How to Build a Marketing Automation Workflow from Start to Finish

How to Build a Marketing Automation Workflow from Start to Finish

Building marketing automation workflows is one of my responsibilities at Synectics Media. They are a powerful tool and can take some time to master. Today I'm sharing what I've learned so you can start building your own workflows.

Before I tell you how to build a marketing automation workflow, let’s cover some workflow basics, and why they are so beneficial to your business. According to HubSpot, “marketing automation refers to the software that exists with the goal of automating marketing actions.” A marketing automation workflow is triggered by someone meeting the predefined criteria that you have set for your workflow. For example, you can send an automated follow-up message to someone when they submit a contact form on your website. For your current customers, you could automatically send a coupon to a customer who hasn’t made a purchase in six months. Automation workflows are meant to make marketing more efficient by automating a process we used to have to do by hand, or not at all.

So why should you incorporate workflows into your marketing? Check out this list of statistics put together by Jordie van Rijn from emailmonday and how it illustrates why marketing automation is so important. Not only does marketing automation statistically make sense, it just makes your life easier. You set it up, test the workflow, and let it go forever.

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We use marketing automation workflows regularly at Synectics Media. Here are some steps I follow when creating our workflows:

Before we get into step one you must have a marketing automation workflow software. We use HubSpot, and I highly recommend HubSpot’s Marketing Automation Workflow builder. I have used many other systems and none of them compares to how easy, intuitive, and robust HubSpot’s marketing automation software is.

  1. Begin with the end in mind. Decide what your goal is. What action(s) do you want the workflow to trigger in your audience? Do you want them to make a purchase on your ecommerce site, or do you want them to check out some of your website content?
  2. Triggered! Now that you know your end goal you have to decide how people become part of the workflow and what sets it in motion. What are the step(s) a website visitor has to take in order to trigger the workflow? If you are you targeting new customers, a first-time form submission could be the trigger. If you’re targeting current customers, you can set a trigger to start when that customer visits a certain page on your website, or if they haven’t purchased in six months they could become enrolled in a workflow that nurtures them toward purchasing again. Again, you need to decide how people are going to be enrolled into the workflow, or what is going to trigger the workflow to start.
  3. Plan. You have your goal in mind, and you know how you want people to enroll in the workflow, so now you need to plan out how it’s going to flow (some pun intended). At this stage, I grab the biggest whiteboard in the office and about five or six Expo markers and go to work. Starting at the trigger, you need to plan out your email branches. This can get complicated quickly, and you’re going to change your mind a lot, so be patient and allow yourself some time in this stage. You can use any naming convention you’re comfortable with. I like to start with Email 1 - Working Topic Name, and branch from there. Then, if the customer takes the desired action I go on to Email 2 - Working Topic Name. If they didn’t take the action I wanted them to, then they will receive Email 1a - Different Topic Name. The planning step is one of the most important, because this is where you’re deciding how your customers will walk through the buyer’s journey and convert.
  4. Create compelling content. Now that you have your workflow plotted with all the steps you want, it’s time to create the emails that will go into the workflow. This part of the process involves a lot of writing, and I definitely recommend enlisting some help from your content producers if you have them. I’m lucky enough to have Sharon Stanton help me with all my workflows and emails so we can streamline this process.
  5. Implementation. Your emails are written, you know your flow, and now you finally get to open up that marketing automation software and build your workflow. The software you are using will determine how you proceed with this step. I recommend watching some tutorial videos, or reading how-to’s that pertain to the software you’re using before getting started. (Pro tip: If your software doesn’t offer guidance on how to get started with the workflows, you need a new software.) If you’ve done all of your prep work thoroughly and correctly, this should be one of the easiest steps of the entire process, but beware - this step can fall apart very easily. Don’t expect your whiteboard drawing to translate exactly the same when you build your workflow in the software. To this day, I still find myself changing up emails: either adding more or taking some out, and the final workflow looks different than it did on my whiteboard. Don’t worry, this is a good thing! It means you aren’t just “going with the flow,” (again with the puns) and that you are thinking critically about how this workflow is going to work.
  6. Test, Test, Test! Now that your workflow is built, you get to test it! First, set all the delays in your workflow to only a few minutes (so you’re not actually waiting days or weeks to test your workflow.) This is important: Create a new email address to use solely for testing purposes. (Using your own email or a team member’s could jeopardize the testing phase if that email has been used in any other part of the process.) An easy solution is to create a Gmail account and enroll that email into your workflow. When you are testing, make sure your workflow reacts the way you’re expecting it you. If it doesn’t, stop the workflow and fix the problem.
  7. Launch! Once you’re done with the testing phase, you have nothing left to do but to launch it live! Turn your workflow on and watch it all come to life!

Now go out there and build the best workflow you can, then tell me about it in the comments!

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Posted by Jen O'Dea

Jen O'Dea

Growth Hacker & Project Strategist: Jen excels at anything she puts her mind to. Her skill set ranges from programming to project management and from website analytics to being our marketing automation guru. Her experience, coupled with her willingness to learn and grow, has made her a valuable leader for our team. If there’s anything she loves more than learning something new, it’s playing with her 3 kitties. Just as cats are the connoisseurs of comfort, Jen is a connoisseur of gin.