Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Strategy

Sales Force Automation Tools for Small Businesses

Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Strategy

Sales Force Automation Tools for Small Businesses

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The field salesperson is the small businesses' primary contact with customers and must be well-informed and responsive to customer needs. Information technology tools can help the salesperson meet these needs. However, the question of exactly which tools are instrumental in providing the salesperson sufficient levels of responsiveness needs to be answered. Given the investments associated with the various forms of software and hardware, firms need to know which forms will make a difference. Thus, this study compared users to nonusers of various forms of hardware and software. These results suggest investments in some software (such as e-mail faxing and e-catalogs) will be effective. Users of various forms of hardware, however, did not find their information system to be more effective. Future research efforts may find the explanation for this lack of effectiveness may rest with either the task performed (e.g., administrating the sales territory versus serving the customer) or the context (e.g., desk-based versus wireless mobile technology).

INTRODUCTION

Smaller competitors are currently using information technology in their selling efforts. Armed with quick access to relevant data, sales representatives can outmaneuver their larger counterparts and provide customized sales solutions. Accordingly, small firms are investing in higher levels of information technology to support their field salespeople (Kleindl, 2000; Riemenschneider & Mykytyn, 2000). These investments are substantial, estimated to be over $7,000 per salesperson and expected to grow (Rivers & Dart, 1999; Vijayan, 2003). Small businesses are making these investments in a wide array of information technology tools to support their field sales force. These forms range from phone and fax to more sophisticated use of e-mail and electronic data interchange (Erffmeyer & Dale, 2001). Given the cost differentials associated with these forms, small-to-medium sized enterprises may benefit from knowing which forms yield desired results. One of the purposes of this study, therefore, is to identify forms of information technology that are associated with higher levels of system capabilities.

To achieve this purpose, we first describe those higher levels of system capabilities. Following this description, we substantiate our expectation that users will believe their system is more capable. Thus, part of our study sought confirmation of this expectation. More importantly, however, we wanted to test to see if the various forms of hardware and software all fell into this expected pattern (i.e., users rating the system as more effective than nonusers). To examine these expectations and comparisons, we gathered and analyzed survey responses from manufacturers with sales of less than $101 million and fewer than 250 employees.

SMALL BUSINESSES SALES STRATEGY AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

Small businesses can respond to customer needs with more speed and use in flexible formats than their large counterparts (White, 1998). Information technology plays a vital role in the sales strategies of small businesses (Khazanchi, 2005). When an information system is truly providing field sales support, it is focused on the needs of the customer (Holmstrom & Drejer, 1996). Since these needs vary, the salespeople may be better able to service customers when they can readily access information from various department and sources. Additionally, a sales information system that facilitates and encourages salespeople to use this information in flexible formats (to customize sales presentations and support material) has been a primary goal (Siebel & Malone, 1996).

The field salesperson is separated physically from but dependent upon other departments such as shipping, credit, or manufacturing. The salesperson must provide buying organizations necessary information about product, inventory, shipping, or credit. In the field sales setting where the salesperson operates at the boundaries of the organization, this type of inter-departmental and intra-departmental integration can provide a competitive edge (Belich & Dubinsky, 1999; Ingram, LaForge, & Leigh, 2002). …

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