Add one to the list of buzzwords. Everywhere you go, software companies are talking automation. Robotic Process Automation or RPA (don’t get me started on Acronyms – that’s a whole other tirade!), Industrial Automation and Control (IAC), Business Process Automation. There’s Automation Anywhere and #AutomationFirst. And so on and so on. Apparently, we are all dying to automate anything and everything we can! If it can be automated, it should be – automation will revolutionize and improve the world!
Well, sorry to rain on the Automation parade, but outside of the tech bubble, most of your prospects are not interested in automation. And some are openly hostile to it. If your value proposition rests on the A-word, you better think again.
Our conversations with both Line of Business and IT leaders have revealed that they don’t see Automation as the Holy Grail, the way Silicon Valley does, for three Reasons:
- Automation is much more limited in scope than how it’s touted
- Automation is not a benefit, it’s a means to an end
- Automation has negative connotations.
Automation Isn’t Automating The Really Hard Stuff.
I recently saw something in my feed about Content Automation. Fantastic, I thought. This will really help to generate great content. So I clicked and went to the website. And watched a video about content automation. What’s the biggest challenge related to content? Creating interesting and engaging content. Coming up with original insights and ideas for our audience. So I was really excited to see how automating content was going to make that easier. What did that video show me? Nothing about CREATING content. Nope. Not one thing. It was about automating the distribution and repurposing of content I’d already created. Not the problem I’d like to solve. Something related to a tangential part of the process.
In a shocking development, B2B companies are overhyping their technology. This is not a first. But from a sales and marketing standpoint, tech companies seem to be promising a lot more about automation than they can actually deliver. In truth, what they are generally offering is partial automation of a business process. When they say, “We automate your process”, what they mean is : “We automate 2 or 3 steps of your 7 step process.” Sometimes they automate just step 4. Sometimes steps 5-6, or steps 1-3, and step 7. There are very few processes that tech can automate end-to-end. So buyers hear automation and think it’s end-to-end, only to learn that it’s partial automation.
For partial automation to have value, it has to dramatically improve the 1 or 2 steps of a process so much that the overall process is improved. Or, that particular step has to be so odious, repetitive and time-consuming, or so fraught with risk, that it has outsized value. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case in the offerings to date. Software that automates the sending of an email is not earth-shattering technology. But when it comes down to it, a lot of the automation is something of that ilk.
So why would anyone want to go to the trouble of licensing software, implementing it, training their team to use it, and stick their neck out to automate what amounts to a minor annoyance? Oh, but if you just license something else for steps 2-5, and 6, and 9-10, you can then spend time integrating them all with one another, as well as your CRM or ERP system, to get that end-to-end automation you really seek! Yeesh.
Yes, there are exceptions, and automation will undoubtedly improve and accelerate. And yes there are times when even partial automation has a value. But not all automation is worthy of the tradeoff involved to make it happen.
Automation is Not A Benefit.
Tech-think has once again gotten the best of B2B marketers. They have confused a category with a benefit. Contrary to marketers’ belief, companies aren’t looking to automate. They are looking to simplify processes, improve morale, have staff work on higher value activities, reduce risk or improve a customer experience. Automation in and of itself is never the goal. We ran into the same issue years ago with the word “Cloud.” Companies seemed to believe that putting cloud in front of any business process would magically make it more attractive. Cloud Business Intelligence. Cloud Supply Chain. Cloud ERP. But prospects didn’t care about cloud. They wanted the benefits that result from cloud. Deeper insight, reduced maintenance, increased security, etc. The same goes for automation. Rather than just saying “automation,” B2B marketers need to tell their prospects how the world will be different once automation happens. What does it for the decision-maker individually? What does it do for her company and its customers? That’s the promise they care about.
The other big issue with staking your claim to automation is that this is a category word. By claiming you provide (Insert process here) automation, you are essentially saying you do what everyone else in this category does. You are describing the function of your product rather than focusing on what makes it different from everyone else. In effect, you are screaming, “Hey, we are just like the other guys!” Translation – “Bring on the bakeoff. Let’s prove to you in an expensive, non-scalable way how our features are better than the other guys’.” That will eventually boil your offering and your competitors’ to a price war. Thank you for destroying margins. Never, ever ever even suggest you are the same as your competitors! You must always be better and different and that begins with your value proposition!
Automation is not viewed 100% positively
Automation is pretty much synonymous with software – any software. What does Microsoft Excel do? It automates calculations. It alleviates the need to manually calculate figures. Automation is implicit in most software. Too many companies are simply using automation as a replacement for software. It’s too generic, and meaningless.
Beyond that, it’s well-documented that automation has lots of negative connotations. It raises the spectre of taking away jobs. As soon as you say automation, it means cutting staff and putting people out of work. It scares decision-makers and their staff. “If I automate this process, I might lose head count.” “ It will bring bad PR to our company. “ If you lead with automation, you are asking for pushback from day 1. You turn a downstream objection into a barrier to entry for your account.
Don’t jump on the automation bandwagon! Do the hard work to understand the real benefits of your solution instead of relying on automation as the centerpiece of your value proposition.