Automation as a Competitive Advantage

Nicholas Decker

Nicholas Decker

· 3 min read

digital-transformation product-management sales marketing

When enterprises discuss process automation, the first line of questioning almost always centers around shared services: HR, finance, legal, etc. The reasoning for this is two-fold: shared services is seen as a cost center AND that cost has well-established, measurable metrics. Often, enterprises hold their shared services headcount as a ratio of their core business headcount. As the company grows, shared service departments grow incrementally. So anything companies can do to minimize that ratio, the better. It is a cost-cutting mindset.

However, a singular focus on cost-cutting overlooks a major opportunity: automation as a competitive advantage. No offense to my accounting friends, but automating portions of their job does not equate to a competitive advantage. But if an organization is able to unlock percentages of their product, sales or marketing teams, those time savings can immediately produce top line results.

1. Product Management Automation: As a product organization, the value you provide to the market is only as good as the product you ship. Which means your Product Managers are a source of competitive advantage: the more high value work (customer research, strategic vision and problem solving), the better. However, there is a sentiment that product managers are “backlog babysitters”, first accountable to the feature list, and only able to do the “other stuff” in their spare time. If, however, organizations are able to remove the burden of the backlog, the product managers are freed up for those more impactful segments of the role. This is something our organization has really bought into internally, which has increased the velocity and impact of our product team.

2. Sales Automation: In the case of sales people, their value (generally) lies in interacting with customers. The more time they are able to spend understanding a customer’s issues and identifying solutions, the more sales will close. However, the non-glorious part of this role is preparing PowerPoints, updating CRM’s, prioritizing leads and draft proposals. Powerpoint slides and CRM updates do not equate to revenue, solutions do.

Instead, consider triggering automations as an opportunity progresses within the CRM. Each stage of a sales cycle typically has a well-defined set of tasks associated with it. If a lead is qualified > export a templated sales deck (including customer information). No more searching for the latest file. Or, worse, copying from an old, outdated pitch. If an opportunity is proposal-ready > trigger a pricing approval workflow. If a renewal is approaching > trigger a usage report and renewal package.

This also has the auxiliary function of increasing the quality of CRM data. Sales team often see the CRM as a task instead of a tool. But if an updated CRM can ensure that they trigger necessary workflows, they are incentivized to maintain it. No more need for the ‘carrot or the stick’.

3. Marketing Automation: Often considered the pioneer in this space, marketing automation shows the power of automation in the front office. Digital marketing has blown up the traditional “advertise and wait” mentality. Marketing teams are able to personalize their outreach with only marginally more effort than before. The outstanding issue here is the lack of visibility across systems. The propagation of point solutions in marketing, many of which are very good at their niche, create silos between systems. It is then incumbent upon a marketing expert to run reports and aggregate data across all systems. Why not automate the aggregation of this data, allowing the experts to analyze the results? Or better yet, pass it to an AI engine to spot the patterns, allowing the human to focus on extracting insights from the patterns.

The great thing about these examples is that they are very real, no science fiction needed. Not only are we using this internally at Catalytic, but our customers are too. And these ideas are just the tip of the automation iceberg. Teams that commit to this mentality of impactful automation are able to produce nearly as much as a teams twice their size. So keep in mind that automation does not start and stop with shared services. And it certainly is more than a cost saving measure.