- Conversations are better than automation.
- Use automation only when your outcome doesn’t require creating value.
- It is a mistake to believe more is better than better.
Whenever your competitors reduce something to a transaction, you can create an immediate competitive advantage by treating it as something more. Making that thing important enough to create value for your client or prospective client provides enough differentiation to improve your position.
The last few years have seen a steep rise in the number of sales organizations, salespeople, and faux entrepreneurs who are determined to reduce prospecting to a commoditized transaction, much like they did with the discovery call. There is no reason to believe this trend will disappear over time given the promise of getting meetings without having to do the work, the sales equivalent of a get-rich-quick scheme.
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Turning Automation Upside-Down
There isn’t a great reason to write checks to pay your bills. The extra time and attention you invest won’t change the outcome for you or for the company you are paying. You owe the company money, so you pay them the money you owe. Automating those payments prevents you from doing a chore with no variable outcome, while letting you reclaim your time for something more valuable, the general value proposition for automation.
You might also use Amazon’s “Subscribe and Save” tool to place monthly orders for items you would otherwise buy at a local store, having them automatically ordered and delivered to your home. Assuming there is no substantial difference in the items or the price, by automating the transaction you have gained more time—an incredible outcome, especially if you believe time is both fleeting and your most important asset.
In both examples, no one is harmed or even bothered by the fact that you have automated transactional tasks. In fact, you might argue that automated billing is better for your creditors, since they get their money on time. Bezos isn’t exactly hurting for cash, but Amazon doesn’t seem to mind dinging my credit card as often as possible, even if it’s just for paper towels.
But the way automation is being used in contemporary B2B sales is a sort of inversion of that intention, since one party benefits by harming another. You might believe this statement goes too far. But the kind of person who cares enough to automate certain tasks should definitely recognize the harm of automating the wrong tasks.
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Your Car’s Ever-Expiring Warranty
“I’m not a number, I’m not a number. Damn it I’m a man, I said I’m a man.” – Bob Seger
Your smartphone is never more than six inches away from you—an umbilical cord could hardly be more efficient at keeping you two together. So when the caller ID shows a number from your home area code, chances are you’ll take the call, even when you don’t recognize the number. Within seconds, yet another automated recording is informing you (for the thirty-sixth time this week) that the warranty on your car is expiring, something you’re supposed to believe even if you don’t have a warranty (or a car).
The cloven-hooved people who decided to automate this call were not thinking about how they might help you. They were thinking about how they could dial more people with as little effort as possible to steal from them more efficiently. It’s a numbers game with only two rules: more is better than better, and quantity is better than quality.
The sales organizations and salespeople who automate their prospecting are playing the same numbers game. You and I are numbers (you are Number Six). The LinkedIn message that seems personalized is a lie designed to cause you to accept a connection, after which you’ll be immediately assaulted with a pitch and a calendar link, in hopes that you’re just champing at the bit to meet with the person who just spammed you.
In these two cases, and the many more that resemble them, both parties were harmed. The senders didn’t lose any time to spam you, but they did lose any credibility they might have had if they’d chosen another approach. But the receivers (that’d be you and me) lost the time it took to take the call or read the message, and to determine if it is something they need to address.
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Conversation > Automation
In a crowd of transaction-minded competitors, caring makes you stand out. Automated approaches suggest something like “you are not worth my time unless you are buying,” while personalized approaches project something like “I have some ideas I believe will help you.” After all, if you show your audience that they aren’t worth your personal attention, why should you expect them to do anything but ignore you?
That difference won’t appeal to salespeople who want to achieve results without effort, or those who are willing to alienate a hundred potential clients without creating any real value for them. But I hope you, dear reader, are the type of person who believes in doing the work necessary to produce the outcomes you need, using automation in a way that benefits you without creating a negative experience or burden for your contacts and clients. When others choose to treat something as if it is a transaction by removing any value, restoring that value gives you a clear advantage.
However you measure your personal success, a large part of it will come by doing things—especially hard work—that other people refuse to do. No replicant is going to be more human than a human. No algorithm is capable of empathy, compassion, or caring deeply about its audience’s needs. Because the way you communicate says a lot about how you view your audience, conversation will always beat automation. I’m not a number. Damn it, I’m a man.
Do Good Work:
- Treat your prospective clients exactly as you wish to be treated.
- Never try to cheat success by avoiding the work required of you.
- Don’t treat people like numbers.
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