Automation – The Death of the Salesman?

Automation has completely transformed the workplace. As technology advances, jobs that would normally have been completed by humans are becoming obsolete. Whilst we have become accustomed to this happening with manual based work such as factory operations or farming, this is changing. Automation is no longer confined to manual labour, it’s now making its way in to office environments and many people are concerned that the next profession to take a hit will be sales.

One of the main reasons why sales is under threat from automation is due to the fact that many tasks that would have traditionally been carried out by people are now completed by technology.  Software has become so sophisticated that it can now take on many aspects of marketing and sales. To compound the issue, computers can carry out these tasks faster, more efficiently and with less errors. Therefore, just like with every other example of the automation in the workplace- it’s completely understandable why business owners would make the change, it improves operations and it’s cheaper.

So what aspect of sales is actually moving towards automation? Typically, it’s the processes leading up to the sale which are most likely to become automated. In fact, research has shown that 70% of the buying process is completed before a customer has even spoken to a real person. This is a really important statistic as it shows that the majority of sales is happening without human interaction. The aspects of sales that this represents is processes such as contacting prospective customers, lead generation, lead enrichment, marketing etc.

Before we completely right off a career in sales, it’s important to point out that there is still a place for human workers within this sector. Computers and software programmes excel in many areas but they will never be able to compensate for a real human interaction. The business world is clearly becoming much faster, intelligent and data-driven but we are losing the human touch. It‘s very easy for a company to have an over reliance on technology and  risk appearing cold, aloof and money hungry. This is why sales isn’t currently and probably never will be completely automated.

This doesn’t mean that those who work in the industry are off the hook. The only way to get ahead of the curve and stop your job from being delegated to a machine is to embrace automation. Many of the processes that are becoming automated are tasks such as sending large volumes of emails, call logging, dialing numbers, scheduling appointments and matching leads with reps. These are all time consuming and monotonous tasks which is why they are being automated. Therefore, sales reps should look at this as a benefit- allowing them to focus on areas in which they excel. For example, actually talking with customers, creating relationships and offering something that machines can’t.

It’s worth noting that some within the industry consider it to be a golden age for those within sales and its precisely because of processes becoming automated. Many of these tasks are based around contacting potential leads, whether it’s calling, leaving voicemails or emailing and there is now a plethora of software-based solutions that can take over, leaving sales reps with much more time to play with. We also need to talk about data and the effect that it is having on the industry. The majority of businesses are recognising that big data is the future and this is also relevant within sales. Processes such as matching reps with leads, assigning the best content and creating tailored presentations are all moving towards automation thanks to software which collects, analyses and then uses data so that it can make intelligent, well-informed decisions

Similar to the way in which workers in other industries have adapted to the encroachment of technology, salespeople need to stop fighting it and instead embrace it. Take advantage of the benefits that technology offer but showcase to employers that you offer something that is irreplaceable.

Would a Dragon invest in your business?

 

The hit BBC show Dragon’s Den has ignited an entrepreneurial spark in its viewers. Not only are more people taking the leap in to invention and business creation, there has also never been more interest in the process of investment.

Although Dragon’s Den has done a lot of good in inspiring future business owners- it does have its drawbacks. On the show, investors are portrayed as dragons- rude, condescending and often cruel in their interactions with those looking for help. Obviously, this is an overdramatic portrayal of the investment process in order to appease viewers but it could understandably put off potential investees.

Another aspect of the show that can be quite misleading is the focus on the financial investment. Of course, money is a vital component when starting a business but so is experience, contacts and general mentorship. The show tends to focus on the large piles of cash but it’s the relationship between a successful businessperson and a newcomer that can often make all the difference.

Real life investors may not be quite as dragon-like, in fact they are known as angel investors, ironically enough. However, it’s fair to say that they do have high standards and therefore what can company owners do in order to strike a deal?

Good Idea

How many times have we seen this scenario- a well thought out business proposal that sounds great on paper but the product just isn’t viable. It can be easy for start-ups to become so passionate about their work that they lose a certain objectivity. Creators need to ask themselves whether their product or service is providing something new or better. It is possible to reinvent the wheel but there has to be some new and unique spin on these types of products in order to gain attention from consumers.

If you do have a good idea and it receives positive attention from impartial third-parties- now is the time for patents. Many investors will avoid products without a full patent or copyright because there’s a chance it can copied by another company. This is a worst-case scenario but it does happen and can lead to the complete loss of the investment.

Business Plan

Although it may seem obvious- a good business plan is paramount in order to gain investment. There can be many pitfalls when drafting up a plan and these can often act as warning signs for potential investors. The plans should include information on funding, the percentage stake in the company, returns, as well as any relevant information on product which has already sold including revenue, profit, quantities etc.

It’s worth noting that your plan shouldn’t just be all numbers- there should also be consideration towards experience as well as research in to potential competitors and how they could affect your burgeoning product or service.

Commitment

When asking for a serious commitment from an investor, they expect the same from you. Obviously one of the main reasons for a company to seek out investment is because it requires funding in order to grow. However, many investors will look to see if the individual or team has invested their own money and if they haven’t that can be a sign that they aren’t as committed as they expect others to be.

Real Life success

One of the most common mistakes made by fledgling business owners is a preoccupation with planning and neglect of real-world experience. After all, the best business plan in the world is useless if the product doesn’t sell.

Not everyone has the resources to sell their product on any sort of large scale. However, investors want to see at least an attempt at this- whether that’s contacting vendors, contacting manufacturers, prototyping, market research or even actual sales. There can be many stumbling blocks when starting out and potential investors are more like to work with individuals who have made their mistakes and learned from them, rather than someone beginning at square one.

Experience

One thing that Dragon’s Den does illustrate well is this idea that investment isn’t just about the product but also the individual or team behind the product. It’s important to showcase any relevant experience you may have that allows the investor to see you as bankable. What is your day job and how has that led you to starting your own business? Is there a personal story behind the product and why you decided to create it? Think of the process like a job interview- this is the time to sell yourself- just as much as you’re selling your invention.

It’s also worth remembering that business owners want to work with people who make the process and easy and exciting.

Investors may not be dragons but they can be formidable and it takes a pretty special pitch in order to grab their attention- it’s only with the right preparation, confidence and a little bit of luck that entrepreneurs can take that next step.

Facebook or Google – Which is best for Advertising?

 

Online advertising has grown exponentially in recent years- which is no surprise considering we are spending more time online than ever before. When it comes to choosing a specific advertising platform, many companies opt for one of the two biggest- either Facebook or Google. Both of these platforms have a massive reach- hosting billions of users, all of whom are potential customers.

Although both Facebook and Google AdWords can provide exceptional results when it comes to advertising, it’s worth noting that they both offer different experiences. Therefore, it’s worth balancing the pros and cons of both in order to ascertain which platform is best suited to your company and its specific requirements.

Google AdWords

Google is the world’s biggest search engine and AdWords is by the far the most popular platform for online advertising. One of the main advantages of utilising Google is that it can connect businesses with a massive audience- using both their search engine (keywords) and their display network (banner ads), which are two of the main techniques.

The fact that there are different ways to advertise on Google means that there are options to suit everybody. Keyword advertising and converting clicks to sales is better suited to those who want to see their numbers rise, whereas banner advertisement is more of a broad, qualitative approach that is better suited to companies who want to get their brand identity in to the mainstream. Of course, you also have access to other formats such as video advertisements and Google’s shopping search results.

The type of product which is being marketed is important when deciding between Facebook and Google. For example, niche or specialised products are much better suited to Google because Facebook advertising relies on customer information and therefore these types of products will only reach a small audience. The same goes for the cost of the products and services which are being sold. Products with a high price perform better on Google because Facebook lends itself to impulse buying and therefore cheaper products.

The major downside to Google advertising is that it can be expensive and therefore out of reach for small and medium sized companies. Yes, you are likely to see a return on your investment but you need to have the funds to invest in the first place and therefore larger, more secure businesses are likely to see better results from Google. It’s also worth noting that there is the potential of ads failing to do well, leading to a loss of money- therefore there is risk involved.

Facebook

Facebook advertising may not have been around as long as Google but it’s definitely gaining in popularity.

Obviously, as with Google, Facebook benefits from connecting a vast amount of people- in fact it’s the most popular social network by far with 2 billion monthly active users. However, it’s not just the amount of people that is important but also the way they interact with the network. Facebook users reveal a wealth information about themselves, all of which is incredibly valuable for advertisers. Whereas Google will let users find the adverts through keyword searches, Facebook actually delivers ads according to user profiles, interests, demographic etc. Therefore, Facebook is particularly good at targeting products at the most suitable consumers.

Are Christmas Parties Good for Your Business?

It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to the festive season and the inevitable office Christmas party. Whether it’s actually held in the office or in the local pub, the work’s “do” can often elicit a strong reaction, ranging from excitement, to dread and everything in between. However, how do Christmas parties affect business and is it time to rethink them?

Before we look at the drawbacks of the office Christmas party, we should outline the benefits. One of the main upsides to organising some type of office Christmas event is that it gives employees something to look forward to and acts as a “reward” for hard work throughout the year. Taking both of these in to consideration, Christmas parties can therefore can really help to boost morale. Especially during the colder months when getting up for work can be particularly hard.

Another major benefit to office parties is that they help to create a stronger bond between employees. Ice breakers and group work can only go so far and sometimes there’s nothing better than allowing colleagues to bond in a non-work environment. A greater degree of familiarity between staff can improve team work, boost efficiency and lead to a much more congenial workplace.

I hate to channel Scrooge but we need to talk about the drawbacks and potential pitfalls of hosting a Christmas event for employees. Of course, one of the main considerations for these events is cost- especially for companies that employ many people. It’s very easy for the budget to blow up when you have to pay for venue, food, drinks, transport etc. It’s worth noting that businesses do get a tax-free allowance for staff events that comes in at £150 per person but there can be quite severe penalties if you go over the limit, which is easily done.

The staff Christmas party has a reputation for people over-indulging and this I often used as a punchline but it can have some real-world consequences for business owners. It’s very common for employees to over-indulge at these events and this can lead to inappropriate behaviour, confrontations and overall awkward situations. Any event that is organised by the company or employer is considered an extension of the workplace, even if it’s out of working hours. Therefore, the employer is still responsible for their employees when it comes to specific legislation- whether it’s health and safety, sexual harassment or discrimination. Suffice to say, a simple work event could potentially lead to a much more complex situation.

Worst case scenario, any disputes or bad behaviour can spill in to the workplace or even lead to suspensions.

It’s not just what happens during the Christmas party that can have an effect on business. There is a tendency for drinking too much which could lead to poor performance in work the following day or a spike in absences. Obviously, this has a knock-on effect and can lead to a loss in efficiency and cost the company even more.

This may paint a bleak picture but there are ways for companies to hold an event without having to worry about all of these potential drawbacks. For example, if the party does involve alcohol then it would be best to limit the amount available as this reduces the likelihood of inappropriate behaviour and severe hangovers.

Many companies are changing the way they celebrate altogether- moving on from booze filled parties to more activity-based events- such as craft days or something for foodies. You could also host trips out, such as to the theatre or cinema.

Furthermore, some companies have forgone the Staff Christmas party completely, opting for smaller weekly or monthly communal activities. This takes the pressure off the business but offers the same benefits in terms of morale and team building.