The Best Sales Force Automation (SFA) Software and Solutions: The 2021 CRM Industry Leader Awards

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The Market

To put it very simply, sales force automation (SFA) isn’t meant to replace sales reps but to make them more efficient with automated workflows to streamline leads management, sales forecasting, and team performance management, addressing the roughly two-thirds of sales teams’ time spent on non-revenue-generating tasks. SFA solutions became more vital than usual in the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic moved sales teams to work from home and to operate on more digital channels. Leading vendors have been forced to create mobile versions of their products as a result.

Industry analysts have varying views of market growth, with projections between 8 percent and 15 percent through 2026 and beyond. Some firms have predicted that the market’s value will reach $9 billion by 2023.

SFA, analysts agree, is gaining immense popularity worldwide, and that will only continue as leading players invest in advanced solutions, such as artificial intelligence for predicting outcomes, forecasting, and crafting next-best-action recommendations.

The Top Five

Microsoft has a few very potent sales force automation products, including Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales and LinkedIn Sales Navigator, which enable smarter selling with contextual artificial intelligence and empower sellers to build relationships and improve performance. Microsoft has very effectively integrated these solutions into its other business applications. It also has expanded capabilities with artificial intelligence and analytics, so much so that Kate Leggett, a vice president and principal analyst for CRM and customer service at Forrester Research, says, “Microsoft very effectively showcases how analytics transforms selling” with AI-driven territory planning, forecasting, pipeline inspections, relationship insights, next-step recommendations, and coaching and guided learning.

The strength of Oracle CX Sales lies in its artificial intelligence and data-driven features that allow it to surface an unprecedented number of data signals. And that is a capability that only got stronger this year as Oracle rolled out AI-powered predictive lead scoring, sales forecasting, configuration management, and subscription management. But analysts also said the company’s SFA isn’t as capable as some other top vendors’ solutions. “While not having as large a presence in the SFA world as other players, [Oracle] still provides a robust offering,” says Jim Dickie, a partner at Sales Mastery. Leggett agrees but adds that “reference clients were pleased with [Oracle’s] broad portfolio of integrated products.”

Analysts repeatedly say that Salesforce’s Sales Cloud has some of the most robust capabilities in the industry, both natively and through its huge partner ecosystem. “Reference clients were positive on Salesforce’s broad portfolio and its ability to innovate and support digital trends,” Leggett says. And though largely considered ideal for larger enterprises, Salesforce has taken steps to appeal to more midmarket users. “Salesforce’s product line offerings allow SMBs to start with SFA and then grow into full CRM systems as needed,” Dickie says.

SAP Sales Cloud, a SaaS-deployed offering that operates on the SAP C/4HANA platform, has become a top SFA offering in short time amid a number of recent product changes. In just the past year, SAP expanded the integrations with back-office solutions and added capabilities for field sales, retail execution, renewals management, pipeline management, forecasting, quoting, order management, pricing, sales performance reporting, and more. But still, its product does have a few pitfalls. SAP’s “digital sales capabilities are weaker and lack broad channel support and advanced capabilities to automate seller actions,” Leggett says. “The product also doesn’t include the breadth of prepackaged AI scenarios that other vendors support.”

While the other five vendors in this list might be considered CRM industry Goliaths, SugarCRM could easily be considered the David in the bunch. Its Sugar Sell product, though not as mature as others, is robust enough for most use cases. The addition of SugarPredict, which brings data-fueled AI for next-best-action guidance, lead-conversion tips, opportunity-close predictions, ideal customer profiling, and more, this year further augmented the product, while Sugar says those are just the first of many SugarPredict-powered capabilities that are coming in SugarSell. Another positive trait SugarSell has in its favor is its no-code approach that allows users to customize layouts, modules, and plug-ins to meet their individual needs.

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