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Early in my career, I was in sales, so, I feel comfortable reflecting on sales people and sharing my generalization that they are a strange breed when it comes to work and the impact that technology has in their jobs.


The sales person has to extend themselves in a sometimes uncomfortable extroverted fashion.  They have to ride a wave of emotions akin to participating in competitive sports on a daily basis.  The sales person has always thinks to themselves “what am I doing or not doing” that is impacting my earnings.  Their performance is always open to “scrutiny” and more “black and white ” than any other profession – They are always being measured by how much was sold in any given period and not if they are using the technology provided them correctly. Their motto: The relationship with customers means everyting to their success!


So what do the many intricacies and stereotypes of the sales person mean for the design of an application that they either willingly or obligatorily use in their profession?  Sales Force Automation as it is now called was designed initially as a management tool to track the sales person (a watch dog).  It was initially driven by the need for the finance department to get the cowboys and cowgirls in sales to offer more predictable forecasts and to help the sales management team in getting the finance department off their back with the constant requests for information.  Obviously, the sales person often rejected this type of application because it was cumbersome and impacted the amount of time they had in a day to actually perform revenue generating activities, selling.


A competitor of ours ( is attributed by most people as acting upon one of the two key areas of the product that could be improved — usability.  By dumbing the application down and making it as easy and fast to use as possible, they removed one of the barriers-usability.  All SFA vendors saw the impact on success this had and quickly followed suit.  Today, most leading SFA vendors have a simple-to-use user interface, that is comfortable to use without training and allows the completion of mandatory data entry as quickly as possible, without an assistant entering it for them. (Actually there is one interesting SFA product where a group of assistants are part of the package! How is that for service?!?)


Now that the process of delivering usability is 90% complete, the next key issue to be addressed is the other “U” word — usefulness.  Even if a SFA application is usable, it is still not a good product if it delivers a negative benefit – or more plainly spoken, if it gives out less than it takes in.  Sure, people can claim that the contact storage and retrieval, activity tracking, and opportunity tracking are beneficial to a sales person.  I personally agree: it is.  But does it really take a huge fancy SFA system to do this?  I would say no.  If I as a salesperson did not need to report to management, then they could do basic SFA in Outlook, Word, and Excel and be just as organized.


What I am trying to get at is that it is time for companies to start looking past the usable and start concentrating on the usefulness. 


Your SFA, should: 

  • “Push” useful information to your sales people.
  • Help your sales people decide who to call, right now. 
  • Help your sales people build the best relationship with their customers.
  • Help your sales people increase company profit margins and revenues. 


Really, what I am trying to say is that your SFA should help your sales people make both the company and themselves more money. 


Definetely, not a hard ROI to measure!


Seriously though, I think that every sales person in the world would embrace their SFA with vigor if they saw that it was helping them to earn more money.  That being said, there are a lot of sales people that are not overly computer savvy, so it needs to be built it in a simple and intuitive way. 


With the expansion of Web 2.0 and Business Objects tools in CRM SFA, this is exactly where the future will be  taking us.


Some areas of consideration where usefulness can be a key contributor in sales success are: 


1. Account evaluation including ranking and profitability analysis


2. Opportunity strength analysis and opportunity prioritization


3. Active prospecting through current and potential customers


4. Purchase history analysis, trends, and recommendations


5. Install base intelligence and active customer care


6. Territory determination and balancing through development in these areas.


SFA systems will continue their evolution to become a more integral and useful part of the sales person’s toolkit – delivering increased value and putting those who do not have the tools at a distinct disadvantage.

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  1. Former Member
    I enjoyed your blog, Timothy – thanks for writing it.

    It seems the primary focus for an SFA application is to give summary reports (top accounts, top recievables, etc) – maybe on a blackberry type device. Very little data entry capabilities seem neceaary in comparison to the analytics requirements. So, is SAP’s product direction to provide online reporting from CRM for SFA users, and expose them as web services that mobile applications can consume?

    1. Hi Vijay,

      Thanks for the comment.

      In order to provide intelligence, there will always be a degree of data input required.  However, you are correct, that if the output (could be reports) is useful, then allowing the sales person to access it with a mobile device is very important.

      I disagree somewhat that SFA is focused on reports.  There is a lot more to SFA such as planning, info sharing, project management, forecasting, commissioning, and much more.  That being said, the reports that help the sales person to sell more are likely to be their favourite part of the offering.  Sales people often say, “just run the darn report and email it to me”.  They don’t even want to go into the SFA system because they don’t see that it adds extra  value.  To them it is still juts data input. 

      On your other point, we are building quite a set of Enterprise Services and one great use case will be to support our functionality and data on mobile devices.



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