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Updated Apr 18, 2024

What Is Workflow Automation?

Workflow automation can improve employee productivity and engagement while lowering staffing costs.

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Julie Thompson, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
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Most business owners can only dream of eliminating the pinch points of day-to-day business tasks. Fewer stacks of paperwork, better communication and fewer breakdowns can help your company run more smoothly and boost employee morale. Instead of your employees entering data manually, consider investing in automation. Freeing employees from mundane tasks can speed up workflow and help them engage with customers, utilize their creativity and train for specialized roles.

Workflow automation can streamline follow-up sales calls, drip emails, finance approvals and much more. We’ll explain how to put it to work in your business.

Did You Know?Did you know
Workflow automation can help you effortlessly track vital CRM metrics like customer churn, renewal rate and customer retention costs.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is a method for streamlining and automating a flow of tasks and manual processes to improve efficiency and reduce human error. It helps minimize busy work and free employee time for more creative and lucrative pursuits. Workflow automation is a crucial approach. According to an Asana study, more than 12 percent of an employee’s time is spent on repetitive tasks, meaning nearly five hours are lost to mundane tasks weekly. 

Automated workflows can be simple or complex, depending on your company’s industry and departments. For example, while an HR workflow might involve one employee and the internal HR department, a finance workflow may include an employee, supervisor, finance manager and the CFO.

Workflow automation allows you to track each process step in real time and keep everyone updated. This level of oversight can significantly improve reporting and automation testing accuracy and increase engagement among departments. Bottlenecks within the automation can be tweaked immediately to prevent downtime. Data from workflow processes can be automatically transferred via enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, customer relationship management (CRM) software or similar business applications.

Benefits of workflow automation

Workflow automation brings your business the following immediate and long-term benefits: 

  • Workflow automation improves employee productivity. When some daily tasks are automated, employees are free to pursue other, more critical tasks. More work will get done in the same amount of time, improving productivity
  • Workflow automation boosts employee engagement. Few employees enjoy menial, repetitive tasks. They prefer to use their time applying their knowledge, skills and intelligence to their work. Workplace automation frees team members to tackle more challenging and rewarding jobs, improving employee engagement
  • Workflow automation lowers staffing costs. If multiple employees deal with mindless, repetitive tasks, switching to automated systems can lower your payroll costs. Eliminating these positions helps you save money on salaries, payroll taxes and employee benefits, boosting your bottom line. It will also free up capital to spend on marketing or other efforts to grow your company.
  • Workflow automation fosters collaboration. With workflow automation systems, team members can easily see what tasks their colleagues have completed and what remains to be done. Shared dashboards eliminate wasted time checking in and enable seamless employee collaboration among in-office and remote team members.
  • Workflow automation reduces errors. With workflow automation, project communication is centralized, helping reduce missed deadlines and misunderstandings. Automatic processes are checked initially and typically proceed error-free because no human is involved. 

Ways to use workflow automation in your small business

Workflow automation can help every department in your company streamline processes and reduce the monotony of manual data entry. Here are some examples of workflow automation at work in various departments:

  • Facilities departments: Workflow automation can streamline facilities processes, including move requests, office relocations, logistics and access issues. 
  • Finance departments: Workflow automation can help free up accounting and finance teams by managing documents efficiently, automating payroll management and integrating data with third-party apps. It can also help generate faster approvals, set up auto-payments and streamline grants and expenses.
  • Human resources departments: Workflow automation can help you set up recruiting filters for faster approval, update compliance policies, create faster onboarding processes and reduce paperwork. It can also streamline time clocks and time and attendance functions.
  • IT departments: With workflow automation in IT departments, you can delegate support tickets without risking duplication, confirm updates with stakeholders and track employee usage. It can also streamline shadow IT, bolster cybersecurity and risk management, and boost fraud protection.
  • Legal departments: Workflow automation can simplify client intake forms and contract reviews.
  • Marketing departments: Workflow automation can help automate repetitive tasks, assist with remote employee collaboration, streamline the lead conversion process and help you run multiple campaigns simultaneously from one dashboard.
  • Operations departments: Workflow automation can help automate maintenance requests, new product ideas and complaint management.
  • Purchasing departments: Workflow automation can streamline vendor management, inventory pricing, invoice approvals and capital approvals.
  • Sales departments: Workflow automation streamlines sales funnels, automating lead follow-up to ensure every lead gets the same treatment. You can also track customers, send drip and personalized emails with promo codes or thank-you messages, and take advantage of real-time reporting to improve your bottom line.
FYIDid you know
Email automation can elevate customer support and provide a great customer experience via personalized efforts that show customers you're attuned to their needs.

How to create an automated workflow

You can design an automated workflow in five steps. While the process is straightforward, it’s essential to continuously test and tweak automated workflows for the best results.

  1. Determine a manual process you’d like to automate. Before automating a process, consider if it burdens the team and whether the task would benefit from automation.
  2. Identify why the process should be automated. Whether you want to streamline the process, increase efficiency among departments or improve return on investment, an automation goal will help you focus on the task.
  3. Consult the team. To access workflow automation, your team needs training on using the process and learning from its data. Communicate goals and ask the team for suggestions during and after implementation.
  4. Create the workflow automation. Automated workflow software offers a drag-and-drop interface to organize tasks visually. Using a visual representation of tasks, you’ll quickly see how one job identifies with another and navigates from point A to B. Once designed, business owners and employees can review and edit the static process before building the automated process. When approved, automated processes connect alerts, forms, tasks and recipients within the workflow automation software.
  5. Test and tweak. After the workflow automation is complete, test it to ensure it streamlines the process, saves time and improves ROI. If it does, continue using it to maximize efficiency. If the automation is complex to use or has bugs – or team members don’t like it – brainstorm how the automation can improve or determine if it’s necessary in the first place. 
Did You Know?Did you know
According to Salesforce, IT executives say workflow automation cuts the time required to perform repetitive tasks by 10 to 50 percent.

The best software to help you automate your workflow

Dedicated workflow automation software makes it easy to design workflows with a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface. Some top options to consider include the following:

Integrify

Integrify specializes in workflow automation for enterprises. It offers robust tools to create, manage and track workflows. Whether you want to design automated workflows using a drag-and-drop interface or utilize the professional help of Integrify’s knowledgeable staff, you can get your workflows up and running in days.

Custom workflow connections are possible through Integrify’s open API (REST-based) and AWS Lambda integration. You can quickly connect your Salesforce CRM account to push information to a Salesforce database automatically. Integrify also integrates with SAP, Oracle, Slack, Microsoft and other software platforms.

Integrify customers include BP, Sony Entertainment, GM and GlaxoSmithKline. The platform’s subscription-based options start at $875 per month, but pricing is custom and based on a business’s unique needs. The company also offers a free demo. 

Kissflow

Kissflow helps you easily create custom workflows; the platform integrates with over 750 tools, including Zoho and Salesforce. No coding knowledge is necessary – you can create apps via a drag-and-drop interface. Top Kissflow customers include Pepsi, Comcast, Michelin and Motorola.

Kissflow offers Basic and Enterprise plans, with pricing starting at $1,500 per month. A live demo is available.

Nintex

Nintex is a low-code, user-friendly software solution that excels at process mapping, mobile and RPA (robotic process automation).

Nintex integrates with Zapier to offer multiple CRM connection options, including Salesforce, Pipedrive, Clio, Tribus and over 3,000 business apps. 

Famous clients include Bridgestone, Herman Miller, Microsoft and Zoom. Nintex offers several standard and enterprise options starting at $25,000 annually. A free 30-day trial is available.

ProcessMaker

ProcessMaker is open-source and offers API access for larger businesses’ advanced customization. You can use prebuilt connectors, templates and process maps to simplify the automation process. You can also instantly connect to your Salesforce account to build automated workflows for your CRM. The platform integrates with Office 365, Google Workspace, LinkedIn and Slack.

ProcessMaker has three tiers – Platform, Pro and Enterprise+ – with prices starting at $1,475 per month. Users can request a free demo through an online request form.

What is workflow automation in CRM?            

CRM workflows are methods of automating CRM-related processes – primarily account management, sales and support. Robust CRM software makes it easy to create these workflows.

Here’s how workflow automation in CRM works: 

Account management

After putting in the hard work to turn a lead into a customer, you want to ensure repeat business, whether through more purchases or continued subscription services. Depending on how many customers you have, contacting each at the right time can be challenging. 

Account management workflows can solve this problem. Using time-based triggers, you can create automated workflows that notify sales reps of expiration dates, alert managers when to contact VIP clients and send automated emails directly to the client for self-renewal options.

Sales

When your sales team is busy with meetings and working simultaneously across the globe, updating the team about every new lead can be challenging. 

CRM administrators can automatically alert managers whenever a large-value client enters the system and send follow-up alerts to a salesperson about clients or client information changes. These alerts can prevent communication errors and keep high-dollar clients from falling through the cracks in your sales process.

Support

Support tickets often span multiple departments. Maintaining a client’s happiness is vital. Automating system changes and consistently updating the client are essential factors in solving support issues quickly and professionally.

CRM automated workflows can instantly notify the client of any updates. Notifications can be sent to all relevant department members by email or text to resolve problems as quickly as possible.

If you want to maintain a consistent customer service experience, automating processes can save time and keep your customers from getting frustrated with your products or services.

Did You Know?Did you know
Ticket management systems are an example of support-based workflow automations that create a streamlined way to track and resolve technical issues.

The best CRM software for workflow automation

Your CRM software is the repository for all your customer data and interactions, so it’s an excellent place to explore workflow automation. The best CRM software platforms support workflow automations and often have built-in automations to make your life easier. Here are some top options to consider. 

Salesforce

Salesforce CRM is part of the larger Salesforce ecosystem, making it perfect for workflow automation – especially if you already use another Salesforce product. Setting up department- and employee-level workflows in Salesforce CRM is straightforward. Our Salesforce CRM review explains how its Flow Builder tool helps businesses create workflows with a drag-and-drop interface.

monday Sales CRM

monday Sales CRM is noted for its ability to create customized workflows and automations. Using a drag-and-drop interface, sales managers can easily create complex sales funnels and workflows for their teams. You can set up different workflows for various employees or teams for complex projects to enable maximum productivity and accountability. Read our monday Sales CRM review to learn about creating workflows that automate repetitive tasks like notification emails.

Pipedrive

Pipedrive is focused on introducing workflow automation into sales teams and within individual accounts’ sales journeys. Out of the box, it includes 36 prebuilt automated processes to ensure sales reps don’t drop the ball or neglect to follow up, maximizing each rep’s closing ratio. Data flows into sales reps’ sales pipelines for easy sales management. Our Pipedrive review explains how businesses can also create customized automations as needed. 

Jennifer Dublino contributed to this article.

author image
Julie Thompson, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
With nearly two decades of experience under her belt, Julie Thompson is a seasoned B2B professional dedicated to enhancing business performance through strategic sales, marketing and operational initiatives. Her extensive portfolio boasts achievements in crafting brand standards, devising innovative marketing strategies, driving successful email campaigns and orchestrating impactful media outreach. Thompson's proficiency extends to Salesforce administration, database management and lead generation, reflecting her versatile skill set and hands-on approach to business enhancement. Through easily digestible guides, she demystifies complex topics such as SaaS technology, finance trends, HR practices and effective marketing and branding strategies. Moreover, Thompson's commitment to fostering global entrepreneurship is evident through her contributions to Kiva, an organization dedicated to supporting small businesses in underserved communities worldwide.
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