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Whenever I hear the term Sales Force Automation (or SFA) it makes me cringe. First of all there is no way to automate a sales force and, if there was, who would want to? There are many aspects to the art and science of selling including the ability to build relationships, understanding what a prospective customers' key needs are (which includes understanding their industry and the solution domain), determining if you have the capabilities to meet those needs in such a differentiated was as to be considered best, and then there is proving your value and fit and convincing the prospect that you are the best alternative given their criteria. The process is often complex and sophisticated - it involves gaining an interest, building credibility, earning trust, proving understanding, proving fit, proving past success, negotiating price vs value, addressing any risk issues, referencing, setting proper post deal expectations and, of course, - closing the deal.
Given all this, you can't automate the salesforce but there is incredibly high value in trying to create a repeatable and guided selling process so as to coach the salesforce into best practices selling.
Old school SFA systems focused primarily on contact and calendar management and, if you were really sophisticated, you attempted to report activity, conversations, emails etc. Most sales reps resisted enterprise SFA in favor of keeping their contacts to themselves because they saw little or no value in SFA and did not trust management. It was perceived as a management tool for beating them over the heads at pipeline review time (because that is exactly what used to happen.) For the rep, the less the manager knew, the better.
Sales Process Automation (SPA) on the other hand delivers value to sales reps. By guiding them through a well thought out sales process so the reps actually use the system (which in turn makes the reliability of the data much higher.) SPA takes into account realistic outcomes of steps which may move the deal sideways or even backwards in the process until the desired outcome is achieved - only then is the deal moved to the next step.
Many of these systems allow you to attach RFP's, word documents, powerpoint presentations, emails and even call recordings to accounts, contacts and deals directly - allowing a complete history to be built relating directly to the deal cycle. Alerts to managers can be sent when action is needed. Other team members (including alliance partners) can be scheduled and can collaborate off of one version of the truth. Productivity is increased for all members of the group and TEAMing is facilitated. (Together Everyone Achieves More.)
For managers, SPA systems of today also provide robust analytics to help pinpoint what steps take longest, what unexpected results occur, where deals get stuck in the cycle, stage of deals progressing towards decision, win/loss analysis, forecast accuracy, rep productivity, pre-sales productivity, executive involvement, partner and alliance involvement and virtually anything else you want to analyze in trying to continuously improve the selling/buying process.
SPA's of today add a lot of additional value as well and are much easier to use and integrate with a broader CRM process (to include marketing automation, customer support etc.) Many are available On-Demand (Software as a Service) via a subscription model over the web, but include an offline version so the sales rep can work on deal, contact and account updates and managers can review reports and forecasts while flying to the next destination (an objection of early asp offerings now overcome.)
In terms of process automation there are additional pieces which can now be addressed such as the RFP process. This is one of the most time consuming for many sales support groups. Products are now available to help streamline RFP responses by making use of a continuously improving knowledge base. This Kb can then be used to help with ensuring letters, presentations and proposals are using consistent wording and messaging by automating the generation of variables in these documents.
The best news is that it is affordable for any size of software company to do this, and at the same time, the chances of having a successful implementation have increased dramatically. You can start with a piece and add to it as well so that the entire project is digestible by all.
Paul Lavallee brings more than 30 years of extensive experience in the software & IT business. Mr. Lavallee has served as a director on several boards and advisory committees of both pre-IPO and publicly traded companies. For more information visit: www.venturefuel.com
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