Best Practices in Sales Force Automation

Successful sales force automation (SFA) needs a special kind of corporate-wide thinking -- that is, matching SFA tactics to corporate culture, in order to build a sound business case that ensures buy-in from both management and employees. At least this was the key finding in a report released today by research and consulting firm Best Practices. "Successful corporate change initiatives always require skillful organizational alignment building before the change can occur, regardless of the technology or methodology employed," said Chris James, vice president at Best Practices, in a statement. The Chapel Hill, N.C.-based firm surveyed executives from 45 companies spanning 12 industries and 42 vendors, as well as reviewed academic journals and industry research. For starters, the benefits of SFA are very real. Companies can expect improved customer management; better communication among field representatives and sales managers; easier database access, along with reduced errors; improved sales call planning, reporting and scheduling; and, critically, sales growth. Using SFA software from Siebel Systems, a financial services company participating in Best Practices' study says its sales team has improved its prospect lists, resulting in real sales. Simply put, the SFA system has segmented high potential customers. While a salesperson still makes nearly a dozen calls per day, revenue per salesperson has been growing at a double-digit rate since the new system was introduced.
Source: Best Practices, LLC
But the technology isn't the only issue, and so Best Practices has also suggested areas of excellence required for a successful SFA implementation. The essential criterion in SFA is to achieve buy-in at all levels. This also means seeking sales representative input from the initial design of the system. Testing and piloting are critical stages throughout this buy-in process. And, of course, system usage must link to compensation. Best Practices reported that the director of sales and marketing information systems at a large financial services company employed a cross-functional alliance team as SFA's project champion, in order to obtain management buy-in. Called the 'Swap Team,' the group was composed of people from various levels in sales, marketing and IT. More importantly, four to five senior vice presidents stood up and vocally endorsed the SFA project. Without their visible support, Best Practices concludes, political foot-dragging would have killed the project at its formative stage. Other SFA best practices include aligning the technology with strategic business goals. Reasons for implementing SFA must be clearly defined, such as increasing revenue, reducing costs, cutting cycle times or cross-selling. And then there's ongoing maintenance of the project. SFA is not just a short-term strategy or long-term payoff. Many of the survey's respondents pointed to training, both initial and continuous, as critical to success. Also, poor maintenance and support systems are among the top complaints sales representatives have about their companies' SFA systems. Tom Kaneshige also writes for Line56.com
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