How to scale a global sales operations team

Main illustration: Tim Gilligan

As your sales organization scales up, there’s one function that becomes crucial to your ability to drive revenue efficiently – sales operations.

Until Xerox created the first team in the 1970s, sales operations didn’t exist. Fifty years later, it’s still one of the hardest functions to nail. On the surface, their mission is simple: enable the sales organization to run better and faster. In practice, the best sales ops teams strike a delicate balance between being stewards of long term growth and executing for near term wins.

Reflecting on what he’s learned scaling sales ops globally at Marketo and now Intercom, Jeff Serlin shared the mic with Collin Stewart on the Predictable Revenue podcast. They discussed everything from growing a top-performing sales ops team to building an effective sales ops roadmap.

Short on time? Check out Collin’s recap on Predictable Revenue, or get our five key takeaways from Jeff’s conversation below.

First, what is sales operations?

The job of sales operations is to optimize how your sales organization delivers against your revenue targets. Simply closing customers isn’t good enough if you aren’t doing it in a way that’s cost-effective, efficient, and scalable. The sales ops team is responsible for the operational backbone – the workflows, tools, and training – that enables sales to drive consistent growth.

“If your sales reps are race car drivers, then your sales operations team is the pit crew”

Here’s a helpful analogy that LB, our SVP of Sales & Support, uses to describe sales ops: if your sales reps are race car drivers, then your sales operations team is the pit crew. They’re the ones ensuring your frontline sales team gets to the finish line with precision and consistency.

5 steps to scale a sales operations team

1. Treat sales operations as a team sport

For sales operations to scale, you need to have buy-in at every level – from your executives to your sales reps. A common mistake that sales ops leaders make is focusing only on managing up. The reality is, for the entire team to run more efficiently, the people on the sales floor need to have input into the changes being made and understand how those changes will impact their day-to-day work. It’s the difference between getting things right and continually having false starts.

“Having buy-in is the difference between getting things right and continually having false starts”

2. Hire experts who can act like product owners

As your sales organization scales from a handful to hundreds of people, your workflows will grow in complexity too. There are so many sales tools, integrations and third party solutions that will become integral to your infrastructure. You need to bring on experts who can own each part of your tech stack. That means hiring for specific roles like Salesforce engineers who can create a development roadmap and then actually implement it.

3. Solve strategic problems, don’t fight fires

The constant action of being in sales means there will always be fires to put out – systems that don’t work as expected, docs that are out of date. If you fall into the trap of firefighting, you will only be plugging the dam without meaningfully impacting your organization’s ability to hit its topline goals or your reps’ ability to hit quota. The key is to focus on the strategic outcomes you want to drive, alongside the work required to keep the trains running.

“The action of being in sales means there will always be fires to put out”

4. Consider going on a listening tour

Every person on the sales team should have a way to contribute ideas to the sales ops roadmap. It allows you to acknowledge the fires happening on the sales floor without having to drop everything to put them out. If you can, go on a listening tour to identify the top priorities for each team – your SDRs, AEs, relationship managers and customer solutions folks. It builds bridges and cultivates empathy too.

5. Remember your sales ops roadmap is a summary of tradeoffs

At the end of the day, your sales ops roadmap is a product of two things: your priorities and your capacity. It’s a conversation about whether you prioritize 40 small things or three big things, whether you put out fires or solve strategic problems. When executed properly, your roadmap gives the entire team visibility into what’s currently being worked on and as a result, provides you with the air cover to discuss trade offs when new requests arise.

Want more advice on scaling sales? Learn how we built a billion dollar business in our book, Intercom on Sales

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