Every day, millions of marketers rely on tools and software for marketing automation, such as customer relationship management or CRM software. Your company’s sales team, which often goes hand in hand with your marketers, may seek to automate some of their tasks as well. To this end, sales force automation or an SFA system may be your best option.
If you’re not already using an SFA system as part of your sales team’s daily dealings, we highly recommend you read this in-depth guide. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about sales force automation, starting with a clear definition. Then we’ll delve into features and benefits as well as a few examples of how to use the software once you choose one.
What Is Sales Force Automation (SFA)?
Before we get into any of that, let’s start with a clear, concise sales force automation definition.
When automating sales-related tasks through an SFA system, you use a tool and/or software to do parts of the sales process automatically so your sales team doesn’t have to. These aren’t necessarily crucial duties, but rather, ones that otherwise hog up a sales rep’s precious time.
For example, SFA software allows your sales team to more effectively do the following:
- Finding the leads that are the most qualified and thus viable, as they have a higher chance of buying
- Generating reports using the most frequent data and metrics so a sales rep doesn’t have to spend all day (or even several days) doing this
- Assigning leads to certain members of the sales team so the most qualified sales rep handles the right leads
- Automatically scheduling appointments so this takes less time
- Tracking the sales pipeline so sales reps receive alerts when leads make their way through the pipeline to ensure the appropriate actions are taken
- Automating time-consuming parts of the sales process, like sending emails or even follow-ups, as these can be scheduled
Do you even know what your sales team is doing day in and day out? You’d think selling, right? Yet this 2018 article in Forbes found that many salespeople spend their time doing almost anything but.
The data cited in the article is a Dreamforce survey from 2017. Nearly 750 sales reps were included. When asked which tasks demanded most of their time and attention, 64.8 percent of them said they were busy doing duties that had nothing to do with making money. If you do the math, that leaves the average sales rep with about 35.2 percent of their day to sell.
This could have to do with a lack of time management, as the data goes on to say that roughly 22 percent of the respondents had a methodology for managing their day, leaving about 80 percent without. Another downside is that few of the salespeople use automation or other helpful software like CRM. Dreamforce’s study mentioned that the average sales rep surveyed spent 17.9 percent of their day in CRM. That’s far too little.
Here’s a graph that further paints the grim picture of where the average sales rep’s time goes every day.
Image courtesy of Act!
Now you can see that it’s not great time allocation. Up to 35.1 percent of a sales rep’s time is spent on tasks that don’t make them any money. That breaks down to 14.8 percent spent on administrative tasks, 11.6 percent spent on research, and 8.7 percent on internal meetings.
The rest–14 percent for external meetings, 11.1 percent for following up, and 10.1 percent for prospecting–could earn the company money, although these tasks aren’t directly doing so. Also, when you add that up, it brings us back to that number–35.2 percent–of a sales rep’s day being spent making sales.
That’s ridiculous when you stop and think about it. A pizza restaurant that only spent 35.2 percent of its day making pizzas would be out of business in months. Your sales team needs greater efficiency and productivity.
The Purpose of Sales Force Automation
- A Deeper Glimpse into the Sales Process
- Identifying Means of Streamlining That Process
- Choosing the Most Important Tasks
Besides maybe saving some time, what are the other purposes of sales force automation software? Here’s an overview.
A Deeper Glimpse into the Sales Process
Your sales team are experts, pros, masters at selling. As for you? If you hold a more managerial or ownership role, then you might not grasp the ins and outs of selling quite so well. Through the introduction of an SFA system, now a larger part of the company that doesn’t get to see the sales process in so much detail finally receives that opportunity, including yourself.
Learning more about your company’s sales process will make current or future flaws that much more apparent. You can then create a plan for rectifying these.
Identifying Means of Streamlining That Process
The best sales process is one that is streamlined and effective. By cutting out extraneous tasks, your sales reps spend their energy only on what needs to be done, nothing more. For example, the big issue we talked about in the prior section is wasting time on tasks that don’t earn your company money. Now it’s possible to condense, eliminate, or reassign these tasks.
Choosing the Most Important Tasks
Your firsthand look into your company’s sales process also gives you a feel for which tasks are most important in a sales rep’s regular business dealings. By prioritizing these using automation, you not only increase your revenue potential, but you could help build a larger base of buying customers as well.
Why Is Sales Force Automation Important?
- Saves Time
- Increases Revenue
- Introduces Opportunities for Cross-Selling and Upselling
- Encourages Sales Rep Accountability
- Better Lead Management
Now that you have a clearer understanding of what sales force automation is, let’s next talk about why it’s such an important part of any functioning company with a healthy revenue stream.
The earlier section illustrated all the ways the average sales team misuses their time. This is rarely done intentionally; the tasks they must complete are just the everyday minutiae of business. The reps themselves may not even realize how little time is left for sales until they see their weekly or monthly sales numbers and stop to wonder why these are so low.
Through automating most of the tasks that detract from earning revenue, a sales rep can go from a paltry 35.2 percent of their day spent on sales to 40 percent or more, perhaps even 60 percent.
It reasons to assume that a sales team that’s spending less time on administrative tasks and more time on selling is going to bring in a larger revenue stream for the company. This is undoubtedly one of the best sales force automation benefits.
No company is going to make every single sale, of course. According to CRM software brand Propeller, win rate data for 2018 estimates that a sales team can expect a win rate of around 47 percent. That’s half the time, granted your team is spending half the time selling.
When a sales rep’s window to sell is even smaller, we have to expect an equally narrow win rate. Through SF automation, your company’s average sales win rate may hold steady at that 47 percent or you could even find ways to increase it.
Introduces Opportunities for Cross-Selling and Upselling
Any salesperson worth their salt knows there are more ways to make money than the initial sale. They can also try cross-selling. This is where the sales rep looks at what the customer just bought and recommends a related product.
The classic example is if a customer buys a cheeseburger, the sales rep should suggest they get French fries as well.
Upselling is another classic sales technique. It involves the sales rep recommending add-ons, upgrades, and accessories that make the original purchase more useful. For example, if the customer bought a video game console, the sales rep could upsell them with controllers, charging ports, or even a game or two.
The classic example is supersizing your fast food meal. Now, instead of getting a regular-sized burger, it’d be two patties. Your fries would go from regular to large or extra-large, and you’d get a large drink thrown in for good measure.
Image courtesy of VillaTheme
The opportunities for cross-selling and upselling exist in many sales scenarios. However, when a sales rep gets bogged down with administrative tasks and other duties that don’t make the company money, they can miss the chance for extra sales.
With more of their time freed up through SF automation, the sales rep can now identify which customer purchases would be best for cross-selling and/or upselling. This can only increase a company’s bottom line even further if these sales happen successfully.
Encourages Sales Rep Accountability
Like we asked in the last section, do you even know what your sales reps are doing? Sales force automation encourages a sense of accountability across the sales team. If a rep is wasting time doing something that isn’t helping them or the rest of the sales team, those errors can soon be identified and rectified.
Also, this accountability lets you see the most efficient members of your sales team. These reps can act as inspiration and possibly even create a working model that other reps can follow do a better job in the next sales cycle.
Better Lead Management
We discussed already how a sales force automation system can ping the various sales reps as a lead moves through the sales pipeline. When you combine that with automated communications (or at least automating when emails are scheduled to go out), it’s possible to nurture and engage with a lead more efficiently.
This visible means of seeing leads move through the pipeline also lets sales reps determine the best time to reach out to the lead and either develop that relationship or continue it.
The Features of Sales Force Automation
- Mobile Usability
- Detailed, Real-Time Metrics
- Revenue Predictions
- Sales Rep Partner Engagement
- Automation Rules for More Control
- Advanced Contact Management
By this point, you’re likely considering a sales force automation tool or software for your company so you can harness the power of SFA for your sales team. That’s why next, we thought we’d discuss the features you’d find in most sales force automation software.
Your sales reps are busy people. Besides the administrative tasks they handle as well as their own sales jobs, they also probably travel to earn your company even more sales. From expos to events, conventions, and everything in between, what kind of sales solution do you have when your sales reps are out of the office?
If the answer is nothing, then you’re letting far too many sales opportunities lapse. A good sales force automation software should give your reps the option for mobile use. Your sales reps can log into the software app on their phones and then get started tracking deals, scheduling communications, and even reviewing the sales pipeline.
If a lead makes a purchase or otherwise progresses through that pipeline, the sales rep should receive instant alerts and notifications to their smartphone or mobile device. It’s even possible to close deals when not at the office. How about that for efficiency?
Detailed, Real-Time Metrics
In sales, things can change in the blink of an eye. The whole sales team can benefit most from metrics that are continually updated in real-time then. These metrics will allow the reps to see such critical data as currently open deals, qualified leads, won deals, lost deals, and revenue by week, month, year, or even quarter.
If you use a CRM, these reports can be in ever greater detail, carrying with them KPIs that hold more weight. Templates make it easy to take the current data and lay it out in a format that makes the most sense to your sales team, such as bars, charts, or graphs.
Automated report generation saves your sales reps so much time. They don’t have to sit there crunching and calculating their own numbers then re-calculating them again just to double-check their accuracy. There’s also a lower rate of human error, as the automation will produce perfect reports every time.
Image courtesy of Act!
How much money will your sales team earn for the company in 30 days? 60 days? 90 days? Rather than just guess or–even worse–assume, your sales force automation technology can be of great help here.
Using CRM sales automation, it’s possible to review past sales data to inform what the future will look like. These forecasts are based on mathematics rather than just intuition or well-wishing, so their accuracy is greater.
Sales forecasting, while maybe not 100 percent on-the-nose, gives you the data you need to begin planning your quarter or even your year. You can set sales goals for your company and even budget according to the numbers. If your revenue ends up being a bit higher than projected, then great! That’s a good problem to have. Should it be somewhat lower, you were at least prepared due to the numbers. That can prevent unnecessary spending that only hurts your bottom line more.
Sales Rep Partner Engagement
You may have a few superstar sales reps in your company, but it’s the whole team that really drives most of your company’s sales successes. Some reps may be better suited to handle a different type of customer than others, and that’s when communication is critical.
In plenty more instances, it’s useful to be able to pass along quick information about a lead or even a potential lead to other reps on the team. If one of your sales reps already chatted with a potential customer once or twice and that lead is now being passed to a different rep, the first rep can easily send their info to the second through an SFA system.
A well-informed sales rep is worlds better than one who’s walking in blind and has no idea what to expect with a potential customer. This partnership feature in sales force software is a valuable one that your sales reps will turn to again and again.
Automation Rules for More Control
Some companies that are reluctant to jump on the automation bandwagon may fear the lack of control that can come with embracing tech like this so wholeheartedly. Sales force automation isn’t merely a set it and forget it type of software. It gives your sales reps the freedom to step back from some tasks, but they’re still the ones commandeering the ship.
Take, for example, the automation rules feature. This lets the sales reps choose the criteria for setting up rules, such as who will take over a new lead. Some software even lets you select the best sales rep for the job in a round-robin style so you can add multiple potential reps. Only one is chosen in the end, but each is equally qualified for the role.
Macros are another feature that allows you to create rules that work for your sales team at that time. From scheduling emails to assigning tasks, updating records, closing deals, and everything in between, macros will become a sales rep’s best friend.
It’s even possible to create a sequence of activities through one macro, which is about as close as automation can get to replacing the jobs we people do. Well, at least as close as some feel comfortable with.
Advanced Contact Management
Your sales team knows it and you do as well: your contacts are everything. These are the leads who eventually become your customers, even repeat customers. However, a bad introduction between a lead and a sales rep could kill the deal before it ever really gets off the ground.
Before your sales rep says a peep to a lead, they can prospect and research the lead using past interactions stored in the automation software. As we said before, a sales rep who’s walking in blind can’t excel, but contact management features will prevent this.
Sales Force Automation vs. CRM
- Marketing Automation Features Are Included
- Focus on Interactions Dealing with Support and Service
- Profiles of Customers
Throughout this article, we’ve talked about CRM software quite a bit. In case you need a reminder, CRM stands for customer relationship management. When pitting SFA vs. CRM, which one is best for the future of your company?
There is no need to choose either SFA or CRM. Both pieces of software can work in conjunction with one another. It is important to understand that SFA and CRM are not the same, though. Here are some features of CRM that differentiate it from an SFA system.
Marketing Automation Features Are Included
In the intro, we talked about how marketers use automation daily. When they do, they’re not loading up a sales force automation program. Instead, they’re relying on CRM. This is more marketing-based, although it has features that salespeople will appreciate as well.
You still get analytics and reporting, for one. You can even strengthen your sales funnel with CRM. Lead scoring, sales forecasting, and sales process automation are also included. It’s just that more features of CRM are made for marketers than what’s found in SFA.
Focus on Interactions Dealing with Support and Service
Both CRM and SFA log interactions between the sales rep and the lead or customer so these can be reviewed later. That said, CRM is more focused on interactions related to support and service than sales communications.
Profiles of Customers
The customer profiles in CRM software are incredibly rich in detail. You can input as much information as you have about a lead, such as their age, address, job title, income, gender, activities and hobbies, buying behavior, and more.
Here’s a graph showcasing the above differences between CRM and SFA.
Image courtesy of Rolustech
To reiterate, discussing the different features between CRM and SFA is not with the intention of having you choose one over another. If anything, a CRM has more features than an SFA, but there’s no reason to pick only one. A CRM sales force automation solution would work best for your company and especially your sales team.
Sales Force Automation Examples
- Automated Meeting Scheduling
- Automated Sales Collateral
- Automated Creation of Records
- Automation of High-Priority Leads
- Automated Reporting
If you’d like to see some examples of sales force automation in action, here are a few you can use to get started.
Automated Meeting Scheduling
Whether it’s to set up a meeting among the sales team or between a potential customer and a sales rep, SFA software makes it possible, especially if the software has a CRM.
You’d want to use a meeting tool such as the free HubSpot Meetings or EngageBay’s free meeting scheduling software to make your own booking link for all members of your sales team. These links are customizable so each rep has their own individual link for connecting via meetings and appointments.
The links are embeddable into email signatures. Even your marketing team can use booking links as they engage with and nurture leads.
Automated Sales Collateral
Sales collateral or materials include content designed to connect with the lead and encourage them to make the sale. These materials can take a very long time to put together, which means your sales reps are not focusing on earning money.
To automate sales collateral, try opening a folder on Google Drive that’s shared among the whole sales team. Your reps could even create a Wiki page that’s internal for personnel within your company. The whole point is to open up the collaborative possibilities so creating these materials becomes a shared job that gets done faster.
You’ll end up with a robust library of content that will draw in leads and begin the process to convert them into buying customers.
Automated Creation of Records
Recordkeeping is one of those time-wasting administrative tasks your sales team may seem saddled with. Well, not anymore thanks to sales force automation software. Now, with a CRM, you can establish a series of tasks that will automate records creation.
To begin, your sales reps should have different tasks established each time a lead clicks onto the pricing page. Then, should the lead request a demo, your rep should make a deal for that. As the demo trial nears its end, a follow-up automated task will successfully make the record.
Automation of High-Priority Leads
Qualified leads are those your sales team wants to chase the most fervently, but how do you determine who those leads are? This is yet another task that hogs up quite a lot of time. By automating lead scoring, your sales team can choose to target only the leads who will be the most receptive. This significantly boosts earnings potential.
Start this process by having the sales team create criteria that matter when working with a lead. Then, each time a lead comes through the sale pipeline, they’re scored automatically.
We talked before about how valuable automated reporting can be in saving your sales team time and reducing human error. How do the reps begin with this form of SF automation?
First, it’s best to have data and metrics in a Google Sheet or a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet at the very least. A CRM is better as it tracks this data in a more easily digestible format, but the former data tracking can work. It’s just harder to do.
Your reps have to transfer all that data to your sales force automation or CRM software. If it’s already in the CRM, then all that’s necessary is scheduling automated email data delivery that can build out the automated report.
How to Select the Best Sales Force Automation Software for Your Business
- Understand What You Need from the Software
- Browse and Choose Your Vendors
- Try Vendor Demos
- Pick Your Vendor
Going without sales force automation is not something you want for your company going forward. You’re ready to jump in with an SFA system, but how can you determine which software is the best pick for your business?
Here are some pointers for selecting the right SFA software.
Understand What You Need from the Software
What should your ideal SF automation software include? Is it the features we talked about before? Can it only be SFA or do you want CRM as well? Must your software be on-premises, or is a cloud-based solution okay, too?
Those are all questions you need to answer with your sales team. After all, they’re the ones who will use the software day in and day out, so they must be comfortable with the decision, even if it comes from you.
Think as well about your short-term and long-term automation goals. Can software help you get there? In what way? How long will it take you to achieve those results?
Browse and Choose Your Vendors
With your criteria selection out of the way, it becomes far easier to create a shortlist of potential vendors. You may opt to go with HubSpot or even EngageBay for your sales force needs.
The questions you answered before will inform your vendor’s list. Also, compare your potential vendors by their background with software implementation, their experience, their record of happy customers, their pricing, and the features they offer.
Try Vendor Demos
In doing the above, you should have two or three vendors you’d like to work with. At this point, you may request a demo for each or go one at a time if these are paid demos.
However, there’s something to be said for sampling the vendors at the same time. Most trials last two weeks to a month, so spending that long on a demo and then moving onto the next vendor means this process can take as long as three months. We don’t think you want to wait that long.
Pick Your Vendor
With the trial versions having ended, you have a good idea which sales force automation vendor you want to work with. You’d then let them know, pay for the software, and begin using it. When the time comes to renew the software, you might opt to pay for another year of that same SFA software or try a different vendor.
Sales force automation or SFA involves streamlining the tasks salespeople do every day. These are mostly administrative jobs that waste the bulk of a sales rep’s day, leaving them with roughly 35 percent of the time to spend on sales.
Your company is now well-equipped to choose the best SFA system with the information we presented in this article. This will not only make your sales team feel more productive, but it will open up your company to more revenue opportunities through converted leads. Best of luck!