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Forrester named three leaders in its latest Wave for Sales Force Automation, but predicts changes in the next 12 months PHOTO: fotologic

A major shift is taking place in the sales force automation space (SFA).

According to the recently released Forrester Wave for Sales Force Automation (SFA) (fee charged), newly emerging SFA products and technologies are adding new solutions to the traditional sales management capabilities which focus on seller empowerment.

Forrester notes vendors moving to develop what it calls an "ecosystem" of seller-focused technologies with a lot of artificial intelligence (AI) built into the mix. And it predicts these three major developments — the seller-focus, AI, ecosystems — will drive the SFA market over the coming year.

“We have seen more evolution in the past year than we have seen in the past 15 years or so. What is driving this is the fact that salesforce automation, in the early days, was a product that wasn’t really designed for sellers in mind. It was designed with middle management and upper management in mind for process consistency and transparency,” John Bruno, Forrester research analyst and the lead author of the Wave told CMSWire.

“First and foremost, there is a renewed focus on the end user. There are different kinds of end users for those that use SFA technology. The primary one is for sales people, whether they are in the field or an inside person.”

3 Trends Driving Sales Force Automation

Forrester included 10 vendors in this year’s Wave, broken down into three categories:

  • Leaders: Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce
  • Strong Performers: Pegasystems, Bpm’online, SAP, SugarCRM
  • Contenders: CRMNEXT, NetSuite, Infor

While the recognized vendors will surprise no one, the report suggests we may expect upheaval in the market over the next 12 months.

Bruno dug a little deeper into the three major trends that will drive these changes.

1. Seller Focused

With enterprises now looking to technology to give them an edge, they are replacing older SFA technologies newer technologies that have a more seller-oriented focus.

Older sales force technologies upheld standardized, rigid sales processes, and included arbitrary metrics such as the numbers of calls made, meetings scheduled and contacts created. The solutions aimed to provide insights for middle and top management rather than ease of use for sales people.

Most depended on spreadsheets for forecasting, which were time consuming to create and took sales people away from their customers.

“Forrester clients point out that the problem is not necessarily a problem with the technology itself, but the fact that the technology was not designed for sales people, so it suffered from poor adoption,” Bruno said.

“With poor adoption, you don’t really get to realize the business outcomes that you were hoping for. Vendors are starting to place more of an emphasis on serving the new wants and needs of the end user."

2. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence will play a key part in the development of seller-focused SFA. Bruno pointed out that while we are still in early days for AI maturity, vendors are scrambling to build it into their products.

“AI is talked about and talked about and talked about, but if you look at the Wave only two vendors got full marks in this category because it is still a technology that is only maturing. There are a couple of vendors in the market that are making great strides, but it is still relatively new,” Bruno said.

“The goal here is not to take everything off the sellers’ plate. The goal for AI in sales is to do more of the automation so sellers have time to better engage with their customers. When AI applications mature you will getting into the realm of how to prescribe recommendations that will help sellers be more effective with their customers.”

The goal here is for AI to take over repetitive tasks to allow sellers more face time with their customers. Users will also be able to look at the data and see what similar customers have bought in the past and where more information is needed in accounts and contacts.

“For the moment though, the blend of the human and the machine still falls largely on the human. But the low hanging fruits is really around automation for now,” Bruno said.

3. Ecosystem

The third major trend emerging from this year’s Wave is the development of ecosystems by vendors who previously focused on developing traditional, processed-orientated SFAs.

“SFA did not happen in a vacuum. Traditionally what happened where companies had paid for licenses for SFA tools and handed them to their sellers and told them to go do their job,” Bruno added.

“In the past though, they didn’t do a whole lot to help sellers or make them more effective. So, what happened is that a lot of these vendors developed their own ecosystems of vendors that developed seller related functionality."

“If you look at the area that SFA can’t do, whether it be around effective sales content or asset management, or sales performance solutions, they are not effective in the same way a best of breed solutions are. This means that SFA vendors need to continue to cultivate an ecosystem of third party partners and ISVs.”

Over the next year, Forrester expects these three trends to drive the SFA market. Vendors will continue to develop sales force ecosystems, increase AI's role and emphasize the importance of the end user experience.