Where do sales force automation (SFA) and customer relationship management (CRM) meet, and which makes sense for the SMB?

Every day more small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) seek new strategies and software technologies — including contact management, customer relationship management (CRM) and sales force automation (SFA) — to help them attract, retain and grow their customer base. As these strategies become commonplace, understanding the systems and their interconnections will become mandatory for long-term business success.

Breaking it down

At the most basic level, SFA software helps sales representatives and sales managers organize their days, perform forecasts and manage sales strategies. This is done through the use of sophisticated automation techniques that often follow a defined sales process. It is important to understand that sales force automation is only one component of a company’s overall CRM strategy. A complete customer care (CRM software system) system includes several distinct pillars: sales force automation, marketing automation, customer service (often including a call centre). A complete CRM strategy also ties in financials and product management systems. A true CRM strategy allows employees from each of these departments to collaborate in support of an overall positive experience for each of your company’s customers.

A complete CRM strategy supported by a well-designed software system can handle more typical customer problems. Let’s say a customer calls into a mid-sized manufacturer’s support department to get help resolving a serious technical issue that may interrupt that customer’s operation. When the manufacturer’s customer service representative saves the service record, rating the issue as critical, an automated alert is created in the form of an e-mail and sent to the sales representative who manages the relationship with that customer. The sales representative can now take action to call the customer later that day and see if everything was handled to his/her satisfaction. In an organization that has only automated its sales, this salesperson could conceivably make a call to the customer expecting a new order — unaware that the customer’s production line has been out of action due to his own company’s actions. Clearly, a more comprehensive customer care strategy would result in a better outcome.

Another example that illustrates where SFA and CRM strategy connect occurs when a sales representative is able to enter revenue opportunity information by forecasting orders for shipment. This forecast information can result in much more accurate production schedules for the manufacturer. The connection between the SFA system and the production scheduling system enables this process, and it is a great example of the coordination of sales and production systems to help run the business.

I can see clearly now

The ability to have clear visibility into your front and back office operations means that you can be very proactive in responding to new industry trends that emerge.

Companies that take advantage of complete CRM strategies incorporating feedback from the SFA system are much quicker to perceive how worldwide business trends will filter down into their own industries, sub industries and geographic markets. These forward-thinkers can shift their portfolios and gracefully ride future trends.

So which is important to an SMB: automating the activities of the sales team, or developing a more comprehensive customer care strategy powered by technology? The answer is both. For obvious reasons, a large proportion of the SMB segment chooses to address simple SFA first. Over time, SMBs build their CRM strategies to include all of the components required to bring together each customer-facing department. The most successful of these will be the organizations that plan on building out their customer management systems over time, selecting modular software products that feature sales force automation, marketing automation, customer service and support functions – and allowing them to “turn on” each department as their strategy for complete CRM plays out.

Hopefully, I have helped you understand the SFA to CRM connection and pointed you in the right direction as far as selecting the technology that underpins any successful customer management strategy.

Peter Callaghan is chief sales officer of Maximizer Software, a Vancouver-based provider of both on-premise and on-demand CRM software systems for small or large organizations.

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