Sales Force Automation: Part II

Article excerpt

Last month we discussed the different objectives of a sales force automation effort, noting that a firm can focus on improving customer, producer or corporate satisfaction. Depending on the objectives, the choice of technology would differ. We also noted that automation should be a phased implementation. This month, we look in more detail at these phases.

Phase I (Familiarity) typically includes point-of-sale software for prequalification and application taking, the core of a producer's job. Most commercial programs offer both on-line help and a tutorial, but the best tutorial is probably a graphics presentation that is customized to a particular company's sales strategy and practices. Since many loan officers are not touch typists, a typing tutor program would probably be helpful as well. Finally, including a game will encourage usage and overcome fear of the technology.

Phase II (Connectivity) moves the producer beyond the laptop to a broader network of capabilities. Links to merged in-file credit providers can guide the sales dialogue to appropriate products. Links to automated underwriting systems, such as Fannie Mae's Desktop Underwriter, Freddie Mac's Loan Prospector or proprietary systems, can bring the decision process to the point-of-sale. Having an approval at this point can lock in a borrower and discourage the shopping that leads to fallout.

On the return side, the loan officer or broker can download rates and points as well as terms and conditions for new products. E-mail can be used both for status reporting and field inquiries. Connectivity of this kind also allows the information/technology (I/T) department to distribute new software releases automatically instead of having to physically install new software.

Phase III (Productivity) focuses on more effective time management. By this point, the loan officer is comfortable with the hardware and core software. The most important addition at this stage is a contact manager, such as Symantec's ACT! or Goldmine Corporation's namesake product. A contact manager is essentially a data base that organizes pertinent information by keyword name. The software tracks appointments, calls and todo's, creating a schedule of activities to organize the producer's day. Most important, the software prompts for action based on a predetermined schedule. Thus, the company can set standards such as "monthly meetings with each Realtor" or "thank-you letters generated within 24 hours of call." This basic form of workflow can support best sales practices.

Contact managers also incorporate automatic phone dialers, preformatted letters and fairly basic reports that can be uploaded to a regional or main office. There are also a number of "addons" that add phone directories or expense reporting, even the ability to plug in an address and create a detailed map of the neighborhood. It is important to understand, however, that contact management tools require a discipline from the sales force. Standards are needed on how to structure the contact hierarchy (e.g., is a contact the individual Realtor or the entire office?). Producers must record all activity on a daily basis. This means tracking all calls, meetings and follow-up activities.

Another good addition at this stage is canned sales presentations using graphics packages such as Microsoft's PowerPoint. …