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Alison Diana Advice For Sales Force Automation Software Selection

3.5 stars Average rating: 3.5 (from 46 votes)
 By Alison Diana

SFA Software Powers-Up Sales Teams to Increase Revenue and Productivity

Like a treasure map, sales force automation (SFA) software helps guide your sales teams to increased sales person productivity, more effective sales planning, improved sales predictability, increased sales win rates, better sales person quota performance and higher sales commissions.

After all, this powerful software gives sales staff a window into the entire sales process, tracking key client contacts, a history of activities, scheduled follow-ups and a measurable sales strategy plan for every sale opportunity. Yet finding the SFA software best-suited to your business may require a different map, one to guide you through your many alternatives and deliver you to your destination: A reliable, high-performance, cost-effective and affordable solution that generates a real return on investment (ROI) in hard dollars and time-savings.

The ABCs of SFA
While enterprise software vendors may tout several unique capabilities and features, SFA software is most often an integrated component of a customer relationship management (CRM) software suite. SFA systems bring structure, automation and visibility to key selling processes such as account management, contact management, activity management, opportunity management and sales order processing.

Sales automation systems are responsible for the contact management capabilities that track all the interactions between your company and all its clients. In addition to names, numbers and addresses, contact management includes the date, resources and description for each contact, as well as scheduled next steps or any necessary follow-up. This ensures customers are contacted only when necessary, preventing accidental omissions or - perhaps more annoying to clients - over-contacting. When used in a shared environment, SFA systems deliver a 360 degree sales view of all activities and interactions between the company and the customer. When used as part of an integrated CRM software system, the 360 degree customer view can be extended to include all marketing interactions and customer support incidents related to the customer.

A lead-tracking system, as the name implies, maintains a list of possible sales leads, generated by website visits, mass mailings, outbound calls or other sales and marketing campaigns. This feature also includes information on existing customers' purchases to encourage up- and cross-selling. Other key components are sales forecasting, to guide budget and manufacturing plans; order management, to ensure customers receive their orders in the most timely, cost-effective manner; and product knowledge, or an online, real-time database of all your company's products or services. For group scheduling and team based selling, SFA solutions include integrated scheduling for the entire sales team and an email and calendar synchronization component.

Additional sales force automation software features to consider may include social media integration, call center software integration, territory management and realignment, competitive intelligence, quote and order processing, sales performance management, pipeline analysis, activity workflow manager, digital dashboards, business intelligence analysis, customer profitability analysis and mobile support.

Some businesses also are adopting sales force automation solutions that allow clients to build their own product solutions based on available options. Constraint based order entry configurators are extending SFA systems deep into back office enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications. PC manufacturers and car-makers have been some of the early adopters, but this capability is attractive to several industries.

Selecting a Solution
Since sales force automation plays such an integral part to company success, it's wise to form a software selection committee made up of key stakeholders, including a top-level executive, the sales manager, sales representatives, IT and marketing. This committee will sponsor and drive the project to ensure buy-in from upper management on down. After all, if people don't see SFA as strategically important and valuable, they will be loathe to use the solution, challenging user adoption and harming your ROI results.

Determine your company's specific needs and wants by collecting, prioritizing and weighting sales processes and mapping those business processes to business software feature sets. Be sure to include representatives from across your sales force, both in the main office and those scattered throughout branches or remote offices. Often, the most successful salespeople are seldom in the office. It is, therefore, critical that your SFA solution simply and seamlessly provide mobile access. The days of calling a customer back with specs, pricing or availability are long-gone. In today's age of immediate gratification, sales people want to answer clients' questions immediately and not ensue communication delay due to required follow-up and the inevitable voice mail exchanges.

Sales automation doesn't exist in a vacuum so ensure your software candidates integrate with your existing infrastructure and without extensive software customization. Take into account the amount of training each software manufacturer recommends and consider the costs associated with ongoing support and maintenance. In a recent research report, 49% of respondents say a close match to their company's needs was the most important factor in their decision to purchase a particular SFA solution. The right feature sets are most important to 48% of respondents, with 18% citing the right cost and 12% focusing on ease of implementation. Clearly, the higher the fit between the SFA system and the company's most essential sales processes, the lower the software customization, training time, consulting costs and implementation risk.

An SFA systems cost should not be the sole reason for selecting one solution over another - but your budget is, of course, a major reality. Knowing how much you can invest will immediately eliminate some potential vendor candidates before you expend effort reviewing business software systems outside your capability.

SaaS or On Premise
A significant and early software selection consideration should be on the pros and cons of on-premise versus hosted SFA solutions. There are well-established providers in both camps, so consider the short- and long-term costs, business benefits and your corporate culture to help guide your decision.

With on-premise SFA systems, your company owns the software, buys a specific number of user licenses and installs the software on the internal network. Your IT department is responsible for service, maintenance, upgrades and support, often backed by a maintenance and support agreement with the software vendor. This approach is more expensive up-front, and may require an additional investment in servers, storage and networks. It also may demand more of your already-strapped IT department.

On the other hand, hosted SFA solutions delivered in the software as a service (SaaS) model require a smaller up-front cost since, in effect, you rent the software, bandwidth and storage from a third-party provider. Armed with a strong Service Level Agreement (SLA), you own your data but rely on the service provider to ensure the SFA software is current, to deliver always-on access and to provide regular maintenance, security, storage and disaster recovery. This means you can add new software licenses only as-needed; or if the sales force shrinks, simply reduce the number of licenses. If it grows, add only what you require.

Slow and Steady
You have a catalog of features and have made the hosted vs. on-premise decision, pinpointing a short-list of three or four top sales force automation vendors. Hold in-depth conversations and software product and service demonstrations. Providers should tailor their SFA demos to best-match your business processes and specific objectives. Review features, pricing, system integration, recurring and upgrade costs, pricing for add-on features or more advanced version upgrades, training, and the cost of additional hardware, especially if you choose an on-premise solution. Often, SFA systems do incur some customization so keep those costs in mind, too. Beyond the SFA software acquisition, consider key services questions. How do prospective partners handle - and price - cleaning up and importing data from your existing sales automation system? If you select a hosted SFA solution, how do SaaS providers turn-over your information if the relationship ends?

Vendors should address your business and sales issues. You're not just buying technology: You are buying a solution to improve your sales teams' efforts and, therefore, your business' revenue and customer relations.

Speak to existing client references, in-person if possible, to discuss their solution's strengths and weaknesses, the software's performance, the vendor's support, and benefits they've realized from the software. Ideally, you will talk to similar businesses in order to get the closest match to your operation.

Once you have made your SFA selection, roll out this major project in discrete phases. And be sure to allocate ample resources to cover configuration, piloting and training for all the system's users.

You laid a secure foundation, based on weeks of research and questioning. It's now time for your sales team to leverage SFA's treasure map to discover and serve new opportunities, clients and revenue streams. End

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When used in a shared environment, SFA systems deliver a 360 degree view of the customer relationship by including all activities and interactions between the company and the customer. When used as part of an integrated CRM software system, the 360 degree customer view is extended to include all marketing interactions and customer support incidents related to the customer.


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