If you’re like most businesses, your sales reps are often failing to connect with potential buyers at the right time. This is not because they are lazy or unmotivated — on the contrary, it is likely because they are overloaded with work. The only problem is, they’re working on the wrong things. Most of the work they’re spending time on, such as writing and storing notes about leads, scheduling calls, setting follow-up reminders or entering data, is low-value compared to the value of time spent conversing directly with customers.
Using automation to facilitate these important interactions with potential customers can have a significant, positive effect on connection rates, conversion rates, and even your overall revenue. Although you might object to the concept of automating your sales process on the grounds that it is less human, irritating for leads, a distraction from building sales skills, a recipe for more dropped balls, or even something that you just don’t think your business is ready for yet — ultimately, none of these objections hold water.
Sales force automation solves the biggest challenges facing sales teams today and, with the technology in place, your efforts to turn leads into customers will see greater success.
The Biggest Challenge for Modern Sales Teams: Consistent Follow-Up
The majority of marketing leads — 79%, in fact — never turn into sales. It’s tempting to place the blame on marketing for this. After all, how is your sales team supposed to convert poor quality leads into customers? However, data shows that sales is equally responsible for this dismal conversion rate: 50% of marketing leads receive no follow-up from sales and 44% of salespeople give up after one attempt at follow-up with a lead, even though 80% of sales require five follow-ups after the initial contact.
Drift recently conducted an experiment to measure the average sales response times of 433 companies. They found that only 7% of companies responded within five minutes, and a whopping 55% of companies did not even respond after five business days. This is especially problematic considering that slow (or nonexistent) response times have a massive cost. Sales teams who connect with leads within an hour are seven times likelier to have a quality conversation than those who wait any longer. They are 60 times more likely to succeed than those who waited more than 24 hours. This is an opportunity cost that you cannot afford to ignore.
Want to Solve the Problem? Automate Your Sales Process.
Automating portions of the sales process can save sales reps’ valuable time and ensure that timely follow-up occurs consistently. Sales force automation technology automates many of the interactions with the leads in your sales pipeline. This might include automatically sending them an email with follow-up information when they submit an inquiry on your website, creating tasks to notify your team to call or email a lead immediately, automatically routing incoming leads to distribute them between your team for better response times, or even assigning a lead score that quickly shows your team how qualified each prospect is so they can focus on the best ones first.
Sales force automation eliminates or reduces time spent on ineffective prospecting, data entry, call scheduling, or administration by handling basic tasks for your team so they can focus on conversations with leads.
For example, with lead scoring in place, your team will no longer have to do extensive research to figure out who they should call and when. Lead routing makes it possible to automatically assign leads to different people on your team for follow-up, reducing first response time and sending leads to the right person immediately. Also, automated email funnels that nurture your cold leads will send more hot leads your way over time. Overall, automating your sales process can produce serious ROI for your business.
By using automation to nurture leads, you can significantly improve your company’s revenue, since nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads. Although 65% of companies haven’t established lead nurturing, those who do emphasize it (that means consistent follow-up for leads at every point along the buyer’s journey) generate 50% more sales leads at a 33% lower cost per lead. This also leads to gains in revenue.
Companies who invest in automation can see up to 70% faster sales cycle times, and a 54% improvement in meeting sales goals. When businesses align their sales and marketing lead generation efforts, which involves using automation to escort leads generated by marketing throughout the sales cycle, it can lead to massive gains in revenue. In one study by CSO Insights, 89% of companies who aligned sales and marketing saw increases.
Success stories abound in businesses who have revolutionized their team’s efficiency using sales force automation. For example, Basic Bananas, Australia’s leading marketing education organization, used ONTRAPORT, an all-in-one automation platform, to streamline many of the menial tasks their team was spending time on so that they could focus on tasks with a bigger impact. They say, “Menial tasks are automated within ONTRAPORT, so our team spends their time working on the most meaningful tasks, which make the biggest impact and has the most fulfilling outcome.”
With so much promising data to suggest that automating the sales process can lead to faster customer acquisition and growing revenue, why are so few companies investing in it? Even of those who do have some sort of automation in place, most companies are still under-using it, failing to invest time and resources into fully automating the sales process.
There are several reasons why entrepreneurs, managers and sales teams still hesitate to fully embrace sales force automation technology.
Objection 1: Robots Can’t Build Relationships.
Many still believe that automation technology is inherently cold, inauthentic and impersonal, especially sales technology that takes advantage of artificial intelligence to manage and personalize interactions with leads.
As Steli Efti of Close.io puts it, “… people crave human interaction. Even when you’re just emailing back and forth, you instinctively picture another person reading your messages. The possibility of an AI writing back is jarring because it interrupts that natural, sub-conscious thought process. … Despite AI’s growing popularity, many people still find it unsettling — especially salespeople.”
Any talented salesperson will tell you that sales is about relationships. Getting to know the prospects on a personal level and taking the time to connect with them personally will win their trust, maximizing the odds of a successful sale. To many, the idea of automating any of those communications seems like a disaster because it would remove the human element of sales.
“Robots aren’t buying your product, so they sure as hell shouldn’t be selling it. Who makes purchasing decisions? People. And until that changes, you’ll need people to close deals,” Efti said.
You might also worry that by automating crucial interactions with leads, you and your team could miss out on insights about your customers and their needs that can only come from interacting directly with them. Every time you pick up the phone and get on a call with a lead and customer, you have the opportunity to learn something new about their pain points, their objections to your product, or even reasons they may choose to buy from a competitor. If instead, you automate all your interactions with leads and customers, this seems to risk the loss of valuable lead intelligence.
Response: Let Robots Do What They Do Best, And Let Your Team Spend More Time With Leads.
By automating the most simple and predictable tasks that you or your team spend time on, you can actually create more valuable, personal connections between your brand and your clients than if you performed all follow-up manually and individually, and more opportunities to learn from your leads.
Sales force automation, when approached thoughtfully and intentionally, can actually lead to a higher number of human-to-human interactions and maximize the quality of those conversations as well.
Sales force automation is designed to lift that burden so they can leverage their time to spend more of their day speaking directly with leads and customers. According to a 2017 study by HubSpot, the average salesperson spends only 34% of their time selling directly to leads. So what are they doing with the other 66% of their time? They are writing emails (21%), performing data entry tasks (17%) and prospecting for leads (17%). These are all tasks that can be done in less time using one crucial technology: automation.
Using automation to facilitate more interactions with leads paves the way for more quality, human-to-human interactions between you and your customers. A good sales force automation strategy shouldn’t focus on eliminating all direct conversations with leads. On the contrary, the primary aim of implementing sales force automation should be to handle the least productive and most repetitive tasks that take up your time (and your team’s time) so you can have more quality conversations with the prospects and learn from what they share with you.
Even if you could use sales force automation to attempt to replace human sales reps (which is now nearly possible with chatbots and AI technology), that doesn’t mean you should. People crave human interaction, and by using technology to make room for more of it, you can close more sales.
By providing each lead with personal attention and customizing the sales experience based on their preferences, you’ll also start off the relationship with future customers on the right foot. This means you’ll have an easier time retaining them, fewer complaints and refunds, and a higher customer lifetime value overall.
Objection 2: Automation Will Irritate My Leads.
Right now, you might be thinking, “OK, so even if sales force automation can make more time for selling, that doesn’t mean that the interactions it does manage will go well. Why should I trust an automated system to be sensitive to what my prospects need? If anything, it seems like an automated system might end up irritating them.”
This is an understandable concern. Especially because this is what most automated sales funnels look like: an unrelenting stream of tone-deaf emails imploring the recipient to make “time for a quick chat” or answer a “quick question.” This kind of pressure often doesn’t match up with the level of interest the recipient has previously displayed. It’s not uncommon to see sales reps reach out over and over again to begin a sales conversation with someone who just wanted to download a free white paper but has no interest in buying anything.
In an article scathingly titled “Sales Automation: A Race to the Bottom,” Daniel Barber points out, “… the spray and pray (read: linear) model doesn’t quantify the value that leaks out of your figurative bucket from irritated or unengaged buyers. Traditional funnel marketing relies on a linear buying process, and yet marketers and sales leaders continue to use this method to push buyers into customers.”
Response: You Might Already Be Irritating Leads. Automation Can Help.
Sales force automation that is unresponsive to lead and customer preferences will certainly have a damaging effect on your brand’s reputation. However, the “spray and pray” model is the exact opposite of what effective sales force automation should do. One of the best parts of an automated sales funnel is that it allows you to create personalized, dynamic experiences for every individual contact you touch.
An automated sales funnel that mindlessly sends out follow-up emails to everyone on repeat, regardless of their stated preferences or behaviors displayed, would be not only a waste of time and money, but also an active harm to your business’s reputation. This goes against everything that sales force automation stands for.
With today’s sales force automation technology, you can customize the messages your leads receive based on specific actions they’ve taken, questions they’ve asked, or demographic data. This means you can ensure that contacts only receive emails with information that is truly helpful to them and that you will avoid annoying contacts who are not ready to make a buying decision. Using automation technology to customize these communications is actually far more efficient than having an individual from your team manage all of it. An automated system can track all of your contact’s preferences far more efficiently than any individual person can.
Although the level of sensitivity built into your automated sales funnels may never surpass that of a human intuition, when you automate your follow-up you can guarantee that it will be executed according to your specifications every time.
Objection 3: It’s a Distraction From What Really Matters: Developing Sales Skills.
Another worry that many entrepreneurs and sales managers share is that the current focus on sales force automation is diverting attention away from an important priority: training their teams to improve their skills. They argue that by automating basic sales functions like timely follow-up, lead nurturing, and lead scoring, they are neglecting to invest in their team by teaching them to perform those important tasks.
Here’s how Nick Persico, also from Close.io, puts it: “Don’t get me wrong, shiny new sales tools are fun and exciting … But the point is that these tools pull us into an obsession with automating or hacking a part of our sales process. They distract us from what we should be doing, and that’s focusing on training your sales team to get better at their craft.”
Essentially, the argument is that by placing an emphasis on automating everything, leaders are failing their teams. Sales reps need to have their skills sharpened constantly, and the opportunity to manage their own pipelines and be accountable for follow-up is a crucial part of learning. Persico goes on to say, “This perspective has caused a lot of CEOs and their sales managers to spend the majority of their time automating sales processes. While in reality, they should be training their team to become better salespeople. That’s who will close the deal at the end of the day.” Ultimately, this approach could lead to a poorly trained sales team and disappointing sales numbers.
This worry becomes especially alarming given the recent attention that Artificial Intelligence in sales has been earning — if sales teams become overly reliant on technology to do their jobs for them, what’s stopping it from making human sales reps completely obsolete?
Response: Sales Force Automation + Quality Sales Training = Success.
Sales force automation still deserves a place on every healthy sales team because it allows individuals to be more successful in their given roles. It should not reduce their responsibilities or their understanding of the sales funnel. Rather, it should be a tool for them to maximize their reach and build stronger relationships with leads and customers.
Improving your consistency and defining the correct process for each situation with sales force automation will make it easier to train new people, measure trends in your performance over time, and optimize your best practices for a consistently high conversion rate.
Even with sales force automation in place, you can and should still train your team. Actually, the technology can make training your team easier. Instead of placing your focus on making their follow-up more consistent and handling scheduling and administrative tasks more efficiently, you can focus on how to actually perform an effective sales call or conversation because that’s the part where humans shine. Sales force automation opens up time for your team to master these conversations because they’ll be spending less time on admin tasks and more time on the phone.
Sales force automation can also reveal which sales strategies are the most effective, allowing you to train your team on what works best. By automating your follow-up processes, even if they involve manual (non-automated) steps, you’ll be making them more consistent. When there’s a process, you can identify the places where it is not working and optimize. You need everyone on your team to be following the same process in order to gather this data. Eventually, when you figure out what works, you can use that information to train people. This is a far better option than having different sales reps using different strategies and improvising every time.
Creating and automating processes will also yield useful data that will reveal which salespeople stand out, allowing you to incentivize them accordingly and provide more training for those who struggle.
Finally, automated sales processes reveal valuable KPIs for your sales team’s performance, and notify you quickly when something goes wrong, providing additional training opportunity. Sales force automation makes it easier to compare your team’s performance, measure trends in your performance over time and optimize your best practices for a consistently high conversion rate.
Objection 4: Automating the Sales Process Will Lead to More Dropped Balls.
If sales force automation creates more human interactions, gives your leads more of what they want, and makes your team more successful, what’s left to worry about? Well, for one thing, what about the possibility that relying on automation could eventually lead to your team taking less ownership over the sales funnel?
Robert M. Virga, founder of Ei Dynamics and business automation expert, puts it this way: “As the old adage goes, ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’ This could not be more relevant than with automation. Often, when we automate something people forget about it and then a few months go by and the owner of the company starts asking why something slipped through the cracks, and nobody knows why.”
Similar to the concern about a lack of focus on sales training, this objection is tied to the underlying fear that over-reliance on technology will reduce individual responsibility on your team. Even though automated systems do not forget about tasks or commit human errors, it is still humans who program them — which means they are still imperfect and prone to mistakes. In fact, since your team members will assume that the automated system is handling all the details correctly, they may fail to notice these issues when they do occur.
There’s another old saying that also describes the scenario perfectly: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Or, in our case, “If a lead falls through the cracks in an automated system and no one is around to notice it, will they ever receive follow-up?”
As your team gets more comfortable with an automated system handling everything, more errors might occur and get swept under the rug with no one to notice.
Response: Automation Is a Productivity Tool, Not a Replacement for Responsibility.
This concern is only a problem for those who abdicate responsibility when they choose to automate their sales process. Automation is not meant to be a replacement for human intelligence, just a supplement to it. Even with automation in place, sales managers and small business owners still need to oversee the sales funnel and constantly search for opportunities to improve. No matter how diligent your team is, as your business grows they won’t always be able to follow-up consistently with every lead and customer without a system that shows them which outstanding tasks need attention and prioritizes them.
Safeguards can be built into the systems to prevent leads from getting lost in the shuffle. For example, task automation reduces the risk of inconsistent follow-up by assigning tasks to individuals on your team and providing oversight on their completion. If a sales rep fails to perform an assigned task within a specified number of days because of a personal emergency, automation can inform his or her manager to make sure that the lead or customer receives the information they need.
In the same article in which Virga poses this challenge, he also offers a counterargument. He says, “Although automated services may be able to help connect companies with more customers than a physical representative can, it should not relieve employees of personal responsibility. In order to be effective, in terms of increasing business, automation should be designed to help employees become more productive while reducing human error and risk.”
Ultimately, this concern is not something that you need to worry about when considering sales force automation because tasks can be ignored or swept under the rug even when your sales processes are executed 100% by people. If anything, sales force automation will reveal these trouble spots faster so that you can fix them.
Objection 5: We Can’t Automate Yet Because Our Processes Aren’t Working.
After hearing all of the previous rebuttals to sales force automation objections, you may have one final concern. “How am I supposed to automate my sales processes,” you may be thinking, “if my team isn’t even reliably converting leads into customers? Why would I want to automate a process that clearly isn’t working?”
Or maybe you aren’t even sure you have processes to automate.
This is a concern that plagues most businesses who consider sales force automation for the first time. Especially in the early days of a startup or during periods of rapid business growth, clearly documenting processes, training the team on them, and optimizing them can be difficult. Throwing automation in the mix can make things worse if you’re not careful.
According to Matt Wesson on the Pardot blog, “While automation can revolutionize the sales and marketing process for a company, if that company is still holding onto bad marketing habits, there is little automation can do to help. Automation is not a silver bullet, designed to fix your broken processes. Automation necessitates a much-needed shift in marketing habits and processes in order to experience maximum results.”
Ultimately, automating a bad process leads to even worse results. So are you justified in waiting to try sales force automation until you finally figure things out?
Response: Your Processes Will Never Be Perfect, but Automation Will Help You Iron Out the Kinks.
If you keep waiting until your processes are perfect to go ahead with automation, you’ll be waiting forever. Even if you just wait until they are “OK,” you’ll be wasting time that you could be spending on actively improving them. By making sales force automation a priority, you can accelerate the development of effective processes by getting data on what’s working and what’s not, much faster.
When you start automating your sales process, no doubt you will continually find areas where you need to fix or improve the customer experience — but don’t let that stop you. The process of implementing sales force automation is the best time to re-examine your existing processes, make improvements where possible, and automate them so that you can optimize them going forward.
By focusing on creating repeatable, successful sales processes as you implement automation in your business, you’ll stimulate growth and change much faster than if you just deal with ineffective processes when they begin to create a problem you can no longer ignore. Think of it as a spring cleaning for your business processes. In the end, you’ll have a clean, organized collection of processes that you can automate, which will make your follow-up more consistent, make it easier to train your team, and make it easier to see areas for improvement.
The Benefits of Sales Force Automation for Your Business
With no remaining credible objections against sales force automation, is it time to consider implementing this technology in your business?
There are many benefits that you stand to gain from doing so. Here’s a quick recap:
- Sales Force Automation Creates More Loyal Customers.
- Sales Force Automation Increases Sales Conversions.
- Sales Force Automation Provides Better Oversight and Training for Sales Teams.
- Sales Force Automation Creates More Time for Your Team to Sell.
- Sales Force Automation Prevents Inconsistent Follow-Up.
Sales force automation is a powerful tool, and when used intentionally to build relationships with customers and leads while saving your sales team valuable time, it can lead to serious business growth. By now, it should be apparent that the question to ask yourself is not whether you should invest in sales force automation, but whether you can afford not to.