The call of the machine, or how to make selling more human

George Brontén

You know that scene in The Matrix when Neo wakes up in a metal tank and discovers that his entire life has been a lie and that he is merely a battery helping to power a world run by machines?

It’s a scene that strikes horror into the hearts of viewers, but later we find out that many humans were complicit in the design and building of the matrix that imprisons billions of humans from birth to death. They traded in their peoples’ freedom for prestige, status, and other benefits in an imaginary world created by the machines.

The story is, of course, fictional, but both the attraction and the horror of a world run by machines is very real.

In sales, automation fueled by AI and “machine-learning” promises many benefits to users. But is the cost worth it? Let’s take a look at the “call of the machine” versus selling made by and for humans.

The call of the machine

The sales profession has always been attracted to and aided by machines. Telephones and cars enabled sales professionals to reach a larger market. Computers allowed us to record data and compose messages. The Internet, email and social made all of that faster.

Now, the "sales stack" can do everything from sending automated email cadences, record calls to automate follow-ups. Much of this technology is helpful and supportive, and it is certainly attractive.

The call of the machine says we can:

  • Do more faster
  • Take shortcuts to engagement
  • Get more results with less work
  • Hire junior employees to churn through prospects
  • Get to market and sell fast, fast, fast

All of this may be true, but at what cost? Poorly designed sales automation is driving people nuts and I believe it’s causing long-term damage to our profession and our companies.

A few reasons why:

  • Prospects find automated messages annoying
  • Response rates are low (people say NO by hitting the delete button)
  • Target companies blacklist entire domains based on spam activity
  • Salespeople get burned out on rejection
Sales automation is causing long-term damage to our profession & companies.
George Brontén

For Silicon Valley startups with a vast, accessible market, a simplistic product, and a quick sales cycle, sales automation might get fast short-term results. These companies are not building long-term, healthy businesses. They're building company valuations in entities that can be sold to larger companies, or the public, quickly making investors and owners wealthy. In a way, they are gaming the system. They are like the stamen snipping finches that I wrote about in a previous blog post. They're not concerned about burning some bridges now, because the idea of growing fast and then getting out of the business appeals to them more.

But in the meantime, automation is causing a ton of collateral damage:

  • Salespeople are ruining their personal reputations sending automated messages with their own names attached
  • Markets are growing increasingly leery of sales messages and more reluctant to accept communications from unknown contacts
  • Enormous segments of time and energy and productivity, across the board, are wasted sorting and discarding spam

Personal story: I received an email from someone who wanted my business, but it was canned so I ignored it. I ignored several more canned messages and a couple of LinkedIn messages. On the seventh contact attempt, the salesperson said, “Hey, I’ve tried to contact you 12 times, why haven’t you responded?” (code for “my sequence is getting to the end and I’m frustrated”)

Well, it got my attention, anyway.

Being a very nice person with a Swedish reluctance to hurt anyone’s feelings, I responded to let them know that I was not interested in their product and would kindly appreciate being taken out of their automated cadence.

The salesperson responded to let me know that they thought I was very rude and furthermore not very smart to let the opportunity to engage with them pass.

I hope I don’t have to tell anyone reading this that the exchange left a very bad taste in my mouth.

It was not a good exchange for anyone, the salesperson included. Yet this is the world we create when we rely on automated cadences and plans drawn up by machines to “optimize” our results.

How and why to make selling more human

I believe it doesn’t have to be this way–and it shouldn’t be. We don’t have to give in to The Matrix.

A truly human approach to selling can rescue us–making our teams more effective, more sustainable and, ultimately, happier.

Instead of automated cadences, we can set up rhythms. Instead of canned messages, we can send carefully researched, human connection emails. Instead of applying pressure, we can lend a helping hand. 

I thought this little piece of personal research from Adam Schoenfeld at Drift was interesting. He did an experiment to see what was more effective: Truly personalized cold emails based on research and human connection or automated sequences with token “personalization” and segmentation.

Essentially, it was a miniature human vs machine study.

Human won.

  • “Hands-on the keyboard to research and send cold email. 59 prospects. 80% opened. 34% clicked. 29% replied.” That’s 17 replies total.
  • “Automated sequences with tokens and segmentation. 89 prospects. 53% opened. 13% clicked. 7% replied.” That’s 6.23 replies total, 35% of the number generated by fewer prospects contacted in a more human manner.

Obviously, this is a small sampling, but I believe it is representative. If you’re operating in a complex b2b environment where the approachable market is small, you can’t afford to burn through prospects at the rate that automation requires.

This is not to say that technology shouldn’t be a part of your sales approach. Only that the technology should be the slave to the human, not the other way around.

An effective human-focused approach may include:

  • A structured prospecting process
  • Clear definitions of how to qualify prospects
  • Tools like data enrichment, templates, snippets, stakeholder mapping
  • Enablement content, such as training videos and cheat sheets
  • Sales collateral, such as whitepapers and case studies
  • Engagement tracking, to see email opens & website clicks
  • Process guidance, coaching and reinforcement
  • Data and analysis to learn what works and how to improve

And it values:

  • Salespeople and prospects as humans
  • Relationships built on trust
  • Long-term performance
  • A sustainable future

We designed and developed Membrain to be the technology that truly serves complex b2b organizations and sales teams. It makes the technology the servant of your goals and gives the humans in your organization the structure and reinforcement they need to perform their best and build trusting long-term, profitable relationships.

I’d love to show you how. Contact us for a demonstration.

George Brontén
Published October 2, 2019, written by

George Brontén

George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

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