CRM Automation: Definition, Plus What & How to Automate

Check out our guide on CRM automation, including how it works, top tasks and processes to automate, and how to set it up.

CRM automation is the act of setting up workflows using your CRM software to reduce tedious work across sales, marketing, and support in an effort to increase productivity. Most CRMs automate repetitive tasks like data entry, task assignment, lead routing, email campaigns, and more. Businesses figure out the tasks and processes they want to automate, find a CRM or verify that theirs can do so, and set up the automation to save time they’d otherwise spend on manual work.

This article's sponsor, Salesforce Essentials, provides powerful automation to boost your team's efficiency and allow them to spend more time on revenue-generating tasks. Below, we've coupled each automation with a Salesforce screenshot to help you picture what they look like and how to set them up. Sign up for a 14-day free trial to learn more about Salesforce Essentials' automation:

How CRM Automation Works

When businesses find that their team is spending too much time on certain tasks, they use their CRM to take them over with automations like auto-sending emails or auto-routing leads. To set them up, businesses create rules that follow “if X happens, then do Y” logic. For example, a business might create the following auto-reminder automation: “If a deal has had no activity for five days, then send the account owner a reminder to follow-up.” The CRM then follows the orders. 

A CRM often automates the following three categories of processes: 

  • Sales Processes: Examples include data entry, assigning next steps to reps, contract and proposal creation, sending follow-up emails, and reminding sellers to take action. 
  • Marketing Processes: Processes could be running email drip sequences and marketing campaigns, scoring leads, and assigning leads to appropriate reps. 
  • Customer Service Processes: These can be live chat on the website via chatbots, automated responses to customer inquiries, or case routing if a client creates a ticket. 

Within these three categories, quality CRMs typically automate five core functions: lead management, contact management, document management, integration (data transfer), and reports/analytics. Together, they help businesses nurture their leads, stay organized and informed, and spend more time on revenue-producing work.

People often confuse CRM automation and marketing automation software, but the difference is simple: marketing automation is a tool offering robust automation features marketers want, whereas CRM automation offers robust sales, service, and marketing workflows. To start using CRM automation, you’ll decide what to automate, run a cost-benefit analysis, choose a CRM, set up the native and third-party automations, and make sure it all functions properly.

Top 17 Processes to Automate

Below we’ll cover processes and tasks across sales, marketing, and customer service that can be automated to save you or your team members hours each day. If your current CRM software doesn’t offer automation for one of the below, it likely provides integrations with other apps that will. As you peruse the list, note which processes you might want to automate.

Sales Processes

A business's sales team often does many repetitive yet necessary processes on a daily basis, from data entry to email personalization. CRMs can automate these and a series of other tasks and processes so you can focus your time and energy on directly helping prospects. 

Sales teams can save time with certain automations, and therefore spend more time hosting meetings, making calls, and strategizing. Below are processes we recommend automating.

Data Entry

Who It’s Right For: Salespeople who want to automate note-taking and the creation of new contact records.

Most CRMs can automatically create new records of contacts when leads fill out web forms, download a lead magnet, or do anything else requiring them to submit information about themselves. The data captured is automatically reflected in the contact profile. CRMs can also log activities like your calls or emails with contacts as well as their online behavior, so you don’t have to manually record it.

Data entry CRM automation example

Data entry example in Salesforce

 

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Appointment Management

Who It’s Right For: Sales reps wanting to streamline the meeting scheduling process.

CRMs typically offer native meeting scheduler tools or integrations that allow prospects to book times for meetings on a sales rep’s calendar. The chosen date/time is then automatically populated onto the salesperson’s calendar. Prospects can also reschedule on their own without the email back-and-forth that often takes so much time. Here’s what a salesperson might see when potential customers book appointments via scheduling automation:

Appointment management CRM automation example

Appointment management example in Salesforce

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Sales Pipeline Stage Transitions

Who It’s Right For: Managers and salespeople who want to ensure deals are in the correct pipeline stage by automatically moving a lead when they take an action.  

If you’re using a sales pipeline—which we recommend doing—your CRM will likely offer the ability to automate moving deals from one stage to the next based on conditional rules you’ve set. For example, if a cold lead in the prospecting stage replies to your email, they could automatically be pushed into the qualification stage. Take a look at Salesforce Essentials' pipeline below:

Sales pipeline CRM automation example

Sales pipeline example in Salesforce

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Task Assignment

Who It’s Right For: Salespeople who want to keep better track of their tasks and save time creating them.

Follow your sales process by automatically sending yourself or your teammates certain tasks based on actions you or leads have taken. For example, if one of your leads downloads an ebook, perhaps you receive a task in your dashboard to call that lead. If a lead just marked a demo as complete, perhaps you're prompted to send an email follow-up. This keeps you on track, as you’ll see expressed in the Activity section in the example below:

Task assignment CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

Task assignment example in Salesforce

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Email Personalization

Who It’s Right For: Sellers sending a lot of emails who want to easily create them with templates that auto-populate blanks with the contact’s information. 

CRMs can auto-populate fields in email templates using information collected about the contact, such as their name, title, and company. This makes it easier to personalize emails to the recipient. Going one step further, CRMs can also automatically schedule and send emails to leads based on rules you set up. For example, perhaps after 10 days of inactivity on a lead, a follow-up email is sent. Below is an example of an auto-populating email template:

Email personalization CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

Email personalization example in Salesforce

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Contract & Proposal Management

Who It’s Right For: Salespeople who want to speed up their contract and proposal creation, and get notifications when prospects interact with them.

Document automation in CRMs enables you to keep your proposals, contracts, and other documents organized and easy to find. Plus, you can get notifications when someone opens or signs them. You can also turn documents into templates that are easy to fill out or that auto-populate with information relevant to the recipient. This way, you rarely have to start from scratch.

Contract management CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

Contract management example in Salesforce

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Reminders & Notifications

Who It’s Right For: Salespeople who want to set up teamwide or personal reminders and notifications to keep everyone updated and on track. 

Many CRMs allow you to set up reminders and notifications for a variety of scenarios. Reminders and notifications can often be configured to be sent to one rep, a group, or the entire team. For example, if a lead tells a rep to reach back out in four months, the rep can create this automated reminder. And, the entire sales team can get notifications when a deal is closed/won.

Notifications CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

Notifications example in Salesforce

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Reports & Forecasting

Who It’s Right For: Sales managers or reps who want to easily create reports on a wide variety of sales metrics and to see AI-powered forecasts.

With a CRM, you can almost instantly create reports by selecting the sales metrics you want to include and then clicking “run.” The CRM will then use its data to provide you with the numbers you need to make data-driven decisions. Plus, you can usually set up the system to regularly send these reports to relevant people on your team. CRMs can also continuously provide you with revenue forecasting using real-time data, as depicted in the sales executive dashboard below:

Reports & forecasting CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

Reports & forecasting example in Salesforce

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KPI & Quota Tracking

Who It’s Right For: Salespeople wanting a dashboard with visual representations of their progress on various KPIs and quotas.

Whether it's calls made, revenue closed, or other key performance indicators, salespeople can choose what they want to track, then the CRM will automatically pull them into dashboards. This way, with just a quick glance at their dashboard, salespeople always know where they stand compared to their various objectives. Below is an example dashboard that shows revenue target progress, pipeline numbers, tracked activity, and more:

KPI tracking CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

KPI tracking example in Salesforce

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Marketing Processes

Marketing teams have a lot of work to do when it comes to generating and nurturing leads. CRMs can lighten the load by automating email drip campaigns, social media and email marketing campaigns, and lead scoring and distribution.

Automating these processes gives marketing more time to focus on strategy and high-value efforts and helps them deliver the best leads to the sales team. Read on to learn more about each automation in the sections below.

Email Drip Campaigns

Who It’s Right For: Marketers who want to easily create and manage adaptive email nurturing campaigns.

Set up email drip campaigns that automatically deliver a series of nurturing emails with targeted content to subscribers, leads, or current customers. These campaigns can be linear sequences or complex, trigger-based campaigns that deliver content based on the recipient’s activity (e.g., downloading an ebook, responding to an email). This can also be set up to automate text message campaigns. Below is an example of an email campaign expressed in a flowchart:

Email drip campaign CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

Email drip campaign example in Salesforce

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Social Media Campaigns

Who It’s Right For: Marketing professionals that do a lot of social media marketing and want to streamline the content posting process.

With social media campaign automation, you can create social media posts and prompt them to send out at specific times at your desired frequency. You can also track lead activity on social networks by getting notifications when they take an action. This social listening gives you more data easily that can help you personalize campaigns or qualify them more effectively. It also enables you to learn about your customers and what they like or dislike about the service.

Social media campaign CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

Social media campaign example in Salesforce

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Email Marketing Campaigns

Who It’s Right For: Businesses looking to improve and automate lead generation with automated email content delivery to target audiences.

Businesses can set up and track email marketing campaigns that automatically send targeted messages to audience members through email. You can configure workflows that define when and how they're sent, the content, and who receives the messages. Then you can track the results and watch the new leads flow in. Based on leads' interactions with the emails, you can even automatically assign them to a different campaign so they receive more tailored messaging.

Email marketing campaign CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

Email marketing campaign example in Salesforce

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Lead Scoring

Who It’s Right For: Marketers looking for a way to automatically score and rank leads for improved lead qualification before sending them to the sales team.

Many CRMs can score and rank leads according to a scoring system you set up. Leads receive points for holding demographics and doing behaviors that signify a high likelihood to buy. For instance, downloading an ebook might award them 10 points. Having job title of VP of marketing might be 15. Once a lead reaches a threshold of a defined benchmark, often 80/100, the system can send them to sales. Here’s the creation of lead scoring categories and rules:

Lead scoring CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

Lead scoring example in Salesforce

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Lead Distribution

Who It’s Right For: Businesses wanting a more effective and intelligent way of routing their leads to the appropriate salespeople.

Automated lead distribution is when your CRM analyzes leads and assigns them to a salesperson on your team. The rep who receives the lead depends on how you configure the system. One rule could be to send all leads with a $10,000+ deal size to enterprise account executives, or all leads from finance companies to a certain rep with experience in that industry. Below is an example of lead distribution rule setup that determines who gets the lead:

Lead distribution CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

Lead distribution example in Salesforce

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Service Processes

Customers demand quick, comprehensive responses when they run into trouble or have a question, and it can be hard for customer service to keep up. CRM automation can lighten the load with chatbots, automated case assignments, and AI-powered customer self-service. 

Automating these processes can ensure that your customers are receiving fast and personalized treatment from support staff. We’ll tell you more about each in the below sections.

Chatbots

Who It’s Right For: Businesses that want to qualify more website visitors into leads and help current customers get answers through conversational AI.

CRMs often have chatbot features that handle the initial live chat with customers visiting your website. An AI chatbot, typically in the bottom right corner of the screen, will greet visitors and gather info about the lead or answer their questions. You can set up the conversational flow, and you can even design it so when a visitor gives a certain answer, a sales rep is notified and can take the reigns. Chatbots like the one below help fewer leads slip away.

Chatbot CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

Chatbot example in Salesforce

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Case Assignment

Who It’s Right For: Customer service reps looking to intelligently and automatically distribute cases to the right person on the team.

When customers create tickets or reach out through other channels (e.g., social media) for issues they’re having, CRMs can automatically route those customers to the correct support staff member based on the nature of the ticket. Rules for assigning the case are configured in the CRM; perhaps a new support member receives all tickets mentioning a password problem while senior reps receive more complicated cases. Below is a support rep’s case dashboard in Salesforce:

Case assignment CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

Case assignment example in Salesforce

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Customer Self-Service

Who It’s Right For: Businesses that want to empower their customers to find the answers to questions themselves in an online knowledge base.

Use your CRM to set up an online, AI-powered knowledge center that automatically directs visitors to the right written content, videos, FAQ pages, or forum threads to answer their questions. Set it up to suggest related blogs, guides, or white papers. This takes a load off your customer service reps while also giving the customer a seamless experience. Here's an example of a smart help center that you can build for your customers:

Customer self-service CRM automation example from Salesforce Essentials

Self-service example in Salesforce

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How to Set Up CRM Automation

The specific step-by-step process for setting up your CRM automation will depend on which CRM you’re using. However, there are some universal steps you can take to start using CRM automation, regardless of your platform. This involves deciding what to automate, choosing an automation-forward CRM, using its native automations, and tapping into its integration options for advanced automations. Read on to learn about each step.

Below we use examples from Salesforce Essentials, a top-rated CRM software offering robust pipeline automations for individuals and sales teams. Check out their website for a list of automation capabilities as well as sign up for a 14-day free trial.

1. Decide What You Want to Automate

The best way to decide what to automate is by asking your sales, marketing, and support team members what administrative tasks or processes they find themselves doing repeatedly. When your team tells you what they feel is wasting their time, make a list of all these activities, ranking the most commonly cited ones at the top. Then put them through a test to see if it’s smart to automate them. 

Here’s a test to see if a task or process should be automated: 

  • The Task or Process Is Repeated: Is it something that happens often and in almost the same way each time? Think data entry, welcome emails, and scheduling demos. 
  • The Task Consumes More Than 15 Minutes/Day: Automating a task that steals 15 minutes from 10 team members a day adds up to 150 minutes per day. That’s nearly 13 hours a week. 
  • The Task Is Subject to Human Error: Is the task better off in the hands of a computer that won’t make mistakes? Eyeballing lead qualification levels is less accurate than automated lead scoring. Get it wrong and the costs can be high for the sales rep. 
  • Steps in the Process Are Often Forgotten: Are there activities in your sales process or opportunity record creation process that sales reps often forget or neglect? 
  • You Want the Process Done a Certain Way Every Time: Data entry, in particular, is better off automated. For example, people using different spelling for the same object skews reporting.

Now that you know what you want to automate, you have to see if it’s a financially sound decision by calculating the costs and how much time each automation will actually save.

2. Run a Cost-Benefit Analysis

Conduct a cost-benefit analysis for each automation to find which ones will give you a return higher than the cost in both time and funds for setting them up. This will also help you rank the most impactful automations. Knowing which automations to prioritize matters because some CRMs limit the number of rules or workflows you can set up in their plan — the more expensive plans offer more.

Here’s how to run a simple cost-benefit analysis of a CRM automation: 

  1. Identify the Costs of the Automation: Estimate how long it will take to set up the automation and any monetary costs involved, such as buying a higher plan that offers the automation.  
  2. Find the Benefits of the Automation: Track how much time the task takes you for a week. Then estimate how much time it will take when automated. Subtract the two to find time saved. Also, think about how much it will raise team morale and other benefits. 
  3. Compare Costs and Benefits: See by how much the benefits outweigh the costs. For instance, if automating case routing saves you three hours a week and takes three hours to set up, it’s a no-brainer; in just over one week, you’ll get a positive return. 

For a more in-depth explanation, check out Salesforce Trailhead unit on determining value with a cost-benefit analysis.

Salesforce Trailhead cost-benefit analysis unit
Salesforce Trailhead cost-benefit analysis unit

Now that you know which automations are profitable, you have to figure out if your CRM or its available integrations allow for the automations. If the answer’s yes, skip to step 4. If it’s no, you’ll want to find an automation-focused CRM that can take these tasks off your hands.

3. Choose a CRM That Emphasizes Automation

Some CRMs fare better than others when it comes to automation capabilities. While a CRM like Salesforce enables users to automate virtually any task or process done in a CRM, others might focus more narrowly on one category of processes, such as marketing automation. It’s critical that you pick a CRM that provides the types of automation that would best serve your business. 

Below are a few CRMs with top-notch automation functionality: 

  • Salesforce Essentials: The simplest plan offered by the well-known CRM that's highly customizable and allows you to automate almost any process ($25 starting price)
  • Agile CRM: A sales-focused CRM that automates call data capture, post-call follow-ups, and more (free starting price)
  • Zoho CRM: Offers top-notch automated lead distribution and specializes in helping you run social media marketing campaigns (free starting price)

The term operational CRM is often used to classify CRMs with robust automation capabilities. To take your research further, we’ve compiled a guide on the best operational CRMs out there. In it, you’ll also learn about their costs, core features, ease of use, and more information that will help you pick the best CRM for your specific needs.

4. Use the CRM’s Native Automations

Your CRM will have native automations you can take advantage of immediately. A quick Google search of “{CRM Name} Automation Features” will tell you what’s available to you. There will also likely be an automations or workflow category within the CRM platform that lists the various capabilities. Look for the functions related to the processes and tasks you want to automate.

Once you’ve found a function you want to deploy, the software should have a setup wizard that walks you through the setup process, as well as online resources you can read to learn about the most effective ways to set up each automation. If you’re having trouble, reach out to customer support or your customer success manager for further instruction.

Salesforce Essentials native CRM automation
Salesforce Essentials native automations

5. Integrate Third-Party Tools for Advanced Automation

If your CRM provides no native automation for a process you’d like automated, it likely offers third-party apps and integrations for advanced automation that are simple to install. They can provide you with document, marketing, or support automation that your CRM might have otherwise lacked. Some of them cost money, while others are free. 

Here are some popular integrations and the automations they provide:

  • PandaDoc: This document automation software gives you contract and proposal automation capabilities so that you can easily create, find, and send documents. Integrates with Salesforce, Copper, HubSpot CRM, Zoho CRM, Pipedrive, and more. 
  • Mailchimp: An email marketing platform, Mailchimp helps you automate your email marketing campaigns. Integrates with Salesforce, Zoho CRM, Pipedrive, Insightly, and more. 
  • Zendesk for Service: A customer service platform that gives users automated support functions like auto-assigning cases when tickets are filled out. Integrates with Salesforce, Zoho CRM, Copper, Agile CRM, Capsule CRM, and others. 

Integrations are a great way to get the automations your CRM currently lacks. You can usually find these on the CRM’s app marketplace.

bookmarks

Additional Reading:

To learn more about using third-party tools, read our article on CRM integration. There, you'll learn about top integrations and how to use native, third-party, and custom API integrations to customize your CRM to your needs.

6. Test Your Automations to Make Sure They Work

After you've configured your workflows, rules, and other automations, make sure that they’re functioning properly. In other words, test your automations and see if the desired results occur. For example, if you automate the recording of emails between contacts, send an email to a lead and check that the conversation populates in the CRM. Testing before you roll it out is important because you don’t want any system malfunctions to frustrate your team.

Email CRM automation testing example from Salesforce
Email automation testing example in Salesforce

Benefits of CRM Automation

The most touted benefit of CRM automation is its ability to save your team time so that they can focus on their core, most impactful work. Below are some of the other positives you and your business will experience when you use CRM automation to the fullest.

Spend More Time Helping Customers

Automating admin tasks frees up time to spend helping and building relationships with leads and current customers.

Less Employee Burnout

Spending time on mundane, repetitive tasks like data entry can drain the fun from any job and lead to decreased motivation.

Increase Win Rates

Give your salespeople more time to strategize on how to win deals and actually talk with their prospects.

Enforce Your Sales Process

Automating task assignment will ensure your reps are following the steps outlined in your sales process, thereby standardizing it.

Never Forget Crucial Sales Tasks

Reminders and notifications help salespeople remember to send that follow-up email, attend that meeting, or jot down those call notes.

Improve Lead Qualification Rates

Lead scoring and management automation helps salespeople prioritize leads that are likeliest to close.

A CRM is great on its own, but once you start making it work for you, instead of just with you, you’ll find yourself with much more free time to pursue your sales career goals and handle your core (and often more fulfilling) sales objectives.

4 Best Tips for CRM Automation

Regardless of which processes you’re automating, there are some best practices we recommend following when setting up and managing automations in your CRM.

Align Sales & Marketing

Hold meetings between department heads to ensure alignment, especially in automations involving hand-offs, like lead scoring and distribution. Also, ensure marketing’s nurturing works with your sales process.

Define Your Business Processes First

Sales processes and others must be defined and optimized before you set them in stone with automations. Here’s a guide on how to create a standardized sales process for your team.

Practice Annual CRM Audits

Conduct data audits, usage reviews, and other checkups to ensure your CRM is working well. Follow this CRM audit process by DiscoverCRM.

Always Look for More Ways to Save Time

Regularly ask your team members what tasks they think should be automated, and check for native or app functionality to do so.

Automation is one of the powerful features of CRM software. If you take the time to learn which processes to automate and how to do it well, all the while considering the tips above, you'll find even more success in your sales, marketing, and service efforts.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Do CRM Automation & Marketing Automation Differ?

CRM automation and marketing automation differ mainly in their users. Although many CRMs automate marketing processes, as well, they are tailored to sales and support staff, doing tasks like auto-assigning cases, auto-logging sales activity, and triggering personalized sales emails. Marketing automation, on the other hand, offers more functionality for marketing departments with automated content creation, campaign management, and analytics.

Should You Integrate Your CRM & Marketing Automation Platforms?

Yes, businesses should integrate their CRM and marketing automation software for the best increases in productivity and reductions in cost. Not only does this integration improve data hygiene and organization, but it also enables your marketing and sales teams to run and measure strategies together, with consistent messaging, instead of operating in silos. For more, read Salesforce’s article on best practices as you integrate your CRM to automate processes and tasks.

Bottom Line

CRM automation is when you create workflows for repetitive, yet crucial, processes and tasks, from data entry and activity logging to running email campaigns and routing leads. Taking advantage of your CRM’s automations will lead you to a place where your team is operating more efficiently and your business is flourishing, thanks to the greater amount of available time to directly help your leads and customers.

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