Summary: These days, every business wants new ways to improve productivity. For many, the answer lies right under their nose. While they may not realize it, they’re wasting hours of time every week completing manual tasks that could (and should) be automated. What common tasks should your business automate?
Maximize your current resources.
Every business aims for these results. Few achieve them.
For many, the answer is the same: Inefficient processes. Too many businesses are stuck manually completing tasks that could (and should) be automated.
The solution: Business Process Automation (BPA). It’s the practice of automating manual processes that are holding your business back.
The big question: What types of tasks are ripe for automation? As explained below, look for tasks that fit a few criteria:
“From my perspective, there’s a golden rule for tasks that can and should be automated: It takes more than 15 minutes to finish it, you have to do it at least once a week, everything can be described by the instruction (rule-based) and it has something to do with working with data (Ctr+C/Ctr+V, CRM system, Excel spreadsheets, etc.),” explains Sergey Yudovskiy, CEO of electroNeek Robotics.
Now that you have a broad definition, let’s get into specifics. What common tasks should be automated in your business? While the list could be longer, here are 7 common tasks that are ripe for automation.
1. Copy/paste between tools/software
Let’s start with a common, yet basic task. I can’t tell you how many times I run across businesses that are manually moving data between systems.
For instance, maybe their ERP system isn’t connected with their reporting or budgeting software. They’re forced to manually pull data out of their ERP, edit it in Excel, and then upload it to another system. Not only does this waste time, it raises the risk for data errors.
This is just one example, but I’m sure you get the picture. Any time you’re manually moving data from one piece of software to another, that process should be automated.
“So many businesses run on manual processes behind the scenes where basic tasks are eating up time,” says Ben Collier, Product Director at Ocasta. Whether that’s moving data between systems, copying data from one spreadsheet to another or email comms to staff. Simple automation and tools can reduce this wasted time substantially, but all too often businesses struggle to value their staff’s time over investing in technology.”
Reporting is one of the biggest opportunities for automation, yet far too few companies take that step.
For all too many businesses, reporting is still a manual process. In some cases, employees waste hours manipulating data in Excel and creating reports. In other cases, users still submit reporting requests to the IT department…and wait.
In today’s data-driven business world, automated reporting is a must-have. Here are a few reasons why it’s so important:
Data accuracy: Manual reporting usually relies on Excel, but studies find that 90% of spreadsheets contain data errors. If you’re not automating your reporting, you’re likely dealing with data inaccuracies in your reports.
Speed: We live in a data-driven world, yet manual reporting processes slow data access to a crawl. In some businesses, users wait days for reports. These days, business users need a way to access or create their own reports on the fly or have reports automatically delivered on a daily basis.
Efficiency: When you automate reporting, your employees who used to handle reporting can focus on other tasks.
“We’re huge proponents of automating all reporting – no matter if it’s internal or client-facing there is rarely any reason to do it manually,” says Quincy Smith, Head of SEO at Ampjar. “For example, all of our marketing team leads submit both weekly and monthly reports to the group and the management team and initially we were doing this by hand every week. However, because we are using the same software and CRM, it turned out to be easy to set up automatic reporting that pulls in the data we need and the rest is just giving insights during our calls.”
It’s 2019, and I’m still surprised at the number of businesses that haven’t automated their web forms.
What do I mean by automated forms?
Consider this scenario: A prospect completes a contact form on your site, asking for more information about a specific product or service.
With a manual process, someone in your company receives an email with the form information. Then, they must enter that data into the correct place (hopefully a CRM system). A salesperson is likely notified to followup with the prospect.
In an automated process, all of this happens instantly. The data gets sent to your CRM system and any other necessary system. Notification emails are sent to the appropriate employee. The form can even trigger an email campaign that educates the prospect of the benefits or the product/service they inquired about.
See the difference? The automated forms not only eliminate manual data entry, they can improve the entire process.
“The tools available to collect customer data via online forms is probably a commonly forgotten yet incredibly important automated tool that saves time for all parties,” says Michael Stahl, EVP and CMO of HealthMarkets. “Allowing our current or prospective customers to fill out a form with their primary contact info and what they are looking to get more information on is an important way for our agents to be able to reach out and help them with what they need, while saving every party time on the back end to manually fill in that type of information.”
4. CRM tasksLet’s take the last point one step further. When data from a form (or any other source) arrives in your CRM, what happens next? In many cases, it just sits there. A salesperson might follow-up with that prospect a couple of times, but…then what?
Modern CRM systems offer automation features to address this issue, but many businesses just aren’t using them. These automation features can provide benefits like:
Better lead nurturing: Many CRM systems provide the option to set up follow-up emails, meetings, or calls. They can trigger email campaigns based on specific actions taken by the prospect.
Improved efficiency: Integrating your CRM system with other tools can dramatically improve your sales team’s efficiency. It can automatically schedule meetings, update calendars, create follow-up reminders, and much more.
“Once a prospect is in your sales cycle, it’s often helpful to track them in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool,” says Colton De Vos, Marketing Specialist, Resolute Technology Solutions. “There are many manual processes you can automate within a CRM including: scheduling follow up meetings, reaching out to contacts who haven’t responded within a set period of time, setting average close times, enabling one-click calling and recording directly from the CRM, and lots more. CRM automations can integrate with your other systems such as Outlook so when a meeting is automatically booked from your CRM, it is mirrored in your Outlook calendar. These automations can save you time otherwise spent manually nurturing leads and save leads from becoming disengaged. It also becomes a central repository for all notes that may be lost if communicating within disparate systems.”
5. Email or text message auto responses
Automatic responses are one of the simplest areas to automate and can save so much time. For instance, email or text message automation can be used:
To improve customer service: Suppose a customer submits a support request on your site. An automated response sequence can deliver a thank you message to the customer and an alert message to the appropriate employee in your business.
To automatically distribute reports or alerts: If you run nightly or weekly reports, an automated response can deliver those reports to the correct user’s inbox or even to their phone. Additionally, you can even configure email or SMS alerts (text messages) based on real-time business data. For instance, if daily sales rise/fall past a pre-set threshold, an automated email or text message can alert the appropriate manager.
To nurture prospects: Many businesses set up an autoresponder series to nurture prospects who complete a form on their site. These responses share content that the prospect might find useful and help them understand how the business can solve their problems.
To send reminders: Are you constantly reminding your team to complete specific tasks? Or, are there predefined steps in a project that require reminders? As explained below, these tasks should always be automated.
“One task that could and absolutely should be automated is managers sending reminders to their teams to complete their reports,” says Tasia Duske, CEO of Museum Hack. “There is no reason that sending a reminder about a deadline should be a manual task. It only creates more work and mental strain on managers and makes employees feel like they are being nagged.”
6. Shipping and inventory managementIf you’re a product-based company, this is one of the most important areas to automate. Your ability to manage inventory and ship orders efficiently directly impacts your bottom line.
How so? Here are a few ways automated shipping and inventory management will help your business:
Scalability: When you handle shipping manually, your business is limited by available manpower. You can’t sell more product unless you hire more employees. Automating this process will improve your company’s ability to grow.
Decrease errors: Any time manual processes are involved, you run the risk for errors. What happens if you make a mistake with an order shipment? What happens when you have inventory errors?
Offer better service: When you automate your shipping process, orders can get processed and delivered much faster. Faster turn-around time increases customer satisfaction.
“One of the best changes we made for our online business was automating shipping and inventory management,” says Kim Hawkins, the owner of www.EventsWholesale.com. “We made this change because of the large amount of orders that were being placed through our site, and the amount of time that was being spent handling those orders. Since then, our shipping process has been greatly simplified! We have been able to increase our turn-around time and decrease our costs and mistakes. The management tool handles all of our shopping carts, marketplaces, and shipping accounts together in one place, and it is super easy to use. Without it, we would have to hire another full-time employee just to handle shipping logistics.”
7. Invoicing and payment
A recent study found that 69% of small businesses owners are kept up at night with cash flow concerns. One of their biggest cash flow problems: Outstanding receivables–the amount of money they’re owed for services. In fact, the average outstanding receivables for U.S. small businesses is $53,399.
The problem is, many businesses still handle their invoicing and payment processes manually. They’re stuck sending invoices and following up on unpaid invoices. As you might imagine, this process is time-consuming and tiresome.
Why should you automate your invoicing and payment processing? It will help you get paid faster. Since many small business owners send invoices manually, they don’t go out right away. Automating this process means invoices get sent instantly and payment arrives sooner.
Additionally, it frees up time to focus on other aspects of the business. Business owners are either handling this process themselves, or paying someone else to send invoices and follow-up. Automating this process will either free up their valuable time, or let their employees focus on more beneficial tasks.
“Invoicing and payment should always be the number one thing that every business should automate,” says Jonathan Chan, Head of Marketing at Insane Growth. “For so many small businesses, cashflow is their number one issue, and yet when you take a look at their processes they still rely heavily on a manual process of sending clients/customers invoices and following up.”
Now, these are just a few tasks that should be automated, but the list could go on. If you would like to add anything to this list, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to share in the comments.