SFA and CRM: What Is the Difference and How to Choose?

How many unique features of SFA tools and CRM systems can you name? Are these amazing pieces of software different at all? If yes, what separates them? If not, what makes them similar? What do their abbreviations even stand for, and most importantly, why do you absolutely need to know all this?

Let’s find out.

Are SFA and CRM Two of the Same?

While some companies already successfully use either SFA or CRM (or both), others are still struggling to decide which one is better for their unique purposes. They struggle because sales force automation and customer relationship management are often the subject of confusion.

There are entrepreneurs who believe that SFA is only a slight twist on CRM, and therefore consider it completely useless. Sales force automation is only another expensive addition to an already costly business toolkit, they argue thinking that it doesn’t bring any particularly new benefits to the table.

Meanwhile, a vast number of their competitors choose to stay in the dark. They use these terms interchangeably, attaching them to whatever management infrastructure they currently operate within. In both cases, the lack of knowledge and awareness about SFA slows down exponential growth.

Before we get into details, this general confusion must be unveiled.

Without further ado, sales force automation (SFA) and customer relationship management (CRM) are two interconnected, and definitely not entirely separate sets of practices, strategies and tools.

What is CRM, Exactly?

As both methodology and system, CRM or customer relationship management has been used for quite a long time. Companies that employ it are the ones that take customer experience and success rather seriously, and know that nothing could be achieved without some help of automation.

Essentially, CRM tools serve as centralized repositories of customer data. As such, they provide much-needed systematization to customer-facing departments. Marketing, sales and service teams use them as well because they do present a well of knowledge about customer behaviour, preferences and pain points that no successful business could do without.

How Do Experts Define SFA?

Sales force automation, or SFA for short, is something similar, but different nonetheless. Experts define it as a “type of program that automates business tasks such as inventory control, sales processing, and tracking of customer interactions, as well as analysing sales forecasts and performance”.

It’s exactly the part about customer interactions that brings confusion, and makes many believe that SFA doesn’t differ much from CRM. In practice, these two systems overlap not only in this facet, but also in those that are responsible for sales management and analytics.

Are SFA and CRM Really so Different?

While CRM remains customer-centric, SFA focuses on sales.

CRM will serve you well if you need to keep track of customer interactions and build a history of purchases and behaviour for further analysis and use. Its main strategies are built and developed with customer retention in mind, while its benefits are mostly aimed at customer support and success.

SFA will help you if you need to stay on top of your sales process management. As a philosophy, it has a very straightforward purpose – to boost conversion rates. As a system, it automates and streamlines every part of the customer lifecycle, optimizing not only conversion, but generation and retention as well.

Since so similar, CRM and SFA tools can be implemented together. Along with features for marketing and customer service, powerful CRM solutions include built-in SFA capabilities as well. As such, they enable effective centralization of data and operations, aligning multiple facets on a single comprehensive platform.

Is One Better Than the Other?

CRM tools are vastly popular, both in terms of customer relationship management and sales. They are now considered the best, most easily scalable, and most comprehensive solutions available on the market, which is good news for both their providers and their users.

Their comprehensiveness allows them not only to include sales processing tools as built-in features, but also to provide a sales toolkit that would be exclusive and agile enough to satisfy all needs and requirements of larger sales teams.

They offer everything from 360-degree customer view, business process management and collaboration tools to sales funnel management and even invoice management, though only the best of them offer features for opportunity, order, fields sales, contract and product management, just as well as sales forecasting and mobile sales.

Being sales-focused, SFA systems have plenty of room for developing all of these features within a single solution. However, they do lack CRM capabilities. These tools are strictly focused on building an infrastructure for sales teams, and on helping them to do their job in the most effective way possible.

To say that one is better than the other would be a biased advice. While many companies thrive with only one of these systems in place, others use them together. What it really comes down to are your specific business requirements, which is why free trial periods are so helpful in the first place.

Try both by yourself, and figure out which one suits you the best.

Can SFA and CRM Work in Unison?

Why wouldn’t they? We’ve already mentioned that plenty of businesses implement CRM and SFA systems side by side, although some among them pay for these tools separately. Frankly speaking, this is a waste of both money and time.

The best CRM and SFA providers offer them together for a great price.

But, this is not only an issue of money. Separate systems would inevitably overlap, causing feature and data duplication. If you’re looking for automated solutions to make your work easier, it’s fairly obvious that this isn’t the right choice. Instead, you need your CRM and SFA tools to be in a perfect unison.

When it comes to sales process management, there’s really no significant difference between CRM and SFA tools – both are guaranteed to help you improve customer conversions and thus drive your business forward. Another great news is that you don’t really have to choose. Thanks to the leading providers on the market, you can now have a centralized system that leverages the power of both.

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