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Report exposes SFA stumbling blocks

We've all heard a lot about CRM's high failure rate. Now, Accenture tries to pinpoint why sales force automation projects go awry.

A new report from Accenture underscores the value of strategy when it comes to sales force automation (SFA) projects.

The Hamilton, Bermuda-based consultancy recently completed a survey of 178 executives managing SFA efforts around the world and found that project failures had less to do with slowed buying patterns than with users not being able to manage sales opportunities.

According to report author and Accenture partner Eric Gist, the No. 1 problem with many SFA efforts is a lack of clear goals.

"The first thing I find with most disappointed sales executives is that they never had specific understanding of the value of their projects or the right diagnostic tools to measure performance," Gist said. "It seems obvious, but many users still overlook metrics such as how SFA impacts sales cycle times, win rates or overhead -- and without those goals, results are very unpredictable."

Only 38% of survey respondents believed their companies were not generating enough sales leads, yet more than half (55%) said they believed that their sales organizations could not adequately analyze these prospects. Forty-seven percent of the SFA users admitted that sales leads were often not properly handled.

Among the organizational changes considered most likely to improve sales performance, refocusing the sales force on more profitable customers or opportunities was the top choice, selected by 30% of survey respondents. This was followed by better integrating sales and marketing functions (28%) and by persuading sales forces to sell packaged solutions featuring services rather than standalone products (23%).

However, Gist offers another alternative: analytical software tools.

"It is impossible to get a picture of real customer value without taking a closer look at sales organization infrastructure and realigning process so that the software can let managers see where productivity exists or lags," Gist said. "The organizations that have a clear view of their pipeline are succeeding with SFA, and effective use of analytics is the hallmark of those efforts."

Users appear to understand this problem, according to the report's findings. When asked to identify technology changes with the most potential value to SFA, three out of four respondents said that tools to capture and analyze customer data would do the most to improve sales.

According to Gist, end-user adoption remains a major issue related to SFA success, but his research showed that finding the right sales manager to oversee SFA is a challenge. Most senior-level sales executives were trained to believe that building a personal relationship with customers is the best way to drive revenue, which does not jibe well with SFA, he said.

"It's a different class of executives that understand and will succeed with SFA," Gist said. "The ability to create a holistic way to get a sales force to focus on the right opportunities, fact-based versus relationship-based, will alter the way that companies look for executives and change the skill sets needed by sales reps to get hired into high-performance organizations."


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