The pandemic has fundamentally changed how companies interact with customers, and meeting their expectations is more important than ever. In fact, according to research by SMB Group, SMBs (with 1-249 employees) ranked "keeping up with changing customer expectations'' as the top driver to invest in digital solutions.

One such solution is automation, which can be an important differentiator for small business success. Automation tools are especially important for businesses that want to meet consumers' high expectations around digital brand experiences.

"Customers expect to engage with companies in a whole different way," said Enrique Ortegon, Senior Vice President of Small and Medium Businesses at Salesforce. "They expect more efficiency. They expect more value added. They expect more personalization. And the way you do that is through automation."

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By automating your small business sales and customer relationship management (CRM) processes, you can deliver the experience your customers expect while saving valuable time in your day.

"Automation allows business owners to focus on the things that really add value and automate processes that are repeatable," he told CO—. "Leaders believe they can save up to three hours a day from automated tasks, which means they can actually focus on growing and scaling their businesses."

What is sales automation?

Sales automation involves configuring technology solutions in such a way that basic sales and CRM tasks happen automatically without manual human intervention. Once you input the necessary data and create "rules" and parameters for an automation tool to follow, you can let the program run and take care of repetitive, mundane processes on your behalf.

"Two-thirds of a salesperson's time is spent not selling," said Ortegon. "They're doing follow-up or scheduling things or filing reports. Taking administrative tasks out of people's hands is very important."

Some key sales tasks that can be automated include:

  • Sending out templatized emails to prospects and clients.
  • Scheduling sales appointments.
  • Managing the entire sales funnel from outreach to closing.
  • Syncing contacts and conversations from your inbox to your CRM.
  • Following up with leads and current client opportunities.
  • Gathering and reporting on important sales data.
  • Building contact lists and creating email marketing campaigns.
  • Approving internal business requests from the sales team.

Leaders believe they can save up to three hours a day from automated tasks, which means they can actually focus on growing and scaling their businesses.

Enrique Ortegon, Senior Vice President of Small and Medium Businesses, Salesforce

The benefits of automation for small business sales

According to Salesforce's most recent State of Sales report, 58% of sales reps believe their job has changed forever. In 2020, nearly half (48%) of small businesses rated new customer acquisition as their biggest challenge, and having the right automation tools can help SMBs sell and grow successfully in the post-pandemic world.

Ortegon believes there are three key things small business sales teams can achieve through sales automation, all of which are integral to success in today’s business environment.

1. Remote and hybrid team alignment

Using an automation tool means your entire team has 24/7 access to the same sales dashboard and data, whether they're located across the country or on the other side of the world.

This is critical for teams that have decided to continue their remote sales processes: With less business travel and reduced "windshield time," sales teams now have more hours in their day to work toward their sales goals. Ortegon emphasized the importance of ensuring everyone is aligned on those goals and maximizing this newly available time to achieve them.

2. Better information and communication management

Remote and hybrid teams are dealing with more digital communication channels and information than ever before. The ability to capture all those conversations and data in a centralized database can save valuable time searching for notes and details, which can ultimately help sales reps fit more calls into their day, said Ortegon.

3. Sales task prioritization

The data insights gathered from automation tools can help you and your sales team prioritize their workload and determine the next best action to take based on lead scoring and timeliness of a deal.

"Technology can tell you, 'You haven't contacted this person in the last three days,' or, 'There's an important day coming up,' or, 'You talked about pricing in one of the emails that you sent, but you haven't actually sent them that pricing agreement yet' … and help people prioritize their time," Ortegon explained.

How to get started with sales automation

The SMB Group report found that 38% of small to midsize businesses surveyed named sales as their top priority to automate. If your business is among them, the first step is finding a sales platform that will suit your current needs and scale up with you.

"I've seen it many times: [SMBs] poured a lot of time and money into a system that is not designed to grow with them, and eventually they have to go and change it," said Ortegon. "Why don't you start with a tool that's not only going to grow with you … but help you grow and be ready for you when you're ready to take your business to the next level?"

With subscriptions starting at just $25 per user per month, tools like Sales Cloud by Salesforce make it easy to start small and scale up when you're ready. Sales Cloud has powerful automation capabilities built in, which allow businesses to better manage their leads, monitor their pipeline more accurately, automate administrative tasks and close more deals faster so they can achieve their growth goals.

"It's designed specifically to help small businesses get on board faster and win deals faster to scale and grow," said Ortegon. "You're getting what you need right now … and you will get what you need for the future."

You'll also want to find a tool that offers guidance and support as you learn the system.

"With Salesforce, you can get started little by little, step by step, and we will go as fast as you want and as slow as necessary," Ortegon said.

For small businesses that are hesitant about investing in automation, Ortegon reminds owners that technology will set them up for future growth, which will ultimately boost the post-pandemic economy.

"Small and medium businesses are the foundation of our economy and the fabric of our society," he said. "The health of our economy depends on the health of our SMBs, so we're going to … continue to make great products that work for them and empower them to be part of the digitalization of the economy in a way that's simple, scalable and reliable."

Learn more about Sales Cloud and its sales automation platform here.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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