Marketing Automation Is Great . . . Until It Feels Impersonal

A couple of months ago, I was in the process of planning an RV camping trip to Maine. I met with the rental agent, selected the vehicle I wanted, and filled out all the required paperwork. Later that evening, I received the following e-mail:

Hello Mike,

I hope you are doing well and your trip planning is coming along. I looked over your paperwork and it seems that we have not finished. If there is anything that I can do or answer please let me know; and if you need help picking out a different RV or trailer, we still may have some available for your dates.

I am really looking forward to helping you make this trip as nice and easy as possible.


The e-mail struck me as a bit odd, because I had already completed everything (including paying the deposit) at the rental agency’s office earlier that day. I replied to the e-mail and asked if I had missed something. After not receiving a response within the hour, I called the office to find out what the problem was only to learn that my contact was out for the day.

I received the exact same e-mail the following morning.

When I finally connected with someone at the office, I was told that—as I suspected—the e-mails I had received had been automatically generated by their system because my rental agent had not yet completed all of the system updates on his end. Automation can be great in many ways, but in this case it was not applied appropriately.

In marketing, automation’s ability to improve the efficiency, accuracy, and speed of certain processes certainly makes it a highly valuable solution in today’s fast-paced work environment. The ability to be notified the moment someone downloads a white paper from your website, for example, or to have prescheduled webinar invitations and reminder e-mails sent automatically is so widespread that we generally take it for granted.

However, a very fine line exists between effective automation and impersonal interaction. And when that line is crossed, those on the receiving end of such communications take notice—and not in a good way. When this happens, at best your targets are likely to be mildly annoyed; at worst, they’ll take their business and attention elsewhere.

Sales professionals are one group in particular that has become overly dependent on automated communication. Although we operate today in a society that’s more “connected” than ever before, in many of our communications we’ve actually become less connected to the people we’re trying to reach. Automation may save us time, but it’s also made many of us forget about the little things that yield big results in relationship building.

In your interactions with clients and prospects, consider incorporating some (or all!) of these strategies for making those communications more personal:

  • Send handwritten thank-you notes after meetings.

  • Make the effort to learn about your clients as people, and send them gifts based on their interests and passions.

  • Spend time with your clients (e.g, lunch, a round of golf) without pursuing a particular business-development agenda. If you prioritize relationship building rather than sales advancement, the business will follow eventually.

  • Show new clients that you genuinely care about their business growth and success by sharing useful information with them (such as news articles relevant to their business or a subscription to HR Insights).

  • Pay attention to when your clients hit certain milestones (e.g., X years in business, Y years with the same company) and send them congratulatory cards or gifts.

By no means must you abandon automation entirely! It’s still a terrific tool to have at your disposal. Remember, though, that you’re selling to people, so be sure to temper your automated communications with genuine personal interactions.


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