What's the Difference between CRM and Sales Force Automation SFA?

Photo Credit: Clive Darra

A big part of my work as a sales and marketing integration consultant is helping firms to implement and get the most out of Customer Relationship Management software and Sales Force Automation. The first part of the job? Helping the client understand that they’re not the same thing.

It’s easy to make that mistake when you’re first getting into CRM or SFA because the technology keeps changing. The companies that make CRM software keep adding in an SFA component (which typically offers just enough functionality for a small business to get by – but which would be wholly insufficient for a corporation of any scale). Meanwhile, there is some crossover between the data gathered through SFA and CRM – because some of that customer data is useful for the sales professional, even if plenty of it is totally superfluous (eg. keeping the office address of a customer current in CRM just isn’t something that helps sales people sell).

Sales Force automation is just one option

There are plenty of long lists in other business sites of what CRM and SFA do differently, but as explained above, those lists cross over a bit too much to be the starting point. Instead, let’s look at the purpose of CRM and SFA:

Why use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software? “We need our company to keep better track of our communications with customers, service calls, and how well our marketing and sales campaigns are working.

With CRM, the key word is ‘relationship’. For many businesses, landing that first contract is outweighed long term by the revenue generated from client maintenance (eg. Your phone service company). So, what is the state of the relationship with the customer? Different departments, from marketing to HR, customer service and more, will need CRM to get answers they need about the customer:

  • Did they find out about the company through a TV commercial, Adwords campaign or a sales cold call?
  • Have they registered their product asked for customer support to launch or upgrade it?
  • If they call again about the same issue or a related issue – do you have that record so you can help them (in the same way that a responsible family doctor will have that patient’s record on hand to help in diagnosis and treatment)?
  • Where are they now – and has their location or other changed circumstance changed their profile as a customer?
  • When do you need to call them to make sure you retain their business?

Why use Sales Force Automation (SFA) software? “We need tools to help our sales people measure performance, improve their processes, have information handy right when they need it and ultimately close bigger deals, faster.”

Here, ‘automation’ is the key word. It’s about making sales more of a science and less of an art. Sales people need to know:

  • What is their sales target – and how are they doing in meeting that objective?
  • What are their closing rates – and how much of a percentage do they need to improve?
  • What have the responses been with the latest cold-calling campaign? What worked and what didn’t?
  • What is the sales funnel for each customer? Once that lead goes from cool to hot, who takes it over?
  • What is the sales pipeline for bringing in new customers?
  • What’s the process for targeting specific silos of customers?
  • What’s the most up-to-date pricing, including active promotions?
  • What is the latest product information, both for internal and external use?
  • When is the sales person meeting with their customer this week?

Obviously, CRM and SFA will always have some overlap – but as you can tell by the kinds of questions (and the above are incomplete lists) that need answers they are very different tools. Many companies will need both – and when you’re integrating sales and marketing (and potentially other departments into the mix) the leadership team needs a very clear vision about how these tools will be used.

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