CRM: Sales Force Automation (SFA)

Sales Force Automation (CRM: SFA), is typically a part of a company’s customer relationship management system, is a system that automatically records all the stages in a sales process. CRM: SFA includes a contact management system which tracks all contact that has been made with a given customer, the purpose of the contact, and any follow up that may be needed. This ensures that sales efforts arenot duplicated, reducing the risk of irritating customers.


Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is perhaps the most consistently misused term in our industry. The customer relationship that is being managed by the software category is an exceedingly broad term that must be narrowed to make sure we are comparing similar software. ATG breaks CRM into four distinct categories, based on the channel that is being used to manage the customer relationship.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)


Sales Force Automation (SFA)

The tools used by sales teams to managed salespeople, prospects, opportunities, and pipeline

Customer Service

The tools used by customer service agents (historically in a call center environment) to manage customers or prospects


The tools used by a service provider's customers to manage their own services or accounts.

Partner Relationship Management (PRM)

Tools a service provider's partner to manage customers or prospects

CRM: Sales Force Automation (SFA)



A prospect in the service provider realm is any person or entity that is not yet a customer. Prospects can be people on the internet searching for a service your company provides, people that visit your business, the entire population of attendees at a trade show, or any number of other general scenarios that end with them expressing an interest in your products and services.


Generally, a lead is a person or company that has an expressed or implied interest in the services you provide. Examples of leads include internet users that click through to your website from a link, folks that speak with your representatives at a trade show and exchange business cards, or somebody that calls or stops by your place of business.


An opportunity is created when a salesperson believes there is a reasonable chance to make a sale to this person. The selling process may be overt or subtle, but when benefits are discussed and interest is expressed, an opportunity is at hand. Examples of an opportunity include internet visitors to specific pages on a website with a buy button or verbal exchanges with sales and support staff in which the lead asks closing questions such as “When can I have service connected?” or “How much does this cost?

Opportunities are also created for existing customers. They could be accounts with expiring contracts, up-sell and cross-sell potential, or avid promoters of your company that provide additional pipelines of opportunities for your organization.

Opportunities typically involve numerous stages, with each stage having a different probability of closing. Companies often use the stage and associated probability that comes out of the box from the CRM: SFA tool. Others leverage common selling methodologies provided by sales effectiveness companies such as Miller Heiman, SPIN Selling, Target Account Selling (TAS), and Consultative Selling.



The quote is often the first commitment made by a business to new customers. Once the customer has selected the product or product feature set that meets their needs, a quote will be presented that clearly demonstrates the options selected, the prices, and discounts available to them. This ensures complete understanding of what is being purchased, the contract terms, and any additional service details.

Customers may not agree to the first version of the quote or seek to negotiate additional terms or services. Quotes should be easy to reconfigure to represent any additional changes at a near real-time rate. In another scenario, it may take time for a customer to return with an answer to the quote. In such a case, the quote can be stored for future reference without having to re-engineer the quote or take the customer back through the entire process again.

For many service providers, quoting is such an integral part of the sales process that many companies require functionality beyond what is typically available in most CRM: SFA solutions. CPQ has evolved to handle complex quote processing.

FACT Framework

ATG recommends that the quoting process follow the FACT FrameworkFast, Accurate, Clean, and Transactable.

Every company is intentionally or unintentionally balancing the need for speed, quality, accuracy, and efficiency. Not only is this done for direct selling but also for channel selling and e-commerce. For example, every sales representative will tell you that the fastest way to get a quote out the door is to eliminate any approvals. However, other business stakeholders know that there are financial or legal or other risks that need to be mitigated, hence the need for at least some approval process to ensure quality and accuracy.

Each of the following questions must be asked and answers balanced to ensure an optimal selling environment. Are there too many approvals in the process? Too few? What about data? Should addresses be validated up front, or only at order time? Should customer credit be checked? If yes, should it be early or late in the process?



The quote process is as responsive as the customer requires.


Provisioning and billing information is complete and accurate.


Quotes and proposals are professional and add credibility to the selling process.


Opportunities, quotes, contracts, and orders are integrated with limited need for redundant data entry.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge management is the process of collecting a company’s tribal knowledge, aggregating it, and then making it available to both internal and external users. From a customer-initiated interactions point-of-view, it means creating a digital library of product and service manuals, FAQs, white papers, case studies – really any non-proprietary information that a customer could use to answer their own questions without needing to use company call center or sales resources.

In a CRM: SFA environment, knowledge management is typically used by sales professionals to help them identify solutions for their clients, and handle typical questions that arise during the wants and needs analysis of the selling process. Win themes, value proposition, competitive intelligence, and technical product details are often leverage in SFA Knowledge Management environments.

Beyond just gathering the data and making it available electronically, it needs to be easy to use and easy to find.

Good knowledge management solutions, whether built in-house, used as-a-service, or purchased to deploy on-premise, need to be well organized, use common speech search, and offer a quick connection to a chat or email resource should the current knowledge management system not fulfill the customer's needs.

Customer Service

From a CRM: SFA perspective, customer service means having the ability to have a comprehensive view of the customer. This comprehensive view is often referred to as a customer 360 view because you can see the full circle of all customer interactions and touch points. If it is a new customer, there may be limited information available. If it is an existing customer, it is important to have a comprehensive view of customers’ interactions with the company.

For example, if you are trying to get a customer to renew a service that has two open trouble tickets, and a billing dispute requesting credit for poor service, you may be in for an uphill battle.

The customer service component of CRM: SFA is the linchpin of the recurring sales cycles. Often, the best opportunity for a company to win new business from an existing client is by providing superior customer service to that client from the beginning of the relationship. More and more, service providers are relying on renewal, up-sell, and cross-sell processes to expand revenue from their existing client base. This pressure leads to increased focus on customer service.

In complex service provider B2B selling, CRM: SFA has traditionally focused on simply winning the first deal. In today’s omni-channel customer maintenance environment, salespeople, and the CRM: SFA function, are one cog of a complex, collaborative team structure required to manage the entire customer lifecycle effectively.

Case Management

Case management is a broad term that can include issue management, trouble ticket management, exception or approval management, and dispute management. It is simply a mechanism for creating, managing, and completing requests initiated by, or on behalf of, a customer.

Case management allows cases to be captured, then distributed to the necessary individual or team for resolution, while providing visibility of its ongoing status. There is typically a complete audit trail to document what was done, when, and by whom.

Effective case management provides an excellent opportunity to take a potential negative interaction with a customer and turn it into a positive.


The quote should provide an area for the customer to easily agree to the terms provided to facilitate the subsequent provisioning, activation, and shipping that is necessary to provide goods and services quickly and effectively to the customer. The approvals are retained for future reference.

Internally, an approval may be required to provide a quote to a customer. In any case requiring approvals for quotes, the process should be as efficient as possible. Approvals often ensure that quotes are accurate, meet internal revenue standards and margins, and the terms are sufficient. The approval process should involve the appropriate level staff and be clearly communicated as quickly as possible. Approvals are retained for future reference.

Certain customers require special care. These customers may receive appropriate discounts added to their quotes, special services, or renegotiated price rates outside of what is available to the sales team at that time. These require even more speed and efficiency as well as a thorough review at the appropriate levels.

Approvals during the quoting step are more important than any other step in the Lead to Cash process. Creating and sending a proposal, estimate, or quote is typically the first time the customer sees the product information, pricing, or both. Approving before this step limits the flexibility of the sales representative to negotiate, and approvals after this step are passive, causing the client to become frustrated. Quoting and Approvals associated with quotes can reside in CRM: SFA, CPQ or sometime both.

Reports & Dashboards

CRM: SFA is the home for reports and dashboards. Companies rely on sales forecasting to provide transparency for internal groups (for example, what sort of demand will be in store for products and services) and external groups (for example, the investment community in the case of public companies).

Sales management uses CRM: SFA reporting to track progress/status at the company, unit, division, customer, and individual sales representative level. CRM: SFA tools typically provide several out of the box reports, as well as Dashboards that can be prominently displayed upon login. Many also allow users to easily build custom reports and dashboards that are tailored to their needs.


In a CRM: SFA context, pipeline refers to the funnel of potential sales that may be coming to fruition. Pipeline begins with high volume/low probability prospects, which winnow their way through lead and opportunity objects, which ultimately close out as deals that were won, lost, or abandoned.

Typically, pipeline reporting focuses on the opportunity object, which contains opportunity amount, date of expected close, and probability of close. This combination of attributes can be used to value the pipeline, in other words, to predict how many opportunities will close, when, and at what total amount.


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A Closer Look at the People, Process, and Technology of SFA


CRM: SFA is typically the domain for a service provider's direct sales force. This usually includes field sales representatives, sales engineers or pre-sales, sales management, sales operations, inside sales, and often account management. Often, the marketing organization is involved as well in their responsibility for campaign and lead generation.

In a complex product and selling environment, opportunity teams can be expanded to include product, engineering, legal, and operations, often for additional configuration or approval of a product or service. Finally, numerous users consume reports coming out of the CRM: SFA function, including finance and marketing communications for reporting to the investment community and commissions.


ATG maintains a set of 92 key business processes to support management of customers and revenue for businesses. Twenty-eight of these processes originate or are impacted by the CRM: SFA function. Below are the key processes that touch CRM: SFA, categorized by the organizational unit that owns the process:

Sales Organization

Opportunity Management – prioritizing, tracking, and managing sales opportunities.

Partner Management – management and integration of any of a host of third-party resellers and partners business models and oversight.

Quote: Product Configuration – configuration of feature and attributes of products and services prior to a sale.

Quote: Product and Service Pricing – configuration of product and service pricing available through the quoting tool.

Quote: Product and Service Discount – configuration of product and service discounts based on certain criteria (e.g., volume discounts, geography).

Order Entry – creating a new service for a customer, including capturing the necessary information to provision and bill for the service effectively.

Up-Sell Processing: Initial Order – selling a customer a separate, better product or service from what they had originally expressed interest in during the needs assessment.

Cross-Sell Processing: Initial Order – selling a customer a separate product or service from what they had originally expressed interest in during the needs assessment.

Partner Transaction Management – oversight and integration of any third-party re-seller or partner transactions, including selling, licensing, and billing.

Renewal Processing – methods used to continue a customer’s services beyond the contract’s expiration period. Maybe an automated or manual process.

Customer Service Organization

Up-Sell Processing: Ongoing – the primary method for increasing Average Revenue per User (ARPU), and it is the process of moving a customer to a better product or service at some point during their relationship with your company.

Cross-Sell Processing: Ongoing – the primary method for increasing Average Revenue per User (ARPU), and it is the process of moving a customer to a similar product or service at some point during their relationship with your company.

Knowledge Management – the ability of a business to identify, create, and distribute information quickly across their customer base and internally through the organization.

Customer Inquiry – the process of routing customer questions and concerns to the right solution and then tracking the outcome.

Order Entry – creating a new service for a customer, including capturing the necessary information to provision and bill for the service effectively.

Renewal Processing – methods used to renew customers’ services, either manually or utilizing automated processes.

Product Organization

New Product Introduction Process – configuring attributes and introducing new products or services to the product catalog.

New Product Monetization Process – the configuration of pricing for a new product or service.

Bundled Product Introduction Process – the configuration and introduction of grouped products and services to the product catalog.

Promotion and Discount Process – the configuration of promotions and discounts to new or current products and services.

Marketing Organization

Lead Management – the process of identifying and nurturing potential or current customers.

Finance Organization

Credit Check Management – the oversight of processes surrounding the checks to clients’ or customers’ credit history and worthiness.

Commissions Processing – the processing of tracking sales commissions and sales reward programs.


Maintenance and Oversight of Monetization Ecosystem – processes around ensuring that all touch points and connections within the ecosystem are optimized to their fullest potential.

Vendor Management of Monetization Ecosystem – oversight and communication duties of ecosystem software components and their vendors, including management of vendor roadmap and change logs and general relationship nurturing.

Cross-Training of Monetization Ecosystem Components – process for training organizational resources on the appropriate software systems.

Security Oversight of Monetization Ecosystem – process for maintaining and controlling access and permissions to ecosystem components.

Data Stewardship Across Monetization Ecosystemprocess of assigning ownership and sources of truth for data within the organization.

All Organizations

Daily, Periodic, or Ad Hoc Reporting (Extraction, Load, Report, Dashboard) – movement of data between domains to create a single source of truth for reporting and dashboarding.


CRM: SFA is a mature technology space, that has several key providers, with a few dominant players. This function has historically had one dominant provider, with several major players vying for second fiddle. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, Oracle Siebel was the dominant provider, but over the past 10 years, Salesforce has assumed the top spot.

Key Sales Force Automation Vendors


Founded: 1999
HQ: San Francisco, CA
Company Type: Public
Delivery Method: Cloud


Salesforce is a CRM platform designed to support sales, marketing, and customer support in both business-to-business and business-to-customer contexts. Salesforce Sales Cloud is a fully customizable product that brings all the customer information together in an integrated platform that incorporates marketing, lead generation, sales, customer service and business analytics and provides access to thousands of applications through the AppExchange.


  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)


Salesforce targets organizations in many industries and of any size.


  • Kronos
  • Athena Health
  • Informatica
  • SungardAS
  • CenturyLink


Founded: 1977
HQ: Redwood City, CA
Company Type: Public
Delivery Method: Cloud


Oracle CRM On Demand is a cloud-based, integrated business application that enables organizations to drive sales, marketing, loyalty, and service effectiveness. It is designed to help sales, service and marketing departments make information-driven decisions and manage costs and performance.


  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • E-Commerce
  • Marketing Automation


Oracle CRM On Demand targets organizations in many industries. Target organizations are medium to large enterprises.


  • AT&T
  • Exelon
  • Freddie Mac
  • Dell
  • National Instruments


Founded: 1972
HQ: Newtown Square, PA
Company Type: Public
Delivery Method: On-Premise


SAP, an acronym for Systems, Applications & Products, engages customers with on-premise customer relationship management (CRM) software across every channel. SAP CRM helps business users manage marketing, sales, and customer service processes. Within the SFA solution, accounts, contacts, leads, opportunities, and quotes are managed in one location.


  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)


SAP targets organizations in many industries, including, energy, financial, telecommunications, healthcare and high tech. Target organizations are generally small-to-medium enterprises.


  • Purchasing Power
  • TUMI
  • Royal Cup Coffee and Tea
  • County of Santa Clara, CA
  • McKesson


Founded: 1975
HQ: Redmond, WA
Company Type: Public
Delivery Method: Cloud


Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a component of Dynamics 365, Microsoft’s end-to-end business-tools platform. Users can capture all customer touch points such as phone or email interactions, appointments, exchanged letters, and faxes to generate a single view of the customer.


  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)


Microsoft Dynamics CRM targets businesses in many industries and of all sizes.


  • Mercedes-Benz
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America
  • HP
  • Macy's
  • Celistica


Founded: 2010
HQ: San Mateo, CA
Company Type: Privately Held
Delivery Method: Cloud


Freshworks provides organizations of all sizes with SaaS customer engagement solutions that make it easy for support, sales and marketing professionals to communicate effectively with customers for better service and collaborate with team members to resolve customer issues.


  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Customer Support Software
  • Support Ticket System


Freshworks targets organizations in many industries and of any size.


  • Honda
  • Hugo Boss
  • Toshiba
  • Cisco
  • National Health Service (NHS)


Founded: 2004
HQ: Cupertino, CA
Company Type: Privately Held
Delivery Method: Cloud


SugarCRM offers an alternative to complicated CRM software, and instead, you get a simple user interface, focused content, and an intuitive customization platform. An AI feature called Hint accelerates call preparation time by providing sales representatives with all the customer contact and social network information they need with just a name and an email.


  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)


SugarCRM targets organizations in many industries and of any size.


  • HTC
  • Backcountry
  • Audi
  • Wilson
  • T Mobile
  • IBM

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