Butting Heads: Why Sales Reps and Management Can't Agree on SFA

Updated: April 30, 2009



Salespeople are often mercilessly bashed over balking at SFA (Sales Force Automation), chided as lazy or ignorant. Usually, neither description of the average sales rep is accurate. Rather, salespeople tend to misuse or ignore the technology in an effort to protect their income. But this is nothing new; sales reps have always avoided reporting, whether it's using old-fashioned paper sales reviews or newfangled SFA. The only surprise is management's shock that nothing has changed.




The Heart of the Problem

To get to the heart of sales reps' resistance, supervisors must understand the nuances in sales mentalities and the different methods of selling . The company must identify the precise point where management's goals and salespeople's aspirations conflict.

This dispute between management and salespeople centers on the struggle for information. While management wants to use metrics and insurance data to increase productivity , salespeople want to maintain their freedom from management oversight and keep their customer information portable in case a better sales opportunity with another company comes along.

This struggle for data is common to many businesses. "What I have seen in some companies is fear to introduce information regarding account knowledge in the SFA tool, mainly because some sales reps think that such knowledge is their asset," said Luis Munoz, partner at consulting firm VektorPlus . "Some of them assume that another rep, armed with that information, may replace them."


Replacement and Reprimand Worries

While some sales reps are indeed embracing SFA to increase efficiency and commission checks, few fail to get past the possibility of losing control over customer accounts. "SFA and CRM help transfer the intellectual capital from sales throughout the organization. This is possibly the source of why some salespeople fear SFA will replace them - it can indeed facilitate replacement," said Scott Furlong, sales director of national accounts and supply chain solutions at Velocity Express .

To add insult to job insecurity, management uses SFA to dole out daily discipline , deserved or undeserved, instead of offering praise and career-development tips."The real objection is the fear of being monitored by an SFA and reprimanded from that info. Activity monitoring through an SFA is an excellent way of coaching and mentoring sales reps; unfortunately it is used by too many organizations as a discipline tool, which makes the sales reps prone to pencil whipping the numbers and takes away the usefulness of it as a tool," said Julien Recoussine, vice president of CheckMedia Inc.




Working Together

The solution for SFA resistance lies in a single truth that eludes both sales reps and management. "Companies cannot control sales, and neither can the salespeople, when you get down to it. What they can control is activity and attitude," explained Recoussine.

Once both sides realize this simple but profound fact, trust can develop and SFA can become the tool that it was meant to be. SFA adoption begins and ends with team building , which is always a person-to-person exercise. "Needs assessment and rapport building will never be the domain of a computer or software," said Recoussine.

As for the tool itself, SFA's effectiveness is entirely determined by how users wield it. "Use your SFA wisely, and it is a priceless tool for finding problem areas in your sales force and coaching through it. Use it badly, and you become viewed as ‘Big Brother' and your sales force [will] eventually think things like ‘It will replace me,'" explained Recoussine.

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