6 workflow automation best practices to streamline sales pipeline Sales by MATT KEENER September 22, 2020Sales reps want healthy pipelines that are full of deals—and lots of them.That being said, trying to do too much without the right mix of people and technology can cause deals to go to waste.To help sales reps elevate productivity in today’s “socially distanced” selling environment, many companies are taking a fresh look at workflow automation. When used properly, workflow automation helps reps get more done with less effort, and close more deals.Here are six best practices for using workflow automation to streamline your sales pipeline.1. Avoid automation (for now) & shore up your pipelineWorkflow automation is defined as the use of technology to reduce or eliminate the manual aspects of a business process. It is not a magical solution to fix all of your sales problems. In fact, when used in tandem with a poorly constructed sales pipeline, workflow automation may make a bad situation even worse.To illustrate my point, let’s assume that a company’s sales pipeline for its ideal customer profile (ICP) consists of four stages:Needs analysisValue propositionPrice quoteClosed won (or lost)The company’s sales reps reliably move opportunities from stage to stage, but deals consistently get stuck in price quotes. Seeking to accelerate deal velocity, the sales manager designs a complex workflow that involves numerous tasks and emails so that reps perform their necessary follow-up activities. Despite even the best intentions, this approach will likely fail because it does not address the root issue. Reps don’t need more emails crowding their inboxes. Maybe they just have a hard time differentiating between deals that are being quoted and those that are already quoted and require follow-up. In this case, simply adding another stage to the pipeline (i.e., “quote follow-up”) might be more effective and help reps structure their work with fewer distractions.Key question: Does the sales pipeline in your CRM accurately represent your sales process? If not, it’s time to make a few changes.2. Collect a list of your sales pipeline bottlenecksLet’s assume that your sales pipeline is aligned with your CRM. Now the automation can begin, right? Maybe not. Here’s why.Although creating workflows in your CRM should be relatively easy, doing so consumes scarce resources. With sales teams leaner than ever, you don’t have unlimited time available for configuring an unlimited number of automations. You must be selective and only build automated workflows that will deliver tangible value to your business.Slow down and make a list of the current bottlenecks in your pipeline. If you can’t think of any, look for these warning signs:Processes that require significant amounts of data entryThings that consistently get “stuck’ in the pipelineProcesses that require manual coordination with third-party systemsData silosKey takeaway: Create a shared document or kanban board to collect your sales pipeline bottlenecks. Share the list with everyone involved in the sales pipeline and crowdsource ideas.3. Know what your CRM can doYou don’t need to hire an expensive CRM consultant to understand how your CRM’s automation works. Spend time reading your CRM vendor’s automation documentation (for example, check out Insightly’s automation guide). Ask yourself these questions as you dive in:Which CRM records (i.e., leads, contacts, etc.) can be used to trigger an automated workflow?Does my CRM allow me to use multiple criteria (i.e., bid amount, deal status, etc.) when building automated rules?Can actions be scheduled to occur on a future date rather than occurring immediately?What are the different types of actions (i.e., send an email, update a record, etc.) that are available?Reminder: Don’t forget to check if workflow automation is included in your current CRM plan level. If it’s not included, perform a basic ROI analysis to determine if the cost of upgrading is worth it.4. Sequence your biggest pain pointsNow it’s time to sequence your bottlenecks to decide what you should automate first. Remember, you want to identify the one thing that will have the biggest impact on your sales pipeline but is also easy to implement (given your CRM’s capabilities as previously discussed). There are numerous ways to do this, but I suggest keeping it simple:ImpactLarge = 1 pointMedium = 2 pointsSmall = 3 pointsSizeSmall = 1 pointMedium = 2 pointsLarge = 3 pointsIf you’re using Insightly, you might use tags to assign an impact and size rating to each item. Then use your project kanban board to drag and drop cards into a logical order. Use a golf-like scoring methodology to give preference to cards with low scores (i.e., large impact, small size).Bonus tip: If there’s a tie between two or more cards, ask for feedback from other stakeholders in the sales pipeline. After all, you want buy-in on the automation that you’re building.5. Automate one sales workflow at a timeNotice that the headline says one workflow—and not several.Don’t be tempted to automate too many things at once, especially if this is your first attempt at automation. There are enough decisions to make in building a single workflow. Distributing your focus will only lessen your ability to think strategically and clearly.For the sake of discussion, let’s imagine that you’ve identified inbound lead automation as the highest impact, lowest effort initiative. Your SEO and paid promotion is paying off and generating more inbound inquiries; however, you lack a scalable system to deal with the influx. You’re looking to automate the following steps to engage more inbound leads and reduce manual effort:Immediately send a welcome email to the leadAssign a task to an SDR for follow-upSend a second email a few days laterIf you’re an Insightly user, check out this helpful guide, How to configure an automated workflow. Before you start making any adjustments in your CRM, however, it’s wise to diagram your ideal workflow. Use descriptive words to explain exactly what you want to happen. Here’s a simple illustration:Use your diagram as a guide for implementing workflow triggers and actions that help you achieve your goal. Refer back to it often—especially if you feel like you’re getting lost in the weeds when evaluating workflow criteria.Suggestion: Test your workflow in a limited scope before rolling it out across your entire sales team. During testing, you might assign automated tasks to yourself instead of to your SDRs. This approach allows you to make any final adjustments and ensure everything is working as intended.6. Use data to measure success & plan your next moveWorkflow automation should have a measurable impact on your sales key performance indicators (KPIs). In an example with inbound lead automation, you can expect to see a noticeable improvement in one or more of the following areas:Email response rate from inbound leadsSDR appointments with inbound leadsMQL-to-SQL ratio for inbound leadsUse data from your CRM to track desired and actual outcomes. If, after a few months, you notice very little change (or a change for the worse), perhaps it’s time to make a few adjustments. Ask users for their input, too. What seems to be working? What makes their lives easier? What, if anything, has created new challenges? Look for opportunities to improve and continuously refine the workflows that you build.Insightly tip: Insightly dashboards can help you visualize your data so you know what to tweak and what to automate next.CRM automation helps you scale your sales pipelineAutomated CRM workflows play a pivotal role in helping you create a more scalable sales process. Shore up your existing CRM pipeline, understand your vendor’s capabilities, and use data at every step of the process to build workflow automations that make an impact.Continue reading about CRM workflow automation to see what it can do for your business.If you want to learn about Insightly CRM’s advanced workflow automation capabilities, request a free demo and see how you can better equip your sales team. Request a demo Pipeline management | Sales & marketing alignment | Sales Force Automation | Sales KPIs | Sales management 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.