Should the Sales Force or the Sales Process be Automated?

I think Alan’s article is excellent but I find myself at odds on a couple of points.  So as I think debate is healthy, I am providing some additional thoughts below.  These are just a different perspective and in no way am I dismissing the many excellent points made by Alan.

So, what do I find debatable?  Firstly; “You cannot manage the outcomes only the input” and “… the only things we can manage are activity, focus and behaviours of our field sales teams.”  In my experience the greatest failure of sales management today is the focus on managing activity.  I do agree that when wearing the coaching hat, the sales manager must act to influence focus and behaviours but as soon as attention turns to activity, their role has changed from manager to supervisor.  No matter how “real time” that activity is monitored it is still history.  So, we believe you can coach and lead people in such a way as to get the desired outcomes using activity monitoring to check and modify assumptions e.g. conversion ratios which feed into workload planning.

You may have read other articles on this topic in previous newsletter so we won’t labour the points here.  Suffice it to say our experience is that the management discipline can only be applied to the sales and selling processes leaving leadership and coaching as the tools to use to influence the people and their behaviour.

This leads neatly to the second point which is the term SFA.  From our early days, back in 2002, the customer projects we worked on led us inexorably to conclude that CRM systems offer little to those seeking Sales Performance Improvement.  Alan makes the point that CRMs offer little to the sales person. However, he also concludes that SFA systems, which should have plugged the gap, have all but disappeared being consumed by CRM.  Part of the reason is that they were never really different to CRMs.  A stronger reason for their disappearance is that they were the wrong solution; what needs automating is the Sales and Selling Processes not the Sales Force.  So, we talk about Sales Process (not Force) Automation; SPA.

However, you cannot automate what does not exist, or if you try to introduce automation where the current system is flawed and/or incomplete then your automated system will carry the same flaws and gaps.  Worse still and this is an issue with a lot of CRM implementations, the processes contained in the automation system are in effect imposed on the organisation because they fill gaps.  Such poor implementations also tend to emphasise and magnify the flaws.  So you now have a clumsy automated system that fails to match the established working practices and you don’t need me to explain the potential for conflict that this creates.

Our recommendation is to design and deploy a complete set of tailored integrated processes, within the framework of a sales methodology and ensure that they work smoothly and deliver a complete solution.  Train everyone to use it, train the sales managers to coach it, make sure it is settled and delivering the desired results and then automate it.  If you buy a system in the hope that it will fix all your problems you may well be disappointed; as the earliest computer experts recognised “rubbish in = rubbish out”.

SPA is a critical component of SFE.  If you automate the processes which will typically cover say 80% of the sales person’s work; the routine stuff, it frees up time both for the sales person and the manager to be creative.  If you don’t automate the standard stuff then it consumes most of the available time leaving little for the creativity which could differentiate you.