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Email automation means setting up automatic, time or action-triggered emails to your specific contacts. It’s different than a one-off email campaign sent manually to your subscribers. Instead, you set up a workflow once and your contacts get an automatic email every time they take a specific action. These automated emails are usually sent in a sequence with specific time intervals between them.
Ultimately, email automation makes it easy to build better relationships with your prospects, new customers, and long-term customers without spending so much time on tedious email admin tasks.
Wait, is email automation just another term for marketing automation? Nope, not quite.
These terms are not interchangeable: Marketing automation refers to using software to streamline and automate a whole wide range of marketing processes. Just like email marketing is one component of marketing, email automation is just one component of marketing automation.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of email automation, let’s take a step back and consider the current state of email marketing. You’ve likely heard the grand claim “email is dead.” Maybe it’s one more thing that’s been killed off by millennials (along with real estate, golf, and cereal, apparently 🤷).
Here’s the thing: While modern communication channels like live chat have been growing, email hasn’t been dying. In fact, over half of the world population uses email in 2019.
Businesses still see tremendous value using email to reach out to potential and current customers. More than 293 billion business and consumer emails are sent out every single day, and this figure is expected to grow to over 347 billion by the end of 2023. And of all marketing channels, email marketing is the highest performing one for ROI.
But let’s make something clear: there is a problem with email. Many marketers and salespeople (ourselves included) have been doing email all wrong. We’ve been treating people’s inboxes like highway billboards, sending out glossy but irrelevant email messages, which is dreadful from a customer experience perspective.
We need to remember email’s original purpose: having conversations. Marketing and sales teams have been talking at leads, not to them. It’s clear the old-school email approaches won’t get you responses. Prospects and customers aren’t wowed by colorful banners and bright buttons. They care about what you’re saying and offering, not what your email looks like. We confirmed this in our recent cold email study where we found that 87% of the most successful emails sent out by marketers, SDRs, and SDR managers were entirely plain text.
Taking a conversational approach and thinking quality over quantity is what will get you back to email’s roots – having conversations to build relationships.
So where does email automation come into play? By automating your email busywork, you can focus on what matters: one-to-one conversations with your current and potential customers. And setting up automated email workflows to target audiences allows you to educate your prospects over time rather than going in for a hard sell right away.
We’ll say it again: Impersonal ads, promotions, and sales pitches in emails make for a terrible customer experience. How can we do better? Simply put, by being less annoying.
Email automation technology will automatically un-enroll people from nurturing sequences based on an action they take. It ensures you won’t keep sending people unwanted emails once they’ve unsubscribed.
You can also schedule your emails to ensure they never land in people’s inboxes on weekends or holidays. It’s a small thing, but everything you can do to reduce people’s frustration and provide a better experience is important.
You want to keep prospects engaged so you’re on their mind when they’re ready to buy – not shove a pitch down their throat on day one to move them down the sales funnel as fast as possible.
Creating automated workflows makes the lead nurturing process a lot easier. But scaling with automation doesn’t mean sending generic and impersonal emails – targeted messages to smaller audiences get the most engagement. You can send automatic emails to contacts segmented by industry, intent, and sales stage, for example.
The goal of email marketing is to build and strengthen relationships by having conversations. That’s why reply rate is the most important email marketing metric. Email wasn’t built to be like a megaphone – a one-way broadcast tool. It was built for two-way conversation. So conversations mean more than clicks.
By treating email this way and only sending timely, valuable, and highly relevant automatic emails, replies will come flooding in. In our cold email study, we saw plenty of automated emails with very high reply rates.
Quick tip: The best time to send an email and boost reply rates is Tuesday between at 10am.
Now that you’ve got those thousands of replies in your inbox, how exactly are you going to answer them all? 😬 Email automation tools ensure that no reply from a lead or customer falls through the cracks. It can automatically route email replies automatically to the right sales reps based on your CRM routing rules. It’s like having a personal assistant who works 24/7/365.
And by connecting your email to chat, you make it easy for leads and customers to move from reading an email to having a real-time conversation. And that makes for a seamless buying experience.
Your prospects and customers expect immediate, personalized interactions – and it’s no different with email. Answering questions at a moment’s notice helps you nurture prospects into loyal customers. Fortunately, the right email marketing tools allow your sales reps to receive real-time alerts when one of their leads replies so they can answer right away.
The goal with email automation isn’t to remove humans from the equation, but to hand off the tedious tasks – like updating contacts in your CRM – to AI. When you get auto-replies like out of office messages, your email automation software can automatically update and remove contacts so you can focus on your customers. Some email automation software also has smart filters that prevent you from sending marketing emails to people who are already engaged with your sales team.
To be useful for your company, your email database needs to be up to date at all times. Email automation helps you remove all email addresses that are bouncing, out of date, not responding, or haven’t taken action in a given time frame.
Autoresponder emails sent when a person is on leave or has left the company will often inform you who to contact in their absence. An AI tool can mine this data so you can flag these contacts for your business development team to work through.
Once your database is all cleaned up, you’ll be in better shape to measure what is and isn’t working. Email automation software allows you to measure your A/B tests and experiments so you can optimize your next automated emails.
While reply rate is the ultimate metric, you can also track metrics like open rates, conversion rates, bounce rates, unsubscribe rates, and your overall campaign ROI to get a full picture.
When you don’t have to worry about all the manual, time-consuming email management tasks, you have more time to focus on conversations. And this bears repeating: conversations are how you grow relationships.
How exactly do you send automated emails? No matter what marketing automation tools you use, you first need to make a plan for your automated email campaigns.
First consider what actions your prospects and customers take with your company. For each specific scenario, create a separate workflow. Here are some examples of automated email series you can send based on specific triggers.
Trigger: Newsletter or blog subscription
In your first message, welcome your new email subscribers. 🎉 Let them know you’re thrilled they decided to join and tell them what kind of emails they can expect to receive.
Email is the third most influential source of information for B2B audiences, behind only colleague recommendations and industry-specific thought leaders. So let them know they won’t be spammed, but will only get high-quality, informative content. Keeping in mind your goal is to get replies, ask them why they signed up.
You can send a second email a few days after the first one to share some of your most popular posts and bring people up to speed. Here at Drift, we don’t bother with a really long welcome email sequence. Instead, we focus on keeping customers happy and engaged with the new content we share each week.
Trigger: Event or webinar registration
Invite your contacts to your event, and most importantly, let them know how they’ll benefit from it. Don’t rant about the blood, sweat, and tears you put into planning the event, but share what they can expect the day of and why you chose to invite them.
Share the important time and place details and suggest they already save the date in their calendar. If it’s a live event, share the agenda and if it’s a webinar, share the log-in info. Then ask them to RSVP by simply replying to your email, taking unnecessary friction out of the process.
After this first email, you can send a friendly follow-up reminder email a day before your event (or if it’s a webinar, try 15 minutes before you go live). This can give your attendance rate a big boost.
We share an after-event email automation templates down below, which is where you’ll thank your recipients for joining and share something valuable with them. Close it out with a CTA that gives them a chance to connect with you one-on-one.
You can send an additional email with some extra content like a blog post or customer case related to your event topic. If you have another event lined up, let them know now, or email them again closer to the date.
Trigger: New product sign-up
Send a series of welcome emails to people who have created a new account for your product. Your onboarding workflows will vary depending on your customer journey and the complexity of your SaaS product. But as ever, simple is better here. Instead of bombarding people with instructions and links from the get go, try simply asking them why they signed up. By learning more about them and what they want to achieve with your product, you’ll be in better shape to deliver a great onboarding experience.
After that first welcome email, you can send send a couple more emails to educate your users and help them see the full value of your product. Share any useful guides or videos that walk them through how to use your product, and let them know what integrations are available. You don’t want to overwhelm people and send out 30 emails in the first few days. Instead, share easily digestible messages and be mindful that they probably have a lot on their plate at the moment.
Remind your email recipients that there’s a human on the other side who’s ready and willing to help. You can include a “P.S.” to the ends of your emails that lets them know they can simply respond if they have a question.
Trigger: Unfinished account set-up
Send your users different messages depending on whether they didn’t finish installing your product, customizing it for their company, or if they’re simply inactive. The key here is to keep your emails short and sweet.
It’s the same principle as abandoned cart emails that ecommerce companies send out to encourage customers to complete their purchase.
Trigger: Abandoned during customization
Instead of desperately trying to win someone back in this email, ask if they have any questions. Keep your message short and sweet: Your #1 goal is to get them to respond to you can figure out how to help them throughout the rest of the onboarding process.
Trigger: Abandoned during installation
The goal here is to learn why people abandoned ship. At Drift, the subject line we use for this email is “so.close.” And that’s got us a 65% open rate and plenty of replies. We found out, for example, that most people abandon because they’re waiting for an engineer to help them get Drift installed.
Trigger: Upcoming account expiration
Send these emails to customers when their free trial or subscription is about to run out. Remind customers to renew their account and consider offering free trial users a discount code if it makes sense for your business.
Trigger: Low or high NPS scores
If you use Net Promoter Scores (NPS) for customer feedback, reach out to your customers after you get their responses.
Email to “promoters”
We call customers “promoters” at Drift when they’ve given us a score of 9 or 10. Why not reach out to your happiest customers for a quote or ask if they’re willing to participate in a case study? Sometimes all you have to do is ask, and they might be more than willing.
Email to “detractors”
These are the customers who give us a score between 0 and 6. You don’t want to ignore these customers. Instead, ask them how you can improve, and invite them to share their thoughts either through email or a phone call. This is a great way to get feedback that will help you do your job better and improve your product and service for future customers.
Flow charts help you visualize your automated email process. Here’s what your new free trial user workflow could look like, for example:
[Workflow flow chart with triggers, delays, and email names]
And here’s a visualization for a webinar promotion workflow:
[Flow chart with triggers, delays, and email names]
Just because an email is automated doesn’t mean it should sound like it came from a robot. Be friendly and conversational in your outreach to improve your nurture email reply rates. These foolproof automated email templates will help you out.
Quick tip: While it’s not a hard and fast rules, shorter emails generally perform better. Mobile email will account for 24 to 77% of email opens, depending on your target audience, product and email type. And people don’t want to see a wall of text when they open an email on their phone.
To: Your closed-lost lead list
Your inactive or lost accounts are great targets for re-engagement. Why? They already know about your business and you have a history with them.
Give these unengaged leads the chance to continue the conversation with you without being overly pushy.
To: Contacts who would benefit from your event or webinar
Instead of sending a link to a landing page and adding unnecessary hurdles for your leads to register , why not simply ask them to reply “Yes” or “No” to RSVP? You already have their email addresses, so it doesn’t make sense to have them fill out another form. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to enthusiastically respond “Yes!”
A smart email reply management system will know what to do with the responses based on the rules you set up.
To: Prospects you’ve engaged with but aren’t high-intent leads
You’ll only want to offer a demo to prospects who’ve already expressed an interest in your company. For example, if they download your content or sign up for your newsletter, be helpful and give them a chance to connect one-on-one with a demo. This is a fast-lane play that doesn’t take much effort to try, but could give you great results.
To: Ideal contacts from your target accounts
Got a top prospect wish list? A direct mail campaign might be just the thing to get them to engage with you. These campaigns are pricey, so you won’t be running one every week, but they’re also great for building brand awareness.
Send your contacts an opt-in email to get their permission and mailing address. Emphasizing a limited quantity and limited-time offer will help you get more replies.
Pro tip: Include a handwritten note with whatever you send them so it’s clear you’re not just sending out another mass mail. Chances are you’ll make your prospect feel like a real VIP.
To: Your event attendees
When the event is still fresh in people’s minds, you’ve got a great chance to connect with your prospects and send them a new relevant offer.
Keep your message friendly and relevant. No matter what type of event you hosted, make sure to give them something. That might be a slide deck presentation from your conference, a webinar recording, or a link to a related blog post. For your CTA, offer a demo, an assessment, or an exclusive offer, and have them simply reply to your email to get it.
Here’s how the social reply email works: You share an email across social channels with a compelling offer and you then have a smart inbox for all the replies you get.
To maximize replies, follow the four Us of copywriting:
Here are a few email automation tools that can make a world of difference in your productivity and efficiency.
Email automation is one of the many functions of marketing and sales automation software. These platforms will integrate with your Outlook or Gmail accounts.
Marketo is a marketing database platform with tools for email automation as well as marketing automation, lead management, lead nurturing, and demand generation. It helps you keep your database clean and easily segment your contacts so you can focus on creating a personalized email strategy.
Salesforce Pardot is another B2B marketing automation platform that offers email automation, targeted email campaigns, and lead management tools.
And Outreach is a sales engagement platform that helps you close more deals by personalizing, prioritizing, and analyzing your sales activities. There’s also Prospect.io, a sales automation platform that allows you to find and verify email addresses, send drip campaigns, and track all your campaign stats.
Contact database and data enrichment tools help you get in touch with the right people and businesses to grow your company.
ZoomInfo, for example, has a comprehensive and continually updated B2B contact database to help you better connect with your ideal buyers. Drift Intel is a marketing data engine you can use for data enrichment – meaning you can turn any email or domain into a full person or company profile.
Another B2B sales intelligence platform is DiscoverOrg, which gives you actionable company data. And Uplead is a lead generation platform that connects you to the right contacts and allows you to enrich your data.
Most email marketing tools weren’t built with conversations in mind, but Drift Email Marketing Software allows you to drive personal, real-time conversations at scale. It’s all about making email a two-way conversation and turning it into engaging conversations that close leads faster.
To keep your inbox in order, Siftrock is an automated B2B reply management tool that ensures you never miss a reply to an automated email again. It helps improve your overall database health by keeping your email list and CRM up to date. Siftrock basically automates all the email busy work so you can focus on your customers – the work that matters the most.
We covered a lot of ground in this guide, so here’s a handy checklist you can follow to ensure you don’t miss a step when you get going with email automation.