What is Sales Force Automation (SFA), and why should you care?

George Brontén

Nearly every industry in the world is looking for ways to automate processes, and the sales industry is no exception. The word Sales Force Automation (SFA) sounds promising in that it promises a reduction in costs and efficiency improvements. However, sales force automation is not (yet?) everything it is hyped to be.

Because of the way SFAs were designed, usually as a feature inside a CRM or ERP platform to track and manage selling activities and reports, they have received a poor reputation over the years. Implementations have focused on salespeople logging their activities and feeding forecasts largely based on guesstimates. Salespeople view SFAs as busywork while management is struggling with adoption rates and forecast accuracy.

Did marketing automation kill SFA?

Salespeople view SFAs as busywork while management is struggling with adoption rates and forecast accuracy.
George Brontén

Over the last decade or so, we’ve also seen a proliferation of marketing technology, riding in as the knight in shining armor, promising to save companies from employing expensive salespeople. According to content marketing’s proponents, simply creating and sharing the right content in the right configuration will ensure that customers automatically find your website and buy your offerings online. In this way, marketing automation becomes a form of SFA, supposedly allowing us to get rid of salespeople altogether.

But, that’s not actually what happens, is it? As I wrote about in “Content marketing has failed. What’s next?”, companies are starting to realize that the right content in the right order does not solve the problem. HOW you sell is truly important, not just for recruiting new customers, but to retain them over a longer period of time. Especially in complex business-to-business (b2b) sales environments, where sales cycles are longer, more stakeholders are involved, and the perceived risk of a purchase is higher.

All selling is not equal

The uses and effectiveness of sales force automation depend enormously on the type of selling environment you operate in. There’s a tendency to discuss “selling” as being a monolithic activity, but the fact is that selling transactional products to consumers is very different from selling larger software projects to global companies.

According to its hype, a perfectly optimized sales force automation system will work like a dial, allowing you to turn sales efforts up and down to get more of what you want whenever you want it. This may work to some degree in a transactional environment, but the minute you throw humans into the mix, and ask them to make complex, high-risk purchases, the analogy of a “dial” no longer works. Humans are not dials.

So, if we can’t automate the work of a salesperson or get marketing do their job for them, is sales force automation a pipe dream? Not completely. SFA does have uses, but let’s challenge some assumptions first.

Three SFA assumptions I’d like to challenge:

1: Sales force automation = CRM = enablement

Many sales professionals confuse sales force automation with CRM with enablement. They are not the same thing. CRM systems promise a “360 degree view of the customer,” (a central database) and sales force automation (at least the wording) promises to take the human element out of the equation. Sales force enablement, on the contrary, puts the human firmly in the equation. Effective sales enablement gives people the skills, capabilities, coaching, and accountabilities to continually improve their effectiveness and results, aligned with company strategy.

2: Automation has no role to play in complex sales

While we are a long way from being able to fully automate the sales function in a complex sales environment, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for automation in the sales organization. Automation technologies can be utilized to handle routine tasks in order to free up salespeople for tasks that only humans can do.

For instance, automation can handle:

  • Call and email logging
  • Reporting & forecasting
  • Serving up content in context
  • Reinforcing training and behaviors
  • Automating the process of booking appointments
  • Identifying important aspects in the sales process
  • Identifying sales effectiveness constraints
  • Tracking performance aginst sales quota
  • Delivering insights for process optimization

3: Sales force automation requires Salesforce CRM

From browsing articles online, you might be forgiven for thinking that “SFA” equals “Salesforce.” They’ve certainly spent a lot of money cornering the market on those keyword phrases. Their current marketing push is centered around the AI hype, with their “Einstein” package.
However, even Salesforce can only automate so much in a complex sales environment.

Most of the “AI” provided by Salesforce out of the box is just glorified notifications. And, in order for the built-in automated sales reporting to be effective, you have to first invest in ensuring your data inputs are good. Otherwise, garbage in = garbage out.

If you want more than automated notifications and sales reporting in Salesforce, you’ll have to further invest in plugins, add-ons, and customization. There are better ways to access effective automation....

Effective automation in complex sales

Automation for the complex b2b sales force works best when it is part of a dynamic sales effectiveness system that is designed to work with your sales team, not instead of. If you’ve ever called a customer service department and encountered an insanely frustrating automated system (and who hasn’t?), you understand what happens when an organization implements automation without strategic planning.

Membrain provides the platform on which to build a strategic, effective sales system. Membrain’s automation tools are designed to work with rather than against human psychology. Membrain is easy and rewarding for salespeople to use. It drives successful behaviors. It provides insights to enable better coaching. And it provides just the right level of automation to make sales tasks easier and more productive throughout the organization.

Contact us today for a demonstration.

George Brontén
Published July 26, 2017, written by

George Brontén

George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

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