SFA Systems: The GIGO and Gr8 challenge

To many businesses KYC is no longer an option. It’s a must

IYKWIMAITYD[1] when stating that data integrity, accuracy and reliability are challenges in any SFA system in particular and any information database as a whole. This little piece cast reflection on some of the data quality elements companies and individuals should consider when directing efforts to make full(er) use of SFA tools in an effort to ensure that information recipients consider these systems to be Gr81 rather than GIGO1 ones (see footnote – just in case).

Almost by default, SFA systems, part and parcel of a company’s CRM applications suite, are in the category known as Opportunity Management Systems (OMS’s). These tools intend to support the road worriers in their primary efforts to perform effective customer accounts and opportunity management to maximize company revenues. SFA systems – though widely dispersed in horizontal and vertical leverage – mostly keep track on static account details incl. customer profiles, segment patterns and fit, buying behaviors/purchasing patterns, past sales, peculiarities (if any), contact details, business opportunities and activities and interactions just to name a few. The more we know of our accounts, the better we can segment and target them in line with our value proposition – the routine usually goes! This would seem obvious. The challenge. How do we really get to know our accounts?

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At best, SFA data is second hand, passed by whoever performs the data entries as information relaying from the source. Mostly, the information sources are the accounts passing data to sales personnel entering such within the SFA apps. The world does however, see emergence of OMS like systems relying on first hand data input. Here in particular I think of Internet or Extranet based systems and applications supporting account self-service tools like On-line shops, Registration forms etc. SFA databases however, are seldom made available to accounts being tracked & trailed (most companies do not really wish accounts to know the extent of information they keep!) and hence the focus on data integrity and SFA apps. data behavior is placed upon the sales personnel. To obtain credible and usable data in such a scenario commands an educational approach and one, I claim, starts at the account level.

Unshared, information cannot be obtained. The acquiring of credible account information commands that the source is trustworthy and a willing sharer (read: GDPR). This is best ensured where information seekers, e.g. sales personnel disclose to their accounts the objectives sought. Openness is called for, as is admittance to the information collection process, purpose and intended outcome (read use). It’s generally as simple as the objective “help us to help you”. If accounts are successfully educated to understand that through their information disclosure they actually pursue self-help, willing shareabilty is made easier. By sharing and trusting that information seekers will use knowledge acquired to further perfect service offerings, information holders should be increasingly confident that whatever is provided is to the good of themselves. This confidence however, necessitates an effective display of intent by the information seekers and commands that companies deploying SFA systems do demonstrate to their accounts the targeted benefits of effective information processing.

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Consider this

Let us assume now that the road worriers do readily obtain account information. A second challenge appears. Will they willingly share this within the company compound? Will they capture such in the deployed SFA systems to allow for targeted enterprise wide information sharing? Or will they keep some, most or all of it to themselves? In many parts of the world, human beings are increasingly exposed to relentless improvement of self. Governments and educational institutions alike market the concepts of the “learning societies”, the power of “intellectual capital” etc. All in an effort to opt human capability levels and – from an employee perspective – maintain constant employability. “I’ll keep perfecting myself in an effort to continuously add value to the operation“… the perspective is! Consider sales personnel. While skills of the trade are available or acquired at the level of the individual and while such “sales skills” should be prone to constant refinement through e.g. education and training, most companies do not only retain staff who are merely “great salespeople”. Increasingly, companies value market and account knowledge retained by sales personnel. The challenge becomes apparent! Sales personnel know this very well and hence might ponder over the self-realization question “If I’m to remain employable; why would I share my assets, my knowledge of account/market informationWhy would I erode my position?

A natural question to raise and one that any company deploying SFA systems must address. Often the focus of companies implementing SFA tools is on the features and functions of the applications, the marvels that such tools can provide and the wealth of reports that can potentially be designed for sales & C-level management perusal. We need to pause! If these are main objectives what happened to:

  1. The objective to further improve customer service levels
  2. The acquisition of knowledge to tailor the companys’ value proposition 

Flaw #1 appears when companies place excessive focus on SFA tools as sales management report generators. I consider this a flaw in that if sales personnel do provide data but get no information in return, the general perception is that “this SFA tool is yet just another sales management controlling system“. If this is the perception, whether true or otherwise the overall SFA objective has failed and there is a fair chance that sales personnel will not be continuous willing sharers of their intellectual property.

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Best practice

By experience, there are effective methods and approaches in use to lower the risk of information non-disclosure and failed SFS deployment. This however, necessitates heads up focus on and implementation of a number of necessary action items – in addition to “usual” project related activities – to safeguard effective information transparency of markets and accounts in companies:

Experience renders below focal point recommendations:

  1. Involve SFS recipients in the deployment project
  2. Establish effective sales processes, then focus on tools (beware of scope creep trends)
  3. Convincingly explain and market; account, user and company benefits – apply the WIIFM1 approach.
  4. Shelf the direct carrot and stick approach. Tie systems usage and data integrity to adequate remuneration schemes. The SFS system is like your email tool, standard system to use when you are employed. No questions asked.
  5. Empower sales personnel and place data integrity responsibility on the systems users
  6. Work in an open and shared environment. Avoid the perception of “broad data sourcing > selective information disbursement”. Consciously make information available to whoever can actively benefit from it.
  7. Provide proactive information to users and sales management. Do not rest laurels on the expectation to react.
  8. Secure application buy in. This is achieved though involvement, open communication but at best via peer pressure. Secure the crusaders amongst the sales personnel who can effectively “convert” their peers. In short: prioritize change management.
  9. Establish value metrics to sales personnel. Input must yield output.
  10. Constantly drive focus on quality information output.
  11. Shred the past – retire alternative CRM systems, databases, spreadsheets, notes etc.
  12. Secure post-implementation support. Strong, local and internalized.
  13. Manage support through identified service levels, preferably via service level agreements.
  14. Drive post-implementation usage reviews and feed-back. Solicit feedback for version upgrades.

Needless to say, for any SFA implementation project the critical pillars of effective project management, executive sponsorship, training & piloting, targeted and frequent communication etc. must not be ignored.

Few admit it, but most knows. Customer and account information is not proprietary to sales personnel but belongs to companies. Sales personnel are company ambassadors in the process and while many thrive in their role by maintaining information islands, succumbing to this is not to the benefit of the enterprise at large.

Remember: SFA/SFS tools do not increase revenue, however, effective usage of information in such tools just might.

Happy weekend and friends in the US, do enjoy Thanksgiving!  


[1] IYKWIMAITYD = If you know what I mean and I think you do; Gr8 = Great; GIGO = Garbage In, Garbage Out. WIIFM = What’s in it for me.

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