How to Build Sales Operations Within Your Start-up

If you have ever wondered why your head of sales is struggling to give you an accurate view of next month’s forecast, or you can’t understand why the slick new reps that you brought in from a high flying SaaS company aren’t selling already, then you are probably ready for sales operations (sales ops). Below is your step by step guide for who to hire and when.

The four critical functions of ‘sales operations’

Most CEOs (and sadly, some first time VPs of sales) I speak with think that sales ops is simply the CRM admin and Excel pivot table wizard. It turns out that this is a fraction of the function. Your first head of sales will undoubtedly attempt to balance the full time role of hiring, coaching, selling etc with the functions below, but inevitably this doesn’t scale and a sales ops investment must be made.

(1) Chief of staff and advisor to the head of sales

At its pinnacle, the sales ops leader is the trusted advisor to the head of sales. Someone recently said to me, “The [Chief sales officer] would be naked without his sales ops leader.”


“If the CSO is weaving the blanket of revenue that keeps us all warm, then sales ops provides them with the pattern and tools to get it done.”

(2) Sales enablement

The sales ops leader has to manage these tasks to enable the reps to develop and excel in their jobs:

  • Sales process development and improvement (Including playbooks)
  • Sales process enforcement (Making sure reps adhere to it)
  • CRM and configure/price/quote tool stewardship
  • Sales efficiency tool development (eg. email tracking etc)
  • Leveraging marketing content as ammunition for enablement
  • Ongoing sales training and certification
  • Proposal/Bid support via deal desk

(3) Reporting and analytics

An ops leader needs to be a data junkie who can interpret, manipulate, and explain data. Sale sops has to own the accuracy of forecasts and run pipeline reviews. Those reviews need to translate to resultant action using well-defined metrics. The sales ops team must work with marketing ops to integrate with demand generating functions to meet goals and forecasts.

(4) Strategy and planning

As an executive, the sales ops leader must have big-picture plans regarding incentive plan design and administration, territory definition**, growth planning, and renewals. Each of these is necessary to manage the sales team and push performance over time.

[Tweet “The four main responsibilities of your #sales ops leader…”]

Your VP of sales can’t do this on their own. A cursory look at the above should make it clear that your head of sales can’t possibly do this as well as their day job. So here is the order in which I recommend you hire and build out the function:

MC Blog Grid

Here are the symptoms in each stage that will indicate you need to make your sales ops hire:

Finding fit ~$1M ARR: (ARR amounts are indicative and will be dictated by your ASP)

  • You can’t rely on the forecast from your head of sales
  • No-one really understands the dynamics of the business – win rates, sales velocity etc.

Repeatability ~$1M-$10M ARR

  • Top of funnel is drying up – SDRs saying that companies don’t need your solution (Their messaging/positioning is off)
  • New reps are not being consistently productive
  • Reps are leaving for more established companies “To grow”
  • Your win rates are declining
  • Existing reps are being slowed down due to helping out the new reps
  • Overall sales productivity is declining

Going big >$10M

  • Reps are fighting over accounts
  • Reps are 100 miles wide and 1″ deep on many accounts
  • Forecast and pipeline are a mess again
  • Bad deals are being done – Deep discounting or poor terms
  • You need to open regional/international offices to meet growth targets

The most desirable early hire here is that very rare sales ops professional who has been through these growth phases and still enjoys rolling up the sleeves and diving into CRM admin panels.

Good luck! And for the mental health of your head of sales, I implore you to budget sales ops as a priority.

When you get to the task of hiring for Sales Ops, keep these qualities in mind for potential hires:

Numerate – Ops is about looking at the data to inform the sales motion. This data is often in the form of ratios and over a time series. In these analyses, there is a meaningful way to look at the data, and then an even more meaningful way to use it. Can your candidate identify those? For instance, a candidate should be able to explain why a win rate on a time horizon vs a snapshot may be different and what each represents.

Articulate – Ops needs to be able to explain data so a listener understands the significance. Often, they need to take it a step beyond and convince the listener to change their opinions. These communications need to be a success at all levels from your SDRs to your CEO.

Affable – Ops is linked to almost all parts of the organization. They need to be able to build relationships all around: Sales Reps, Finance, Recruiting, Marketing, Customer Success, Product.

Curious – There are so many ways to look at information and piece it together to tell a story. Do you think this is something they’ll continue to think about without specific direction or guidance?

Opinionated – Whether it’s in negotiations or territory disputes, your sales ops hire will need to be comfortable drawing a line on decision making and consistently following a framework. Extra points if they’re comfortable creating those frameworks themselves.


*Advanced Excel means: Pivot tables, Goal seek, data tables and consolidation, Advanced filters, Importing text and manipulating (columns).

**Being distracted by territories at an early stage is a bad idea for a number of reasons. One of which is that early-stage companies need to leverage personal networks and setting territories obfuscates those.

Acknowledgments:  This article was a collaboration that included valuable input from:

Brennan O’donnell, SVP Sales & Business Development at Euclid analytics
Volney Spalding, VP Sales Operations, Xmatters
Amy Lin, Sales Operations Manager, Okta

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