What is Email Automation? The Most Up-to-Date 2021 Guide
When it comes to email automation, the most you may have dabbled with is some automatic welcome emails to subscribers, or maybe even a segmented email blast.
But you know there’s more out there.
You’ve heard of the power of scalable email automation, but you don’t know where to start.
Marketing automation, sales automation, email automation...are they all the same?
Using email automation is like having hundreds of experienced assistants sending out personalized emails to your contact base 24/7. Except you don't have to pay wages, offer employee benefits, or rent an office space for it.
Email automation enables you to connect with your audience at the opportune time through automated workflows. It works while you sleep, eat, and focus on other vital business tasks. Here
It’s easy to find information about how to craft subject lines and create engaging body text, but it’s hard to find content about building the actual workflows and making sure you do it safely and without jeopardizing your IP or sender reputation.
This guide on email automation is different. We’ll cover the basics, but we’ll also dive into how to set up email automation beyond a pretty subject line.
Setting up your software, creating a strategy and building workflows are essential to email automation, and our article will tell you exactly how to do it all.
Email automation needs good data. We clean it for you. Request a demo today.
What is email automation and how does email marketing automation work?
Email automation is a system in which strategically crafted emails automatically send to contacts based on a predetermined range of criteria. You can target different contacts based on how they engage with your business without doing it manually. You use an email marketing automation tool to build your various data-driven email marketing campaigns, and it takes care of the rest.
This is different from automation email blasts, such as a newsletter you send out to all your email subscribers each month. Instead, it's a series of targeted marketing automation emails that are hyper-relevant to each contact and only sent once they take a specific action or meet certain criteria. For example:
A contact watches a webinar
A contact downloads an asset or lead magnet
A contact hasn't engaged in X amount of time
A contact abandons their cart
You can customize these actions/triggers based on your specific business model and how your contacts engage with you.
The primary goal of email automation is not to simply notify your subscribers but to engage with them. And to do that, the email automation campaigns need to be relevant.
Steven from SuperOffice tested an email campaign with two different strategies. He sent one as an email blast to his entire main blog subscriber list. He sent another to a list that had been segmented by his contacts interests. Both emails contained the same subject line and content, but one had over double the open rate. Can you guess which?
The segmented list had a 94% open rate, compared to just 40% when he sent it to the entire list.
This is the magic of email segmentation.
Email automation workflows help you automatically segment your audiences. That way, you’ll send targeted campaigns to relevant recipients, rather than just sending generic email blasts to your entire email list
Check out our post with 14 smart email marketing automation examples to inspire your workflow.
The technical side of email automation platforms: SAPs vs MAPs
The definition of email automation, marketing automation and sales automation are often used interchangeably, which can be very confusing when you’re trying to set up your own automation processes. As a general rule, email and marketing automation platforms are the same, where sales automation platforms (SAPS) are their own category. Conversions are the goal of both MAPS and SAPS, but there are some key differences.
In short, marketing automation platforms are used to build opt-in lists and move people up the funnel for inbound marketing. Sales automation platforms help in cold outreach and moving people up a sales funnel.
1. Sending configuration in email automation
Both MAPS and SAPS are used to send emails, but the way the software sends them is different. Marketing automation platforms will use their own servers to send your campaigns, meaning they are not subject to the limitations set by email service providers (ESPs). Sales automation platforms integrate directly with your ESP (ie. gmail, outlook etc.), so it’s email marketing automation that sends from your personal email.
While this may put some limits on how you send campaigns, it’s more effective when it comes to direct sales. And that’s because it opens the lines of communication, which brings us to the next point.
2. Reply handling
When you’re sending out an automated marketing campaign you aren’t expecting a direct reply. Often your campaigns will have CTAs like “book a demo here” or “schedule a call here”. They may also link to a landing page or product page. It’s rare that a lead would try to reply directly to your emails. If they did, it would either bounce back or may go to a generic support inbox.
Those using sales automation want to receive a reply to their campaign. That’s why integration with the company ESP is important. When a lead replies to an email, the salesperson is notified by the software, and they can move that lead into a new workflow to continue working with them directly.
If you want to start a conversation, a sales automation platform might be better for you. If you want to build more brand awareness or trigger a purchase, a marketing automation platform will be better.
3. Visit tracking
Both marketing automation software and sales automation software will track when recipients click links in your email automation content. But sales automation stops there. Whatever actions they take after leaving your content will be a mystery unless you implement your own tracking codes. Marketing automation platforms will continue to track your customers movements after clicking through on any links in your campaigns. You can see where they browse, and if they make a purchase as a result.
Email marketing automation benefits
In what ways can investing in email automation benefit your business?
Here are the primary benefits of implementing email automation as part of your marketing strategy:
1. Personalize your customers' experience
According to a Gartner study, 74% of marketing leaders struggle to scale their personalization efforts. The more contacts you acquire, the harder it becomes to send personalized content to everyone, but it's what's expected. If you want your email campaigns to succeed, then they have to be relevant to each contact.
Email automation will allow you to segment your data based on behavioral data so your contacts are automatically provided with personalized content. Some examples of how your email automation software can segment your data could be:
- Contacts with kids
- Contacts working in marketing
- Contacts living in the same city
- Contacts who attended the same webinar
- Contacts who haven't engaged in X amount of time
Here is an example of a special offer only sent out to contacts living within a specific time zone.
Related post: Check out these 10 simple email automation workflow examples you can incorporate today, from lead nurturing through to engagement, retention or re-engagement.
2. Send limits
When you send emails directly from your provider you’re subject to limitations on how many emails you can send out per day. For example Gmail allows you to send a max of 500 emails per day from your browser, and Outlook allows you to send 300. As you grow your contact list you will quickly hit this limit.
With email automation software the limit is substantially higher based on the platform and package that you choose. Even on MailChimp’s free plan you can send 2000 emails within a 24 hour time-frame. That said, you need to make sure that the email automation tool that you choose can send out this volume safely so it doesn’t damage sender reputation. If your emails get flagged they will end up in your contacts spam folder they will never get seen.
3. Email verification
Good data is more valuable than any workflow or pretty subject line. That’s fact.
A good deal of email automation software have built-in email verification, which can identify the validity of a contact before sending an email. This functionality can help you catch invalid email addresses before they end up bouncing and impacting your sender reputation. You can also verify emails by using a data verification tool to clean up your database and flag any errors.
4. Efficiency/save time
Manually compiling, sorting, and cleaning contact lists is both tedious and time-consuming. But email hygiene is an essential part of successful email automation. It takes even longer to manually craft and schedule emails for each contact. Time is money, and the more time your team wastes on manual marketing tasks, the less they have to focus on other vital tasks.
5. Reduce error
Anytime a task is done manually, there is the potential for human error. Typing out mass amounts of emails to nurture leads increases the chance of typos, grammatical errors, or sending to the wrong contact. While these errors are minor, they will reduce your business's credibility and make contacts hesitant to put trust into your product/service.
Email workflows prevent errors in your customer communication. You have the chance to optimize the content and proofread your campaigns so that you're happy with them before any contacts get an opportunity to see them.
On top of errors in your campaigns themselves there may be errors in your contact list, which is why it’s essential to clean them regularly. Sending out error-free content to an unclean list is counter-productive. Make sure your list is clean first using tools like tye before you schedule campaigns.
6. Boost customer retention
Attention spans are slowly narrowing every year, and with inboxes getting fuller and fuller it’s becoming harder to reach your audience using manual processes. When using email automation for customer retention, your contacts actions will initiate automated drip campaigns which will send out consistent email communications without you even needing to click a button.
Acquiring new customers is expensive. It's much more effective to keep the loyal ones you have.
If they go a while without engaging, you can attempt to re-engage them by using an automated re-engagement campaign. Though you’ll have to set up the workflow initially, it will then work on re-engagement for you. You can set up campaigns that offer incentives to contacts who haven't engaged in a while, such as special discounts on products or services. You can also automatically reward high engagers. These tactics can help to increase the lifetime value of every contact you have.
7. Detailed reporting and customer insight
Email automation provides detailed reporting and insight into your customers that you can't get from engaging with contacts manually. Email campaigns and marketing automation has website tracking which enables you to trace your contacts activity after they click on a link in your email and see where they head to next. This tracking information can be extremely valuable as you notice patterns in customer behavior as a result of your campaigns.
8. Enables you to scale
Sending customer communications manually isn’t scalable. You can continue collecting contacts, but that means more manual work for your team and investing more time that you don't have. It’s hard to keep up with a growing list manually.
When you automate email workflows, there's no limit to how many contacts you can engage with. You set up your campaigns once, and the marketing platform will automatically send content out when needed. If someone signs up to your email list, they are automatically added to the database without any manual work required. As they continue to engage and interact with your brand in different ways, the data is tracked, and the software knows exactly what emails to send them next.
Related post: The 10 Best Email Automation Software Tools in 2021
How to create an effective email automation strategy
Email automation will only be useful if you have a strategy. Creating an email marketing strategy will allow you to get the highest possible ROI for your efforts. Here is how to create an email automation strategy that will set you up for success.
1. Pick an automation email marketing software
You can start email list management and manually collecting contacts without marketing software, but you won't be able to start automating anything until you've chosen a software. There are a few key things you'll want to think about when deciding on your perfect software. These include:
How much do you have in your budget to allocate towards your marketing automation software? And remember that expensive software doesn't always mean better software. Decide on a price point that you're happy with to help you narrow down your options.
A tip: you can typically get a discount on your monthly subscription fee if you pay for a year upfront.
b. List building features
One of the main reasons to invest in email automation is that it enables your business to scale. But you can't scale without leads. Look for software that includes features that help you grow your list, such as subscription forms that you can integrate into your website.
If you're currently using other platforms as part of your business operations, look for an email automation software that integrates with them. Integrations will allow you to access insightful data on your customers from the applications that you're using. Some examples of useful integrations include:
- Google Analytics
d. Granular segmentation
The more granular you can get with your contact segmentation, the better. List segmentation enables marketing automation email targeting for your campaigns, so it's vital that your chosen software gives you as many segmentation options as possible.
Check out our full guide on what to look for when choosing email automation software, and the best platforms on the market in 2021.
2. Work on your list
Once you've chosen software, the next step is working on your list. You'll need to develop some list building tactics that will help you to continue to grow your leads. Many email automation software will help you set up signup forms for your website, but you'll need more than that if you want to grow your list. Think about:
- Social media channels
- Creating lead magnets
- Pop-up forms
- Contests or promotions
- Free trials
Once you're happy with your list building tactics, you need to consider how you want to segment your email list. You can always make tweaks later on, but making these decisions earlier will keep contacts organized as you start growing your list.
If you’re already working with a list of contacts then it is likely full of typos and duplicates. Before uploading it into your software you need to clean up your list so that the data is standardized and error-free. A clean dataset ensures that your emails actually reach your leads, and that details, like their names and prefixes, are accurate. Use a data cleansing service like tye to standardize your data and eliminate duplicates so that you can use it to its full potential.
Staying consistent with customer communication is essential to #customerretention, and it’s nearly impossible to do manually. Email automation is the solution. Check out our ultimate guide to #emailautomation
3. Set up your database and nomenclature
Establish naming conventions for your data before you start collecting more contacts. Data nomenclature will tell your staff, contacts, and software how to name each piece of data.
Having these strict rules in place will help eliminate errors and duplicates in your lists, plus keep everything organized. Working from a clean, standardized list will improve scalability and optimize your sender reputation as well. That said, even with established naming conventions you may have errors slip into your database.
Make consistent data cleansing part of your email automation strategy so that you’re always working with an optimized database. Your email automation campaigns are only as good as the data that you’re working with. The data holds the power, so don’t skim over this step.
4. Build workflows
The next step is to build your email automation workflows. Workflows are the journey that your leads take through a series of emails, which nurture them to the point of conversion. They are triggered by a contact's actions or features, such as when they sign up to your email list or if they live in a particular location. Once triggered, they enter the automation workflow. Setting up these campaigns takes time, but your software will automatically send them out as needed once they are set up.
You can also choose to set up email throttling, where you can trigger any of the emails in your campaign queue, instead of having them all go out at once. Email throttling, while it adds a manual aspect, can sometimes allow your emails to penetrate mail servers that are good at flagging email blasts. This is mostly effective for sales automation, as you may want to move a specific customer down your sales pipeline faster than others.
When you're setting these up, make sure you consider how each email connects to the last. You are taking your leads on a journey. Ideally, a journey that ends in a conversion. They should progress naturally and in an order that makes logical sense based on what you're trying to achieve.
5. Track responses and analytics to adapt strategy accordingly
Once your campaigns are running, you can begin to track responses and email metrics. Every time a lead receives an email from you, your software will log vital information such as:
- If they opened the email
- If they clicked any links in your email
- If they take advantage of a discount or code you sent them
- If they browse your website after clicking through a link
- If they purchase as a result of your email
- And more!
These analytics are essential in determining the success of your campaigns. If they aren't working, then you can change up your tactics and try a different approach. If the emails aren't being open, then try another subject line. If emails are being opened, but no one is clicking your links, then you may need to change your CTA.
Getting started with email automation
Now let's get started creating your first email automation campaigns. You’re probably wondering “what kinds of email should be included in my marketing automation?” There are two different types of campaigns you will want to set up. The first is triggered emails. These are one-time emails that your leads will receive based on an action they take (or lack thereof) that triggers them. The second is drip campaigns, which are a series of emails to nurture your leads.
1. Triggered emails
There are a few essential triggered emails you'll want to set up from the get-go. These recommendations will apply to most business models, but there may be more specific triggered emails you'll want to set up based on your brand.
a. Welcome emails
Whenever someone engages with your business for the first time, they should always receive a welcome email. This could include joining your email list, making an account with your business, or making their first purchase with you. 74% of new subscribers expect to receive a welcome email and will be looking for it. Give the people what they want and create an impactful welcome email that thanks them for joining your journey. You can also include a little welcome bonus for them, whether that's a free lead magnet or discount code.
Get instant access to a powerful welcome email sequence swipe file as part of our free email list bundle. Download the bundle for free to start engaging and nurturing your list today!
Promotions are a great way to incentivize your contacts to purchase your product or book a service with you, but only if they are relevant. You don't want to send the same promotion to everyone on your list since it will come off spammy. Especially if you're sending them promotions on products they don't even want.
Set up a range of promotion emails with different triggers based on the content. For example, if it's a promotion on ladies running shoes, have it set up to send out to ladies who've purchased running shoes in the past or left ladies running shoes in their cart previously.
c. Product feedback
Another great campaign to set up is for product feedback. Whenever a customer purchases a product or service, it should trigger an email asking for feedback on their experience. You can use this information for developmental purposes, plus it makes customers feel appreciated. Timing is everything, so the trigger shouldn't be instant. Make sure to give the customer a chance to receive and use the product before triggering a feedback email, or it will just get lost in their inbox.
d. Abandoned cart
If customers can purchase your product directly through your site, then it's likely that many will abandon their cart. They might want to take some time to think about it and end up forgetting it entirely. Don't let them, and create a cart abandonment campaign. Abandoned cart emails have an average conversion rate of 4.64%, so they can really make a difference.
2. Drip campaigns
Drip campaigns are for lead nurturing purposes. The goal of your drip campaigns is to convert your engaged audience into loyal customers. The first email of the campaign is triggered by an action, such as signing up for a lead magnet, while all the rest are sent out based on a predetermined time frame.
So, what should these emails contain?
How many should you include?
And over what time frame?
Since you're trying to convince your lead to trust in your business and purchase your product, you need to show them why. There are a few different ways to do this.
a. Pain points
One of the first emails in your drip campaign should highlight your potential customers' pain points. You want the receiver to read the email and think, "they are talking about me." Whatever problem that your product or service aims to fix, highlight it in this email.
Next, you want an email that highlights all the benefits of your product or service. How can this person use your product to solve the pain points you touched on in the previous email? Why is your product THE SOLUTION? What does it do best?
c. Case study/testimonial
Show your product or service in action with a real-life example of how customers have used it to achieve their goals. You can use direct quotes from loyal customers and outline exactly what their situation looked like before using your product and after.
Give your potential customer additional resources to explore your product further. These could be tutorials on using different aspects of your product or an invite to a webinar. Resources could also include:
Links to your brand's on-site blog
Freebies like free trails or templates
Here is an example of a drip campaign which was a five day challenge. Each day there was a new email, and on the last day they dropped the sales pitch. Never lead with a sales pitch, instead warm up the leads by following the email progression above, building trust and providing value first.
The best email automation tools
Now that you're ready to start b2b email marketing automation, you're going to need some tools to work with. Here are four great tools to get you started.
Before you can even think about using an email marketing automation software or CRM, there is nothing more foundational than clean data. Good data is the lifeblood of data-driven automation.
Bad data is a trillion dollar problem and if you’re not governing your data, your data is governing you. And we’re not here just tell you horror stories about bad data. Data-driven automations have been known to increase lead generation by 451%. We’re here to make sure your data won’t stop you from reaching those goals.
You’ll also be able to segment your lists and create hyper-targeted campaigns to increase your conversions. tye is a data cleansing and enrichment tool that helps standardize all your data, remove duplicate entries and even enrich it. It can validate the information you do have, and help fill in any gaps in your datasets. It's a simple and powerful way to clean all your company data.
Ready to take your email automation to 3-digit ROI? Request a demo today.
OptinMonster is an email automation tool that helps you create lead generation forms that you can use to grow your lists. There are over 50 different templates to choose from, and the drag-and-drop builder is exceptionally user-friendly. Through the software, you can collect contacts and segment them based on various specs such as location, user activity (or inactivity), cookies, and more.
It also has real-time behavior automation, which shows relevant opt-in campaigns to users based on their activity, increasing their effectiveness.
ActiveCampaign is an all-in-one marketing and sales tool designed for smbs. It has a built-in CRM that helps you manage all your email marketing automation, plus includes live chat features and email automation campaign management.
You can edit email promotion and newsletter automation, run a/b tests and track contact interactions with your email campaign automation. Automated email workflows are easy to build in the interface, including triggered emails and drip campaigns. It's an excellent option for SMBs on a budget looking for a simple email automation software.
Omnisend is an email automation program for ecommerce, that is designed specifically to support eCommerce brands. It helps eCommerce businesses manage all their marketing efforts across various marketing channels with an impressive list of integrations.
There are tons of email templates to choose from, all of which are optimized to increase conversions and reduce cart abandonment. Omnisend integrates with Google Ads, WhatsApp, Facebook Ads, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and more, enabling you to extend your reach even further.
Related post: 8 email automation campaigns your ecommerce needs to boost conversion
Key to email automation
Now you've got everything that you need to start incorporating email automation into your marketing strategy. The key to email automation is to work from a clean list, develop a solid email marketing strategy, and use quality tools to support your efforts. Email automation will boost your efficiency and enable you to continue to scale and grow your small business.
Ready to take your email automation to serious revenue levels with clean data? Request a demo today.
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