Understanding how technology investments create business value in B2B sales is a research priority in today's technology-intensive world. Drawing on an extensive experience and literature review, this research paper suggests that sales technology can support both: externally focused tasks towards managing customer relationships and internal administrative tasks. Today with India being the largest sourcing destination for information technology (FY 17 $155-billion vibrant growth of 12 %) adoption of sales automation and its impact on these company and sales person is vital. This paper will focus on Sales Force Automation (SFA) and its increasing importance. It will explore the purpose of SFA, and its impact on sales performance: in the business-to-business IT services sector in India, to understand the potential benefits and the problems related to adoption of an SFA system.Keywords
Sales force automation, Sales force performance.Introduction
India is the world's largest sourcing destination for the information technology (IT) industry, accounting for approximately 67 per cent of the US$ 124-130 billion market. The industry employs about 10 million workforces.
Our research objective is to understand how SFA technology relates to sales force performance. Specifically, how sales people use SFA to accomplish their daily tasks, not only if they are using SFA or not, it has a direct impact on their performance. We believe that sales force have different motivations when using SFA technology and different antecedent factors drive certain SFA-use behaviour which applies to our following 3 objectives. 1. To conceptualize an SFA-use construct which will enable to better incorporate the particular SFA-use behaviour of a sales ? 2. Does the way SFA is used by sales force impact their performance? 3. Establish antecedents of SFA-adoption to see how they drive SFA-use in a certain behavioural direction.
Table 1: Academic definitions of sales force automation
SFA represents the use of computer hardware and software products to collect, assimilate, analyses and distribute information with the aim of increasing sales force productivity
SFA consists of centralized databases which allow remote access from laptops or mobile devices through the use of special software products to enable the salesperson to access immediately all the information useful for performing the sales process
(Parthasarathy and Sohi, 1997)
SFA systems utilize computerized hardware, software, and telecommunications technology to capture, access, analyses, and exchange high quality information in order to improve sales force productivity and effectiveness
(Jayachandran, Sharma, Kaufman and Raman, 2005)
SFA concerns the application of technology to the sales function
(Pullig, Maxham and Hair, 2002)
SFA supports the sales process by increasing the speed and quality of information flows among the vendor, the customer and the organisation.
(Speier and Venkatesh, 2002)
As Avlonitis and Panagopoulos (2005) argued, “the terms SFA and CRM are used interchangeably in the academic literature. Substantially, CRM is a business strategy constituted by processes and technologies which improve the customer relationships, while the SFA only offers technological tools to support the sales force...thus recognizing that CRM is a wider (but related) concept of SFA”. In this vein, CRM and SFA are similar tools, but of a different nature. SFA configures itself as an operative instrument oriented towards the sales force, while CRM represents a strategic orientation which drives the business decisions and can be applied to the whole organisation (Mercolini, 2013). Actually, CRM is rather a business strategy and philosophy, integrating customer focus, relationships with customers and team-based consultative selling into a coherent organizational strategy (Brown, 1999; Swift, 2001). CRM encompasses different functions such as marketing and service, production and logistics in addition to sales. Whereas much of the extant literature on SFA technology has focused narrowly on personal selling, CRM clearly speaks to the management of organizational processes (Leigh & Marshall, 2001).
The literature has developed a rich understanding of SFA technology and its use in the workplace. Both organizational and individual drivers of SFA adoption have been widely tested so far and it has been made clear that the performance impacts of SFA technology must be the focus of future research.
Table 2: Benefits deriving from SFA system utilization
One primary goal of any organisation is to increase profits, so it is a natural starting point to consider the effects of SFA on the bottom line. It is important to consider the gross increase in revenue and profits per year as well as increases in revenue per sales force. However, despite the intangible value that SFA adds to the organisation, often it is difficult to gauge its actual effect on revenues.
The costs of implementing SFA systems are significant and a great deal is being spent on these systems. This, however, is offset by reductions in the cost of selling by the sales force (Donaldson & Wright, 2004).
Increased Sales Force Mobility
The most important benefit of having a sales force is its ability to sell and create value by building strong relationships with customers. Thus, mobility is extremely important to the sales force. Today more than ever the sales force needs to be in touch with clients, rather than at an office gathering data. SFA has allowed the sales force to become increasingly mobile. Most CRM companies are moving quickly to establish wireless components for sales through web phones and handhelds or wireless access to various SFA web portals (Greenberg, 2001).
Increased Availability of Customer Information
The attractiveness of SFA stems from the numerous benefits that it offers. One of the most important benefits is its ability to deliver superior customer value through information sharing across sales, marketing and customer service personnel (Morgan & Inks, 2001). Since multiple departments have an interest in viewing the status of a customer account of opportunity, SFA is a good solution. The fact that SFA systems allow different departments and individuals within one organisation to constantly access the customer information they need is extremely significant (Reinartz, Krafft & Hoyer, 2004).
Improved Tracking by Management
One of the most important roles of sales force managers is to monitor the progress of their sales force. SFA is a tool that allows managers to better monitor the activity of their sales force by reporting on its activities. By reporting information they have collected from customers, sales force provide managers with a better understanding of their own activity (Moutot&Bascoul, 2008). The overall analytical ability of sales managers increases with use of SFA data. With this increase in ability comes the power to monitor the progress of sales representatives more closely, in turn allowing the manager to help improve individual sales representative performance.
Sales forecasting is defined as the process of estimating what the business’s sales are going to be in the future (Kerin, Hartley &Rudelius, 2009). It is one of the most important and challenging tasks for any organisation and is an integral part of business management.
Our conceptual model (see figure below) draws on the ‘System-to-Value Chain’ and the ‘DeLone and McLean IS Success Model’ and allows us to assess hypotheses. Integrating upstream and downstream perspectives into a single model represents a major strength.
H1a: Using SFA-technology as a customer relationship tool will have a direct and positive impact on sales force
• SFA can be a very helpful tool to understand customer needs and sales opportunities by getting customer 360
•Better planning helps sales force allocate his time across clients optimally and ensure that every client receives
necessary sales force attention.
• During a sales interaction, the effective use of information improves the sales force ability to anticipate &
to buyer concerns and objections
H1b: Using SFA-technology as an internal coordination tool will have a positive impact on sales person performance. • SFA can ease a sales force administrative burden and facilitate better functioning internal processes of a sales force. • SFA can support team-selling by coordinating and synchronizing team activities. Effective team-selling enabled by technology should in return increase sales. • SFA also helps sales force improve their technical knowledge with respect to their products and their ability to compare and analyse their product's standing against competitive products • S FA itself, make it possible to participate at online training sessions at one’s own convenience and at almost no cost.
H1c: The effect of using SFA-technology as an internal coordination tool on sales force performance will be mediated by the customer relationship dimension.
By reducing the amount of ‘downtime’ in a sales person's workday and optimizing call schedules; SFA helps sales force fit more sales calls into a given period
A sales force motivation to act in a certain way is determined by the interplay between management, organizational,
social, personal and environmental factors. In this part we embrace an upstream perspective and link a number of
well-known antecedents to our SFA-use dimensions.
The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) has emerged from literature as a powerful and parsimonious way to explain IT users’ intention and behaviour regarding IT usage (Davis 1989). TAM identifies two central beliefs, perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use, as the primary predictors of user’s attitude or overall affect toward IT usage. H2a: Perceived usefulness will have a positive impact on the customer relationship and internal coordination dimensions of SFA-usage.
Perceived usefulness is the extent to which a person believes that using a system will enhance her performance, and perceived ease of use is the extent to which a person believes that using the system will be relatively free of effort. The core idea of the TAM is that a person’s attitude toward using a technology is jointly determined by perceived usefulnes and perceived ease of use.
H2b: Perceived ease of use will have a positive impact on the customer relationship and internal coordination
dimensions of SFA-usage.
Sales people are among the most technophobic employee groups. They will assess the amount of effort necessary to
utilize an SFA tool and will likely develop positive attitudes toward those tools where the performance benefits are
outweighed by the required effort
H2c: Perceived ease of use will have a positive impact on perceived usefulness TAM posits that perceived ease-of-use has an additional instrumental impact on a sales force attitude toward using a technology through its link to perceived usefulness. To the extent that increased ease of use contributes to improved performance, perceived ease of use will have a direct effect on perceived usefulness.
H3a: Supervisor support will have a positive impact on perceived usefulness.
H3c: Facilitating conditions will have a positive impact on perceived usefulness
H3d: Facilitating conditions will have a positive impact on perceived ease of use We define facilitating conditions as the extent to which a sales force believes that he or she has been provided with the resources and the external support to use SFA technology. Investing in facilitating conditions such as tutorials, help lines, training sessions and technical maintenance signals the importance an organization places on SFA technology and reassure sales people that using sales technology is beneficial.
H3e: Computer self-efficacy will have a positive impact on perceived ease of use. Self-efficacy can be defined as “an individual’s perceptions of his/her ability to use computer (software) in the accomplishment of a task.
H3f: Team-use will have a positive impact on perceived ease of use. Greater the number of sales force who are experts in using the system, easier it is for a sales force to ask other users for help with the commands and other functions of the system.
H3g: Team-use will have a positive impact on perceived usefulness Increased connectivity between team members through information technology improve group coordination, minimize time between exchanges, and reduce the risk for communication errors
H3h: Team-use will have a direct positive impact on internal coordination dimension of SFA-usage Furthermore, when internal-coordination activities are managed through the SFA system, the opportunity cost for not using the SFA increases. This may make sales force feel obliged to use SFA to facilitate team-selling activities regardless of the extent to which they find technology useful or easy-to-use.
H3i: Supervisor SFA-control will have a positive impact on the customer relationship and internal coordination dimensions of SFA-usage.
In many studies supervisor feedback, behaviour and control orientations have been shown to direct the attitudes, learning and behaviour of sales force. Sales managers evaluate sales force not only on outputs, but also on methods, their selling processes and even organizational norms and culture. Supervisor-SFA-control as the extent to which a supervisor:
(1) Specifies the activities he or she expects sales force to perform using the SFA system,
(2) Monitors to see whether they are performing those activities,
(3) Informs them if they are meeting his or her expectations
The control variables in our research model are as follows: (1) Length of time a sales representative had been with the company (2) Length of time a sales representative had been working in his or her territory (3) Total sales experience (4) Age (5) GenderConcluding Remarks
SFA systems should be considered as part of a wider framework consisting of strategy, processes and organization
the aim to improve customer relationships.
Sales force typically will use only a fraction of the available SFA functionality and they differ significantly in their choice of SFA functionality to adopt. The difference between external oriented selling activities and internal oriented administrative tasks is significant. Former group represents relatively abstract tasks whereas latter stands for well defined, easy to automate processes. It is arguably unproblematic to document the outcomes of administrative tasksexplicit knowledge. In contrast, customer oriented tasks often result in tacit knowledge, which is very difficult to capture digitally.
Sales force are concerned most with the benefits offered by new technology. Perceived usefulness of SFA technology drives a certain SFA-use behaviour among sales force. Perceived ease-of-use relates strongly to perceived usefulness. Sales manager plays an important role in convincing sales force for the value of technology, just as in any aspect of the selling job. Sales force, who work in teams where SFA technology is valued and well relied on, tend to report higher levels of perceived usefulness for the system. Facilitating conditions provided by the organization such as training and user support and the confidence of a sales force with computers in general together determine the sales force perception of usability of the system (perceived ease-of-use). Using SFA as a cost-cutting efficiency tool is also instrumental, but it does not have a direct impact on the performance of the sales force. Increased efficiency improves performance only when sales force use their time gains for relationship-building tasks.
In sum, SFA technology can mean different things and serve many purposes at the same time. Management should set clear objectives before investing into SFA systems. To materialize the real potential of SFA in a relationship selling context, however, a focus on improving sales force effectiveness is the key.
We hope that this research paper stimulates further research to deepen our understanding of the drivers and performance outcome of SFA-technology use. Shedding more light on the question of how technology investments translate into business value in B2B sales in an IT industry for an enterprise represents a promising and challenging research opportunity
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