Is Sales Operations Important For Industrial Manufacturers?

Ed Marsh | Apr 27, 2021

Let's start with basics. 

What is Industrial Sales Operations?

Sales operations is a planning and execution role for numerous "back office" sales functions including data management, sales enablement, business development, forecasting and market analysis, developing and reporting on metrics and KPIs, account prioritization, target account identification, territory management, compensation plan design, technology management, sales process design, as well as prospecting and qualifying.

It originated in technology sales, where carefully engineered and scaled revenue growth teams driven by elevated investor expectations have developed to optimize performance. It's gradually becoming more common among manufacturing companies that sell B2B.

Some sales operations functions have traditionally been handled by the sales management function in capital equipment sales organizations. Others might be thought of as general management or marketing functions.

Their consolidation under a new role - sales operations - is a reflection of the evolution of industrial sales and go-to-market approaches in response to changing buyer behaviors and technology.

Technology Industry Sales Best Practices Make Sense - But Are They Applicable to Industrial Sales and Manufacturing Companies?

Do your salespeople own their prospecting the same way they did 5, or even 2 years ago?

Probably not.

Do you use CRM and sales acceleration tools the way you did 5 years ago?

Probably not.

Those are just a couple data points - but ones that help answer this question. Buyers have changed as their B2C experiences change their expectations in their B2B buying roles. So the fact that you're an industrial manufacturer doesn't reduce customer expectations.

Yet many industrial sales reps at middle-market companies aren't as digitally savvy as buyers expect, or as they need to be to leverage current internal technology.

That's where sales operations fits a gap in the revenue growth program of manufacturers. Here are examples of what sales operations might do in an industrial company:

  • managing data sources (systems, software & providers | integration, unification, hygiene)
  • creating dashboards and reports on sales team performance
  • optimizing territories, alignment, and compensation
  • calculating and monitoring total addressable market numbers
  • administering CRM and sales automation/acceleration software
  • improving forecasting
  • advocating for and managing sales enablement
  • planning headcount and team model for sales growth (BDRs, SDRs, inside sales, inbound sales, outbound sales)
  • target account identification and prioritization
  • improving lead and project qualification criteria and processes
  • prospecting
  • designing, training, and rolling out sales processes
  • implementing new technology (including BI, data visualization, and analytics tools)
  • coordinating with marketing
  • troubleshooting and diagnosing challenges in pipeline growth
  • training salespeople on using technology
  • establish a culture of data accountability within the sales team
  • account assignment, lead scoring, lead routing
  • data analysis and data-driven approach to decisions
  • lead quarterly planning, reporting, and accountability
  • content sharing and knowledge management
  • support trends around virtual selling

Which of these is your company currently doing? Which do you assume someone is doing somewhere? Or planning on doing when someone finally has some time?

As noted above, some might be done by sales management, some by general management, some by marketing.

The reality that rapid growth, high-pressure technology companies discovered is that they often weren't done well, or consistently. That's likely true of industrial companies as well. And therefore a sales operations could contribute in ways that you haven't realized were missing.

But is it right for your company?

Are You a Data-Driven Sales & Marketing Organization?

That's the key question. If you're data-driven in manufacturing and operations, but treat marketing as an inconvenience and industrial sales as a black box, then there's no need to invest in sales operations for your company.

On the other hand if poor data quality in your CRM stands your hair on end, then you've already identified the first role of sales operations. (After all, I'm guessing that you've tried 10 times to get various folks to clean it up. It was never done right, and consistently gets worse...right?)

Further, if you're frustrated with stagnating and bulging pipelines, inaccurate forecasts, tiresome excuses, unused technology, investments in content that your sales team never uses, and very reactive sales, those are further symptoms of problems that proactive industrial sales operations might help solve.

Are You Willing to Hold People Accountable?

None of it matters, though, if you're not willing to hold people accountable. That means your new sales operations hire, your very most veteran salespeople, sales management, marketing, and yes, yourself.

Industrial sales operations only delivers value if its responsibilities and authority are clearly defined - AND everyone on the team is accountable to each other. That's perhaps the most challenging and problematic aspect of this function in more traditional industrial manufacturing companies or capital equipment environments where salespeople are accustomed to having great latitude with long sell cycles and big-ticket sales.

Bottom Line = Your Company Will Have An Industrial Sales Operations Team

The question is when - not if.

So back to the premise of this article - Is sales operations important for industrial manufacturers?

Short answer - yes. And integrated with manufacturing marketing and contemporary industrial sales it creates a powerful revenue growth engine.

Want more detail on how tech companies are leveraging sales operations? Check out the downloadable LinkedIn State of Sales Operations Report.