Email automation software is becoming more and more popular. It provides a way to coordinate messaging with your customers, hands-free, in response to triggered events and specific circumstances.
In this guide, we’ll cover the benefits of email automation, then delve into 10 of the best email automation software tools.
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What Is Email Automation?
Email automation is the practice of sending emails to people (usually customers) in response to specific triggers, without manual intervention.
For example, you might have a rule established to trigger whenever someone new signs up for your email newsletter; when this trigger is activated, your chosen system will automatically send them a “welcome” email confirming their subscription.
Email automation is beneficial for several reasons:
- Increased customer communication. Setting up automated emails in response to specific triggers allows you to be in contact with your customers almost constantly. It also helps keep your brand top-of-mind. Ultimately, this results in better brand interactions and more sales.
- No manual effort. The “automated” nature of email automation means you won’t have to spend any manual effort beyond initial setup and occasional maintenance. Any gains you receive from your automated emails are basically free.
- Analytics and improvement. Running ongoing email automation campaigns also gives you the potential to conduct analytics and improve; for example, how many new welcome emails are you sending out? How many people respond to your first, second, and third follow-ups after an abandoned cart?
Email automation is mostly used in marketing and sales, but it can be used in other applications (like appointment reminders or in customer service).
Email Marketing Automation: Quick Tips
If you’re going to use an email automation platform for your email marketing campaign, you’ll want to follow these important best practices first:
- Spend time crafting your emails. Because automated emails are both cheap and plentiful, they tend to be discounted in terms of value. However, if your automated emails are hastily written or poorly targeted, they’ll end up doing more harm than good. Take your time crafting perfectly tailored messages, and use them to build consumer confidence in your brand.
- Don’t spam your customers. With just a handful of clicks, you can sign your customers up to receive dozens of emails in response to a few manual actions—but more emails isn’t necessarily better. If you spam your customers, they’re going to form a negative impression of your brand, and they’re probably going to unsubscribe. Focus on quality over quantity.
- Cater to desired actions. Don’t send emails just for the sake of sending emails, even if they’re purely automated. Instead, your email automation should be goal-oriented, catering to specific desired customer actions. For example, depending on the nature of your campaign, you might want your subscribers to visit your website, fill out a form, or make a purchase; your workflows should be optimized to achieve these goals.
- Measure, analyze, and commit to improve. Possibly the most important tip is to constantly measure and analyze your results. How many of these triggered emails are getting sent? How are people responding to them? Which features seem to be the most and least effective? After gathering these insights, what steps can you take to improve your results?
The Best Email Automation Software
Below are some of the best email automation software tools available. Note that many of these email automation tools offer functionality beyond simple “email automation,” including features related to sales, marketing, and customer management. Below, we focus almost exclusively on the email automation component of each platform.
Intercom is what we use here at EmailAnalytics, and we love it! What sets it apart from most of the other tools on this list is that it is so much more than just an email automation software; it acts as a CRM, customer service tool, and more, all under the same roof. You can easily set up highly-targeted custom audience segments, A/B test your email drip campaigns, and conveniently see stats for any emails you send. It’s pricy, but it’s totally worth it. My only wish is that they’d make it easier to add email countdown timers to your automated emails.
Mailchimp makes its way onto many of our top “email marketing tools” lists, because it does a little bit of everything—and its basic platform is free to use. With Mailchimp you can automate emails in specific sequences, like a series of welcome emails to new clients, or reminder emails when a customer abandons a cart. You can also rely on a number of triggers for specific user actions, like if someone opens one of your emails or clicks through on one of them. However, these automated sequences are somewhat limited in functionality.
With ConvertKit, you’ll be able to create new automation workflows quickly and easily, with a simple editor that lets you make changes on the fly. With it, you’ll build logical rules based on trigger points like new subscribers joining a list, subscribers getting a new tag, contact fields changing, and completing a purchase. Then, you can tie these together with events, actions, and conditions to make a robust network of automated emails.
Drip is another one of our favorite email automation tools, and its functionality is robust. When working with automation, Drip allows you to exercise control over two main areas: rules and workflows. With rules, you can set up logical conditions that execute actions in response to certain triggers. Workflows are more advanced, allowing you to set up complex interactions, like moving a subscriber to a different list after responding to an email.
EmailAnalytics Visualizes Your Team's Email Activity
- 35-50% of sales go to the first-responding vendor.
- Following up within an hour increases your chances of success by 7x.
- Salespeople spend an average of 13 hours per week on email.
Hubspot is well known as a sales and marketing automation tool, with hundreds of features you can use to improve your approach. Within it, you’ll find intuitive tools you can use to design and send emails as part of your marketing campaign, as well as rules-based automation workflows that can handle email distribution on your behalf in response to common customer events, like making purchases or abandoning a shopping cart.
Keap, once known as Infusionsoft, is another comprehensive sales and marketing platform that can be used for a variety of purposes beyond simple email automation. However, its email automation functionality is a highlight. With it, you’ll be able to plan out full campaigns, capitalizing on template workflows or customizing your own from scratch.
There’s also Sendinblue, which allows you to create and manage multiple different email automation workflows simultaneously. With it, you can connect multiple different workflows in a chain, and connect your automated emails to other actions, like sending an SMS text, updating a contact attribute, or adding a delay to other actions. By default, you can choose entry points to these email automation workflows based on email activity, contact details, or user actions (like specific website activity).
ActiveCampaign is a platform designed to “automate your entire customer experience.” With it, you can build visually appealing workflows for how and when to send emails; for example, after a contact visits a specific webpage, you can instruct the workflow to wait an hour, then send a follow-up email. You can also set up conditional rules, so you can end or continue the interactions based on whatever action the customer takes.
MailerLite is a simple way to automate and manage your email marketing. You’ll be able to segment your subscribers into different lists, and build automation workflows for each of them. It’s also free for up to 1,000 subscribers and up to 12,000 emails per month, making it a great tool if you’re just starting out.
Finally, there’s Omnisend, a relatively new email automation tool designed to coordinate marketing across channels like email, SMS, push notifications, and third-party platforms. With it, you can rely on pre-built templates to cover some of the most common types of automated emails, or build all your own email automation rules from scratch.
How to Choose an Email Automation Tool for Email Marketing
These are just 10 of the best email automation tools. So how should you choose the best platform for your business?
These are some of the most important factors to consider:
- Workflow sophistication. Different email automation tools offer different levels of workflow sophistication. Some tools only offer automated emails in response to specific triggers, or allow you to only use preexisting templates with limited variance. Others have far more complex email automation capabilities, with full customization—but they may be more expensive as well.
- Intuitiveness. If you want to save time with this tool and maximize your return on investment (ROI), you need to make sure this tool is intuitive. It should be clear and simple to design new workflows from scratch, and you should have no trouble making changes if and when you need them. If you have to consult a 15-minute instructional video every time you get stuck, it’s a bad sign.
- Subscriber and volume support. Some tools are free, but only for a limited number of subscribers and a limited number of emails sent per month. You may need to carefully consider not just your current subscriber and volume needs, but also how those needs may change in the future—and whether this tool can support that growth.
- Connection to other features and platforms. Most email automation software tools are designed to integrate with other platforms, or they have lots of built-in features to help you in other areas related to your sales and marketing strategy. example, if you specifically need email automation software for Gmail or email automation software for Outlook, this is an important consideration.
- Cost. Of course, you’ll also need to consider the cost of your chosen platform. Basic email automation tools are usually inexpensive, but if you want more sophisticated features, you’ll need to pay for them.
Now that you know about the best email automation tools, check out this big list of other small business apps! And if you want to become a better email marketer, you need a better understanding of your customers’ email habits—as well as the habits of your salespeople and team members.
With a tool like EmailAnalytics, you can glean far better insights from these email patterns. You can use EmailAnalytics to analyze your average email response times, your busiest times and days of the week, and more. Sign up for a free trial today, and see it in action!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.