Artificial intelligence has been a long-awaited technology that finally makes it possible for small and medium-sized businesses to capitalise on the benefits of augmenting and complementing their sales abilities with artificial intelligence. For years, sales force automation systems with cognitive capabilities that can communicate in natural language have been a popular subject among tech enthusiasts. They've now made their way into businesses worldwide, and they're reinventing the way we look at our sales processes.
What's Sales Force Automation (SFA)?
Sales force automation (sometimes called sales automation) is a piece of software usually available over the Internet. It focuses on streamlining the sales process by reducing the number of repetitive manual tasks that, while important, require human attention and can be monotonous and time-consuming to perform. It helps sales reps to spend more quality time with prospects and improves customer experience.
What are the Components of Sales Force Automation?
Every component of a sales force automation system is a specialised software module that combines consumer-facing functionality with backstage processes and focuses on a different aspect of sales-related interactions with potential customers. To gain a better understanding of an SFA system it's often beneficial to go through each of the individual components and its capabilities from a high-level perspective.
An omnichannel chatbot is a foundational component of sales force automation that enables automated customer interactions across channels. Some channels might allow multimodal interactions, while others may be limited to either text or voice, but an omnichannel chatbot can detect a preferred form of communication and adapt the responses to the capabilities of each channel and individual preferences.
This component routes conversations to the most appropriate sales representative based on a variety of factors including their expertise, availability, and territory. It distributes prospects fairly and evenly across sales reps and in case some of them are inactive or offline, it skips over them and routes an incoming conversation to the next available agent to minimise the time a potential client has to wait on hold.
A knowledge base component streamlines the process of capturing, storing, and delivering answers to common sales-related questions prospects frequently ask. It combines your ability to select, prioritise and answer important questions potential customers have before they decide to buy with a chatbot that delivers them at the right time to potential buyers in a fully automated way during a natural conversation.
This component decides if a prospect is a good fit for your business and allows for human-to-human connection only when it's beneficial for both parties. It's like an assistant that asks questions you gave them for each of your products or services and based on the scores assigned to every answer it decides if a prospect is a good fit letting your sales representatives focus their energy only on the best prospects.
This component enables customising your products or services in an automated way. It helps to streamline the process of creating proposals by tailoring offerings in response to customer requirements captured during a normal conversation. It often builds on the needs captured during a sales qualification process and ties them with relevant prices and delivery or appointment dates to create personalised offers.
An appointment booking component enables you to fully automate the sales process by letting your customers schedule appointments for services using both voice and chat. It's also useful as a safety net that enables potential buyers to book appointments straight to sales reps' calendars if they require additional information or guidance when no representative was available at the time of their interaction.
How Does Sales Force Automation Work?
Sales force automation is done by automation software that integrates dedicated components in meaningful ways to streamline relevant parts of the sales process. Once the SFA process is set in motion, it delegates conversations to an intelligent chatbot that performs many sales-related activities on its own and transfers only a subset of them to a human agent where they can deliver value to the prospect.
Looking for promising prospects is an essential part of the day for many sales reps, but it can be really difficult to sift through a large number of interactions with visitors that aren't looking for your solutions. Luckily currently it's possible to automatically analyse visitors' on-site behaviour or questions requested from your knowledge base to derive the intent of each interaction and greatly simplify prospecting efforts.
You should know from the previous step when a website visitor is actively searching for what you offer, so now it's time to connect with a potential buyer in real-time to maximise your chances of success. But what if your sales reps aren't there for whatever reason? Does it mean that your potential client will just slip away? Luckily you can leverage a website chatbot to engage them in a relevant conversation.
Making sure that a prospect is a good fit for your business is an essential next step in the sales process. There are many reasons why people interested in your offerings might not be a good fit, and knowing the difference takes time and effort. This part can also be streamlined with a sales qualification chatbot that after asking a few relevant questions can decide if a person is worth your attention.
Since customer expectations match well with yours it's time to close the deal. This is another area where automation can greatly improve sales productivity and performance. You can automatically adapt a product or service to individual needs or personal tastes, answer any questions related to your availability, payment methods and schedule an appointment or delivery depending on your workload.
Satisfying uncommon needs will inevitably require attention from a qualified sales representative, but even then automation can help to streamline the process and route the conversation to the most appropriate person in real-time. Aggregating and collocating all the conversations you have with your potential customers across channels in a single interface can greatly improve contact management efforts.
Automatically collecting conversation metrics and producing reports sales force automation allows managers to save time when analysing team performance. Without SFA your sales management might look like a bunch of overwhelming spreadsheets and every sales manager needs not only the ability to access the precise numbers quickly and easily but also to visualise them as often as needed.
Why is Sales Force Automation Important?
While SFA might sound pessimistic to some people it's worth keeping in mind that the sales tasks that are becoming automated tend to be the same tasks today's sales professionals hate doing. SFA helps to offload human representatives from tedious and repetitive activities that suck their time and energy and let them focus on things that matter most, building relationships with customers and closing deals.
Improves Sales Productivity & Well-being
By automating parts of daily sales activities in your company you effectively change the lives of every salesperson in your team. Instead of being constantly mired in drudgery and inefficiency, you give them tools that enable them to do great work, so they can shift their focus to parts of their jobs they enjoy the most. Empowering sales reps with automation not only improves results but also their well-being.
Improves Customer Acquisition
Speedy responses systematically improve your chances of acquiring new customers, but automating essential parts of the sales process enables you not only to respond quickly with engaging and useful information but also to efficiently transfer prospects for real-time conversations with a sales representative whenever it's beneficial for both parties. This is a win-win situation for buyers and sellers alike.
Helps to Differentiate Your Brand
Automatically extracting useful information from every interaction across channels helps to identify unserved customer segments and emerging opportunities that enable you to develop strategies to bring new products or services to the market that can help to notably differentiate your business from the competition and continuously improve your offerings to better suit ever-changing customer needs.
Saves Time & Money
Automating many of the mundane, time-consuming, and repetitive tasks lessens the demand for manual repetition and continuous human attention. This results in both time and costs savings which can be invested in more productive activities enabling sales representatives to spend more quality time with qualified prospects and building mutually beneficial relationships with them to grow your business faster.
When Should You Start the Transition to Sales Force Automation?
The vision of not having to do all the mundane sales-related activities can sure sound tempting, but managing a successful business isn't an easy endeavour, so you might be wondering if you even need sales force automation at all, and if you do when is the right time to focus your attention on the transition? To answer these questions it's vital to better understand your typical daily workloads.
Unless you are extremely successful you'll face some form of underutilisation in the early stages of growing your business. At this stage, your sales-related activities don't exceed your sales team's capacity, and introducing automation will further reduce their workload, so instead of doing that it's often better to focus your attention on increasing demand for your products or services.
When the intensity of sales activities is 60-80% of your sales team's capacity, even if it's not the most cost-effective approach, both your staff and customers should be fine, but as soon as you notice that prospects have to wait increasingly longer to get a response from a sales representative, you should start thinking about partially automating your sales efforts to keep customers engaged with your brand.
When your sales reps are working flat out and still can't meet the demand it might mean that you're understaffed, but more often than not it's also a sign that your sales team can benefit significantly from automation. On one hand, it'll allow them to focus their attention on building better relationships with your target consumers, and on the other, it'll improve your availability to be there and then for your clients.
Your business may be unavailable to potential buyers for two main reasons, and staff overload is only one of them. It can happen not only during normal business hours when prospects have to wait on hold because all of your sales reps are busy talking to other clients but also during off-hours when there's simply no one there to answer their queries. Today potential buyers expect immediate, engaging, and useful responses, and these problems might prevent you from delivering them:
When potential clients leave you voicemails or send messages it's often a sign that they tried to contact you when there was no one available to handle their queries. To mitigate this issue you can start by adjusting the shifts of your sales reps to better match the needs of your prospects, and then if some clients still hit the wall when they try to get in touch with your business it's a good idea to leverage automation.
Customers select communication channels based on their personal preferences and the nature of their queries. It's often convenient for them to use the same communication platform they use every day to talk to their friends and relatives. If your sales reps struggle to be available to customer requests over a variety of channels it's often a good reason not only for partial automation but also collocation.
People can successfully handle only a few conversations simultaneously. This makes it difficult to respond to all your prospects that try to reach out to your business at the same time. When you can see situations like this in your daily operations it's a good indicator that your business would benefit from sales force automation by offloading your sales representatives and improving response times to your clients.
There are many reasons why a visitor might not be a good fit for your business. If you notice that sales reps talk to many unqualified prospects it can not only quickly drain them out of energy but also make them unavailable for potential buyers that are a good fit. If people aren't interested in what you offer, instead of wasting your sales reps' time, directing them down the automated path can bring better results.
Humans expedite a lot of mental power with every consumer interaction, so it's extremely important to make sure that their energy is well spent. You should maximise the amount of quality time sales reps spend with potential buyers. If you notice that most of the time they answer common questions or perform simple tasks that can easily be automated it means that there's a lot of room for improvement.
When these problems and inefficiencies aren't mitigated early enough the negative effects begin to accumulate and can lead to negative short- and long-term consequences. In the short term, your team's productivity and well-being start to suffer. If you don't take the necessary steps to fix them, they might escalate or even spiral out of control leading not only to declining sales results but also staff burnout.
What's the Difference Between SFA & CRM?
Even if you invested some time to do the research it still might be difficult to understand jargon terms often flying around. What makes things even more complicated is the fact that these definitions constantly evolve to better adapt to customer needs. Here's our comparison of the two terms that should help you to gain a better understanding of the most important differences between them.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
In the past CRM systems used to focus purely on managing relations with clients after they become customers, but today many CRMs evolved into complex systems that combine different aspects of marketing, sales, and customer service. This often makes them versatile solutions that can be your one-stop-shop helping you generate demand, automate sales activities, and build relationships with customers.
Sales Force Automation (SFA)
SFA can be either a functionality embedded in a CRM system or a process that has been designed to automate specific sales tasks by combining separate web applications into a single workflow. It focuses solely on automating sales activities that lead to new customer acquisition and often includes prospecting, lead qualification, and appointment scheduling among other sales-related functionalities.
Combining Separate Apps vs. Dedicated SFA Platform
Since there are workflow automation tools that enable integrating separate web applications to create custom solutions for automating sales processes, you might be wondering if it's better to follow this approach or should you choose a sales force automation platform that's aligned with your business needs? To answer this question let's compare them so that you can make a better-informed decision.
|Separate Web Apps||Dedicated SFA Platform|
|Flexibility||Combining many separate applications can certainly be a very flexible option, but it comes at a cost of having to first map out all the processes that you want to automate, then evaluate options, and integrate chosen ones in a meaningful way.||A dedicated platform collocates the most relevant and useful functionalities, so it won't be as flexible, but unless your business creates bespoke workflows for other companies you might not need this flexibility and prefer a tailored solution instead.|
|Initial Setup||It requires both time and expertise, which can either result in generating costs when you decide to hire an expert or require going through a learning phase which depending on your background and experience might take a varying amount of time.||Since you can leverage all of the functionalities you need to automate the most important sales-related tasks and activities as soon as you subscribe you won't need to spend any money to create an initial setup that suits your business needs.|
|Daily Use||You need to have a thorough understanding of the process, and how every single app fits into a bigger picture. Support is distributed across many companies, so when something goes wrong you'll have to do the initial troubleshooting yourself.||Since you have everything you need in a single interface you don't need to change windows or applications to perform daily activities. When something goes wrong you have a single support team that's going to help you solve your problem.|
|Improvement||While you might be able to implement some new and shiny tactics independently which can potentially bring quicker results, you'll also need to take care of not only implementing, and testing them but also migrating and retiring older solutions.||While the progress might not be as quick it'll usually be more stable, and enables you to spend more time doing things within your area of expertise instead of spending time planning, developing, testing, migrating, and sunsetting older solutions.|
|Costs||While it's possible to find cost-effective options, at least when you initially set up your sales automation solution, you need to keep track of the changes in pricing for every single app that you use, and they can be pricey when you exceed free limits.||When you use a single solution you still need to assess the overall value you get for the money, but there's only one pricing model, and all the reports are available in one place so it's more convenient to keep track of all of the related expenses.|
What're the Common Pitfalls of Sales Force Automation?
Automating sales activities can cause some problems, especially when you don't know exactly what should happen at each stage of the sales cycle. When you're doing it on your own it's important to precisely map the whole process out before starting the implementation. Let's go through some of the common mistakes that when accumulated over time can result in negative consequences for your business.
Automating Inefficient Processes
Automation is a very useful tool, but it has its limitations. It can be compared to a magnifying glass that amplifies both the good and the bad parts of the process. This means that automating an inefficient process can only bring partial benefits by streamlining some manual activities, but it won't make any profound changes that might be necessary to improve the overall efficiency by a substantial margin.
High Implementation Costs
Many companies that don't do the initial research properly are unaware of existing solutions tailored to their needs and invest heavily in the development of bespoke software trying to reinvent the wheel. It sometimes results in poor quality of the final product that instead of helping to reduce costs, requires a significant upfront investment and moves long-anticipated financial benefits into the distant future.
Losing Human Touch
It's vital to keep in mind that sales force automation is about making things easier for both clients and sales reps, and not about eradicating human interactions. This means that only some activities should be automated, and human-to-human connections should still be available for the right reasons. By trying to automate every interaction you risk sounding robotic and completely losing the human touch.
Sales force automation can work in perfect harmony with sales representatives augmenting their unique skills and abilities and letting them spend more quality time with potential customers, but it's important to effectively distribute sales activities between humans and machines to leverage the benefits of automation in the form of speed, time- and cost-efficiency and combine them with your unique sales skills.
When done right partially automating your sales activities will result in a hybrid approach to inbound sales that empowers your sales team to achieve levels of productivity that were previously hard to even imagine. We'll soon open our platform for early adopters where you'll be able to start a gradual transition to SFA by prioritising the most frequent problems your sales team faces every day.