Choosing the right sales force automation solution for your business is a delicate and unforgiving task. Partnering with the wrong vendor can mean months of training, onboarding, and implementation with zero results. In fact, a poor solution can often lead to dropped sales, attrition among workforce and losses for the company.
While each company has different evaluation criteria for any solution that it implements, it is necessary that an SFA solution has the complete buy-in of the Business Head as well as the CIO. While the business teams may be tempted to patch the problem by choosing a solution which quick-fixes their immediate needs, the IT dept may be inclined towards big names in the IT space such as Salesforce or SAP simply to negate any risk of having their choice questioned.
So how do we go about choosing the perfect Sales Force Automation Solution for your business? The solution lies in the middle ground between these two things: a product that suits your business needs and is also technically sound.
To help you choose the best solution for your organization, we have listed down the seven key things to look for while choosing your ideal SFA solution
The sales process in an FMCG or CPG business is vastly different from that followed in say, an Apparel or Pharmaceutical business. Different verticals follow drastically different sales processes and it is imperative that the solutions you are evaluating can digitise your workflows to the tee. Enterprises tend to shy away from local, niche vendors and are often tempted to choose market leaders in SFA like Salesforce. But vertical specific workflows and processes are rarely captured best by solutions with such a wide focus. Though desired workflows can be captured by building on top of these platforms, it simply adds to the already high costs with no extra value addition that a niche player cannot offer.
Gartner’s 2017 Magic Quadrant Report for Sales Force Automation states “Niche Players often offer the best solutions for the needs of particular sales organizations, considering the price/value ratio of their solutions.”
Niche solutions understand the vertical they operate in very well and are tailor-made to suit its requirements. It goes without saying, of course, that these vendors must be strictly vetted to ensure the technical soundness of the product. You can do this by reading case studies, analyst reports, talking to other companies who opted for the solution, and signing up for a demo.
“By 2020, 30% of all companies will employ artificial intelligence (AI) to augment at least one of their primary sales processes.”- Gartner report, 2016
Predictive analytics is the new buzzword in town and for very good reasons. It uses Machine Learning, AI, and data mining to analyze thousands of data points to make predictions about future events. There are already sales force automation vendors who provide a certain degree of predictive analytics which can give you better sales forecasts and significantly improve the decision-making process of users.
Some real-world examples are predicting stock outs, suggesting orders for retailers, smart inventory management etc. This can be done by taking into account various parameters like seasonality, price, schemes, offtake, retailer order patterns, geography and so on.
While predictive analytics is still a maturing technology the minimum criteria in your evaluation must ensure that your automation solution has a strong BI suite with custom reporting abilities. This is necessary to drive better-informed business decisions.
Ensure that your vendor has a strong focus on emerging analytical capabilities like predictive, prescriptive analytics and AI.
Integrations (with ERP and other systems)
With multiple disparate systems in place to manage different processes, it is crucial that these systems be linked for you to derive maximum benefit.
Especially in enterprises, it is extremely important that your Sales Force Automation solution integrates seamlessly with your existing ERP systems so there is bidirectional sync of data. Depending on the ERP system that you employ, any change in price, inventory levels, customer information, orders, etc., can be synced up between your ERP and SFA systems.
While there are vendors who provide out-of-the-box integration for popular ERP systems, some provide APIs and you may be required to do the integration in-house or explore other options. Admittedly, this can be a costly and time-consuming affair, but it’s crucial to ensuring that all your business and operational processes are in line and can be easily tracked and accessed by any stakeholder.
Future-proof Product Roadmap
Evaluation of products have generally been restricted to asking two questions: 1) ‘How technically sound is this product compared to the others?’ and 2) ‘How well does this meet our requirements compared to the others?’ But while this short-term focus may help you solve your immediate needs, you may also be stuck with a solution that does not evolve with industry standards.
So an important question that every evaluation must ask is ‘How well will this solution continue to serve me in the future?’
In a market with a wide choice of vendors with very similar offerings, an important differentiator to look for is the product roadmap of the vendors. Choose a solution that includes cutting-edge features such as gamification, AI, and predictive analytics in their roadmap unless they already have them. As these next-gen features coupled with sales enablement become industry standards your solution should evolve into a Virtual Digital Assistant that helps your salesforce know what to sell, where to sell and how much to sell.
The other thing to consider is – does the software license model and delivery model provide you with these product updates automatically and at no additional charge? This is a key difference between traditional, on-premise software purchases and cloud-based SaaS (software as a service) offerings. Under the traditional model, you need to “upgrade” to the updated version of the software, usually for a charge, and then install the upgrades across your IT infrastructure on which it is running.
With cloud-based SaaS products, updates to the product are rolled out seamlessly to all users in an automatic fashion, with no need for any additional installation or IT intervention required on your end. The upgrades are available for lifetime, ensuring that you remain future proof without having to do anything on your end.
Post-sale support and Customer Success
(Customer Support and Account Management)
Customer satisfaction is key to any business. While most simple queries can be resolved through automation, the human touch can never be truly replaced. With hundreds of thousands of users of any SFA solution, there will be issues which crop up which require dedicated support to resolve.
A dedicated customer support team which proactively helps resolve issues is key to a successful SFA implementation.
Any vendor that you choose must have three levels of support.
- Call Support: To take care of urgent app-related issues.
- Email Support: To take care of lower priority issues.
- Implementation team: To take care of new requirements from the clients.
All three teams are necessary to ensure that every single user uses the SFA solution effectively and that the sales team succeeds.
Here’s a true story: A multinational FMCG company based out of the US partnered with a Forbes 500 services company to provide them with a sales force automation solution. After three months of ongoing implementation, they had to part ways because it just did not work. So much money, effort and time could have been saved had they been able to decrease their turnaround time.
There seems to be a popular myth that any sales force automation solution takes months to go-live. False.
Unless you have heavy customizations, a good SFA vendor should have you up and running within 2 weeks to 2 months.
While customizations can be time-consuming and expensive, a quick turnaround time by your vendor generally indicates a strong optimized solution. Shorter go-lives also help you identify issues quicker, iterate and resolve them that much faster.
Installation, Support & Maintenance Costs
This is an important consideration when buying any software and forms a huge component of the TCO (total cost of ownership) of software. In a traditional, on-premise deployment, large IT teams are needed to set up the hardware & underlying software that the application runs on top of. Apart from the personnel cost and time that it takes to do this, the procurement of hardware and systems software is also an expensive process. Furthermore, maintaining these systems – monitoring the servers, troubleshooting issues, maintaining server health, applying upgrades/patches, hardware replacements – are all very expensive.
Cloud-based SaaS products significantly reduce such IT costs as there is no hardware or software to install and manage. The TCO (total cost of ownership) and support costs of SaaS products tend to be much lower than on-premise software.
Social Proof and Case Studies
The more the number of clients your vendor services in your vertical the better your chances of a successful rollout. So unless you have a strong reason for going with a new player, do yourself a favour and pick the vendor that your peers use and trust.
Insist on field visits, reference calls to test how well it works in the field. Insist on case studies that illustrate the results and how the solution helped achieve them.
To help you choose the best vendor we have compiled an RFP checklist with must-have features in your Sales Force Automation Solution. Grab your copy now!!
Bizom is India’s leading Sales Force Automation Platform for the consumer goods industry and has been recognised by Deloitte as the 3rd fastest growing technology company in India. With a solution set comprising intelligent SFA, DMS, merchandising & retail execution tools, we’re a fully integrated 360-degree digital transformation suite for consumer goods supply & retail networks. Bizom has helped 250+ reputed organizations achieve efficiencies to the tune of 70% using automation and analytics.