5 Ways Sales Ops Planning Goes Wrong (and how to fix it)

June 14, 2016 Richard Bayston

Sales ops is a vital part of the modern sales system. A functioning sales ops department is as key a component of your sales system as anything in your sales stack. Sales ops drives productivity and efficiency throughout the whole sales department. Building scalable, repeatable, data-backed processes that allow almost everyone to push their numbers - no special mojo required, just by doing their jobs - means sales ops teams are a must-have. Organizations that don’t have one will fall behind.

But sales ops is a relatively new field. While Xerox may have pioneered the role in the 1970s, most sales ops departments - and careers - are just a few years old. And there’s a lot that can go wrong when process construction and planning are based on complex data manipulations in a fast-paced environment.

Sales ops is there to support sales reps, providing structure, tools and training to ensure productivity and success. But the sales ops department faces its own characteristic hurdles.


Inaccurate Forecasting

Forecasting is one of the toughest and largest tasks faced by sales ops departments. The database is broad - information has to be drawn from marketing, sales, product, finance and every other aspect of the business. And sales ops has to make highly accurate long range forecasts about sales numbers and outgoings in the form of remuneration to sales staff. Those forecasts form the basis of strategic planning that later becomes compensation plans, revenue expectations, sales quotas and more.

There’s a lot riding on sales ops getting it right. But it’s really easy for something that complex to go wrong.

Writing three years ago, John Chase warned his readers:

‘Almost every Sales Manager and Marketing Manager that I know, believes that their own products and markets are particularly difficult to forecast. They also say that sales forecasting takes far too long and that their time would be better spent growing sales and markets.’

In the rest of the organization this inaccuracy is a major problem:

‘Almost every Production Manager and Operations Manager, believes that their organization’s forecasts are wildly inaccurate’ Chase continues. ‘They tell me that this causes inefficiency and waste in their own processes and makes it impossible to develop and execute a stable plan.’

If sales forecasts don’t show year-on-year improvements in accuracy, there’s a problem. If their accuracy flatlines at ‘nearly useless’ year on year, it’s time to act.


What Causes It?

Poor forecast accuracy is overwhelmingly a consequence of poor data.

percent of respondents

In almost 50% of cases, sales forecasting is held back by a lack of accurate information that should be easily procurable from CRM records - if reps were CRM compliant, which they’re usually not. Almost a quarter of sales forecasts are derailed because of a deeper data problem - the statistical likelihood of closing deals isn’t understood, either because no-one has the skills to analyze the data or because non-CRM-compliant reps haven’t recorded it with sufficient accuracy.


How Can You Fix It?

Start with rep CRM compliance. If the data in your CRM isn’t solid and usable you have nothing to base plans on. Build reporting criteria that will be useable to create accurate forecasts so reps don’t waste time recording information you don’t need. Use the data you do have to build a sales process with identifiable, trackable milestones - incredibly, an obstacle for 22% of sales organizations even now. The essence of forecasting is reporting.


The Right Tool For The Job




Clari is a sales ops tool that does some of the data science for you, including predictive analytics, pipeline visibility and forecasting. Other great tools include InsightSquared and Datahug


Poor Planning Feedback

When plans aren’t sufficiently agile, they become less relevant over the course of the plan, usually a year. As a result, reps and other employees regard the planning process as less useful and become less compliant with planning and reporting, degrading the quality of data available for future planning.


What Causes It?

Because sales ops departments often face intense pressure to handle operations, planning gets pushed. Then, toward the end of the year, next year’s plan is hastily assembled and left to run for the nine months until the following year’s Q4. The rigidity of the plan encourages noncompliance; poor data gathering due to noncompliance contributes to unrealistic planning; and a lack of a feedback mechanism during the plan’s lifetime contributes to its rigidity.

What’s needed to make plans more effective is not just a better base in reliable data, but a feedback mechanism so that methods can be adapted on the fly in response to market and other changes, without abandoning goals.


How Can You Fix It?

David Brock points out: ‘It’s impossible to have accurate forecasts without a strong sales process! Not having a strong sales process results in a random walk through the customer buying decision.’ The solution to rigid, inflexible planning is a solid sales process that provides useful data, and regular meetings to analyze the plan in the light of that data and readjust trajectories so the plan stays realistic.


The Right Tool For The Job


funnel source


FunnelSource offers powerful analytics with on-demand insight into the sales cycle and helps ensure data integrity using alerts as well as keeping both users and administrators updated on key performance metrics.


Mismatched, Inaccurate Data

Sales ops has to create forecasts and strategic plans from a wide range of data sources. Pulling data from different departments is tough enough. When that data is in different formats including modern cloud-based applications, legacy mainframe systems and an array of different spreadsheets and other record keeping systems, it’s even tougher. Successful planning depends on quality, consistent and accurate data that’s integrated so sales ops can achieve overview.


What Causes It?

Implementation of new tech in layers often means companies are running modern tech stacks side by side with legacy systems. Noncompliance with CRM and other tech tools can result in parallel systems of record keeping; vital data can fall between the cracks. When sales ops reaches for this data to design strategy, they often find their data sources mutually incompatible, inaccurate and incomplete.


How Can You Fix It?

Increasing compliance with companywide data management systems is often a matter of ‘selling’ them to reps the way you would to a customer. If CRM is imposed on reps they don’t buy into it and they don’t use it. Give them a chance to buy into its value and demonstrate that they can sell more with it than without it, and you’ll have the compliance you need for reliable sales information.

The rest of the company is another issue and it’s frequently outside sales’ wheelhouse. But if you have the level of C-suite involvement and sponsorship where you can press for a companywide data solution, it’s going to make everything from monitoring progress through strategic planning to quota construction much easier. (It also makes it easier on everyone else who has to handle data as part of their job; soon, that will be everyone.)


The Right Tools For The Job

Rather than recommend a single tool, you should look for highly integratable systems that you can bolt other systems into without too much modification. Salesforce excels here because it’s highly modifiable; Zoho may be easier to set up ‘out of the box.’ If you’re choosing something for sales the priority should be, ‘what will reps actually use?’ If you’re having a say in a companywide solution, whole-enterprise priorities will subsume those of sales but you should still press for a solution you can sell to reps as well as one that shares data between departments easily.


Firefighting: The Enemy Of Fireproofing

Sales ops has two main areas of responsibility: strategy and operations. But when they spend all their time keeping the car on the road, they don’t get much chance to look at the map.

A sales ops department that constantly has to deal with operations matters is going to struggle with the consequences of not having the time to do process and strategy design that would lighten the operations load. They’ll be so busy putting out fires that they don’t have the chance to prevent them.


What Causes It?

Rather than being a consequence of not having data or lacking the tools or skills to analyze it, constant firefighting comes from a lack of focused resources and proper tools. It’s an Eisenhower Square Trap.

eisenhower box


The Eisenhower Square, named for Dwight Eisenhower, is a way of dividing tasks based on urgency and importance. For instance, immediate firefighting and operations control tasks might be urgent - they have to be done now - but are they important? The tendency if you don’t have a structure in place to prevent it, is to do what’s urgent and important, then what’s urgent but unimportant. Tasks that are important but not urgent are always on tomorrow’s to-do list. Sound familiar?

A lack of the proper technical support can also hamstring a sales ops team that has to spend time doing work-arounds for the tasks they need.


How Can You Fix It?

Start by making sure that planning is prioritized. Wherever possible, delegate firefighting duties to relevant departments or individuals. Make sales ops the department that decides who does it, not the department that does it. Moving the focus to planning improves the effectiveness of sales ops when it comes to creating the structures that ensure smooth operation so you aren’t constantly dealing with the day-to-day.


A Weak Stack

Sales ops can’t fix the problems of a sales organization unsupported. A sales ops team that’s struggling to use outdated tech, often that doesn’t play well with other tech, and juggle dozens of homebrew manual workarounds at the same time? They’re going to have a similar experience to a finance department trying to run on an abacus and a pile of Post-Its.


What Causes It?

Selecting appropriate tools for planning and process construction is a challenge. But it’s nothing to the challenge of trying to do those things without the right tools. ‘At times, sales operations leaders can be a little bit like MacGyver,’ says Richard Brooms, Director of Sales Operations and Analytics at Encyclopedia Britannica: ‘piecing technology together to optimize it for a team and a company’s market.’ When sales ops are tending to a MacGyvered stack, they’re not fixing the sales process, monitoring the pipeline or training reps and managers.


How Can You Fix It?

Jordan Easley recommends shadowing teams to watch what they really do, rather than what they say they do. Sales ops should look for ‘Loopholes or shortcuts being used; lack of feature or product adoption… [and] manual processes ripe for automation.’ Once they’ve been picked up on, move to seeking wide-spectrum solutions, either within an ecosystem like Salesforce or Zoho or with broad functionality so you don’t wind up with a million single-use apps all struggling to communicate with each other and requiring a separate window and a new UI.


The Right Tools For The Job

Field Trip:

ro buzz


Field Trip, Qandor’s addition to Salesforce’s Appexchange, is designed to run reports on the fields you have set up in Salesforce, analyzing the fields of any object and showing how much those fields are actually populated. This helps when you’re trying to figure out which parts of the process reps are skipping!



Sales ops is a not-so-secret weapon for optimizing a sales department’s performance. But first sales ops has to have the technical support, equipment and organization to do its job.

Download our Sales Operations Playbook for more information on how Sales Ops can boost your sales team's performance.

Featured Image Source: Wrong Way No Confused Sign Transit Sign by Ale Hidalgo CC0 Pixabay

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