Sales force automation: A comprehensive guide
Last updated May 11, 2023
Businesses are always looking for new methods to streamline their sales process. In their search, many of them have found great success with sales force automation. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the basics of what it involves.
What is sales force automation technology?
In a 2018 study of more than 720 subjects, it was found that sales reps spend only about 35.2% of their time actually selling. That would be like paying for an hour-long language class and spending two thirds of that time making copies of your learning materials. Or otherwise organizing the class curriculum.
Being busy for the entire hour wouldn’t mean you’re actually learning the language, and you’d probably feel that your money had been poorly spent.
Sales force automation—or SFA—is a tool or software platform that automates many of the daily tasks typically done by sales teams. SFA is often included as a feature of CRM software. But it can also exist as its own separate sales app that you can then integrate with your existing CRM.
The main purpose of sales force automation technology is to reduce your sales team’s workload by automating non-revenue generating tasks. Things like data entry and writing emails. These repetitive tasks steal precious hours away from your sales teams.
That gives them less time to engage with leads and customers so they can reach their sales goals. SFA aims to steal those hours back again, giving your team more time to do what they were hired to do—sell.
How does sales force automation work?
SFA works by setting up a chain reaction to designated inputs. It isn’t like commanding a robot that simply performs your tasks for you. It’s more like designing a fun house. A place where you set traps that are designed to spring into action after a certain event takes place. You set the traps beforehand, and the system follows through automatically while you’re taking care of other tasks somewhere else.
For instance, imagine that one of your sales reps recently made contact with a hot lead. The lead needed some time to think things over, and promised to reconnect within a week. A week goes by, and for whatever reason the lead fails to reach out. The onus is now on your sales rep to rekindle the relationship and nurture the lead through the sales cycle.
The problem is, your sales rep is busy with a dozen other tasks. They might forget to make time to write a follow-up email or make a phone call, causing that hot lead to go cold. The longer the lead is left alone, the more opportunity they have to move on to the competition.
Rather than doing damage control after the ball has been dropped, it lets you predict and prepare for such events. Using SFA, your sales rep could set up an automatic reminder. After the week passes, the reminder pings the sales rep, reminding them that they need to follow up. Thus one less ball is dropped without any effort on the sales rep’s part.
This is just one example of how sales force automation works. But the basic idea is the same across the board: anticipate which tasks need to be done, and set everything up beforehand. That way, when the trigger is pulled or the clock runs out, the tasks are automatically performed.
Which companies use sales force automation?
Many companies, from small- to enterprise-level businesses, B2B and B2C, are currently using SFA to automate the sales process. Not every company uses the same features, because every organization has different requirements. Ever signed up for a special promotion on a website and instantly received an email from that provider? That’s a company automating its sales processes.
Why do you need sales force automation?
SFA helps you maximize your sales team’s schedules, ensuring that they have as much time as possible to actually connect with leads and customers. You remove tedious tasks from their daily workflow. That saves them major headaches while simultaneously making it easier for them to hit their sales targets.
What are the benefits of sales force automation technology?
Implementing SFA technology into your sales process isn’t magically going to increase sales. For that, you’ll have to strategize and plan exactly which tasks are going to be automated. And which should remain in the hands of your team.
With the right approach to using your new sales software, and by integrating it into your existing CRM platform, you should see the following benefits coming out of the woodwork:
A more efficient sales team
There are a lot of personality traits that can make someone good at sales. They know how to connect with people, read social cues, and spot subtle changes in human behavior. Being human is part of what makes your sales team so powerful. They understand, at a basic level, the human needs of your customers.
On the other hand, being human comes with its downfalls. People can forget deadlines or get flustered when unexpected events turn their plans upside down. People aren’t machines, and they can’t be expected to operate like one. That’s what automation tools are for.
Sales force automation acts as a support system for your sales team to handle the repetitive tasks that drag down your sales team’s energy. Just like how GPS navigation lets you keep your eyes off the map and on the road.
They also let your sales team keep their eyes on their goals instead of on tedious administrative tasks. Those tasks still need to get done—it just isn’t necessary that they get done by a person.
More accurate data
Another benefit of SFA is its ability to capture accurate data. When people are forced to repeat manual tasks over and over again, it’s easy for errors to slip in. Even the smallest mistake in data entry can have big consequences down the line.
Automating manual tasks helps prevent those errors from being entered into your system. You can be sure that your sales team is working with the most accurate and up-to-date information available.
Reduction in sales process related costs
Manual tasks eat up time, and time on the clock translates directly into costs. Reducing the amount of time your team spends performing repetitive tasks reduces some of the cost associated with running a sales team. Sure, you’re paying up front for the software. But you’re also reducing costs on the other end by eliminating expensive hours spent on tedious tasks.
Fewer missed opportunities
Without SFA automation to handle time-consuming tasks, your salespeople are left with only so many hours to devote to selling. Taking those tasks off their plate, however, frees up their schedules so they can pay closer attention to their customers.
This allows your sales team to discover more opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling. In addition to pursuing newly qualified leads, or even engaging in more training to enhance their selling skills.
Faster response to leads
When a lead finds your company and reaches out, you have a better chance of making the sale if your team is able to respond quickly. Letting a lead wait around gives them time to look up your competition.
By the time one of your agents finally has a moment to reach out, the lead may already be engaged in talks with another company. By automating time-consuming tasks, SFA software gives your sales reps time to respond quickly to incoming leads.
What are the components of SFA technology?
SFA lets you automate workflows, creating a more streamlined sales process. Here are some of the components of SFA that companies use to reduce hassle and human error during their sales process.
Activity & sales tracking: As your team members guide new clients through the initial selling process, it’s helpful to see exactly what step they’re on and what comes next. Having a speedy sales tracker lets them prepare adequately and in a timely manner, reducing lag time between actions.
Email automations: On your website, you should have multiple options for requesting more information about your product or service. Once a visitor expresses interest in your product by filling out a form, downloading an ebook, or signing up for a special promotion, your SFA will automatically send them an email to let them know you’re in they’re system. From then on, you can continue automatically sending emails based on their activity (or inactivity). It keeps them informed of your offerings and how to reach out to you.
Appointment scheduling: Setting up a meeting between two parties sometimes involves time-consuming back-and-forth, with each party swapping available time slots until finally hitting on the best one. SFA offers options for sending meeting scheduling forms that expedite this process and prevent double bookings.
Assigning leads: When a new lead enters the pipeline, they should be assigned to the person who actually has the time to devote to them. But comparing schedules to figure out who is busiest would be exhaustive, if not impossible. SFA automatically monitors who is busy with what, then passes new leads to the person who actually has availability to process the new lead.
Up-to-date reports: Your managers need to have a clear understanding of how their teams are performing. But accumulating and organizing that kind of information every day from each salesperson would take enormous amounts of time. Automation SFA uses real-time metrics to automatically produce reports. Tour managers can then use those to determine if methods need to be tweaked for further improvement.
What is the difference between CRM and SFA?
In your research on SFA, you’ll find that there’s an overlap with something called customer relationship management, or CRM. Companies use CRM software to strengthen customer relationships, which are a vital part of growing and maintaining a healthy business.
The two software platforms get confused with each other because they often have overlapping elements, such as contact management software and lead management software. Despite these overlaps, each system is actually designed to optimize a different stage of the customer lifecycle.
The purpose of customer relationship management
The main function of sales CRM is to improve relationships with existing customers. While CRM platforms may include features intended to help with new client acquisition, its main purpose is to keep your current customers happy. So they continue purchasing from you.
CRMs analyze data like purchasing history, previous complaints, and customer interactions. Following a sequence of CRM process steps allows your sales team to anticipate customer needs and pinpoint their specific requirements. Along with building loyalty with targeted messaging and promotions.
For example, let’s say you have a customer who’s been with you for years. They’re generally happy with your product, but in several interactions they’ve complained about the durability of your product, saying that it typically wears out sooner than they’d like.
The moment your company introduces a more durable product to your line, your salespeople can reach out to that customer and let them know about the improved durability of their new product. This kind of personalized service is what brings customers coming back and talking about your product to other people.
CRM for small business is especially helpful for new companies, who rely on word of mouth for bringing in new customers.
The purpose of sales force automation
CRM focuses on the treatment of existing customers. But automation for sales forces is designed to streamline the process of acquiring new clients and leading them successfully through the sales cycle. While there will be elements of relationship-building involved, there’s a difference between building a new relationship and maintaining an old one.
Consumers today are more informed than ever before. They have a wealth of information and options. Which means that they’re coming to the sales process in a much stronger position than they did in the past.
Salespeople need the time and flexibility to adjust tactics, retrieve information, and provide solutions. And they need to be able to do that quickly. Sales force automation puts your sales reps in the best place to meet this new breed of customer by giving them the power of speed.
Combining the power of SFA and CRM
The good news is, you don’t have to choose one or the other. Integrating sales force automation with your CRM combines the effectiveness of both platforms. That allows you to speed along the process of acquiring new clients, and then maintain healthy relationships once they’ve been established. Having all of your customer information on a single platform further increases your team’s productivity and efficiency.
What types of sales activities should you automate?
Your selling process was built for your particular business. But most sales processes involve similar activities. SFA automation is an available feature for many different aspects of the sales process, from collecting customer data, to sales tracking, to shipping.
Here are some of the different activities that can be expedited by involved sales force automation technology.
Contact management is the process of storing your customer contact data. This allows your sales team to quickly retrieve the most up-to-date contact information when they want to reach out to someone.
The system then keeps those contacts organized, allowing anyone on your team to access them any time. Additionally, when a salesperson leaves or joins your team, you don’t risk losing contact information because it was stored on individual devices.
Team Performance Evaluation
A vital part of making sure that each cycle improves is evaluating everyone’s individual performance. Then pinpointing areas that are in need of improvement. SFA allows your managers to track performance metrics in real time.
With access to each salesperson’s activities, including customer engagement, calls, meetings, emails, proposals, and more, managers can have a fuller view of exactly where their team is excelling. And where they’re falling short.
Customer and Account Management
Having a purchaser’s accurate order history is vital to salespeople wanting to deliver the best service possible. SFA automates customer and account management tasks by tracking and storing data on the entire ordering process.
From order placement, to fulfilment, to shipping, and delivery. Having this kind of information readily available gives salespeople a leg up when it comes to cross-selling and up-selling. It lets them identify and offer the most relevant products.
Automating document management allows you to share and synchronize data across teams. With this component, your sales teams can quickly retrieve product and pricing information, research reports, marketing materials, and more.
Sales Forecasting Analysis
Sales forecasting is the practice of estimating future sales revenue. By looking at historical data via a sales dashboard, the current status of your pipeline, and market trends, your SFA automation tool should be able to give your company a good idea of what to expect in the future.
It isn’t going to tell you exactly what you will generate. But with accurate enough data already in your system, you should be able to allocate your resources correctly. Then you plan your growth strategy.
Sales pipeline management is a process of mapping out your selling methods, allowing you to see opportunities, plan for growth, and strategize tactics for leading customers to the closing stage. It’s something like having a travel itinerary for a trip.
It allows for a highly detailed but flexible plan that can be updated along the way in the event of unexpected changes. It also acts as a sort of travel diary, which you can read over after the trip is done and pinpoint where your plans went awry. That helps you plan for a more successful journey next time.
Once a purchase is made, it’s your responsibility to make sure that the product is delivered safely and within the promised timeframe. Automating the process of picking, packing, labeling, delivering, and tracking your products saves you time by keeping your customers in the loop. That lets them know where their product is and when to expect it, so your sales team isn’t constantly fielding requests for updates.
Inventory Control & Monitoring
Inventory monitoring has historically been handled manually, with team members having to maintain complex documents and spreadsheets. Automating the process saves enormous amounts of time, while still giving your salespeople an accurate count of the inventory available to them.
Artificial intelligence is quickly becoming the newest trend in selling. Predictive analytics AI uses algorithms and machine learning to make predictions, letting you make even more accurate forecasts for the future. With more data available than ever before, having this process automated with AI saves your team incredible amounts of time using data you already have.
What problems can you solve with sales force automation?
Implementing automation SFA into your daily workflow can smooth out a lot of the wrinkles that commonly occur in a selling process. If you’re experiencing any of the following problems, it might be wise to further investigate the SFA options on the market.
Your team members aren’t all on the same page
At a basic level, your customer understands that your company is made up of individuals. Still, they expect that every interaction with your company will produce a unified response, even if they’re talking to someone different every time.
And if a new customer receives different information with every interaction, they’re going to doubt that your company has the ability to function smoothly. Offering contradictory information is a surefire way to kill trust and push customers to the competition.
Having a single source of information, however, unifies the information your employees can pass to your customers. This eliminates confusion and frustration, and prevents customers from accusing you of changing your stance between interactions.
Not following through on promises
Some customers need time to think things over, or they make a request for information that will take a little digging. Forgetting to follow through on promises, or taking too long to come back with requested information, gives prospective customers time to turn to the competition.
Or they may simply forget about you. Using SFA to schedule reminders takes the responsibility off your team to keep tabs on every promise they make. And follow through with them when the time is right.
Customers are forgetting about you
For some reason, the people showing interest in you aren’t entering your funnel. The moment someone shows interest in your product, you should be prepared to respond. But your sales team might not have the time to reach out to every single prospect the moment they show interest. Sales force automation provides you with fast-acting sales outreach tools and sales prospecting help that keep your business in people’s minds so they don’t have the opportunity to forget about you.