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When to automate, and when to apply the human touch in sales

5 min readFebruary 6, 2019

Ever since the introduction of sales automation software, the great debate has been ongoing: What activities, interactions, and conversations should be automated so prospect can interact on their own, and what should be done with the help of a human?

The automation side of the debate has fueled its fair share of anxiety that humans will be out-automated and replaced.

That is no surprise, considering that we have automated emails, follow-ups, chat-bots, conversation capabilities, AI assistants, online payments, and automated setup. If we wanted to, we could dehumanize the entire B2B sales process and make it just like an ecommerce transaction.

So what’s the role of a human in the B2B sales process? The truth is that we have been attempting to answer the wrong question. As a recent McKinsey research study revealed, it’s not about what to automate, the true question is when to automate.

The study found that every B2B buyer wants human interaction, the only differentiating factor is when they want it.

All B2B buyers will speak with a human

Since modern B2B buyers are well-versed in B2C interactions, they now tend to handle the early stages of business transactions in a similar manner. They do a large amount of their own research and consideration before they ever reach out to your company. Some want more guidance and opinion from you during their research process, others want to speak to you at the very end. The surprising truth is that, at some point, all buyers want to talk to you.

McKinsey found that of the buyers who prefer to interact with companies digitally, two-thirds still want to speak with a human at some point. In our opinion, the rest of them don’t realize they want to speak with a human until they have a support question. This contact usually takes place in the late evaluation stage or early consideration stage. This means when your reps speak to them, they already know your products and now want to see specifically what your company will do for them.

It’s not just sales reps that need to be aware. The McKinsey study further concluded that after the contract is signed, 85 percent of the customers who preferred human interaction during the initial deal suddenly want digital. They don’t want to be bothered with cross- or upselling. When they are contacted by a customer success representative, they want a personalized plan to help them uncover more ways to help drive success.

The story is clear, B2B buyers don’t want to be sold, they want to be helped. They simply want input and guidance through their purchasing process. Different buyers just want human guidance at different times.

Sellers have therefore had to adapt and move away from general lines of questioning or product pitches. When reps speak to a prospect, they need to be a consultant who can uncover their needs and deliver a specific solution to solve their unique problems. This is because B2B relationships go deeper than the simple transactions that exist in the consumer world. Clients request specific features from their SaaS providers, they give feedback, and even co-develop products. B2B companies share symbiotic relationships with their customers. It’s about helping each other.

So when do you automate in sales?

It’s simple: use automation to guarantee conversations, not to replace them. Automate in order to guarantee true human contact the very moment a prospect wants it. Use your site and sales content in parallel with human interaction, so that when a visitor inevitably reaches out for guidance, your team is there to help.

Automate administration

When approaching or re-evaluating automation within a sales team, speed, productivity, and effectiveness in the mundane, administrative tasks should take priority. Give your reps as much coaching as they need to be great conversationalists, then give them as much time as possible to interact with prospects. The key is to make your reps good at and available for conversations at all times.

Use sales cadence or dialer tools to automate repetitive and time intensive tasks like:

  • Outreach: prospect info/research, some emails, call list development
  • After-call work, including: call notes, call dispositions, call ratings, follow-ups
  • Deal-related activities: reporting, lead distribution, Salesforce cleanup.

Dialers that provide click-to-call functionality, voicemail drop, call lists, and efficient ways to create call notes, reminders, and follow-ups are an excellent way to reduce your reps’ administrative workload. Use automation when your reps have task-intensive work to perform so they can spend more time on the phone.

Be careful to not over-automate and disrupt the quality of the actual conversations your reps are having. Auto-dialers, appointment setting companies, ringless voicemails, and an over-indulgence in mass emails all create a negative experience that result in an unremarkable first impression and possibly even a lost sale. Furthermore, over-automation can remove the human from inside of your sales organization as well. Do not sacrifice the role of true personal interaction in one-on-one meetings, sales coaching, and trainings for the sake of a little more selling time.

Automate availability, not conversations

For customer-facing properties such as your website, make the availability of your reps loud and clear. Remember, it’s about when your prospects want to talk, not if, so ensure they can immediately reach you whenever that moment comes. There should be no barriers to customer contact with sales.

When a customer is on your site, automate content delivery, use forms, landing pages, and even marketing applications to help guide your visitors through their decision making process. Next, utilize chatbots and clear callouts to provide a true method of contact regardless of what stage the prospect is in. If the research holds true, they will reach out to you. Then, use your internal automation to have a valuable conversation with that prospect as quickly as possible.

There is a true need for speed. We live in a time where instant gratification is the norm. When a prospect wants information, no matter how small, they don’t want to wait. If they have a question about your or your product, they immediately go to Google, if they want to speak with you, they expect and need an answer just as quickly.