Sales force automation technologies have increased exponentially in recent years and businesses are implementing these software solutions at a rapid pace to enhance productivity, accelerate the sales cycle and improve revenue.
As the name implies, sales force automation (SFA) is basically the process of maximizing the efficiency of the repeatable processes a sales person performs, utilizing software tools to automate and streamline business tasks within the sales process. However, SFA solutions also do much more: by automating tasks, it also gathers data on the performance of those tasks and automates the entry of that data into the system, thereby making information more readily available to salespeople and management.
The term is sometimes used interchangeably with customer relationship management (CRM). While there may be some overlap, customer relationship management is the strategy used to manage the customer relationships and the software used to implement it and does not necessarily include the automation of sales tasks. Sales force automation is the strategy used to create efficiencies in sales processes.
The SFA market has increasingly moved from on-premises solutions to cloud-based “software as a service” solutions and includes mobile platforms, partly driven by the increasing reliance by salespeople on mobile devices that need to access data on the go. One research firm projects this market to rise from $1.84 billion in 2013 to $4.13 billion by 2018 with small-to-midsize businesses entering the market as cloud-based services become more widely available.
SFA software solutions can be applied to many different activities in various stages of the sales cycle, all with the general goal of automating necessary tasks to save time and accelerate sales.
In an area that overlaps with CRM, SFA solutions allow sales personnel to improve the efficiency of managing contacts. It can sort and prioritize leads into categories such as qualified, interested or already contacted based on pre-defined parameters. It can automate important time-consuming tasks such as scheduling sales appointments, sending follow-up letters and emails and tracking contacts. It can also provide tracking of daily call activity and call cycles, and trigger reminders for appointments and tasks.
Customer and Account Management
SFA solutions are particularly effective in managing customers and accounts. Sales personnel can have immediate access to order information – inventory monitoring and control, order placement and processing, as well as tracking of fulfillment, shipment, and receipt. This improves customer service. The salesperson has the information to answer a customer’s questions about an order or notify a customer of changes in shipment arrival – saving time, enhancing the experience and creating customer loyalty.
With the automated entry of purchase information, a salesperson can see a customer’s accurate order history and offer the most relevant products or services for up-selling or cross-selling based on that customer’s previous purchases.
SFA solutions are also helpful in automating document management, which promotes information sharing and ensures consistent and up to date information across the sales team. Managers can integrate product and pricing information, marketing materials, presentations, research reports, upcoming product information or similar sales materials into the system for immediate access by the sales team to deliver to customers. The system can allow salespeople to quickly generate estimates, proposals, and quotes, and shorten the response time to RFPs.
Sales Team Performance Evaluation
SFA solutions can automate the entry of various metrics for each salesperson’s activities, allowing managers to have immediate access to information to evaluate performance, such as customer engagement, emails, calls, meetings scheduled, proposals, various follow-up activities, and sales results. Assessing and monitoring performance metrics become much easier which helps managers to take the right step at the right time including coaching, mentoring and training. Close monitoring of performance helps to identify any problems that arise early on in order to quickly take corrective measures.
SFA solutions can automate the updating of sales figures so that salespeople and management can see updated information on an ongoing basis. This enables sales leaders to see and share progress toward a goal or quota. Management can also use this real-time data to provide more accurate sales forecasts before the end of a quarter or other specific reporting period. The system can also show which customers provide the most profits or buy the wider spectrum of products so that sales personnel can focus on the right customers at the right time.
SFA solutions by definition automate sales tasks which free salespeople from routine support activities, saving valuable time that enables a salesperson to invest more in human interaction with customers. With that automation comes automated logging and reporting on those activities, which provides valuable insights for individual salespeople and managers to continually improve performance and increase sales.