Sales Best Practices

Sales Force Automation (SFA) vs. CRM vs. Sales Engagement Platform: What's the Difference?

Audrey Weber's Avatar

Audrey Weber

Associate Content Editor

What is Sales Force Automation (SFA)?

As its name suggests, Sales Force Automation (SFA) is a type of software used almost exclusively by sales teams to optimize workflows, standardize selling activities, and automate repetitive tasks in the sales process. These activities and tasks include lead generation, contact management, prospecting, forecasting, and sales performance analytics.

Function: By providing visibility and system to selling activities, SFA solutions can accelerate sales cycles, increase revenue, and improve process efficiencies. Many SFAs automate manual tasks such as updating customer data in the CRM and preparing reports, which gives sales professionals more time to perform high-value tasks.

Popular products: LiveHive, Sales Hub (HubSpot), LeadFuze

While there are turnkey SFA products in the market (often packaged as expanded capabilities or as third-party add-ons for CRM platforms), some sales organizations choose to use custom solutions.

What is a CRM?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems record and analyze company interactions with current and potential customers, including all relevant data associated with those interactions. A baseline technology for organizations with significant customer-facing operations, CRM software collects and updates customer data throughout the entire customer life cycle, providing a unified version and centralizing all data in a single location.

Function: A CRM aims to enhance customer relationships, drive customer retention, and improve sales performance. It processes customer information across different channels and touchpoints (including corporate websites, email/phone correspondence, industry news, and social media), synchronizes customer information, and facilitates smooth customer experiences. This software provides valuable intel about customers such as their purchase preferences and interaction history.

Popular products: Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics

Sales, marketing, customer service, and other business units uses the CRM’s synchronized data to learn more about customers, analyze their buying behavior, and efficiently meet their needs.

What is a Sales Engagement Platform (SEP)?

A Sales Engagement Platform (SEP) is a software solution that optimizes workflows across the sales cycle. SEPs integrate with CRM, Marketing Automation, email client, call, business intelligence, content management, and other systems to automate administrative processes and make selling tasks easier and faster.

Function: An SEP enables sellers to accelerate the sales cycle and increase revenue. It improves the quality of customer interactions by improving the efficiency of sales activities and the impact of sales communications. Used by sales professionals on a daily basis, SEPs optimize call scripts, email templates, and other messaging assets to make stronger connections with prospects.

Popular products: Outreach, Groove, ClearSlide

Advanced SEPs use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and A/B testing to help sellers achieve high personalization and relevance in their communication with prospects. These SEPs also enable teams to automate multi-channel sequences and to track and analyze outcomes at every touchpoint to improve overall sales performance.

Need a Sales Engagement Platform?

Yes, desperately!

CRM vs. SFA vs. SEP

So, what’s the difference between these three technologies?

Customer relationship management (CRM), sales force automation (SFA), and sales engagement platform (SEP) solutions might share several attributes — such as the overarching goal of improving process efficiencies and sales performance — but they perform entirely different functions within your organization.

CRMs are typically used by all customer-facing teams including sales, marketing, customer success, billing, technical support, and customer care. They aim to provide a synchronized and singular system of record for all relevant data across the entire customer life cycle.

SFAs are used almost exclusively by sales professionals. They usually sit on top of CRMs and aim to accelerate workflows, optimize pipelines, and drive productivity by automating administrative and repetitive tasks. They also tend to focus on the early stages of the sales process such as lead generation and prospecting.

On the other hand, SEPs serve as a bridge between marketing and sales because customer engagement and communications are central to SEP design and purpose. They integrate with the CRM and provide a central place for sales teams to plan sequences, execute playbooks, and analyze customer interactions across all communication channels from email and phone calls to live chat and social media.

CRMs, SFAs, and SEPs are crucial business tools that complement each other and should always be present in any modern company’s tech stack.

Get the physical book on Sales Engagement

Grab My Copy