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An Executive's Guide to Sales Force Automation (SFA)

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Sales Force Automation (SFA) is the management and automation of sales staff, activities and business processes. SFA software leverages information technology to organize and automate a sales force’s processes for consistent performance and predictable results. SFA software systems sequence and automate sales cycle processes and steps and bring real-time visibility of sales progress or deviations to sales management. SFA is a key component of any quality CRM strategy and software solution.

A commonly cited SFA scenario is sales lead management. For example, a company may have a sales force made up of dozens of staff distributed throughout the county or globe who call on prospects and customers remotely or at their place of business. SFA systems capture lead information on a lead form which contains the most pertinent data on the prospect, including contact information, demographic data, role, lead source and best time to contact.

Sales lead origination is frequently the result of a marketing campaign event and often begins as a Web site inquiry, inbound call center receipt or outbound telemarketing contact. The lead data is entered directly into the SFA system as a lead or prospect and the system assigns the lead to the sales representative based upon a lead distribution algorithm (e.g. lead assignment by territory, type of prospect, product or round robin). The lead is assigned to a sales cycle with initial activities automatically scheduled. The sales manager is automatically notified that the lead is generated and assigned. The sales representative is notified and must respond. Generally after an initial contact, the lead is categorized as a qualified prospect, not yet qualified prospect or unqualified lead. Qualified leads inherit next step sales process activities. Not yet qualified prospects are assigned to drip marketing campaigns until which time that they may become qualified. Unqualified leads are closed.

From the point of lead origination, the lead can systemically be applied to a sales cycle process. For instance, the lead may first be qualified. If the lead passes an initial qualification process, the next step may include a more detailed discovery to really understand the prospect’s objectives, pain points and buy criteria. With this information, a sales professional can create a sales strategy, perform a sales presentation or demonstration, deliver a proposal and negotiate a successful outcome. If the prospect becomes a client, the sales activities, quotes, invoices and other completed documents and forms are automatically part of the customer file.

Most sales force automation systems can both provide flexible sales cycle processes and automate those processes for sales professionals. A few of the software as a service (SaaS) hosted CRM and SFA systems actually leverage the Internet to aid in the prospect discovery process.

SFA systems also provide sales management visibility to each sales opportunity so that progress can be forecasted, deviations can be remedied and sales managers can provide sales coaching to improve the skills of their staff over time.

Because sales activities, sale opportunities, quotes and invoices all reside in the SFA or CRM system, reports such as activity reports, sales pipelines and sales forecasts are all automated, available in real-time and require no manual effort to assemble. Other user defined SFA reports can display point in time or real-time key performance metrics such as employee productivity, new lead rates, lead response times, quota achievement progress or neglected accounts. On-demand reporting provides sales management and sales professionals with a proactive management tool capable of identifying change opportunities while such change can still have an impact. Other complimentary information analysis tools include dashboards and user defined alert notifications.

As sales managers have real time visibility to sale opportunities, they do not need to make manual inquiries via calls or meetings with their sales staff in order to ask about every particular lead’s follow-up and progress. This permits sales managers to bypass reviewing accounts which are moving according to plan and only focus on troubled accounts; which in turn saves significant time, and results in sales staff feeling less micro-managed and having more time to sell.

SFA is about facilitating the organization’s best sales processes, automating key sales activities, empowering sales staff with more time to sell, providing sales management with visibility to delivery better coaching to sales staff and saving time for all sales participants.

If an executive wants his or her SFA system to work, everyone involved MUST buy into the program. They must be as committed to it as the executive is and be properly trained on how to use the system and get the most out of it. If a company commits to a CRM implementation, they are spending significant resources to make it happen. Negativity cannot be allowed. Make sure everyone, especially the salespeople know that the system WILL happen, whether they are a part of it or not. Sales people are not fond of change and are notoriously known to challenge change or drag their feet. This is not a revelation to most sales managers who generally do not care for change that much either but have different objectives which are more correlated to the company’s strategy.

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