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From Sales Ops to Customer Ops

Posted on  22 June 11  by 


sales operationsWhen you ask a Sales Ops exec for a word or phrase to describe their role in the sales organization, you generally get one of two answers: 1) change agent, or 2) creator (as in, “I produce things for the sales team to use).  The irony lies in the massive variability of organizational composition – it seems we organize teams schizophrenically.

Taken in this light, then, the identity crisis we’ve all experienced feels eminently solvable. If shifts in the B2B purchasing environment present an untenable situation, the obvious answer is to determine the root cause of these shifts and aim our creative change mechanisms in the right areas.

And yet when you ask sales ops leaders what exactly they’re examining these days, only 3 out of 20 of their regularly tracked metrics are aimed at the customer, precisely the root of the shifts.  How can we make adjustments if we’re blind to customer sentiment?  

I recently asked close to 40 sales ops leaders that exact question, and the general sentiment seemed to point towards control as the culprit.  Sometimes other teams (e.g. Marketing, Customer Service, etc.) own this effort – other times we haven’t found good ways to track customer reactions.

But our recent survey found that 94% of organizations still own the sales process in some capacity, which should be a proxy for our customer’s buying process. You’d think this would give us power to see all kinds of reactions to our efforts at different stages of the sales cycle.

Here’s an informed theory on which I’d love your thoughts: perhaps we’ve gotten so hung up on providing world-class sales support that we’ve grown too far away from our ultimate goal of improved customer outcomes. Engineering our teams around the way our customers make decisions may be just what we need to provide necessary visibility and identity.

What might this next (4th) generation of Sales Ops look like?  (SEC members: read here about the first three generations).

We know customers need to make two critical decisions before we can grow the relationship:

  1. Vision – Buy-in that our vision is superior and addresses an aspirational need, and
  2. Consensus – Agreement that change is necessary and you’re the supplier of choice.

Each decision will require different types of operational support.  Suppose we just organized our teams around these points – a Vision team and a Consensus team?

Team Goal Who Might We Put here?
Team Vision Help teams articulate how we’re different in the areas customers value most
  • Team focused on building tools capable of teaching customers new insights (grounded in customer data)
  • Targeting/Qualification team to narrow rep focus on emerging areas of demand (i.e. customers ready for change)
  • Process Discipline Team, recognizing the relative predictability of the sales process here (i.e. only 5 ways to say “no” here)
Team Consensus Help teams understand how customers will make decisions (and close the deal!)
  • Account Planning specialists to help navigate a complex web of customer stakeholders
  • Analysts to provide visibility into customer reactions, likelihood to close predictions, objection trends, etc.
  • Process Tweak Team (read: six sigma), identifying commonality in objections and observing your most innovative managers (recognizing there are 500 ways to say “no” here, many unpredictable)
  • Deal Closure team (e.g. Deal Desks)

In practice, you’d probably need a third “infrastructure” team that would handle universal issues like CRM and compensation.  But I’m curious – has anyone tried something like this? What have the results been?

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