4 Key Characteristics of Commercial Operations (With Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 9, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you are interested in learning more about business, you may wonder about the meaning of commercial operations or business operations. It's an essential part of understanding business, representing one of the most fundamental parts of commerce. By learning the basics of business operations, you can better understand how companies earn profits and potentially become a business operations manager. In this article, we define commercial operations, list four contributing characteristics to successful business operations, and discuss the skills that can help you succeed in this field.

What are commercial operations?

Commercial operations are the activities a company engages in to exchange goods and services. All companies engage in business operations, although not all actively use the term or have a dedicated operations team. Many mid-size and larger companies, and some small companies, even hire specialists in business operations to improve their model. These professionals have backgrounds in business analysis, technology, or finance, using their expertise to see where they can make improvements. Companies that hire these professionals usually have one business operations manager, who may manage a team of similar experts.

Read more: Program Manager vs. Project Manager: What's the Difference?

4 characteristics of successful business operations

You can divide what drives business operations into four broad categories, including:

1. Growth

The primary goal of almost all business operations is facilitating growth. A growing company brings in more profit, is more appealing to investors, and empowers a company to make bigger changes in its model. A business operations manager takes information, such as a company's current model, obligations, growth trend, and resources, into account. They then look for potential opportunities to improve growth, which can include making changes internally, such as changing procedures to improve efficiency or seeking valuable business opportunities.

Where growth isn't possible, an expert also aims to keep decline minimal, ideally getting company operations stable. If a company is in decline, rather than growing, it isn't always alarming. Often, an expert can explain a decline through contributing factors, such as market changes or a product performing less than expected. The expert then suggests ways to counter the decline, which may involve reducing risky activities and prioritizing slow but steady growth. They may also suggest the opposite, suggesting unusual or risky activities that they view as having the potential for a major reward if successful.

Read more: How to Grow Professionally in Your Career (With Tips and FAQ)

2. Data

Data is often invaluable as it allows an expert to look for trends, opportunities, and inefficiencies effectively. Information on points such as sales data, a company's market share, competitor finances, and the cost of services such as shipping all make good decision-making easier. Data helps reduce an operations manager's guesswork, giving them relevant objective facts they can work off of directly or use to make more accurate inferences about what they still don't know.

Data also guides prioritization, as it can show both unutilized opportunities for growth or reducing a company's most significant weaknesses. Data can show an operations manager which opportunities are most important and cost-effective, offering the most gain for the least cost or risk. More accurate data is always better when conducting business operations.

3. Valuable professionals

Every business relies on some combination of CELL, which stands for capital, entrepreneurship, land, and labour. The importance of these four resources varies by a business's model. A labour force is the employees and contractors who further a company's goals. Employees, when motivated, have the opportunity to grow and learn. If a company can attract and keep skilled employees, the value of its labour force can increase over time. It's beneficial for a company to improve an employee's education, because the employee can offer more value over time.

A business operations manager can examine a company's hiring, training, and retention practices and look to maximize the value of a labour force. Some aspects of this process are difficult to quantify, such as the effects of various actions on employee morale, but an employee that's happy, skilled, and has a history with the company is typically much more productive than a new employee who may have the same base skills.

Read more: Motivation and Inspiration (Definition and Differences)

4. Technology

Technology is a powerful tool for the improvement of business operations. Technological improvements, especially in software, can help a business operations manager collect larger amounts of data that are more accurate. Software can help a manager get reports on delivery times and delays, the number of products a factory is producing, or how much digital activities affect a company's servers. Improvements to either the accuracy or quantity of data collected lead to more informed decision-making.

It's also possible to improve operations more directly with technology. For example, new machines may allow a company to make more of a product or create them with greater precision at a lower cost. Sometimes new software or machines can even help perform tasks that once required multiple human employees at a lower cost. Business operations managers watch for these kinds of innovations. They then balance the initial cost of installation and restructuring the company with the benefits the technology provides, so they can determine if the investment is cost-effective.

Useful skills for working in business operations

An individual specializing in business operations benefits from a fairly diverse skill set. Business operations managers make many decisions based on technical skill and analysis, but also interact with other clients and stakeholders daily. They also combine quantifiable facts with information less easily quantified, but still important. Some useful skills you can develop to help you succeed within a business operations team include:

Analytical thinking skills

Developing analytical thinking skills helps operations professionals to optimize their company's business processes more effectively. They may use analytical thinking to prioritize tasks and ensure the strategies that the company is implementing can help it achieve long-term growth. To strengthen your analytical thinking skills, consider taking an online course that focuses on mathematics, such as statistics. This may help you understand how to notice complex patterns.

Decision-making skills

To increase the company's revenue and improve its business operations, it's helpful to know how to make effective decisions. To strengthen your skills, consider seeking training on soft skills related to decision-making, such as intuition and assertiveness. You can also ask your manager or supervisor for guidance about how to develop your prioritization skills, which may improve the decisions you make at work. Enhancing your decision-making skills may help you identify critical factors in the company's business strategy, set effective goals, and provide company leaders with helpful advice about which decisions to make.

Communication skills

Business operations managers typically collaborate with business, management, and sales experts to improve the company's operations. They may use their verbal and written communication skills to explain ideas clearly and provide straightforward advice about critical decisions or important projects. Communication skills are also important to develop if you intend to advance within the company and take on a senior role because they're an essential element of good leadership.

Read more: How to Start an Email with 6 Business Examples

Negotiation skills

If you want to pursue a career in business operations, you may need highly developed negotiation skills. As negotiation involves knowing how to influence others effectively, having these skills may help you maintain positive client relationships and better collaborate with your team. If you want to advance your career, these skills may also help you obtain a new position or negotiate a higher salary.

Emotional intelligence

This soft skill is typically a combination of interpersonal and relationship management skills. These skills can help you maintain relationships with clients, vendors, business partners, and colleagues effectively. To improve your emotional intelligence, consider asking friends or family members for feedback about how you manage relationships in your personal life. This may help you identify areas that may need improvement. Then you can apply what you learned in the workplace.

Read more: What Is Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace? (With Helpful Tips)

Sales skills

Although working within a business operations team differs from working in sales, having a background in sales may help you succeed in this field. This is because both operations and sales employees use similar skills to help the company maximize its profits and plan for long-term growth. Strengthening your storytelling, active listening, and social selling skills may help you perform your daily duties successfully.

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