The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to accelerate their digital transformation efforts at a much faster pace. In light of the increasingly challenging economy, teams across the entire organization are expected to do more with the resources they have. As a result, automation has emerged as a key area of technology investment for enterprises today.
While successful companies use automation to increase productivity and close operational gaps in their tech stack, smart companies also use automation to scale customer retention and overall revenue growth initiatives. Not surprisingly, in addition to the majority of executives planning to improve the remote work experience, PwC found that 50 percent of executives plan to accelerate automation within their organization. However, to get the most value out of automation, organizations need to embrace it as part of their culture. Here’s how.
1. Lead with the benefits: What’s in it for your company and your teams?
I've found the best way to raise awareness of concepts like automation is to emphasize the benefits. Automation is about more than just offloading repetitive, time-consuming manual tasks. It’s also about making the most of all the hard work that every team member does. We’ve seen companies use automation to scale out mission-critical processes such as instantly managing vast numbers of sales records, sending out and personalizing enormous numbers of marketing messages, and many more. Strategically adding automation to certain functions can have extraordinary benefits at scale - for your company, and for your team.
Our customer New Relic built an automated and highly personalized messaging stream for its customer base to engage users both by their maturity in the funnel and by their job function. The result was two very important wins. First, the company saw a huge increase in customer engagement that spurred higher customer retention. Second, New Relic didn’t need to place any additional burden on its customer success team, and in fact, was able to offload topline support queries by providing proactive, customized support messaging at scale. Here, we see another key benefit of automation: It can be a multiplier for efficiency when resources are scarce. Unfortunately, with the way the global economy has developed of late, there's a much greater need for efficiency and higher productivity for teams across the organization who are expected to do more with less.
2. Empower employees to become citizen automators with low-code automation tools
What's really exciting about the automation space is the rise of low-code as the new way to automate. There was a time when software automation was largely the domain of bulky, on-premise tools with extremely complicated front-ends that required an engineering degree just to figure out. Now, the low-code automation movement gives any business user, whether in marketing, sales, services, HR, finance, or any other function, the ability to harness the power of automation themselves.
We've found the most successful citizen automators are the ones who most clearly understand their own functional challenges as they relate to their tech stack and its limitations. We've seen the drive to automate business processes frequently comes from smart business users who have clearly identified gaps in their technology tools - challenges they should reasonably be able to handle, but simply can't, due to a lack of API integrations, engineering knowhow, or data-related issues that are unique to their specific business needs. There was a time when such users' only recourse was to submit an IT helpdesk ticket and wait (and wait, and wait) for some kind of internal support. Now that low-code automation has lowered the barrier to entry, business users are becoming citizen automators who build out their own automated processes themselves.
I should also mention the importance of choosing automation platforms that provide enterprise-grade features that empower teams to operate at their best. For example, enterprise-grade platforms let teams set multiple levels of user access and automation sharing. Lower-end automation tools that don't offer enterprise-grade features can eventually turn into tangled jungles of different automated processes without clear ownership...a recipe for confusion and potential errors as owners accidentally modify, clone, or delete the wrong automated processes.
3. Increase transparency with project management
It may not seem glamorous, but we've found that good, old-fashioned project management can be helpful in managing automation projects at scale to maintain transparency company-wide. For example, it’s common for teams to have automation champions who lead the charge on building out automated processes. However, once teams have built out their first automated workflow, they quickly realize how many other opportunities they have to break through other process barriers with automation. In these cases, it's important to have best practices in place to prioritize automation projects, so your team always tackles its most pressing needs first.
4. Spread the word with automation-savvy leaders
Smart operational leaders understand what’s important in today’s challenging economy: Namely, delivering faster time-to-value to increasingly demanding customers. Driving this important result requires executing important business processes at scale. Leaders who focus on such concerns are already thinking about automation, if not using it actively.
I think it's also worth mentioning that technical practitioners also frequently have a clear path forward to become future automation leaders. We've encountered many excellent citizen automators among meetups, communities, and groups of professionals who specialize in technical responsibilities tied to software. Specifically, revenue professionals, such as professionals who work in marketing operations, sales operations, or customer operations, frequently become savants with their platforms of choice (whether that be marketing automation platforms such as Marketo or Eloqua, CRMs such as Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics 365, or helpdesk applications such as Zendesk).
Automation-savvy leaders also become experts in the specific gaps in their software - the operations they need to flow mission-critical data from one application to another, but can't, due to built-in software limitations. Their operational mindset helps them use automation to solve their immediate challenges today, but their growing experience in using automation to 10x productivity and growth positions them to be the automation leaders of tomorrow.
5. Having a solution-focused mindset focused on outputs and results
Having an automation-savvy team puts your organization into the mindset of making the most with what you have – a mindset that is definitely important in these current times. More importantly, leaders that can adopt a “do more with what you have” mindset can inspire your team’s best work.
The two most important differentiating factors between a good company and a great company are internal processes and internal teams. The success of a company depends on its people – their dedication, hard work, ingenuity, and collaboration. It comes from better internal strategy and execution. None of us chose to operate our companies during a pandemic or an economic downturn, but what we can choose is how we respond to these challenges and how we can flawlessly execute on every opportunity available. The companies that will win in this economy understand how automation can supercharge processes by removing inefficiencies and enabling teams to run processes at scale.
Rich Waldron, CEO and co-founder, Tray.io