Making sales software pay off

Some e-businesses that have rolled out sales force automation software have failed to see a return on investment, driving them to try new tactics to make such systems work.

Some e-businesses that have rolled out sales force automation software have failed to see a return on investment, driving them to try new tactics to make such systems work.

Executives say that the lack of return on investment (ROI) from the software, which is designed to automate sales processes, often stems from the fact that many salespeople are averse to using it. SFA software can cost an average of $500,000 for most companies, reaching into the millions for large implementations, according to PeopleSoft.

Salespeople's resistance to SFA is an "absolutely universal" phenomenon, says Paul Rodwick, vice president of market development and strategy at E.piphany, a customer relationship management (CRM) software company. In fact, Rodwick says, "during our own SFA implementation, we saw that in our own sales force."

Salespeople are known for their independent and competitive attitudes. Some may actually be independent contractors, not company employees. So when a sales manager starts telling his or her salespeople that they must spend a certain portion of their day performing data entry, the response isn't always positive.

SFA software isn't designed so much for a salesperson as it is for sales managers who want to track their sales force - something many salespeople resent. "If a company thinks they can roll out software and just tell salespeople to use it so they can get watched, reps won't use it," says Ashley Stirrup, senior director of sales product marketing at Siebel Systems, which sells SFA software.

Also, salespeople view customer data as their most valuable asset.

"When they leave, that's the only thing they can take with them," explains Pierre Charchaflian, principal and general manager at CRM consulting firm DiaLogos. "Companies try to force the sales force to expose that book and share it."

Charchaflian has planned several SFA software projects for Fortune 1000 companies, and he's seen some of them spend millions of dollars on the software, only to end up shelving it because no one was using it.

Despite these problems, industry executives say the odds of successfully implementing SFA can definitely be improved.

Robb Eklund, vice president of CRM product marketing at PeopleSoft, says that job one is to convince salespeople that there's something in it for them.

"Salespeople are looking for tools that give them insights into accounts, the ability to discern sales opportunities within a territory, time management, keep a record of activity with the customer," Eklund says. An SFA system should highlight those benefits, he says.

Managers can resort to subtle trickery. Charchaflian suggests deploying the SFA system internally first, with managers passing salespeople qualified leads that were generated using the software. If it works, chances are they'll come back for more - and when they do, managers can then phase in the requirement that sales reps enter their customer data into the SFA system.

Another approach is to provide access to the SFA system via the mobile devices that salespeople use. This gives salespeople access to helpful data the way they like to access it. "Soon, they'll feel like they can't live without it," Rodwick says.

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