Automated Email Marketing Sequences
With the continuing growth of technology for scaling marketing activities, automated email marketing sequences have become an increasingly powerful and helpful method of reaching potential clients.
Here’s everything you need to know about them.
What is an Email Sequence?
An email sequence is any series of one or more emails sent to a particular person’s inbox in response to specific inputs. Most email sequences fall into one of two basic categories: trigger-based and time-based.
Trigger-based email sequences go out when users perform a specified activity on the website. Sequence triggers can include specific types of browsing behavior, abandoning a shopping cart, purchasing a product, or reading certain pages on the site.
Trigger-based sequences are most effective when they have a chance of changing someone’s mind or getting them to take a particular action.
For example, some companies send trigger-based email sequences to people who have abandoned their carts and offer a discount if the customer returns and checks out within a predetermined time frame.
Trigger-based emails are also helpful when people might be interested in buying a product. If they spent 20 minutes reading a page about tea, a trigger-based email could ask them to purchase a sample pack or even offer to send one through the mail for free.
The primary thing to understand here is that a trigger-based email sequence is your response to a specific action. The goal is to identify the actions that are most likely to indicate that someone is a good candidate for something while filtering out any poor options.
Time-based email sequences go out at specific predetermined times. These are functionally the same as trigger-based sequences, but they usually have a longer interval before they go out.
Examples of time-based sequences include messages like anniversary emails and thank you letters sent a certain amount of time after someone purchased a product.
The main difference between trigger-based sequences and time-based sequences is that the latter is more about building relationships and positive feelings with people rather than pushing them to take specific actions.
How an Email Sequence can Help you Nurture Prospective Clients
Email sequences can help you nurture clients in several ways. Here are some of the most common situations where this can come into play.
Engaging with long-time subscribers
Many companies have numerous users and accounts who are registered with the system but haven’t bought anything. People often leave their accounts open even if they haven’t been on in years because closing accounts is more challenging than opening them.
Email sequences offer an excellent way to contact people who might be interested and alert them to special deals, new products, or anything else that could be relevant to their interests.
In this case, the goal is to surprise them a little and offer them something enticing enough to turn them from passive accounts to active customers. You can further tailor this by combining things like their interests and estimated income to give a deal that’s especially good for them.
Welcoming new clients
One of the most common email sequences companies set up is the welcoming sequence. This is usually one email, but it indicates that someone created their account successfully and serves as an opportunity to point them towards crucial products or services.
Many welcoming emails have sections with titles like “What’s Next?” or “Get Your New Member Discount”.
The content depends on the needs of your company, but this is a rare example of a sequence that people expect to get. That’s why not creating it can create more problems than passing on other messages.
Onboarding emails are different from welcoming emails. These focus on tasks like telling people how to use products or guiding them through features in something they’ve already purchased.
Onboarding sequences are helpful if you’re selling software (especially for professional users) or want to convince people to buy several different products.
These are some of the most important email sequences for growth over time, and here’s why.
Some software is intuitive, but for anything beyond the simplest code, people often need instruction and guidance to get the most from it. Basic tutorials will only get users so far, and feeling like they don’t know what to do can make them disengage from the software.
An onboarding process offers an opportunity to rectify this. It can take different forms, too, such as a series of video guides or guides and graphics within the email itself.
A one-message onboarding email might take a different route, such as by linking people to an online guide for the product or service. User-friendliness is important here because most people don’t enjoy being surprised by dense, technical manuals.
Maintenance emails mainly apply to physical products, although there are cases when they’re relevant to digital processes. These are primarily marketing reminder emails that aim to convince clients to buy a repair or maintenance service on your preferred schedule.
Note the distinction here: this is not the same as just trying to sell more repair services for your company.
Instead, these emails should emphasize a regular, recommended maintenance schedule for products where that’s appropriate. The nature of these emails also depends on the product.
For example, let’s say that a company is selling a motorized tool and the belts in them tend to break down after six months of regular use.
Sending a maintenance email five months after someone bought the product is an opportunity to let them know about the upcoming issue and present a way to solve the problem.
Maintenance emails are often better than other messages because they’re going to people who are already clients and who, in most cases, have already invested money.
It’s easier to convince someone to spend more money once they’re already invested, and it’s straightforward if they like the product or service they’ve gotten.
Upgrade emails are similar to maintenance emails but focus on improving products a user has. This can range from new physical goods to software upgrades.
The primary thing to remember here is that an email sequence for upgrading does not need to be about selling the improvement.
These sequences can also serve as announcements for upcoming upgrades to let clients know what to expect. Upgrade emails are valuable for clients who heavily rely on a product so they can account for it.
If you plan for the upgrade to be complicated or time-consuming, you can even include step-by-step instructions for clients to follow.
On the marketing side, upgrade emails are a great way to upsell specific products relevant to customers. You can also use things like a customer’s purchase history to make suggestions tailored to their habits or likely needs.
Marketing-focused upgrade emails usually address things like new features, improvements over previous products, and special discounts that may be available.
How to Write a Great Email Sequence
There are many ways to write email sequences, but most are ultimately a straightforward process.
Step One: Determine your goal
The first step in making a great email sequence is deciding on a goal. This can be something like:
- Convincing prospective clients to become customers
- Upselling existing customers
- Increasing subscriber numbers
- Building relationships
Few things are less effective than an email sequence with no goal. Don’t try to overreach your goals, either. You can make as many email sequences as you need, so keep each one as specific as possible and write down your other ideas to use later.
Don’t be afraid to split goals into something more specific, either. For example, you might have different sequences for upselling different types of existing customers.
You could focus special discounts on people who seem reluctant to buy any of your main products while also announcing new upgrades and features to people who buy from you regularly.
Make sure to consider factors like your customer demographics and price points for competing products or services when you’re determining your goals. Keep things as realistic as possible and base them on statistics and evidence when available.
Don’t forget to set clear metrics that will indicate whether you’ve achieved your goal. “I want to sell more products” is not specific or helpful. “I want to increase the sales of this product by 15% in eight months” is a much better goal.
At the same time, consider setting several metrics. These can include a “bare minimum” result that will determine success, but also two or three other levels that indicate good and great results from the campaign. This allows you to set both realistic and optimistic goals.
Step Two: Decide how many emails you need
Most sequences are one-and-done affairs. However, there are times when it’s helpful to send more emails over time. This often includes situations like:
- Monthly, quarterly, or annual reminders
- Multi-step onboarding processes
- Selling a customer on multiple products
Remember that every email in a sequence should push a customer towards your goal. Any email that keeps them in place is just wasting time. This doesn’t mean you need to be overly aggressive in wording or design, but you shouldn’t send sequence emails solely to send them.
Time-based reminder emails can ultimately have hundreds of messages, but most email sequences only need three or four emails at most. Take a close look at what you want each email to do and adjust things as necessary to shorten the number of steps people need to take.
In short, customers are more likely to flake out if they need to complete many steps. Simplifying things is usually more effective than trying to extend the sequence out and slowly bring customers through each step in your process.
Step Three: Figure out why a customer cares
It doesn’t matter how much you want to sell something if customers aren’t interested in buying.
Once you know your goal and how many emails it should take to achieve that goal, it’s time to determine why anyone cares enough to read your email and do what it says.
The reason customers might care depends on the circumstance, but most customers want one of the following:
- Access to the content they care about
- A solution for a problem
- A better deal on something they aren’t convinced to buy yet
There’s plenty of variation in niche scenarios, but most customer behavior ultimately comes down to these three things. Let’s take a closer look at how this works in practice.
One of the best sales motivators is a pain point, a specific problem or issue that you’re trying to address with a product. This can be almost anything that hurts a customer’s life, from software that’s too slow to physical impairments.
Most people are willing to spend money on products or services that address a specific pain point.
With intelligent marketing, you can convince people that a pain point exists (even if they hadn’t noticed it before), then sell the solution. Once you know the pain point exists, the most relevant job remaining is figuring out the right price point for your solution.
Customers who want better deals are a little trickier. They’re interested in a product or service but not quite interested enough to buy it at full price. This has become more common recently, with many customers focusing on deals and discounts out of a perceived problem with their income.
Understanding customer reasoning
Many businesses exploit the tendency to pursue sales, which certain stores use in a state of permanent “discounts” to entice users to buy.
Realistically, this means their discounted price (which might be the same as their former real price) is their regular price at this point, but the customer’s perception is that they’re getting a deal.
Ultimately, this ties back into pain points. The difference is that customers who want a better deal already like what they’re seeing, but they’re hesitant to go all the way for financial reasons.
Figuring out what price point people are most likely to buy at can help you maximize your revenue for each sale.
This comes down to a fundamental principle of business: any sale is better than no sale. You might not make as much profit if you offer a discount, but that’s still more profit than if you didn’t sell anything.
Step Four: Write your emails
Now that you know why customers should care, write each email to specifically address the pain point you think they have, as indicated by the trigger you’re going to use for sending the email.
Writing emails can take as many as several days, depending on how complex the emails need to be.
Don’t hesitate to adjust the emails while you’re doing this. If you find that a wording choice is wrong or something about the pacing just seems off, it’s okay to reevaluate things and keep changing things until you’re satisfied.
Email marketing sequences can end up going to hundreds or thousands of your customers over time, so it’s worth taking the work hours to ensure they’re as good as possible.
The good news is that once you’ve made a few of these, you can often make minor tweaks to create new sequences and variations.
That drastically reduces the time it takes to complete a larger set of emails. Services like Upscribe can make it even easier to create emails, newsletters, and similar messages, so use those if necessary.
Step Five: Decide how far apart to send the emails
You may already have an idea of when you want to send each email in a sequence. Most people do by the time they reach this point. However, it’s worth reconsidering the timing once you’re finished writing the messages.
You can also return to this step after you’ve tried your sequences for a few weeks (assuming they’re relatively near-term messages).
Testing different message spacings can help you determine what works for most customers and what you should set things to maximize overall profits.
Step Six: Determine what tech you need to implement what you’ve created
Email sequences can range from dozens to thousands of potential messages; all set up to trigger at certain times.
You may need to include additional clauses to stop your system from bombarding people with too many emails, and that’s not considering other factors like organizing them so you can go back and edit them.
In short, automating an email marketing sequence requires technology. Depending on how you want to manage this, you may need to buy servers to process your email needs, hire an existing company, or even code customized software to integrate with your other systems.
Most companies should consider starting with an existing marketing service that supports email sequences. These companies offer straightforward and predictable services with varying levels of customization and complexity.
You can always order custom software later, so starting with a different service now can help you identify any problems in your current plans.
Step Seven: Find new ways to get people into a sequence
Automated email sequences are more than “make a new sequence for each scenario.” They get even more effective when you can get more people into them or find ways to identify, as early as possible, who should go into a sequence.
Generally, a new opportunity to get people into a sequence (new or existing) arises when that sequence feels like a natural extension of something a user is doing.
For example, you can add them to a specific sequence if they sign up for newsletters after reading a particular blog post or if they abandon a shopping cart with items inside it.
Step Eight: Evaluate your results
Like most good marketing plans, getting the most from automated email sequencing requires checking the results and looking for ways to improve them.
Several other points in this guide indicate good times to do that, but this step is when you should do a serious evaluation and decide what to change, when to change it, and how to verify the results.
This is an excellent time to check your results against the metrics you established back in Step One.
Most companies don’t know what results to expect the first few times they use automated email marketing sequences. Any failure here is disappointing, but it doesn’t mean you should stop doing it.
All failure means is that you’re not doing this the right way yet, so you should iterate and improve until it starts showing a profit.
What Kinds of Email Sequences can I create?
We discussed some types of email sequences earlier, but let’s take a closer look at the formats that work best for common situations.
Sign-up sequences are usually single messages sent to people immediately after registering for your site or, more rarely, through another method.
This serves several purposes, but the most important reason to send a sign-up sequence is that it lets people know their account is now in your system.
Ideally, these emails will arrive within seconds of them signing up. Faster is always better here. Don’t make these too complicated, though. Instead, a sign-up sequence should push the new member towards one specific thing to do.
The correct action depends on the company, but streaming services like Netflix are a great example of how to do this well. When people first sign on, they prompt users to fill out a survey detailing their preferences.
Surveys have an obvious benefit for people using streaming services: They reduce the amount of clutter and make it easier to find content that users want. You don’t necessarily need to offer a survey yourself, but things like that can help.
Reengagement sequences focus on getting customers to become active again after they haven’t done anything for a while.
Most companies send these as regular messages, ranging from once a day to once a month, with discounts or other offers that users might be interested in.
Reengagement sequences are a good time to put user data to practical use.
Suppose you’re running a bookstore and a customer exclusively buys children’s books in slowly increasing age categories. In that case, you can guess with reasonable certainty that they’re raising a child and trying to buy age-appropriate books.
In cases like those, it makes sense to suggest books that slowly increase in target demographics.
Onboarding sequences help users get to know your company and your products. This can be a direct follow-up to a sign-up email or something you send whenever they buy something.
The goal here is to help customers get familiar with what they’re buying. The best onboarding emails focus on 1-3 specific things that will help your customer get the most satisfaction from their purchase.
Depending on what you’re selling, this could include a setup guide, tips and tricks for using the software, or answers to common questions. Effectively, onboarding sequences are a type of after-sales service.
It’s not about getting another sale so much as trying to convince someone they made the right choice and that they should buy from you again later.
The distinction is important here. If they love their first purchase, they’ll consider a second. If they’re unsatisfied, they won’t come back no matter how good a deal you offer.
Product launch sequences are highly effective when you use them right. Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean trying to get a single huge launch.
While that sounds nice to shareholders, effective product launches usually involve rolling it out in waves to increasingly large groups.
Email sequences are useful here because you can tailor the launch to different demographics. Start with the people who are most interested and invested in your product, then expand to more casual users, and finally, the public at large.
Using email sequences can help you keep people engaged regardless of when they enter the launch. This also allows you to get feedback from users and specifically address it. Timely communication works wonders for product launches.
Events are another time when automated email marketing sequencing can be helpful. These typically involve at least two messages, with the first serving to build hype and anticipation before the full announcement.
While some people may decry the idea of “announcing an announcement,” it’s still an effective way of getting more eyes and attention for the full debut.
Abandoned carts are one of the best times to use automated emails. People who get to the point of having things in their shopping cart usually want to finish checking out.
Some genuinely forget if they’re distracted mid-way, while others may have found a better bargain elsewhere or flinched at the price.
Regardless of the reason, this is a huge problem for e-commerce stores. Some experts believe that as many as 75% of shopping carts online are abandoned. If this is true, then even a tiny percentage of these carts being picked back up later can significantly increase revenue.
Prompts to finish checking out could get as many as 12% of those customers to finish checking out, or a 50% increase in total sales.
When to Send an Email Sequence
The best time to send an email sequence depends on your company. It’s easy to say “when it has a good chance of getting someone to buy something,” but it’s harder to know precisely when that is.
Start by using analytics and other data-gathering methods to see when people are most likely to leave your site. Once you know that, start making email sequences to intercept them. This requires getting a visitor’s email somehow, so try to do that without feeling too intrusive.
Market research is also useful here. Knowing more about your visitors’ pain points and preferences can help you adjust your advertising and focus on emails, newsletters, and other material that will genuinely resonate with your audience.
People enjoy feeling like they’re getting a good deal, but take care to avoid overdoing it. If you price something extremely high and mark it 70% off to the price you want, they may suspect you’re overcharging and will ask for far too much later.
Start discounts and offers with a more modest amount, like 10%, and adjust it over time until you find the most successful amount for your company.
Examples of great email sequences
As discussed above, Netflix is an example of a company with a great email sequence setup. They aim to onboard users quickly, diving right into personalizing and customizing things in a way that feels easy and familiar for people.
Once they’re done, though, they don’t bombard people with messages every time a new show comes out. Instead, they moderate the messages and focus on using the content itself to attract people back over time.
PayPal also has great email sequences. Most of their messages are strictly confirmation emails, providing a record of what they did in a place off of their site.
This means that people have records they can access if they get locked out of their account, which can be extremely helpful to the customer.
PayPal doesn’t advertise too aggressively in email. Instead, they try to get people to use their service regularly and place their ads right behind the login screen.
This is prominent and impossible to ignore, but people accept it because they still want to get in and use the service. Good communication helps create reliable users.
For a niche example, the crowdfunding website Kickstarter sends messages to people’s inboxes whenever project creators post an update. This isn’t strictly necessary for the service to work, but it reminds people of things they’ve invested in and gets some percentage of people to return to the site and read each update there.
People who are on the site are more likely to back more projects, which means Kickstarter gets more money.
All of these are examples of subtle email sequences. They’re not obvious marketing tactics, but they’re all effective at promoting each company’s goals and ultimately increasing their revenue.
Each sequence is also tailored to the user, either by responding to user actions or as part of pushing them into a personalized field for collecting information.
Automated email marketing sequences can seem intimidating at first. Researching customers, selecting triggers, creating emails, and evaluating the results all seem like a lot of work, especially if you don’t have much time to spare.
However, it’s much easier than many people realize. Services like Upscribe have largely automated this process, making it accessible for busy business owners.
If you’re still not sure about the process, try starting small with one or two automated sequences, then expanding out as you grow more comfortable and experienced.