Nowadays, automation is far from a novel concept. Indeed, it and technologies that may have sounded like science fiction not too long ago now shape a digitized future. AI, Big Data, Blockchain, and other innovative technologies fuel progress in exciting, unforeseen ways. From AI transforming e-Commerce to our everyday traffic apps and virtual assistants, technology offers new frontiers. One such frontier is business automation, arguably the quintessential use of technology to improve efficiency and streamline workflows.
Nonetheless, Business Automation is a vast subject. From its history and concept to business automation software that sees distinct application for automation, there is much to discuss. In turn, business automation entails such different components that one may neglect or undervalue some of its aspects. Thus, we’ll devote this article to commonly overlooked aspects of business automation, as well as its modern forms and uses.
What is Business Automation?
In essence, business automation is a simple enough concept; it’s the automation of internal and external processes. Many such processes, from email marketing to documentation and reporting, require little to no creative human oversight. Thus, automating them presents an opportunity to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and streamline workflows with minimal risk.
However, a vital distinction must be made, as business automation is frequently confused with business process automation (BPM). BPM is, by all means, an integral part of business automation, but it is only a part of the whole. Oracle’s Netsuite helpfully explains that there are four distinct types of business automation, each with its own focus.
Perhaps the most commonly discussed type of automation, marketing automation has seen widespread mainstream embracement in recent years. That’s arguably in part because Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, a now-booming industry, frequently provide such tools. As the name implies, marketing automation focuses on repetitive marketing tasks that don’t require manual labor. These tasks and practices include:
- Lead generation, segmentation, and nurturing
- Email marketing
- Ad management
Of course, this type of automation has different applications for Business-to-Consumer (B2C) businesses than for Business-to-Business (B2B) enterprises. Business size, industry, internal culture, and other factors all affect marketing automation’s effectiveness as well. One’s industry specifically offers a distinct focus for CRM solutions; MoversTech CRM, for example, focuses on the relocation industry. Conversely, other CRMs offer no industry focus, opting to satisfy businesses of specific sizes instead, like small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs).
Accounting, Bookkeeping, and Accounts Payable (AP) Automation
Unlike marketing automation, the other three types primarily focus on internal processes. Accounting, bookkeeping and AP automation address the fundamentals of financial management by simplifying the processes and removing needless manual labor.
This type of automation frequently delves into the following:
- Bank account management
- Invoice management
- General ledger management
AP automation specifically sees promising results, especially in B2B, as PYMNTS’s case studies show. Namely, among other findings, they note that “84% of respondents believe B2B automation could reduce error rates”. Moreover, they note that “81% [of respondents] believe it could reduce costs”. In essence, AP automation offers an alternative to paper-based invoices, a surprisingly prominent legacy practice. As with all automation, it seeks to simplify and streamline invoicing, reducing the room for error in the process.
Business Process Automation (BPA) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
Next, the most proverbial type of business automation is BPA, which may then extend to RPA for digitally mature businesses. This type is frequently confused with both “business automation” on the whole and business process management (BPM) since they overlap.
BPA refers to using technology to automate and streamline organization-wide processes. It thus overlaps with other automation types and includes various desirable outcomes:
- Allow less tech-savvy end-users to design their own business processes
- Augment external communications like marketing with AI
- Provide increased visibility of processes for all relevant employees
By extension, RPA seeks to augment such outcomes further by using AI. Cio helpfully explains that RPA allows businesses to use software – or “robots”, hence the name, to execute specific tasks like:
- Capture and interpret applications for processing a transaction
- Manipulate data
- Trigger responses
- Communicating with other digital systems
However, they also wisely note that “RPA isn’t for every enterprise”. Not only does it require digital maturity and a considerably advanced framework, but it also conflicts with human capital. Thus, RPA sees relatively less enthusiastic support than BPA by CIOs.
Finally, on the subject of human capital, business automation branches into HR automation. One may reasonably argue that HR has no affinity for full automation, but it too can reap benefits.
Frequent HR automation solutions include Human Resources Management Systems (HRMSs), which seek to automate the process of candidate management. As such, they include processes like:
- Employment offers
- Application and resume management
- Interview scheduling
Moreover, HR automation extends beyond onboarding and thus overlaps or synergizes with other solutions in many regards. Beyond onboarding, HR automation includes:
- Employee performance monitoring
- Training requirements
- Employee documentation
- Employee payroll, benefits, time off, etc
Perhaps most crucially, HR automation hinges on automatic report generation. By automating many HR processes offers better time efficiency and, by extension, increased profits. Furthermore, HRMS and other such tools provide valuable insights into HR that can inform decision-making.
Business Automation Software
The practices mentioned above may already highlight some commonly overlooked aspects of business automation. However, to delve deeper into different automation solutions and pronounce these aspects more strongly, let us explore business automation software.
Such software will typically, but not always, focus on a specific type of automation. Furthermore, some solutions will then focus on particular aspects of automation, like how CRM comes in different types. For the sake of text economy, we will only briefly explore three common software solutions; CRM, BPA, and HRMS.
CRM seeks to manage all aspects of a company’s interactions with customers – hence the name. Thus, general-use CRM software typically offers fundamental features like:
- A consolidated customer database
- Marketing automation tools
- Lead analysis tools
Moreover, CRM may typically come in any among 3 specializations:
- Operational; service, sales, and marketing automation
- Analytical; customer segmentation, predictive modelling, profitability analysis
- Collaborative; interaction and channel management
Finally, CRM features may also vary depending on industry focus, business size, and other factors like the aforementioned. Thus, choosing the right CRM often presents challenges for the unprepared. Should you choose to use CRM, you will likely need to determine your priorities and stick to them. A common criticism of CRM does lie in an overabundance of features, which is indeed a notable concern. At the same time, interestingly, underutilization of CRM features may also help highlight commonly overlooked aspects of business automation.
While the CRM industry continues to expand, BPA software sees considerable use as well. BPA software primarily focuses on automating tasks related to business information, data, and associated processes. By design, it also frequently features deep integration options with other tools, including:
- E-Commerce; ERP systems, etc
- Customer service; help desks, etc
- Accounting and finance; AR, AP, etc
- Sales and marketing; CRM, etc
- HR; HRMS, etc
In this context, BPA software offers a broader focus on automation toward specific desirable outcomes:
- Accelerated, simplified operations and eliminated bottlenecks
- Insights to inform data-driven decisions
- Reduced operational costs
- Reduced risks and room for human error
- Eliminated paper-based processes
Most notably, in terms of its effectiveness, Forrester found that BPA software can reduce operational costs by up to 90%. Combined with its inherently large scope, BPA can offer tremendous automation benefits – even before considering upscaling to RPA. However, as with CRM, BPA software solutions also vary quite significantly. Thus, as with all business solutions, proper research in advance is highly advisable.
Finally, HRMS software seeks to address HR processes that inform workforce management. To do so, it typically offers core HR features, including:
- An employee database and detailed profiles
- Applicant tracking and onboarding tools
- An employee self-service portal
Moreover, while such features will often vary, HRMSs typically offer management tools for HR management beyond onboarding, including for:
- Payroll and documentation
- Benefits and compensation
- Time off
- Performance, time, and attendance
Finally, a frequent division among HR-related software recognizes HRMS as one of 3 types of HR software:
- Human Resource Management Systems (HRMS)
- Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS)
- Human Capital Management (HCM)
As the names imply, each of these types specializes in one key area. HRIS focuses on information circulation, HCM on workforce management, and HRMS on broader HR and payrolls. Nonetheless, as with both CRM and BPA software, HRMS solutions also vary quite notably from one another. As such, each business may find a different solution that best serves its needs.
7 Commonly Overlooked aspects of Business Automation
Having discussed all of the above, “overlap” may now seem like a much more relevant term. Indeed, as innovative technologies emerge and synergize, overlapping is both nigh unavoidable and often desirable. Consider, for example, how AI now informs web design or how Blockchain sees widespread use for different purposes. This wealth of options in applications is indeed beneficial, but it can also overwhelm and thus create room for oversights. That’s why commonly overlooked aspects of business automation are so prevalent and so worthy of discussion.
Without further introductions, let us delve into our main topic.
1- Lead generation and lead nurturing through content offers
All of the above solutions can offer enhancements to lead generation and lead nurturing, in one way or another. They may do so directly, through lead analysis, or indirectly, through streamlined workflows ensuring higher productivity. However, there are other overlooked aspects of business automation and its byproducts that overlap with these practices.
For example, not many seem to embrace the concept of free content. This practice is simple; acquiring email addresses for marketing purposes may hinge on offering alluring free content, like:
- Ebooks, PDFs, and informational copy
- Informative visual content like infographics and video
- Other informational, valuable resources
Much like loyalty programs, free content shows demonstrable merit as a strategy. Unlike monetary incentives, it also faces much less scrutiny and distrust. However, both assigning appropriate content and distributing it requires labor.
Automation solutions can remedy this issue, most crucially by providing real-time updates on lead nurture strategies. Teams can set specific lead criteria which inform content appropriateness. When a lead meets said criteria, automated email triggers can handle distribution. Conversely, or in tandem, one may set up web forms for content requests. This can both guarantee willing recipients, as well as register as an interaction for further analysis.
2- Discarding inactive leads
Conversely, automation can assist with lead analysis through exclusion. The harsh reality is that one sometimes needs to discard consistently inactive or persistently unqualified “dead” leads. Not doing so can cost, as unsuccessful attempts at conversion have practical costs.
Doing so follows the same process as conversions, with the inverse outcome. Marketing teams can set up custom criteria for discarding leads; inactivity periods, unsuccessful interactions, low profitability probability, and so forth. In turn, various automation solutions can act on these criteria to automatically purge such leads from databases. Of course, such criteria will vary very notably from one business to the next, and some may dislike the practice. However, should discarding leads become a necessity, business automation does provide a data-driven option to do so.
3- Enhancing all phases of the customer journey
Similarly, customer journey mapping is, by all means, a prominent, lucrative strategy toward enhancing one’s customer experience (CX). It’s the logical next step after customer segmentation, and it can fortify one’s sales funnel. However, among the overlooked aspects of business automation is how journey phases have an affinity for automation.
The customer journey is typically divided into 4 phases:
- Discovery phase – how do customers find you?
- Research phase – how does your offer compare to the competition?
- Conversion phase – what drives customers to convert, and how effective is it?
- Post-sale engagement – how do customer support and post-sale communication inspire loyalty?
Business automation offers distinct benefits to all 4 phases. From enhancing lead generation to informing SEO and from streamlining workflows for productivity to consolidating communications, there are multiple applications to consider on a case-by-case basis.
4- Customer service
To touch on post-sale engagement specifically, business automation notably offers enhanced customer service. Consider, for example, CRM’s interaction tracking features that can improve reactions to recurring inquiries. Similarly, consider live chat and chatbots, which Statista finds an increasingly appealing option.
Commonly overlooked practices in this front are likely many, but perhaps the most common is request routing. Indeed, contacting help desks often takes time for both parties involved. Automation software can instead ensure that requests are forwarded to the appropriate staff, saving time and improving the service quality. This touch alone can massively affect customer retention, as it improves CX.
5- Customer retention
On the subject of customer retention rates, then, this may be among the most famous metrics. This is by no means a buzzword or an exaggeration, as Econsultancy reports, among other findings, that:
- Keeping an existing customer costs 5 times less than acquiring a new one
- 82% of companies agree on the cost-effectiveness of retention
- The probability of selling to existing customers is 60-70%, as opposed to 5-20% for new prospects
What’s more, more recent studies now quantify the cost of customer acquisition as 6 times higher than that of retention. In turn, customer retention finds a tailor-made asset in business automation across the board, from hyper-focused marketing outreach and enhanced customer journey mapping to better operation cost-efficiency. In essence, improved CX and post-sale engagement both boost retention as much as data-informed automatic ad retargeting and support do.
6- Social media activity
Similarly, social media marketing campaigns have long been at the forefront of digital marketing. Business automation can indeed enhance it, beyond simply informing content creation strategies themselves.
A fundamental example of this aspect of business automation is social media content automation. This practice is often twofold, including content curation and content scheduling. Content curation follows cases where fresh content isn’t available, while content scheduling allows for automated posting. The latter alone allows businesses to take advantage of the highest traffic hours for intended audiences, as well as post content outside of working hours. In both cases, automated social media activity yields the expected benefits; less time wasted on repetitive tasks and increased productivity.
7- Simplification preventing decision fatigue
Finally, all of the above converge into automation’s explicit goal of simplicity. Reducing the number of repetitive tasks and streamlining one’s workflow is likely the most characteristic benefit toward simplicity.
All of its other benefits aside, simplicity prevents decision fatigue that disaffected employees may experience. Removing or minimizing repetitive tasks and simplifying processes can have a profound effect on one’s workforce, one that’s frequently overlooked.
In summary, business automation is a vast subject, rife with confusion and an almost staggering depth of choices. It comes in many forms; marketing, accounting, process, and HR automation, each with its own dedicated custom software solutions. Then, these solutions themselves branch into various specializations to cater to each business’s unique needs and goals. It should thus be no wonder why many aspects of business automation are frequently overlooked or undervalued. All in all, we do hope that this cursory glance into the subject helps your business thrive and grow.
Satyam Chaturvedi is a Digital Marketing Specialist at Arka Softwares, a leading mobile app development company dealing in modern and futuristic web and mobile app solutions. He loves to spend his time in studying the market trends and helping startups and enterprises in achieving their business goals.