I was recently talking with a friend who runs Business Operations at a successful company in Boston about how large companies spend months on Sales Planning. To him, so much planning seemed unpractical – he fights so many fires daily in his 200-person business, that he can’t think regularly about the long term.
Really? I thought. Are you serious? If you are not thinking about the long term, how do you know what decisions to make today?
If you are not thinking about the long-term, how do you know what decisions to make today?
His is a common thought, though, and one we are seeing across the country at our Sales Ops events, in sales conversation, and in supporting our customers. Bottom line: Sales Operations is overwhelmed with day-to-day fires and unable to think strategically about the long term.
But why is this? Why do we regularly tie ourselves up in data weeds when there are important strategic things to consider?
One answer for this comes from a mid-century psychologist named Abraham Maslow.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of (Human) Needs
In 1943, Maslow created a framework that took over the psychology world, and which we still use today. His theory organizes human needs into a set of five progressive categories, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. These categories are Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem, and Self-Actualization.
Maslow’s idea is that an individual or society’s lower level needs must be satisfied and fulfilled before they/it can move onto a higher need, and that moving up the hierarchy is a persistent goal for everyone. For instance, a person needs to attend their food and shelter before thinking about safety, which comes before love/belonging, esteem, and then self-actualization.
This theory makes a lot of sense (it has, after all, stood strong under more than six decades of scrutiny), and maps directly with a new theory from fullcast.io – the Sales Ops Hierarchy of Needs.
Fullcast.io’s Sales Ops Hierarchy of Needs
Similar to Maslow, a hierarchy of needs defines Sales Operations. These needs are: Data, Sales Software, Policies/Business Rules, Performance Analysis, and Strategy & Planning. As pictured below, these needs are progressive, with the foundations of each need dependent on those underneath.
Let’s dive deeper into each.
It’s safe to say that without data – accounts, contacts, firmographic information, news events – sales and sales operations teams would struggle. No one to call, nothing to analyze, nothing to organize – it’s impossible to succeed! For this reason, the foundation of any sales or sales operations team is data.
However, not just any data will do.
There’s a saying in the data science world of “garbage in, garbage out,” meaning that if you’re using bad data to make a decision (garbage in), you’ll make a bad decision (garbage out). Harvard Business Review wrote about this recently, sharing that 80% of a data scientist’s time goes to cleaning data in order to run an analysis. In sales and marketing, this is for good reason – SiriusDecisions estimates between 10 and 25% of marketing databases have critical errors, and that while it only takes $1 to verify a record as it’s entered, it costs a company $10 to cleanse and dedupe and $100 if nothing is done. Their research shows that good data can mean as much as 70% higher revenue.
So, Sales Operations needs good data to start – accounts with correct firmographic information, contacts with phone numbers that actually work, emails and physical addresses for each. Without good data, a sales organization can’t function, but WITH it, that business can start working on where to put it – software.
With a strong foundation of data, needs turn to Sales Software. Software tools are a sales team’s workhorse for organizing data and logging tasks. They also standardize a team’s experience, allowing operational changes to happen at a large scale.
Sales Software is not simple. At our recent Sales Ops Summit, tech analyst Nancy Nardin from Smart Selling Tools put some data behind the adoption of CRM systems – 76% of companies use them, but satisfaction levels are below a 4/5. Similarly, there are over 600 different point solutions out there that help some part of the sales or sales operations job, but which come with their own challenges of enablement and integration.
And what happens when you don’t have your systems set up properly? Loss of productivity for sales, no process standardization for analyzing trends, and costly operations specialists to keep software running all put additional weight on your operating costs. This is the case regardless of whether you have good data or policies, but get increasingly worse if you don’t.
But a good software setup with good data? It allows for movement up the hierarchy, to Policies/Business Rules.
We’ve covered policies in past blog posts, defining why they are important and the general process for creating them. To summarize those posts, policies are the rules by which we run our business, set up our software, and manage day-to-day operations. In sales operations, policies include routing rules for new leads, account hierarchy logic, handoffs from marketing to sales to customer success, and many more. With these policies, individuals and teams run smoothly because they understand the rules of the road.
Policies, however, are not always good. A policy that requires an inordinate amount of data entry before a rep can create an account, for example, may lower the rep’s productivity below the value of actually having better information. Similarly, a sales process with bad sales policies may lengthen the sales cycle and significantly increase the cost of sales! So, it’s extremely important to consider WHY you’re implementing a policy and specifically WHAT DATA you have to justify it. Again, as stated above, you need to have good data to make policy decisions.
Good policies, once created, allow you to properly organize your teams, systems, and processes. They allow you to take the next step up the Sales Hierarchy of Needs, to Performance Analysis.
Performance Analysis requires answering two questions for a company: “How did we do?” and “Why did it happen that way?” It’s the final part of the Sales Ops Job Cycle, the final step of Sales Planning for Growth, and provides the critical retrospection needed to make informed decisions. If a company performed poorly in a certain area, identify and eliminate the reasons it did poorly. For areas where there has been improvement, double down on the driving efforts.
Good performance analysis needs four things:
- Subordinate Hierarchy Needs: Good Data, Software, and Policies to properly analyze performance (see sections above).
- True North Metric: One specific metric that, at the end of the day, shows performance of the business. All other business metrics would role up under this one (e.g. “Attainment” consists of “Quota” and “Bookings,” which in turn consists of a host of underlying metrics).
- Data-Driven Culture: A company that analyzes regularly, shares analysis regularly, and constantly asks “so what?” from that analysis.
- Qualitative Input: Input from people out there in the front lines. Never make an assumption on a data point without the perspective from someone who created it.
Without these things, analysis is potentially biased or incomplete. With them, though, a business can step up to the “self-actualization” equivalent: Strategy & Planning.
Strategy & Planning
Similar to Policies, we have talked a lot about Strategy & Planning. For reference, here is a blog post breaking down who, what, when, and how, and a workshop presentation we put together with Salesforce’s Vice President of Strategy & Operations.
Strategy & Planning is the top of the Sales Operations Hierarchy of Needs. Here, Sales Operations drives a business’s strategy, identifying where the company is going in the long term and setting up steps to get there successfully. Strategy & Planning sits on top of Data, Policies, Systems, and Analysis, relying on properly addressing each subordinate hierarchy level. Skip one step, and your strategic vision is at best incomplete and at worst ineffective. But get everything right, and your sales team hums with efficiency and moves with agility in the right direction.
Similar to Maslow’s “self-actualization” summit, it is a constant struggle to spend time on Strategy & Planning, as my friend in Boston expressed at the beginning of this post. With all of the issues that exist in every subordinate hierarchy layer, upward mobility is a challenge! Even large successful companies like Salesforce struggle here, if my experience says anything. Still, they and all companies strive to make it a constant thing.
Just like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the one for Sales Operations symbolizes a never-ending pursuit to do more strategic work while regularly caught in painful operational minutia. As career Sales Operations professionals, we at fullcast.io have experienced this pain firsthand, and now spend our time creating solutions to help our customers move upwards.
Do you feel like your company is spending too much time in the lower levels of the Sales Ops Hierarchy, or are you interested in moving up? Reach out! We would love to talk to you.
Enjoyed this post? Check out these others!
- The Sales Ops Job Cycle – a post about the cyclical roles and responsibilities of “Sales Operations.”
- Linking Planning & Execution – a post about the challenges of implementing Sales Strategy & Planning.
- 10 Tips for Sales Planning – a post about fullcast.io’s top tips for Sales Planning.