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Recently I met with a Sales Operations VP for one of my clients who was chartered with the task of purchasing a Sales Force Automation (SFA) solution for the sales organization in his company. As he described it to me, the problem was that the enterprise needed to improve the performance of their sales reps because of a “flattening of revenues”. The solution, in their mind, was a software system that would be good at effectively producing territory activity reports and weekly forecasts.

Now my guess is that there are two reactions to this initial description of the situation. The first reaction is most likely, “Hey, that sounds just like what I need for my sales function!” The second reaction, which is more closely linked to my initial reaction is, “Wow, that sounds more like a solution that is making it easy for sales management to produce reports, while putting the burden on the average sales rep.”

Now, I don’t want to offend anyone, but if you were leaning toward the first reaction, I think it would be helpful for you to read on a bit, because you may be about to fall into a trap. Putting in a software system to make reporting easy, under the guise of improving sales rep performance, is usually a recipe for disaster.

OK, so I admit that it is stupid, and cliché, and unoriginal, but the acronym WIFM is what comes to mind when I encounter these situations. You know what it means – what’s in it for me? If there were any laws governing the introduction of SFA software into an organization, the first law would be called WIFM. This is because it is nearly impossible to successfully implement an SFA solution into a sales organization without including a means by which the average sales rep gets a real, solid, honest-to-goodness benefit from using the system. End of story.

But I am going to explain anyway. I have referenced this before, but if you go look at the research by companies like Gartner, or any other analyst firm, you will find study after study that demonstrates that user adoption of SFA systems requires the buy-in of the user (sales person) and the buy-in is contingent upon the individual finding a benefit to the utilization of the software, for themselves – not for their boss or for the company. I have read study after study that lists this issue in the top 10 requirements for success, or the top 7 risk factors, or whatever. My experience with Sales Force Automation says it is The #1 variable to address if you want to be successful. If you want to implement SFA, make sure your sales people see a tangible benefit.

And, furthermore – I’m not done ranting yet – absolutely don’t spin this. Don’t give them a system that carefully satisfies management needs and then try to convince them, with hype and cajoling, that it is good for them too. These are smart people you have hired; please give them more credit than to believe you can put this over on them. They will figure it out and the result will be, according to the undeniable statistics, that they will completely underutilize the software, if use it at all. There goes the ROI out the window.

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