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SFA Is Dead. Vive la SFA!

Eryc-branhamEryc Branham is CEO and founder of Cogar Branham, a business and services incubator, and he can be followed @erycbranham. For selected articles and research, visit www.salesopscouncil.com.


Sales force automation (SFA) has failed us.

Sfaisdead

Think about your own sales team members; do they use their SFA tool because they’re forced to, or because it makes them more productive? Do they use their SFA tool as a part of their daily job?

Unless you’ve got a high-volume inside sales team, the probability is nearly zero. Field sales teams are mobile; they spend their days interacting (virtually and face-to-face) with their prospects, partners, and customers. The last thing they want to do is data entry. The least productive thing for them to do is data entry. You pay them to sell.

After nearly 20 years in the CRM industry and seeing the results of hundreds of SFA projects, I have come to the shocking conclusion that SFA as it exists today is dead.

Why? At best, today’s SFA tools have become back-office applications, a repository for data that management uses to extract key sales information for executive reporting. There is little value for feet-on-the-street sales professionals in their daily jobs.

Not long ago, I spent time with a Fortune 1000 company where the vast majority of sales reps logged into their SFA application once a week to update a sales forecast, about 15 minutes a week. Yet even that value was suspect, as sales operations did its forecasting with spreadsheets.

The truth is that an entire suite of tools does sales force automation better than the so-called SFA applications.

Contact management is better with LinkedIn.

There’s nothing less useful than out-of-date contact information, yet that’s what SFA tools provide us with in the static contact record.  What I really need to know about my contacts is their most current contact information and how I can establish a connection to them through my personal and business networks. Thus, the power of LinkedIn, where my contacts keep their own profiles up-to-date as they move jobs and companies. Or the power of Data.com (formerly Jigsaw), where social networks provide real-time contact information for the people I need to track.

Account management is better with Google.

What do I really need to know about an account? Simple: what are the business units, what does the executive org chart look like, what does the company do (in other words, does it have needs that my company can fulfill), and what are the compelling events that would cause that company to buy my product or service now versus later? All this information is readily available on any news aggregation source, such as Google Finance.

Collaboration is better than opportunity management.

In my experience, there are really only three fields that a sales rep cares about in his or her SFA tool: an opportunity’s close date (when he or she expects to win it), amount (the value of the deal), and probability (what are the chances that he or she will win it by the close date). Everything else is nice-to-have or noise. I’ve spent the past five years focused on the emergence of collaborative selling – what sales reps do to collaborate and co-create with their prospects in order to win their business. Collaboration tools such as Chatter and Jive provide the mechanisms for creating “online rooms,” which become the virtual equivalent of (and perhaps replacement to) the opportunity record, where all the relevant data about a specific deal is stored. That is the focus of the BCS sales methodology that we’ve developed at Cogar Branham.

Forecasting is better with predictive analytics.

The entire concept of sales forecasting in SFA tools is absurd. We expect sales professionals to make regular, objective, qualitative assessments of their deals – with 99 percent accuracy. In reality, the best measure for sales forecasting is the past. We can say more about the relative probability of a specific deal closing by comparing it to past deals of a similar kind, size, and complexity. This is one of the so-called “big data” problems (information that we can extract simply by looking at historical data, rather than ask sales professionals to provide to us). We see this approach in action with such tools as DealMaker from TAS.

Activity management is better with social networks.

Ask average sales reps what is always on, and they’ll say their cell phone. And nearly all of those cell phones are smartphones with easy access to their social networks. I’m more likely to react to a direct message on my mobile device than to workflow in a stand-alone SFA application that I have to log into separately. Certainly, the rise of business communication via social networks such as Twitter and Google+ means that sales professionals are more reactive in real time to activity streams shared with them there.

Is there still a place for sales force automation in the enterprise business world? Of course there is, assuming that we mean tools that a company provides (or allows access to while working) that helps a sales rep sell more effectively. But those tools are built on the foundation of selling in today’s networked world. They are primarily social, not forms on a database as with traditional SFA tools.

Beyond the examples cited above, we’re seeing the emergence of sales apps that aggregate key social information (Nimble) or allow sales reps to build social apps on the fly to create their own custom SFA experience (Podio).

Please join us in #ReinventingSFA!

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I’m not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more. Thanks for great information I was looking for this information for my mission

Buildtracks

This is such a good post. I've been looking for recent posts like this but there are still so many analysts and vendors pushing the same old dross. www.contactually.com and www.fullcontact.com are systems I'd add to your list plus ours which is pipeline focused www.buildtracks.com

Most of the SFA tools out there are way to complicated and over engineered with no ROI. Social contact management is the future - as well as just focusing on keeping things simple > "there are three fields that a sales rep cares about in his or her SFA tool: an opportunity’s close date (when he or she expects to win it), amount (the value of the deal), and probability (what are the chances that he or she will win it by the close date)".

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Reuben Swartz

Agree with the article. In many cases, SFA has become a checkbox, not a sales enabler. We focus on helping sales collaborate with customers on the proposal, so everyone can win, and sales can spend time working with the customer, rather than busywork.

Jacques Werth

The biggest problem with SFA systems are the Sales Processes that are programmed into them at the direction of management.

It's widely known that hardly any top sales producers use the SFA/CRM systems of their companies. That's because their own sales processes are radically different from the "best sales practices" of their company.

Unfortunately, very few top sales producers can explain what they are doing that is different from the rest. Unbiased observations of them is required to reveal their actual sales processes.

CarpenterAssoc

Eryc, I agree that "that SFA as it exists today is dead."

The fix - redesign from the user point of view, which is inherent in many of the tools your referenced.

Tks, Scott

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Dick Wooden

Agreed that SFA died a long time ago and morphed into CRM and that is expanding its center piece of "R"elationships. CRM is becoming more social If your CRM system does not give the sales person 3 pieces of helpful information for every 1 piece of information back to the main office then it is not a successful CRM system. CRM is to there to help and not hinder sales efforts. A successful CRM system, business development program, needs to access information where your prospective and current customers 'hang out', whether that is Linked In, Facebook, Twitter or some other source. Once you make contact that information needs to make it back into your relationship development system so it can be shared and helps others in your organization provide a positive customer experience.

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