Business drivers highlight the importance of watching customer preferences and trends in selling-chain management. Just as important are the technology issues and trend that steer a company in a direction that will either position it for the future or for failure.
Managers should not make application investment decisions without a clear understanding of technology limitations. Many of the sales automation applications have mixed reputations in corporations due to vendors who made promises that didn’t come to fruition. The reasons for these failures are varied:
Integration was not a factor considered in the selection and implementation of applications.
Many of the then-current software solutions were unwidely or difficult to implement.
The breadth of product functionally did not meet business requirements.
Sales and marketing staff refused to use the products because they didn’t increase sales effectiveness.
The driving business forces and limitations of existing applications, coupled with the emergence of necessary enabling technologies, have companies scrambling to invest in sales automation solutions so they aren’t left behind by more technically advanced competitors. In order to understand where we’re going, however, we need to understand the application continuum.
The first generation of selling-chain solutions burst onto the marketplace in the form of sales force automation (SFA) software, which is used to manage the entire sales process by capturing data at every step, from lead generation to contract closing.
The first generation of SFA software included stand-alone, task-oriented tools, such as personal organizers (appointment calendars and address/telephone directories). The focus of these products was to coordinate and manage the diverse activities of a direct sales force throughout the entire sales cycle.
The reason for the lack of success is that SFA tools suffer from the following problems:
Limited, task-oriented functionally. These systems have archaic interfaces that are inflexible, have limited capabilities, and often require different sessions to access various core programs.
Functional Isolation. These products have limited back-office integration to perform such activities as inventory availability checks, fulfillment functions, real-time pricing, and account management, all of which emanate from sales-initiated customer contact.
Organizational resistance. No enterprise wants to buy an off-the-shelf sales automation solution. Almost every company views its sales processes as a unique, key part of its competitive differentiation. Although most companies realize the inefficiency of building and maintaining a custom application, they won’t accept a cookie-cutter approach either.
Limited view of the customer. Salespeople don’t sit at desks, so it’s difficult to tie them directly to the enterprise applications and provide a 360-degree view of the customer. Also, sales activities are organized by product or account for operational efficiency. Thus, incomplete understanding of the total customer situation propagates throughout the entire customer interaction and destroys sales opportunities.
Many sales applications are built for some limited subset of a product and functionality, which results in narrow process capabilities. For example, a banking sales application may serve only credit card, mutual fund, or insurance products.
The ability to take a customer view – an integral part of CRM – is thus severely restricted. This results in lower productivity from the sales force, more customer call-backs when needs can’t be met in one phone call, and an increased possibility of error when data has to be entered more than once.
Limited Sales Effectiveness:
The Need for More Integrated Applications
Salespeople are demanding the integration of sales applications into their enterprises’ back-office systems. The implications for any company are far-reaching because all departments will be affected. For example, with full integration, a completed sales transaction will book the sale automatically, update the demand forecasting model, affect the production and delivery schedules, update the customer relationship file, and provide input to the calculation of sales performance metrics.