Why Marketing Automation Is the Future of Email Marketing

I’m going to let you in on a little secret (but only if you promise to keep it between you and me).

Marketing automation is the future of email marketing

And to be honest, if you agree with that, there’s not much need to read the rest of this article.

But if you’re unsure, or you’re not familiar with marketing automation, the next few minutes will likely re-shape the way you think about how you email your prospects, leads, trial users and customers.

But before we get there, I want to be even more specific with my prediction:

Within 3 years, any business experiencing success with online sales will be using some form of marketing automation. Remember that you heard it here first.

The days of one-to-many email marketing are quickly coming to a close. We are entering the age of one-to-few and one-to-one email marketing.

The future of email marketing

Wait…Back Up, What’s Marketing Automation?
There are many definitions of marketing automation, ranging from sending a few targeted emails to soup-to-nuts automation that costs $2k/month and not only automates your marketing, but does your dishes and puts your kids to bed every other Wednesday.

So let’s start by giving you a look at the most common definition of marketing automation, then we’ll narrow down from there. Here are the six key elements:

  • Email (a.k.a. lead) Capture – Accomplished using opt-in forms that run from a single field (typically email address) in low-touch sales to 15 or more fields (name, company, email, phone, job title, size of company, etc.) in high-touch/enterprise sales scenarios.
  • Lead Nurturing via Email Marketing – Sending a personalized sequence of emails to educate and build trust. Often the emails and sequences are chosen based on that person’s interactions with your website.
  • List Management – The ability to segment your subscribers and send offers targeted to who they are and what they’ve done.
  • Web Analytics – Usually integrated into lead scoring (the next bullet), it’s helpful to know what a person is doing on your website in order to determine how likely they are to buy. For example, if someone downloads 3 reports and attended a webinar, they are more likely to buy than someone who only signed up for blog updates.
  • Lead Scoring – Provides a score, often 1-100, on how ready a person is to make a purchase. In high-touch sales, higher scoring leads are typically assigned to sales agents who make phone calls and send one-to-one emails.
  • CRM  – Customer Relationship Management which, contrary to it’s name, typically has nothing to do with “customers” and everything to do with following up and closing a sale. This is the section that shows a sales agent who to contact next.

As you’d expect, some marketing automation software offers more features than the above (often when their core software is not yet fully-baked). So you may see additional elements in marketing automation software that we won’t include in our definition, such as landing pages and online shopping carts.

The core purpose of marketing automation is to engage and nurture leads over a period of time, until they are ready to make a purchase, then (in high-touch situations) handing the lead off to a human being to close the sale.

In low-touch/lower-price scenarios, it’s quite possible that no human will be involved aside and that the lead will purchase using a “buy now” button on your website.

So Then, Why is Marketing Automation the Future of Email Marketing?

Delorean Time Machine
Photo by jdhancock

The short answer is that marketing automation will have a shocking impact on your conversion rate.

This shouldn’t be a surprise; being able to accurately personalize communications and move from one-to-many to one-to-one is far superior to sending the same static email newsletter to thousands of people.

There’s no comparison in terms of relevance, engagement and end results.

To give you something more concrete, here are a few examples of how marketing automation is being used to personalize email communication (notice how these examples are not limited to marketing emails, they span marketing, trials, and paying customers):

  • A prospect opens an email and clicks on a link about SEO. You tag her with “seo” and move her into an email sequence on how your tool can be used for SEO.
  • A different prospect opens an email and clicks a link about social media marketing. You tag him with “social media marketing” and move him into the relevant email sequence. Notice two customers receive information tailored to their needs.
  • A prospect starts a trial of your software and indicate during sign-up that they are a realtor as opposed to a home buyer (your software serves both groups). You tag them as such and send them a sequence that focuses on how your tool caters to their specific needs.
  • A trial user creates a new project in your software and you fire off an email about the best way to work with and organize projects.
  • A customer views your upgrade page but doesn’t upgrade. You follow up via email 4 hours later with a special bonus (or slight discount) if they upgrade in the next 24 hours.
  • A customer’s recurring payment fails. You fire off an email to ask him to update his credit card.
  • A website visitor enters his email to download a sample chapter of your Ebook about cats. You tag him with “Prospect” and “Cats” and follow-up with a cat-specific sequence of emails.
  • You’re gearing up for your annual Black Friday sale, so you run a query to find all prospects tagged with “Cats” and schedule an email with a 50% off deal on your newest cat-related Ebook.
  • A prospect buys your Ebook. An integration with your payment provider sends a ping that tags the subscriber with “Customer” and moves them into a sequence to help them get the most benefit from their purchase (and recommends additional purchases).

How is this Better than Good Ol’ Fashioned Email Marketing?

Old fashioned email marketing

You’ve been approaching email marketing the same way for more than a decade, so I understand if this feels a bit jarring.

But being able to tailor your emails to someone’s behavior is ridiculously more effective than blasting the same static email sequence to thousands of people.

So if you’re still using software that’s good at sending static email newsletters and puts a lot of emphasis on their collection of fixed-width email templates, be concerned.

Or if your email software doesn’t view an email address as a single person, no matter which “campaign” or “list” they are subscribed to, you’re losing out on a ton of information that would help you understand your prospects more (and make more sales).

I’ve heard this complaint so many times that I view it as a warning sign to take the plunge into marketing automation, where an email address, no matter how many campaigns it’s subscribed to, equates to a single person.

And if you find yourself using odd hacks like manually updating merge fields, writing external code to move subscribers around, or experiencing frustration that subscribers can’t manage their subscriptions to multiple lists at once, it’s time for you to look into marketing automation.

The current approach of one-to-many broadcast email communication is dying. If you still doubt this, ask someone you know who’s experiencing success with email marketing.

I would put money on the fact that they are using some form of heavily personalized emails and sequences based on their subscribers’ behaviors.

Then Isn’t Your Whole “Prediction” a Little Self-Serving?
You may be thinking it’s a self-serving prediction since I’m the founder of Drip, which is lightweight marketing automation software.

So I want to be clear that I’m not predicting it because I own software in the space, rather I built software in the space because I’m predicting it.

I’m a serial web entrepreneur who chooses his markets very carefully, and I entered this one because of the large number of requests for marketing automation features in Drip.

This was back when Drip was a simple email tool that focused on an innovative opt-in form and autoresponder sequences.

Over the next several months my team was inundated with requests from savvy founders and marketers who were having a lot of success selling online. They were asking us to add more and more marketing automation features and, to paraphrase one customer:

“Build marketing automation software that doesn’t suck.”

This is why Drip became lightweight marketing automation software (that doesn’t suck), and why I believe that marketing automation, previously confined to enormous budgets and complicated enterprise tools, is where email marketing is headed.

And it’s doing so faster than you think.

Okay, Then What’s Lightweight Marketing Automation?

Lightweight marketing automation

Lightweight marketing automation is the term we use to describe Drip.

This name implies that while it covers the majority (5 out of 6) of the marketing automation areas, it’s designed for companies with a low- to medium-touch sales process who don’t do as much one-on-one selling and have less of a need for lead scoring and CRM.

It covers these 5 areas:

  1. Email Capture
  2. Lead Nurturing via Email Marketing
  3. List Management
  4. Web Analytics
  5. Lead Scoring

Plus a bonus:

Email communication and customer management from the time they first hit your website through their entire lifecycle: from website visitor to prospect to lead to trial to customer.

So Drip leaves advanced CRM to tools that specialize in this area.

Drip does have basic CRM in terms of viewing your subscribers’ tags, attributes, and activity stream, but it’s not a full sales tool at this point.

This is ideal for businesses who want a simpler, less expensive tool than the enterprise players offer at $300-$3,000/month.

Makes Sense. So What Are My Options?
You have a few:

  1. If you need to manage a high-touch sales process, look into one of the bigger players such as Infusionsoft, Ontraport, Marketo, or Pardot. Expect to pay $300+/month and up-front costs for training to learn how to use the tool.
  2. If you have a less complex sales process, consider a tool like Drip. It offers the majority of the benefits, at a tiny fraction of the price.
  3. Do nothing. Watch your marketing efforts become less and less effective as time passes. Become sad and disgruntled and eventually leave online marketing in shame and start a new life as a hermit.

I’m only partly kidding about that last one.

In case you picked choice #2, here is some additional information about where Drip stands today…

What Drip Does Well
Drip does an exceptional job covering the first 5 elements we discussed in our marketing automation definition. Here are those 5 elements again:

  1. Captures leads
  2. Nurtures them with personalized email marketing
  3. Allows you to manage your list and send targeted broadcasts
  4. Handles lightweight web analytics
  5. Observes your subscribers’ behavior and assigns them a lead score

Drip Marketing Automation

In addition, Drip:

  1. Integrates with many payment and landing page providers (Stripe, Chargify, Recurly, PayPal, and others)
  2. Is designed to handle your email communication through the entire customer lifecycle: all the way from lead to sample downloader to trial user to paying customer
  3. Is easier to use than our enterprise competition (no training required)
  4. Is less expensive than our enterprise competition
  5. Does not require up-front fees or annual contracts
  6. Does not require you to talk to a salesperson for a trial
  7. Provides you with blueprints of automation rules you can implement right away

What Drip Does Not Do
Drip does not have the final element of marketing automation: advanced CRM.

Drip does have basic CRM in terms of viewing your subscribers’ tags, attributes, and activity stream, but it’s not a full sales tool at this point.

Why the Gap?
Many of the marketing automation software you’ll run into expanded too quickly from a half-baked product into a larger, still half-baked product with a lot of features. But they don’t do any of them well.

So we’ve been very intentional about leaving out features because we’re laser-focused on building the best  tool for companies and individuals selling:

  • SaaS
  • Digital products (Ebooks, courses, membership websites)
  • Downloadable software
  • Consulting services

If any of those describes you, I don’t know of a better marketing automation tool available.

On a final note, lead scoring is in the near future for Drip, as well as more advanced CRM features. Stay tuned.

Within 3 years, any business experiencing success with online sales will be using some form of marketing automation.

The days of one-to-many email marketing are quickly coming to a close. We are entering the age of one-to-few and one-to-one email marketing.

Will your email marketing keep up?