Breaking the Sales Prevention Barrier: A Guide to High Performance Sales Operations

“What does Sales Operations do?”

The answer to that question is critical not just to my clients, who are trying to build their own high-performance Sales Operations, but to the Sales Ops professionals who find themselves struggling to describe the various roles that they play in their company.

I like to answer with another question: “what should Sales Operations do, at your company, at this time?”

Because Sales Ops is a pendulum for most successful companies – it will swing closer to sales (field-facing) in times when top-line growth is the highest priority…. and swing closer to finance (operations-facing) in times when fiscal controls are the highest priority. And Sales Ops ranges from the highly strategic planning that occurs on an annual basis to the tactical day-to-day support of a sales force.

In those moments when Sales Ops is highly operations-facing, they can alienate the sales teams by seeming to be a barrier to getting sales done quickly. More than once, I’ve heard a sales rep joke about Sales Ops as more like “sales prevention”!

The key to a high-performance Sales Operations function within your company is maintaining that balance, not in the middle but at the point where Sales Ops can help a company best meet its strategic goals at that moment in time. And to be seen as a partner to the sales teams across every aspect of Sales Operations – that’s how to “break the sales prevention barrier”.

The below diagram is a synthesis of my work with the Sales Ops teams across hundreds of companies across a wide-spectrum of industries and size.

In a small company, a single individual may play all of these roles – it may even be the VP of Sales themselves.

But in larger companies, you will see a wide range of roles that are “sales-related”, all reporting under a single VP of Sales Operations. Those teams are often tasked with defining what’s within their scope of responsibilities and I hope this graphic helps in that discussion.

Please add your comments to this post with how this matches to your own experiences!

3 Simple Ways to Measure the Return on Your Sales Ops Investment

How does a sales organization justify an investment in sales operations? By proving the return on that investment in measurable terms. This article provides simple methods for measuring the return on your Sales Operations investment. Let us begin by examining the purpose of Sales Operations as a function.

At a high level, Sales Operations exists to bring insight and optimization to a sales organization driving continuous improvement in effectiveness and efficiency. The measurement of that continuous improvement can therefore be attributed to Sales Operations.

Sales effectiveness relates to the organization’s ability to achieve its targets. Such metrics may include % Effective to Total Revenue Targets or % of Sales Reps at Quota.

Sales efficiency relates to the organization’s ability to lower the cost of sales while achieving targets. Listed below are examples of metrics that indicate sales efficiency:

  • Average Sales Price
  • Average Sales Cycle (# of days it takes to close a deal)
  • Close Ratio (% of qualified deals that close)

Let’s take a deeper look at these metrics and examine how to calculate your sales ops ROI.

Average Sale Price

Consider a simple example where you are selling products at an average of $20,000 per sale, with an annual target of $5,000,000. Now suppose that by investing in Sales Operations you can increase you average sale price by 5% to $21,000. That’s an annual revenue increase of $250,000. If your annual sales operations investment is $100,000 then you have a 150% return on your investment every year. That brings you to a total annual sales performance of $5,250,000.

The following sales ops activities may help to increase your average sale price:

  • Providing training on how to sell value and how to negotiate.
  • Creating an ROI calculator to estimate the value of the product to your prospects.
  • Establish an approval policy for discounting sales.
  • Compiling an easily accessible source of materials to prove value, such as case studies, surveys or testimonials.

Average Sales Cycle

Continuing with the example above, suppose your average sales cycle is 180 days. If effective Sales Operations can shorten that by 5% to 171 days, you should be able to close 5% more deals in a given year. That increases your overall sales performance from $5,250,000 to $5,512,500.

The following sales ops activities may help you shorten your average sales cycle:

  • Establishing a content management system so reps can access materials needed through the sales cycle quickly and easily.
  • Training your sales team to establish a plan with the prospect to ensure increased predictability and joint accountability to that plan.
  • Optimizing internal processes to increase selling time vs. administration.
  • Creating visibility into deals that have been ‘stuck’ in one stage of the sales cycle for more than 90 days (or any appropriate period) and addressing those deals directly.

Close Ratio

Continuing further with our example, suppose that 30% of deals that enter your sales pipeline actually close. If you can improve that close ratio by 5% to 31.5% then you should again be able to close 5% more business in the year. That brings your overall sales performance to $5,788,125.

You can increase your close ratio with the following sales ops activities:

  • Assess why deals are lost and addressing those areas directly. For example if deals are lost due to price, then you may want focused sales training on selling value and negotiations, or you may need to examine your pricing structure.
  • Assessing from which stage in the sales cycle deals are being lost and focus sales training to address those areas directly. For example, if deals are being lost based on price early in the sales cycle, then it’s possible that reps are communicating price too early. Train them on how to navigate those discussions and the proper timing thereof.
  • Working with your marketing department to define clear criteria for qualifying leads that enter the sales pipeline.

We can see that proving minor improvements to multiple measures can help you realize a compounded effect on your revenue increase. In this example improving 3 metrics by 5% has yielded a revenue increase of 15.8%, or $788,125. That a 688% return on your Sales Operations investment annually.

While these examples are highly simplified they demonstrate a method by which one can justify investment in the Sales Operations functions. The unique advantage to investing in Sales Operations is that it impacts your entire sales organization, not just one rep.

It is important to note that all of the above assumes you are able to capture these metrics. If you do not have an effective CRM system and processes to do so, then you definitely need a Sales Operations resource!

Once you have made your initial Sales Operations investment, it’s up to you to measure and prove the return on that investment. Having proven this value with measurable results your organization will have greater faith in Sales Operations, thus opening the door for more potential future investment.

The TRE3 Group helps companies optimize their sales operations organization, through best practices, processes, and tools. Visit to learn more about our sales ops solutions.

The Ends are the Means: A Sales 2.0 Maturity Model

[Note: this article was first published in the Nov/Dec 2010 edition of DestinationCRM without the embedded graphics]

Even at the most successful companies, executives want to know if their sales teams are performing optimally:

  • Am I getting the best bang for the buck that I spend on my sales force?
  • Can I drive higher sales productivity out of my existing teams or do I need to invest in new sales staff, leadership, systems, or channels?
  • Can I meet my sales goals without making changes at all?

A useful tool for benchmarking sales performance is a Sales Maturity Model, which is a yardstick for a company to compare themselves against the best practices of other companies and set realistic targets for sales productivity based on their current maturity level. Traditional Sales Maturity Models have identified a number of characteristics that describe each maturity phase including sales metrics, sales processes, sales tools, and sales methodologies.

And yet companies aren’t setting their sights high enough. A new sales discipline has emerged over the past few years – broadly referred to as “Sales 2.0” – that aims to align a company’s selling strategy to their customer’s buying behaviors.

In this Viewpoint, the author proposes a new Sales Maturity Model that incorporates the goals of Sales 2.0 to provide a better framework for companies to measure their sales performance against the latest industry best practices.

With a tip of the hat to Bruce Tuckman’s model for group development, this new sales maturity model is composed of five “-ends” that are characterized by sales messaging that is:

  • Intend – product-based
  • Spend – feature-based
  • Recommend – solution-based
  • Comprehend – objectives-based
  • Blend – buyer-based

The key characteristics of each stage in the 5 –Ends Model are summarized in the below table – the capabilities for each stage are additive, meaning you build upon the previous maturity stage and add new capabilities that give you entirely new productivity gains:

(Click image to view full-size)

For the past decade, the focus of most companies has been toward “solution selling” – shifting sales teams from a product-based pitch (Intend/Spend) to a solution-based pitch (Recommend). Many services-based companies have one step further to present their company as a “trusted advisor” (Comprehend) to their customers. Each step up the Maturity Model brings new capabilities to the company’s sales team: new sales metrics, new sales tools, new skills, and even new sales channels.

But the capabilities in the Blend phase are recent and unique – a suite of approaches, techniques, and information that was not available prior to the advent of more sophisticated collaboration tools like Chatter or social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Companies in highly competitive markets, who have made incremental improvements in their sales productivity, have only one way to go in order to differentiate themselves from their competition: invest in these new Blend capabilities and transform into a Sales 2.0 selling organization with Social CRM tools that augment their core CRM processes and applications.

And companies who are still working their way up the Sales Maturity Model can build an “edge” to their business through small experiments with Blend-like capabilities, while they focus on improvements to their “core” business using capabilities from an earlier maturity stage.

In short, the 5 –Ends Model is the means through which any company can develop a sales strategy and roadmap, set achievable goals for sales productivity, make smart investments in new capabilities that move its sales team up the Maturity Model, and provide a new sight on the horizon that leverages new Sales 2.0 capabilities to differentiate and win customers.

About the Author:

Mr. Branham is a collaborative selling strategist, advisor, and entrepreneur. He has held executive positions at (NYSE: CRM), Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), nGenera (co-founded by Don Tapscott, author of the best selling book Wikinomics), and has launched three companies including Opcentric, a consulting firm that was one of the first partners in 2000. In addition to serving as a Managing Director of Acumen Solutions, an international consulting firm, Mr. Branham also leads a sales strategy advisory firm, TRE3 Group.  For more information, please email at or follow Eryc @tre3group on Twitter.

The Invisible Social Enterprise

Is your company delivering a Social CRM experience to your customers…. and you don’t even know it?

It’s a CIO’s nightmare: critical corporate data flitting through the Internet without governance or even visibility to senior executives.

And yet that’s what is happening every day in the Fortune 500 – and probably your own company – with the rise in easy-to-buy and easy-to-use web-based applications like and social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Your employees, especially your Gen Y staff, are blurring the line between Web 2.0 tools that they use for personal use versus corporate applications that they use for work. All it takes is a web browser and a credit card – and sometimes not even that – to circumvent your IT purchasing process and start using services like Jigsaw for contact management, for document storage, Zoho for collaboration, or Basecamp for project management.

The result: innovation, employee engagement, and socially-engaged customers.

Not what you were expecting, right?

Here are 5 tips for uncovering and leveraging the trend of employee-driven tools and how to connect them to your enterprise IT strategy.

1. Discover, don’t squelch

The natural reaction to disorder is to create order.

This has led many companies to completely shut down access to social networks from within the corporate firewall, sometimes for good reasons (e.g., compliance to financial services regulations) and sometimes for reasons that appear reactionary at best (e.g., social networks hurt productivity).

Or for IT to passively allow the use of a SaaS (software-as-a-service) application at a workgroup level, assuming – of course – that it’s all paid for by the business and not IT.

Savvy executives are taking the time to get a temperature-check on the real “adoption” of employee-provisioned, web-based applications across their enterprise. One method is to simply to look at what’s passing through the firewall to get an inventory of the browser-based destinations of your staff while working on company time. Let’s call that the “Big Brother” approach and, to be clear, it’s an effective method for getting a real picture of what’s happening, assuming that all the data is flowing through your corporate computers and networks.

But a complementary method is an anonymous survey, to ask your employees what web-based tools they are using to “augment” the corporate applications, whether approved or not. Let’s call this the “Voice of the Employee” approach. The result: engaged employees who feel like their voice is being heard and a self-reported inventory of tools being used across your enterprise.

Again, your employees are already using Web 2.0 tools in support of their day-to-day work  – the questions is whether you know it or not.

2. Create an “edge” to your IT strategy

Your employees who take the time and energy to find their own web-based tools to get their job done are also the most entrepreneurial – take advantage of that.

Some of the best ideas for innovation in your business will come from these employees, who can bubble-up ideas for new areas of product development, customer experience, and sales channels – a concept called “crowdsourcing”.

Don Tapscott says it best in his recent book MacroWikinomics (2010):

In our previous book, Wikinomics, we called this new force ‘mass collaboration’ and argued that it was reaching a tipping point where social networking was becoming a new mode of social production that would forever change the way products and services are designed, manufactured, and marketed on a global basis.”

For an IT leader, there are two challenges to crowd-sourcing: 1) how to provide tools for these employees to effectively crowd-source ideas for your business and 2) how to encourage the entrepreneurial actions of employees to find the best new tools and experiment with them.

That experimentation is key to corporate and IT strategy – fundamentally, it’s the most critical new thinking that the Web 2.0 movement can bring to the enterprise – what I call the “Google Beta” effect.

Google has a history of innovation in its product development cycles, often releasing early versions of their products and tagging them as “beta” to distinguish between “production” products that would be perceived to be complete. Google learns quickly about what works and what doesn’t with their beta products and has a rapid development cycle to incorporate new features and re-release for further testing by the public.

For the enterprise, this is the equivalent of building an “Edge” to your IT strategy – a specific part of your infrastructure that you carve-out to allow experimentation, away from your “Core” systems and processes. Where an investment in the Core is generally about driving efficiency gains (e.g lower costs), investment in the Edge is about experimentation and finding new competitive differentiation.

That Edge can be developed in two ways:  1) top-down e.g., corporate initiatives to introduce new capabilities and 2) bottoms-up e.g., from employee innovation like the use of Web 2.0 tools.

3. Introduce some “laissez-faire” to your IT strategy

In politics, laissez faire refers to a strategy of “leaving it alone” from government intervention.

Politics aside, introducing some expected freedom into your application strategy, where staff can use external web-based tools if it helps their productivity, can ground your IT strategy in the reality of the work-place and allow your teams to focus on the best initiatives that require deep IT infrastructure and support.

This is the enterprise, though, which means public companies that have to protect their intellectual property, brand, and competitive advantages in the marketplace. If employees are engaging with partners and prospects in social networks without any governance, the results can be equally disastrous.

The key here is the right level of governance, where employees understand what is acceptable if they choose their own web-based tools and what is required to protect the company.

If your company doesn’t have a social media or hosted application governance policy, build one that creates the right balance for your company. If you have a governance policy already in-place, revisit it to provide flexibility and choice by your employees to use social networks and self-funded tools to do their job.

4. Build on the foundation for a Social CRM strategy

Social CRM (along with Sales 2.0) is one of the big buzzwords in the world of sales productivity right now.

To borrow Paul Greenberg’s short definition, Social CRM is:

…. the company’s programmatic response to the customer’s control of the conversation.”

And many companies are struggling to determine the best starting point for a Social CRM strategy: do we take a “horizontal” approach that builds communities, internally and externally, across the enterprise…. or a “vertical” approach to identify the best channels where social engagement with our customers has the best return?

The dirty little secret is that you already have a Social CRM process in place, with your employees engaging with partners, prospects, and customers using web-based tools and social networks on a daily basis.

So build on it!

Take the best practices where employees are already engaging with customers and develop your Social CRM strategy from those existing channels. Encourage those teams to experiment and learn what’s working (and what isn’t). Use those lessons to identify the enterprise-wide strategy that works for your company and a roadmap for introducing similar social capabilities in similar customer-facing channels of your business.

5. Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate

Finally, I can’t emphasize enough that the key to all of the above four best practices is the effective use of collaboration across your enterprise.

Collaboration is both a destination and the journey for your business – it is the means by which an IT organization can more effectively align with its internal customers (e.g., find out what Web 2.0 tools are working and incorporate those into the IT strategy) and is a core technology to weave into the fabric of your enterprise application footprint.

The technology underlining of collaboration can start anywhere in your enterprise, from document management (SharePoint), informal knowledge management (Yammer, Chatter), or even communities inside or outside of your company (Jive, SocialText).

The key is to acknowledge that your employees most likely have found their own Web 2.0 tools to collaboration with each other, your partners, customers, and even prospects.

About the Author:

Mr. Branham is a collaborative selling strategist, advisor, and entrepreneur. He has held executive positions at (NYSE: CRM), Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), and nGenera (co-founded by Don Tapscott, author of the best-selling book Wikinomics). He has launched three companies including Opcentric, a consulting firm that was one of the first partners in 2000. Mr. Branham is a Managing Director of Acumen Solutions, a global technology consulting firm, and CEO of the TRE3 Group, a Sales 2.0 advisory firm.  For more information, email Mr. Branham at or follow @erycbranham and @tre3group on Twitter.

Announcing the Sales Ops Council (SOC)

Dear Sales Ops Solutions Community,

It is my great pleasure to announce that effective immediately Sales Ops Solutions, including the LinkedIn Group, will be fully managed and operated by the TRE3 Group, a leading consulting firm focused on sales and sales operations.

It was important to me that my successors are aligned with the SOS vision and that they are able to serve SOS customers in excellence, providing equal or greater value than I.  TRE3 Group (pronounced “tree group”) was a natural and obvious fit.

It has been my privilege to serve the SOS community.  I am leaving this group in good hands.


Michael Hanna

Below is a special message from the TRE3 Group:


“We are thrilled to be sponsoring the ‘Sales Ops Solutions’ group in LinkedIn,” states Eryc Branham, Founder and Managing Director of the TRE3 Group.

“Sales Ops is in the DNA of the TRE3 Group and we are committed to being a good curator to the existing community of sales ops professionals and invest in the group for the growth of the Sales Ops profession as a whole.”

In support of that commitment, the TRE3 Group is announcing a re-branding of the group to the ‘Sales Ops Council’ a.k.a. ‘SOC’.

“We wanted to create a clear, individual brand for the Sales Ops Council, separate from the consulting work that Michael and Sales Ops Solutions (now TRE3 Group) conducts for its members,” explains Mr. Branham.

“TRE3 Group will continue to provide Design services to help an organization build a new sales ops function or simply optimize an existing sales ops team with one of our Health Checks“, adds David Stott, Director of the TRE3 Group’s Sales Ops practice. “We encourage SOC members to visit to learn more about how we help our clients build world-class sales ops teams.”

TRE3 Group is also announcing a new “Sales Ops Council’ blog, featuring articles from the leading sales ops experts.

“Michael has built a great audience for his Sales Ops Solutions blog and we wanted to build on that and tie to the Sales Ops Council as well,” notes Mr. Branham. “If SOC members are interested in contributing articles as guest authors, let us know!”

The SOC blog can be found at

The TRE3 Group is the leading provider of Collaborative Selling solutions, across Sales 2.0, Social CRM, Sales Operations, and Sales Tools. Visit us at or follow us on Twitter at @tre3group.