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CRM or SFA? Let's Set the Record Straight

November 15, 2013 | By Jill Stanek

Do you know the difference between SFA and CRM systems? Learn how to define characteristics between customer relationship management (CRM) and SalesForce Automation (SFA) systems.

Enter the search term “sales force automation” or its acronym “SFA” and what do you get? Inevitably, a response that contains the term “customer relationship management” or “CRM.” So what, really, is the difference between CRM and SFA? Obviously, this is not a new topic; however, with Dreamforce 2013 just around the corner, I thought it deserved a revisit. Although the terms CRM and SFA have been around for nearly 15 years, many people still seem to be struggling with the question of how to utilize them properly. We often hear vendors use the two terms interchangeably. Is CRM a platform, a strategy or a technology, and where does SFA fit in?

When Good Enough Is GreatIn the late 1990s, Thomas Siebel coined the phrase "customer relationship management," defined as a strategy designed to understand and predict the needs of not only existing customers but also potential customers. Using data warehouses, companies could capture customer-related data and feedback, enabling them to optimize their customers’ experience. It was recognized that customer-related data could be used to improve individual customer satisfaction, but could also be valuable in new product development. CRM strategies incorporate a customer-centric philosophy that ultimately focuses on organizations’ most important relationships.

That said, many SFA platforms claim the same capabilities. Some even call themselves CRM systems, causing confusion. Here are the defining characteristics of an SFA system, as SiriusDecisions sees it:

  • An SFA system is used as a foundational tool within sales and marketing that supports an organization’s processes and metrics for increasing sales productivity through sales rep efficiencies.
  • The fundamental five features of an SFA system include lead management, account management, contact management, opportunity management and reporting capabilities.
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    So, what’s the correct definition of CRM? SiriusDecisions defines CRM as a combination of processes and technologies that manage the entire customer lifecycle and impact all parts of an organization, including sales, marketing, product and service.

    Within CRM, SFA systems are a specific toolset that focuses on sales objectives and activities; SFA is one of the key components that support an integrated CRM approach. Other CRM components can include marketing automation or business intelligence tools. When considering a specific platform’s capability, it is important to understand the specific functionality that it offers, as vendor labels can be misleading.

    Jill Stanek

    Jill Stanek is an Analyst in the Technology and Services practice at SiriusDecisions. She brings 15-plus years of experience in information technology, software and research advisory services, including business development, account management, sales, sales operations, pre-sales engineering and systems specialist roles. Follow Jill on Twitter @jschneid18.

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