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Sales force automation gets channel boost from SI firms

The mobilized sales force automation market will edge toward $4 billion by 2023 and systems integrators will serve as the main channel partner in that growing field.

A report from Frost & Sullivan, a market research firm based in Santa Clara, Calif., forecasts the North American mobile SFA market to grow at a compound annual rate of 15% over the next three years, reaching $3.68 billion from the current baseline of $1.83 billion. Mobile SFA offerings aim to support sales personnel in the field, letting sales teams access customer and product data through their smartphones and tablets.

The Frost & Sullivan report, released Jan. 14, examined distribution channels as well as general market trends. Jeanine Sterling, industry director, information and communication technologies, at Frost & Sullivan, cited systems integrators (SIs) as the key channel partner conduit for mobile sales force automation technology.

“Systems integrators remain the top channel partner at this time, bringing integration expertise, new geographic areas/regions, and upmarket prospects to the table,” she said. “SIs act as consultants and can work with businesses to customize SFA solutions to address the specific needs of their business customers.”

Vendors providing mobile SFA solutions range from mobile-oriented SFA specialists to larger vendors that provide mobile capabilities within broader product suites.

Sales force automation: Other routes to market

Other channel partners include resellers, which Sterling said “fill any voids the SFA provider is experiencing, usually in terms of needed geographic coverage or expertise regarding the needs of a specific industry.” A bit more than half of mobile SFA revenue originates with channel partners, she added.

Beyond channel partners, mobile sales force automation routes to market include application storefronts and direct sales.  Prospective customers of all sizes use application storefronts, which Sterling said are especially critical for reaching down-market buyers.

Sterling said she anticipates SIs, which target mid-sized and larger businesses, will remain the major channel partner driving SFA sales going forward. Integrators’ North American market share is expected to increase year-over-year while the share of SFA direct sales decreases slightly, she noted.

“Systems integrators tend to have embedded customer bases that are prime candidates for mobilized solutions, including SFA,” Sterling said.

Channel conflict for integration services?

Frost & Sullivan research points to considerable demand for integration services in the mobile SFA market.  Slightly more than a third of the respondents to the company’s Global Enterprise Digital Solutions Survey said their mobile SFA products need additional integration with other company systems. Sterling said that response indicates a “large revenue opportunity” for professional integration services.

SFA vendors are responding to market demand, “ensuring a high level of integration” with customers’ CRM systems, Sterling noted. Sales force automation vendors also have an opportunity to boost growth through monetizing their customization and integration services, she added.

But will systems integrators bump into SFA vendors providing similar services? Sterling said mobile SFA vendors, to date, “appear to have done a good, proactive job of avoiding serious conflicts around integration and customization services.” She said vendors have been able to select partners that address geographies and industries not already targets of their direct sales teams.

Vendor practices for avoiding future disputes include clearly defined channel-  partner strategies, careful evaluation of new partners and the use of sales team incentives that discourage channel conflict, according to Sterling.

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