How to Build and Use Marketing Automation Workflows (with Examples)

Nobody likes tedious tasks; that’s why we invest in business technology. And that makes it all the more frustrating when you find your marketing initiatives delayed because you must input a step or upload a list manually.

Marketing automation workflows are the solution that makes your marketing faster, more efficient, and more effective.

When you create marketing automation workflows, you ensure a better and more consistent customer experience. These workflows make creating segmented and personalized communications easier with 46% higher open rates. And this better experience leads to higher conversion rates, increased lead generation, and greater revenue. 

Perhaps the best part of all is that, along with making your marketing more effective and your customers happier, business workflow automations free you from low-value, time-consuming tasks. 

This article will cover marketing automation workflows, how you can create them, and six of the most important workflows to start with.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation uses technology to automate and streamline the steps of a workflow. 

One example is document workflow automation. This is where tools like DocuSign automatically notify each signer of a contract when it is their turn to sign. 

These tools also prevent users from submitting the document if they have neglected to sign or initial. This safeguard against incomplete steps is another feature of workflow process automation.

What is a marketing automation workflow? 

Marketing automation uses technology to automate manual tasks and steps in your marketing initiatives, typically by using conditional business rules and triggers.

A marketing automation workflow is a step-by-step process that details the automations that occur at each point of a typical marketing workflow  — for example, onboarding a new user.

four step workflow with ordered steps
Basic workflow with ordered steps

Marketing automation workflows help you automate marketing tasks by arranging individually automated marketing tasks into a series of ordered steps that make your email marketing campaigns more effective. Well-done workflow automations can help you save time, avoid mistakes, and move potential customers down the marketing funnel faster.

For example, if a user opens an email, that acts as the trigger for the next step. This is how individual points of marketing automation are linked to create a marketing automation workflow.

A quick example of marketing automation

If someone subscribes to your newsletter, your workflow automation software adds them to your email list and sends them a welcome email.

example of an automation workflow in activecampaign
Example of an automation workflow in ActiveCampaign

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Ideally, each step in the sales funnel should involve some form of marketing automation. For instance, a marketing automation workflow for lead nurturing might begin with the user becoming a lead. 

Your marketing automation software will add their email address to the appropriate email list in this first step. For the next step in the workflow, your email marketing tool will automatically send the first nurture email campaign. 

How do marketing and operations work together?

While marketing automation workflows can be extremely powerful and ultimately save your team time and effort, creating them requires forethought and precision. That’s why your marketing team and operations team need to work closely to build the workflow. 

Usually, marketers will create a vision for the customer experience, and the operations professionals will provide the technical and operational expertise to automate the process. If operational realities make part of marketing’s vision impossible, it’s up to both teams to get creative and find the best alternative.

Why do you need workflow automation? 

Workflow automation allows you to increase efficiency by reducing the amount of time spent on manual tasks in your marketing workflow. Workflow automation could be the answer if you have more tasks than manpower or if things are falling through the cracks because you don’t have time to personally guide accounts from one step to another.

Plus, automations like these make it easier for marketing and operations teams to work together.

Perhaps the greatest way that workflow automation saves you time is by creating a repeatable marketing experience. Instead of determining what needs to happen every time a customer takes an action, you have mapped out their course and decided what comes next.

Better yet, your workflow automation tools are already doing it for you.

How do businesses benefit from marketing automation?

It’s not just you and your coworkers who benefit from marketing automation. Clear workflows and automation also create a better customer journey. Your contacts receive the right content and communications at the right time, which helps guide them toward a purchase.

Customers no longer have to wait for you to send them relevant emails or resources manually. Small business automation focuses on simple workflows that help owner-operators and managers save time.

Mike Morrow is the founder of Morrow Audio, which provides cables and other audio equipment to customers in 70 countries. “I like to think about what else I could do through automation to better serve the customer,” Morrow says. “The different ways to create curiosity, and how to give them something they want.” 

Marketing automation also frees up your time and energy for more impactful work by taking small and repetitive tasks off your plate. Morrow says, “With all of the automations that we’re using, the store runs by itself. I’m able to focus on other projects.”

A survey of marketing professionals revealed that, after using marketing automation, 56% saw an increase in conversion rates. Other benefits included increased productivity, increased leads, and increased revenue.

bar graph of survey results of marketing professionals
Top benefits for marketing automation according to marketing professionals

Let automation handle the sales funnel and convert every potential customer while you focus on running the business.

How to create a marketing automation workflow 

Marketing automation sounds great, but some people feel intimidated by the technology. Don’t be. We’ll help you get started by covering the key elements of an efficient marketing automation workflow.


A trigger is an action or event that tells your technology it’s time to move on to the next step. Typically, a trigger will be some kind of user action (or a period of inaction).

In ActiveCampaign, when setting up your marketing automation workflow, you can choose from triggers such as submitting a form, clicking a link in an email, making a purchase, and more.

activecampaign automation triggers
ActiveCampaign’s automation triggers


In programming terms, if the trigger is your “if,” the action is your “then.” This is the action your marketing automation platform will take in response to the trigger. For instance, if someone opens an email (the trigger), then your system sends them a follow-up email (the action) 48 hours later.


Conditions are characteristics that must be in place for the system to complete the triggered action. For example, personalized discounts and special offers are common examples of e-commerce marketing automation

You could create a marketing automation workflow where the trigger is a customer completing a purchase, and the action is to send them a discount code for the next time, but only if the initial purchase was $50 or more. In this case, the user must perform the trigger action and meet the conditions for the follow-up action to happen. 

Conditions exist to set guardrails around your automations to make sure an action is only triggered under the right circumstances. Conditions can also serve as a fork in the user’s path. If the condition is met, they receive one message, and if the condition is not met, they receive another.

Time controls

Time controls, sometimes called flow controls, are what you use to determine when precisely an action is taken. With custom time controls, most of your automated marketing tasks happen on a delay, from as short as a few minutes to days or even weeks later.

While building a marketing automation workflow for your sales funnel, keep in mind:

  1. The trigger tells your system that an action must be taken
  2. Conditions provide guardrails to make sure the action is appropriate for this contact and situation
  3. Time controls determine when the action is taken
  4. The action engages with the contact to deepen and continue the relationship
colored boxes labeled trigger, conditions, time control, and action
Triggers, Conditions, Time Control, and Actions

What makes marketing automation workflows so powerful is that, after the action is taken, the user has an opportunity to set off a new trigger, which sets the next step of their customer experience in motion. An improved customer experience ultimately leads to higher customer retention and increased revenue.

Top 6 marketing workflow automations 

There are an almost endless number of possible marketing automation workflows between different triggers, conditions, and actions. Fortunately, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. 

There are a few common marketing workflows that most businesses find useful. Read on for six of the most common and valuable marketing workflow automations you can adapt for your business.

1. Welcome workflow 

Regardless of the product or service you offer, first impressions matter. That’s why so many businesses take care to create an engaging series of welcome emails. You could even segment your welcome email workflows if you have more than just subscriber contact information.

example of a welcome email workflow in ActiveCampaign
Example of a welcome email workflow in ActiveCampaign

2. Onboarding workflow

How you onboard a new customer can be a pivotal factor in whether they remain a customer. If welcome email messages ensure you make an excellent first impression, an onboarding workflow ensures that your working relationship runs smoothly. An onboarding workflow will occur after someone purchases or begins using your product.

3. Re-engage workflow

One of the most effective uses of email marketing automation workflows is re-engaging contacts who have stopped interacting with you. You can create a trigger based on how many days since the contact last engaged or how many emails they have received but not opened. This trigger tells your system to start sending messages designed to reach and reactivate inactive users.

example of a re-engagement email workflow in ActiveCampaign
Example of a re-engagement email workflow in ActiveCampaign

4. Lead nurture workflow

A lead nurture workflow will guide contacts through a longer buying cycle, a vital workflow automation. It uses their actions to assign user attributes and triggers the most appropriate marketing messages. 

A lead nurture workflow can incorporate email interactions, website activity, SMS marketing, and more. The better integrated your different systems are, the smoother your lead nurture workflow will run.

5. Renewal or upselling workflow

Once you’ve made the initial sale, you want to keep that customer loyal to your company. A renewal or upselling workflow will help retain customers and maximize the value of each customer relationship. This is great since customer retention is more affordable than acquiring new ones. Purchase history and customer details can help you suggest additional products they might like.

example of an upselling email workflow in ActiveCampaign
Example of an upselling email workflow in ActiveCampaign

6. Abandoned cart workflows

Once someone has chosen a product and placed it in their digital cart, they can still get sidetracked or have second thoughts. In fact, the rate of cart abandonment is nearly 70%. An abandoned cart workflow can automate the process of completing that sale. Abandoned cart emails may be the easiest and most lucrative email automation workflow to set up.

Get started with marketing automation workflows on ActiveCampaign

“Marketing automation workflow” might sound like an intimidating term, but it’s really just a process of using two more common tools, marketing automation and workflows, in tandem. Automated workflows can save you time and effort and provide a better customer experience, leading to better business outcomes.

The easiest way to get started is to choose one of ActiveCampaign’s pre-built automation templates. You can always adjust the template to your needs, but importing these pre-made automations makes starting (or ramping up) your automations much simpler. 

Even if you’ve struggled with past attempts at marketing automation, it’s never too late to make your life easier and your customers happier.

Want to see how ActiveCampaign can help you create more powerful and engaging marketing experiences? Start your free 14-day trial today.