Automation has transformed the way consumers interface with companies that sell the products and services they need. This has made the sales pipeline feel like a sales escalator—prospects step on and let the automated process carry them to the destination, seemingly without any human intervention at all. However, human beings are still the lynchpin of the whole sales process. Learn how to keep your human touch as your company adopts more sales automation tools and technology.
How can we keep the “person” in “salesperson?”
We’ve entered the Sales Automation Age, an era that has increasingly put the most tedious and inefficient aspects of the sales pipeline on autopilot. Humans will always be the drivers behind the sales process, but machine conveniences sometimes feel like they could take the all-important human touch out of the customer experience.
All business interactivity is trending towards streamlined solutions that make our jobs easier by taking over the repetitive parts. For example, IBM predicts that 85% of all customer service interactions by 2020 will use automation. Automated checkouts mean the cashier supervises the machine rather than manually checking you out at many grocery stores (or even some restaurants). While efficient for the employees, we risk making things feel less human to customers when they only need to interact with one side of a computer screen, and the employees stick to the other side.
AI and computer learning are at the heart of this revolution. Sales automation tools have transformed the e-commerce experience so that a website can chat with you when you enter, show you what you want with a direct verbal query, and drop the price when you’re about to walk away. With automation like this, a stranger can become a visitor, a lead, a customer, an advocate—all without talking to a single human.
While Hollywood movies have programmed us to expect AI and automated systems to be our downfall, the reality is that sales automation is NOT an army of mindless androids bent on world domination. Instead, it’s more like C-3PO filtering and processing mundane data so that Jedi salespeople can get away from their desks and spend more time using the Force. Automation is ultimately an opportunity to be more human because you can:
- Give the monotonous tasks to the robots
- Focus human efforts on human aspects
- Do more personalization, with better data targeting
Still, as valuable as automation can be in the sales and marketing processes, you never want to lose your human touch. Here are four steps that will help you keep the “person” in “salesperson.”
Step One: Eye on the Prize
Sales automation is not about erasing humans from the equation, but rather, about improving their efficiency. The 3 primary goals of an automated system are to create.
- TIME: Cut down on the resources you need to devote to time-consuming low-level routines. Automating them saves time.
- ORGANIZATION: Streamline and double-check your workflow. Automated oversight/reminders make sure details aren’t lost and goals are clear.
- VALUE: Direct your efforts to your best shots at success. Automation uses algorithms to flag your best leads and smart tools to engage them at the optimal time.
A landing page that gathers contact information as a gateway to an eBook or whitepaper can feed the profile into a database. Sales automation tools can use this database to continue outreach through automated emails personalized to your visitors, draw them back with deals, and continue to track their activity and purchases on your website. All of that takes no record-keeping on your part—only the time to set up the system.
Meanwhile, smart notifications in a tool like HubSpot Sales Pro can track leads who fit your highest-conversion age/location/purchase history demographics and send your sales team reminders top-of-inbox reminders to engage with them at key moments in the sales cycle. The initial investment in automation helps you create extra time and value in the same way that a calculator spares you from penciling long division or a whale watching trip brings you straight to the hot spots.
Remember Sales’ Niche
Sales automation’s niche is different from marketing automation (like Hubspot’s “workflows” tool) because they have different priorities. Marketing automation is meant to create demand, get out a message, reach potential demographic “personas,” and convert strangers into visitors and visitors into leads. In contrast, sales automation is meant to learn who a visitor is, target individual prospects in your contacts list, and personalize itself to their needs.
For example, marketing automation software could automatically send follow-up emails to leads who sign up for your newsletter. This kind of automation is meant to broadcast info to encourage engagement and awareness.
In a sales automation process, however, you’re trying to see the trees apart from the forest. Tools (like a well-integrated CRM) should help you gather research on each lead and then trigger and deploy a series of touchpoints customized to facilitate that lead’s conversion into a customer.
Here’s where the human element comes back in (hint: that’s you).
Step Two: Upserve > Upsell
Sales will always revolve around humans, but your role is changing. Instead of operating as the dominant right hand, you’ve become the brains of the operation: a facilitator more than a trooper on the front lines.
Technology has blurred the lines between marketing, customer service, and sales because customers are the ones with all of the power in the digital age. The salesperson of today must “upserve” rather than “upsell.” How can you best serve an informed customer and help them to be successful with the most accessible, satisfying, approachable experience? Automation helps you find the answer.
In the time before information was so easily accessible to customers, a car salesman might have been expected to:
- Speak. Tell them a lot about the car.
- Engage. Go through a “script” or demonstration to show the features and advantages of a particular model.
- Be the expert. You might even “talk up” or oversell to close a deal.
- Sell the product. Position the car against its competitors based upon its exclusive features.
Nowadays, customers arrive with research and info at their fingertips, and what they want most is for you to:
- Listen. Ask if they have any specific questions about the car. They’ll tell you what they need.
- Help. Offer to help them investigate features they likely researched before arriving.
- Be a resource. Clarify anything that confuses them, but assume they have the facts available.
- Sell the culture. Communicate what the car feels like, represents, or connotes through the way it is displayed and marketed.
This gradual shift has positioned sales as a softer process where superior service has a much higher impact than a superior pitch. The knowledgeable customer wants you to be make their experience easy with responsive and efficient access to only what they need, only when they need it.
Automation can help with this. Kiosks on the sales floor can offer touch-screen access to desired information, websites can show products the visitor has previously searched first, and workflow automation can do the bookkeeping so that your humans have more time for high-value 1-on-1s with customers that want help.
Good Data = Good Service
To upserve an inbound digital customer, you’ve got to know who they are and present them with a unique experience that automatically shifts to match their demographic and unique needs. This is what real salespeople would do during an in-person pitch.
When you take naturally charismatic and emotionally intelligent salespeople and plop them into an impersonal online world, you lose a lot of what makes them special. Online, your five senses can’t innately perceive subtle physical cues that normally help you adjust to a conversational partner in a real conversation—or adjust your sales dialogue to the customer, in this case. That’s where automation comes in.
Sales automation tools can pick up the slack and help those salespeople do what they do best — figure people out quickly and personalize the sale. The data gathered in automation can provide a salesperson with useful customer data, demographics, preferences, visit frequency, and more. Data might show that the customer has recently done a lot of research on sporting equipment, works at a gym, has a master’s degree, is 25-30, and lives in an upscale neighborhood just outside Boston.
This info helps a representative on a live chat to better know the customer without looking or asking, and enables a website’s automated elements to tailor the experience to the customer’s location and interests.
Data is a pillar of inbound methodology, which remains the dominant success model and informs the needs of sales automation. In many ways, integrating automation into your processes is a key step in sales and marketing alignment, as the data gathered this way is also easy to share between teams. Incidentally, superior alignment will also help you achieve superior service.
Step Three: Less Is More
Sales automation is there to maximize your time and reduce wasted effort. Today’s salespeople have to do less footwork, and automation allows them to do their jobs better than ever before.
Make Every Interaction Count
You’ve got finite resources and time, but so does the customer. With this in mind, you can imagine why hour-long demos and cold-call pitches often turn potential buyers away.
On the other hand, scattershot sales tactics like cold-calling carpet bombs are also inefficient. They’re akin to splattering paint on the wall to see what sticks. You waste a lot of paint. With inbound marketing and sales automation at your disposal, these strategies aren’t necessary anymore.
Let your sales automation tools hone in on only the highest quality leads who are most ready for your direct human intervention. You want every interaction you have with a customer to be meaningful, so your time and technology is best spent on the highest-impact elements of the inbound sales process.
You’ll make every interaction count if you...
- Provide a superior customer experience
- Instant chatbot responses combined with easy live chat access will offer exceptional speed and quality of responsiveness
- Automate your data gathering to provide reps with the resources to be knowledgeable, personalized helpers
- Make the first moment on your website tailored and relevant to the visitor with responsive data
- Eliminate drop-off points
- Step in with live chat if someone is lingering on your website or visiting repeatedly
- Send automated reminders or discount offers to visitors who opened a shopping cart or started filling out a form, but never converted.
- Retain previous buyers
- Generate personalized renewal prompts or in-app notifications right before a subscription is going to run out, or when a product they’ve bought before goes on sale
- Automatically offer setup services immediately after a purchase
- Send automated incentives like referral bonuses to your most loyal customers.
You can’t personally communicate with every lead. Instead, use a balanced automation strategy that maximizes the one-on-one communication that sales-ready leads prefer (over mechanical auto-responses), minimizes the time you spend on each lead, and persists long enough to convert leads who need more time to develop.
Let’s sketch it out:
→Reach out personally, quickly, on the first touch point. If they respond, engage. If not…
→Drop them into a sequence of three or four automated follow-up emails. If they respond…
→Bring a salesperson back into the mix and engage personally again.
This will keep your time investment minimal, follow-ups efficient, and focus your human connections on the highest probability moments for conversion.
Step Four: Keep It Real
When you do connect, it’s important to make the difference between automated layers and human layers as indistinguishable as possible for a frictionless experience. Sales automation should maximize the customer’s time so that the sales process feels effortless, responsive, and comfortably human. Here’s how you can do that:
Show Your Personality
An authentic voice is vital to sales automation. People buy from people, which means that your automation can only be as good as the sales content you dress it up with.
“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” — Leo Burnett
Consider that your automated messages will probably be the first impression you leave potential customers with. A well-designed 404 page or seemingly self-aware chatbot can make the automation feel organic and help your customers engage with it easier. If your live chat has a photo of the representative, this feels more personal. Give your bot a humorous name to add some charm to an otherwise expressionless element.
The same way that sales are both science and art, your sales automation tools have got to combine data collection with human resonance. This is a tough balance to strike. You want contact forms and templates to have personality, but you can't sacrifice the efficiency and ease that is the point of automation.
You don’t need your automated system to expand a conversation with human-like commentary on the weather. A bot can serve up rich and relevant content based upon an individual customer’s goals, with just a few flashes of identity and voice (“Hi there” instead of “Hello”) to keep it real.
React in Real Time
To “upserve” your customer, you’ve got to stay attuned to the times that a sequence of automated interactions will be most helpful, and when it won’t. Sometimes, people just want to talk to people. On the other hand, automation can provide the immediate gratification expected by today’s customers with an instantaneous and versatile response.
For instance, you can use a chatbot for always-on, always-ready, 1-to-1 interactivity—no matter how busy your sales representatives are with other tasks or customers. This can reduce your customer service costs by 30% even as it increases engagement.
However, this can be a double-edged sword. A chatbot is a tool to help you supervise visitors in real time and respond immediately, quickly, and efficiently, but not everyone wants to stay in a phone tree FAQ. As a result, you need prominent “get out” points so that the lead can easily reach an actual human if they choose to.
Maybe a curious customer engages your chatbot with a highly specific question the bot isn’t programmed to understand: “If I buy the premium model on Black Friday and combine it with a birthday coupon, but my friend wants to return the gift, how much money will she get back?”
The chatbot might offer a list of potentially-related topics to choose from (based on keywords in the message):
- Features of premium model
- Black Friday deals
- How to use a coupon code
- How to make a return
It’s possible that none of these are exactly on target… This is where the customer will really appreciate an extra sentence that says: “If these aren’t what you’re looking for, click here and a live representative will be happy to chat with you right away.”
Or, instead of a fully automated chatbot, you could use automated prompts for live chats after a visitor stays on a page for a set period of time or reaches the halfway point. This isn’t unlike a salesperson in a brick-and-mortar store coming over to gently ask if you need any help.
You don’t want to hard sell as soon as someone hits the page...but a third visit to the pricing section or five minutes on a landing page might signal an opening. Real-time engagement also needs to be at the right time.
Automation is at its best when it mixes carefully catered AI with actual human input. There are plenty of other sales automation tools available to simplify your process and free up salespeople for quick response times. Use your automation to increase reaction speed and funnel leads to real people—on demand.
“I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.” — Warren Buffet
People like things to be easy. Automating your sales process should make conversion natural, put the customer through fewer hoops, and offer a more catered experience from the get-go.
When you track repeat customers, you can encourage retention and adoption by making their experience faster the second time around. Automate shortcuts into your process for people who have been around the block with you before. Provide pared-down information with a narrower focus to leads that fit a specific persona so that what they really care about is most accessible.
This is what feels most human in automation. The same way a waitress remembers the orders of her regulars, a teacher skips over the parts you already know, and a car salesman won’t bother taking a high roller through the “gently used” sedans.
CONCLUSION: You Rule the Tool
Sales automation tools exist to give you more power. Judicious use will optimize your processes and create better opportunities for human contact, but not even the best and brightest tools can replace human leadership.
As a result, you should constantly evaluate and refine your automated processes —they’re not “set and forget” solutions. Like any robot, sales automation tools need maintenance and upkeep, and will only be as human as the input of the humans that rule it.
Deploy automation to strip away mindless tedium, empower you with real-time data, and augment the humanity of your sales process. It’s not a crutch, it’s a stepping stone for future successes and a bridge into a brighter future for you, your company, and all of your customers.