Every day, more and more companies discover the importance and benefits of applying technologies that allow sales force automation to their business processes. This includes efficient client, account, opportunity, inventory management, and team performance tracking.

When I ask myself, are Sales Force Automation (SFA) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) the same?

One thing is clear, there are many choices and terminology, and sometimes it isn’t easy to know what you need and if it will be helpful for your business. So let’s go by parts.

What Does it Mean to Automate the Sales Force?

Salesforce automation (SFA) refers to software applications that optimise the sales management process. This includes tracking leads and opportunities in the pipeline, sales team and customer activity, communication, and analysing each other’s performance.

In other words, the application of these new technologies makes life easier for both the salesperson and the sales manager by automating tasks that teams often hate doing.

The reality of all this, and the most common, is that any sales department discusses which sales software is better. CRM and SFA are not the same and do not have the same function. But sometimes, the two terms are used similarly. The problem is in believing that a CRM and an SFA are the same and, as we will see now, they are not.

What are the Differences Between SFA and CRM?

The main difference between CRM and SFA is that the former is built with a focus on customer satisfaction and all that goes into customer retention. It is designed to take care of the customer once they become a customer.

Manage the relationship between the consumer and the company by collecting and centralizing customer data:

  • Interactions (via telephone, email, social network…etc.)
  • complaints
  • queries
  • meetings
  • Shopping past.

By analyzing this data, sales teams can modify their sales solutions based on the needs of existing customers. Easy, right?

For example, one of your customers has called customer service to complain about the product’s signal (let’s say you sell wireless music speakers). He is pleased with the sound; it’s just that the call sometimes doesn’t come through. Knowing this, the next time you visit that customer, you already have other alternative and complementary products that have a broader signal. The client has seen that you have been concerned and interested in his specific needs, and the opportunity to close another sale has been created.

The SFA, on the other hand, focuses on the sales process, making it as efficient and transparent as possible.  SFA software is a sales and pipeline management tool that provides sales managers with a clear picture of prospects, recent sales, and salespeople’s performance and productivity.

To simplify, CRM is post-sales software used to retain and satisfy current customers, while SFA is software for customer acquisition. Many CRM vendors add value with additional functionality like marketing integration and automation to be an all-in-one solution.

SFA can be stand-alone sales software or part of a CRM solution to be even more explicit.

What are the Benefits of Automating the Sales Force?

As I have explained before, the main benefit of automation is optimizing salespeople’s time by automating, let’s say, more administrative tasks: data entry, customer history, calendar, orders, etc. With this time savings, they can dedicate more and better to selling and building relationships with customers.

Robust and long-term customer relationships are now one of the primary goals of modern sales teams. In recent years, the customer/vendor relationship dynamics have changed a lot in favor of the customer.   The amount of information available online about products and services translates into a buyer who is at the same time a prescriber.

Within the same purchase process, you can have five types of clients, but multiple clients can represent each figure:

  1. The initiator: is the person who wants to acquire a product. Whether out of need, desire or any other feeling.
  2. The prescriber: in other words, the influencer, the person who gives his opinion regarding the product we have in mind to buy.
  3. The decision-maker: after the figure of the initiator and perhaps with the help of the prescriber’s formation, the decision-makers constitution appears—the person who decides whether to buy the product or not.
  4. The buyer: the person who finally makes the purchase. In many cases, he may be the same person who decides to buy the product. For example, in a store, the buyer can be the owner of the establishment and the decision-maker, on the other hand, the manager.
  5. The consumer: as its name suggests, it is the person who consumes the product. In this case, a customer in a store will be the one who will decide if his experience has been satisfactory or not. The consumer, therefore, will be the prescriber/influencer for other people.

SFA and Sales Forecasts

Another benefit of automating the sales force is the ability to streamline sales forecasting processes.

Sales data collected by SFA technologies can be extrapolate and used to predict future revenue for the next month, quarter, or even financial year. The results of these forecasts help in financial planning, the marketing budget, investment portfolios, the purchase of shares, and setting the commercial team’s SMART objectives.

Your forecast is not only crucial in sales; the entire company will be affected in one way or another if it does not coincide with the results obtain. For example, if the sales quota you have set based on the data derived from the forecast is unattainable, logically, and no matter how hard you put in, your team will not achieve it. And that affects all of you…

Some of the quantitative sales forecasting methods available to managers who want to automate the sales force as part of their procedure include:

  • Exponential Smoothing – Widely considered the most exact sales forecasting method, exponential smoothing uses a “weighted” average of historical sales data to forecast future income.
  • Simple moving average: this method requires the sales manager to extrapolate the sales data of a specific and “dynamic” period; a moving window of maybe 2,3, or smooth six months.
  • Trend examination: The idea here is that through studying past sales data, you can spot specific trends that, for some reason, could be use to predict similar fluctuations in the future. This could be due to seasonality, analysis of random factors and economic demand.

SFA in Sales Team Management

Automating the sales force can be nothing but a blessing for sales managers. An SFA automates many tasks that revolve around data entry, such as updating spreadsheets, visiting clients, and breaking reports. By automating these tasks, all managers need to schedule a weekly report directly to their email.

They can record data in real-time and in a simple way also helps managers when making the best decisions. Salespeople typically enter data into their CRM at the end of the week when most of the information may have been lost along the way or incomplete. Consequently, commercial directors are left with a very dim view of the clients that have been visit, the status of each agreement, and the processes’ situation.

But, with real-time and accurate data, directors can identify which territories need more coverage, problems in the pipeline, and even which relocated salespeople need more training and coaching (this being one of the essential functions of the commercial director).

Do you want to know more about sales coaching? Discover the five keys to team management and business leadership in this eBook.

CRM vs SFA How to Choose the Best Commercial Technology?

The first step when choosing or opting for one technology or another is to understand the needs of your business.

Some of the ideas or factors to consider are: Do you lose customers during post-sale? Do your sellers ask you for help? Is the business growing too much to manage all that data in Excel? Do your commercials spend more time on the street than in the office?

In this box, you can see what works better, whether a CRM or an SFA, depending on the answers and needs you have found.

It is also important to remember who will use these tools in their day to day life. Yes, managers will come in from time to time to see some business process or other, but the offshore salespeople will be using it daily.

CRM is a great example. Managers tend to go for them when they see that they can generate reports and analyse all the sales data recorded there. But, if vendors working on the move are not using it… little data will be register.

So my humble recommendation when choosing one or the other is to involve your sellers in the process. First of all, let them taste them. If they like the tool and see added value, they will use it. they use it, they will be more productive, and you will be able to have those activity reports in real-time and with accurate data.

If they don’t like it, they won’t use it, and it will be a waste of money. You already know the saying, “the most expensive CRM is the one that is not use”.


I hope this article has been of great help to you in your work; for other articles with new content.

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