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What is Sales Force Automation (SFA)
And why should you care?

Nearly every industry in the world is looking for ways to automate processes, and the sales industry is no exception. The word Sales Force Automation (SFA) sounds promising in that it promises a reduction in costs and efficiency improvements. However, sales force automation is not (yet?) everything it is hyped to be.

Because of the way SFAs were designed, usually as a feature inside a CRM or ERP platform to track and manage selling activities and reports, they have received a poor reputation over the years. Implementations have focused on salespeople logging their activities and feeding forecasts largely based on guesstimate. Salespeople view SFAs as busywork while management is struggling with adoption rates and forecast accuracy.

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Did marketing automation kill SFA?

Over the last decade or so, we’ve also seen a proliferation of marketing technology, riding in as the knight in shining armor, promising to save companies from employing expensive salespeople. According to content marketing’s proponents, simply creating and sharing the right content in the right configuration will ensure that customers automatically find your website and buy your offerings online. In this way, marketing automation becomes a form of SFA, supposedly allowing us to get rid of salespeople altogether.

But, that’s not actually what happens, is it? As I wrote about in “Content marketing has failed. What’s next?”, companies are starting to realize that the right content in the right order does not solve the problem. HOW you sell is truly important, not just for recruiting new customers, but to retain them over a longer period of time. Especially in complex business-to-business (b2b) sales environments, where sales cycles are longer, more stakeholders are involved, and the perceived risk of a purchase is higher.

Sales Force Automation

Sales force automation requires Sales force CRM

All Selling is not equal

The uses and effectiveness of sales force automation depend enormously on the type of selling environment you operate in. There’s a tendency to discuss “selling” as being a monolithic activity, but the fact is that selling transactional products to consumers is very different from selling larger software projects to global companies.

According to its hype, a perfectly optimized sales force automation system will work like a dial, allowing you to turn sales efforts up and down to get more of what you want whenever you want it. This may work to some degree in a transactional environment, but the minute you throw humans into the mix, and ask them to make complex, high-risk purchases, the analogy of a “dial” no longer works. Humans are not dials.

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Sales force automation requires Sales force CRM

From browsing articles online, you might be forgiven for thinking that “SFA” equals “Sales force.” They’ve certainly spent a lot of money cornering the market on those keyword phrases. Their current marketing push is centered around the AI hype, with their “Einstein” package. However, even Sales force can only automate so much in a complex sales environment.

Most of the “AI” provided by Sales force out of the box is just glorified notifications. And, in order for the built-in automated sales reporting to be effective, you have to first invest in ensuring your data inputs are good. Otherwise, garbage in = garbage out.

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