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Sales Operations for the Small Business
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How Your Sales Team Adds Value - Learn these 8 Focus Areas

December 28, 2016


Go back to the late 1990's or early 2000's. How'd you buy stuff online? Probably didn't. From then 'til now, the way you buy clothes, technology, or whatever, has changed. Because you're not going from store to store, there's time to do research, and think more about if you're truly ready to buy.


What the process look like?


It probably starts out with the need to solve a problem or someone referring you to buy something. The next step is to ask friends or peers followed by some time on google where you checked out a few sites on page one. You think about it for a few days, research some more, and then narrow it down to a few that have educated you more than others. It probably ends in picking on price or value, right?


Just as the consumer has changed their buying process, so has the B2B customer. What I'm suggesting or bringing up, isn't new. There are a lot of folks who have touched on the subject already....



The typical sales training class just isnt' going to cut it.

The days of just saying the right things to customers are over. To be clear, using a sales methodology is still important. However, sales professionals are going to have to bring value to their customers and their employer beyond their product and job description.


But how? What's the process for sales professionals to get better?


The idea is to be knowledgeable on a lot of fronts. Those fronts obviously include the product or service you're selling and your customer's business. But again, what else should you learn in order to bring value to the relationship and stand out from your competitors?


I've compiled a list of topics that will not only help you with your customers, but will help you in working with other departments within your company. Hopefully, you become a better sales professional by investing some time into each topic.

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Bring Value by Learning....No Particular Order


Excel - To me, you as the sales rep don't have to be an excel expert, but you have to be able to navigate your way thru a worksheet or model. Why? Not only can you assist your client with some quick analysis, you won't be a hinderence to your sales manager by asking for help every time a report gets sent to the team.


Don't be the lowest common denominator on your team. Here's a few key areas to focus on:


Pivot tables - Pivot tables are a great way to create a summary of a data set. For example, let's say you have 300 rows of data (new leads) and you need to see which reps have how many leads by territory by industry. A pivot table is a lot quicker than sorting or filtering thru the data manually. 


To create a pivot table, highlight the data you want to analyze, go the ribbon at the top of your excel sheet, click the insert tab, and choose pivot table. From there, you have to set up the table by dragging and dropping fields into the row label and value areas. Read this to help you get started.



Keyboard functions - Speaking of sorting and filtering, to efficiently navigate thru a spreadsheet, you'll want to know a few keyboard shortcuts. A few that I use frequently:


  • Filters at top of columns - shift, control, L

  • Navigate quickly - shift, control, arrow

  • Highlight a group of cells - hold down shift, use arrow

  • Copy - control C

  • Paste - control V

  • Undo - control Z


And if you really like shortcuts, check out this list from exceljet.


Charts - Similar to highlighting a group of data to create a pivot table, to create a chart, highlight an organized set of data then go to the ribbon at the top. Click 'create a chart'. From there you're going to want to pick a chart type and format to your liking and for your audience.



Linking sheets - Useful when building a model, linking sheets (tabs) is simple. If you want to pull in data from one tab on to another, simply press = or +, navigate to the tab with the desired data, click on that cell to now make it part of the formula.


Other key formulas and tips - Here are a few common formulas:


  • VLOOKUP - probably one of the most useful formulas (and a well known pain in the ass formula), per Microsoft support, VLOOKUP is "used to look up a value you want to find in an Excel list or table. Using VLOOKUP is similar to looking up a person's name in a telephone book to get a telephone number. VLOOKUP looks at a value in one column, and finds its corresponding value on the same row in another column".

  • sum =sum(cell range)

  • average =average(cell range)

  • Bottom right corner - sum, average, and count appears when you highlight a group of values

  • Color your tabs - Organize a sheet by right clicking a tab at the bottom to choose a color

  • Fill down, up, or across - highlight one cell that has a value that you want to appear in the next, say, 10 cells down....after choosing the cell with the value, hold down shift and then press the down arrow to highlight the cells in which you want that same value to appear...go to top right of ribbon (assuming you're on the Home tab) on fill, choose down


Where to learn?


Financial concepts and terms - No one is asking you to have a masters in finance, but there is a trend occurring within sales....the more analytical, the more successful. So to grasp certain financial concepts, it will help you in communicating and collaborating internally in addition to having better conversations with your clients. It will help you at home too. Let's review:


Financial statements - income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement. Learn some basics here.


GP - Gross profit equals revenue minus cost of goods sold (COGS). For those of you that are compensated based on your region's GP, you're obviously familiar with this. As I'm eluding to here, GP can be used as the way a rep or team is compensated.


Net Income - Net income is revenue minus total expenses.


EBITDA - Stands for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. When evaluating a company's performance or value, EBITDA will come up.


It's a good measure in comparing companies or determining if a company is line with the industry (i.e. EBITDA as a percent of revenue). In terms of valuing a company, you'll hear "it's valued at seven times EBITDA"....EBITDA = $7 million....So it's a $49 million valuation.



Where to learn?

Project management - Most sales professionals are project managers to start. Essentially, each sales opportunity is a project. In a way, their CRM should be acting as their project management tool. However, in some cases the onboarding of a client requires a project manager.


As a sales person, being knowledgeable about project management practices will not only help you in moving your opportunities thru the pipeline, but it will go along way with your internal and client PMO (Project Management Office) relationships. You may want to grasp some concepts with the following:


Terms - To get you started, see a couple lists from wikipedia and TechRepublic.


Methodologies - There are quite a few methodologies that can be used. It depends on the project as to what methodology gets used and not every methodology can be used for every project. To give you a quick view, see this infographic from Wrike, who's a leader in PM software. Here's some extra reading from Wrike as well


For a sales professional to know these methodologies back-and-forth, is a little much. The goal is to have a basic understanding of project management to help you communicate with your company's PMO. They're the team that's going to bring your deals to life.


Tools - Here's a few to consider checking out...I like Trello a's flexible.....Just started using Asana...integrates with Slack....Trello does too



Where to learn? - If you're looking to get a brief overview of project management principles, there's a few places you may want to check out.


Marketing concepts - If your company has a marketing team and especially if they don't, you need to be in tune with current marketing tactics. Some communities you need to join are and Marketing Professors. You should also spend some time getting Hubspot certified.


If there's a topic you should spend time learning after reading this post, it you should be this one. Know their world as best you can. A few areas to be knowledgeable:


Inbound vs. Outbound - There's a good chance you've heard of both practices, but if you haven't, I'll try to help. Inbound marketing is the idea of drawing customers to your online assets for them to submit their interest. It's that process of creating awareness thru rich and interesting content, converting them into a lead with a secondary level of content, to then closing them as a client.


Outbound is viewed as more of the traditional marketing tactics where the content is driven towards the consumer such as TV commercials, cold calls, flyers, or brochures in the mail.


Key to the inbound strategy is understanding your buyer and taking the time to layout your buyers persona and the process in which you will get them to engage with your content.



For more thoughts on the topic, see what the folks over at Salesfusion have to say. And from the team over at Wordstream.


SEO - Search Engine Optimization - Now it depends on who you talk to or who you read as to which SEO practices are still relevant and which ones still work. I will say, it's overwhelming. There are a couple experts that I seem to read a lot, Brian Dean and Neil Patel. They're not the only ones out there.


I'm not suggesting you go out and become an SEO expert. Your focus should be in learning the concepts. For your personal blog, don't spend too much time worrying about SEO, just write really good content for your customers or prospects....unless you have the time.


How to publish content - Each platform will be different in terms of technically publishing content. What I'm referring to is how to write and structure blogs. This is a fantastic piece by Hubspot that lays out the formula in which you can write to your audience. Here's is another very detailed piece by once and then read it again.


Where to publish content - Besides creating a personal blog on (you can find mine here), your going to want create a suite of social platforms in which you can push your content. 


Where to learn?

Writing skills - Business writing can vary between mediums, so it's important to have a grasp on the differences. The way you write on and LinkedIn is going to be different compared to how you communicate internally on Slack or when emailing your clients.


Blog - The way you write on your blog (read what the team at Yoast has say) has a lot to do with your audience. You might be very formal in your approach or very care free and relaxed.



Social - Again, it depends on the platform. Check out a few examples from a Hubspot post around Twitter


Email - Writing emails can be tricky, internally and externally. As a sales person it's important that you're crafting emails that get responses. To make yourself efficient throughout the day, you should build up a list of templates for certain scenarios. did a great job of helping you start this list.


Where to learn?

  • Here's a great list

  • Sign up for Jeff Goins course...guy knows what he's doing

  • Another list which includes Udemy and Skillshare

Software concepts and terms - If you don't have a general understanding of software development you need to start. On a personal level, you may have to help your kids after their "coding camp" or create a personal site, which will be worth your time.


In terms of bettering your sales career, having a strong foundation around software development probably won't close more deals for most of you reading this post. However, it will go a long way towards the relationships you have with your IT department. If you know their craft and give a shit about it, you might see them speed up "sales related" projects coming out of their department.


Beyond growing your internal relationships, learning software concepts and keeping up the trends will make you a better thinker, problem solver, and expand your creativity.


Terms and disciplines - To create a baseline of knowledge take a look here and here to become familiar with some terms. And the disciplines you'll hear most are: front-end developer, back-end, and full-stack developer.


Software languages - The number of software languages is just overwhelming. Compare what Mashable posted as to what popular languages were in 2014 vs. what Coding Dojo had to say earlier in 2016. For beginners, start out with learning HTLM and how CSS is applied. Codecademy is good place to get you ears wet. If you're passionate about mobile, learn Swift, the language for iOS. 


Development methodologies - Just like there are different sales methodologies (i.e. Sandler Training, Spin Selling, Challenger), there are software development methodologies. Now if the product that you're selling today is technology related, there's a good chance you're skipping over this section. If not, some of the more common methodologies include agile, lean, or scrum. Becoming familiar with a few of these could go a long way with your clients...and your own IT Department.



Software development life cycle (SDLC) - The SDLC is the structure followed by a development team to complete the required tasks. See how Veracode explains the benefits and phases. Tutorials Point provides a more detailed view, here.


Where to learn?

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Sales operations - As I wrote here, the back-end or support elements of the sales organization in Corporate America has been labeled as Sales Operations. In most organizations, a sales ops department will include initiatives like reporting, compensation, client onboarding, planning, enablement, and CRM support. It’s the link between other departments and sales. 


To build better relationships within your organization or specifically, sales operations, you're going to want to spend some time learning why sales operations is an actual department and how to lean on them to be successful. A few key areas are:


Sales metrics and KPI's - Activities. Objectives. Results. Within each of those categories, what are the specific sales KPI's that you track today? Or better yet, do you have a team that is delivering these reports on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis?


One of the core functions or responsibilities of a sales operations team, is to provide analytics to the team and leadership. 


It's important to your success and paycheck that you understand these reports. Understand how to use them to reach your personal goals in addition to driving the performance and relationships of your clients.


If your company hasn't invested in a reporting plaform that brings all data sources together, you're probably still using Excel. And that's ok, but this is why it's important to be an Excel expert...ok, better than average. Being able to navigate Excel reports with ease will save you tons of time to then spend more time talking with prospects. Ask your sales ops team for help. That's what they are there for.


And if you're good with Excel, there's a good chance you'll be able to navigate and create reports with ease in most reporting platforms. 


Again, sales ops is there to create that success. The sales professional shouldn't have to worry.


Creating the plan and Compensation - Another key component of sales operations, is managing the quota methodology and compensation plan.


If you're reading this as a sales rep, account manager, etc., make sure you know the in and the outs of your quota and comp plan. I say this to obviously watch out for yourself, but to be able to communicate your thoughts back to management to make the plan better. If leadership is unaware of nuances in the field that impact your comp, things won't change.


Enablement - Lastly, sales operations should oversee or contribute towards sales enablement. The sales enablement function or initiative is there to help sales be successful. That might range from training to technology help to creating a better way in managing their expense report.


Where to learn? - Still not a formal department in many companies, there aren't really sales ops classes out there. So here's a handful of resources to review:


Legal - As you're moving deals thru the pipeline by working with legal, do you ever wish you knew what they were talking about? Ever been on a conference call and get asked about a term that you had no clue about?


Well, in most B2B sales positions, contract law is going to be relevant.


Terms - At least read this list of terms.


Where to learn?

Product development and management - For most of us in sales, selling a fully baked product is preferred. However, there are times when you're asked to test the market on behalf of your product development team or marketing. Or maybe you're working for an early stage startup. By knowing the principles of product development and management, you'll have more success with your clients and with your internal team. For a view on the difference between development and management, see this post on Quora.


Terms - A great place to learn about product development and management is The Product Development and Management Association (PDMA). Start with their glossary.


Methodologies - Lean. Agile. I would say these are two of the more familiar methodologies. Find some time to watch this video on Agile. And for some concepts on Lean, watch below:


Influencers - Obviously, there a lot of great influencers to read up on. Two, that you'll see often are Steve Blank and Eric Ries.


Where to learn?


There is obviously a lot here. And we clearly didn't cover everything. I'll continue to expand on these topics in a more focused approach.


As B2B sales continues to change, today's sales rep is going to have to acquire new skills to stand out from the field.


Look for my ebook/whitepaper of this post in the coming weeks.