Sending out broadcast emails and setting up autoresponder series is something every small business should be doing. Which is why having a reliable email service provider (ESP) in your toolbox is so important.
These days, all ESPs can handle these basic capabilities. So what I personally look for in a great email service provider are its marketing automation features.
Done right, you can very easily create automation workflows that increase your sales, boost your ROI and just make your marketing life a whole lot easier.
It used to be that only hard to learn, expensive services like Infusionsoft or Ontraport could do this type of magic. But now, there are quite a few affordable options you can use to add marketing automation to your business - without breaking your budget.
Why Marketing Automation?
Marketing automation is so popular these days because it truly opens up a lot of possibilities for your business.
A simple use case is to use it to tag leads who purchased your product and create separate email campaigns targeting your buyers and non buyers.
Or create a custom welcome sequence based on a specific lead magnet that a lead went through.
You could also set up a cart abandonment workflow that will follow up with your subscribers who have added your product to their cart, but never checked out. Sending a reminder email to buy will easily add many more sales to your bottom line.
A more complex automation might be a List Pruning workflow. This is where you send emails to subscribers who haven't been opening your emails and try to re-engage with them. If they continue to be non-responsive, you automatically unsubscribe them, saving you the cost of paying for a dead lead.
Which ESPs offer the best Marketing Automation?
In this marketing automation roundup review, I'm going to look at 4 services: ConvertKit, GetResponse, Drip and ActiveCampaign. I'll show you what features they support, and the pros and cons of each. This will give you a better idea of which service will fit your business.
Each of these email service providers offer at least a basic level of marketing automation. These including being able to trigger automations when subscribing to a form, when a message is opened, or when a link in an email is clicked. Plus, they all support tagging which makes segmentation very simple.
More advanced features include lead scoring which allows you to assign to scores to individual leads based on actions through the workflow. This is extremely useful because it allows you to figure out how engaged or how valuable each lead you have.
These are the people who you really want to target because they are the ones that will more then likely buy your current and future products
GetResponse has been one of my favorite email autoresponders for a long time. It is both reliable and feature packed at an affordable price point. The only thing that was lacking were any marketing automation capabilities.
Not anymore! The GetResponse team has been hard at work and they recently introduced their own easy to use automation workflow solution.
The automation workflow builder is completely drag and drop enabled so you can grab elements from the palette on the right and onto the canvas area on the left.
GetResponse automations consists of conditions, which start a lead into a workflow and a set of one or more actions that the automation will make.
Automations are wired together to actions by connecting the output port of a condition element to the input port of an action element. If you select any element, then you can customize how it operates by selecting the Properties tab.
I found the automation editor to be decent, but not quite as intuitive to use as either Drip or ActiveCampaign. Wiring elements together doesn't seem completely necessary and I don't like how the Properties require a separate click to access.
However, GetResponse does support all the common conditions you need to create sophisticated workflows.
Actions your automations can use include sending emails, tagging, moving or copying contacts to another campaign and updating a lead's custom field.
GetResponse's marketing automation is currently in beta, so all of the automation features are currently free for all package types. However, once the beta phase is over, advanced features like lead scoring will only be available to subscribers on PRO or higher plans.
GetResponse offers a wide variety of affordable plans starting out at $15/mo for 1,000 subscribers. The PRO plan gives access to the full GetResponse feature set for $49 a month. Plus, they offer a full 1 month free trial, with no credit card required so you can really try before you buy.
GetResponse Automation Pros
- Lead scoring (while in beta)
- Range/Amount filters to further segment your subscribers
- 1 month free trial
GetResponse Automation Cons
- Still in beta
- Slightly less intuitive automation editor
- No advanced features like conversion tracking, goals, forks
- Limited decision making options
ConvertKit really emerged when Pat Flynn of SmartPassiveIncome started using it and it has been rapidly growing in popularity ever since.
ConvertKit's aim is to bring marketing automation to professional bloggers. Unlike the other services we are going to look at in this post, ConvertKit doesn't have a visual automation editor where you can create complex workflows. Instead, ConvertKit uses simple automation rules to set everything up.
Automation rules consist of a one or more triggers tied to a single action.
ConvertKit supports a handful of triggers including:
- Subscribing to a sequence or form
- Completing an email sequence
- Clicking a link in an email
- Adding or removing a tag
- Purchasing a product
The only built in integration for purchasing a product is via Gumroad.
In terms of actions, ConvertKit allows you to Subscribe/Unsubscribe leads from a sequence, Subscribe/Unsubscribe leads from a form, and adding or removing tags.
There's no concept of delays, although that can be achieved via delays in your email sequence.
While lacking in advanced features that other email service providers have like lead scoring and decision making capabilities, ConvertKit does have the basic triggers needed for common automations like content upgrades.
And what makes ConvertKit viable is its simplicity.
It's very easy to reason and come up with automation rules that just work.
Pricing in ConvertKit is based on the number of subscribers you have. With 1,000 subscribers, ConvertKit will cost you $29 a month while it's $49 a month for 3,000 subscribers. Unfortunately ConvertKit doesn't include a free trial, but they do have a full 30 day money back guarantee.
ConvertKit Automation Pros
- Simple, easy to use
ConvertKit Automation Cons
- Can't build more complicated automation workflows
- Can't track leads on your site
- Relatively expensive for what you get
ActiveCampaign was the first affordable email service provider that started offering marketing automation for the masses and it has also seen a big uptick in usage.
It has a very nice visual automation editor, plus it ranks with Drip as giving your the most feature packed automation options.
The editor for ActiveCampaign and Drip are very similar. You click on the 'Add start trigger' box to add your trigger or the + icon to add the next step to your workflow. The difference is that ActiveCampaign has a palette of actions on the right hand side where you can also drag an action onto the canvas.
ActiveCampaign supports all the essential triggers, plus some of its own unique ones like starting an automation on a certain date, or when a contact shares, forwards or replies to an email.
You also get every action you need, plus more advanced ones like support for webhooks and sending SMS. ActiveCampaign also supports Lead scoring although it's only available as part of their Small Business plan.
ActiveCampaign gives you some affordable pricing plans. The cheapest plan is their Lite plan with 500 contacts that will run you $9 a month. You can get 2,500 contacts for $29/month and 5,000 contacts $49 a month.
Keep in mind their Small Business plan (which includes lead scoring) costs quite a bit more at $113 a month for 5,000 contacts.
ActiveCampaign Automation Pros
- Prebuilt automations you can choose from
- Can import and export automations
- Automation marketplace
- Comprehensive set of triggers and actions
ActiveCampaign Automation Cons
- Lead scoring not included in Lite plan
- No built in purchase trigger
I've only recently started using Drip, but it has some of the best automation capabilities I've tried so far. And because of its recent acquisition by LeadPages, I can see it growing very rapidly into a popular option for email marketers.
Drip uses a visual wizard like interface to create automation workflows.
To start, you click on the Define your trigger box and a dialog pops up asking you to select a trigger. Drip supports all the common triggers and some unique ones as well including responding to custom events and 3rd party apps.
After selecting a trigger, Drip will then show you specific properties of the trigger that you can set. This approach is very straightforward and makes sure everything is setup correctly.
Your trigger will appear on the canvas and then you can continue to add additional steps by clicking on the + icons. The main steps you will use will probably be Actions, Decisions, or Delays. But Drip also has some advanced features like Forks, which allow you to create parallel paths in your automation and Goals.
Drip has hands down the most comprehensive set of triggers and actions of any email service provider. So you can pretty much create any automation workflow you can think of.
I also like that Drip seamlessly integrates with lots of 3rd party products. For example, you can trigger a workflow from landing pages built by Leadpages or Instapage. Plus it works really well if you sell products on platforms like Clickbank, Gumroad, and Shopify.
Price wise, Drip has 3 basic tiers. The basic plan, is only $1 for 100 subscribers and is a great way to test all of Drip's functionality. Most marketers though will probably opt for the $49 Basic or $99 Pro plans that support 2500 and 5000 subscribers respectively.
What I like though, is that all the tiers, even Basic include all features, including lead scoring.
Drip also offers a full 3 week free trial for any of their plans.
Drip Automation Pros
- Lead scoring across all plans
- $1 full featured basic plan (< 100 subscribers)
- Most comprehensive set of triggers and actions
Drip Automation Cons
- Limited pricing tiers
Which of these ESPs provides the best email marketing automation capabilities? Out of the four I've reviewed in this post, I will have to say that ActiveCampaign and Drip the most full featured and powerful.
That's not to say that a service like ConvertKit is not good. While it might not be as flexible as the others, it can still create some useful automations in its own right.
And by being simple and handling the most important use cases like tagging and content upgrades, it definitely fills its niche for bloggers and book authors.
However, ActiveCampaign and Drip both standout as marketing automation leaders and if I were choosing an email service provider to go with today, I would pick from one of these two.
ActiveCampaign is the most mature marketing automation solution of the four. I like the fact that you can import and export your automations which makes it easy to share and learn from others.
Drip though is really emerging as the lightweight marketing automation solution. It's very simple to use, yet feature packed. I really like that they include lead scoring in all their plans, and it's not something you have to pay extra for.
As always, your experiences may vary with mine, and I recommend you give at least ActiveCampaign and Drip a try. They both offer completely free trials, so all it takes is some time to see which one works best for you.