Adopting SFA Without Making Your Sales Force Paranoid

Updated: April 30, 2009



As any good sales person will tell you, people are not nearly as rational as they like to think. Humans are motivated by fears, hopes and desires at least as much as by rational calculation.

This includes your sales force .

How does this affect your SFA (Sales Force Automation) adoption? SFA represents a fundamental change in the sales process. That's the source of its power, but it's also the biggest source of the fear and mistrust it generates in the sales force.

When it comes to introducing SFA to your enterprise, there are two separate but related types of personnel issues you have to face. One of them is the logical, rational effects of the change and its impact on your sales staff. The other is the psychological aspects of making the change. They are equally important, but there's a tendency to short-change the psychological side of the process. After all, the thinking goes, everyone's an adult here and will cope with this logically.

And of course they will — in part. But the psychological component of the change is also important and mishandling that can cause the whole effort to collapse. The fact is that the psychological impact of SFA can easily be more important the benefits and costs of SFA when it comes to implementing it.

Irrational? Maybe. But it's a fact of life and your SFA effort had better recognize it, allow for it and take steps to prevent it.





If it's done really wrong, introducing SFA can produce a fine, ripe paranoia in your staff. If things get to that stage, the chance that your SFA effort will be successful will be slim.

This is neither hypothetical or uncommon. According to one frequently-cited statistic, about 70 percent of all SFA/CRM efforts don't live up to their promise or fail completely.

Technically, paranoia is defined as "an unfounded or exaggerated distrust of others." In its extreme forms it is a symptom of mental illness. However you don't have to be crazy to be paranoid. Increasingly, psychologists have recognized what they call "everyday paranoia." Extreme suspicion and distrust is a common sign of ongoing stress, especially job-related stress.

Fundamentally, everyday paranoia is the result of fear and ignorance. On-the-job paranoia most commonly results from stress over actual or potential changes in a work situation combined with a lack of knowledge about what's happening or is going to happen.

Some of this is natural and inevitable. However, it doesn't have to rise to the level that will impair your SFA efforts. How you handle the situation is going to have a major influence on how well you get through a stressful time.


Going Through the Stages

Make no mistake: Major changes such as introducing a comprehensive SFA program are going to produce stress . In her paper "Executing on Change," Julie A. Harter outlined the stages employees go through when facing change.

According to Harter, the stages are:

  • Uninformed: Fat, dumb and happy.
  • Denial: "It'll never happen," or, "It won't affect us."
  • Frustration: "How is this misbegotten thing supposed to work?"
  • Despair: "This will never work and we're all going down the tubes."
  • Testing: "Maybe parts of this will work."
  • Acceptance: "Okay, I guess I can live with this."
  • Informed optimism: "This has some advantages."
  • Continuous improvement: "Let's see how we can make this better."

According to Harter, everyone goes through these stages in dealing with major changes in an organization. She noted, however, that reps go through them at different rates and with different degrees of severity.

And therein lies the challenge in introducing SFA. If you do it wrong you can make all of these stages much, much worse for your employees, increase the turmoil that comes with major change, and probably lose a lot of good people.

If you do it right, you can minimize the psychological impact of the change and move your organization through it quickly.



Trust is the key to successful implementation of any kind of change. When making major changes you have to build and reinforce trust between employees and the management. There are six ways to do this effectively:

1. Do what you say you are going to do. The most important way to build trust is to be trustworthy. That means doing what you say you're going to do.

2. Surprise is bad. In a stressful situation, surprise is not a good thing. Give your sales force as much warning as you can about what is going to happen and when.

3. Determine expectations. Try to set reasonable expectations for the SFA effort. An overly optimistic view of the process inevitably leads to disappointment — and an overly pessimistic reaction. Help your people understand that there will be benefits from SFA, but it's not going to make everything perfect. Also, make sure people understand there will be inevitable snags and glitches as you make the move to SFA. Help them see that the problems aren't going to be permanent and will be identified and solved.

4. Be honest. Tell the truth, even if the truth is that you don't know yet. The less you evade or try to hide unpleasant facts, the more your people will trust you.

5. Go the extra mile. In implementing change, be willing to go further than you normally would to meet the employees' concerns. Among other things, this means recognizing that some of the concerns are not going to be rational. A squabble over reserved parking spaces may be silly, but has to be taken seriously at a time like this.

6. Care about your employees — and show it. Above all, show your employees you care about them as people. If your sales force feels valued, you're going to have a lot fewer problems.




The Information Antidote

In making a major cultural change like introducing SFA, ignorance isn't bliss — it's an invitation to disaster. The less your people know, the more they will imagine and, things being what they are, their imaginations are not going to err on the side of conservatism.

Information is your greatest single weapon against the stress of change. The more your sales staff knows about the process and the thinking behind it, the less they will fear it.

Part of the answer is education . Your sales staff has to understand why you're asking them to institute new procedures and change well-established ways of doing things. As early as possible in the process, hold orientation sessions to show staff generally how your SFA effort will work.

Psychological benefits are another reason to involve your sales staff in the planning process. It's hard to have a successful SFA project if you don't get a lot of input from your sales team, but getting at least some of the sales staff involved pays off psychologically as well. The people who helped plan your SFA effort will have a commitment to it and will act as advocates among the sales staff.

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