Sales Force Automation is fast becoming one of the most popular enterprise applications on BlackBerry devices. Extending the valuable CRM functionality to BlackBerry solutions is having a tremendous impact on sales force productivity and customer satisfaction. In the article that follows, Harvard Business Review examines the strategic implications of rolling out Sales Force automation to a sales force. This article reprinted by permission.
by Mark Cotteleer, Edward Inderrieden, and Felissa Lee
Top Factors Driving Mobile SFA Access to Real-time Customer Information*:
- Improve customer satisfaction and/or support levels
- Reduce sales cycle
- Reduce downtime for sales professionals
(Source: AberdeenGroup, The Mobile Sales Solution Benchmark Report, 2006)
Also review in this issue: CRM Guru Paul Greenberg on Mobile CRM
Six years ago, market research firm Harris Interactive made a major change in how it went to market. Instead of relying on research professionals to sell its services, it hired its first full-time sales staff and implemented a sales force automation (SFA) system to support it. This should have been a welcome development. After all, it allowed researchers to focus on their true passion and made it easier to keep customer information up-to-date and consistent. But employees resisted mightily at first, because they feared that the loss of control over customer relationships might cause the quality of their service to suffer. It wasn’t until the company figured out how to embed the automation system into its culture that the change paid off.
Harris isn’t alone in its experience. Industry analyst IDC estimates that companies spent nearly $3 billion on global SFA applications in 2004, and that number is rising. There’s no guarantee of a payoff, however, especially if employees won’t adopt the tools. For many salespeople, the mere mention of sales force automation can set off alarm bells. They envision a loss of autonomy—their bosses monitoring their every move via computer—not to mention a loss of power, as valuable customer information is pried from their hands and dropped into full view of the entire organization. What’s more, busy salespeople may resist taking the time to learn how to use the new tools, fearing lost commissions or missed quotas. In the worst cases, sales reps may enter fake or incomplete data or simply write what they think the boss wants to see. That renders the application useless; the system is only as good as the information it contains.
The term “sales force automation” is a bit of a misnomer. The focus of such applications is not on automating salespeople’s jobs but on enhancing the sales process. Yes, some companies have begun to digitize certain routine sales activities, such as taking orders and providing shipping information, but the objective is to make sales staff available for more relationship-oriented activities—the aspects of the job that a computer can’t do. SFA systems can also help coordinate the disparate but highly interdependent activities of marketing, selling, and providing service, and the information that these systems contain can help senior executives make sales-related decisions.
Using Harris Interactive as an example, we’ll offer some tips for successful SFA implementation. The company is well known for the Harris Poll and is the fastest-growing and 13th largest market research firm in the world. Harris’s reliance on researchers to handle sales resulted in an uneven revenue stream, as the delivery-oriented professionals had to shift their focus between acquiring clients and meeting those clients’ needs. The move to hire a professional sales force was made to even out the sales pipeline.
At first, Harris’s researchers feared that the new salespeople wouldn’t understand the nature of the work they were selling. But eventually, the firm devised an effective sales system that teamed researchers with marketing, sales, and service staff. It quickly learned that each group needed to know what the others were doing, and it turned to SFA software to help them coordinate their activities. The recommendations that follow can aid companies facing similar challenges in making the transition.
Understand the sales representative perspective. Concern about SFA among salespeople is not unfounded. Reps will have to take some time away from selling to learn the new tools. Managers will become more aware of what is happening in the field, and the issue of customer ownership will be raised. Sales agents at Harris still remember having to hand over their files, which held all the information about each customer relationship (and therefore much of the agents’ leverage with their employer). Sales executives should not try to hide the challenges they face but rather address them openly so that a real conversation can begin. Once salespeople are up to speed on an SFA system, they tend to report greater productivity, which should translate to better earnings. Encourage them to take the long view.
Ease the transition. Companies should do everything they can to support sales reps as they convert to the SFA system, such as provide assistants who can enter information for them while they’re getting up to speed. It’s also important to protect salespeople from any risk to their compensation that could result from having to spend time away from selling while they learn the tools. Employers might consider excusing temporary drops in performance and giving breaks on quotas.
Build the technology into the culture (and vice versa). Consult sales representatives in different regions before and during SFA rollout to determine their needs, gain feedback, provide training, and gather information about best practices. None of this will happen without strong executive support. At Harris, top executives made it clear that they would be using the tools, and they actively communicated with the organization about the plan and the challenges ahead.
Focus on value to the sales force before value to the firm. Successful companies first concentrate on delivering information to the field and only later emphasize visibility and continuity for the home office. At Harris, the early emphasis was on having salespeople track their own progress against individual targets rather than on management follow-up. While management does want visibility into the pipeline, that requires good information, which comes from the field. Reps are more likely to embrace the technology if they believe that it can help them sell effectively.
Make it mandatory. Use of SFA cannot be optional. A clear message has to be sent that the sales force must use the system. The explicit philosophy at Harris is, “If it’s not in the SFA, it didn’t happen.” Not only is SFA a necessary tool for promoting visibility and customer continuity, it also forms the bedrock of the compensation system. If a sales rep has not tracked the opportunity through the system, he or she does not get a commission.
While SFA implementation means introducing a new technology, treating the process as a technical challenge all but guarantees that it will fail. Managers should instead approach it as a cultural and interpersonal tool whose success depends on salespeople’s and other employees’ acceptance.
You might also want to review in this issue, CRM Guru Paul Greenberg on Mobile CRM.
BlackBerry Solutions for Sales Force Automation
IDC Paper: Wireless Sales Force Automation on BlackBerry strengthens the Sales Pitch (PDF)
Mobilize Your Sales Force datasheet (PDF)
Sales Force Automation Applications
Customer Success Stories