Sales Ops Best Practices: How to Use Data to Plan More Effectively

Aug 12, 2019
4 min read
Discover how these sales ops best practices put an end to the pain of collecting, presenting, and analyzing sales data. Here's how they improve reporting.

Sales operations is a relatively new role in organizations, but growing more important everyday. As the leader in developing strategic sales plans, they lay the strategic foundation for the entire company and play a vital part in achieving goals and the overall success of a company. That's why it's important for them to consistently implement sales ops best practices to ensure their plans drive their organization to succeed.

Along with sales, finance, and HR teams, sales operations create the map that guides the company to reach it's goals. This includes forecasting, sales capacity, quota, territory, and compensation planning—all of which require access to key data insights—and the more data leadership has access to, the smarter (and more successful) the sales organization is. 

Sales Ops Best Practices

To help you design better plans and analyze performance more effectively, here are 6 sales ops best practices you need to know. (Spoiler alert: each and every one involves one key component—data.)

1. Create a Central Source of Truth

You need data for your plans to be successful, but it's time consuming to gather it from multiple sources. Worse yet, if it's managed in manual spreadsheets, you risk data inaccuracy—since research shows 80% of spreadsheets have at least one error. 

Automation of incentive compensation, forecasting, and all other sales planning data helps reduce errors up to 90%. How? It creates a central source of truth. Leadership across all departments can access data in the same place. This helps everyone stay on the same page, align priorities, and plan more effectively. 

2. Replace Gut Instincts with Data

Every sales organization wants to believe they have the strongest plans in place—yet most continue to do what they've always done—base decisions on gut instincts. Unfortunately, this leaves companies at risk because plans are based on a "best guess" and aren't always modeled for different scenarios. 

Again, this is where sales ops best practices and access to data is crucial. When decisions are backed by data, they are based in fact. Better yet, when the data is located in an automated single source of truth, leaders have access to real-time insights, which allows them to analyze plans continuously and make adjustments on the fly.

3. Align Quotas with Sales Capacity

Do you know exactly how long it takes for a new sales rep to fully ramp in your company? With an accurate understanding of sales ramp up time, leadership can plan out capacity more effectively. Using data to drive capacity planning also helps align with HR to map out hiring needs and set more accurate quotas.

Many companies don't always plan for turnover but it's better plan out hiring needs with HR. Both capacity and quotas must take this unfortunate—yet realistic—situation into account, especially when the average cost to replace a rep is three times their salary.

As a sales ops best practice, backing capacity plans in ramp data ensures that you know when and how many reps to hire to ensure they'll be ramped in the event a rep leaves. It also assists with sales forecasting accuracy and making sure that quotas reflect ramp times and are realistic.

4. Build More Strategic Sales Territories

Like capacity and quota planning, a sales ops best practice is using data to drive territory mapping. Using a combination of internal and third-party data, leadership can develop more strategic territories and ensure that money isn't being left on the table because of—you guessed it—gut instincts or what's always been done in the past.

This means the old habit of mapping by NFL teams isn't as good as originally thought (unfortunately). In fact, companies that use data and automation to design their territories see: 

  • Up to 30% higher sales quota attainment
  • Planning time reductions up to 75%
  • Up to 15% increase in territory cost efficiency

5. Align Incentives with Goals

In order for sales organizations to increase revenue and drive growth, their incentive compensation plans need to encourage the right sales behaviors. When goals don't drive the right behaviors, companies risk having high quota attainment and missing goals—which is a big problem for any business.

Ideally, incentives should follow the ABCs of Compensation and be Aligned with goals, benchmarked against industry data, and Created to drive the right sales behaviors. The strongest sales organizations take this one step further and tailor their plans further for each role on their sales team.

6. Take Advantage of AI/ML Intelligence

The most important sales ops best practice is to understand the value of your sales data. You have a wealth of knowledge right at your fingertips—you just need to be able to use if effectively. Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) technology helps to do this. While the term is "buzzwordy" AI/ML isn't as unrealistic as it seems.

In all honesty, AI/ML algorithms are essentially useless without one key thing—data—and luckily, you have a goldmine of it. When you combine your data with AI/ML technology, leadership gains access to real-time data. This allows them to foresee potential sales plan issues and course correct before it's too late, ensuring you stay on track to hit goals. 

Eliminating the Reporting Headache

A big part of the sales operations job is reporting on performance of plans, sales teams, and more. For many companies (especially those using spreadsheets), this is time-consuming and has a high risk of error.

When organizations implement sales ops best practices, they compile the most crucial elements of their sales performance data in one place that is easily accessible to every key player in the enterprise and ultimately, create a stronger sales organization. 

Learn more about how you can create custom reports, analyze performance in real time, and build stronger plans in the "Complete Sales Planning Handbook." 

  • Analytics and Technology
  • Sales Planning
Karrie Lucero
Karrie Lucero
Content Marketing Manager

Karrie Lucero is a Content Marketing Manager at Xactly. She earned marketing and journalism degrees from New Mexico State University and has experience in SEO, social media and inbound marketing.