The email showed up in my inbox. The salesperson was pitching me for a meeting. I deleted the email, as I had no need for what the salesperson was selling. Two days later, the salesperson was in my inbox again, with a new message, the first one below it. Still lacking any need or interest, I deleted the email. I didn’t hear from the salesperson for two more days, and on the third day, I was greeted with another email with both first two emails forwarded below. I sent the salesperson an email, explaining I was not a prospect and that he should stop sending me his emails.
A week passed before the salesperson emailed me to tell me he wasn’t sending me the emails, and that his chief marketing officer had automated their prospecting. He also explained he would only reach out to me if I clicked on a link or responded to one of the emails. I advised him to pick up Jeb Blount’s book Fanatical Prospecting, knowing there was no chance he’d do the work when his company was doing the work for him.
Human Insight versus Automated Sales Tactics
Without a human touch, sending a series of pitch emails is transactional. But right now buyers and decision makers need a consultative approach, one that will ensure they succeed in making some important change in their business.
One can understand that writing the same email repeatedly doesn’t make much sense, but unless there is a human paying attention to responses, or more likely, the lack of any response, relying on technology isn't a great strategy. Some of the automated sequence tools require a salesperson to send an email via the platform, improving the use of automation by having a human involved in the activity.
If you use LinkedIn, you may have received an InMail that looks like it is from a contact, but in reality it was sent by automation. My tagline on LinkedIn is “You will never win all the clients you want, but you will win all the clients that want you.” Automations believe that is my title. This is evident from the pitches they send me about how they might help me increase revenue by training my sales force, offers clearly not tailored to my needs or interests.
Challenges and Ethical Dilemmas of Automated Selling
Shortly after we were introduced to large language models, the predatory barbarians had found a way to identify something personal about a contact and have ChatGPT send a supposedly personalized email. One rule is that salespeople should never start a conversation with a lie. Because the person using this automation cares nothing about the person they are contacting, or what the automation identifies as something personal, they start with a lie.
A few months after I received those first automated emails, a young salesperson sent me a note to tell me he had connected ChatGPT to a phone and was able to make 30,000 cold calls a day. I was supposed to be impressed, but because I am pro-salespeople, I was horrified. Not only does this spam thousands of people who don’t buy what this person is selling, but it will lead to fewer real contacts answering the phone. Automation has made it harder to get email to prospective clients, and now it is doing the same thing with the phone.
Most of you will not have made real cold calls, the kind where you walk in the front door of your prospective client’s business and ask to speak with a person who is not expecting you. Those of us who have had this experience will have no trouble asking to speak to the decision maker. Meanwhile, those salespeople who are ensconced behind a screen will have to work up their courage to actually speak to people. This may be how we sell in the future.
Cultivating Genuine Relationships in Sales
In 2016, I published The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need. The first editor who read the book complained that the first chapter was about self-discipline, which he believed everyone hates. I explained that sales reps have more autonomy than people in most other roles. This autonomy must be tempered with discipline. The editor’s next complaint was that the third chapter was about caring. He asked, “What does caring have to do with selling?” expressing his skepticism about the connection between empathy and sales effectiveness.
Right now, a lot of people in sales believe that technology is an advantage. But as more people pile in, like they have always done in the past, the advantage will become a commodity, making it more of an annoyance than an advantage. This may already be true. When everything is technology, the human being becomes the advantage.
When people want money without creating value for their clients or customers, it is difficult for them to understand that the true sustainable strategic advantage is the relationship. Any approach that is transactional and lacking care will not provide a sustainable advantage as it is easily eclipsed by the human advantage of caring, a superpower when it comes to relationships.
Leveraging Personal Interaction in a Digital World
You can expect that human beings will win in the age of automation. Those who work to avoid spending time with their prospective clients or who refuse to make a phone call will believe they are being efficient. But efficiency isn’t an effective strategy with human beings, especially those trying to make a significant change, often under the stress of poor results and the negative events that follow, like a lost client, lost revenue, or some other bad outcome.
Those who believe they are playing for the relationship will outperform those doing everything they can to avoid having to spend time with other humans, especially ones that need time and help to be able to move their business forward.
There may be some good uses of automation, but none of them can match a human who is working to understand what help their client needs to be able to make the right decision, one they must get right on the first try.