Sales Force Automation Solutions: Getting High User Buy-In

Getting the technology in place for your SFA implementation is all well and good. But if you don't focus on the human side, argues Jim Dickie, it's all for naught.

Sales reengineering efforts, says Jim Dickie in an insightful white paper for TRG, Inc. [], “often do not plan adequately for the human element in SFA. The area that we are often neglecting is people.” The reason, he suggests, is not because project teams don’t think it’s important, but that they simply “do not know how they should approach the issue.” Researching several firms who reported exceptionally high end user buy-in for their projects suggests three crucial steps:

1. Sell Internally First.

“The first sale your SFA system should make is an internal sale,” Dickie says. He tells of one paper manufacturer trying to drum up end user support for their SFA initiative. They asked a salesman from a parts supplier they did business with to show their sales force how he sold. “The parts supplier firm had rolled out a very successful project the year before. When their rep did a day-in-my-life demonstration of their system at the paper manufacturer’s annual sales meeting, he got a standing ovation.”

2. Transfer Ownership Early.

Dickie tells of a semiconductor manufacturer who picked the region that was going to pilot their system. He then made sure those nine salespeople were “involved at each major milestone in the process,” from initially identifying the problems they saw in the way they sold to and serviced customers, to meeting with the four top vendors. They reviewed and signed off on the ROI plan for the project and worked closely with I.S. on technical interface issues. By the time they were asked to start testing the system, they had already accepted responsibility for the success of the project.

3. Show Management Commitment.

The director of a consulting firm wanted to demonstrate to his sales force that the management team was committed to the success of the SFA project. So instead of having the company’s training group educate reps on the use of the system, the director had his sales managers attended a “train-the-trainer” class, and then the sales managers conducted the classes for the salespeople. The classes were rated as the most successful training the reps had received in years.

4. Provide Follow-up TLC.

If a low percentage of your salespeople have even had previous exposure to PCs, rolling an SFA will require extra preparation. One manufacturing firm in such a situation decided early in the project to budget funds to do one-on-one follow-up training with their salespeople, Dickie says. As the reps initially struggled with “learning how to use computers, let alone complex interactive selling tools,” they could have easily gotten frustrated and felt like failures. Instead, the firm had trainers available starting on their first day of in-field usage to help them get through the learning cycle to become proficient with the tools. The end result? All 60 reps successfully using the system within sixty days.

5. Reward Success.

Several firms have achieved success by such incentive programs as offering $250 for the best idea sent in each week for how to maximize the use of the system. Dickie tells of a sporting goods firm who published a bimonthly newsletter on the project, profiling stories of how the system helped reps more efficiently and effectively deal with customers. “In both cases,” he says, “these seemingly little efforts helped people focus on the positive aspects of the changes they were going through.”

Dickie’s insights won’t do much good if the technical side is neglected. But knowing how to manage the human dimensions of an SFA implementation is vital — and all the technical smarts in the world won’t do much good if all the softer side of implementation is ignored.

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