SFA Tool: Why do We Need to Implement SFA?

Categories CRM

More and more companies are considering implementing SFA due to the reform of work styles and IT. So, can you explain what SFA is all about?

This article explains in detail about SFA, from the basics such as what SFA is to the advantages and disadvantages of implementing SFA tools, the process of implementation and selection points, and trends of SFA tools.

Table of Contents:

  • About SFA and CRM
    • What is SFA?
    • What is CRM?
  • Main benefits of implementing SFA tools
    • Benefits of implementing SFA tools for managers
    • Benefits of implementing SFA tools for sales managers (managers and supervisors)
    • Benefits of implementing SFA tools for sales managers
  • Can you manage sales without an SFA tool?
    • Managing with a whiteboard
    • Managing with Excel
    • Managing with spreadsheet
  • Problems when not implementing SFA tool
    • Past history is not kept and can be added and deleted at will
    • Data aggregation is time-consuming and does not allow for multifaceted analysis
    • Can only be used on a PC
    • Management of information becomes more personal
    • Deterioration in operational efficiency
    • Lost opportunities
    • Security aspects
  • Main steps to implement SFA tool
    • Organize the purpose of implementing the SFA tool
    • Make sure that the salespeople understand the SFA tool
    • Decide which SFA tool to implement
    • Migrate the current management method to the SFA tool
    • Study sessions on the use of the SFA tool
    • Conduct information analysis
  • Things to keep in mind when implementing SFA tools
    • Don't stop after implementing the SFA tool
    • Decide who will be in charge of operating the SFA tool
  • Telework reveals the need for SFA tools
  • Recent trends in SFA tools
    • The use of cloud services is the norm
    • Easier and more convenient for sales staff to input information
    • More convenient with external service linkage
  • Points to consider when selecting an SFA tool
    • Easy to use
    • Excellent support
    • Technology and future potential
    • Check the track record
    • Try a free trial
    • Conduct interviews with employees
  • Evolving SFA tools

About SFA and CRM

First, let's take a look at what SFA and CRM are.

What is SFA?

SFA is an abbreviation for Sales Force Automation, a system for managing the sales process and business negotiations progress to improve the efficiency of sales activities.

It was originally born in the United States in the early 1990s and is now being used by many companies around the world.

In addition, in recent years, with the trend of reforming work styles and the spread of remote work due to the Corona disaster, the use of remote work is becoming more widespread, not only in large corporations but also in small and medium-sized companies, to improve business performance, sales productivity, and operational efficiency.

By using SFA tools, sales managers can manage all items related to sales negotiations.

You can check the current status of your sales team by understanding the achievement status of current business negotiations compared to the budget, the progress of business negotiations, the proposals and actions of subordinates, and the history of past dealings with customers.

Functions of SFA

The specific functions of SFA include the following:

  • Customer management
  • Case management
  • Action management
  • Yield management
  • Schedule management
  • Daily report management
  • Task management

With SFA, the above sales information can be centrally managed, or in other words, visualization of sales can be realized.

What is CRM?

Along with SFA, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is often implemented.

The main functions of CRM tools are management and analysis of customer information, negotiation information, and sales activities.

A system that handles customer information is called a CRM tool. Most SFA tools include the functions of a CRM tool; the customer information of the CRM tool is the most basic data, and sales activity information and negotiation information are linked to it.

The following section introduces the main advantages of implementing SFA tools from three perspectives: management, sales managers, and sales representatives.

Main benefits of implementing SFA tools

The implementation of SFA tools brings various benefits not only to frontline salespeople but also executives and managers.

Advantages of implementing SFA tools for managers

The main advantage for managers is that the company's ability to achieve business performance improves. The system will automatically visualize the information you want to grasp, such as the number of sales actions, analysis of the difference from the budget, and understanding of the business outlook, which will improve the ability of the entire company to achieve business results.

In addition, further success can be expected by implementing the sales management and analysis know-how of companies with excellent sales management into the SFA tools. It is also expected to improve employee productivity.

Benefits of implementing SFA tools for sales managers (managers and supervisors)

In addition to improving business performance, managing customers and negotiations becomes much more efficient.

If you haven't done much management in the first place, you may end up relying on intuition and experience to manage. In such cases, you can use a scientific approach to sales management by utilizing data.

With the support of SFA tools, customer and negotiation management can become more efficient, allowing managers to focus on advising on deals and training subordinates. In addition, the system can automatically visualize the reports and points that managers want to see and suppress, which can greatly reduce the preparation time for meetings.

Benefits of implementing SFA tools for sales representatives

For salespeople, the ability to visualize the path to achieving their own goals allows for more efficient sales activities.

In addition, the visualization of past customer contact history and connections within the company can increase the order rate and facilitate the handover of customers.

In addition, SFA tools nowadays can take over the workload of various internal tasks related to sales activities, leading to a reduction in workload.

Can you manage sales without SFA tools?

In the previous section, I introduced the benefits of using SFA tools. Sales management itself is possible even without tools. In this section, I will introduce various sales management methods.

Managing with a whiteboard

It is a method of managing sales by placing a whiteboard in the office.

The board should contain the names of the sales members and the sales, schedule, and deal information for each member.

The advantage of this method is that it is easy to start, as it is less expensive to implement. However, if you are teleworking or have many sales members who are out of the office, it is difficult to implement this management method because they cannot check the whiteboard.

Managing with Excel

The second method is to use Excel for sales management. The second method is to use Excel to manage sales, which is a relatively low hurdle to implement since most company computers come with Excel.

However, whenever you update your data, you must share it with your salespeople. 

Also, as the amount of data in Excel increases through repeated updates, the system becomes sluggish, and the files do not open easily. For this reason, Excel is not recommended for continuous management.

Managing with spreadsheet

Google Spreadsheet is a way to manage your data, and it works almost the same as Excel, but the main difference is that it is easier to share.

You can share Google Sheets with anyone with a Google account. Therefore, it is convenient when sharing information within the company. In addition, the information you edit is reflected in real-time, so you don't have to refer to the old one by mistake.

However, as the amount of data in the spreadsheet increases, it may become slow or impossible to open the data. Therefore, when you have accumulated a certain amount of data, you need to create a new sheet and update it.

Problems when not implementing an SFA tool

In the previous section, I introduced sales management methods other than using SFA tools. All these methods are relatively easy to implement, but you can see some concerns such as data heaviness and susceptibility to errors and problems.

Therefore, if you want to manage sales with multiple sales members, SFA tools are the way to go.

In this section, let's take a closer look at some of the problems that can occur if you do not implement an SFA tool.

Past history is not kept and can be added and deleted at will

When managing information in Excel, it takes time to compile data for meetings and other events.

Even though the data is used for similar purposes, it needs to be formatted and tabulated for each.

Data aggregation is time-consuming and does not allow for multifaceted analysis

SFA tools are not dedicated business card management tools, but they are completely free and can be managed with any item.

You can also manage the status of business negotiations, depending on how you create the items and sheets. However, the disadvantage is that the data entry of business cards must be done manually or by another service, which takes time and effort.

You can only work on your PC

In the case of management in Excel, entering customer information inevitably requires a PC. Therefore, in most cases, sales representatives return to the office to fill out the information.

Work styles reforms are required to provide more efficient ways to work.

Management of information is becoming more personal

Without SFA tools in place, there is a disadvantage of dependency on individual salespeople to manage information. If the information management becomes too dependent on the individual salesperson, it can have a negative impact on the salesperson. 

For example, a situation where a sales representative is unable to work due to an urgent requirement would fall under this case.

It is also not uncommon to see a drastic drop in sales due to the risk of customers leaving the company when the person in charge is replaced. Other disadvantages include reduced work speed and efficiency and difficulty in quality control. Since there is nothing good about dependency for a company, it is necessary to implement SFA to counter it.

Deterioration in operational efficiency

Typical SFA tools include functions to manage and report on business negotiations, handy quotation creation, and scheduler. These functions are very convenient as they not only the traditional work-based operations but also allow for updating and sharing on the move and in real-time.

On the other hand, this is not the case with traditional management methods. There is a lot of paperwork involved in re-summarizing the contents of a business meeting and sharing the summarized contents within the company. Also, unless the information is shared, the progress of the project is not visualized, so it is necessary to contact subordinates, departments, and superiors every step of the way. During travel time and office work, it is difficult to get on with other tasks, and the amount of time available for one's own work is rapidly decreasing.

But with SFA, you don't have to worry about that. You can check your history and view customer information in a few minutes while riding in a cab or on a train, and if you update the information, anyone can see it. 

You will be able to make better use of your limited resources, and if your business efficiency improves, you will be able to work less overtime.

As you can see, the implementation of SFA tools has a great impact on business efficiency. If you are experiencing challenges in improving productivity and work speed, you should implement them immediately.

Lost opportunities

The loss of an opportunity that should have been gained is something that companies want to avoid as much as possible. Typically, lost opportunities occur when the sales system is not in place or when there are issues in the sales process. For example, an opportunity loss occurs when a company receives 100 inquiries from a website but can only respond to 50 of them. The cause may be that the response speed is not fast enough or the information management system is not in place.

SFA consolidates information in one place, reducing the speed of response and workload, and since the information is shared on the system, collaboration with multiple departments can proceed smoothly. 

In addition, it is difficult for supervisors to give accurate advice when the sales activities of each person in charge are unclear. By visualizing this information with SFA, supervisors can provide detailed advice according to the sales process.

You can also visualize the sales process of a good salesperson, so you can firmly lead to contracts that you missed due to the variation in the skills of the salespeople and improve the skills of the entire sales department. Thus, if you don't want to miss out on business opportunities, I recommend implementing SFA.

Security aspects

There are many reasons why Excel is not suitable for customer management, but security is a particular concern.

Excel can be taken out immediately after saving it on a storage medium such as a USB stick. While this aspect is also beneficial, it poses a significant risk from a security perspective. Because if you can easily take out confidential information such as customer information, the risk of information leakage increases.

In addition, while Excel can grant viewing and editing permissions to each sheet, it cannot control detailed information. It may be necessary to take individual measures against macro viruses.

For the above reasons, it is not recommended to use Excel to manage customer information from a security perspective.

Main steps to implement SFA tools

Here are the steps to implement an SFA:

Organize the purpose of implementing an SFA tool

The first step is to organize the purpose of implementing SFA tools.

There are a variety of possible objectives, such as "I want to change the way salespeople work," "I want to make my control charts online," or "I want to accumulate and visualize business cards and customer information.

There are many ways to use SFA tools, but if you decide what you want to achieve with implementation, the implementation design and project will go smoothly.

Make sure that salespeople understand the SFA tool

It is the people in the field who will actually use and leverage the SFA tool. Therefore, you will need to make sure that your salespeople understand the significance of implementing SFA tools.

If you implement the SFA tool, you will have to spend more time typing and more work. Some salespeople may object that it is too much work since salespeople have many tasks to do.

Therefore, let's firmly share the benefits of SFA tools and how they can lead to operational efficiency.

Decide which SFA tool to implement

Currently, there are a lot of SFA tools on the market.

Migrate the current management method to the SFA tool

Transfer the information and items required by your current management method to the SFA tool.

For example, you can transfer the sales management format to the SFA tool, register the information of the products you sell, targets, and budgets to the SFA tool, and reproduce the documents you see in meetings to the SFA tool.

Study session on the use of SFA tool

You provide the sales staff who will actually use the SFA tool with briefing sessions and manuals to implement the tool. It is also important to repeatedly communicate and point out the importance of the SFA tool until it actually takes root; tools such as SFA tools are only effective when they are actually used in the field. 

Your first goal should be to get your frontline staff to use it and to establish it.

If you have any questions about how to use the tool, ask the support of the SFA tool company.

Conduct information analysis

SFA tools should not be satisfied just by recording and visualizing information. You can demonstrate the true value of SFA only by analyzing based on the information gathered on the SFA tool and finding improvements in sales activities. 

With the implementation of SFA tools, various data can be displayed as numerical values and graphs, making it easy to analyze the information.

Use SFA to identify bottlenecks in the sales activity process by using numbers and data.

Things to keep in mind when implementing an SFA tool

Once the preparations for implementing an SFA tool are in place, the next step is to implement the tool.

However, there are some points to keep in mind even after the implementation of the SFA tool.

Don't stop after implementing the SFA tool

The implementation of SFA tools is not the end of the story.

However, some companies have actually tried to implement SFA tools but have failed to utilize them properly.

The reasons for this failure are as follows:

Unclear purpose of implementation

Some companies implement SFA tools simply because they are convenient, without clarifying the primary purpose of the implementation and choosing the right tool.

From the employee's point of view, it is just more work without knowing the purpose. If this is the case, employees will not be motivated to use the tool actively, and the implementation will fail.

Too many unnecessary functions

SFA tools are often equipped with various functions that are useful for information management.

However, there are cases where the multifunctional nature of the tool makes it difficult to use and leads to confusion in the field.

It is especially true for companies that have simply implemented the tools without having time to explain how to use and operate them. In some cases, it takes time to educate people before they can use the tool. As a result, they end up avoiding SFA tools.

Not knowing how to utilize the information after collecting it

Gathering information is only the first step in using SFA tools. The proper way to use it is to constantly update the status of negotiations and utilize it for future sales.

However, even if you educate your staff on how to input information, if you don't educate them on how to utilize it in the future, they will end up just inputting information.

In order to avoid such a mistake, it is important to explain the purpose of the SFA tool, how to operate it, and how to use it when implementing it.

Decide who will be in charge of operating the SFA tool

If you are going to operate the SFA tool properly, make sure to clarify the operation system.

No matter what kind of SFA tool you implement, you will always need at least one full-time system administrator. If there is no one to manage the system, it will be difficult to operate it well.

The system administrator (person in charge of operations) is mainly responsible for the following tasks:

  • Registration of customer information
  • Setting up reporting formats and reporting functions
  • Explaining the use of SFA tools and creating manuals for internal use
  • Consideration of changes in performance measurement and operation methods

By deciding on an administrator, it becomes clear who to ask when you have questions about the tool. If this is not decided, there may be cases where it is unclear who to ask to solve the problem.

A full-time administrator can prevent this from happening.

If you can't have such a full-time administrator, choose a tool that is as easy to operate as possible and can be used by anyone.

Telework reveals the need for SFA tools

In recent years, many companies have implemented telework. Telework has many advantages, but it also has the disadvantage of making it difficult to share information.

Since it is more difficult to see each other's business activities, it is necessary to share information more thoroughly. One of the ways to do this is to use SFA tools, which will make the information sharing more effective.

Recent trends in SFA tools

What SFA tools have gained popularity in recent years?

Let's take a look at some of the latest trends in SFA tools:

The use of cloud services is commonplace

Cloud services have become the mainstream for SFA tool systems.

In the on-premises era, every time the software was updated, it had to be reinstalled, and the necessary information was not accessible from the outside.

However, as cloud computing has become mainstream, it has become possible to provide security and accessibility.

Easier and more convenient for sales staff to input information

In companies that have not implemented SFA tools, the timing for entering information on business negotiations often varies from person to person. Some may enter the information immediately after returning to work, while others may work on it for a week at a time.

If the timing of entry is not consistent, there is a possibility that more information will be left out.

In recent years, the information entry interface of SFA tools has become more sophisticated and much easier for users to enter information.

For example, an increasing number of SFA tools can be linked to smartphone applications so that users can input information while on the move.

In addition, some SFA tools are linked to groupware (such as Gmail) to reduce the time and effort required to enter customer information by directly importing emails from sales staff.

In the past, entering customer information used to be a time-consuming process with many fields. The mainstream method is to import business cards with a camera or scanner and import the data directly into the SFA tool.

More convenient with external service linkage

When SFA tools first appeared, they were just systems for managing business negotiations, but recently, various functions have been developed to support the entire sales activities of salespeople.

In addition, due to the trend of reforming the way we work, the system is increasingly being linked with other systems.

For example, by linking with internal chat systems (Chatwork and Slack), users can communicate with each other on the chat without having to confirm the case in a meeting.

In addition, reminders for sales action management can be sent to Slack as well as by email.

By integrating with a template system for quotations and invoices, quotations and invoices can be created from the information that salespeople enter into the SFA tool, and sent directly to the customer, with the history being saved.

In addition, by linking with marketing automation, you can visualize information on the interests and activities of potential customers on the web, automate email invitations to customers, and automate activities such as periodically digging up customers who have lost orders.

Of course, you don't have to use all of these features right off the bat. However, by using such technology, you can realize the reformation of the work style of salespeople in the age of harmony.

Points to consider when selecting an SFA tool

Here are some points on how to choose an SFA tool for those who are considering implementing it:

Ease of use

SFA tools can only perform highly accurate analysis and management functions when business meetings and customer information is properly entered.

Since SFA is a system that users' sales representatives use almost every day, ease of use is very important.

In addition, managers use SFA tools to manage the actions, analysis, and their subordinates' targets. And they need to be able to analyze and utilize the items they want to see.

Excellent support

When you start using an SFA tool, you need to register your organization and customer information and reproduce the items that are usually managed in Excel or other formats in the SFA tool.

In addition, it is necessary to change certain settings when there is a change in the sales team or organization, a strategy change, a product change, etc.

In order to use the system properly, it is important to provide support until people get used to the system.

Some companies provide not only telephone support but also chat support. There are many things that you do not understand and troubles at the beginning of the implementation.

Technology and future potential

SFA tools have evolved dramatically since their introduction in 1990. SFA tools, which started as a way to grasp and manage information on business negotiations, have become a strong ally in realizing the reform of the way salespeople work, along with the recent evolution of technology.

Technology will continue to evolve in the future, and it is a good idea to choose an SFA tool that will evolve with the times.

Check the track record

Checking the track record of the SFA tool is one way to go. SFA tools that have gained the support of users have a good track record of implementation.

In addition to the track record, it is also important to check the case studies. 

If there is a case study of a similar scale and industry to your company, there is a good chance that the issues you are facing may be similar. You can imagine what points you paid attention to when implementing it and how much improvement you have obtained.

The fact that a tool has a proven track record does not necessarily mean that it will be a good match for your company, but you can use it as a guideline when choosing a tool.

Try a free trial

Once you have finished examining and selecting your SFA tool and are close to implementing it, it is time to try out a free trial. Depending on the vendor, many SFA tools offer free trials. You should be able to understand not only the usability but also the actual contribution to the business.

Conduct interviews with employees

The final implementation is the top executive, but I recommend you interview your employees before doing so.

If you decide on a tool on your own, you may find it difficult to use because it may not have the functions necessary for the workplace or has many unnecessary ones.

First, interview the employees who will actually use the tool to find out what functions they would like to see. Then, select one that is beneficial to the employees who will use it.

Before implementing the tool, ask the employees if they can imagine how they will use the tool.

It is important to have a concrete image of how the workflow will change and become more efficient with the introduction of the tool. If possible, choose one that requires as little input from the frontline and allows the organization to input information properly.

Evolving SFA tools

SFA tools started as a way to manage sales negotiations, but in recent years they have evolved into systems that not only manage negotiations but also raise the overall productivity of salespeople with more consideration for the users.

By implementing SFA tools, sales efficiency can be greatly improved.

Why don't you take this opportunity to consider the implementation of SFA tools?

See also:
Reasons for Failure in Implementing CRM Tools
Open Source CRM Software and Tools
Customer Relationship Management Tools / CRM Software
CRM System
Advantages and Disadvantages of CRM

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