Get this: 51% of workers spend at least two hours per day on repetitive tasks like copying and pasting numbers into spreadsheets, and manually updating data in CRMs. Ew. This is a drain on resources and, honestly, a waste of time.
The solution? Workflow automation. With technology looking after these mind-numbing tasks, you’ll free up time and energy for you and your team to work on what actually matters—while cutting down on human error and saving money.
Whether you’re looking to be sold on the benefits of workflow automation, learn what it means beyond the buzzword, or want an article to share with your boss so you can convince him that you don’t need to be spending half your day in Google Sheets, this post is for you.
What is workflow automation?
Workflow automation refers to the technology-driven process of automating manual tasks, processes, or operations in a business or organizational environment to increase efficiency, reduce errors, and streamline operations.
This involves using software tools, applications, or platforms to automatically execute predefined tasks or workflows according to specific rules or logic—without you or your team lifting a finger.
How does workflow automation work?
Workflow automation operates based on triggers and actions. A trigger is an event that initiates the automation, and actions are the steps the system takes in response to that trigger. For example, your trigger might be a Calendly booking, and your action might be to create a Google Doc for the meeting notes.
Here’s an example workflow in Relay:
1. A new Calendly meeting is booked and the automation sequence is initiated. [Trigger]
2. A Google Doc meeting template is copied and attached to the meeting [Action]
3. A lead is created in HubSpot using the invitee’s details from the booking [Action]
4. A confirmation email is sent to the invite via Gmail [Action]
5. Relay waits until the meeting ends [Pause]
6. Meeting notes are summarized with AI [Action]
7. The meeting summary is sent to Slack and posted in the designated channel [Action]
It’s easy to see how you and your business can benefit from workflow automation—whether you’re in marketing, human resources, finance, or running an offshore mining rig (seriously, automation is for everyone).
If you’re still pining for some information on what exactly automation might look like for you, we’ll cover some of the most popular workflow automation examples below.
Workflow automation examples
Workflow automation is often positioned as something for marketing and sales types, which is just plain wrong. It’s like pizza—it’s for everyone! No matter your business type or the industry you work in, you’ll find automations that can make your day easier.
A few examples of broadly applicable workflow automations:
- Automatically assign a task to a team member when a project's status changes within a project management tool.
- Send a welcome email sequence to new subscribers right after they sign up for your newsletter.
- Generate and send an invoice to the client as soon as you mark a service as completed on your service delivery platform.
- Schedule a follow-up email for customers who've left items in their online shopping cart without completing the purchase.
- Update inventory levels in your database and trigger a restock order whenever stock drops below a certain threshold.
Marketing workflow automation examples
Marketing activities—social media, content, ads and more—are split across so many different tools. Bringing these all together through automation is a no-brainer for businesses of all sizes, but particularly for startups and small businesses operating on tight budgets and multitasking in various roles.
Here are a few examples for your marketing efforts:
- Initiate tailored email campaigns when customers interact with specific parts of your site, making sure messages are timely and relevant.
- Dynamically segment your audience based on their actions, offering content that matches their preferences and activities.
- Plan and deploy social media content across various channels ahead of time, maintaining a consistent and cohesive brand presence without needing daily manual work.
- Use lead scoring methods to identify and prioritize prospects with the highest potential for conversion, making follow-up efforts more effective.
- Integrate chatbots for immediate customer interactions, quickly addressing common questions and saving resources for more complex issues.
Sales workflow automation
Sales is full of processes you repeat again and again—sending emails to follow up with leads, writing proposals, scheduling meetings and generating quotes just to name a few of the more common ones. By automating these tedious tasks, you can concentrate less on spreadsheets, and more on converting customers.
Here are a few examples for your sales processes:
- Seamlessly funnel leads from your website directly into your CRM, cutting out manual data entry and speeding up the follow-up process.
- Use automated email sequences to nudge leads through the sales funnel, tailoring messages based on their interactions and level of engagement.
- Instantly notify sales reps when a lead hits a specific score or shows significant engagement, enabling quick and informed outreach.
- Automatically create proposals and quotes with pre-set criteria and templates, significantly cutting down response times to customer queries.
- Set up auto-reminders for sales reps to follow up, ensuring they consistently engage with prospects and customers at key moments, keeping the sales pipeline active and moving.
Human resources workflow automation
HR is full of repeatable tasks that don’t vary much between applicants and employees, making it ideal for implementing automation. With HR automation you can set workflows that start with the first round interview and end with end with onboarding.
Here are a few examples where HR automation can make a big impact:
- Automate the recruitment process to filter and rank applicants swiftly and fairly based on set criteria.
- Make onboarding new hires smooth and engaging with automated steps for document submissions, training, and welcome messages.
- Simplify time-off requests and approvals with streamlined, paperless processes for faster employee responses.
- Enhance growth with automated performance review tools that schedule evaluations, gather feedback, and track development plans.
- Keep the organization on track with automatic alerts for HR compliance, training renewals, and policy updates, ensuring compliance and awareness.
Finance workflow automation
In finance, precision and efficiency are king. Why waste precious resources—and risk inevitable human error—when you can automate invoicing, payments, budgeting and reporting? Let your team focus on strategic analysis and financial planning and let the tech look after the rest.
A few examples of how automation can transform finance operations:
- Speed up the billing process by automating invoice generation and directly sending them to clients, reducing errors.
- Improve cash flow management with automated payment reminders for clients and efficient payment processing.
- Use budgeting software to automatically update financial forecasts with real-time data for more accurate and timely decisions.
- Employ automated financial reporting tools to compile and analyze data, generating comprehensive reports without needing manual input.
- Streamline expense management with automated submission and approval workflows, enhancing the monitoring and control of expenditures.
Customer service automation
Did you know increasing customer retention rates by just 5% can increase profits up to 95%? So why not introduce a whole new level of responsiveness by automating common tasks and responses, to free up your human agents for the more complex parts of the job.
Here are a few examples of how automation can transform customer service operations:
- Deploy chatbots for instant, 24/7 customer assistance on common questions and issues.
- Automate the creation and routing of support tickets from emails or social media to ensure fast resolution by the right team.
- Use automated systems to keep customers updated about their inquiry or complaint status.
- Collect feedback automatically after service interactions to identify satisfaction levels and areas for improvement.
- Set up automated scheduling and reminders for appointments, improving convenience for customers and service providers alike.
IT workflow automation
You’re not going to waste valuable IT and web development resources on tasks that can be automated… right? Automation in IT is essential to get the most out of your team and boost security, freeing up your talented geniuses to focus on the complex projects they’re best at.
Here are a few IT workflow examples for inspiration:
- Ensure data integrity with automated backups and synchronization, facilitating swift recovery efforts with minimal manual input.
- Implement patch management automation to seamlessly update software and bolster security across devices, minimizing the need for manual oversight.
- Utilize network monitoring tools with automatic alerts to promptly address unusual activity or security threats, safeguarding infrastructure efficiently.
- Streamline user account management through automated provisioning and de-provisioning processes, boosting efficiency and compliance for new and departing employees.
- Maintain optimal system performance with scripts for routine maintenance tasks like disk cleanups and performance evaluations, reducing the need for constant manual intervention.
Now we’d be here all day if we went through every subset of automation, so let’s shift gears and look at the best software to start your automation journey.
The 6 best workflow automation tools in 2024
We could have just listed ten generic workflow automation tools and called it a day. But we want this list to actually be helpful, so instead, we’ve curated a list of tools across a few categories of automation.
🏆 Best for: an all-in-one workflow automation solution
🔬 Free trial: No; free plan.
Relay (👋 hey, that’s us!) is an all-in-one workflow automation tool that empowers you to build powerful workflows that simplify your business. You can integrate dozens of apps to automate any process you can imagine—from a simple Slack update, to your entire onboarding flow. And with our unique human-in-the-loop feature, you can easily add human approvals, decisions and data entry points for those 10% of occasions when automations just won’t cut it.
“I've used many productivity apps and tools in the past, but nothing has even come close to the sheer efficiency and innovation that Relay brings to the table. It's a game-changer. This app is more than just a tool; it's a complete paradigm shift in how we approach work automation. The combination of AI assistance, human-in-the-loop collaboration, and the unique multiplayer experience creates a synergy that makes work both effortless and enjoyable.”
—Kevin Märki, Customer Care Manager at Bowman Automobile AG
We have built-in AI to help summarize data and make actions (say, reading a Notion doc and putting the key points into an email), or even guide logic paths. Working as a team? Relay is built with collaboration in mind, making it easy for anyone on your team to contribute and refine automations.
Unlike most workflow automation tools, like Make and Zapier, Relay doesn’t have usage-based pricing. You’ll never pay additional fees for automating too many processes. Speaking of, our free plan is the perfect way to dip your toe into workflow automation—give it a try.
- Human-in-the-loop workflows. We make it easy to double-check any step before it happens. With steps for human approvals, decisions and data input, you can double-check documents, add personalized content to Slack messages, or review an email before its sent. It’s the best of both worlds—the power of automation with the nuance only humans can provide.
- True AI-assistance. Add AI to your workflows without any custom prompts. For example, use AI Autofill to suggest paragraphs for emails, or summarize content from a Notion page or email, or AI Classify to intuitively guide your automations through conditional logic pathways.
- Collaborative playbook creation. Most workflow tools are managed in a silo. Relay promotes teamwork by enabling you to build playbooks individually or collaboratively. With dynamic role assignments, you can delegate manual tasks to team members to keep things smooth.
- Simple and predictable pricing. Relay offers transparent pricing with all fundamental features included across its tiers, and no usage-based fees. This means you won’t be surprised by extra costs for adding steps or integrating with certain tools—pay your monthly fee, and that’s all.
The below plans for Relay are billed yearly:
1. Free. 1 user per workspace, 1 playbook, 150 runs/month, 150 automations/month.
2. Startup. $9 per user per month. Up to 10 users, unlimited playbooks, runs, and automations.
3. Unlimited. $100/month. Unlimited users, playbooks, runs, and automations, plus priority support.
⭐ G2: 5.0 (2 reviews); Capterra: 5.0 (1 review)
🏆 Best for: workflow automation through online forms
🔬 Free trial: No; limited free plan.
After coming on the scene in 2022, Fillout has quickly leapt the formidable competition to become one of the best form-building solutions available, largely thanks to its broad integration library, powerful conditional logic, and approachable take on automation. Online forms aren’t the first thing that you think about when you think of automation, but they’re often the first handshake that kicks off deeper workflows.
- Variety of form layout options
- Great implementation of AI to speed up form creation and design
- Deep integrations with Notion, Airtable, Salesforce and HubSpot make it perfect for sharing data to your CRM
- Collect payments on the free plan
- Analytics and reports are on the basic side
- It's the new kid on the block, so hands-on customer reviews are scarce
The below plans for Fillout are billed yearly:
1. Free, Forever. Unlimited forms and questions, 1,000 responses/mo, all the basics.
2. Starter. $15 per month. All question types, 2,000 responses/mo, custom endings, custom themes, redirect on completion.
3. Pro. $40 per month. Everything in Starter, plus custom emails, 5,000 responses/mo, two collaborators, remove all branding, and custom share links.
4. Business. $75 per month. Everything in Pro, plus form analytics, unlimited responses, five collaborators, Workspaces, custom domains, partial submission data and priority support.
⭐ G2: 4.3 (12,404 reviews) ; Capterra: 4.5 (16,851 reviews)
🏆 Best for: email marketing automation
🔬 Free trial: No; limited free plan.
Since its inception in 2001, Mailchimp has evolved from a simple email marketing service to one of the most comprehensive marketing platforms for small businesses. Renowned for its vast integration capabilities, user-friendly automation features, and intuitive design, Mailchimp has solidified its position at the forefront of digital marketing solutions. Mailchimp has redefined its role, turning the humble newsletter into a powerful trigger for complex marketing automations and customer engagement strategies.
- Approachable UI that’s easy to get the hang of
- Great selection of resources for email marketing beginners
- Thoughtful generative AI integration
- Segmentation features
- Limited email layouts
- Confusing asset storage system
Mailchimp offers a flexible pricing model to accommodate various business sizes and needs, starting with a Free plan that supports basic email marketing features for up to 1,000 sends. For more advanced features, including automation, segmentation, and analytics, paid plans are available, starting at USD $13/month.
⭐ G2: 4.7 (9,386 reviews); Capterra: 4.6 (4,014 reviews)
🏆 Best for: task and project management automation
🔬 Free trial: No; limited free plan.
Bursting onto the productivity scene in 2017, ClickUp has rapidly outpaced many competitors to become a leading project management and productivity tool. With its highly customizable interface, extensive suite of features, and deep integration capabilities, ClickUp offers a versatile platform for teams of all sizes and industries.
It positions itself as an all-in-one workspace, where documents, goals, and even emails converge to streamline workflows and enhance collaboration. It’s not just about ticking off tasks—it’s about optimizing the entire workflow in a way that makes complex project management accessible and efficient.
- Adapts to your needs and preferences with 11 task views and 5 page views
- Extremely generous free plan
- Pre-built automations and ClickApps for customizable workflows
- Learning curve
- Unstable—and slow—at times
The following ClickUp plans are billed yearly:
1. Free. Best for personal use. 100MB storage, unlimited tasks and plan members. Limited advanced features.
2. Unlimited. Best for small teams. $7 per member per month. Unlimited storage, integrations and dashboards, calculations and email.
3. Business. Best for mid-sized teams. $12 per member per month. Everything in Unlimited, plus Google SSO, and a range of advanced workload management features.
4. Enterprise. Best for large teams (contact sales for pricing). White labeling, enterprise API, universal search and a range of enterprise-only features.
⭐ G2: 4.8 (67 reviews)
🏆 Best for: automating monotonous text entry
🔬 Free trial: Yes
Magical, emerging as a productivity tool, is quickly carving out its niche in the crowded space of digital efficiency solutions. Known for its innovative approach to automating repetitive online tasks, Magical offers users the ability to streamline their workflows with custom shortcuts and automation scripts.
This tool transforms tedious, manual processes into quick, automated actions, significantly reducing the time spent on routine tasks.
- Set macros and templates for common text outputs
- Fill out forms and sheets with data from any open tab
- Easy setup — no integrations, API or workflow builder needed
- Big push on AI features that have questionable utility
- Free. Template actions, 30 monthly transfer actions, 5 enrichment actions, unlimited template storage.
- Core. $6.50/month/user. Everything in Free plus unlimited template actions, and 10 AI actions.
- Advanced. $12/month/user. Everything in Core plus 500 transfer actions, 100 AI actions, 50 monthly enrichment actions and the ability to manage team content and members.
- Enterprise. Get in touch for pricing. Unlimited template and transfer actions, 500 AI actions and AI controls, SSO, SCIM and reporting, custom onboarding and support.
⭐ G2: 4.3 (5,723 reviews); Capterra: 4.4 (13, 916 reviews)
🏆 Best for: agile software development
🔬 Free trial: No; free for up to 10 users.
Jira Software has become the go-to project management tool for agile teams. Renowned for its robust issue and project-tracking capabilities, Jira facilitates seamless collaboration and project progress visibility for software development teams.
Its customizable workflows, comprehensive reporting, and integration with a wide array of development tools make it an indispensable asset for managing complex software projects. Jira isn't just about managing tasks; it's about empowering teams to iterate faster, collaborate more effectively, and deliver high-quality software within planned timelines.
- Everything software development teams need to use Agile/Scrum methodology
- Atlassian Marketplace has excellent integrations
- Customizable workflows to fit the way you work
- Generous free plan for small teams
- Can feel wildly complicated if not configured well
- Pages can be slow to load
- Free (for up to 10 users). Unlimited project boards, backlog and timeline, reporting and insights, 2 GB of storage.
- Standard. $8.15/user/month. Up to 35,000 users, User roles & permissions, audit logs, data residency, 250 GB of storage, and business hour support.
- Premium. $16/user/month. Everything from Standard plus: Atlassian Intelligence (AI), advanced planning, custom issue hierarchy, sandbox and release tracks, unlimited storage and 24/7 premium support.
- Enterprise. Contact sales. Everything in Premium plus up to 150 sites, centralized security controls, centralized user subscriptions and 24/7 Enterprise support.
Time to start automating
Workflow automation transforms the way you work. Yes, it enhances data entry accuracy, and yes it increases efficiency, but what it does above all is give you back your time to focus on what you want to focus on.
If you're ready to dip your toes into the world of automation, why not start with Relay? Give it a try, free today, and get a glimpse at a better future for your business.