On Sales and Automation

The Problem: You have a product you believe in, so you want all your potential buyers (known and unknown) to know about it, want it and buy it. Reach and engage, successfully and profitably. Here and everywhere in the world.

Then you want to be efficient and effective. In our post-industrial economy, automation is still the no. 1 strategy and digital the no. 1 tactic because you can track and interact anytime and anywhere. More or less.

Back in 2002, my team in Oracle launched a campaign called “See, Try, Buy”; it was probably one of the very first attempts to move on-line the full customer journey and the associated sales cycle. It was obviously a very ambitious project, but it aimed in the right direction and it is still extremely relevant today and tomorrow.

See Try Buy

However, Just because of the technologies available back then, it was still very labour intensive and not extremely efficient nor effective in two key aspects:

  1. For starters integration between each step of the process was almost 100% manual.

Imagine having one excel spreadsheet with the initial prospects of an email campaign and one with those who had opened it and another with those among the previous lot who had clicked-through to say fill a landing page etc. etc. Anyone who has even just bothered to try and cross-reference and integrate those reports manually, using Access or VLook Up, will almost physically recall the horrors of those scenarios, both in terms of labour-literally-and of accuracy and quality of the end results.

  1. Another big, big question mark lied at the very heart of the mission: can you automate sales? Really, to what extent?

The most attractive and relevant brand, the most engaging content, the most seamless and integrated digital journey, the most compelling promotion, would they ensure your prospects, as many as possible, would follow you, The Magic Piper, through the whole journey to the promised land of customer benefits, sales and more repeat sales with little or no human intervention?

Unless you are still a student, or a bit dim or naive, you would never even dream about it.

In the harsh realities of that Oracle experiment, people like me were gently harassing their prospects at every step of the way in order to push the consenting victims down the conversion funnel.

Without that phone reminder or that live webinar, that follow up call to further qualify the opportunity etc. etc. forget about seeing that order. And then you had to start it all over again to make that wheel go round once more.

Does it mean it is not worth trying to automate sales further? No.

Indeed it is worth embarking in that quest, for innovation and progress are really about pushing the boundaries.

Two generations of innovators:

In order to describe the most important innovations since 2002, I will use these two home-made definitions: Integrators and Process-driven.

  • Integrators:

Roughly what I mean by that is focusing on automating integration between existing systems and technologies; that was the “trend” in the mid-to late 2000s.

As a result, today at every step in the journey, the reports produced are now reasonably, though not perfectly, interoperable: email blasts opening and click through rates can be connected fairly smoothly with landing pages reports, especially if your company is blessed with good human minds using those systems well. Great so far.

Still though, what about the Holy Grail of automating the sales process to its rock bottom?

  • Process-Driven Innovators:

Let’s use the evergreen People-Processes-Technology framework. There are some recent technologies that are designed around the Sales Process and aim at optimising the combination and balance between automation (Technology) and human behaviour (People).

These technologies have one common and very interesting feature: the ability to track and analyse the huge and rich digital “footprint” left by people and businesses across the Internet “universe” today.

One first example comes from “The” Internet company “par excellence”, who is perfecting an analytic tool to tell you exactly what digital steps your prospects took to become customers, to come back or where they stopped, where they accelerated. Great, it was about time, great room for improvement.

However there is a raft of start-ups who have taken a quantum leap towards even more interesting directions.

Some use big data to track in real-time the activities of businesses in the market and apply algorithms that identify common patterns of behaviour.

As a result their systems provide automation for: deeper understanding of existing customers, predictions of who can be a potential customers, even unknown ones (which is great as we know that non-customers are always many more then the existing and potential identified customers), knowledge-rich prospect profiling for tailored sales approach and sales meeting preparation.

Others provide a hybrid, human and automated full solution, from generating prospects (off and on-line), to qualifying and screening them using scoring techniques and algorithms, to closing sales (again both off and on-line).

Both groups mix the very simple and the very advanced in a very interesting way: they focus on the real life sales process, automating information gathering and hypothesis formulation on a massive scale. The human intervention of a sales person happens to analyse, make an ultimate judgement call and interact with other humans.

That is a big, big advancement, no wonders they are being very successful and all the big boys in the trade are investing in them, very rightly so.

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