cost-effective, and collaborative process.

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About the Experts

Dharmendra Sahay is a Managing Principal on ZS Associates' executive team and is based in the firm's New York office. He has worked extensively with his pharmaceutical clients to outsource and offshore sales and marketing support functions. Sahay has a BTech in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, an M.S. in computer science from Northwestern University, and an M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Scott Shimamoto is the Office Managing Principal of ZS Associates' office in Evanston, Illinois. Scott has helped many companies shape, enlighten, motivate and evaluate their sales and marketing organizations. In addition, Scott has extensive experience in incentive compensation, developing best practices in incentive plan design, goal setting and incentive program administration. He has a B.S. in electrical engineering from Vanderbilt University and an M.B.A. from Stanford University.