The Supply Chain Council’s definition of
the supply chain is ‘a continuum of business processes that spans from the supplier’s
supplier to the customer’s customer’. That chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Here we will discuss the sales process link, the marketing process and how these can be
strengthened by using tools such as sales force automation. This can mean different things
to different people. The name tends to conjure up a vision of a team of robots programmed
to sell. Perhaps a better term is sales process automation.

There are many different elements to the
sales process depending on the product being sold. In the Beverage Industries, the process
has a very fast turnaround. Orders taken today get delivered tomorrow. The emphasis is on
speed. The other end of the spectrum is engineering. Here the process could take a year or
more and involve technical drawings, product configuration, detailed quotes and proposals,
managing multiple members of the sales team and so on. The different stages in the sales
process are as follows:

The Plan
A high level plan that clearly defines the company’s go to market strategy, revenue goals,
target markets and philosophy. Revenue goals then need to be assigned to the sales
management and the sales force so that everyone understands the revenue expectations or
quotas required to meet the company’s objectives. It is important before embarking on any
sales force automation project that a full analysis is done to understand which part of
the sales process would benefit most from automation tools and where the benefits and
payback lie.

Lead Generation
As part of the plan a calculation is made of the number of new accounts that will be
needed to meet the goals or find new prospective customers. This aspect requires some form
of marketing database as the primary input. Prospective customers will be selected from a
suitable industry source in line with the target customer that has already been defined by
the marketing department. The selection may be on a revenue basis, line of business,
geographical location or more typically a combination of all these. The medium used to
stimulate interest with the target customers again will be a combination of mailers,
advertising, and tradeshows.

An effective lead generation and tracking
tool can be used to:

  • track sales leads
  • log information on the prospect and where
    the lead was obtained
  • record who it was handed to, any follow up
    actions and status

This information will help target future
campaigns more effectively.

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Acquisition of new customers
Once the initial contact has been made a number of steps can be taken to turn the
prospective customer into a new customer. This may entail dislodging an incumbent
supplier, introducing new brands, services and/or other value added activities. These will
usually involve a number of steps that need to be executed in a timely manner and it is
here that a contact management tool can help with calendar management, action lists and so

Order gathering and fulfillment
Orders are the main objective of this whole exercise. It is understood that
without sales orders, the company will not be in business for very long. In the Food and
Beverage Industries, some form of electronic order capture has been available for many
years. It has usually involved some form of handheld device that can enter customer orders
and later download these through a telephone line in a unidirectional manner.

The orders are then committed to the host
system for picking and delivery the next day. Due to the lack of feedback, this method
cannot offer the customer information on whether the order could be fulfilled or not until
the truck arrived the following day. This system also offered no ability to present
products or services, or to gather competitive information.

Today there are many possibilities for
field sales order entry. Laptop or pen based systems can be used to provide interactive
order pricing, demonstrate product profitability to the customer and salesperson and
display previous ordering patterns. With a real-time link, it is now possible for the
sales order to update the host system immediately. The salesperson can commit inventory to
the customer order so that the customer fully understands the status of his/her order
while the salesperson is still on the premises.

Decisions need to be made on the method of
connection, the information that is required and the timeliness of the information. It
must also be decided what information is to be collected while the salesperson is at the
customer site (for example competitive information or competitive placements). Options
range from a real-time satellite link, to a batch connection from a home phone. Cost
becomes an issue when you multiply the cost of a solution by the number of salespeople.
The simple data capture applications used hardware costing only a few hundred dollars per
unit. The increased accuracy in order taking and fulfillment process raises the
opportunity for the salesperson to move from order taker to sales consultant.

The Enterprise Resource Planning
system (ERP)
To maintain customer satisfaction at acceptable levels, it is very important that
accurate information be held on stock levels, accounts receivable and other key
indicators. The planning required to ensure that adequate inventory is held to fulfill
customer orders without putting undue strains on working capital is an important part of
the whole solution.

The internet
The ultimate in sales force automation is when the customer effectively fulfils
the role of the salesperson by use of an internet based order entry system. In this
scenario incentives that would otherwise have been offered to the salesperson to get
him/her to sell can be offered to the customer to entice them to buy. The annual cost of
running the system would be equivalent to the salary of keeping one salesperson ‘on the
road’. Another advantage of this approach is that customers can place orders 24 hours a
day, seven days a week. There is no ‘being put on hold’ or having to respond to inane
telephone answering systems. This is already happening in the airline industry where
airlines offer airmiles to customers who make their own reservations over the internet and
even further incentives when the customer arrives at the airport and checks themselves in.

Maintaining the customer relationship and
communication of products and services
In the drive to open new accounts and find new customers, companies can overlook their
greatest resource – the existing customer base. A number of things can be done to take
care of existing customers to manage the relationship:

  • personal relationship – this can be done by
    an installed base representative
  • outbound telephone sales or telesales where
    the company initiates the call – a telesales system can be used to manage this activity by
    defining the customer contacts to be called, managing a call diary and managing promotions
  • inbound telephone sales – where the customer
    initiates the call to the customer service department
  • the internet – where the customer uses the
    company web-site to initiate communication, order processing, download point of sale
    material, and so on.

Closing the loop – management tools
The one thing all sales forces have in common is the need to meet sales goals or
quotas. Sales management needs visibility of the projected sales forecast or pipeline by
salesperson. To judge performance, they also need the ability to roll these up at
different management levels, regions, and so on in the organization.

Fig.1 Using technology to blur the
line between front and back office

Sales force automation
In line with the company objectives these must be closely monitored so that
anomalies can be spotted and corrective action taken on a proactive basis. This can
involve looking at customers that ceased ordering in any given week or whose order volumes
are showing increasing or decreasing trends. For individual sales people, they will want
to see how their customer base is performing against their targets. Sales management will
want to measure their salespeople against their quotas and highlight areas where problems
may exist so these can be worked out. For this On-Line Analytical Processing (OLAP) tools
can be used to drill down into data to find anomalies and measure the effectiveness of
promotional activities, shows and advertising. In this way, this data can be fed back into
the marketing department for adjustments to future campaigns.

Tomorrow’s successful businesses will use
technology to blur the line between front and back office.

Critical to the success of any automation project has to be the aptitude and willingness
of the staff to use the tools provided and enter the required information into the system.
The system must not burden the individuals with extra administration for no gain. With the
move towards teleworking and remote sales forces, it is imperative that the field can
access and stay in touch with company resources for such things as e-mail, product
information, pricing and marketing bulletins. In this scenario, the computer becomes the
equivalent to the right arm.

This article has discussed the many facets
of sales force automation. These have included; marketing database applications for
promotional activities; lead generation and tracking applications; contact management to
manage the actions required to initiate and maintain customer contact; and remote order
entry with varying degrees of integration to the host system used to collect sales orders
from the field.

Also sales force automation uses a
telesales system to proactively manage outbound telephone sales calls; internet based
order entry to put the ordering power at the customers desktop; OLAP as a means of
analyzing the results and feeding these back to marketing; and e-mail as a means of
communication between central company resources and field based personnel.

Each company will need to decide which of
these applications to implement and in which sequence based on their specific needs.
Ultimately communication and integration are the keys to success.