Best Sales Force Automation (SFA) Software: The 2017 CRM Market Leaders

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Global spending on sales force automation (SFA) reached $7.2 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach $11.5 billion by 2021, growing at a compound annual rate of 9.8 percent, research firm Technavio concluded in a recent report. 

Among the reasons for this growth, the firm cites the need by companies to streamline sales processes to improve returns and reduce manual efforts required to manage sales data. “The applications’ ability to facilitate real-time and accurate information flow between the sales team, management, and other collaborative departments help improve internal processes,” said Angad Singh, lead Technavio procurement specialist for category spend intelligence, in the report. 

Also helping drive growth is an increasing use of the cloud as the major delivery model for such solutions, the report said. 


Microsoft posted its highest score in functionality (4.2), brought about by the recent integration of Dynamics CRM with Office 365, something that Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of Nucleus Research, says will bring “great productivity benefits for users.” Analysts also pointed to Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn last year as a game changer. That, coupled with its AI and machine learning capabilities, allows Microsoft to “deliver quite a broad and intelligent solution,” says John Bruno, an analyst at Forrester Research. However, Microsoft comes up short on its ability to execute, Bruno adds, pointing out that “it doesn’t have quite the [systems integrators] network of some of its competitors and traditionally has not executed well on selling. Its recent sales [re-organization] is promising,” however. 

Oracle also scored well in functionality (4.2), following what Wettemann refers to as an investment in specific “edge” SFA features, including territory management, sales coaching, and incentive compensation. When placed alongside Oracle’s core Sales Cloud application, it provides “a more complete solution than some [vendors] who rely on ecosystem partners for such functionality,” she says. Still, with a score of just 3.5, customer satisfaction remains a weak spot for Oracle. “Few customers are genuinely excited about choosing Oracle for SFA, but when coupled with additional components from their CX suite, their excitement starts to perk up,” Bruno says. 

Although off Oracle and Microsoft’s pace, SugarCRM did reasonably well in functionality (3.8). Wettemann says Sugar continues to make its SFA offerings more intuitive, pointing to its recent Hint product announcement, which “gives it much more to offer...in terms of sales intelligence and precall productivity.” Bruno agrees, calling SugarCRM a “customer-friendly solution allowing for the greatest degree of customization.” But its lack of prebuilt, industry-specific solutions and investments in AI (though growing) “are outclassed by the competition,” he adds. 

While Zoho continues to compete from a cost perspective, part of its challenge is that it’s perceived as a low-end choice, Wettemann points out. But it continues to invest in its capabilities and usability, areas where Jim Dickie, cofounder and research director at CSO Insights, says the company has struggled in the past. Additionally, Zoho CRM can require a lot of customization, and its customer support has limits, he adds. 


Salesforce.com returns as this year’s winner on the basis of its scores in direction (4.5) and functionality (4.5). The company still struggles with price, analysts point out, but that is easily dismissed. “We’ve found the ROI delivered to clients warrants the price tag,” Wettemann asserts. “As more customers take advantage of Lightning Experience (the new user interface) and capabilities like guided selling, as well as RelateIQ, they’re likely to achieve greater sales performance and ROI.”  


Bpm’online, a former industry leader, still has a lot in its favor. “Bpm’online has the benefit of being a younger solution that has been built organically,” says Bruno. “Its customers routinely rave about it and how user-friendly the system is, for not only business users but also admins. Bpm’online offers the aggressive pricing and the most transparent platform bundling options. It’s an enterprise-grade product that is starting to make a mark in the enterprise SFA space.”

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