Death to Automation: Bring Back the Humans
In sales and marketing, the human element is crucial.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
There's no question automation has absolutely revolutionized the way we engage in sales and marketing. Increasingly advanced software and technology puts powerful automation tools and capabilities in the hands of even the smallest of businesses, empowering a level of efficiency unheard of even just 10 years ago. However, the ease and availability of such tools has engendered an unfortunate side effect -- we've forgotten that our jobs are still about cultivating personal relationships.
That's not to say automation hasn't drastically improved the way we do things. It enables us to communicate instantly and consistently and provides droves of data to help us fine tune as we go. But for all of its wins, automation fails us sometimes as well, making us a little too comfortable and a little too complacent, all at the expense of customer relationships.
We get caught up in tactics.
The vast automation capabilities at our fingertips require so many little interconnected pieces that we often get caught up in the details while forgetting the main purpose of what we're doing. Tactics start to rule the day, and different segments of automated campaigns get divvied up among teams. This may make things more manageable, but it also makes it more difficult to see the forest through the trees. If everyone is focused on one piece of the puzzle, who's making sure we're telling the whole story?
Additionally, we sometimes look at automation as the solution to issues within a single channel. How many times have heard (or perhaps even said), "We need to automate our nurture campaigns" or "We need a better way for sales to follow up?"
When used to its fullest potential, automation is more of an omni-channel solution. It's a holistic strategy in and of itself. If you aren't looking at how automation can improve every customer touchpoint, you're just shortchanging yourself.
The data doesn't tell us everything.
Right message, right person, right time -- the holy trifecta of marketing automation. So how do you determine which message is right, who it should go to and when it's the right time? You might be thinking data, and that is a good place to start, but data doesn't tell the whole story.
Automation platforms are quick to boast their data reporting capabilities. And while it's true these systems get more and more sophisticated in what they can report on, they don't give us the full picture.
Analysis has become a lost art. Reading numbers from a report does not constitute analysis. You have to spend time with the data and look at context and other factors at play in order to extrapolate truly meaningful information. Numbers can't be looked at in a vacuum. It's the interplay between them and whatever generated the data that really matters and holds the complete story of what a report is telling us.
Customers become numbers.
Once upon a time, customers had to speak to someone if they wanted to purchase something, whether it was by phone, at a tradeshow, in a store or the convenience of their home or office. Relationships were bonded, and salespeople could respond in real-time based on customer cues like tone of voice or facial expressions.
Automation has stolen some of that personalization and humanization from us. No matter how "personal" we think we're making our communications, all we're doing is programming a database to fill in a blank with a name and send canned responses based on a particular action.
Customers have become nothing more than a series of numbers -- emails opened or clicked, products purchased, offers redeemed, social engagement. Our world has become about optimization instead of personalization. Improving numbers instead of experiences. Pushing content instead of listening to requests. While we sit and congratulate ourselves on a newly created email nurture stream, our customers are getting frustrated at getting yet another email.
I'm not really calling for the death of automation. But what needs to go is our reliance on using automation to do our jobs. Because at the end of the day, we're communicators.
So here's what I'm proposing: Let's remember that we're working with people here, not database line items. Let's make it a point to talk to people like they're people -- to pick up the phone sometimes and ask what we can do to be better for them. Or better yet, meet them face-to-face -- even if that means having to hop on a plane. Some of my most fruitful and productive conversations have been over a cup of coffee.