What is workflow automation? Business & tech by MATT KEENER July 16, 2020Proprietary business processes form the foundation of most competitive advantages. From sales outreach playbooks to search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing automation, even the smallest organization could feasibly have dozens of essential processes that contribute to its success.That being said, a process is purely theoretical without a proven implementation workflow. Workflows bring order and scalability by breaking processes into bite-size, repeatable chunks of value.Unfortunately, many workflows are inefficient—or downright broken. That’s where workflow automation comes in handy.Let’s take a look at the basics of workflow automation.What is workflow automation?Workflow automation uses technology to reduce (or eliminate) the manual aspects of a business process. When used properly, workflow automation elevates the productivity of an organization by freeing up staff to focus on high impact activities—rather than keying in data and performing monotonous tasks. In short, workflow automation should not eliminate human intervention; rather, it helps people to be more efficient and effective at what they do.A variety of workflow management tools now exist. Some CRMs, such as Insightly, offer built-in workflow automation features that simplify email delivery, record updates, and record creation. Third-party automation platforms, such as Zapier, connect multiple apps together, thereby enabling automated workflows across countless business systems.Workflow automation examplesAlthough workflow automation could benefit almost any department, the most common use cases are in sales, marketing, and operations. Let’s explore a few examples.SalesIn sales, every minute spent on data entry and inefficient workflows adds up to lost deals and less pipeline. Smart sales teams use workflow automation to their advantage through streamlined:Lead nurturingManually following up with each new lead becomes less feasible as a pipeline grows to contain thousands of records. Workflow automation supplements a sales team’s efforts by enabling automated email outreach. New leads receive a friendly welcome email within moments of requesting information. Additional emails can be triggered as prospects advance through the buyer journey. This approach provides leads with the helpful information they’re looking for—without creating new bottlenecks for sales staff.Lead routingTraditionally, sales organizations have relied on a manager to serve as “air traffic controller” for new lead records. Under this model, the manager reviews each lead and manually applies geographic or account-based rules to ensure proper assignment. Workflow automation eliminates this intervention by instantly analyzing data in the lead record, applying business rules, and making lead assignments.Customer onboardingClosing new business is exciting, but each new deal creates a significant amount of work. Handing off the project to the delivery team, setting up the new account billing, and providing training materials are just a few examples. Workflow automation can help account executives stay focused on closing additional deals without losing sight of customer onboarding. Automated tasks and emails keep internal stakeholders in the loop while providing a seamless experience for the customer.MarketingAs marketers, we often juggle multiple tasks and projects at the same time. There are many responsibilities to organize and track, and although some marketing projects are unique, many follow a common series of events. Here are two that come to mind:Inbound lead managementDigital marketers spend the majority of their time trying to increase inbound lead volume. However, generating a bunch of leads provides limited value without the right engagement plan. Potential customers want to feel valued, and they also want solutions to their problems. Workflow automation helps marketers provide a meaningful experience at scale by simplifying the collection, use, and organization of data. Web to lead forms automatically create new records, while workflow rules update data fields to ensure proper categorization. Workflow rules can also trigger drip campaign emails that keep prospects highly engaged.Campaign managementLeads don’t just appear out of thin air. Experienced marketers realize that lead generation requires a multitude of creative campaigns. From email to social media to pay-per-click advertisements, each campaign has a unique set of requirements that contribute to its success. Workflow automation can create a structure for marketing campaigns, which reduces the need to reinvent the wheel. For example, a social media campaign may require involvement from several people within an organization. An ad strategist must create the right audience, a graphic designer must develop the perfect design elements, and a copywriter must craft compelling headlines that get clicks. An automated workflow could assign tasks to each user (in sequential order) at exactly the right moment. As a result, everyone knows exactly what to do—without unnecessary meetings.DeliveryOperations teams can also benefit from business process automation. Here are a few ways to put workflow automation to use in the delivery of goods and services:Project kickoffThe moment a deal closes, an automated workflow could convert the opportunity to a project. In addition, downstream tasks and emails could remind key stakeholders to take action.Customer communicationThe initial 90-day period is critical for establishing healthy customer relationships. After all, signing on with a new vendor is stressful and can involve large investments of time and capital. Providing premium support and communication during the first three months—and throughout the entire customer journey—is therefore vital. Customer success teams can leverage automated workflows to trigger helpful emails that improve the onboarding experience. Emails that contain how-to guides, on-demand training webinars, and one-on-one onboarding sessions can be especially impactful.Project invoicingCash flow is the lifeblood of any business. Timely and accurate invoicing, therefore, is paramount to ensure long-term success. Accounting teams could use workflow automation to ensure new customers are added to invoicing and order management systems. Likewise, automated 30-day reminders could go out to ensure each customer is invoiced in a timely fashion.Benefits of workflow automationAs shown above, workflow automation has a number of tangible benefits for almost any business, including:Less manual & repetitive workReduction of manual effort is the most obvious benefit of workflow automation. Automated workflows create new tasks for staff. They can update fields and create new records. They can even send out emails. All of this work must be done by someone (or something). Why not let a robot do it? Workflow automation doesn’t just save time, it also helps to reduce errors and streamline work.Better dataAutomation reduces the prevalence and impact of bad data. Fewer oversights and typos improves data integrity, which, in the long run, leads to better decision-making and richer insights for continuous improvement.Less stress, more productivityForgetting to take action can be a major stressor for anyone. No one enjoys letting the team down (or taking the blame for an oversight). Automating the creation and completion of administrative tasks reduces stress by eliminating mind-numbing work, minimizing oversights, and freeing up staff to focus on the work that they enjoy, improve customer experience, and build long-lasting customer relationships.Process scalabilityAs alluded to at the beginning of this article, scalable workflows lead to scalable processes. Technology creates scalability by overcoming bottlenecks that are a result of inefficient workflows and contributors.6 signs that you need workflow automationSo, when should you implement workflow automation at your company? There’s no perfect answer, but here are a few signs that it’s time to begin exploring workflow automation:You find yourself doing the same task over and over again.Staff consistently forget to perform an important action.Delegating work requires more time and effort than completing the task yourself.Staff spend considerable time just trying to figure out what to do next and/or fixing errors.Your handoff from sales to operations is time-consuming and complicated.You need to accelerate pipeline engagement without increasing headcount.Do any of these situations sound familiar? Perhaps it’s time to take the next step. If you’re an Insightly user, check out all of the free training materials in the Help Center. Review the training videos and documentation so you can maximize workflow automation’s impact at your company.If your current CRM provider does not offer workflow automation or you are not getting value from it, request a free demo and your workflow automation needs assessment with Insightly. Request a demo Delivery management | Lead management | Marketing Automation | Sales Force Automation | Unified CRM MATT KEENERMatt Keener is a digital marketer and President of Keener Marketing Solutions, LLC. In addition to consulting for Insightly and other SaaS clients, Matt enjoys blogging about remote work. Get Matt’s top-rated book or connect with him on LinkedIn.