How to Earn a Career in Sales Operations

I’ve been working in sales operations for more than 4 years. I’ve seen this field become a hot commodity in part by how it helps collaboration between sales, marketing, and finance. A flood of new sales and marketing tools, and in turn a flood of new data, helps get this done. These tools are also making sales operations roles more and more specialized.

Let’s break down what it takes to make an impact in sales operations and how a wide skill set will set you up for success. 

Sales Operations as a Discipline

Sales Operations professionals are highly specialized. They balance a wide range of technical and business skills, as they collaborate with sales, marketing, finance, vendors, and executives to help keep businesses growing. 

Technical Skills

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

Business Skills

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

Notice that coding is not included in these bullet points. A growing number of tools are moving toward declarative, point-and-click development, like Salesforce. So, what do all these skills combined look like in action?

Sales Operations Professionals Are Stewards of Data

A salesperson’s contact spreadsheet in 1995 might have included a person’s first and last name, company, title, phone, and email. But now, a modern prospect record includes all of these things along with more complex data which might include a prospect’s LinkedIn profile, detailed call notes, and their activity on your company’s website.

The truth is, companies are seeing an explosion in the customer and vendor data they collect and need to manage. It flows into businesses constantly, through a variety of digital channels and more traditional ones like phone calls and face-to-face meetings at industry events. Busy sales reps key in duplicate records, important fields are left blank, SPAM bots dump leads into your CRM, among many other challenges. 

IT and Sales Management, the roles which had previously managed companies’ data, are not prepared to handle this challenge alone and have pivoted toward filling Sales Operations roles for specialized support. Data is a business’ most valuable asset and Sales Operations Practitioners act as trusted experts in managing, transforming, and interpreting this data. 

The data which Sales Operations teams manage is not solely created by sales activities— marketing data such as leads generated, their assignment and conversion metrics, and campaign activity flows into the systems managed by Sales Operations teams. This helps organizations attribute their marketing strategy, spend, and tactics to revenue created. 

Mass email outreach is another common area where Sales Operations, sales, and marketing teams find common ground. With sales teams looking to send personalized emails with wide reach, they rely on marketing teams to create email templates and on Sales Operations teams to ensure merge field and activity data syncs into relevant systems. 

Who Are Sales Operations Professionals? 

As this is a new field growing so quickly, there is no uniform profile for a Sales Operations professional—this is what makes it exciting! Currently, the Sales Operations talent pool is made up of a few main groups: 

  • Former sales and marketing professionals. 
  • New & recent grads.
  • Adults reentering the workforce (among many others). 

The lack of a tried-and-true “profile” for Sales Operations hires gives a wide variety of people the opportunity to have a seat at the table.

How Do You Develop The Skill Set 

The most valuable skill which makes a Sales Operations practitioner (and one which is difficult to capture in a job description) is Systems Thinking. Systems Thinking refers to the ability to break a system down into its constituent parts parts for analysis or improvement.

While self-education and learning from on-the-job experience remain the main ways Sales Operations Practitioners assemble their skills today, there is an exploding body of best practices knowledge generated by Sales Operations thought leaders made available at industry events like Dreamforce or Ops-Stars. We are also starting to see micro education programs collaborating with accredited universities. Today’s Sales Operations practitioners are creating the educational resources which will support the next generation of practitioners.

Another vital point of exposure to Sales Operations is mentorship. Experienced Sales Operations leaders sometimes hire junior team members and mentor them directly. A less evident benefit of mentorship is that persistence and relationship-building skills needed to proactively find a mentor give Sales Operations Practitioners insight into the experiences of their counterparts in Sales.

Where Are They Hiring?

Sales Operations roles have mainly flourished in SaaS B2B companies like Salesforce and many Silicon Valley startups, but demand for these skills is expanding beyond that. Companies like Hewlett Packard, Pepsi Co., and Best Buy are seeking Sales Operations roles (source: Glassdoor). 

The CRM-Marketing Connection

While CRM administration is often a part of Sales Operation, the discipline extends far beyond that key function. Common areas of Sales Operations expertise include and are not limited to: 

  • Sales Enablement
  • Data Quality Management
  • Territory Planning
  • Quota Setting
  • Incentive Compensation

Each business has unique demands, but the above points are generally represented in most Sales Operations job descriptions. 

What all of the areas listed have in common is that, at an increasing number of companies, their execution relies on leveraging data housed in CRM and marketing systems. With this in mind, CRM and marketing administration has organically become a foundational skill for Sales Operations practitioners.

Should I Be Certified?

While Salesforce Certification is not a must, it helps concretely convey your skills. Since there is no single degree which is strongly associated with Sales Operations, Salesforce and other Certifications like GreenFig’s micro degrees. help fill this void and construct a cohesive narrative as you seek your first Sales Operations role.

Titles To Look For

As you go through your job search, there are many titles which nod toward Sales Operations.

  • Sales Operations Coordinator
  • Sales Operations Specialist
  • Sales Operations Analyst
  • Business Operations Analyst
  • Sales Operations Manager
  • Business Operations Manager
  • Director of Sales Operations
  • Director of Business Operations
  • VP of Operations
  • VP of Sales
  • COO

Each word in these titles can be used as a keyword when searching for job descriptions, articles, and training materials.

What Next?

Here are some valuable resources which Salesforce Administrators and aspiring Sales Operations professionals can rely on.

Are you attending Ops-Stars next week? You can catch GreenFig and Salesforce there! Check out the Trails we collaborated on above to help get you ready for the event.