Accurate sales forecasts and information about the progress and timing of potential sales are more important than ever, given the current economic climate.
More than likely, paperwork, forms, and reports are not a strong priority for your sales team members as they try to juggle calls, appointments, and proposals. Perhaps you’ve considered sales force automation (SFA) packages before now but determined you didn’t have the required implementation resources.
Perhaps you considered desktop-type applications but found that, while they are easy to use and relatively inexpensive, they didn’t offer the horsepower you needed for forecasting, required synchronizing by remote users, or couldn’t be easily integrated with other applications.
Instead, many businesses are turning to online SFA tools to help mobile salespeople keep track of customers, sales forecasts, and schedules. Besides accessibility, SFA tools usually require little user training, have enough power to handle corporate sales forecast reporting and opportunity management, and require no complex IT environment.
What are your options in the SFA arena? Here’s a rundown of three popular online SFA packages.
In the first half of this series, Hurwitz analyst Sharon Ward looks at salesforce.com, Sales.Oracle.com, and UpShot.com. Next week, she’ll discuss some of the risks of using an online sales force automation tool and questions you should ask before using one.
Headquartered in San Francisco, salesforce.com has acquired over 1,200 paying companies in its two-year history. Salesforce.com allows users to set up contacts at companies and provides users with account information from Hoover’s, an online business information provider, assuring that corporate users have accurate information about customers and prospects without requiring the sales force to gather vendor information.
The system also offers activity tracking to help your field personnel ensure timely follow-up. Sales opportunities can be forecasted, based on assigned probability of closing, and all reports can be exported into Excel. Users can also access information from wireless devices, including devices based on the Palm OS.
Salesforce.com offers to host up to five users free for one year, with additional users available for about $50 per month. Salesforce.com has plans to expand its offering into campaign management and online support this year.
Salesforce.com also promises that users will have access to its data whether connected or on the road, requiring periodic synchronization. Because of this requirement, information could potentially be out of sync between corporate and remote users, leading to inaccurate reports or leads that are not quickly exploited.
Introduced in August 2000, Sales.Oracle.com claims that over 20,000 companies have signed up, a phenomenal adoption rate even if some users have dropped the service. Even more impressive, this amazing market penetration was achieved without spending a single dollar on marketing the site.
Sales.Oracle.com, which is targeted to companies with 50 to 500 salespeople, offers a simple, crisp, and clean interface. Wizards speed the process of setting up parameters and user-defined codes, and Oracle supports import and export of information, including comma-separated value (CSV) files. All this combines to give Sales.Oracle.com one of the fastest implementation times around.
Despite the fact that the basic service is free, Oracle also took great pains to ensure its customers had the best possible environment, including hardware configurations, entire backup facilities, extensive data center security measures, and state-of-the-art firewalls. Oracle also offers opportunity tracking, customer and prospect management, contact management, and calendar and activity management. (A forecasting module, as well as other features, is also available for a fee.)
Each application is sufficiently feature rich to compare favorably with its for-fee cousins. And underlying Sales.Oracle.com is the full functionality of Oracle’s enterprise-level licensed applications, exactly as deployed on a CD sent to an organization purchasing an Oracle Applications license.
Sales.Oracle.com has recently been joined by a new sibling application, Support.Oracle.com, a free service offering online customer support, call tracking, and support-related tasks. Because it uses the same interface as Sales.Oracle.com, the amount of training required to bring up the second application is minimized. Also, because it uses the same customer table, it eliminates the need to keep multiple tables in sync.
Free to companies with fewer than 100 users, UpShot.com is targeted at organizations between 100 and 1,000 users and is probably better suited for the high end of that range. UpShot allows an unlimited number of user-defined fields, and the user can drag-and-drop all fields to customize page layouts.
UpShot also provides mapping, so the rep can get online directions to customer and prospect sites, and includes a simple workflow for routing tasks to other team members. The communication wizard also allows a rep to quickly select a group of prospects or customers and create a mail-merged e-mail, letter, label, or envelope.
For the sales manager, UpShot’s Radar Screen shows all open deals on a bull’s-eye-type graphic, moving the sale towards the center of the bull’s-eye as the deal moves to a close. The manager can also drill down for a more detailed view of the specifics of any deal.
There is also a “fallout” report showing the number of deals that fall out at each stage in the pipeline.
UpShot also guarantees implementation within 15 days for a $7,500 fee. Users should examine this guarantee carefully before committing, however, as it puts the burden on the user company by spelling out specific performance metrics for the company. For example, clients are required to dedicate at least one individual to the implementation and to meet timing targets for data conversion/entry/cleanup that may not be fully understood up front.
UpShot is very quiet about its adoption rates and actual revenue but does boast of admirable month-to-month revenue growth figures that testify to the success of the application. Users should ask for references before opting for the guaranteed implementation or investing too many resources in setup.
Are you using one of the services that we’ve mentioned here? Tell us about your experiences by starting a discussion below or sending us an e-mail.