Sales: Follow these steps to make sales force automation succeed

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm

and Nancy McKeon, for SBT
Here’s a startling fact: most sales force automation (SFA)/customer relationship management (CRM) initiatives fail.
Not some. Not many. Most.
Depending on whose numbers you use – and how you define success – the failure rate is somewhere between 60 and 80 percent. Of course, everyone who makes an SFA/CRM commitment knows this. They just think their company will be different.
We will limit our observations to SFA, which zeroes in on the sales force. CRM is a different animal because it incorporates other functions across the enterprise.
It’s not that we think SFA is a waste of time and money. It just has to be done right. Here are some dos and don’ts on SFA.
1. Do make it a tool that has value to the salespeople using it. If the sales force doesn’t derive utility, forget it. They will tell you for only so long that it is not helping them and what needs to change. If their demands – and they are demands – aren’t met, you will see something we call "AOI" (attenuation of interest). You know this is happening when the sales force either goes quiet on you or starts feeding you patently patronizing endorsements.
2. Don’t try to make it a forecasting tool. Unfortunately, SFA’s forecasting ability tends to dominate SFA vendors’ value propositions. And for good reason. It’s oh-so-tempting for executives to be drawn to the push-of-a-button, real-time forecast illusion. Theoretically, accurate forecasting is possible. But in this case, there is an abyss between the theoretical and the practical. Remember the acronym "GIGO?" It was one of the very first computer-era acronyms. "Garbage In/Garbage Out." If your forecasts are accurate now, they might be accurate with SFA (we’ve seen companies whose forecast accuracy declined with SFA). If they’re dartboards now, they’ll be prettier dartboards with SFA.
3. Do use it to document key interactions – in chronological order – between your salespeople and their customers. Key interactions include important phone conversations, e-mails, letters, presentations, live meetings and the like. Chronological order is important because it’s the easiest way for anyone else in your company to get up to speed on the history of the account. It’s also the most streamlined way for salespeople to document their activities at the account, especially call reports. When salespeople have to navigate the SFA software to put different information into different fields, they fatigue in a hurry. This fatigue leads quickly to AOI. Many companies (that use SFA) create a separate field or tab which they label, "key interactions."
4. Don’t use it to guide salespeople through the sales process. This is another one of those selling points that SFA software vendors promote. Any decent SFA product allows customization of fields. So it’s a relatively straightforward matter to bake your company’s sales process into the software. But the problem here is not with the software as such. It’s with how companies usually define "sales process." Our observation has been that most companies view a sales process as a series of milestones along the path toward closing the deal. They might define, for example: Step 1. Qualify, Step 2. Make initial contact, Step 3. Identify needs, Step 4. Submit proposal, and so on, as key milestones. Then with the attainment of each milestone, the deal is some percentage closer to closing. For reasons we’ve discussed in previous columns, this is not a good way to define a sales process. What’s more, the very process of documenting the sales process like this is typically another GIGO source. And it’s tedious for salespeople, leading to still more AOI.
5. Do make it easier to enter data than it is to extract it. This may be the fatal flaw in SFA implementations. It’s not that you want to make it cumbersome and time-consuming to get reports, summaries and the like. It’s just that most SFA initiatives are designed to serve the needs of the management people whose budgets paid for the initiative. They want their reports, they want them now, they want them pretty, and they want them at the click of a cursor. There are two problems with this approach. One, it requires inordinate amounts of time on the part of the entire sales force to meticulously enter data on the front end. Two, the reports aren’t used very often. So if it takes a little extra time to extract information, don’t worry about it. Worry more about making it as easy as possible to enter the data in the first place. Make sure, for example, that salespeople can scan handwritten notes into the SFA software or attach voice files from digital recorders.
If you’re considering SFA, or already have it, make it a slave to you – not the other way around – by following these five guidelines.
Jerry Stapleton and Nancy McKeon are with Stapleton Resources LLC, a Waukesha-based sales force effectiveness practice. They can be reached at (262) 524-8099 or on the Web at
January 21, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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Dr. Daniel A. Schroeder is President/CEO of Organization Development Consultants, Inc. (ODC). ODC serves regional and national clients from its offices in suburban Milwaukee. Additionally, he teaches in the Organizational Behavior and Leadership (bachelor’s) and Organization Development (master’s) programs at Edgewood College (Madison, WI), programs that he founded and for which he served as Program Director.

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