Your Guide to Scaling Sales Operations
Mis à jour : 8 janv. 2020
Scale your sales team by optimizing operational sales metrics to improve performance
When's the right time to scale?
Knowing when and how to scale your sales team depends heavily on the pressure of your clients' needs on your entire organization from sales and marketing to customer support and from product development to engineering.
Your sales team is very often the first interface between future clients and your company. With a seductive value proposition, engaging use cases and in some cases, buzz, it can be enticing to want to stack your sales team quickly.
The pressure of high customer demand is a good problem. You may not yet be fully prepared for it, but you know there’s a rich market for your product.
You’re at a crossroads. The primary goal of your sales team is to grow your pipeline and increase conversions. The risk is that if your organization isn’t prepared for a high volume of new clients, the organization as a whole risks seeing higher churn, lower customer satisfaction and a misalignment between your sales goals and those of the rest of your company.
So are you operationally ready to handle scale further down the chain?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to understanding how your organization scales. Nevertheless, it ultimately comes down to how much bandwidth your teams have in order to:
Onboard new customers;
Service, train or otherwise support their questions and needs;
Handle bugs and deliver on new features.
These factors are inherently tied to the characteristics of your target market.
Many of today’s B2B technology companies start working with large clients from the outset. They tend to solve problems that are most present at a larger scale. Some examples of companies like these include UIPath, Palanteer and Salesforce just to name a few.
Because of the unique specificities of their customers, these companies scale differently than pure SaaS players. They must be able to respond to customer service and technical requests in order to keep their customers satisfied and integrate more deeply with their customers’ operations.
While these Enterprise solutions may face increasing market demand, the lead times, implementation times and project times occur on scales much longer than those of their SaaS counterparts.
The result is that scaling sales teams at these types of companies is more controllable and progressive. It requires a balance between staffing and the processing of day-to-day recurring operations. The stronger emphasis is on the former.
Some companies like Slack, Hubspot and Zendesk, however, provide out-of-the box products that don’t require any white-glove or face-to-face interactions with customers.
SaaS business models generally address markets made up of thousands of relatively smaller companies. They rely heavily on documentation, FAQs, online customer service and technical updates across all users in order to satisfy the majority of customers.
Of course some larger customers may use these apps as well. When a SaaS company is prepared to scale, it generally begins to grow this market of more mature companies, more rapidly.
The core advantage of a SaaS company is its preliminary investment in a scalable product and the technical operations that go with it. Teams at SaaS companies are able to respond to a more diverse and fragmented customer base.
These organizations' downstream operational capacities are already well adapted for investing in acquisition. The bottleneck, rather, comes from the recruitment processes for sales and support, and later in the company's growth phase, product and tech.
Because enterprise customers who choose to use SaaS are aware they are adopting a product that addresses the masses, they implicitly accept a more limited voice in custom feature requests and updates.
Generally, as a SaaS's operations mature, it invests in customer-facing and technical teams that can bring more flexibility to enterprise customers either in-house or through a third-party network of service providers.
Types of Sales Operations Metric Drivers
Metrics are always quantifiable. They are able to capture time and volume in order to offer you a relative comparison of performance. Good metrics are always comparative.
If you read that sales this month amounted to 100 000 €, you might get excited until you discover that last month’s sales were 300 000 € or that sales from the same month last year were 500 000 €.
Some examples of solid metrics include pipeline conversion rates, revenue growth rates and lead times.
As an example, the time required to move a lead from the demo stage to the proposal stage can be compared across deals, periods of time or other pipeline stages.
There are 2 main types of metric drivers to consider when evaluating sales operations:
Objective Drivers of Operational Sales Metrics
The first is objectivity. The distinction between quantifiability and objectivity exists insofar as the quantification of a metric is what is expressed or analyzed. Objectivity, on the other hand, refers rather to the fixed and known factors that have some causal impact on the metric.
If we look again at the time to move a deal from the demo stage to the proposal stage, we would consider factors such as:
the number of leads that requested a demo,
the number of demo invitations sent,
the number of demo invitations accepted,
the number of canceled meetings,
the number of meetings that occurred,
and the number of proposals sent.
Each of these actions represents a sub-step or action that is needed to move the lead through the stage. They are fixed, objective events. The information that can be collected from them includes
whether the action was done,
when the action was done,
the contents of the action (messages exchanged, meeting time, participants, etc.)
Objectivity is influenced by operational strategy. The structuring and restructuring the sales process aims to increase its bandwidth and conversion rate or reduce its runtime. All of these goals are achieved by reducing the manual work required by sales reps to complete a deal stage or move a lead down the pipeline.
Some strategies might include things as simple as automated scheduling or as robust as automated presentation deck assembly or contract generation.
Qualitative Drivers of Operational Sales Metrics
All metrics also have qualitative components. Quality, in this case, refers to how actions gets done. Qualitative factors are difficult to fully objectivize for 3 main reasons.
First, the number of factors that define something as good or bad is often too great to analyze accurately. In the case of a demo, some common ways to describe its quality might be:
the length of the presentation,
the participating prospects,
the backgrounds of participants,
the operational roles of participants,
the customer's budget,
the number of competitors,
the perceived value of the solution.
All of these factors can be adjusted to influence the outcome of the demo, but it is difficult to structure them as actionable considerations.
Second, in order to assess qualitative variables you need an incredibly consistent methodology or way of analyzing them.
Take for example, the roles of your attending prospects. If two of your prospects include a Marketing Director at a financial institution and a Marketing Director at a logistics company, they may both be qualified prospects for your product. They may even be categorized in the same way because of their titles.
Nevertheless, the communication you would use to speak to one likely differs from the other, not solely due to their sector, but also because of the aforementioned myriad other criteria that distinguish them.
Lastly, in the case that you are able to roll out a robust methodology, the number of comparable examples you’d need to “prove” that a qualitative criteria influences a metric is usually far beyond the number accessible for a scaling company.
Let's assume that your sales team is able to present 200 demos in your first year of growth. First, kudos! That sounds pretty great. However, while this number might appear significant on its surface, even if your methodology is solid, you still likely don’t have enough examples to "prove" consistent quality.
More than anything, approaching qualitative sales in such a quantitative way can be counterproductive for a scale-up. It reduces agility and takes away from the creativity and value that your sales reps can add.
For all these reasons, most organizations rely on best practices, instinct and well-developed interpersonal and soft skills of their sales reps. These qualities manifest themselves in experienced talent and should be at the core of a sales hiring strategy. The efficacy of these factors can and should be approached through methods in user experience design, A/B testing and market research.
Side note: Machine learning and AI are beginning at addressing some of these factors. Nevertheless, investments in these algorithms and technologies are not yet cost effective for most organizations, and are far from ready to scale, particularly when they are built in-house.
Building your Sales Operations Strategy
Needless to say, every sales organization uses the concept of a pipeline to drive prospects from the lead stage to the signed contract, or won stage. A sales operations strategy is used to support sales reps in increasing conversion rates and reducing lead times.
The core of the sales experience is heavily linked to methodologies in user experience design; call it prospect experience design if you'd like. While it is primarily conceived for end-users, its has a profound effect on customer growth volume, revenue, costs and importantly, the human resources needed to sustain scale.
Operational metrics for a sales pipeline
Operations can attempt to address varying levels of detail, so I’ll work my way from general to specific.
Let’s begin by breaking down our pipeline into stages. Each pipeline can be broken down into a set of main stages. You can think of the end of each stage as a checkpoint, or conversion event that signals that a prospect has moved from one stage to another. To illustrate this, let's use an example of a simple pipeline:
Scheduled lead qualification call
Business developer marks lead as qualified
Contract signed (won)
This high-level visibility on the sales pipeline gives us a bird's eye view of how a lead progresses towards becoming a customer. Now it’s time to look at the specific actions that a sales rep takes to move the prospect between stages. Let’s look specifically at the actions between the stages, ‘Business developer marks lead as qualified’ and ‘Proposal sent":
Business developer marks lead as qualified
Business developer messages sales lead on Slack
Sales lead assigns prospect to sales rep
Business developer introduces sales rep
Sales rep schedules demo and sends invitations
Sales rep sends reminder 4 days before demo
Sales rep confirms demo 1 day before demo
Sales rep prepares presentation
Sales rep saves notes in CRM
Sales rep sends thank you email
Sales rep schedules contract discussion and sends invitations
Sales rep sends reminder 4 days before meeting
Sales rep confirms discussion 1 day before meeting
Sales rep prepares for meeting
Sales rep prepares provisional contract
Contract discussion completed
Sales rep saves notes in CRM
Sales rep modifies provisional contract
Sales rep sends proposal
In the above example, the conversion events appear in bold and represent the movement from stage to stage.
The two most relevant ways of quantifying the pipeline and establishing metrics are with conversion rates and time to complete the stage(s).
In order to evaluate conversion rates, you’ll need to look at the volume of prospects moving from action to action and ultimately converting. We can analyze conversion in a few different ways:
Conversion rate comparison by stage
Conversion rate comparison by period of time
Conversion rate comparison by deal type
Time to complete
Similarly, each stage requires a certain amount of time to complete. This is partially due to the time a prospect requires to decide to move down the funnel, but is also a reflection of the efficiency of your sales operations. Below are a few different ways of looking at stage completion times.
Time by stage
Time by period of time
Time by deal type
Applying sales metrics in this way makes it easy to track the performance of your sales operations, evaluate improvements, test new strategies and learn best practices from your sales reps, all through the the structured and manageable checklist that is your sales pipeline.
Some of the metrics you can track and influence just by capturing these key actions and events include:
Average revenue per period
Target vs. Performance
Pipeline Today vs. Closed-Won vs. Quota Gap
Cost per Demo
Revenue per Dial
% Won vs. % Lost
Optimizing your Sales Operations Strategy
Optimizing your sales operations means removing or automating unnecessary or low-value actions from your pipeline. In some cases, it may also mean adding actions to your pipeline because they add value to your prospect. All these strategies can be broken down into 2 concrete types of optimization.
The first is communication. Communication optimization aims at increasing the flow of information between parties and reducing the number of manual actions required to write or update the content of messages.
The second involves fully replacing human actions with automated ones. Automations run actions for a sales rep in the background so that they don’t need to think about doing them at all.
Orchestrating communication between parties means that the right person receives relevant information at the right time.
From our example pipeline, the actions below involve communication and lend themselves well to orchestration. For each action, you'll see the order in which they appear in the example sales pipeline above as well as how they can be automated.
 Business developer messages sales lead - triggered on Slack when the lead is marked qualified;
 Business developer introduces sales rep - when the lead is assigned to the sales rep, the business developer is notified that a draft of an intro email has been created;
 Sales rep sends reminder 4 days before demo - triggered automatically 4 days before the calendar event;
 Sales rep confirms demo 1 day before demo - triggered automatically 1 day before the calendar event;
 Sales rep sends thank you email - sales rep is notified of a new draft email 1 hour after the calendar event;
 Sales rep sends reminder 4 days before meeting - triggered automatically 4 days before the calendar event;
 Sales rep confirms discussion 1 day before meeting - triggered automatically 1 day before the calendar event;
 Sales rep sends proposal - sales rep is notified of a new draft email 12 hours after the calendar event;
Automated actions are those that are executed by a robotic technical process. These can vary in complexity from simply moving data from one place to another to using algorithms for predicting variables.
In this example, we'll keep it simple, but break down automations into 2 categories based on their feasibility.
First, there are simple automations:
 Sales lead assigns prospect to sales rep - triggered when the lead is marked qualified;
 Sales rep schedules demo and sends invitations - sales rep is notified of a new draft email 2 hours after business developer intro is sent. It contains a link to a form or a connection with Google Apps or Microsoft 365 and automatically finds common availabilities and manages scheduling;
 - Sales rep schedules contract discussion and sends invitations - sales rep is notified of a new draft email draft 24 hours after thank you email. It also contains a link to a form or a connection with Google Apps or Microsoft 365 and automatically finds common availabilities and manages scheduling.
Then there are advanced automations:
 Sales rep prepares presentation - triggered 1 day before demo. The sales rep fills out a form, indicating the themes desired in the presentation. The automation collects slides from several pre-identified decks and compiles a new one;
 Sales rep prepares provisional contract - triggered 2 days before demo. Similarly, a contract model is populated and exported based on information provided by the sales rep in a form;
 Sales rep modifies provisional contract - Provisional contract sent to sales rep 1 hour after the calendar event.
You’ll notice that none of the conversion events have been automated. This means that sales reps maintain manual control over when a lead moves forward in the sales pipeline.
Sales operations optimization driven by the orchestration of communication and automations do not intend to replace sales reps. Rather by orchestrating and automating much of his or her manual work, the sales rep has more time to focus on understanding prospects, build stronger relationships, research uses cases and grow opportunities at the top of the pipeline. This is only possible because you’ve successfully in scaling your sales operations strategy.