Workflow Automation for Small Business

In addition to its use as a drip marketing and lead nurturing tool, BizConnector enables workflow automation applications through the use of business rules.

As you may know, if you have watched the video or visited this site before, BizConnector is driven by business rules that the user defines. Business rules fire and execute one or more actions when the specified conditions are true.

A recent project implemented a workflow application for a customer. The business process flowed something like this:

  • Following requests from a prospect for services to be rendered (it’s an equipment rental business), a proposal document is generated and emailed to the prospect, with provision to be signed electronically (via Docusign – another Salesforce app)
  • The proposal is followed by reminder emails, at regular intervals
  • When the proposal document is signed, three things happen:
  •  1. Any remaining reminders are suppressed
  •  2. A contract document is immediately emailed, also to be electronically signed
  •  3. Reminders are emailed, and automatically suppressed when the contract document is signed
  • The automation for this second document is similar to the first
  • A payment document can accompany the contract document, or be sent afterwards…

The workflow automation was accomplished with a ‘rule condition data connector’ built to sense when Docusign documents are signed. Using data connectors like this is a powerful way to extend the reach of business rules.

The success of this project demonstrates that workflow applications are no longer the province of large enterprises. Small businesses can implement them too, using intelligent tools like BizConnector.


How Are Customers Using BizConnector / Lead Follow-Up?

An informal survey of BizConnector customers shows that the tool is being used in a number of different ways by different customers. Here, and in posts that will follow, are brief descriptions of some of them.

The most prevalent use of the tool is for lead nurturing.  Applications implemented in this category range from very simple to sophisticated.

A simple lead nurturing application  is:

  • New leads are added – via Salesforce ‘web2lead’ – when people fill out a form on a website page to express interest about a product or service.
  • A rule matching the profile of the new lead fires and schedules five to ten emails, distributed evenly over a period (usually weekly). The sequence of emails is often referred to under the category ‘drip marketing’.
  • Changes in lead ‘state’ – eg. was the lead contacted? – are usually not taken into account.

So for example, if this applies to one product or service, the effort required is to:

  • Articulate the strategy that drives this rule (the most difficult step)
  • Write the email content for the five to ten emails (hours or days per email, depending on a number of factors)
  • Create the rule (minutes or hours), test it (hours or days), then switch to ‘production mode’.

Even with such a simple application, customers report a huge benefit in that they are relieved from the tedious task of manually following up with new leads. This is a great timesaver with a big impact on the bottom line – lower costs.

To implement a more sophisticated lead nurturing application, additional todo items are:

  • Leads are given an initial rating of ‘warm’ (values can be hot, warm, cool, cold).
  • A rule matching the profile of new warm leads fires and schedules at least seven (*) emails.
  • There are more fields in the rule condition than in simpler applications, to take the ‘state’ and other factors into account, such as whether the lead has been contacted or not.
  • The ‘Check Before Send’ feature suppresses emails if the lead fields no longer match the rule conditions. This maintains relevance, so that leads are not receiving emails about products and services they are no longer interested in.
  • If a lead does not respond with the period of the rule (say, ten weeks), a ‘cool’ rule takes over (because the warm rule updates the lead rating to ‘cool’).
  • The ‘cool’ rule schedules, say, ten emails over a longer period (say ten months). This rule is effectively dealing with the ‘long tail’.

And if you are feeling adventurous, these additional steps make for a powerful application:

  • Create a rule to fire when recipients click on a link in an email
  • Embed a question in one or more emails to get instant feedback

More effort is required here than in the first example, but is still manageable:

  • Articulate the strategy that drives the two rules and the relationship between them.
  • Write the email content for the emails for both rules (hours or days per email)
  • Create the rules (minutes or hours), test them (days), then switch to ‘production mode’.

In addition to the benefits as for simple applications, customers love the ‘intelligent’ responsiveness of:

  • suppressing emails when they are no longer relevant
  • switching over to the ‘cool’ rule for non-responsive leads
  • rules firing when recipient click on links in emails
  • getting responses to the embedded questions directly in the records without having to mess with cumbersome uploads from spreadsheets, etc.

Automated lead nurturing was ‘top of mind’ when Lead Follow-Up was first released on Salesforce AppExchange in 2007. But it is not the only reason why customers use the tool – workflow applications can be implemented too. Come back again to see more posts on this.



What is a Business Rule?

The operation of BizConnector / Lead Follow-Up is based entirely on business rules. This means that one or more business rules have to be defined in order for the tool to function. The business rules in an account are evaluated and run – in real-time around the clock – by a Rule Engine.

What is a business rule?

The BizConnector definition of a business rule is broader than others available on the internet. For example, in Wikipedia we find ‘Business rules provide detailed guidance about how a strategy can be translated to action’.

We go further than this. Instead of a rule ‘providing guidance’, it executes actions if the rule conditions are met. BizConnector rules are actionable.

A BizConnector rule can be expressed as:
‘When this condition is met, execute this action’.

Or more generally:
‘When these conditions are met, execute these actions’.

A typical condition is the arrival of a new, matching record in the leads database.

A typical action is to schedule a sequence of emails to be sent to a prospect or customer (as in ‘drip marketing’).

Notice the use of the word ‘when’, rather than ‘if’. The time element is vital to the operation of the Rule Engine, which is running around the clock, watching for conditions to arise in order to attempt to ‘fire’. It is not invoked manually, and can be considered a ‘live agent’ operating in real time (or near real time).

A business rule can be thought of as an implementation of a strategy – ie. how the strategy can be translated into action. There is a direct alignment between the strategy and the rule.

The purpose of a rule is to cater to a specific scenario, or ‘use case’. For example, a new lead requesting a copy of a white paper on a web form may be a typical use case, and a rule could be written to fire when that new lead record is added. The rule can be considered to have a relationship with that lead for the period of time that, say, emails are being sent. When the last email has been sent, the relationship between the rule and the lead comes to an end.

Rules are autonomous, and have no explicit dependence on other rules. This makes rules easy to manage, because they can be created and deleted independently.

Sometimes there are implied dependencies, which can be used to great effect. For example, a group of rules can cater separately to ‘hot’, ‘warm’, or ‘cool’ prospects, where prospects can ‘switch over’ to another rule if and when their rating changes from one to another.

Well-designed business rules are powerful tools that can automate the tedious, repetitive tasks that would otherwise slip through the cracks. All the while doing this in strict accordance with the organization’s underlying strategies. They are powerful things, not to be underestimated.


Getting Instant Feedback From Your Emails

One feature that has been available for some time now is Instant Feedback. This is a closed-loop feedback mechanism that works by embedding a question in an email, and updating the recipient’s lead or contact record in real time when he/she responds. It’s a gem that deserves more attention.

Here’s an example:

You would start by creating a custom field in (let’s say) the lead record that will receive the response. In this example the custom field, with name When Expect To Buy, is a picklist created in the Salesforce Setup area under Customize Lead Fields.

With this in place, it’s a simple matter to embed the question in an html email. In the html editor Instant Feedback tab, you would make selections something like this.

Custom field selections

You would then set the insertion point by clicking where in the email body you want the questions to go, and then click Insert. The question would then appear in the email, with a look as follows:

Although they look like radio buttons, they are actually links which, when clicked, update the lead record in real-time.

This is a ‘self-service’ feature, the advantages of which should not be missed.

  • The effort required to make changes in lead records is eliminated – the prospect does this for you
  • It provides an opportunity for interaction, which interested prospects and customers appreciate
  • It can take advantage of the ‘Check Before Send’ feature to move a prospect or customer to another rule more relevant to his/her needs
  • It can be used to automatically segment your database – without you lifting a finger!

This is automation at its best, and it has been used effectively by many users. Is this something you would be interested in?

What’s your vision of customer interaction?

From its inception, the BizConnector/Lead Follow-Up vision has promoted two-way communication with prospects and customers. This is in stark contrast to the one way communication paradigm manifested in mass emailers, and is exemplified by the ‘Insert a Question’ feature in Lead Follow-Up which makes it easy to get customer feedback.

Let’s assume for a moment that two-way communication is the preferred approach. Well, of course there are risks, but I am not the first to submit that this – interaction – is a cornerstone of the trust between business and customers that is a requirement for sustainability.

But here’s something else to consider – as posed by Gary Lemke, publisher of CRM Advocate:
Any strategy which posits a holistic view of the customer and attempts to co-develop value with these same customers must have in place a methodology for unfettered two-way communication…. …too many companies take a transactional, cash-register approach…‘.

In other words, a ‘holistic view of the customer’ is a precursor to (unfettered) two-way communication, and this is antithetical to a ‘transactional’ approach.

It seems that industry trends are well on their way towards ‘one view of the customer’, although there is plenty to be done before this can be considered an established practice.

What do you think? Do you regard this as a no-brainer? What obstacles do you consider are in the way to this ideal?

Here’s to new beginnings!

Colin Goldberg