CRM Definition: What does "Sales force automation" mean?

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Note: this is a part of our CRM Definitions Series.

The term “sales force automation” comes up all the time in conversations about CRMs. In some cases, they’re actually used synonymously, which can create a lot of confusion about what each term actually means. So I want to try to clear up the difference.

A CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) is a software tool that allows businesses to manage their relationships with their customers. It’s a very broad category, and there are many different types of CRMs to fit different businesses.

Sales force automation is the practice of turning sales into a repeatable, automated process. You can almost think of it as a sales assembly line. Some CRMs help companies implement sales force automation, but not all of them do, and most CRMs help with way more than just the automation aspect of sales.

Sales Assembly Line

So what do I mean when I say that sales force automation is like a sales assembly line? Well, imagine how assembly lines work in manufacturing: The bosses at the company put together a very structured and rigid plan for how manufacturing should work, broken into small, independent steps. Each worker learns how to perform one of those steps to perfection, and they just repeat that step over and over. After they’ve completed their step of the process, they hand the item that’s being manufactured off to the next person and start their step over again with the next item.

This same approach can work for sales. You basically put together a script for how the sales process works, and you have each employee specialize at executing a specific part of the script. Maybe one person is responsible for cold calling. If they get an interested lead, they hand it off to the next person who is good at collecting the initial information from a lead. Then they hand it off to the next person, and so on until the sale is complete. That’s what “sales force automation” refers to.

If sales force automation is like an assembly line, then the alternative to sales force automation is craftsmanship. Imagine a craftsman carefully creating a product from start to finish. It’s time consuming and sometimes inefficient, but the results can be much more unique, and less mass produced. This approach is the equivalent of treating sales like an art rather than a science.

Is Sales Force Automation right for you?

We’ve established that you can either treat sales as an art, or a science. Both are perfectly valid approaches, but which is right for you? Obviously only you can make this decision, but my general advice is that sales force automation is great for large companies, but it’s not normally a good fit for smaller companies.

Large companies are all about scale. They need to be able to hire armies of sales reps, plug them into the assembly line, and easily replace them when employees inevitably quit or get fired. Each person is a cog in the machine, and with hundreds or thousands of employees, you need to make sure each cog is automated to perfection.

Small businesses normally don’t operate that way. The main reason a small business is able to compete with their larger competitors is because they can offer a more personal experience to their customers, and that means letting their sales reps behave like humans rather than robots. If a small business tries to automate the sales process, they’re removing the main advantage they had over big companies, and they’re not likely to win that battle.

So back to the topic of CRMs: if you’re a large business, or you’re otherwise interested in turning your sales team into an assembly line, I strongly encourage you to use a CRM that has sales force automation features (those are normally enterprise CRMs like Salesforce or Sugar). If you’re a small business or you’re trying to bring more craftsmanship into your sales team, you shouldn’t worry about sales force automation at all.

Still not sure if sales force automation is right for your business? Tweet me @TylerMKing and I’ll be happy to discuss this more!

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