• December 1, 2006
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Going Full Auto With SFA

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Sales force automation is a big country, both in terms of what it includes and the potential benefits to businesses. It's easy to assume that SFA is just one piece of technology, or that it can be added all at once to an organization's sales process. Nothing could be farther from the truth; the sheer number and diversity of SFA products proves there's more to smart SFA than flipping a switch. "There is no one right answer" when choosing where to start, says Robert DeSisto, vice president of the CRM practice at Gartner. "The culture of the sales organization will dictate the best choices of what to automate." If the management hierarchy's goals are dictated solely by numbers, for instance, the key things will be forecasting and reporting. If they're focused on adherence to the steps needed in the sales process, then they might implement opportunity management. "Align Sales Organizational Culture with Technology Investments," a research note by DeSisto in April, outlines Gartner's take on the best options for where to start the SFA implementation. Companies low information needs might not see value from any SFA implementation. More highly defined processes will call for pricing configuration and management. According to Christa Heibel, CEO of CH Consulting, touches like automatic letter printing and distribution triggered by stages of a campaign in the CRM database can achieve considerable ROI by keeping prospects fresh and moving them toward close. Soft benefits can come from similar automated processes postsale. "Ninety days after point of order, you may want to send a thank-you, or 90-day-old prospects can get a checkup touch," Heibel says. Order processing is another ideal place to put some automation in place. Don't assume that this is automatically done as part of the customer's order. "You'd like to think that, wouldn't you?" Heibel says. "Front-end automation often isn't linked to the back end, so transactional data must be entered manually. Automating the rest of the process brings huge savings in terms of fewer mistakes, faster processing, and better visibility." Automatic email triggered from a customer's Web presence or input can also have a big effect on sales. "The ability to have some [email templates] to quickly respond to an inquiry or acknowledge a request," Heibel says, is a major but often overlooked part of customer interaction and prospect maintenance through the online channel. Customers and potential ones don't want to feel their message is floating around waiting to be opened. "People want to know you got the message." Heibel adds that there are a number of reasons why businesses are still looking to automate even basic processes. "When you're making decisions based on budget, the cost of new technology can be scary. Especially with customization, it can cost millions of dollars." When dollars are the obstacle, it's important to remind the purseholders that you have to spend money to make money. "Managers who are in a position to recommend CRM and automation must make a clear ROI case." It's equally important to understand your culture from the inside out and the bottom up, or you'll be wasting money. "Businesses don't always encourage their people to give input and get involved in the process of choosing and implementing SFA," Heibel says. DeSisto agrees; the typical constraints are "budget, IT resources, and organization." Overcome these, start automating, and see the results.
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