Even in the digital age, person-to-person outreach remains essential.

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Lots of companies, large and small, are now using marketing-automation tools to keep track of their client relationships and nurture their leads through the sales process. That includes everything from customer relationship management (CRM) systems and automated email tools to social media-management apps and artificial intelligence (AI) chat bots that provide responses for simple queries and intake tasks.

But sometimes people get complacent or overly impressed with the new capabilities of the latest technology,and forget about the all-important human element of the work. Many marketing people have developed unrealistic expectations of what automation can do for them; too many people are expecting their automation tools/platforms/systems to automatically turn their prospects into “sales-ready leads” on their own, without having their team do some of the heavy lifting. 

There’s been a lot of talk about how AI is going to kill millions of jobs and cause the end of work as we know it. I am skeptical of these doomsday prognostications; I believe that technology is constantly evolving, and just like every prior era of technological innovation, people will still be needed for all kinds of jobs, but in slightly different styles or settings. In the same way, too many marketing pros today are reliant on automation, to the point that they’re forgetting about the limitations of the technology and overlooking opportunities to complement it with human connection.

Related: Be as Human as Possible With Your Marketing Strategy

Here are examples of when the essential human element of a real-life salesperson complements marketing automation and enhances all the great things it can do to systematize and organize your processes. 

1. Giving an extra nudge to prospects who need it.

Sometimes, automated systems cause sales teams to overlook or miss out on prospective buyers who just need an extra nudge. A CRM system can’t always track this; it can require human intuition to know when someone is almost ready to buy but just needs one more contact. In those cases, confer with a manager or a colleague to see if they’re hearing the same things from the prospect that you are. There are so many subtle nuances to knowing how and when a prospect is truly “ready to buy.” The signals are not going to show up on a computer-generated report.  

2. Creating that “human touchpoint” to build a relationship.

Marketing-automation tools can be really helpful at organizing your contacts, keeping track of notes and managing relationships over time at a high level, but your prospects often need authentic contact with a human being to help break through the clutter and noise of everyday life. This is where your automation tools can help hone in on the right people to call, but it requires a real person to take that next step and pick up the phone. You might be surprised at how happy your prospects are to hear from you, compared to all the impersonal, text-based communication. I’ve even had prospects tell me, “Wow, a phone call. That’s kind of a breath of fresh air.”

3. Answering questions to help prospects fully understand the solution.

Your prospects might have questions or specific concerns that are not addressed by your mass emails, brochures or website FAQs. The human element can help guide your prospects to understand the solution you’re offering. Talking with customers by phone or web-based video chat can also help you understand the weaknesses and blind spots of your marketing literature. For example, when you spend time actually talking with customers and listening to their questions, you might realize that your emails aren’t addressing their biggest concerns, or your prospective customers might be describing different problems than what your literature is promising to solve. Having real human conversations can help you get your marketing in better alignment with what your customers need.

4. Targeting the correct decision maker.

There are lots of automated tools and AI-driven platforms that are intended to help sales people do their B2B lead-generation research and identify the right decision makers within the right target organizations. But no amount of web-based or AI-driven research can guarantee that the person you’re emailing is truly the correct decision maker for what you sell — even if their job title sounds right. You will never know until you pick up the phone. Start dialing and knocking on doors and having conversations with people who can help you get the lay of the land inside a prospect organization. 

Related: Why Transparency Marketing Helps Increase Engagement

5. Hearing the prospect’s sales objections.

Marketing automation tends to work silently; you send a batch of emails, test the response rates and maybe get a few inbound leads. But what happened to all the prospects who did not respond? Were they turned off by your marketing message? Are they skeptical about the promises of your solution’s key features and benefits? Or were they just too busy to read your message? You’ll never know unless you actually talk to people. This is another limitation of marketing automation that requires human connection and intuition. At some point, you need to start making some phone calls and getting direct insights into what people think about your company, your product and your value proposition. Sales phone calls are valuable not only for what you say to prospects, but for what you hear from them.

Don’t assume that marketing automation can do everything for you in a seamless hands-off process that magically turns your leads into eager-to-buy customers. There are still opportunities for prospects to let you know how ready they are to buy that benefit from a real person being more involved in the process. I don’t believe that marketing automation is going to eliminate human jobs; it’s going to change the jobs, and it might even create new ones. Because sales is a complex human endeavor, we’re still going to need hard-working, intuitive, emotionally intelligent people to do this work and build relationships with their fellow human beings.

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