Getting Sales Force Automation to Work
If you can get everyone to adopt a sales automation system, it will bring discipline to the sales cycle and increase business predictability. However, experience has shown that it's a very big IF--as in capital I, capital F. To succeed you need well-defined sales processes and unswerving executive commitment. The system also has to be simple to use and offer real value to sales representatives and other stakeholders.
The field is littered with failed attempts to implement sales force automation (SFA) systems that were perceived as too complex, too much work, disconnected from the realities of how business gets done, and of little value to anyone but management. At Fujitsu Consulting we had tried a number of sales automation systems, the most recent being a system called MAB (Marketing Around the Bases). But MAB wasn't being kept up to date. The MAB data repository wasn't tied into the sales process, and consequently, people weren't using it as much as they should.
The basic problem was that salespeople had their own personal spreadsheet in a drawer somewhere. Instead of sharing information about customers and accounts, that information was hidden away. It was difficult to forecast when a services opportunity would close or to plan effectively for the delivery of the service. Also, if a salesperson left, important knowledge about the customer would be lost. In addition, there was little real knowledge about the effectiveness of marketing programs, since these couldn't be tied to sales successes in any meaningful way.
A Fresh Approach
We finally decided to take a fresh approach to sales automation with a new sales management system (SMS). To kick off the SMS project we made sure our sales process was well defined in the beginning phases. Next, we selected a sales automation tool from SalesLogix that was compatible with our business. (The consulting business involves tracking people usage over multiple project phases as opposed to widgets going through a phase process.) Then we involved a cross-functional team that thoroughly understood what salespeople go through on a day-to-day basis, and that made sure the SalesLogix system was customized appropriately in the pilot phase of the project. During this phase the sales process was painstakingly mapped to the SalesLogix tool. Focusing on the process itself was the most critical success factor.
Other important success factors were:
Clear articulation of the value proposition around the tool
Executive commitment from all our executives
Win-win-win advantages for the sales force, the delivery teams, and management
To gain rapid acceptance, SMS was designed to help salespeople get much more organized around managing their own business in their own territories, allowing them to spend more time with customers. It was also intended to help delivery teams gain visibility into pending opportunities, so they can plan when their services will be needed. And it had to provide easy-to-create, self-serve management reports that can be detailed and summarized in many ways, allowing much better business predictability and what-if planning.
All these goals were realized by the time SMS went into full production in April 2003. It has been extremely well received and is working even better than we hoped.
Better Business Management
SMS improves how we manage our business by enabling all sales representatives and managers in the United States to enter and track sales leads in the same way, using a common vernacular. The system has increased the overall efficiency of the sales process, improved overall business predictability and resource management, and provided new opportunities for customer contact. In fact, we run our business on it.
We now have a complete, automated sales forecasting and tracking system we use every week on our sales review calls. Also, with SMS we have the ability to tie in marketing on the front end, so we can identify opportunities from different marketing events. Plus we have good, "fresh" data throughout the sales pipeline so we can manage our resources and collaborate more effectively. We also know who our customers are and how to contact them.
Other important benefits include:
Unexpected new knowledge, because information can be presented in many ways to reveal new insights
Validation of how well services offerings are selling, for marketing purposes
The ability for individuals to bring up a list of sales opportunities, and search and sort in a number of different ways
Improved account planning by attaching account plans to SMS so the entire selling team can see the broader context of the account
From a CRM perspective SMS has resulted in higher customer satisfaction, because sales representatives have a much better picture of where similar solutions were provided for other customers and can draw on that experience to improve their proposed customer solution. Also, because the delivery consultants have access to SMS, and management can better plan the mix of consultants available to a customer, the customer is assured of getting the right set of skills.
In addition, SMS allows much better preservation of customer information. SMS makes sure that vital knowledge about prospects and customers is not lost as sales representatives move to different accounts or to new opportunities. The system has also created a central contact database system that allows Fujitsu Consulting to reach out proactively to customers with communications, such as a letter to the whole client base. We anticipate that SMS will enable many similar future marketing efforts.
The long-term vision for SMS is to roll out a more integrated marketing front end, with full-blown campaign management and alliance management functions. There are also plans to do back-end integration of SMS into our revenue forecasting module and revenue accounting systems. Ultimately, SMS will integrate with the whole accounting system.
Critical Success Factor
With SMS our sales representatives, delivery consultants, managers, and executives have a better way to run their business, to organize their thoughts, to get the right people involved, and to shorten the sales cycle. The most critical success factor was to start with a well-defined business process and integrate that into the tool in a manner that was simple, easy to use, and provided multilayer benefits to all constituents.
About the Author
As senior vice president and chief marketing officer of management and IT consulting firm Fujitsu Consulting, Chris Williams leads the company's strategic marketing efforts. He has more than 20 years of experience building, positioning, and marketing professional services firms. Prior to joining Fujitsu Consulting Williams was instrumental in the success of several start-ups, including Netigy Corporation and Cambridge Technology Partners (CTP.) He holds a BA in Marketing and an MBA in International Business and Finance from Babson College in Wellesley, MA. Contact him via Ken Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org