Sales Productivity Secret: Automation Isn't Enough

About a year ago, venture capital investor Fred Wilson unleashed one of my favorite tweet storms. It was brief, but powerful.

Here it is:

Fred gets it. It is almost always faster in the long run to automate a mundane task, even though it requires an up-front investment in time to get the automation running smoothly. But again and again we choose to do these tasks manually.

Why? There are all sorts of reasons behind these choices. We underestimate how many times we'll repeat the task. We overestimate the amount of time it will take to establish an automated routine. We're on a tight deadline and there's just no time to think about anything but the task at hand.

Sometimes, we just don't know how to automate it in the first place.

Automation in Sales

This is especially true for sales teams. Think about it: how many SDRs know their way around a command-line interface, let alone have the basic programming chops to write a script automating a multistep task? How many sales managers do?

These little tasks add up. Tasks like the "Click-Edit-Save" cycle of updating a flurry of sales activity in the CRM, or scanning through a list of leads to catch and remove any dupes from an outbound campaign. Though small, over time these tasks drain the productivity of an otherwise fantastic sales team.

Most of the time, it's up to the sales manager to invest in automation tools that help a sales team make the most of their time. And it's also the manager's responsibility to make sure reps adopt these tools. They might protest. It can sometimes seems faster to do things manually than to take the time to learn a new system, or piece of software.

But it works. Look at auto dialers as an example: If it takes an average of 6 seconds to dial a 10-digit number, a sales rep is spending 10 minutes just pressing numbers on a phone for every 100 calls made. If a rep is making more than 100 calls a day, that adds up to more than an hour a week.

Persistence and the Human Element

Still, it's critical not to automate too much of the process. If the entire sales cycle could be done automatically, you wouldn't need reps at all. The trick is to automate the tasks where time is really being wasted, then reallocate that time to tasks where it can add the most value like research, strategy and personalization.

We know there are two key ingredients that make salespeople successful. The first is persistence wins. Too often, sales reps stop following up after 2 or 3 attempts, whether because they forget to, they don’t think it’s necessary, or they’re just lazy. But there are numerous studies that show deals closer after 7 or more touches.

The second truth is personalization is extremely effective. The thing that sets a great salesperson aside from the average salesperson is their ability to connect with people at a deep level. We can all tell when someone is being genuine and when someone is faking it.

Automation helps reps with the first ingredient. Deliberate and focused attention helps rep with the second ingredient.

The Sales Reps’ Dilemma

And therein lies the dilemma -- how do you balance automation with personalization?

Automating too much of the process can actually set you back in terms of productivity. If the ultimate goal is to close deals and increase revenue, some interactions require a level of personal attention that automation can't (and very often shouldn’t) provide. If sales reps are using an automated marketing solution and it sends a follow-up email that says "Hey - haven't heard from you in a while" to a prospect that's about to close, it could torpedo the deal.

Mistakes like those can be hard for a machine to spot but easy for a human to catch. A computer won’t know if a sales rep bumped into a prospect at a conference, or just received a Twitter DM with a commitment to buy. By maintaining a human layer on top of the automation, sales teams can avoid embarrassment, reduce errors and close more deals.

Personal relationships take time and patience to nurture. Good email templates don't write themselves. You can't just type "stakeholders at {Prospect Company Name}" into Google and find a list of everyone you need to win over to close a deal (though it's worth trying).

When you find the right balance between personalization and automation, that’s when you can truly achieve maximum effectiveness and efficiency as a sales rep. And that is at the core of why we built PersistIQ.

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