Convincing Your Sales Force to Use SFA

Updated: August 28, 2008

Issue

An SFA (Sales Force Automation) effort is only as good as its implementation — and its implementation is only as good as the degree to which the sales staff, CSRs (customer service representatives) and others use it.

The old apothegm "Technology is easy, people are hard" is never more true than in SFA. If your people don't buy into your SFA effort, it will at best be only a partial success.

But how do you effectively persuade your sales force to use SFA?

Analysis

The proof of sales reps' hesitancy to adopt SFA is easy to find. Another old CRM truism holds that the majority of SFA efforts fall short of success — more than two-thirds of them, by some studies. According to those same studies, the most common reason for poor performance is the problem of getting employees to adopt SFA.

The reason for resistance is simple. SFA is not a technology. It uses technology, but at its core SFA is about business processes. SFA changes the way salespeople operate in a business, or at least it tries to. If the people who execute the process refuse to change or only change halfheartedly, then you have a problem.

Another fundamental problem for SFA adoption is temperament. Salespeople are independent by nature. Indeed, one of the things that attracts people to a career in outside sales is the freedom from oversight. With SFA, sales reps can feel like they've got someone looking over their shoulders or riding along in their pockets.

While there's a strong psychological component in making the transition to SFA, most of what supervisors need to do is direct and practical. They have to manage the transition and the ongoing SFA effort to their and their salespeople's benefit. What's equally important, managers have to convince their sales staff that SFA will benefit them, and that they can in fact use it.

The key is to show the sales force how SFA benefits them without unduly burdening them. This is one part management, one part good planning and one part execution.

Assuming you're using a viable product for your SFA effort, you've got to sell that product to your sales staff and others in your organization. This is just like selling to your customers, except in this case you're selling to people inside the organization.

Ideally, you should start your internal sales effort while you're still in the early stages of SFA. Your SFA planning should include incorporating your staff early on.

Like any other sales campaign, you need to stress the advantages to the customer — which in this case is your sales force. From management's perspective, the advantages to the company may be more important.

In planning your campaign, don't forget the need to sell up to management as well as down to the sales force. Enthusiastic backing from upper management is a key success factor for SFA. That selling process doesn't stop once you've got management's commitment. It should continue through the entire course of the project.

Involve the Sales Force

You need to involve the sales staff in planning and implementing SFA for two reasons. The first is that their knowledge is a vital part of making SFA successful. Your sales force undoubtedly has a much better idea of how your sales processes actually work than your executives do. They also have a worm's eye view of sales, including all the important little details higher-ups easily overlook.

The second reason is that if the sales staff is consulted and involved they're going to feel a sense of ownership toward the SFA effort. If they see it as something they're a part of, they're much more likely to take it to heart.

The salespeople who are directly involved in planning and implementing your SFA project not only provide invaluable feedback, but they also become champions for SFA to their fellow sales representatives.

Keep this in mind when choosing sales reps to be part of the SFA project team. Generally you want to select people who are respected by their fellow sales staff and whose opinions carry weight with their peers in sales.

Respect the Culture While Changing It

SFA, like CRM in general, is about changing your company's culture to make sales more profitable and customer-focused. However, that doesn't mean that you want to do away with your company's culture. While some operations and practices are going to change, others shouldn't. After all, you're undoubtedly doing a lot of things right, even if you can benefit big-time from SFA.

The more things you keep the same, the more comfortable your sales force will be with what's happening. Don't change things just to change them; in some cases, it may even be worthwhile to sacrifice small economic advantages

It's All About Money

Fundamentally, SFA comes down to money in your sales staff's pockets. A well-designed SFA program makes it easier for your sales staff to do their job — which is to make money for themselves and for you.

While other benefits, such as added convenience, are important, the biggest motivator is going to be additional profit opportunities. Typically, SFA gives your sales reps better insight into their customers, which opens opportunities for cross-sales and up-sales. It also allows them to put more of their effort into the customers with the highest potential return on the sales effort. These advantages translate into higher sales volume for the salespeople who understand how to exploit them.

Recommendations

Of course there's a stick that goes with this pile of carrots. In the end, management has to make sure everyone understands that SFA is going to happen and the company's sales staff will use it.

If you've done a good job of building acceptance among the sales staff there won't be much need for coercion.

It's also important to make sure the sales force understands that SFA is an ongoing effort. It's not a one-time set of changes, but a series of processes that is going to remain in force in following years.

For more information on SFA, consult Focus' related research, including the Buyer's Guide: Sales Force Automation and Comparison Guide: Sales Force Automation. You can also check out relevant community-contributed research and group discussions.

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