You know the story…bears, porridge, beds and a tale of extremes – too hot, too cold, too big, too small. It’s hard to get things “just right.” Hiring your first employee into Sales Operations isn’t much different. Going too junior or too senior for your needs will have a lasting impact on your business.
So why do you need Sales Ops in the first place?
If you have more than 10 sales people, a database of more than a few thousand contacts or have been generating revenue for any meaningful period of time, I can guarantee you have a data integrity problem. As you launch your company, you’re focused on finding product market fit, iterating quickly and successfully onboarding your first customers. Early-stage sales reps are masterful at what they do – lone wolf, evangelist sales. But each has his or her own style for prospecting, managing a deal cycle and even structuring a deal. As you add salespeople and look to make some key decisions about your go to market model, you’ll find (or maybe you’ve already found) that the data isn’t there. There are inconsistencies and major gaps in the information you need to gather insights and make decisions. It’s (almost) inherent to running a business.
This is where sales ops comes in. In fact, data integrity is only one of the many problems Sales Ops will own as you scale.
The role of Sales Ops is terribly undefined, but increasingly important. The proliferation of sales automation and productivity tools combined with buyer savviness and increased focus on efficiency and automation has made it a necessity. According to an HBR article published last year, the authors found that top-performing sales organizations have almost double the share of operations and administrative support. The authors warn that, “Sales Operations and administrative support are sometimes a victim of overly aspirational cost-saving efforts. Yet they are invaluable because they enable frontline and pre-sales employees to spend more time with customers and to focus on sales and growth.”
I need Sales Ops; now what?
The first Sales Ops hire is usually someone reporting directly to the VP of Sales, or maybe to Finance with the primary responsibility of Salesforce admin. You’ve probably already hired this person and regardless of reporting structure, the first Sales Ops hire, is inevitably everything to everyone. She’s the admin for the CRM, she evaluates and buys tools, she handles all reporting, she pulls together decks for internal, board and client facing meetings. She manages the deal desk, approves orders and may even own your price book. Sound familiar?
Prioritize. Your first Sales Ops hire can’t effectively do all of that. Take stock of your current team (skill sets, background, experience, workload) and systems/processes and pick the big ticket items. If you want to capitalize on the efficiencies Sales Ops can bring to your team, you have to get ahead of the reactive nature of the job and proactively bring focus to the key strategic initiatives that will move the needle.
Big picture, there are a few major categories of responsibilities that fall to Sales Ops at some point in a company’s growth trajectory. Figure out which are most important to tackle now:
- Reporting & Analytics
- Deal Desk
- CRM Administration / Productivity tools
- Compensation / Commissions
- Sales Enablement
- Strategy & Planning
So who do I hire first?
You have 3 options with your first hire:
- The Salesforce Administrator
- The Sales Ops Manager/Director
- The Sales Ops Leader
There are pros and cons to each hire and you need to understand the dynamics of your team before making a decision (refer back to the priorities you set above):
The Sales Ops Analyst: Too Junior
The most common first hire – generally a few years of experience, often an internal promotion born of necessity.
When can it work? Small team with limited expected growth and a strong data-driven VP Sales and/or basic setup of Salesforce where you aren’t looking for heavy customization or automation. If you are going to go this route, we support the internal promotion approach. There are pros to having someone who already knows your team, your current systems/processes, your product and generally how to get things done within the organization. You also show internal progression and employee investment to your team.
Keep in mind, if you are growing quickly or have a high volume sales engine, it’s important to nail your data structure and processes from the beginning. Someone new to a job doesn’t know what they don’t know. When you do bring in someone with more experience, they will waste cycles undoing and redoing the groundwork to create a foundation for your data/reporting strategy, toolset and so forth.
The Sales Ops Leader: Too Senior
There are very few cases where this person should be your first hire. Bringing in someone who has “been there, done that” comes with a pricetag, but also with immense value that can be difficult to realize in an early stage company. There’s an inflection point at which point adding a VP to lead the team really makes sense. In my experience it’s around, give or take, 75 sellers.
When does it make sense for this person to be an early hire in Sales Ops? If you’ve scaled your sales org organically, had a utility player working double duty (aka sales manager administering Salesforce in all of his/her free time), or have a strong finance/data ops team outside of sales, you might find that by the time you actually establish a sales ops function, you’re ready to hire a leader and consolidate the various support roles that already exist throughout your organization.
The Sales Ops Manager/Director: Just Right
We’re seeing a trend toward bringing in a Manager/Director earlier in a company’s growth trajectory – and we like it! While this person may be a team of one today, they have the skill set to scale with you and hire out a team when you’re ready to build. This is someone who can take a step back, tackle the strategic problems and preemptively address issues hindering your growth, but is still hands on. At this level, you get someone who will challenge your Head of Sales and who brings her own opinions grounded in experience to the table.
If you are bought in that you need someone more senior, don’t fall prey to one of the most common mistakes we see – hiring a Director level candidate and requiring them to spend 50-75% of their time in Salesforce. You can, and should, hire an hourly or project-based consultant who knows the ins and outs of Salesforce, brings the breadth of experience found from thousands and thousands of hours of work across many companies, and lives and breathes Apex. This approach will create leverage and allow your Director to focus on making proactive improvements to the business.
Per most good advice, things must be looked at holistically. As such, you should take all of this advice in the context of Ops as a whole.
Who’s your Goldilocks hire? Who’s just right for your business? Tweet us!
Liz Cain is VP of Go to Market at OpenView, an expansion stage venture capital firm.
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Also published on Medium.