The Evolution of Computational Selling – What You Need To Know About Sales Automation

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Regular HUB readers will know that at SalesWays we are constantly looking to improve sales performance using technology – that’s been a mission of mine since my early career in sales and my first personal computer. This is referred to as “sales force automation” and I’ve never really liked the term. It sounds too military for me—I see images of rows of salespeople lined up in battle formation. SFA spun out from “contact management” which involved PCs maintaining databases of names, addresses and other customer data. Attempts to store details of sales opportunities morphed it into SFA. As the information expanded in scope and involved workflow between other departments in the company, the terminology Customer Relationship Management (CRM) took over and quickly became the norm. Now most people are confused between SFA and CRM—trust me, my company sells both products and we find it hard to quickly convince people of the difference.

I checked sales force automation on Wikipedia. Frankly, it seems to encompass so much, it’s a bit intimidating. Stuff like: contact management, lead tracking, forecasting, product knowledge, territory and account management, call management, and much more. It’s just messy. But if there is a continuity in the theme, it would be, “ways that a computer can help with everything that goes on around the act of selling.” I’ve chosen my words carefully. “Selling” to me, should focus on the salesperson and the customer working together to get a sale completed. All the interactions needed to do that happen in the sales cycle—a finite amount of time allotted to a sales opportunity. Most of the Wikipedia description of SFA is about the computer-based organization and infrastructure needed to free up salespeople to do the “selling” as efficiently as possible. Nothing wrong with that—done right, it works, but I think that this is best described as the sales component of the CRM workflow.

There is another way, though, that computers can lend a hand in the “selling” itself, working along side the salesperson to provide real competitive advantage. A computer can do wonders in helping with management of the opportunity “load” (how many open opportunities are being worked on), where to allot priorities, and suggesting strategies within in each opportunity—and there is more. This is where I see computer technology being a real competitive advantage. We’re talking about improvements in “effectiveness”—winning more sales against the competition because of superior selling.

At SalesWays we make this happen by modelling the selling process in our software applications. I described the model in earlier posts—the corner stones are the passage of time in the sales cycle, the natural flow of the customer conversation through three distinct phases, and an up to date assessment of the risk factors involved in the sale (described by probability.) How this differs from traditional descriptions of sales force automation is that at its heart it involves number crunching— numbers derived from time, dates, risk factors, assessments, etc. Through the number crunching the computer comes up with valuable proactive guidance on priorities, focus, and action in a portfolio of sales opportunities. It’s the number crunching that makes me want to call this process “computational selling.” It’s as different as chalk and cheese from the transitional definitions of SFA that I listed at the beginning.

So there it is, we invented it, we patented it, and we named it—computational selling. Moreover it works, and it has a long list of raving fans. And it is universally available to salespeople everywhere through ASPEC. In future posts I’ll elaborate on some of the other benefits of this technology.

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