By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales tips for SFAChoosing the Right SFA Solution
The widespread acceptance of SFA and CRM means that there are numerous vendors and offerings available. In evaluating vendors, there is a fine line between enlightenment and confusion.

One major decision is whether to consider hosted or non-hosted applications. Either provides functionality, but hosted applications usually offer quicker implementation, reduced up front expenditures, and lower total cost of ownership. The application is run and managed by the vendor versus being done in house.

As we have previously stated, the ability to customize tasks or steps to match your processes is vitally important and should be factored into your decision. A good SFA solution is one that can be tailored to meet your unique and dynamic needs.

While customization for your organization is an important step, keep in mind that salespeople exhibit diverse work habits and approaches. An SFA system should provide the ability to personalize usage of the system at user levels—to increase adoption, facilitate ease-of-use, and increase efficiency. The ability to personalize a homepage or portals to better mesh with the way a person works can go a long way towards becoming an ingrained habit. It is the equivalent of adjusting the seat, steering wheel and mirrors to your specific requirements before driving a car. By being able to format a welcome screen with current opportunities, to-do lists, and unique time-sensitive tasks, salespeople begin to feel the system is working for them, not vice versa.

Salespeople will vary as to what they want beyond the basic dashboard screen offered by an SFA application. Providing them the ability to configure it to their specifications without IT reliance will help to maximize acceptance and productivity.

Work Flow Customization
Most sales environments are interrupt-driven. Whether in the car, office, or at customer locations, interruptions are inevitable. Entering information in a logical sequence and flow makes using the system and handling partial entries easier. At the same time, the ability to enter notes about conversations as they occur and file them later into a specific account will reinforce that salespeople can efficiently interact with the application in the normal course of their business day. Workflow rules also automate sales processes such as approvals, and can be customized to match business needs/strategy.

Within a process defined by senior management, salespeople appreciate the ability to define their personal workflow to achieve and report against standard milestones. Imagine the difference in workflow between an inside sales person responsible for generating new leads, and a senior account executive handling three major accounts. If salespeople lack the ability to modify workflow within the system, some (or all), of the staff will conclude the system does not fully meet their needs.

360-Degree View
A 360-degree view enables sales, marketing and support to access a summary of all activity within an account, minimizing the chance of looking uninformed to a customer or prospect. Without such a view, salespeople are distracted from their primary focus—bringing in revenue for the company—as they are asked time and again by non-sales staff to provide background information on their accounts.

Companies with internal call centers have a way to pass leads with detailed summaries of initial conversations, providing continuity when outside salespeople follow up with buyers. Product marketing can analyze wins and losses to better determine market requirements so new announcements will reflect buyer needs. Products aligned with buyer needs are easier to sell. And, marketing can electronically route leads to salespeople, ensuring prompt follow up, while future campaigns can be fine-tuned based upon past results so the number and quality of leads can be increased.

Improved Productivity
Salespeople and managers can project one sales cycle ahead to verify there is sufficient activity in each pipeline so quota can be met. If there is a projected shortfall, additional business development may be required. The key here is that activity can be increased proactively versus reactively several weeks or months later.

Sales organizations can share best practices. It could be that after collecting data there are particular vertical industries or titles where win rates are better. There could be sharing of specific tactics against know competitors, complete with intelligence about their pricing, strategies, etc. Past events in sales cycles that have lead to losses can be identified and proactively monitored.

Based upon past transactions, salespeople can be prompted with suggested additional offerings the customer is likely to want. When new offerings are announced, salespeople can be provided with a “hot list” of accounts to contact first.

Having an SFA or CRM system in place has become the norm. Companies attempting to integrate sales process with automation can elevate their expectations to making the way they sell a competitive advantage.

Consider the number of loss reports in which salespeople cite price or product as the reason for losing. If product is to blame, then the opportunity was never really qualified. For non-commodity offerings, if price were the major variable, procurement could make vendor decisions. While almost never mentioned, most losses occur because one seller outsold the rest.

SFA implementations supported by sales process offer companies the potential to gain a competitive advantage, by impacting the quality of a salesperson’s work. By empowering sellers to make better calls, senior executives can positively influence the customer buying experience. By combining automation with process:

1. Organizations can share best selling practices.

2. Salespeople can have conversations with executive buyers about improving business results through the use of their offerings.

3. Managers can participate in qualify/disqualify decisions and can coach sellers through sales cycles.

4. Executives can exert more control over revenue generation and forecasting.

Recommended Next Steps
Whether you are considering SFA for the first time or have been through multiple implementations, the application is here to stay. Having said that, the bar should be raised with respect to the potential benefits and business impact that can be realized. From a sales perspective, the technology alone can provide productivity gains for salespeople. Ultimately, this can affect the quantity, but not the quality of a salesperson’s work.

Consider taking a fresh look at your sales process to verify that it reflects the steps needed to move through sales cycles. Evaluate how these steps apply to the different types of transactions in a salesperson’s pipeline, especially smaller transactions, and make changes accordingly.

If you have an SFA system installed, take a realistic view of how well it has been accepted by the sales organization. If it is something they deal with rather than embrace, drill down to uncover the reasons and see what steps can be taken to address them. It may be necessary to sell or resell your management team and salespeople on the potential benefits of utilizing the software. Paying maintenance on unused seats is often throwing good money after bad, especially on older systems. Doing a cost vs. benefit on automation integrated with sales process may justify a new initiative.

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