Day Two at The Conference Board’s Senior Sales Executive Conference

The focus of this year’s conference was Sales Operations as a Strategic Revenue Growth Asset. Today featured a number of presentations from practitioners, all of whom took a deeper dive into some of the themes from yesterday.

Spread Too Thin

One of the developing themes is that Sales Operations has become a sort of catchall for all sorts of task-related work around the sales function. Some of these tasks are not value creating tasks, and there were a lot of discussions about what and how much could be outsourced to free up time for the more strategic work.

The sales operations practitioners spend the majority of their time on performance reporting, planning and forecasting, and compensation-related issues. All of this work is reactive work. No one denies the importance of the work, just that it is important to free up time for more strategic tasks.

The tasks the operations people most want more time for is change management and transformation initiatives.

Involvement in Sales Process

The most interesting area of discussion was around where sales operations felt that they could provide more value. Many suggested that this was in the sales process. They identified themselves as process-oriented, and they identified salespeople as not being particularly process-oriented. Surprised?

One group of presenters suggested that sales operations and sales management will need to prove that the sales process works in order to get buy in from the field. I couldn’t agree more.

As a self-declared sales process agnostic, I found this line of discussion interesting. While I agree you need to have a process, too many seem to serve sales management far more than they serve the field salesperson. One consultant from a large and reputable firm told me that when they get involved in sales process they tend to find greater adoption and success when they involve the sales force in building the process out of what already works.  This makes perfect sense to me, and I can see the value of involving sales operations in this work.

A couple other interesting points were made about sales needing to be process oriented because they now have to be, especially as they manage a complex matrix of relationships within their client accounts. The discussion around this was too short, and I believe there is a lot of work to be done on leveraging technology to make this task easier and simpler for the sales force.

And perhaps the most revealing point about the adoption of sales process might have been a comment that the discipline required to instill the process is largely missing because it lacks enough support from the executive functions. In my experience, it is often the high-performers who get results outside of the process, and therefore receive a lot of air cover from management, and many under-performers tend to believe that they don’t need the process, even when it would benefit them greatly.

My take is that the process is critical, but that there needs to be coaching at the strategic and the opportunity level to ensure that sales advance when the situation the salesperson encounters is outside of the four corners of the sales process map. As I stated yesterday, I think you will see a massive increase in the application of coaching solutions in the coming years.

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