App automation can remove bottlenecks, save time and money, help you provide a better customer experience, and improve internal collaboration. But it should never replace the human touch.
In this article, we’ll show you how to leverage app automation to produce desired results and reclaim productivity. We’ll also explore examples to apply across the customer journey and tools you can experiment with and invest in today.
How to identify apps and tools that would benefit from workflow automation
The purpose of app automation is to provide cohesiveness across your workflows. This means platforms, databases, and the actions that drive them working to serve each other.
Say you use Facebook Ads to drive traffic and capture leads. The workflow might look something like this:
- User is directed to a landing page
- They enter their details to access a lead magnet
- On the following page, they’re invited to book a consultation
Several tools are used to make this happen:
- A tool like Unbounce to build the landing page and lead capture form
- An email marketing tool like ActiveCampaign to nurture leads
- A scheduling tool like SavvyCal to book the consultation
- A CRM like Pipedrive to store contact details
You can pass lead information manually from one platform to another by downloading and uploading CSV files, copy-and-pasting email addresses, etc.
Or, you can use app automation to have these systems talk to each other and reduce manual tasks and the risk of human error. For example, when someone fills out a form on your landing page, those details are immediately passed to an email marketing platform and CRM.
Similarly, once the lead books their consultation, their details in the CRM are updated, and they’re added to a new email automation workflow.
App automation and workflow integration need to be well thought out. Otherwise, you’ll end up with automations that lack cohesiveness and are prone to error. You can’t automate everything at once and expect to fix all your workflow issues.
Building an automated workflow plan
It’s easy to say “let’s install a chatbot because everyone else is”. After all, as 74% of users report they prefer chatbots because they provide quick answers to common questions, it makes sense to implement them.
However, it’s difficult to measure the impact of a new tool or technology if you don’t have a clear goal. Furthermore, if you don’t have a plan to integrate a chatbot into your martech stack (e.g. CRM), capturing the data and insights needed to optimize the customer journey will be complicated.
Before connecting the apps that make up your tech stack, make sure you fully understand your goals and how each component contributes to the customer experience.
For example, you may find that, upon experimenting with chatbots, it increases demo signups to your SaaS product by ~3%. Understanding this allows you to find new ways to embed this tool into the customer journey, such as:
- Providing a better experience interacting with the chatbot itself (better copy, conversation paths, etc.)
- Serving content based on the answer to a user’s question (and using this insight to inform your editorial calendar)
- Segmenting email lists based on what a user is most interested in
It’s critical that you start this process with the customer journey itself. This means having a complete understanding of how potential customers consider, evaluate, and buy your products or services in the first place. You can only optimize a tool if it’s already proven to get results.
Start by mapping the customer journey before your automation workflows. Understanding how customers familiarize themselves with the problem you solve and the solution you provide will allow you to connect the dots with your tech stack:
In the example above, the journey is broken down by lifecycle stage, touch-points, and frustrations. Preact have identified “points of friction” in the customer journey that could be frustrating potential customers, and therefore losing their attention.
Conducting this exercise achieves two things:
- It allows you to clearly visualize how customers interact with your brand, presenting opportunities to automate each stage of the journey
- It helps you develop more engaging, delightful customer experiences
Next, map out how each app and tool assist with each step of this journey:
Each step is color-coded by the tool. For example, the steps colored in pink represent Salesforce, which clearly visualizes the relationship between one action or trigger to the next.
Finally, set clear goals and KPIs on how you’ll measure the performance of this workflow. For example, a macro goal could be “increasing the number of sales from certain audience segments.” A micro goal underneath that could be “personalize email messaging for each segment”.
Audit your stack for obvious automation opportunities
Next, audit your workflow automation tools against your goals. For example, a goal of better audience segmentation and personalizing your messaging is dependent on having a tool that can do both.
To achieve this, you need a martech stack that can:
- Collect the right customer data
- Segment customers, leads, and subscribers by attribute
- Send personalized messaging based on those attributed
As Smart Panda Labs says, getting other teams involved in this process is critical to get this right. They suggest asking yourself the following questions:
As well as understanding those involved at the decision-making level, before you onboard or roll out new tools, you need to design your workflow.
This helps you to avoid confusion, increases the chances of buy-in from your team, and gives you the best chance of success with your implementation and ongoing use.
To do this, ask yourself the following questions concerning your team:
– Who needs to use each tool in your stack currently?Are they the right people?
– Are there others whose roles the tool improves?
– Who should take ownership of tools, or tasks within them?
– Do you need to bring in external support?
An audit will uncover opportunities that will quickly benefit from automation, such as:
- Content currently being uploaded to the CMS manually
- New email marketing opportunities based on behavior-driven triggers
- Posting to social media accounts
- Initiating a demo sign up
- Sending a post-purchase survey to new customers
Predictable and repeatable tasks are easy targets for automation. Certain instances require a human touch, so make sure you build in processes that allow for human intervention—even in repeatable workflows.
Bear in mind the differences between dynamic vs. static workflows:
- Static workflows have no variance. They run in strict sequences, often at the same time of day, week, or month (e.g. monthly email newsletter to entire subscriber list on X day each month)
- Dynamic workflows are more agile and flexible. They run when certain conditions are met, which can be informed by data, user behavior, or other quantitative factors (e.g. an email notification sent once a user successfully completes a task within a SaaS product)
Static workflows are easier to implement as they require fewer rules and considerations. When prioritizing your workflows, start here and work toward more complex solutions and use cases. By starting with simple automations, your team members will be able to reclaim their time to focus on more productive or strategic activities.
When the time comes to implement more complex automations, consider building a digital roadmap and take your time with low-code (or no-code) solutions.
How to leverage app automation to accelerate the customer journey and achieve operational excellence
Let’s look at how workflow automation can be applied to achieve goals and execute tasks at each stage of the customer journey, as well as building out operational systems that fit your needs.
Marketing requires a multi-channel approach. Even startups with a lean marketing strategy invest in at least two or three channels. But this can result in data being stored in silos.
Let’s say you’re an ecommerce brand that runs Facebook Ads to retarget website visitors and new customers. To do this without automation, you’d need to manually upload a .CSV file of customers on a regular basis while monitoring how they’ve interacted with those ads.
With a no-code automation tool like Zapier, you can add new customers from your Shopify store to a custom audience in Facebook Ads every time they create an account or make a purchase:
App automation at the awareness level means unifying tools, channels, and platforms that are otherwise scattered. It’s at this stage you’re generating new customers, leads, or user sign-ups, and you’ll need to ask yourself:
- What are the most important data points at this stage?
- Where do we find this data?
- Do different tools offer conflicting data?
Start by defining critical information you need from new customers or users. What attributes are required to progress through the customer journey? This could be as simple as a first name and email address, or as complex as credit card details acquired from a trial or onboarding journey.
Decide where this data should be stored, which should be your CRM of choice. This will act as the “single source of truth” for your customer data. Your marketing apps and automation solutions will feed data into your CRM, which can then be accessed later to execute specific tasks.
For example, let’s say you generate leads by offering free ebooks like the following from Vidyard:
The form captures name, email address, and job title. When the user fills in the form and hits “I Want This!” the following process automations happen in real-time:
- Details are sent to Pipedrive as a new contact
- A custom drop-down field called “Buyer Segment” is defined based on their job title
- Contact information is then added to a list in ActiveCampaign, triggering an email automation workflow
- Finally, they’re added to a custom audience in Facebook Ads that serves content relevant to the ebook
No-code automation tools like Zapier make this possible without any time-consuming manual downloading of .CSV data. User behavior triggers an action that performs tasks on autopilot.
Continuing with the above ebook journey, let’s say they click an email CTA, taking them to a product landing page. The contact is then removed from the initial Facebook Ad custom audience and added to a new one that serves them product ads.
This is a specific example of how app automated processes can empower more flexible lead nurturing. At this stage, it’s important to personalize messaging, content, and creative in order to demonstrate how you can help a potential customer solve their problems.
In the previous section, we used an example that leveraged job titles to broadly segment leads. But what if you don’t have that data?
User behavior can be a reliable indicator of what your audience’s priorities, desires, and needs are. This behavior looks different across industries, but can include:
- Interacting with product pages and adding products to wishlists. This is a strong signal that a user has specific interests, even if they’re not ready to buy.
- Reading blog content relevant to the problems your SaaS solution solves (or the “jobs to be done” (JTBD) that they empower). Middle- and bottom-of-funnel-content can be a strong indicator that users are entering the consideration phase.
- How engaged they are with your marketing. For example, a high open and click-through-rate on your emails suggests that your messaging resonates. They may not be ready to buy from you, but it is likely they have an affinity with your brand.
This behavioral data acts as triggers for specific automation tasks. This could include recording that behavior in a CRM or performing a specific action, such as sending an email or adding a contact to a new ad campaign.
For example, here’s an email Airbnb sent to a user showing strong intent to book a place to stay in San Diego:
This behavior would have first been recorded by an automation platform or via events in Google Analytics. The data can then be recorded in a CRM and transferred to an email automation platform that customizes email copy and creative based on the content they searched for.
Conversion & retention
The data and activity you’ve collected and conducted so far is for one purpose: to drive conversions.
This could be a purchase, app download, user-sign up, demo, or consultation.
In the previous section, we focused on behavioral triggers to help you better understand your potential customers. This allows you to serve messaging that furthers a commercial relationship. For example, serving ads for products that a user has added to their cart without purchasing:
The “connections” for this app automation are familiar, as we’ve demonstrated how a CRM, Shopify, and Facebook Ads can all “talk” to each other. The difference here is the added layer of complexity.
Marketing automation is no longer simply moving data from A to B. It’s working to dynamically improve the customer experience based on a vast array of historical data collected on a specific user.
The same treatment applies to retention. When someone makes a purchase, you have greater insight into their interests and needs. This affects how you personalize content, creative, and the channels you use to reach them.
The channels remain mostly the same, but the breadth of data available and how it’s utilized becomes more complex when we get to the conversion and retention stage of a customer’s lifecycle.
Optimizing your operational workflows
While app automation is effective at connecting the dots at a tactical marketing level, it’s also invaluable for operational workflows—such as project management and communication across your organization.
Where an end-to-end platform doesn’t suit all your needs, app automation can bridge the gap between several operational tools, provide complete visibility across your company, and save time on administrative tasks.
For example, at my content marketing agency, we went through a process to evaluate several end-to-end project management tools to suit our needs. Our criteria was simple:
- The tool of choice must provide a high-level overview of all projects across the agency, acting as the “pulse” of our client delivery operation
- Each task must be broken down by project milestone (or “stage”)
- It must have the functionality to produce processes and checklists, allowing our team (and certain stakeholders) to effectively execute on each standardized task
While most project management tools are great at points two and three, we struggled to find any that provided the visible overview that was critical for our high-level operational workflows.
So, we decided to use Airtable as our “agency pulse,” giving us insight into the status of each project across the agency:
We then settled on Asana as our project and task management tool of choice, breaking down and tracking specific tasks for each project. Everything is standardized, so the templates Asana allows us to build are invaluable. Everyone knows exactly what to do, and when each task is due by:
The next challenge was getting these two apps to talk to each other. This is where Zapier comes in. Whenever a task is marked as “completed” in Asana, it amends the status or stage of that project in Airtable:
Using Airtable, Asana, and Zapier as the foundation of our operational tech stack may take longer to implement than end-to-end solutions. But it allows us to build a system that perfectly fits our needs and reduce inefficiencies.
4 workflow automation, low-code, and no-code tools to evaluate and experiment with
Let’s explore some low-code and no-code workflow automation software that you can use to build and streamline your app automation systems.
A firm favorite among startups, Zapier connects with over 3,000 apps, boasting the ability to automate them in “millions of ways.”
The UI is sleek and simple, allowing you to set triggers and actions across multiple apps to achieve specific goals:
Pricing starts at $20 /MO (or $18.33 /MO with an annual subscription), and comes with a free plan that allows you to test the tool out with five “zaps.” Zapier is perfect for startups and solo founders looking to automate specific workflows and reduce manual work.
Appian’s low-code platform is perfect for those with more robust workflow management needs. From business process management to AI-driven document processing, Appian allows you to build out more complex workflows:
Their core value proposition is centered around data management and migration, perfect for brands that deal with large amounts of customer data containing dozens of attributes. Pricing starts at $75.00 /MO per user.
An alternative to Zapier, Automate.io provides an intuitive tool that connects over 200 apps to automate repetitive tasks:
The UI places triggers, actions, and data migration options side-by-side. It’s easy to add new rules with their user-friendly drag-and-drop feature. You can also add conditions so an automation only runs when certain criteria are met:
Pricing for Automate.io starts at $9.99 /MO, and includes a limited free option for those wanting to give it a test drive.
The automation tools above are linear, in that you’re reliant on the UI of each app and their limitations. For example, Asana doesn’t yet allow you to create projects from a template in Zapier.
Building proprietary tools can be a workaround to these limitations, and low-code web application builders like Bubble make it accessible to a non-technical audience:
Bubble allows you to store and manage data, integrate with several existing tools and, more importantly, build your own UI fit for purpose. For example, Teeming built a remote work tool that brings together distributed teams to bond and collaborate through existing communication platforms:
Using Bubble, Teeming created a UI that allows remote work leaders to create work sessions, and then integrate with Zoom, Slack, or Skype to run those sessions together.
Pricing starts at $25 /MO, and comes with a free plan if you’d like to build a sandbox to experiment with.
Using automation tools can reduce the amount of time your team and individual contributors spend on repetitive tasks and manual processes.
As a result, they can focus on strategic, high-impact, or creative tasks that make a bigger contribution to your business goals.
While this article has provided several specific examples of how to utilize app automation, we’re only just scratching the surface. To learn more, check out CXL’s “Automation with Apps Script” course.