Sales Force Automation Software Small Business Buyer Report – 2015

By: on November 23, 2015

Every year, Software Advice talks with thousands of professionals from small businesses looking for the right sales force automation (SFA) software for their needs. This provides us with insight into the challenges they face with their current methods and the functionality they look for when selecting new solutions.

This report highlights our findings from a recent analysis of 200 interactions with small-business buyers and identify the top SFA buyer trends. These results can help guide the decision-making of other buyers seeking new SFA software.

Key Findings

  1. Nearly half (48 percent) of buyers rely solely on manual methods to manage their sales activities, while a combined 32 percent are currently using a CRM or SFA system.
  2. While many buyers in our sample seek contact management (83 percent) and lead management (48 percent) functionality, just 17 percent seek reporting functionality.
  3. As evidence that more businesses are learning to use technology to extract maximum profit from smaller teams, 61 percent of our buyers are from very small companies.


Sales force automation software is meant to help sales teams close more deals and reduce the number of time-consuming tasks associated with selling. Savvy businesses recognize its value for streamlining the sales process, gaining visibility into the sales pipeline and providing real-time data to help sales managers quickly make informed decisions. SFA software can also help companies maximize profits by using fewer people to get more done in less time.

However, SFA is just one part of the greater customer relationship management (CRM) software market. There are many products available, which can make purchase decisions quite complex.

This is particularly true for small-business buyers, who may have different needs than buyers from larger organizations. Within sales teams, there are often systemic issues that make selecting sales software—and getting sales reps to use it—even more challenging.

What Are the Top SFA Buyer Trends of 2015?

To aid prospective buyers in the decision-making process, this report will highlight:

  • The methods SFA software buyers who contact Software Advice currently use
  • The top reasons these buyers seek new software
  • Buyers’ most desired SFA functionalities
  • The top issues surrounding software adoption among sales teams

Nearly Half of Buyers Are New to SFA Software

Almost half of buyers in our sample (48 percent) still rely solely on manual methods to manage their sales activities. A combined 32 percent are currently using a CRM or SFA solution, while some are using manual methods alongside specialized software (8 percent).

Prospective Buyers’ Current Methods

Prospective Buyers’ Current Methods

While it seems surprising that so many companies are still using manual methods for their sales activities, there may be a few reasons behind this:

There is a disconnect between sales reps and sales managers. According to Gerhard Gschwandtner, founder and CEO of sales publication Selling Power Magazine, salespeople tend to be overly focused on their relationship with the customer. Thus, activities not related to the actual sales call or follow-up feel like an administrative burden.

“Sales managers tend to over-focus on the data that salespeople are producing, because [managers] are judged by the numbers and their forecast,” Gschwandtner explains.

Colleen Francis, president and founder of Engage Selling Solutions, a sales consultancy, warns that sales reps often assume managers want to implement software with functionality such as reports and dashboards in order to hold reps accountable for their activities. As a result, reps often view using SFA software as an administrative activity that will result in punitive measures down the line.

Sales reps especially resist changing their methods if their current ones are proving successful—and managers often make exceptions to the rule of using software for their top performers. Francis says this is likely why 8 percent of our buyers report using both specialized software and manual methods to manage their sales activities.

This disconnect between sales reps and managers hinders complete adoption. But, Francis says, early conversations with sales reps about the personal benefits of using CRM or SFA software can go a long way toward turning laggards into adopters.

“[A rep is] only going to switch if he sees it as saving him time while earning the same amount of money, or allowing him to do more in the same time and make more money,” she says.

“Management that wants their laggards to switch needs to figure out a way to communicate it in terms of return on investment.”

Sales reps fear sharing their clients with management. “Some sales reps feel like they’re the only ones [who] can handle the client,” Francis notes. “Some act on fear; some act on greed; some act under this uninformed opinion that they ‘own’ the client.”

Unfortunately, sales reps who do not share customer data with others can become pinch-points in their organization. For example, reps who don’t communicate with production and manufacturing departments might over-promise to customers when it comes to delivery and turnaround times, or end up placing a customer order for a product that does not yet exist.

Francis advises managers to frame the conversation in terms of personal benefits. By entering accurate information into a SFA system and giving others exposure to it, she says, reps can actually end up closing more deals while preventing costly oversights.

Companies that do not give due diligence to these types of problems may blame the software when the real problem stems from broader, systemic issues. This could be one reason why many buyers who currently only use specialized software (20 percent) are now looking for a new system.

Most Are Focused on Organization, Contact Management

Nearly one-third of buyers (28 percent) say they want to be more organized, and are seeking a SFA system to help them achieve this goal.

What’s more, a combined majority of buyers want software with contact management (83 percent), alerts/notifications (48 percent) and lead management capabilities (48 percent), while just 17 percent seek reporting and forecasting functionality. This is surprising, given that sales-specific reporting and forecasting is one of the hallmark benefits of SFA software—and is what distinguishes it from many products in the broader CRM software market.

Taken together, these findings suggest that many small-business buyers think of SFA systems merely as organizational tools, rather than solutions that enable advanced insight and analysis.

Top Reasons for Evaluating New Software
Top-Requested Sales Force Automation Functionality

A 2013 State of Sales Forecasting Research Report by Ventana found that, while 72 percent of organizations report holding forecasting meetings several times per month, another 55 percent say they are not confident in the accuracy of their sales forecasts. Why, then, are so few buyers requesting the very functionality meant to make the forecasting process easier?

For some, reporting and forecasting might simply be less of a priority than managing the basics. Buyers from smaller companies with a limited amount of customers typically want to see quick results and keep costs low. As such, their most pressing focus is usually on growing their contact base, and staying organized in the process.

For small businesses seeking to extract more profit from less people, it’s not only the number of leads that’s important—it’s also the quality of those leads. Thus, lead management functionality, which is commonly found in SFA software, is also high on the list (requested by 48 percent).

This function allows sales reps to follow a lead from first contact to follow-up after a sale is closed, rank leads in terms of their potential value and estimate the probability that a lead will convert to a sale, helping reps focus their attention on leads with the highest probability of closing.

Without reporting and forecasting functionality, buyers may be missing out on an opportunity to realize the full benefits of SFA software to predict revenue and drive sales acceleration over the long term.

“When sales reps say that they just want [a SFA system] to manage leads and their calendar, I see that they only think about it as a tactical tool to help manage their day-to-day activities and organize their to-do list, as opposed to understanding how they can use it as a crystal ball,” says Francis.

Sales forecasts allow managers to be more proactive. By giving them a feel for future performance, forecasts open the door for strategic decisions well in advance. Managers can anticipate sales and revenue and delegate resources and reps more efficiently to accommodate growth—or to change course, if need be.

Base CRM’s sales forecasting functionality identifies revenue stream fluctuations so managers can predict when to generate more leads

Finally, Francis worries that a lack of reporting capabilities can negatively impact a sales manager’s ability to coach. With SFA software, managers can gain visibility into how much time reps spend on different activities and whether they’re meeting productivity goals.

Reports that highlight performance (e.g., total sales, average deal size, quota attainment, loss reasons and conversion rates) are especially useful for times when managers aren’t able to observe sales reps in action, such as when they are in the field or working remotely.

In other words, buyers would be wise to view SFA software as an integral support system for their greater sales strategy, rather than just as a day-to-day organizational tool.

“It’s not the tools that build you a better house, it’s the blueprint that builds you a better house,” Gschwandtner explains.

61% of Buyers Have Annual Revenue of Less Than $1 Million

Although we included companies with annual revenue of $50 million or less in this analysis, over half of buyers (61 percent) are from companies with less than $1 million in annual revenue, and 71 percent have 10 employees or fewer. Buyers also tend to have small teams: The majority (73 percent) request software for five or fewer users.

By Annual Revenue: Prospective Buyer Size
By Number of Employees: Prospective Buyer Size
By Number of Users: Prospective Buyer Size

Francis suggests that businesses are growing smarter about using technology to extract maximum profit from smaller teams—and that this could be a reason why so many buyers in our sample are from companies with around $1 million in annual revenue.

“If you could buy a CRM system that could help reduce labor intensity, you could drive more profit out of $1 million without having to add people,” she says.

“[We’re seeing] a movement toward trying to keep your business as small and lean as possible, while using technology and tools to do it.”

Gschwandtner adds that such “lean” movement is often spurred when companies are hiring. Salespeople that have used sales software in the past and realized its benefits may be reluctant to work for companies that don’t have the proper tools in place. Similarly, very small businesses heavily focused on growth may feel that having a SFA system will help attract top talent.

Scott Kabat, chief marketing officer of cloud-based presentation platform Prezi, feels this may also reflect a burgeoning trend of bottom-up adoption.

“We hear of more and more cases of one or two passionate advocates emerging in a sales organization, and then persuading their coworkers to try something new,” he says.

Given that many reps tend to dig in their heels at the mere mention of a CRM system, sales managers would be wise to recruit enthusiastic early adopters. Laggard reps may be more receptive to change if they see their peers performing well with, and even enjoying, the use of CRM and SFA software.


Our data suggests that SFA software adoption issues are an ongoing challenge. What’s more, many small businesses are primarily interested in how this software can help them be more organized and productive in the near term, as opposed to using it for more complex analysis.

SFA buyers can mitigate adoption issues by clearly framing the software as leading to personal benefits for sales reps. Managers can recruit early adopters to demonstrate those personal benefits, and should foster a company culture of transparency in which sales reps are encouraged to share their data.

Small businesses would also be wise to consider how they can benefit from the full range of functionality afforded by SFA systems. Reporting gives sales managers a way to effectively coach their teams, while forecasting can be used to help identify and prevent problems before they occur and to allocate resources wisely.

Finally, most of our buyers represent very small businesses and teams. Clearly, even buyers from the smallest businesses are recognizing the value of SFA software as an integral part of a company’s sales strategy and as a means for attracting talent to help foster growth.

You can find more information about our methodology here

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