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Think Twice About Growing Sales Ops Headcount

In the realm of venture capital, there’s a counterintuitive dynamic that occurs when a startup company receives too much investment, too soon. For these startup ventures, having a surplus of money actually eliminates a “forcing function” that’s crucial to the development of their businesses. And lacking this forcing function, these companies will often end-up struggling…or even failing.

What does that have to do with Sales Operations?

Well, right now, optimism is running very high in the business community. The economy has been heating up, the business climate has improved significantly, and management teams are feeling pretty good about the future. As a result, they’re much more willing to loosen the purse-strings and invest in their companies.

So…a lot of Sales Ops teams are discovering that it’s now becoming much easier to add headcount. Many are finding that they now no longer have to fight tooth and nail to get the requisite approvals. And amazingly, some groups are now actually receiving encouragement from above to expand their teams.

In Sales Ops, however, you need to be very thoughtful about adding headcount. You might even want to err on the side of being somewhat stingy about it. Even when you don’t actually have to, there are at least five reasons Sales Ops should strive to remain lean and mean from a human resources perspective:

  • Smarter Priorities — Just because they can, an over-funded startup will often pursue things that are distant priorities at best. When there isn’t an abundance of human capital to spread around, Sales Ops is forced to develop much smarter and more impactful priorities.
  • Systemic Solutions — Instead of developing scalable systems and processes, an over-funded startup will often default to just adding more hands. As Sales Ops should be all about developing scalable systems and processes, adding more hands, or “throwing bodies” at things, should be an absolute last resort.
  • Busywork Shield — Having inarguable priorities and “just enough” people to pursue them effectively can act as a sort of shield against the tendency for Sales Ops to become a dumping ground for busywork and one-off tasks. “Well gee, Bob, we’d sure like to generate that complicated report you’ll only look at once as you try to justify that terrible deal you just closed. But I’m afraid our team is so busy with important things that we just don’t have the time. But maybe we’ll pencil it in for next quarter. Or next year. Buh bye.”
  • People Issues — Over-funded startups will often hire hundreds of people only to later discover that “people issues” and internal politics are garnering almost as much attention as figuring out how to be successful in the marketplace. By remaining as lean and mean as possible, Sales Ops can stay on-point and avoid a lot of these headaches.
  • Things Change —As it’s just human nature for people to think that whatever they’re doing today is what they should be doing tomorrow, it’s difficult for an over-funded startup with a lot of personnel to change course. Obviously, this can be deadly for a new venture. Because market conditions and the competitive landscape are always changing, it’s really important for Sales Ops to be nimble, flexible, and not too entrenched in the status quo.

Of course, I’m not in any way suggesting that Sales Ops should never add headcount. After all, you need smart, capable people to develop the scalable systems and processes that will ultimately achieve the big objectives and deliver on the top priorities.

I’m just saying that even though it’s becoming easier to add headcount, you should still give careful consideration to the positive “forcing functions” and other benefits associated with remaining a “lean, mean, Sales Ops machine”.

Just because you can, that doesn’t always mean you should.

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