Picking the right tools

Picking the right tools for the job

Picking the right tools for the job.

The current pandemic has accelerated long term trends in selling, and sales teams in organisations of all sizes are seeing seismic shifts in how they work and are structured. Digital transformation can help to support companies through the changes and bring new levels of efficiency.

As the headlines come thick and fast, it can be a challenge to decide which tools you need to drive positive change. One question we are frequently asked is to explain the difference between Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Salesforce Automation (SFA) systems.

While CRM and SRM systems are different, they can be complementary and in some larger entities combined. However, CRM is often used to cover a multitude of digital applications and uses.

SFA technology relates specifically to the sales function and is composed of sales team and sales management software with applications used to record and report sales activities and interactions related to customer acquisition, up-selling and cross-selling. SFA looks at the entire sales process and tracks the efforts of the salespeople usually out of the office, at home or in the field. It helps sales teams to work together better and ensure sales management is working with accurate information by automating and streamlining processes.

CRM refers to improving and managing customer interactions throughout the customer life cycle; put simply, it is post-sale software used to retain and satisfy current clients – it is all about the customer. Data input is usually in the office or call centres.

Over time many of the CRM providers have started to customise their technology offerings with some SFA functions and have also made it technologically easier to integrate with SFA. So the extremes of strictly compartmentalised definitions and technologies no longer exist; unfortunately, the terms are also often interchangeably used.

Each of the two technologies is seeking to solve issues for their users. Identifying which are most appropriate is assisted by asking yourself whether the questions outlined are the ones you are trying to address.

Choosing the right system for you.

Before you start the process of selecting the best system for your business, it is essential to understand the end goal. What are you trying to achieve from the implementation of a new system?

IT systems can become very expensive to purchase, implement, modify and maintain; also, adoption, compatibility, interoperability as well as security are vital considerations.

Buyers of such automation systems may end up choosing one item initially, or select a single CRM and a single SFA system which are compatible and easy to connect, or consider a broader entire IT architectural solution. The greater the scale and scope of the technological solution, the larger the cost, time and difficulty in implementing are likely to be. The choices are many, and our key guidance is to keep what is most helpful to you and your company in mind, given the strategic journey you will be on.

It is also essential to emphasise the importance of having clear objectives, agreed Key Result Areas (KRA’s), strategic alignment and also assessing the ways of culturally embedding the systems, so that you do not join the scores of systems implemented unsuccessfully. The many failures occur, as a result of not understanding the importance of easy access, where they will be accessed (e.g. home, field or office), the speed of data input and the importance of benefits to the sales team, the customers and the company, of undertaking such digital automation activity.


Common triggers to purchasing SFA products include: are we losing customers because of poor sales management or process? Are we losing customers because we are not seeing or spending enough time with them? Or, what is each salesperson’s target this month, and what progress have they made?

CRM products are tools for building relationships with customers to build customer satisfaction, increase retention and drive loyalty.

CRM gives sales advisors visibility of the history of the transactions the customers have had with the organisation. It helps sales teams to keep better track of service interactions, monitor the effectiveness of your marketing and sales campaigns and gain a deeper understanding of customers. Many CRM platforms can also give insight into customer service issues and customer loyalty.

Wise sales leaders understand what other IT systems the company has already adopted and what if any future technological integrations may be appropriate. The digitisation of companies is growing apace, and any investment must be seen as proportionate, fit for current purposes but also compatible with future technological advances/plans.

Many companies have unwisely invested in overly-sophisticated systems like CRM’s, only to find end users do not value them, and therefore they are barely used. Harvard Business School, Gartner and others have stated that around 50% of major CRM systems implementations do not produce the promised results due to lack of use and stagnant data.

As a result, we warn sales leaders to be aware of the statements where CRM will take care of everything related to sales and marketing. As CRM’s are sold in modules it can first appear cost effective, but when further modules are required, the costs can increase disproportionately.

We also recommend conducting a full cost: benefit and return on Investment (ROI) analysis before investing.

Please be aware that when CRM systems have been selected and implemented but are not adopted by end-users, then it is often the sales leader who comes under pressure and sometimes blamed for not getting their teams to use these systems fully.

Rescue operations.

At i-snapshot, we have undertaken post-implementation rescue operations when systems have been operated unsuccessfully for months, and there is a need to gain end-user cultural acceptance and to re-train salespeople to increase adoption and usage.

Our advice is to consult and engage with your sales teams and other end-users and ensure that the systems and data-input processes are easy, acceptable and beneficial to them and that they are likely to adopt and use them fully.

Now is the time to embrace digital transformation. Picking the right tools for the job can make sales teams more efficient and boost productivity. It will also give the management team invaluable insight into the performance of a key part of the business.

We have initially tabulated both CRM and SFA technologies and considered the key questions any new sales leader should consider in understanding the suitably for their circumstances.


Salesforce Automation (SFA)

Customer Relationship Mgmt (CRM)

Who- primarily designed for?

Sales     leaders/managers and the sales teams especially (B2B)  Business to Business

Marketing and other company functions – especially B2C (Business to consumer); also B2B

Why – The Primary Purpose?

Automating manual tasks of recording and reporting to make the sales function more efficient & productive – enable the lives of salespeople

Improve results, process and predictability of forecasting.

Improve the capability of sales, including the perceptions of sales leadership.

Collate data to improve customer relationships, experiences and improve retention  


Ensure whoever answers the phone has a contact history available.  


Marketing IT departments often purchase CRM’s and then impose use on the “sales function.”


Comprehensive sales support tools; enable recording and reporting using app’s and technology – can transform the sales process and productivity. Frees up salesforce time.

Automates mundane logistical and practical tasks, e.g. generating leads, making sales and closing deals.

Reports on prospecting, pipeline and performance.

Manages the relationship between the customer and the business by gathering and storing data.

Platform to store customer interactions data to ensure customers remain loyal for years to come.

CRM’s can also have apps.

Customer profiling, aggregating data at the customer-level and providing business intelligence are all stated features.

360-degree view of the customer – contact history, finance etc.


Access for salespeople

-devices, SMS, wifi.


In the field, work or home offices.

Usually, office-based via fixed computer & high data widely available amongst sales, marketing, finance & Ops. Mainly office and wifi based.

Data feeds can be from social media, email, phone calls, complaints, purchase histories & internal dept’s.

When – appropriate time applicable in the sales cycle?

Focus is on acquiring customers & pipeline management and also retaining up- and cross-selling activities.

Focus on retention and experiences of customers once a sale has taken place.

When – entries entered?

Anytime – often record events a few minutes after a call – accurate records more likely.

Often done when access to wifi or at the end of the week – the risk that things may not be remembered/recorded.


Improves transparency of sales team activities.

Via App on Mobile/hand-devices or PC’s via wifi.

Time-saving means salespeople spend more time with customers to truly understand unique needs.     

ROI usually one year

Usually on PC/desktop/laptop in the office or via wifi links

As CRM’s are data-heavy then not readily accessible in the field.





ROI usually 3-7 years

Further Tabulated Comparator Analysis of CRM v’s SFA based on the critical activities of sales teams and the stated Features, Advantages and Benefits of system types.


Salesforce Automation (SFA)

Customer Relationship Mgmt (CRM)

Contact Management

Allows lead tracking,     increased customer planning & engagement, scheduling & tracking of appointments

Records cold calls and lead generation work  

Can look up previous interactions and stored contact information easily

Especially useful for call centres/inside salespeople and recording multiple contacts with customers in the databank.

Customer communications tracking.

Can provide more data for customer background research and Profiling.

Segmentation can help identify the right customers to visit.

Customer histories showing behaviours, motivations and relationship with the organisation.

Pipeline Management

Interactions and events are tracked – pipelines, opportunities, and workflows managed.

For call centres and in-house sales teams then automated call recording


Data collected can be used in to optimise forecasting and trends analysis.

Powerful and connected data on usage, buying patterns and timing can be provided

Task and Time Management

Mundane tasks and reminders created to follow up leads and sales activities seamlessly automatedly- timely inputs

Many CRM’s can integrate with office diaries/systems but not necessarily tailored to sales team activities. More “post-mortem” inputs/analysis.

Sales Team Management

Provides actionable goals & targets for each salesperson/team

Generates timely reports & information – communication mechanism between managers and sales team

Can provide information to sales leaders with specifically tailored reports

Data In One Place

Useful/essential data collected and reported but needs to be transferred via API etc.

The aim is to provide a unified customer data platform to enable satisfaction/retention.

Storing account data and e-commerce transactions. Useful market knowledge and customer updates can be made available to sales teams.

Seen as a communication enabler within companies.

Marketing Automation

Needs to connect with CRM or other systems

Can be integrated with different marketing automation platforms/social media/campaign management etc.


Salesforce Automation (SFA)

Customer Relationship Mgmt (CRM)

Contact Management

Less administration and duplication of labour-intensive sales reporting. More time to nurture relationships

Sales team tends to update CRM’s at the end of the week when not all details may be remembered or recorded.


Data stored easily re interactions and sales activities, e.g. Lead evaluation and handling.





Task and Time Management

The system automatically updates and reminds removing the need for mundane tasks to be done. Positive motivational impact on sales teams and managers


Sales Team Management

Automated reports mean no time wasted in collating manual returns together. Removes weekly stresses and pressures on sales people and managers – report production.

Records and reports can help monitor service and support interactions. CRM’s have incorporated such modules into their systems.


Sales leaders have timely insights into sales team activities and can coach and improve probabilities.


Data In One Place

Timely data can be quickly transferred to CRM/other systems.  

Customer profiling, including purchasing history, behaviour, data, demographics. Datafeeds can easily be correlated and co-analysed to spot trends, the voice of the customer and improvement areas.

Marketing Automation

If linked timely data on campaigns or competitors.

Improved ability of sales leaders to make timely tactical decisions for better results

Links can create personalised campaigns, track responses to social media campaigns and enhance marketing efficiency


Salesforce Automation (SFA)

Customer Relationship Mgmt (CRM)

Contact management

Communication tracked and more time spent with customers

-personalisation and

-more sales


Pipeline Management

Forecasting data can be improved, trends spotted and reliability and predictability of forecasts enhanced – add to company value.


Task and Time Management

More quality time to research and retain customers.

The professional image of brand and salespeople with timely responses.


Sales Team Management

More time available to coach and improve sales results – also more informed insights.

Data-rich reports give speedy insights to sell and beat competitors.

Sales teams, more informed and conversion rates increase.


Data in one place

Speed can result in identified sales trends and campaign adjustments and improved results.

Trend analysis and campaign reporting can improve performance of revenues /profits.

Marketing Automation

If linked, then salesforce focus can be realigned for improved results.

More efficient marketing spend and customer loyalty.


Salesforce automation (SFA)

Customer Relationship Mgmt (CRM)


Salesteam performance.

Generating sales activity and productivity

- More revenues/market share

- Appraisals/coaching

Customer service and satisfaction ratings

Primary aim

Efficiency (some effectiveness)


Budgetary Considerations

Limited amount and specific to sales function

The larger amount and may involve integrations with other co-departments across the organisation (more function involved in the selection process)

Scale and scope of Data collection

Defined, consistently & speedily captured via Salesteam

-Sales efficiency & effectiveness

The wider collaboration of many data sources, channels, departments and systems.

The relative importance of strategic marketing cf. sales in the organisation

Sales function is own entity with specific budgets, and key focus is on salesforce productivity, efficiency and effectiveness.

Business requires sophisticated branding and marketing capabilities to position itself, craft messages and campaigns and drive up profitability. Joint Revenue Operations evolving.

Types of customer

Primarily B2B

Primarily B2C but also B2B

Revenue forecasting

Transparent and simple system input by salespeople with possible techniques of smoothing/trending and machine learning

Sophisticated inputs and tools using market analysis, campaign activities, new market developments and customer retention/Net Promoter Scores predicting loyalty etc.

Agility in marketplace

Real-time insights allow tactical adjustments

Takes slightly longer to get information (opportunity cost) but data supplemented by other feeds/sources

NB: The purpose of this table is to highlight specific differences, but please remember the following:

  • Some larger and more specialist CRM’s have developed app’s for B2B sales
  • Some CRM providers include prospecting, pipeline and forecasting modules
  • SFA and CRM can be interoperable and compatible, and data and information passed both ways making quality information available to sales teams and also keeping CRM's regularly updated
  • If data is easy to access/simple to record, sales people, benefit from de-duplication of workloads as data can be used to populate a CRM automatically
  • The issues of interfacing two separate sales and marketing automation systems also applies to interfacing with Accounting and Finance systems, as well as with the plethora of Operational Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Demand Driven Materials Requirements Planning (DDMRP) systems.