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Sales Force Automation, Customer Relationship Management, and Sales Training: A Fusion of Methodology and Technology

Written By: Dave Stein
Published On: May 23 2006

Commentary

Key sales training vendors are increasingly integrating sales methodology, sales force automation (SFA) technology, and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. These vendors range from The Complex Sale, with its GPS software suite, to OnTarget and Wilson Learning with their relationship with Oracle/Siebel's CRM suite, to Knowledge Advantage and their sales automation process. Some technologically leading-edge sales training and sales process firms, such as Select Selling (based in Dublin [Ireland]), have gone one step further, developing a software-enabled methodology (a sales force automation suite) that integrates with existing CRM platforms.

The Problem

Most frequently, salespeople and sales trainers say that CRM and SFA tools are great for management—after all, they organize, summarize, and consolidate pipeline and account status information—but that they don't do much for the salesperson. Indeed, they are often viewed as additional work that adds little value, and detracts from time spent on valuable selling activities.

There are four potential causes for this perception:

  1. The vast majority of SFA and CRM tools do little or nothing to help the salesperson progress through the sales cycle.
  2. The selling methodology and the CRM or SFA tools are misaligned, causing conflict between the selling process and the automation.
  3. The methodology and tools are aligned, but the salesperson does not understand the benefit of the automated tools.
  4. Thanks to inertia, the sales force simply resists any change from the status quo, especially as it relates to learning and using new tools.

Let us examine each of these causes and identify possible solutions.

SFA and CRM tools do not help the salesperson: The salesperson's fundamental goal is to convert qualified leads and prospects into buyers. If these tools neither store crucial customer information (and then provide easier access to this data), nor reduce the salesperson's workload somehow, the tools will be additional overhead to the salesperson and their use will likely be rejected. Here's the real question to ask: If this is the case, does the benefit to management (through the tool's ability to monitor and coach the sales force) outweigh the direct sales overhead of such a tool? Most organizations to whom we have spoken have not asked the question, nor done the analysis.

The selling methodology and the CRM or SFA tools are misaligned: Most CRM and SFA systems implicitly or explicitly impose a series of tasks or milestones, as well as a nomenclature for reporting on the status of those milestones. If the milestones and status messages are not consistent with the sales methodology, a translation must occur at the salesperson level. This translation may be the cause of errors or inaccuracies. In addition, the very need for translation is, by definition, overhead that does not progress the sale through the cycle.

In this particular case, there are three potential solutions:

  1. Modify the sales methodology to match the tools in use, and modify sales training programs to reflect changes in methodology. If no methodology exists, implement one with appropriate training to support full compliance with its use. But ensure that the methodology matches the tools. For example, Wilson Learning and OnTarget have designed or re-designed sales training programs and methodologies that are consistent with the implied methodology of the Oracle/Siebel CRM systems, while Select Selling has designed its methodology to be "CRM-compatible."

  2. Modify the CRM or SFA tools to map to the installed selling methodology. This is often viewed as a significant expense (especially when added to the expense of acquiring and deploying the CRM or SFA solution). Salesforce.com, however, has an application programmer interface (API) that allows technologies developed in-house to interface with Salesforce.com's online SFA tools. An organization using (for example) Knowledge Advantage's online SIM (Systems Interdependency Modeling) tool suite could, with minimal investment, develop an interface using Salesforce.com tools to share information between the SIM system and Salesforce.com.

    An appropriate analysis asks the vital questions:
    • What is the cost of a CRM or SFA solution that is perceived as a burden to the sales force, and what are the costs of misuse or lack of use?
    • What is the cost of retooling the sales force to use the existing tool?
    • What is the cost of retooling the technology to be of value to the sales force?
    Again, these questions are rarely, if ever, asked by our clients.

  3. Bridge the methodology employed by the sales force and the methodology implicitly or explicitly required by the tools, by using add-on technology. For example, The Complex Sale's GPS software includes an interface to Salesforce.com's CRM and SFA suite, and an interface to other CRM tools, yet is designed around The Complex Sale's methodology. Select Selling's Dealmaker is a self-contained SFA tool supporting the Select Selling methodology, with an interface to Salesforce.com, and a customizable interface to other systems.

The methodology and tools are aligned, but are underused or unused: This is actually a common occurrence, and is similar to sales force inertia (below), but is a result of a lack of understanding on the part of the sales team. The solution lies in more effective sales training, to delineate the benefits of the CRM or SFA system for the salesperson, and to answer the question: How does this help me qualify prospects, close sales, and put more money in my pocket?

Sales force inertia: Assuming that an organization has a functional selling methodology and an effective CRM or SFA tool suite, then training is the core to overcoming sales force inertia. In our ESR/Insight brief, The Value and Perils of Customized Training, we pointed out that customization of sales training programs can be a risky endeavor. However, using a firm that has formal processes for customization (such as Richardson Group, Sales Performance International, or Wilson Learning) can be a viable solution to the need to build workshops, exercises, and classroom experiences that demonstrate the value of the CRM or SFA tools to the sales force, through live examples.

To the Point

There may be many reasons for ineffective use of CRM or SFA solutions by a sales force. However, sales training programs can be catalysts for optimizing the CRM or SFA investment. It is vital to carefully analyze the sales person's selling methodology, the implied methodology of the tools, and the capacity of a sales vendor to either bridge the technologies, or craft a tailored program.

One or more of these endeavors can reap significant improvements in CRM and SFA adoption, as well as a return on the technology and on the investment in sales process and training.

ES Research Group
Phone: +1 (845) 621-0000
Fax: +1 (845) 621-3723
info@ESResearch.com

2006 — Effectiveness Solutions Research Corporation

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