The Focal Point Blog // Business Strategy // Dave Annis // July 20, 2020

5 Sales Operations Best Practices For a Professional Service Organization

If you’re a founder of a professional service firm, you probably didn’t start the company because you wanted to be a salesperson. You likely set up shop because you love doing and delivering good work.

In this article, we will share five sales operations best practices that are crucial for professional service organizations to succeed in today’s competitive market. By implementing these strategies, you’ll not only improve your sales process but also create a more cohesive and effective team dynamic.

Key Takeaways:

  • Define teams and roles within your sales operations to ensure everyone knows their responsibilities and can work together effectively.
  • Craft a sales operations team purpose statement to align your team with the organization’s overall goals.
  • Define your sales funnel and supporting process to manage opportunities effectively and create empathy among team members.
  • Develop and implement a consistent pricing strategy to streamline the sales process and make strategic decisions.
  • Establish regular communication cadence to maintain transparency, collaboration, and momentum within the sales operations team.

Chances are you enjoyed early success and growth by delivering great work to a handful of customers who brought you more opportunities, both from them and through referrals. A good reputation and referrals are crucial to the success of any professional service organization. But relying on them alone for business development unnecessarily limits potential and restricts access to new opportunities.

Enter… Sales! Often a dirty word, but maybe it shouldn’t be 🤬.

As professional service firms grow, they often develop a healthy respect for sales operations. Sales ops creates a more consistent, less reactive environment that allows them to be more in control of their destinies, controlling their message and qualifying what good work they take on. If you’re starting to warm to the idea of sales, there are some sales operations best practices you’ll want to adopt to win the work you want.

Build a sales operations team structure for a better, happier team

Following a structured sales process isn’t just a smart move for the business — it also keeps employees happy and engaged. It helps you bring in work that employees enjoy and keeps teams aligned and working toward a shared goal. This isn’t just work that employees think is cool or that they personally enjoy. It’s work they’re confident delivering and that they know brings clients value. People feel good when they do work that’s appreciated and impactful. (Process alone won’t help you win good work — but it’s an important first step.)

Without clearly defined sales operations, tension between teams is common. The delivery team often feels set up for failure because of poorly set expectations during the sales process. They blame the inconsistent and unreliable process and the sales team’s reactive and opportunistic approach.

The sales team is trying their best to get the kind of work the team wants, but they don’t feel supported by the rest of the organization. They want to do a good job, but they don’t always know what that means.

These business and people problems are challenging and overwhelming, but solvable with transparency, process, and collaboration. Adopting these sales operations best practices will help you bring in good, consistent work and strengthen relationships across teams:

1. Define teams and roles

Aligning the team starts with everyone understanding their role in the sales process and why it’s important. Define your “sales operations team” and each person’s respective role in it. The team’s structure can vary based on your organization’s size and maturity, but roles to consider include:

  • Sales leader: Sets and manages goals, quotas, and sales plans. This person is responsible for managing the sales operations cadence and holding everyone involved accountable for their contributions. In smaller organizations, this is often the responsibility of the CEO or one of the founders.
  • Salespeople: The people doing the work (e.g., prospecting, pitching, negotiating) to win projects.
  • Solutions architect/solutions engineer: Helps the salespeople position, price, and plan potential work.
  • Delivery leader/resource manager: Makes sure you have the right people involved in winning work (e.g., solutions architect and sales enablement). As prospective opportunities move closer to a sale, they also assign employees to incoming project work.
  • Sales enablement support: Helps the salespeople craft strategy, content, and messaging related to prospecting, nurturing, or converting new customers. This is often someone in marketing or the sales leader.
  • Finance and legal reps: Responsible for the sales process’s financial and legal components to ensure consistency and governance in pricing and terms. In a larger organization, this may be a specific role (or even two). In a small business, it’s often the CEO or founder.

2. Craft a sales operations team purpose statement

Every company should have a purpose statement that articulates the organization’s reason for existence. A sales operations team purpose statement should define how sales will operate in order to help the organization in fulfilling its objectives. This is critical to create a shared understanding and motivate the team.

To craft a sales operations purpose statement, start with the organization’s purpose and consider how the sales ops team can support it. This helps the sales ops team connect the dots between what the organization is trying to achieve — and their role in making that happen.

For example, at Parallax, our purpose is to “Help modern consultancies align the ambitions of their business with the ambitions of their people.”

Building off of our purpose, we created this sales team purpose statement: “Generate enough opportunity for the right kind of work to ensure Parallax can help modern consultancies align the ambitions of their business with the ambitions of their people.” The sales team knows what they need to focus on (generating the right opportunities) to support Parallax in achieving its purpose.

3. Define your sales funnel and supporting process

An effective sales process requires a well-defined customer journey mapped to a sales funnel. Each sales op team member should know the funnel stages and the role each person plays at every stage, including what’s required of them to qualify an opportunity or what action they need to take to move an opportunity further down the funnel. This sets expectations, enables productivity, and ensures the team knows what it needs to do to win the best work.

The next step after defining the funnel stages is to develop a process for managing the stages correctly. The entire sales ops team should understand the criteria that a lead must hit before they can move from one stage to another. Some companies use SLAs to document an agreed-upon lead management process and to clarify why following the process is critical. For example, you might have a “Proposal Sent” stage in your pipeline. In your SLA, you may require that, before a lead can enter this stage, the project needs to have a resource plan attached to it. Having this resource plan attached gives you the data necessary for effective sales planning and forecasting. An efficient and effective sales funnel process enables everyone to contribute without friction or unnecessary tension.

Note: A lesser-recognized benefit of defining a sales funnel and process is that it creates empathy across teams. Sales is hard. It’s not easy to hear no at least 50% of the time. Being able to visually see what it takes to win work creates an appreciation for the sales reps. It also highlights all of the people that play a role in winning work. This creates mutual respect and admiration between the salespeople and the broader sales operations team.

4. Develop and implement a consistent pricing strategy

Using a consistent pricing strategy makes the sales process more efficient, makes it easier to track against goals, and allows for strategic pricing decisions. Price each project within the business’s constraints, taking forecasted project margin and revenue into account as early as possible in the sales process.

Adopt these behaviors to price effectively:

  • Plan each new sales opportunity with a project margin target in mind. When you know your margin across your pipeline and portfolio, you can 1) compare your planned margin to the company’s goal and 2) take on a low margin project to enter a new market or establish new skills and capabilities that have high-growth potential.
  • Collaborate closely with the delivery team to estimate the time and resources required to complete the project effectively to ensure you’re scoping the work correctly.
  • Have a formal review or governance process that compares planned project margin and revenue capacity to the actual numbers as the project progresses. Regularly reviewing this helps you spot and correct issues in your pricing strategy to ensure profitable pricing.

5. Create a regular communication cadence

Consistent communication between team members is perhaps the most important sales operations best practice. No matter how well-defined your process is, without transparency and collaboration, it will eventually fail. Communication is the oil that keeps the sales machine running.

Determine the way your organization communicates with each other best and establish a regular cadence of check-ins. Consider a daily sales standup, dedicated Slack channel, and monthly deep dives into how things are going. Use these touch bases to:

  • Connect on sales activities and who’s responsible for what
  • Review deals in the sales funnel and what actions the team needs to take
  • Ensure sales reps get mentorship on deals or sales activities they’re working on
  • Build energy and sustaining momentum behind sales activities
  • Keep deals moving through the sales funnel

Regular communication will support a more effective sales process and strengthen relationships between team members, which will only propel the organization to greater success.

How to implement sales operations best practices

Visibility into organizational data, whether in the sales pipeline, proposals, resource plans, or tracked margin and revenue on active projects, supports a well-run sales process. Parallax was built to help professional service firms plan projects and price effectively, forecast smarter, and collaborate better. We do this by creating a shared perspective of what’s happening across the business, enabling you to make changes that align employees and fuel business growth.

We’d love to show you how Parallax can help you adopt and continue refining these sales operations best practices. Reach out if you’d like to see how we can help.

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