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WTF Are Workflows Anyway?

By Jonathon OatesComments

WTF Are Workflows Anyway?

At their very simplest, marketing automation workflows are essentially a series of actions designed to steer the recipient towards a specific goal — to take the next step along their buying journey.

For the uninitiated; a workflow is a series of automated actions that you can trigger to occur based on a person’s behaviors or contact information.

They’re an important part of a successful inbound marketing programme — email is still regarded as the greatest performing tool in a marketer’s arsenal and boasts the highest ROI of any marketing channel. And Adobe found that 53% of organisations say data-driven marketing is their top strategic priority for 2016.

Here we explore the process of planning, setting up and executing a successful workflow from start to finish, so let’s get stuck in…

Failing to prepare is… preparing to fail

The single most important step in setting up effective marketing automation workflows is deciding upon a clear - or SMART - goal.

Without a specific destination to drive your contacts (or segment of contacts) to, how do you know what success should look like?

SMART goals are: Specific; Measurable; Attainable; Relevant; Timely (HubSpot)

To break that down and take a look at each aspect…

  1. The goal should be specific; unambiguous and communicate what is expected. Why it is important; Who's involved; What constraints are in place?
  2. A measurable goal should have concrete criteria for measuring progress and performance
  3. For your goal to be attainable it should be realistic and possible for you to achieve!
  4. The goal should matter to your business and address a core initiative. In other words, it needs to be relevant
  5. For your goal to be timely, you should have a due date by when you expect to achieve your target

Before you start creating assets or adding steps into your workflow, you’ll want to decide upon the ultimate objective…

  • What actions do you want your contacts to take, as a result of this workflow?
  • What new information are you trying to gain?
  • What is the key performance indicator that your company uses to assess the success of a series of marketing events?

Plan the moving parts

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Having decided on a SMART goal, the next step is to plan all the moving parts — the assets and logic to drive the workflow and steer the recipients in the right direction.

You’ll want to plan out how many emails you wish to send and determine the best timing for your emails. It’s also important to keep in mind what your sales cycle looks like, what content you want to send based on the persona segment and which part of the funnel these leads are in.

Each consideration will enable you to initiate email marketing communications without pressuring your leads into buying and, ultimately, pushing them to opt-out of your emails.

It’s often easier to plan out the assets in a simple spreadsheet. Include a row for each step in the workflow — each email you’ll send — with a concise synopsis and any relevant CTAs, blog posts or landing pages you’ll be linking to.

Along with a flow chart that maps out your logic [Download Template], this makes it easy for everyone (the client or internal teams) to understand the steps involved and visualise the workflow.

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Firing the starting pistol

In most popular marketing automation platforms, there are two main types of workflow. Those with standard starting conditions, and those that are date or property-based.

Put simply, standard workflows are triggered when a contact meets one or more starting conditions. Some common examples could be:

  • Triggering a specific follow-up email and setting a record property in the database when a contact fills out a form with a particular response
  • Automating a series of actions — such as marking them as a marketing, or sales qualified lead in a CRM — once you capture a particular piece of information about a contact, such as their industry or persona
  • Sending an internal email to the owner of a contact when that contact visits your pricing page — useful so sales teams can engage with contacts when they’re at a point of consideration and actively engaged

Date and date/time property-based workflows are similar in the sense they are triggered around a date, or specific date-style property. For example:

  • Sending a reminder to register for an upcoming webinar
  • Automating emails around annual events with coupons or special offers
  • Reminding a trial user they are about to expire and encouraging their subscription signup

Generally there are two ways to enroll a contact into a workflow: automatically when they meet certain criteria like the examples above, or by manually enrolling contacts. The latter is particularly useful if you’ve a list of contacts you need to perform a bulk action on, like an administrative task (e.g. updating contacts’ records in bulk) — workflows aren’t only for lead nurturing, you know!

Creating more complex workflows

Good marketing automation starts with a goal in mind. Great marketing automation optimizes for each milestone along the way.

Branching logic means that you can have your contacts follow one path or another based on an action in your workflow. These if/else or yes/no branches can be based on almost any contact property or action.

For example: when looking back at your planning spreadsheet, one step could be to send an email inviting the contact to sign up to your monthly newsletter. Well, what if they already are? It would be worth creating an alternative branch — a new route — to steer the contact down instead.

Perhaps inviting them into some other offer or content?

The way you set up your workflow should also control its behaviour, and how it affects or is affected by other activity within your marketing automation platform. Simply put, it’s what it should and should not allow.

Start by asking some questions:

  • Should contacts be allowed to go through the workflow more than once?
  • When a contact is enrolled, should they be removed from any other workflows?
  • Should the workflow execute only on business days or at specific times?
  • Are there contacts that you want to prevent from enrolling in this workflow?

Never try your luck…

Test, test, test!

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Before you activate your workflow, always test it to view the sequence of events in action.

Depending on the automation platform you’re building your workflow in, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind:

  • Always use an internal contact as your test subject, as all actions in the workflow will execute for that contact
  • Usually, if your settings specify that a contact can only enroll in the workflow once they will not be eligible to enroll again after your test — something to consider if they try to do so at a later date…
  • All emails will send and all actions will execute in order, though usually without any specified delays

Measure everything

Depending on the goal of the workflow, you may measure success in different ways.

For example, if you are running a lead nurturing campaign, you will probably be interested in your customer conversion rate or click through rates of emails sent to the contact.

One often overlooked (or misunderstood?) metric is contact churn — or the number of contacts lost from the database. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Keeping your database clean can improve your email delivery — and ultimately every other email metric.

Most importantly it means your emails are being sent to only those who are going to be receptive to them.

We touched on lead scoring earlier in this post — a subject deserved of a blog post all of it’s own! Which is what will be coming next so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you’ve any questions or hints and tips to share don’t hesitate to hit me up in the comments!

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