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The Danger of Too Much Automation in Sales

July 23, 2015 · Jeremy Boudinet · 5 Minute Read

This post is by PersistIQ Head of Growth Brandon Redinger. 

Automation in sales is a bit of an oxymoron. Because when you really boil it down, there's a critical human element to sales that defies automation. A great salesperson knows what to say, at the right time, to the right person and can deliver that message in a way that's most likely to be well received. Automate too much of the process, and that human element can get lost.

Trish Bertuzzi, President and Chief Strategist at The Bridge Group, Inc., emphasized this point in a recent interview on the MDI Podcast, saying, “We are automating the human [element] out of the sales process.”

When this happens, at best you and your company will be embarrassed. At worst, you will lose business and do irreparable harm to your brand. Imagine this scenario:

You've spent hours researching a list of prospects. You dump their email addresses into an automated email marketing tool and set up a thoughtful drip campaign with multiple touches. You hit "go" and watch the open rates and responses start to tick up over time. Great work! You give yourself a pat on the back because you deserve it.

Then at a conference later that month, you run into one of your prospects. She says something like: "Sorry I never responded to your email, but I'm actually kicking the tires on a few similar products right now. Yours looks like it might be just what I need. When can I see a demo?"  

You schedule the demo and give yourself another pat on the back. That night (you're not sending all your emails during business hours are you?), the next batch of of your drip campaign automatically goes out. Because you did your homework, it mentions a recent milestone reached by each target company and suggests maybe that's the reason the prospects still in your campaign haven't had a chance to respond. The prospect you just ran into and scheduled a demo with gets one. She responds immediately: "I thought we already booked this? What gives?"

You apologize, but the damage has been done. You look disorganized and unprofessional -- definitely not the image you want to present.

But let's be honest: automation is amazing. Thanks to the work of thoughtful product designers and engineers, sales teams have access to affordable tools that make the work of promoting and selling our own products easier, more efficient and more profitable. If you're at all new to sales, you have no idea how far the technology has come. Leads used to be typed or handwritten on index cards. That was the standard. And though it remains the basis of modern CRM solutions, it was a labor-intensive and tedious process. (For a deeper dive into the history of sales tactics, check out this excellent post on Aaron Ross's Predictable Revenue blog.)

Some might say, mistakes like the one described above are a small price to pay for the convenience and increased productivity that these automated selling tools allow. But that's a short-sighted, deal-jeopardizing view.

But not everything needs to be automated. In fact taking a step back and occasionally introducing a human gate to automated processes can reduce errors, avoid embarrassment and increase conversion rates.

There's no question that automating the right parts of the sales process can lead to huge benefits. Reinvest the time you save in tasks that don't lend themselves as well automation. This was the core of our beliefs when we built PersistIQ.

Spend time with your list of prospects. Figure out who to contact first, and what to say. This kind of planning will help you stand out from competitors. Plus, you've already done the research on your accounts, so put it to good use.

Finding the right words takes time. Jill Konrath calls it "a constant process of iteration." Yes, computers are very good at iterating, but not in a way that is going to help you come up with the right message. Incorporate feedback you get -- during mock calls, from your analytics -- into every communication. Get creative. If you're doing the automation right, you'll have the time.

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