Take a peek under the hood of pretty much any company, and you’ll find automation. Sales, marketing, HR, and more are tackling routine tasks with the help of AI.
To a degree greater than other domains, though, sales is about relationships. Should companies really be putting person-to-person work — work that’s responsible for their revenue, no less — in the hands of algorithms?
The truth is that automation and personalization go hand in hand. Tech can take those tedious, tracking-type tasks off salespeople’s hands, giving them more space to do the relationship-building work they do best.
To automate without losing the personal touch:
1. Start with your customer’s job.
Who really hates performing the same action over and over? Your prospects. Choosing between competing solutions means comparing features, scheduling demos, and haggling over contract details.
Take those tasks off buyers’ shoulders when you can. UX consultancy Nielsen-Norman Group recommends starting with product comparison tables because they create trust and are easy to build. Showing customers exactly how your product stacks up against competitors’ produces a sense of consideration and transparency.
2. Know which touchpoints not to touch.
Sales communications are trickier to automate than parts of the buyer’s journey that customers manage themselves. Before automating them, talk to your team about “moment of truth” touchpoints.
Two typical “human required” touchpoints are the first conversation and the contract signature call, but where others lie depends on your product and sales processes. These crucial interactions have a big impact on a buyer’s decision and should be left to the pros (i.e., your sales team).
Touchpoints that are less connected to the customer’s decision are good candidates for automation. Leads don’t care whether you clacked the keys yourself to send that “Checking back in” message.
3. Personalize automated messages according to funnel position.
With the right software and setup, automation can actually improve personalization rather than impede it. Personalization shows that you understand your prospect and where he is in the buying journey.
CRM tool FullContact uses an identity graph to visually plot how communications should be personalized by funnel progress. For prospects in the consideration stage, for instance, you might use drip emails that describe the results a prospect can expect from the product. After the purchase, though, your email promotions and newsletter should include advocacy suggestions.
4. Watch for ‘human’ signals.
Don’t just use lead scoring to determine the order in which your sales team should reach out to leads; use it to plan which ones get the most personal attention.
Job attributes, demographics, and frequency of activity should all go into your lead-scoring model. What should dictate the amount of personal attention you provide, however, is how those people interact with you. Someone who emails the sales team directly expects more human communication than, say, a person who downloads whitepapers or adds something to his cart.
Set up automatic notifications in your CRM system so the sales team can reach out when a prospect takes a “human” action, like emailing or requesting a callback. The prospect will appreciate that you took his preferences into account.
5. Automate only what you’d want automated.
When workflow automation first gained steam, management consultancy McKinsey & Company warned companies to optimize journeys, not touchpoints. Many salespeople took precisely the wrong message from that statement: They added more touchpoints, assuming it would make prospects feel more “supported.”
The trouble is that adding more touchpoints pressures companies to automate more of them. Journey optimization isn’t about automating more touchpoints, but about automating the right ones. For example, workflow automation can work well for cold outreach. On the other side, an automated email may not be best after an important conversation with a lead.
Customers can tell when companies try to pass off chatbots as real people and automated emails as personally written ones. Automate touchpoints that prospects expect to be accomplished by an algorithm, such as content suggestions and follow-up messages, not everything from start to sale.
Whichever processes and touchpoints you choose to automate, make sure prospects can always reach a real person. Provide transparent opt-out opportunities, and respect their communication preferences. Done well, sales automation benefits everyone; it’s when companies treat it as a replacement for the human touch that nobody wins.