Sales Process Automation: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Did you know….”nearly two-thirds (64.8%) of reps’ time, on average, is spent in non revenue-generating activities, leaving only 35.2% for functions related to selling.” (Forbes

Of  that ~65%, typically about half of that time is wasted on inefficient processes or a lack of process set out by the organization or data management. You might be thinking: “Well, let’s fix it!” With hundreds upon thousands of sales technologies out there, it can be tempting to implement as many as possible to attempt to make your sales process faster and more efficient. The challenge is, when companies automate too much of their sales process, they may be actually creating MORE inefficiencies or diminishing their return on investment and even decreasing their lead conversions. The challenge with sales automation is finding the right mix of technologies to maximize ROI and maintain your brand image. 

Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page here. What exactly is sales process automation? Sales process automation is the process by which sales professionals, or sales teams, use software to perform specific tasks that are required by sales reps to complete. These tasks may include, but are not limited to, outbound prospecting efforts like calling and emailing clients, data management such as logging activities, note taking and reporting, and effective pipeline management including quote creation and post-sales experience. 

Now, you might be asking yourself, “why wouldn’t I automate everything?” There are a lot of things that you need to consider, but here’s a few: 

  • Is the cost of the technology more than the cost of a person’s time to do the same task?
  • Does the task generate direct revenue for the business?
  • Does this technology integrate with the rest of our tech stack?
  • Can this technology do the job equally as good or better than a person?
  • What else could your salespeople be doing with that time? Is there something else that can generate more revenue?

How each company answers these questions will be different based on hundreds of factors including: the stage of their business, the product(s) they are selling, the price point they are selling at, and the industry and geography they are selling into. No matter the situation, there is always the “good, the bad, and the ugly” of automation. 

Interested in learning more? Let’s dive in.

The Good

There’s a lot of good about sales process automation; more good than bad. Sales automation helps with increasing productivity, improving data quality, elevating cross-team collaboration and improving speed-to-lead, which ultimately helps revenue. Did you know “lost productivity and poorly managed leads cost companies at least $1 trillion every year?” (CMO Council). 

  1. Saves time for revenue generating activities

The good thing about sales process automation is that we actually can automate many manual tasks that don’t directly lead to revenue generation. Basic tasks such as logging emails, logging calls and importing new contacts should always be automated. In addition, emails, in which you would normally “copy and paste” can be automated as templates. Also, you can automate voicemails in cases where reps call and leave the same voicemail over and over again. “Sales reps spend about 15% of their time leaving voicemails” (Ringlead). By automating some of these tasks where human intervention is not a value-add, reps can save their time for activities that require research for personalization or true human interaction (like demos, discovery calls, etc). One activity that is said to help generate revenue is social selling (which can definitely not be automated). Did you know that “salespeople who use social selling are 51% more likely to reach quota than those who don’t”? (Hubspot).

  1. Improves data quality

Implementing core tools to ensure data is logged effectively and quickly is of the utmost importance. Tools that integrate into your CRM are a must. They remove any manual logging and correct human error to avoid inaccurate or poor data. If your reps are responsible for logging their own data, they likely won’t log 100% of everything, causing inaccurate data for measuring conversions. Additionally, if calls and emails are not logged effectively, other members in the organization may not have the context needed for their next conversation with that person. There is no worse situation than when a rep leaves an organization, taking all the information in their head about previous conversations and critical information.

  1. Elevates cross-team collaboration 

The right tech stack not only ensures your reps are saving time on mundane tasks, but also increases visibility and drives collaboration throughout the organization allowing other teams to be more productive as well. Consider having automated workflows triggering specific actions to notify other team members when something happens or they need to action on next steps. By lowering the need for lengthy slack or phone conversations for collaboration, you can save your reps and their team members’ time.

  1. Improves speed-to-lead 

How do your sales reps currently get leads? Is there a trigger set up for them to see them automatically? What if your rep is busy? How do you ensure that lead has been touched within five minutes of their initial outreach? These questions are extremely important to ensure you’re not losing leads to competitors. “U.S. firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead” (Harvard Business Review). Automating how sales people get leads, and automating a response in case your reps are busy, is important because “speed matters” for the highest possible conversions and chance of a sale.

The Bad:

Everything above sounds great right? Well, it is! But everything I mentioned isn’t as simple as it seems. While there is more good than bad with sales automation, there are still some bad elements that organizations need to be mindful of.

  1. Your reps may over index on automation and lose personalization

When reps have several tools at their disposal, they often rely too much on the tools and not enough on the “human element”. As mentioned above, social selling is a great outreach strategy to help reach and engage prospects and customers. Sometimes when reps have all the tools to automate emails and dialing, they forget to, or avoid, other ways to reach prospects that require more time and research. Sending inmails on LinkedIn, video messages via tools like Vidyard or Loom, and personalized emails are great ways to engage prospects that really demonstrate that you’re invested in them. By avoiding more personalized sales activities, your reps have a higher chance of coming off ingenuine leading to a loss to competitors and lower conversion rates. “Personalized emails have 2.5 times higher click-through rates, and are 6 times more likely to drive a conversion. Additionally, 73% of consumers report they’d rather do business with brands that use personal information to increase the relevancy of their experiences” (Campaign Monitor). 

  1. Your reps may make more mistakes or be unprepared

Ever read one of those emails that says, “Hi {NAME}!”,.and think….”I can’t believe a sales rep did that!?” Well it happens more often than you’d think. This is often the cause of a careless rep who works too quickly and relies on their tool just a little too much. By having too many of your sales touches automated, reps may get sloppy and may not pay as close attention to spelling mistakes and automation errors. 

Here’s another one for you. Have you ever had a phone call where there’s a slight (awkward) pause before the rep says hello? That’s because they are likely using an auto-dialer. In cases where reps use auto-dialers, versus not using auto-dialers, prospects are more likely to hang up before the rep gets a chance to speak. People today are impatient and that 3 second pause may not only kill this phone call, but the following calls as well. Another reason that dialers may cause more demise than success is that often reps don’t know who the phone has connected to until they already have to start speaking. This can cause reps to be unprepared for that call, leading to a lack of personalization or purpose.

  1. It can get expensive and complicated

When selecting which solutions to invest in to automate your sales process, are you considering what the total cost will be and how they all integrate together? It’s great when you have five tools that all make your sales reps’ lives easier, but if none of them integrate with the tools other departments or teams are using, are they really saving your team time and optimizing ROI for your company? Sales tools can get really expensive and integrations can get complicated. Before buying too many tools thinking you “found the golden ticket”, make sure your tools can integrate together and that you have the right people to make those integrations work. It’s never fun to explain to your board or CEO that you spent 100k on tools that you’re no longer using.
 

The Ugly:

Now for the ugly. There’s one very ugly piece of sales automation; list burning and blacklisting. Sometimes, when organizations get “automation happy” they think it’s a great idea to take their entire database and run them through one big automated email and/or call cadence at one time. This may sound like a great idea in theory, but many terrible things can happen. First, who are the sales reps going to call after they are finished the cadence? Start from the beginning and call everyone again? Second, with mass emailing, and generalized or irrelevant content, the unsubscribe rates tend to be high; this automatically reduces the size of your future contact list. Third, there’s something called blacklisting, where a prospect (and sometimes an entire company) blacklists your company from ever emailing them again - ever. 

Last, but not least, the ugliest of all uglies, is when a company faces legal penalties for breaking email laws. To provide a few examples: “Canada's anti-spam legislation (CASL) protects consumers and businesses from the misuse of digital technology, including spam and other electronic threats” (Canadian Government). The European Union GDPR laws protect citizens in a similar effect. By spamming prospects and customers with sales automation tools, your reps may be unknowingly breaking the law, leading to potential fines and lawsuits against your company.

Conclusion

Sales automation tools are great resources that help sales reps become more efficient and focus on the things that help increase revenue for the business. The key to a successful sales automation strategy is selecting which combination of tools provides the best ROI for your company, and no company will have the same tech stack. I shared some negative side effects of some tools like auto-dialers, but this can be true for any sales automation tool depending on which company is using it. What’s important to takeaway from this article is the following:

  1. Review your sales process and consider which pieces do not need human intervention to be effective.
  2. Consider which parts of your sales process need to be personalized and which do not.
  3. Review your current tech stack and consider which new tools that you’re evaluating integrate with those that already exist (and which integrate with each other). 
  4. Estimate the ROI of the new tools you’re reviewing and make sure you have the right people in place to effectively implement them and measure their success going forward.

Happy automating!

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  • To understand how I got here today, I am sharing my story of where it began...
  • To understand how I got here today, I am sharing my story of where it began...
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Taylor Jones

Taylor Jones is a strategic sales leader motivated by helping organizations transform their business through digital innovation. She is currently a Business Development Manager at Salesforce; the founder of BlackArrow, where she mentors sales professionals and start-ups in the tech space; and a part-time professor teaching international market entry strategies. Both inside and outside the workweek hustle, she is an impassioned globetrotter always exploring new professional, volunteer, educational or personal opportunities through unique adventures around the globe.

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