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Customer Interaction Solutions
October 2006 - Volume 25 / Number 5

Sales Force Automation Implementation Challenges

By Bill Wheeler
Avidian Technologies

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Sales force automation (SFA) is a system for tracking sales leads, sales, service requests and other sales-related information. SFA helps companies encapsulate all the vital data related to sales and sales process into one easy to manage and easy to use system. With a well designed SFA system, organizations can easily access client information, review their sales history and progress, and create a history of client and prospect communication.

When discussing sales force automation, it’s natural to think of SFA software. In our current environment of technology, most business processes can be optimized using some type of software program, and SFA is no exception. Just as with any other category of software, there are literally hundreds of programs that can provide your business with SFA capabilities. The key to finding one that works for your company is to identify your specific needs for this type of program. SFA software can provide capabilities such as contact management, sales management, sales activity tracking, sales pipeline management, communication history, sales projections, sales reporting and much more. It’s important that companies avoid getting overwhelmed by the capabilities of the programs at the same time keeping in mind that all these capabilities can present challenges.

Before a company arrives at the point of reviewing and selecting SFA software, there are some other challenges it must consider. Finding and purchasing a good SFA solution can be daunting task on its own; it can be even more complicated a process to consider some of the challenges the company may face during the implementation process. On average, it takes three tries to successfully implement a new SFA software system. Approximately 80 percent of first-time efforts fail. The following four issues can present serious challenges during the implementation and set-up phase of an SFA program. They can also lead to ongoing complications once a company has a system in place. By knowing about and considering these issues in advance, organizations can take steps to head off potential trouble.

Failure To Analyze Existing Processes
All operating sales teams have some sort of existing, embedded sales process. This process may be very loose and managed by each salesperson, or it may be well defined with specific sales stages and milestones. Analyzing the existing sales process can be a vital first step in successful implementation of SFA software. By examining the existing sales process (or lack thereof), company management can identify deficiencies and make corrections before they are forced by their new software to plug in an ineffective sales process into an effective SFA program.

Most SFA software provides the capability to define and track sales stages, sales milestones, activities and more. Many of them come with some well designed default processes built in. However, if a company does not understand its own process, it may be stuck using the software’s built in process, which may not match what the company’s sales team is doing and can create confusion and frustration.

In the SFA industry, we see the following situation arise time and again: A company with a successful sales team purchases SFA software and now has to define the stages in its sales process. Not having done this in a structured fashion before, the company now needs to take the time and resources to review their sales process and lay it out in their new program. This takes time, and ultimately delays the implementation of the SFA program and ultimately the training of their team. This creates frustration because an implementation that should have taken weeks now takes months — or longer. This can lead to resistance by the sales team against using the new SFA software, and can sour management on the effectiveness of this new tool they have purchased.

When selecting SFA software, organizations should look for one that allows them to customize the sales stages and other sales process information. If a company is taking the time, effort and resources to review and improve its sales process, it makes sense to seek SFA software that will allow the company to put in “their own” process. Although most of the programs on the market have well designed and effective sales processes built into them, a company shouldn’t be stuck using that process if it doesn’t fit their business.

Lack Of User Involvement
Resistance to change is the biggest challenge in implementing new sales software or improvement programs. It can be extremely difficult for people to change their habits and routines. Typically, about 20 percent of sales people push back hard, they may actually quit their job if forced into change they do not want. The majority of sales people (about 60 percent) will resist the change, but slowly accept it over time. The remaining 20 percent are ready for change and are often willing participants in the process. This group can be a vital tool in improving the success of an implementation. Organizations should use their interest and enthusiasm to help build a positive environment around the project.

Encouraging the users of a SFA program to become involved is a requirement. When reviewing sales process and selecting SFA software, successful companies must get input from every member of the sales team. It is not necessary for every team member to become involved in the process, particularly if the sales team is very large. Having sales personnel complete a questionnaire about how they sell can be enough to make them feel included. Companies can also consider asking for volunteers to do some of the research and legwork involved in the review of SFA software. This can produce surprisingly positive results, as the sales team can add insight that management may not have thought of.

Creating awareness of the initiative and providing the necessary knowledge to see the benefit of the change is important. Changes should never be “sprung” on the sales team. One of the biggest errors that occurs at this phase is to “tell” the sales team that they are getting a new software program. It becomes just one more thing on the long task list of a busy salesperson. Organizations should ask for sales team input and assistance in selecting the software. Management should avoid asking them if they want a SFA program; the process will be more successful if the team is asked what needs they have of a SFA program. In this way, a company can give the sales team the ability to take ownership of what the new program is and does. Knowledge is power and so, in this case, is participation.

The Information Is In Their Heads
Like all of us, salespeople tend to manage their business and activities in their heads. Each salesperson knows the details of existing sales relationships and opportunities for their clients. Often the information is basic, such as the names of the primary contacts for a certain account. Alternatively, it may be more detailed information such as the specific products in which the account is currently interested. The more complex the relationships and sales opportunities become, the more difficult it is to keep everything ordered in that salesperson’s head. To be effective, a SFA solution must make entering and reviewing client information almost as easy as getting it in and out of their heads.

Companies should identify ways to make it easy to get necessary information out of a salesperson’s head and into a digital format. If a sales team uses a program like Microsoft Outlook for collecting contact data and e-mailing clients, a SFA program that can use an existing Outlook contact database will go a long way toward making it easy to use. Do salespeople routinely collect business cards from prospects they visit? They should use a card scanner to quickly get the contact information into the SFA solution. If the company routinely gets e-mail inquiries from prospects, that company should select a SFA solution that allows the company to create a contact and sales opportunity from those e-mail messages with the click of a button. This eliminates the necessity of having to type in or copy the information, and allows the sales team to immediately start recording their sales activities.

Companies should create guidelines for recording vital client and sales information. The SFA program will be useful only if your sales team enters useful information into it. The old adage “garbage in, garbage out” holds true here. Most SFA programs make it easy to create notes, track e-mail, schedule appointments and record sales. When management reviews and refines the company’s sales process, they should be sure to create guidelines of what the sales team is expected to do to track their sales. The team should be taught how to use the solution and where to enter the correct data. These guidelines will eventually turn into habits that will make the sales team more effective.

Running Before Walking
Sales force automation is always more complex than most people realize. For most companies, the sales process grows just like the business; it starts at a crawl, then a walk, then a run. When a company is considering SFA software, it is past the crawling stage, but by no means should try to break into a run. This can lead to a big fall, and is a major reason 80 percent of first-time SFA implementations fail. Often, it’s only after this fall that people realize just how much is involved in getting a SFA program implemented properly. Taking the time and making the effort to properly install and set up the program, as well as train the users, can make the difference between a successful implementation or being a statistic in that 80 percent failure rate.

Implementation should be well planned and time must be taken to do it properly. Companies must create a schedule that includes installation, training and a “go-live” date. Organizations should also strive to be realistic, not optimistic. Enough time must be allowed to complete each stage before transitioning into the next, using all resources available. Most SFA software manufacturers provide implementation and training services. Companies should use them. The vendors ultimately know their software better than anyone and chances are they have experience with just about every type of network configuration.

If the planned implementation is large, a company should consider running a pilot program of its chosen SFA solution. This pilot program can provide great insight into how the sales team will use the solution and the effects it will have. This gives the sales team and management a chance to “kick the tires” and take ownership. By setting up the system on a limited basis, it will also give the IT group a chance to see how the system will work in the company’s network environment. This can be a good chance for a company to work out any kinks and also create interest from the rest of the company. Many companies are surprised at this point that they find greater need than they had initially expected.

Embrace The Challenges
Implementing a SFA program can present a number of challenges during both the selection process and in the final implementation. The key to success is for companies to embrace those challenges and address them head-on. Organizations should review their existing sales processes to identify and refine their sales stages, milestones and activities; companies should also view this stage as an opportunity to make a good sales process even better.

Companies should also create an environment of knowledge and participation among its sales team. Management may make the purchase decision, but the solution’s users must have input in the review and selection process. Only by the whole team taking ownership of the program can a company hope for success.

At this point, the sales organization should design methods for easily getting sales data into the system. Everyone wants the easiest way to get something done, and if the process is made too difficult, salespeople won’t do it. It’s important that companies develop the easiest mechanisms possible to get their sales information into the system; once that is accomplished, the organization will have an effective means for managing and reviewing the sales team.

It is recommended that companies develop a realistic schedule for implementation and start-up, with attainable goals. The sales team must be given the time to get SFA going, even if stumbling blocks appear. By setting a schedule that can be achieved or preferably exceeded, the company will build acceptance of the system and enthusiasm among its team.

By managing and addressing these challenges, sales organizations can remove many of the difficulties in implementing a sales force automation program for their companies. This can lead to a successful implementation, acceptance by the sales team, and a system that provides substantive, useful data throughout the sales management process.

Bill Wheeler is the Marketing Manager for Avidian Technologies (news - alert) (http://www.avidian.com). He is a sales and marketing professional with expertise on leveraging Outlook and Exchange to help organizations be more effective. Avidian’s Prophet is a full feature sales software solution built in Microsoft Outlook.


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