Automation. Artificial intelligence. Bots. Workflows. Machine learning. It all sounds a bit intimidating, impersonal, and, most of all, expensive.
Yes, deploying all of these automation tools and buying a full-blown marketing and sales platform can be pricey, but in reality, family-owned and -operated businesses can affordably deploy tech and software to automate the sales process.
And no, automation doesn’t mean impersonal service or more distant client relationships. It’s the opposite actually.
Using sales automation tools frees your sales team from labor-intensive, mundane tasks, improving performance while giving them more time for high-touch, targeted, and helpful interactions with leads and customers.
The important thing for family businesses of all sizes to remember is that sales automation is scalable and can be built over time; it can grow as your business grows. In fact, this is the smartest approach to automating your sales process. Sometimes making too much of a leap, i.e., buying a huge marketing and sales platform with all the bells and whistles that you’re not ready for, is as detrimental to your business as having no sales automation at all.
Automation software and tech are more affordable and agile than ever before, making it the perfect time to start exploring and experimenting with AI, bots, automated emails and the like.
There are several key initial areas where family businesses can start deploying sales automation that will yield big results without the risk of being overwhelmed by the process. All are labor-intensive tasks, and some are both inefficient and risky.
Integrate Automated Customer Responsiveness
One of the simplest ways for family businesses to integrate automation into their sales process is by channeling customer contacts into an online form rather than a universal email inbox. In this day and age, customers want immediate responsiveness; any delay in your response to an inquiry is a recipe for that lead to look elsewhere for a solution to their problem.
When family businesses feature a company email inbox as the primary mode of contact, incoming emails can sit for hours and sometimes days without a response. In addition, responses from staff can be inconsistent or off brand depending on who is assigned email inbox duty in a given week.
To address this issue, add a simple contact form to your website in strategic areas. Then, connect that email to an automated response plugin that will kick back an email response or even a text to a customer instantaneously. This instant response will satisfy the lead or customer for a time while allowing your sales staff time to prepare a follow-up email, call or meeting. Automating email responses to customer inquiries not only satisfies a customer’s need for instant service, but it also signals that your family business is up to par technologically.
Monstrous, expensive lead management systems are not needed to automate your email. There are plenty of more affordable email management systems and plug-ins that you can add to your website easily.
Popular email management options like Mailchimp and Constant Contact offer email automation and other email tracking services via a tiered pricing system from free on up.
Deploy Chat Functionality on Your Website
For improving the customer experience, small, family-run businesses can introduce chatbots to their websites. Today’s customers expect “always on” service, which can be tough for smaller businesses with limited human capital and budgets. Chatbots make instant response, 24/7 service possible for these businesses. Chatbots are not super expensive and are easy to integrate with most website platforms.
Chatbots are a terrific first step for family businesses looking to jump into AI in an area with high upside. Chatbots empower smaller businesses with lean sales teams to provide the 24/7/365 responsiveness modern customers expect.
Chatbots, also known as virtual assistants, can provide instant responses to customers; they are also intelligent enough to triage customer needs and learn from each customer interaction. A single bad customer experience can result in a loyal customer leaving your brand; AI and virtual assistants can eliminate a key source of frustration among customers: lack of responsiveness to their questions and needs. Chatbots allow you to reinvent the way you communicate and can greatly improve your customer service without increasing spend.
You can check out some top chatbots by clicking here.
Deploy a Customer Relationship Management System or CRM
Family-run businesses can afford a CRM to better automate and manage their sales processes. Tracking leads through the sales cycle in a notebook or in a massive Excel spreadsheet is just not scalable as your business grows; manual processes are the death knell for sales growth.
CRMs, when deployed and maintained properly, will help your sales people automate manual, labor-intensive processes, saving time, improving efficiency, and, most importantly, driving more closed sales. A solid CRM and a sales team that believes in the software create an efficient, automated sales process ecosystem that tracks a lead from first inquiry all the way through closing or being designated a lost lead.
At the click of a mouse or trackpad, your sales team can track calls and contacts, move a lead to the next phase of the sales process, write detailed notes about a lead and even generate sales and lead reports to track sales progress. CRMs are designed to remove as much manual input and labor as possible, empowering your sales team to more effectively target and communicate with leads and customers.
There are many CRMs out there, and some companies even offer limited access to their CRMs for free, like HubSpot.
Many companies that offer CRM functionality also offer comprehensive marketing and sales platforms that can automate and integrate these functions on a larger scale. This, of course, comes with a higher price tag. So, start small and build up over time. Don’t purchase a license to a gargantuan marketing and sales platform that you’re not yet ready for; there are ample free and less expensive choices available that can get you started along the path toward full sales automation.
Automate Your Proposals
How many times has your sales team had to reinvent the wheel when creating a sales proposal?
There you are, the sales team is on the verge of closing a deal, but the lead sales person is pulling and merging documents from different folders and files, creating a Frankenstein proposal that is way more time-consuming and labor-intensive than it needs to be.
Sales automation tools and CRMs make creating proposals easier and more efficient by pulling lead or customer data automatically from the system to populate your proposal template without any manual entry. Even pricing and product specs can be pulled into the proposal template automatically.
Content specific to a unique project situation will always need to be added, of course. However, by integrating proposal templates with your CRM, your sales team has fewer customizable proposal pieces to create. This reduces the time it takes to create the proposal and reduces human error — like using “Find and Replace” to remove a different company’s name only to find the wrong company name in your proposal after it has been sent to the prospect.
PandaDoc and ClientPoint are two tools that can integrate with your CRM to automate your proposal process to save your sales team time and headaches.
Automate Your Back Office Work
Automating your back office process, while not directly tied to the sales process itself, can be a huge timesaver, allowing your sales team to do what they do best, which is to sell.
Instead of your sales people burning time with paperwork, hard copy expense reports, and other manual back office tasks, they can spend more time in front of your customers and find new ways to innovate.
Automation and artificial intelligence can help streamline and automate back office tasks like bookkeeping, for example. All forms of manually completed paperwork are hotspots for inefficiency, human error and waste. If 80% or even 50% of your paperwork becomes fully automated, segments of your team now have more time to innovate and develop existing or new skills. They will be able to do more meaningful and rewarding work; they can grow, and they’ll be happier, which means greater sales team productivity and talent retention.
For automating back office tasks, there are a host of companies to choose from that provide automation, like DocuSign, UiPath and Automation Anywhere. You can view a full list of top back office automation companies here.
Hire Better Sales People, Faster Via Automated Recruiting
Another area where family companies can benefit from the power of AI is in recruiting and hiring. Hiring is a notorious challenge for all businesses; hiring the right sales talent might be the biggest hiring challenge of all.
Sifting through hundreds of resumes, narrowing the top candidates down, conducting multiple rounds of interviews and then onboarding are just a few time-intensive tasks that are expensive and often inefficient. What’s more, there are no guarantees the right sales hire has been made even after all that work. These inefficiencies and risks are amplified for smaller, family-operated businesses that don’t have the people power and large resources to recover quickly from a failed hire.
Automating many hiring tasks by using artificial intelligence technology can help your team uncover stronger sales team candidates:
- AI can automatically select candidates by scanning big job sites using criteria you provide. Companies like Ideal and others specialize in the recruiting and hiring space.
- AI can also automate the candidate prescreening process using chatbots to contact possible hires early in the process, asking a set series of screening questions, and then sending your team a detailed transcript of the interaction. Avrio is one such AI platform with this functionality.
- AI can automate interview scheduling with your team. Paradox Olivia and x.ai are technologies that engage with candidates and can integrate with your calendar to schedule interviews your team then confirms.
- AI can locate passive candidates. Sometimes, the best fit for an open position isn’t active in the job market; they are currently employed elsewhere. AI can help you unearth these candidates by scanning the internet for candidates that are likely to change jobs in the near future. Engage Talent and Entelo both provide this service via AI platforms.
Again, for a family business with limited human resources and capital, applying automation in a focused way can make the process more manageable, more cost-effective, less threatening to your team and more likely to yield a big return in time and money saved.
Benefits of Automation
These are just a few examples of how the focused, targeted deployment of automation tools will have a ripple effect across your business. Huge investments in technology, radically transforming your business model immediately, and replacing most of your workforce with robots is not realistic or desirable, especially for smaller, family-owned and -operated companies.
However, sales automation can save you time and money by automating previously inefficient, mundane tasks. The benefits of automation, once deployed, will cascade throughout your entire company.
Time saved can be refocused on professional growth, creativity and innovation; money saved can be reinvested to foster growth and hire new sales team members; boring tasks removed from the day-to-day work lives of sales staff will make them happier, more productive and more likely to stay with your company, reducing the need for hiring; and streamlined, lower risk hiring can positively impact your organization.
Embracing automation and taking a staged approach to its use can lead to truly meaningful and profound impacts for your family business.