Creating a Workflow: a How-to Guide

By Erin Gleeson | Inbound Marketing Account Manager

You want to create a workflow, so you open up your marketing automation tool, navigate to the workflows section, and start plugging in actions. But wait- if you haven’t taken the time to set a goal, carefully choose an audience and frame out strategy, your workflow can quickly go off the rails.

Workflows are an advanced feature of marketing automation and can be intimidating. However, if you follow these 7 steps, you’ll soon find yourself with a well thought-out workflow that works for you.

blog creating a workflow a how-to guide

Step 1: Determine workflow type

Workflows can be used for a multitude of purposes--from automating internal alerts and property updates to nurturing not-quite-ready leads with targeted emails.

Start by determining the type of workflow that best suits your purpose. An internal workflow will focus on updating a contact property, sending an internal email alert, setting and assigning tasks, or anything that does not involve reaching out externally to a contact. These workflows run behind the scenes to automate your marketing and make processes more efficient and connected.

An external workflow will involve reaching out to contacts directly via email to nurture leads, re-engage lapsed contacts or follow-up post download/trial/meeting. We’re going to focus on external workflows in this post, although all seven steps are equally important when developing internal workflows.


Step 2: Set the goal

With that said, it’s time to set the workflow goal. What’s the purpose of the workflow? Are you nurturing leads to download a resource or complete a contact us form? Determine your end goal before you start thinking about actions to ensure every step of the workflow leads logically to this over-arcing goal.

For example: You have a segment of your audience that has not opened an email or been to your website in 18+ months. They’re taking up space in your CRM, and you either want to entice them to become active again or remove them from your system. Your workflow goal for this re-engagement campaign would then be based on activity- email opens or click-throughs of the workflow email, or even a re-opt-in. Anyone who does not take the goal action would be removed from your database after workflow completion.

workflow goal


Step 3: Define audience, triggers and exclusions

Now that you have a goal, it’s time to figure out who should and should not be included. Are you nurturing contacts that fall within a certain persona? Are you re-engaging inactive contacts and using a smart list?

Determine who you want to reach, then decide how you will define these people for your marketing automation tool. This may involve building a smart list, checking utilization of the desired properties, or even importing a static list from an event for follow-up.

Your list or criteria will serve as the trigger for the workflow. Another way to think of this is--how will these people get added to the workflow? Sometimes, this is as simple as list membership. Other times, you may want to trigger a workflow after a contact completes a form, hits a certain lead score or visits a specific page. Define the criteria you’ll use in your tool to avoid hiccups in setting triggers later on.

Just as important as defining who is included is to determine who should be excluded. For example, in a lead nurturing campaign, you may want to exclude current customers, partners and employees.

workflow audience


Step 4: Frame out the workflow, step by step

At this point, you’ve picked a workflow type, defined a goal and set an audience. Now, you can finally start fleshing out the workflow with actions. I like to do this the old-fashioned way, with a pencil and paper, but you could also use digital workflow tools.

Starting with the trigger, frame out all the steps of the workflow, including emails, time delays, if/then branches and any internal actions. Keep your target personas and goal in mind when deciding on the number of emails, length of time delays and branching logic. A typical nurture will include 3 to 5 emails, with time delays of 3 to 7 days between each. If you’re using branching logic, keep in mind that the time delay must be set before the if/then branch- otherwise, the contact will immediately move through the branch before he/she has a chance to take any action.

Another good rule of thumb is to keep if/then branches to a minimum, at least when starting out. It’s easy to get carried away and end up with an extremely complex workflow that doesn’t efficiently accomplish your goal. Use a branch if you need to split out contacts by actions taken in the workflow to deliver relevant, targeted content to a group based on the action they took.


Step 5: Develop the workflow components

It’s time to build the trigger list, write the email copy and set up the emails in your tool. This is also a good time to check that any resources you’re linking to are up-to-date and include a CTA that advances your overall goal.

Each resource should have a micro-goal leading to the overall workflow goal. If the entire workflow is leading a contact to the contact us form, the first email goal might be click-throughs to a top-of-the-funnel content piece. The second email might then lead to a middle-of-the-funnel download with a goal of form completion.


Step 6: Build the workflow

Your foundation is set, the blueprints drawn, and you can finally head over to your marketing automation tool! At this point, it should be quick and easy to set up the workflow.

Add in your goal, set the workflow trigger and build out the workflow components, linking your newly created resources. You’ll have the option to enroll all contacts who currently meet the trigger criteria, or you can choose to only enroll new contacts moving forward. Pick the option that makes more sense for your workflow goal and audience.

workflow 1

Once the workflow is built, take a look at settings. Here, you can set the workflow to execute during the business week at set times and define any exclusions. When you’re happy with the workflow, go ahead and turn it on! Congratulations, you’ve launched your workflow.

workflow settings


Step 7: Evaluate and revise

…But, you’re not done yet. Once the first contacts have completed the workflow, evaluate the results. Are email opens dropping off as contacts progress? You might need to decrease the number of emails. Are click-throughs especially low on one email? The CTA might not be resonating with your audience. Make tweaks based on the results and track continued performance.

Even if the workflow is not going to run past the first group, be sure to evaluate the results and identify any issues to avoid in future workflows.


Learn More about Marketing Automation


Previous Blog Home Next

Erin Gleeson

Inbound Marketing Account Manager

Search by Subject


    Recent Posts

    Subscribe to Our Blog