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How marketing and sales automation are leading us back to personal relationships with customers

Even a cursory glance at the business tech environment of today shows automation as the number one rising technology trend across the globe. Not that this is surprising. As computers become increasingly capable of handling any task that can be explained to a programmer and enacted by a machine, they also become able to take some of the pressure and responsibility off of employee shoulders. Far from the sci-fi inspired fear that robots will be taking over modern business jobs, in fact, they are beginning to emphasise exactly how important it is to have human team members as well as an army of automation machines taking care of the tedious tasks.

Across the internet, the emphasis on real human connection is rising as customers make their preferences for speaking to real humans when on the phone, in live chat, emails, and social media abundantly clear. They would rather see a real human avatar than a business logo, would rather speak to a person than a phone tree robot, and would rather get emails from people instead of robots. The truly interesting thing about business customer relations in our time is that automation is actually making it easier to achieve this real human connection.




The still rising trend of marketing automation

While automation is streamlining every aspect of business in almost every industry, nowhere is it more evident and widely incorporated than marketing. Part of the reason for this is that every company, even if outsourcing, needs a marketing team and in the digital age, marketers are expected to deal with hundreds to thousands of customers and community members every day. Traditional marketing campaigns have transformed to include managing a growing social media community across multiple platforms, building and manicuring an ever-growing mailing list with personalised messages and offers, and sending out a mountain of friendly SMS text messages to mobile subscribers.

While some of these tasks may overlap with a sales department if you have one, it varies from business to business whether or not these tasks are split or fall into the lap of a single team. But when you think about it, all those communications could stack up beyond hundreds of thousands and easily number into the millions for popular and growing businesses with a large online community of customers and supporters. It's no wonder marketers are turning to intelligent automation.


What marketing automation can do

Looking into marketing and sales automation, we see an incredible variety of options involving scheduling, personalisation, message sending, and alert systems. In social media, marketers can design a campaign arc and schedule weeks if not months of timed fun messages and images to post well in advance. This ensures that the account stays active no matter what happens in the office. In addition, they can also set more intelligent automation software to keep an eye on community activity for a number of reasons. Questions and comments directed at the campaign account will create an alert and possibly a ticket for customer service or the marketing team to address. Automation can also be used to skim community activity for potential retweet and share opportunities based on keywords and social connections.

In terms of email marketing and creating personalised messages in other platforms as well, automation once again steps up to the plate. Using templates and style variations set into place by the human touch of the marketing team, automation software can use AI analysis of customer preferences to hand-craft thousands of customised messages per day complete with deals and offers that analysis has determined would be appealing to each targeted customer. The incredible part is that what a human could have accomplished in weeks of tedious editing and sending, automation can do in minutes and then do it again for a new batch of customers on a new platform ad infinitum.


Revealing the value of sales and marketing teams

The really interesting part of all this is that rather than serving to replace marketing teams, it has made each human manning the computers and providing that personal touch exceedingly more valuable. Armed with automation software, one marketer can now do the work of thirty marketing interns while still applying their own years of expertise and valued personal intuition and influence to the process.

Marketers no longer have to feel swamped by the need to keep thousands to hundreds of thousands of customers engaged on a regular basis. Instead, with the automation to handle emails and guide social media management, marketing teams have the time and attention to put extra work into each template the automation uses, improving the copy and ensuring that the experience can be fully personalised by their software to speak directly to each customer as if they were the only recipient of the message.

Even better, having taken care of the need to connect with the masses in general, it has allowed marketers and sales teams to start building personal connections with customers and members of the online community.


The automation enabling real human connection

One might think that this abundance of automated emails, social media posts, and messages would decrease the personal connection customers achieve with marketing and sales teams in their favourite companies but this actually isn't the case. Between the personalisation provided by modern software analysis and automation programs, the modern emphasis on communication channels, and the time it's freeing up for marketing and sales teams, customers are actually much more easily able to make personal connections with sales and marketing staff and even customer service staff as well.


In social media

Consider, for example, what's going on in social media. Marketers may be automating tweets like announcing the new spring collection of products, but scheduling the promotional materials is actually giving social media managers the time and freedom to spend their time actively engaging the community in discussions, answering questions, laughing at customer jokes, and hand-picking content from the community to share on your page. Automation can also keep an eye out for unanswered questions from the community, sending the marketing team an alert when someone has a question that needs to be personally answered.


In email marketing

In email marketing, we've mentioned that automation takes email templates and uses a combination of programmed instructions and customer pattern analysis to personalise each that template for each email it sends. Instead of a single form letter with the name replaced thousands of times over, marketers fine-tune the templates and personalisation so that each customer really does get a message 'written' just for them, their tastes, and how they interact with the company. This also gives marketers more time to write a personal reply if a customer responds to an automated email with a personal question or request.


In live chat

Even in live chat, a feature that's recently made a huge come-back in business web design, automation in the form of chatbots can actually be used to make sure customers always get connected with a real human sales or customer service representative. They do this by always being available to say 'hello' whenever a customer initiates chat. Much like a receptionist, they then ping a real human representative to take over the conversation, ensuring that the customer is never at risk of being accidentally ignored while still being promptly connected to a real person to talk to.


Technology and one-on-one customer relationships

As you can see, rather than decreasing the personal contact between customers and the marketing, sales, and customer service teams, automation is actually making it easier for small teams to form personal connections with thousands of customers and online community members. But there's no reason to believe that the trend will stop there.

In fact, several signs point to the online business community making an interesting swing back to the boutique customer relationship style that was once incredibly popular in the past. Before the internet, customers were more likely to have a favourite local shop they would visit where the same associate would help them each time. A personal relationship forms as the associate learns the preferences and needs of the individual customer and the customer forms a friendship with the one person they always prefer to work with. Believe it or not, this cozy and incredibly personal form of repeat customer sales is once again within our reach but in an entirely new environment.

With the new wave of personalisation and personal connection enabled by marketing automation software combined with the personal detail collection capabilities of the modern CRM, each marketing, sales, or customer service associate could theoretically be assigned a selection of specific customers who they do their best to provide for each time the customer returns. The CRM is a great reminder tool to help one person be the personal connection for hundreds to thousands of customers while the customers appreciate talking to the same person almost every time. This might even go so far as keeping the customers automatically updated as to their favourite associate's available days and hours so they never have to deal with their company friend being unavailable.

When one considers that this is only a single aspect of business automation, the possibilities for what else can be achieved are exciting to think about. Here we see a world of opposites and possibilities. Rather than pulling us apart, computers and software are finally making it easier for businesses to connect with their customers in a much more personalised and one-on-one style of service like we haven't seen as a widespread possibility in decades.

For more information and trends in business technology and more exciting automation tools – especially for IT Managers, we invite you to download our list below:

Shayne Harris photo

Shayne Harris

Head of Technical Sales ANZ

A highly successful sales and business professional with significant expertise in the in the Digital, Online and IT industries over more than 15 years. Extensive experience in Sales Management, Business Development and Account Management roles as well as managing people very focussed on setting and meeting targets, customer & organisational success and ongoing individual and team development. Strong track record in complex consultative, solution based sales, capable of establishing and maintaining strategic relationships at Executive and C level in industries such as Broadcast, Digital & online, Government and Enterprise. Shayne is responsible for the technology sales with the Lenovo Data Centre Group across Australia and New Zealand that comprises the internal technical sales team and also the pre-sales solution architects in the field across both countries. Shayne's primary role is set and manage the strategic intent of the technical sales resources for the enablement and market share growth of our alliance partners and end to end portfolio. Shayne has over 20 years of experience in the IT industry in technical and sales focussed roles and holds a bachelor of Business Management from the University of South Australia.