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Discover the Opportunities in Sales Operations

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify the key skills needed for sales operations success.
  • Explain how sales operations is an evolving and strategic role.

A Unique Combination of Skills

Sales operations enables professionals to develop a unique combination of hard (technical) and soft (interpersonal) skills.

Hard Skills

  • Data analysis
  • Logical reasoning
  • Familiarity with common sales systems
  • Systems thinking
  • Financial math

Soft Skills

  • Clear communications
  • Discretion with sensitive information
  • Customer service (sales is your customer!)
  • Empathy

Systems thinking, a hard skill mentioned above, refers to the ability to break a system down into parts (whether it’s a set of related manual processes or integrated software) for analysis or improvement. With sales teams’ growing scale and reliance on software tools supplied by third-party vendors (like Salesforce), this is a critical skill. But it is also one of the hardest to identify. It’s tough to nail down in sales operations interviews since it is best tested in real-life situations.

Unlike systems thinking, empathy can seem like an odd soft skill requirement. However, when sales operations professionals put themselves in the shoes of the colleagues in sales, marketing, or finance, they’re better able to tailor business changes to meet their needs and remain transparent in their work.

See These Skills in Practice

Sales operations showing off new software via laptop to sales and marketing reps who stand by intrigued.

The enablement scenario in the previous unit showcases what the sales operations team does to effect positive change. Look closer and see how using these skills leads to the right outcome. 

The sales team was having trouble finding the right marketing content at the right time. The sales operations professional demonstrated logical reasoning and systems thinking to evaluate the current system in place. Using their familiarity with the sales system, they devised a plan that would solve the problem and better connect marketing content to sales activities. 

Then, to gain buy-in from sales, enablement, and marketing, they had to clearly communicate their recommendations and deliver a business plan on why their recommended system would be a boon for the organization. They used empathy to understand that such a change can be met with resistance. Sales operations took time to identify and quantify the benefits not only for sales, but marketing as well. Sales will find the right content when they need it and the change in system would eliminate steps, rather than create more busy work. Marketing content will be clearly attributed to leads and opportunities, and campaign reporting will be much easier. GO TEAM!

This scenario doesn’t cover all the skills that a sales operations professional uses over the course of their career. But it’s a good example of how dynamic this role is and how it collaborates with people outside of the sales organization.

A Strategic Role

Because of its broad scope and its impact on both productivity and performance, sales operations has become a strategic and indispensable role in a mature sales organization. Sales operations used to be small, have inconsistent responsibilities, and rely heavily on manual, administrative work. This discipline has evolved, with a clear focus and tech savviness. 

Modern sales teams rely on sales operations to make their selling process smoother. Marketing teams rely on them to better attribute their efforts to revenue. Executive teams rely on them to gain nuanced insights from previously unexplored data.

This shift represents a huge opportunity for professionals who display a balance of the hard and soft skills outlined above. Each facet of sales operations roles is learnable with patience and dedication. 

A Hand in the Future

What does the future hold for sales operations? As machine learning and artificial intelligence become more commonplace, this role will increasingly work in tandem with these breakthroughs, as it has with the advent of cloud computing and sales force automation. Sales operations will play a part managing the data being fed into complex learning algorithms and have the opportunity to influence the application of AI tools, such as Salesforce Einstein. After all, AI is changing the way sales teams sell by better scoring leads, optimizing pricing based on historical data, and capturing nuances in sales performance.


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