Some time ago, I received an email from a salesperson. He introduced himself, mentioned his company, and included four links to companies that had bought what he sells. The "why us" copy wasn't compelling, and I deleted the email. Two days later, I received another email from the same salesperson. It referred to the first email, which was included at the bottom of the thread. This continued until I received a fifth email that included four previous emails below it. At that point, I emailed the salesperson to tell him his approach was awful. A week later, he responded, explaining that his chief marketing officer had set up their fully automated prospecting sequence, but that he would contact me only if I clicked on a link.
If you use sales automation, you need to know how to do it without losing your soul. Not long after marketing automated their communications, sales tasks and messages met with the same fate. Sales automation technologies are not inherently bad, but it matters how you use them. If you are a sales leader, a sales manager, or a salesperson, I trust you will do nothing to make selling more difficult by applying sales automation when it isn't right for the outcome you are pursuing.
Sales Automation and Brute-Force Tactics
There is nothing wrong with sales automation that sends emails; however, it’s best when a contact has given you permission to contact them in that way. Whether you include the previous email sequence, or bubble your last email back up the top of the person's inbox, the fully automated prospecting sequence is a brute-force approach to scheduling a meeting. Because no human sends the emails, there is no shame in trying to bully a person into engaging. A real person would be capable of a patient, professional persistence. Any person or organization that makes its money without doing the work should be avoided at all costs. They believe you are a wallet from which they can draw money.
Because so many companies employ this tactic, few contacts open or click on automated emails. When Google and other email platforms recognize this, the emails go directly to the spam folder. Your emails and mine are now suspect, making it more difficult to communicate with our contacts. It’s gone so far that one of the new strategies some salespeople have used is to intentionally include a typo to prove the email is from a real person.
Good Use of Sales Automation
One of the more difficult things to do in sales is to manage many prospects and clients in a territory. Keeping track of which communications you have made and who you need to contact is a good use of sales automation. I've done this work using index cards and a paper planner, but neither are as powerful as sales automation.
In any sales process, you are likely to have clients who ask for more information. When you know a client will benefit from the information, it makes sense to send an automated email based on where they are in the process. There is no gain in retyping an email you use often, and it’s a good use of sales automation to send this type of message when moving a deal into the next stage.
Another good use of automation comes from companies that can automatically enrich and update the contacts inside your CRM. Researching contacts and prospective clients can take a large amount of time, so freeing your salespeople from this task gives them more time to focus on actions that directly drive results. Automation can also work with your CRM by providing salespeople with a checklist of steps they need to take based on their sales process.
David Allen, the author of the book Getting Things Done, has said that your mind isn't designed for remembering, but for thinking. Sales automation has a better memory than most of us, and it is a faithful assistant, making task management a perfect way to apply it.
A Warning about Sales Automation and Losing Your Soul
You don't want to be like the soulless CMO who fully automated the prospecting sequence. You also don't want to mistakenly believe that automation is the key to reaching your targets. It's important to understand why we use sales automation: so salespeople can spend more time with their clients and their prospective clients.
Many who turn to technology do so because they are struggling to produce the better results they need. There are several reasons why a sales organization might be having trouble, including lacking the content they need, and believing they don't have time to get everything done. But automation is not a replacement for sitting across from a member of your sales force and focusing on how to improve their effectiveness.
Automation will not convince a prospective client to buy from you. Rather, a salesperson who uses automation well can gain time to spend with the people they are trying to help.
If you want a test to determine whether it makes sense to use automation in your sales process, you can ask yourself this question: Would a salesperson create a better outcome than the automation, or would there be no difference? I would argue that a robot sending prospecting emails has little in common with a salesperson calling their contact. When a company uses automated prospecting, they send the message that they are not willing to spend money on a person to help you improve your results. The company that assigns a salesperson to their prospective clients proves they will invest in the relationship.
Use sales automation where and when it makes sense. Don't use it for any outcome that is better pursued in a conversation between a salesperson and a contact.