Automation makes doing business easy. You can automatically accomplish tasks that you or an employee would normally have to do. Getting things done automatically is particularly attractive to small businesses with few employees.
Some examples of automation include:
- The “sorry I missed you” email from a salesperson who couldn’t take your call.
- The birthday coupon from your favorite coffee shop.
- The reminder from a retailer that you added a product to your shopping cart but never clicked buy.
Big corporations lead the automation revolution. However, small companies can benefit from it as much or even more. They must incorporate automation tools into their workflows, to make it easier to:
- Capture leads
- Close sales
- Serve customers
- Handle invoicing
- Check routine office tasks off your to-do list.
When repetitive processes are automated, small business owners and employees can devote their time to important things like driving dollars to the company’s bottom line.
This guide reveals 16 ways small businesses can use automation.
- Respond right away to new email contacts
- Follow up with new connections
- Collect job applications
- Automate your sales pipeline
- Assign leads to sales reps
- Remind customers they forgot something
- Win at phone tag
- Send and receive critical documents
- Capture leads by offering free content
- Stay engaged with prospects who aren’t ready to buy
- Generate repeat business
- Monitor client satisfaction
- Welcome new customers
For s many small businesses, it’s almost impossible to respond to all the emails and information requests they receive in a timely way. Waiting to answer them isn’t an option. If people’s requests aren’t answered immediately, they’ll move on to a competitor.
Email automation software allows you to provide immediate responses whenever you receive a new email contact. This type of smart customer relationship management (CRM) software provides a shortcode you place on the contact forms on your website.
When a prospective customer completes the form, the software sends a real time email reply. The email can set expectations about when the prospect will hear from you or a representative. Setting expectations makes it less likely the prospective buyer will go somewhere else. The software assigns the lead to someone to follow up with a phone call.
2. Follow up with new connections
Do you come home with a big stack of business cards after an event? It’s essential that you communicate with your new contacts immediately. It’s easy to forget about your conversation or lose the cards.
Don’t take chances. Download an app that scans business cards on your smartphone and transfers contact information to your customer relationship management system. You can tag them as an event attendee and even take notes about what you discussed. Leverage automation software to schedule an email follow-up during a break in the conference or other event.
3. Collect job applications
The job market is tight, and small business owners need every advantage they can get. You probably don’t have a human resources department like big companies to facilitate the hiring process. Collecting job applications via email is fine. However, it can be cumbersome when it comes time to review them and schedule interviews.
Use software to automate hiring. On the webpage where you post a job description, ask interested candidates to submit names and contact information via a web form. Then add a second form requesting them to respond to preliminary interview questions. Next, the software contacts you, creating a task to review the application.
If you’re willing to spend a little money, automate your hiring through a source like Indeed. It provides templates you can use to create applications. It also has powerful capabilities to score them and sort them to find the ideal candidate.
4. Automate your sales pipeline
The road from prospect to paying client can be a long one with many stops. It’s easy for business owners and salespeople to lose prospects along the way.
Mapping and automating the sales journey can help prevent prospective clients from getting lost.
Automation software organizes your sales process. When it’s clearly defined and automated, you and your sales team can move leads from step to step in real-time, looking for issues and optimizing the process along the way.
5. Assign leads to sales reps
Some prospects skip filling out a contact form and make a call instead. A phone call is a great way to start building a relationship with a prospective client. Calls often indicate a prospect is serious. However, without a process to pursue leads, those opportunities often get lost.
With automation software, you can set up a form you and salespeople can fill out when people call. Enter the client’s contact information, along with any relevant notes, before assigning a specific person to follow up. The form alerts the sales rep to contact the new lead and gives them the information they need to continue the conversation. On top of this, the software can send an automated introduction email from that sales rep to the potential customer.
Your leads will be impressed by how responsive your team is.
6. Remind customers they forgot something
It’s common for people to leave things in their online shopping carts. Perhaps someone had second thoughts. Other times, people get distracted. Either way, e-commerce businesses should never give up! Automation software can detect when a customer visits an order form without making a purchase. It automatically reminds customers to complete the purchase. You can schedule one automated email quickly after the event and another a few days later.
7. Win at phone tag
It’s easy to lose a game of phone tag, especially when you’re busy running a small business.
If a phone tag game goes on too long, you or the other person might eventually give up — intentionally or because someone forgets. You had a lead. You lost it.
Avoid this scenario by setting up an automated process for returning phone calls. Using automation software, you place notes in the system about the last step in the phone tag chain. Doing so triggers an automatic email to the person you’re calling. The software can continue to provide reminders to you and the other party until you actually connect.
8. Stay focused on your hottest leads
Having more leads than you can handle is a good thing. However, you need to deal with it.
Automation software can help you set priorities by using lead scoring to rank each lead based on their engagement with your marketing efforts. Leverage the rankings so you and your sales team members can focus on the prospects ready to buy over those who need more time. By identifying leads based on their level of interest, you can better anticipate their needs and target them with messages tailored to their current mindset. Over time, this will help improve your sales conversion rate.
9. Send and receive critical documents
Documents play a critical role in many businesses, from tax forms to contracts. Turn the paperwork over to your software by setting up automated processes. It can give you more time to do more important things.
Tag your forms in a system and set up a logic about who should receive each one. It will automatically send the correct form to the right person, for instance, a W-9 to a new employee tagged as going through the onboarding process. When a completed form arrives in your inbox, you can make a note in the system so that the software knows that the document has been completed. If this is not the case, the software automatically follows up with reminders.
10. Capture leads by offering free content
Many prospective clients are unwilling to give up their email addresses. They receive too many emails already!
Offer free valuable content, such as an ebook or video, to get people to give permission to send them emails. You gain new leads and get to show off your expertise. It’s possible to automate this process.
Add a web form to your site that allows people to sign up to receive your content. When a lead enters their name and email address into the form, automation software delivers the resource they requested.
Using the right automation platform makes it possible to identify which leads were generated for what content. You can use this information to guide your conversations with prospective clients and determine which content is most effective at generating quality leads.
11. Stay engaged with prospects who aren’t ready to buy
Many people aren’t prepared to make a purchase during their first encounter with a company.
Automating a lead nurturing process help prevent prospects from getting lost. It allows you to keep in touch without having to remember to do so. When a lead is identified as needing more time, automation software can send an email regularly that gently pushes the lead toward a sale. The email will keep your business top of mind when they’re ready to buy.
You can use content to educate these consumers about the benefits of your products and services.
12. Generate repeat business
For most business owners, a single sale isn’t good enough. You want customers to make purchases over and over again. It’s less costly to make additional sales to current customers than bring in new ones.
Take control of this situation by automating your re-selling process.
Automation software kicks in when you make a sale. It sends a follow-up email after a predetermined length of time. The email could recommend repurchasing the product or buying one related to it. Include a link to the product in the email, making it easy to purchase.
13. Monitor client satisfaction
Whether good or bad, the results from a customer satisfaction survey can give you the information you need to improve your business. They help you fix parts of your operation that aren’t working and maybe make things right with a dissatisfied customer.
The app automatically emails a survey link to clients who recently made a purchase. The survey can be as simple or complex as need be. The software can be set up so that negative responses trigger a task to contact the client. You or someone on your customer support team reach out and find ways to satisfy your client, potentially preventing a public online negative rating and review. You can also request ratings and reviews from clients who give you a positive review.
14. Welcome new customers
A sale isn’t the end of a client relationship. It’s only the beginning. Make a great first impression by sending automated welcome emails. A purchase triggers an email that thanks clients and asks them what they think about their purchases. Maybe include a special offer positioned as a gift. It will encourage the buyer to do more business with you and possibly become a client for life.
15. Stay on top of failed billing charges
When a customer gets a new credit or debit card, they may not remember to alert your business about the change. This situation could result in a billing charge that doesn’t clear, which can negatively impact your business’s bottom line.
Be proactive by establishing automated processes. For subscriptions and other fees collected on a recurring basis, set up a trigger for the software to notify you when a billing charge fails. The notification prompts you to reach out to the customer, allowing you to collect payment as soon as possible.
You can also prevent some failed charges from happening by using automation to catch credit cards that are about to expire. The system can send alerts to customers requesting them to update their cards.
16. Save time on social media and email marketing
Client emails and social media are critical components of most small business marketing campaigns. Marketing automation streamlines these tedious and time-consuming tasks. Instead of one-off social media posts on different social media platforms or sending individual emails, or scheduling singular email campaigns, a system like Hootsuite comes with scheduling tools and functionality that allows you to set up everything once a week or monthly, and it pushes out your content automatically. Systematizing these tasks helps prevent forgetting to do them. It also makes it simpler to monitor metrics, so you know what’s working and what’s not.
Leveraging small business automation can streamline many business processes and repetitive tasks, saving entrepreneurs and small business owners, along with the people working for them, considerable time. A small investment in technology could pay for itself quickly in time saved doing pesky business tasks.