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Now You See (Some of) It

Sales-force automation tools can illuminate what's in the sales pipeline, but smart CFOs know that success also requires the ability to see what's not there.

But, says Accenture’s Boulanger, “if you’re a global enterprise and you have to harvest data from hundreds of points, your process can lose integrity. For those organizations, we preach integration.”

Integrated or not, Salesforce.com has been the dominant story in the SFA space. Gartner predicts that by 2016 Salesforce.com’s CRM revenue will exceed Oracle’s.

What’s behind Salesforce.com’s success? Flexibility, configurability, and cost certainly play a big part, but beyond those attributes the question has a simple answer: salespeople like it. And because they do, they’ll use it.

Inside the Pipe

Brainshark, which sells software for creating, sharing, and tracking online video presentations for sales, marketing, internal communications, and related purposes, deployed Salesforce .com in 2006. It augmented its functionality with AppExchange-sourced analytics, sales intelligence, and e-signature, all integrated in Oracle and AT&T clouds. Brainshark is the very model of a modern digital company, but it maintains an old-timey focus on salespeople and their deals.

When Brainshark executive vice president David L. Fitzgerald peers into his pipeline, he sees sales managers’ and salespeople’s accounts, which one of six defined stages those accounts are in, close probabilities, and a rolled-up quarterly sales estimate. He knows how many wins he needs to meet plan, and he knows his lead-conversion rate.

He also sees if his salespeople are using the tool: entering meetings, advancing accounts, or removing them when they’re lost. “They can’t survive if they don’t use it,” says Fitzgerald. “They use it or they’re shot.”

What Fitzgerald doesn’t see in the pipeline is “the capacity in our existing customer base. We need to balance organic growth with customer acquisition. There’s a cost to acquire.”

What Brainshark CFO Michael J. McEachern doesn’t see — and what he considers critical — is “marketing efficiency: how leads relate to spending and sales productivity. One of my tasks is to ask how to scale effectively as we grow, and how to add sophistication to our sales-marketing alignment.”

In short, SFA can do many things, but as McEachern says, “A good CFO must ask himself, ‘What are the market opportunities not reflected in the pipeline?’”

“The sales pipeline is a tracking system for what’s there,” stresses MIT’s Byrnes. “But we don’t know who salespeople are not bothering to sell to. Are they leaving scraps on the table, or big hunks of steak?”

David Rosenbaum is senior editor for technology at CFO.

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