What are you doing?

Have you stopped to wonder what our daily business lives would be like if we didn’t have productivity software programs and computers?  Some of us can remember the days when nearly every business had a highly skilled, highly productive worker called a secretary.  For most businesses, secretaries were indispensable.  They were among the very few workers who could proficiently type.  They kept calendars and scheduled conference rooms.  They knew how to make mimeograph copies of business documents.  Secretaries in larger businesses were best friends with the folks in the central mail room.  Do you remember when businesses had central mail rooms?  You know, before email.

Secretaries were indispensable because they had function-specific skills to perform daily repetitive routine activities.  For businesses with more than a few workers, a secretary added huge productivity value by consolidating routine office tasks that would otherwise be performed by everyone else – and, not nearly as well as a secretary could do.  Software programs and the computerization of the office changed the game.

With the proliferation of enterprise software it is easy to get confused about the core utility value being delivered.  Software improves worker productivity by automating activities.  But, not all activities have the same utility value to the business.  Business activities can be divided into three buckets (see diagram below): Routine, Initiative and Reactive.

Types of Activities


By far, the most prevalent business activities are routine.  These are tasks performed every day and are highly repetitive. At the worker level, typing is a routine function that has been replaced by word processing software and personal computers.  At the departmental level, direct marketing is a routine function that has been replaced by marketing automation software.  Routine activities are planned or scheduled tasks that are performed using consistent processes.  These basic characteristics – frequent, repetitive, planned, consistent processes – make routine activities obvious targets for software automation.  The utility value of automating routine functions is tactical.  Process automation software like marketing and sales automation free up worker time for doing higher value tasks.

Initiative driven activities are at the opposite end of the volume/value scale from routine activities.  Initiative driven tasks are the world of knowledge workers and decision makers. They are fewest in number – how many times do you make a target market segmentation decision? – but they are the highest value activities performed.  Like routine activities, initiative driven tasks are planned; however, they occur much less frequently and are not always performed in the same way.  Creating the marketing communications plan is an initiative driven activity as is creating the pricing plan for a new product.  Both of these activities are planned events but the decision process to create the marketing communications plan is much different than what goes into creating the pricing plan for a new product.

Software that improves the productivity or efficiency of initiative driven activities is decision support software – software that creates and delivers better data to the knowledge workers. VisitorTrack from netFactor is a good example of software that improves decision making for marketers and sales reps.  VisitorTrack provides information on anonymous web visitors.  This web visitor data is added to data captured by process automation tools like Marketo or Hubspot and used by marketers to measure the efficacy of marketing campaigns.  VisitorTrack data is used by sales reps to identify prospective customers that may otherwise go unnoticed.  Both of these activities are initiative driven, yet each is very different from the other.

Initiative productivity software like VisitorTrack is designed to help knowledge workers make better decisions. The utility value of software that supports an initiative driven activity is strategic.  Maximizing the information available to support better decisions can be the difference in winning or losing, therefore the ROI can be huge.

The third type of business activity is reactive.  If an activity isn’t routine or initiative, it is reactive.  We all do them every day.  Reaction is caused by gaps in routine activities and by making poorly informed decisions.  In the examples above, a poorly executed communication plan could result in sending an inappropriate email campaign to the wrong audience.  The marketing automation platform did its job of getting the emails out as scheduled, but the knowledge worker failed in making sure the right content was included in the campaign.  When the error is identified, the marketer goes into react mode.  The sales rep doesn’t find out the prospect is interested in her/his product until after the prospect has done their homework.  The rep goes into react mode in an effort to reframe the prospect’s decision criteria.  Reactive tasks are productivity killers.

The goal is to minimize or get rid of reactive activities by automating routine tasks to give knowledge workers more time for initiative driven activities and by using decision support tools to help knowledge workers make better decisions.

Drive out reactive activities by automating routine tasks and getting better data for initiatives.


Software technology is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.  The right investment in software depends on your goal.  If your goal is to gain process productivity so that you can do more with the same or fewer workers, you should invest in process automation technology like a marketing automation platform.  On the other hand, if your goal is to enable knowledge workers to make better decisions, you should invest in decision support tools like VisitorTrack that deliver information to the marketing and sales knowledge workers.

How do you know which investment to make?  Look at where you spend time in react mode.  Identify the root cause for your reactive behaviors and measure the lost productivity.  If you are like most businesses, you will get a much higher ROI by investing in making better decisions than you will in adding one more process automation tool.