Sales Force Automation Software
BuyerView | 2014

Every year, Software Advice talks with thousands of professionals looking for the right sales force automation (SFA) software for their company. This provides us with unparalleled insight into the needs of SFA software buyers across a wide range of industries. 

We recently analyzed a random selection of 385 of these interactions to pinpoint the main reasons buyers seek new SFA software, and find out which sales management and automation features they desire most when making a purchase. 

Key Findings:

  1. A sizeable majority of buyers (67 percent) were evaluating sales force automation software for the first time.
  2.  
  3. Contact and lead management were the most requested features, ahead of email integration and sales reporting.
  4.  
  5. Most prospective buyers were small businesses, with 78 percent having 20 employees or fewer.

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Most Buyers Are Assessing SFA Software for the First Time

Of the buyers sampled, 67 percent were using non-specialized methods, such as pen and paper, spreadsheets or email clients, to manage contacts and track leads. In other words, this was the first time they were evaluating an off-the-shelf SFA solution.

Of those buyers using existing software, 17 percent used commercial customer relationship management (CRM) software, 8 percent used industry-specific software—such as electronic health records (EHRs) or loan origination platforms—and 3 percent used CRM or SFA software developed in-house (proprietary). Other methods cited included best-of-breed SFA solutions and specialized email marketing services.

Buyers’ Current Methods of Managing Sales Activities
SFA Buyers' Current Methods

Buyers Seek SFA to Improve Efficiency and Organization

A majority of all prospective buyers (62 percent) were evaluating SFA software to improve organization and increase efficiency. When asked about the limitations of their current contact management system, for example, a common response was, "It’s not close to good enough—it's not keeping up with how many customers we have." 

In fact, both smaller businesses (fewer than 50 employees) and larger businesses (50 employees or more) emphasized their dissatisfaction with their current sales management system. Some were exhausted from using manual methods, while others were frustrated with the design and/or layout of their current software. One buyer, for instance, complained that their current CRM was an "incomprehensible burden." 

Top Reasons for Evaluating SFA Software
Top Reasons for Evaluating SFA Software

Larger businesses were more likely to have concerns about compatibility or integration—the most common being incompatibility with Mac OS X—with 21 percent citing some kind of compatibility issue, compared to only 11 percent of small businesses.  

Although these particular complaints arose less frequently than the need for more features or an improved interface, it was apparent in such cases that compatibility issues were the primary factor driving buyers to seek new solutions.

Contact and Lead Management Are Top-Requested Features

With so many prospective buyers looking for improved organization, it’s no surprise nearly all (93 percent) requested some form of contact management, with 65 percent also asking for note-taking features to keep records of interactions with contacts. Meanwhile, 54 percent specifically mentioned the need for lead management to help track opportunities across every stage of the sales process.

Most-Requested SFA Features
Most Requested SFA Features

While fewer than 25 percent of all buyers specifically requested sales reporting, forecasting or analytics, when we drilled deeper into this data, we found that 56 percent of larger companies requested this functionality. 

This discrepancy suggests that most small and midsize businesses (SMBs) seek SFA for basic lead management, whereas larger companies are more interested in analytics. While this isn’t particularly surprising, it does indicate an opportunity for vendors to better educate small companies about the potential benefits of basic sales reporting and forecasting features.

Buyers Prefer Cloud-Based SFA Solutions

Of those potential SFA buyers who had a deployment preference, an overwhelming majority (96 percent) preferred a cloud-based solution, with only 4 percent explicitly asking to evaluate on-premise software. 

These findings are consistent with our 2013 research on all CRM buyers (including SFA), confirming that buyers understand and appreciate the convenience and cost-savings of Web-based software, which doesn’t require expensive hardware installation or significant upfront fees.

Deployment Model Preference

SFA Deployment Model Preference

These results also make sense given that the majority of companies in our sample were small businesses (more on this in the next section): few smaller firms have the IT resources to maintain a system on-site, which makes Cloud-based systems extremely appealing, even necessary. 

Most SFA Buyers Are Small or Midsize Businesses

A surprisingly large proportion of the buyers we spoke to represented very small companies, with 78 percent having 20 employees or fewer. By comparison, just 27 percent of buyers searching for Marketing Automation (MA) software sampled in our recent Marketing Automation BuyerView were from companies with 20 employees or fewer. 

This is partially because SMBs have had much longer to catch onto SFA, but it also reflects how basic functions like contact management and lead tracking are fundamentally necessary to a range of businesses—even those with just a handful of employees—as opposed to more complex features offered by MA like advanced segmentation and automated drip marketing campaigns.

Employee Count of Buyers’ Companies
SFA Buyers by Employee Count

Breaking down SFA buyers by annual revenue again reflects the prevalence of SMBs—59 percent of those in our sample generated under $1 million per year, while only 7 percent generated over $25 million. 

Annual Company Revenue of Buyers

SFA Buyers by Revenue

Combined with the high percentage of buyers who requested basic contact management and lead tracking features, this confirms CRM thought leader Paul Greenberg’s assertion that there is currently a significant demand for lean, affordable sales management software that targets smaller businesses.

“[SMBs] are going to want sales force automation,” he told us in November. “Opportunity management, pipeline management if they’re really growing...the fundamental simple stuff that helps them run their business in a more effective way.” 

For small businesses, Greenberg says, “[SFA technology] is so inexpensive and so readily available” that it becomes an easy choice over manual methods or simplistic contact management solutions. 

If you’d like to further discuss this report or obtain access to any of the charts above, feel free to contact me at jayivey@softwareadvice.com.


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