Business Automation. It isn’t what you think…

I love Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure but he’s not exactly the first person to come to mind when you think about business automation. Ironically, my kids love it too. I guess I am a positive influence on them. 🙂 But there is one fantastic scene when Pee-Wee makes his breakfast that still makes me laugh, to this day.

Once he starts the machine, it is off to the races…even Abraham Lincoln is involved in making Pee-Wee’s breakfast! If I were Francis, I would have wanted this breakfast machine instead of Pee Wee’s bike. But I digress.

Fueling Workflow Automation

Yes, Pee-Wee automated his breakfast. At some point though, he loaded up all of the different devices with toast, eggs, pancake batter, etc. But for the next day, he did have to add more of these ingredients or Lincoln would be slinging an empty pan to the ceiling.

At some point, Pee-Wee needs to go to the store to buy more ingredients and determine which are the best ones for him (I’m a Hungry Jack pancake kind of guy…I wonder which ones Pee-Wee likes). So as not to beat a metaphor even further to death, let’s talk about how this translates to marketers and their desire to leverage marketing automation as part of their efforts.

As I’ve noted before, marketers look at business automation as a means to do less work, instead of an opportunity to do more. Yes, workflow automation has its place and it can greatly improve efficiencies, quality, and version control. However, I reject the idea that any form of automated reply can be considered “personal.” Automation may create efficiencies for a business but it can also create a nightmare for customers. This is for two, core reasons.

First, training falls by the wayside for strong employees who become paralyzed when they have to pivot away from a ‘scripted’ workflow (e.g. I can’t submit the IT appointment request form until I first complete the troubleshooting form but I already know what is needed).

Second, as a customer and marketer, I know that automation promotes a decrease in focus on small details. This is because a form is simple to complete and I have a daily quota of inbound calls I need to answer (e.g. I write to an online retailer with five questions and they answer one – with this answer being a link to a page with dated information that reflects their old UI). And the worst part is that based on reporting, the fact that a quota was met matters more to a company than actually satisfying the needs of their customers (I’m looking at you cable companies).

What is a Marketing Automation Strategy?

Frankly, it’s nothing…it doesn’t exist. And the core reason for this comes back to the abuse of two other words: strategy and tactic.

A strategy is a plan. A tactic is a measurable step you take as defined in the plan. And as such, I argue that part of the reason your marketing automation ‘strategy’ doesn’t work is simply that marketing automation can’t be a strategy. I would also argue it can’t be a tactic, either. Please consider this analogy –

Strategy – to market our new product to the ideal demographic

Tactic – leverage telemarketing to reach the 55+ demographic

Tools – Inbound call center phones with auto-dialer

Marketing automation is not a plan, it is not a tactic – it is a tool.

Companies demand so much from their marketing team, while not simultaneously setting them up for success. They think they are by giving them various tools and even budgets to facilitate their work. However, companies do not appear to do a very good job at connecting the dots between proper recruitment, operational structure, and how this structure influences the potential outcome of any effort. In part, this is because they treat automation as a strategy, not a tool that requires constant attention.

In my last post, I discussed the need for qualifications sections of a job description skills to be written, properly and by qualified resources. One point bears repeating: I am dumbfounded by how irresponsible companies are when they allow people to recruit for a position they do not, themselves, understand. However, there is another symptom that acts as a warning sign that a company doesn’t have a clue – organizational structure.

The Importance of a Proper Business Workflow

There is a restaurant near me that has become my favorite. I love everything about it – the food, the service, the ambiance. However, if its management knew absolutely nothing about food and running a restaurant, how would they know which ingredients to buy or if potential hires are qualified? Also similar to what I noted in my last post, this leads to vagaries that can destroy a business (e.g. a resume that reads “I’ve cooked for the past 25 years.” OK, she was fired from every job she ever had…but she must be good with 25 years of experience). But for some reason, companies just do not see how significant of a problem this is. How can I qualify this as a significant problem? I’ve lived and struggled within these types of environments, for years.

Senior Management must admit to what they don’t know and hire a proper technical recruiter or experienced project manager (we’ll discuss the title of the project manager in a subsequent posting), to advise on an operational structure for proper business workflow.

You can’t have proper business process automation without a foundation that includes a clean, optimized, and rich marketing database. You need a data scientist to ensure funnels are set up in such a way that they can be effectively analyzed and where algorithms are changed, dynamically, based on quantitative data. Ultimately, if you want to find success with your business workflow automation efforts, you need the right organizational structure, in place.

Using Business Process Automation in Your Sales Funnel

Matt Ackerson, Founder of AutoGrow, wrote an article, where he shares statistics on (automated) sales funnels. I have never heard of AutoGrow but his comments on the stats he shares are reminiscent of a culture I am seeing throughout the marketing landscape – where business process automation is treated as a means to do less work, not more. It is a culture that creates an illusion that teams are working hard and while true, they aren’t working smart. They are buried under piles of inefficiencies, technical roadblocks, politics, bandaged workarounds, and more. Work that is a product of inefficiencies is not what I would qualify as hard work. From his article –

  • 37% of marketers say the most challenging part of their job is prospecting, and without that crucial first step, it’s difficult to build a pipeline and salespeople don’t know where to begin
    First, marketers shouldn’t be prospecting – salespeople should be doing this in a normal business workflow. At the same time, salespeople shouldn’t be setting up pipelines and funnels. I know this isn’t a popular opinion but I would debate anyone on the subject. Salespeople should sell, full stop. They should be set up for success by their marketing counterparts within an organization. 37% of marketers state that the most challenging part of their job is prospecting? Maybe that is because they shouldn’t be prospecting.
  • 68% of companies have not identified or attempted to measure a sales funnel, and the same survey showed that a whopping 79% of marketing leads are never converted into sales. Coincidence? I think not. Without a working sales funnel, it’s near impossible to convert leads into sales
    Matt is quoting these percentages from a Salesforce infographic which, in part, defines automation as “Software that increases sales and maximizes efficiency for companies…” What complete and utter bullshit. The software does no such thing. Software is a tool to help execute the marketing automation strategy and tactics designed by a team of professionals. And I would argue that the reason companies have not identified or attempted to measure a sales funnel is because Salesforce is a behemoth and most companies lack the human and financial resources to effectively set up and maintain the data structure necessary to effectively measure their campaigns. And no Matt, the lack of a sales funnel does not have anything to do with not converting leads. Believing a funnel and automation are the secret and not a solid strategy, tactics, and proper technological infrastructure is misguided.
  • 30–50% of sales are made by the first vendor to respond. Setting up automation—rather than relying on a human contact—can help ensure your customers receive an immediate reply
    This is way too vague of a statistic. Cotton balls and speedboats, I’m sure, are treated quite differently in the eyes of the consumer. Therefore, I dismiss this statistic as being relevant to anything other than helping Matt push an agenda that further promotes his brand. I don’t blame him for this but it is disingenuous, in my view. And while it is rather obvious that setting up auto-replies is important, there is no way that business automation can substitute for human interaction. A salesperson should make it their business to send a personalized reply, from them, immediately and this should live outside of any automated funnel. And to suggest otherwise is unjustifiable

There are other sections to this article and if you are interested in getting my thoughts on them, please contact me. At the end of the day, business automation can be a powerful tool but if you treat it as a replacement for human interaction or as anything other than a living, breathing animal that requires your attention, you will never achieve your greatest potential upon using it.