For many companies, sales automation means installing software on traveling salespeople's laptop computers. But at Lori Sweningson's JobBOSS Software, technology brought the sales force home.

For most of its nine-year history, Sweningson's Minneapolis company sold its shop-floor-management software the old-fashioned way: through informational seminars and visits to small metalworking companies. Now, with the help of mundane technology, sales efforts at the $5-million company are back in the home office, and Sweningson says productivity is up.

Since last summer JobBOSS has been making its sales -- which average about $14,000 each -- over the phone. When a salesperson in Minneapolis and a job-shop owner anyplace in the country converse, the salesperson types information about the potential customer's organizational structure into a computer. After the phone call ends, the salesperson faxes the organizational description and an accompanying sketch to the prospect. With that fax, the salesperson can immediately demonstrate that he or she has understood the customer's needs. The salesperson is then in a good position to suggest ways that JobBOSS's product could help.

If the prospect wants a software demonstration, that too takes place over the phone. During the conversation, the salesperson in Minneapolis gives a demo with the help of Close-up (from Norton-Lambert; the list price is $199, but the package is available for $120 to $125), a software package that allows remote control of a far-off PC through a modem connection. That way the salesperson can demonstrate JobBOSS's software on the prospect's screen while describing each step over the phone. (JobBOSS lends modems to customers when necessary.)

By reducing travel, the new system increases sales productivity and decreases costs, Sweningson reports. Between April and October of last year, JobBOSS saw its sales staff's productivity increase 45%, which helped to boost company revenues per employee by 23%. Meanwhile, Sweningson says, the length of the average sales cycle has shortened, from 5.2 months to 3.1 months.

However, all that change has not been without pain. Sweningson regrets that she implemented the changes using a consultant, who, she says, alienated many of her salespeople by not communicating adequately. As a result JobBOSS experienced sales-force turnover approaching 50% during the transition: 4 members of the 14-person sales staff quit, and another 2 were let go. "It really taught me a lesson about how tenuous loyalty is," Sweningson says. "I should have stayed much closer to the sales force, because I was the person they trusted." She is nonetheless pleased with the results of the new system, if not with its implementation. Her advice to other entrepreneurs contemplating radical reengineering? Be patient with your people. "The results have been really, really good," she says. "But we caused agony in going through the process."