Email Automation: Benefits, Software, and FAQs

Emails are fast and inexpensive, making them great for businesses. The trouble is sending the right emails to the right people at the right time. Email automation makes that part easier.

But email automation can seem complicated and mysterious if you haven’t worked directly with it. However, when you understand it, email automation is an incredibly powerful tool that amplifies and simplifies your marketing efforts. Indeed, when surveyed in 2020, global marketers reported a tie between marketing automation and content marketing as the two most effective digital marketing techniques.

In this article, we’ll cover what email automation is and how it works, followed by its benefits for your business. We’ll also cover a few common examples of email automation. Finally, we’ll look at 5 of the top email automation tools to help you get started.

Table of contents

What is email automation? 

Email automation is when you automate the process of sending individual emails or a sequence of emails to your subscribers. It can be as simple as automatically emailing a coupon after someone submits their email on your site or as complex as incorporating behavior tracking across channels for a months-long email nurture program.

Email automation systems typically use “if-then” logic to determine when to automatically send a message. For example, if a customer makes a purchase, the email automation platform sends them an order confirmation. Simple automations like this allow small teams and even one-person shops to keep up with their transactional emails and run basic drip campaigns.

Woman pointing to email message

Automation workflows usually start with a trigger, the event that signals to your automation platform that workflow should start. The trigger is the “if” part of “if-then.” What the system does in response is called an action. This could be sending a one-off email, moving a contact from one segment to another, or any other email-related action. 

But sometimes, you need guardrails to ensure the action is appropriate. That’s where conditions and time controls come in. Conditions let you get more specific (“if this and this happen, then…”). 

For example, you could create a trigger to send a cross-sell email to customers after they make a purchase and add a condition to send it only if they spend $50 or more.

Time controls allow you to send automated emails at the right time. Rather than send a cross-sell email immediately, you could add a time control that sends it 24 hours after purchase. 

Not every email automation will need conditions and time controls, but they’re vital for brands with sophisticated email marketing strategies

Why is email automation important?

Email is one of the most important channels for digital marketing. 

More than 91% of Internet users are also email users. For people ages 25-44, the number jumps to 95%. The revenue from email marketing is expected to reach $10.89 billion in 2023.

The benefits are pretty convincing if you’re wondering why email is the most popular marketing channel for automation. Let’s take a look.

Saves time, effort, and money

Imagine having to personally hit “send” for the thousands of emails your business sends. Or if you had to copy and paste a subscriber’s name into every email. These are the time-consuming tasks that email automation frees you from.

Email automation can save you the trouble of manually adding subscribers to your email list, segmenting email contacts, scheduling time-based sends one by one and more. Creating rules and systems for your mailing list frees you for more creative and important work. Lastly, regularly monitor DMARC reports to adjust your email automation strategy and enhance email campaign effectiveness.

Scales and amplifies your work

Even if you devoted all your time to sending emails, manual email marketing simply can’t keep up with a growing business. With email automation, you can create your email assets and tell the system when to send them. 

Email automation allows a one-person marketing team to send hundreds or even thousands of emails daily and easily create segmented email sequences for different lead stages. 

Delivers a better customer experience

Customers don’t like to wait, and automation ensures they receive the appropriate emails quickly. Email automation platforms allow customers on the other side of the world to get messages in minutes, even if your team is off the clock. 

Customers receive more personalized content through automated customer segmentation, lead scoring, and email nurturing. Email marketing tools like ActiveCampaign let you send automated emails and personalize their content.

Message with personalization tokens
Message with personalization tokens

You can use past purchases or more advanced behavior tracking to determine a customer’s interest and send them email communications with the most relevant content.

Email automation examples 

There are endless types of automations for marketing emails: abandoned cart emails, transactional emails, newsletters, RSS feeds, upsells and cross-sells, nurture campaigns, birthday messages, event reminders, etc.

Let’s walk through some of these examples to show how email automations work.

Abandoned cart emails

Almost 70% of ecommerce carts are abandoned. 

For every person who completes a purchase on your site, 2 other people started shopping but walked away before completing their purchase. Abandoned cart emails are a simple and easy way to recover some of those lost sales.

Cart abandonment email by Quip
Cart abandonment email by Quip (Image Source)

An abandoned cart email is triggered when a contact places one or more products in their shopping cart and then leaves the website without completing the purchase. 

If you’re using ActiveCampaign, the direct integration with Shopify recognizes that trigger and begins the automation workflow. Using time controls, you can send an initial abandoned cart email an hour later and follow up with several more reminders.

Workflow for abandoned cart email
Workflow for abandoned cart email

This is a simple automation, but cart abandonment email open rates are consistently higher than 40%, and the click-through rate was 8.76% in 2021. You can set up an automation for abandoned carts in a few minutes and watch the sales roll in.

Welcome email series

A welcome email or a welcome email series is a common way to build customer relationships or warm up new leads. Welcome emails are typically sent shortly after a contact subscribes and have an average open rate of 30%.

They can provide valuable information and show users what to expect from you. Meditation app Headspace, for instance, invites email recipients to start meditating with their characteristic brand imagery.

Welcome email from Headspace app
Welcome email from Headspace app (Image Source)

For an automated welcome email, you would set becoming an email subscriber as the trigger, and that would begin a workflow that either sends a single welcome message or begins a series of welcome emails.

Re-engagement campaign

Automated emails are a great way to welcome new contacts easily, but they can also be a valuable tool to win back disengaged subscribers. 

Brands send re-engagement emails to users who aren’t opening (or clicking on) emails or past customers who have stopped buying. This is just one example of an automation where the trigger is the lack of an event. 

Depending on your product or service, your email might be a nudge to the recipient to check their account. You can also highlight new features or products the subscriber has been missing.

Email from You Need a Budget
Email from You Need a Budget (Image Source)

To create an automated re-engagement email, you would create a trigger based either on an amount of time or a certain number of attempted engagements. 

As with welcome emails, you may send a one-off re-engagement email or create a series of emails tempting the user to engage. For instance, you could automatically send a message when a contact hasn’t purchased in more than 6 months. You could also trigger a re-engagement series if a subscriber hasn’t opened or engaged with 25 emails. 

Reengagement emails are a valuable automation because it’s easy for disengaged contacts to fly under the radar. With email automation, your email system identifies the contacts and reaches out with no additional effort from you. 

5 best email automation tools

Your email automation tool can make a huge difference in how much work is required of you and how effective your marketing will be. These are 5 of the top email automation platforms to consider.

1. ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign is a comprehensive marketing automation suite allowing you to automate advanced marketing campaigns incorporating email, SMS/text messages, sales outreach, and lead scoring in the built-in customer relationship management (CRM) system. It’s a robust tool with a range of plans for businesses of all sizes.

Homepage of ActiveCampaign website
Homepage of ActiveCampaign website

Email automation in ActiveCampaign:

  • Cross-channel automation: With ActiveCampaign, you can create multi-channel and even omnichannel automated marketing campaigns, connecting email, ecommerce, social media, and SMS for the best customer experience.
  • 800+ automation recipes: Users have access to hundreds of pre-built email workflows and other automations.
  • Transactional emails: ActiveCampaign integrates with major ecommerce platforms to automatically deliver confirmations and other transactional emails.
  • Automated lead scoring: Along with email marketing campaigns, ActiveCampaign allows you to automate lead scoring and other sales and marketing tasks.

2. GetResponse

GetResponse is a marketing software specializing in inbound marketing. It supports engagement across multiple channels, including email, SMS, and chat. It offers landing pages and some content creation tools as well. 

Homepage of GetResponse website
Homepage of GetResponse website

Email automation in GetResponse:

  • Email marketing automation: GetResponse provides basic email automation features for cart abandonment and other common situations.
  • Email creation: GetResponse offers email templates and a drag-and-drop email builder. Users also gain access to a library of free images and GIFs.
  • Engagement scoring: GetResponse offers a CRM with basic contact management and engagement scoring, which allows you to tailor automations based on each prospect’s buying stage in the sales funnel.

3. Sendinblue

Sendinblue promotes itself as an all-in-one marketing platform for small businesses. They offer email marketing and automation, SMS marketing, sign-up forms, landing pages, and a basic sales CRM.

Homepage of Sendinblue website
Homepage of Sendinblue website

Email automation in Sendinblue:

  • Custom email workflows: Within Sendinblue, you can create simple and advanced email automation workflows. The interface isn’t the most intuitive, but you can incorporate lead scoring and other complex details
  • Automation A/B Testing: To improve and optimize your email workflows, you can split your audience for A/B tests.
  • Transactional emails: Sendinblue offers an email API to connect with the rest of your tech stack and automatically send confirmation emails and other transactional messages.

4. Salesforce Marketing Cloud

Salesforce is among the biggest names in the software-as-service (SaaS) industry. The company is best known for its powerful enterprise CMS, but they also have Marketing Cloud, their digital marketing platform. If you’re already using Salesforce’s CMS, Marketing Cloud might be the easiest path to implementing email automation.

Salesforce Email Studio product page
Salesforce Email Studio product page

Email automation in Salesforce Marketing Cloud:

  • Cross-channel automation: Because Marketing Cloud customers often use other Salesforce products, you can create complex automation incorporating email, web, and mobile interactions.
  • Email studio: Within Marketing Cloud, you can build mobile-responsive emails or start with one of their templates. 
  • Previews and permissions: If you have a larger marketing team, the ability to set user permissions can prevent mistakes and false starts. Marketers can safely preview emails and automations. 

5. Adobe Marketo Engage

Adobe is another major player in the software world, and Marketo Engage is the brand’s marketing automation platform. Popular with enterprise and mid-market businesses, Marketo Engage offers email marketing, account-based marketing, and lead management.

Marketo Engage page on Adobe website
Marketo Engage page on Adobe website

Email automation in Adobe Marketo Engage:

  • AI audience building: With their focus on larger companies, Marketo Engage allows you to use artificial intelligence to parse through large email lists and automatically create segments.
  • Cross-channel personalization: Along with automatically personalizing emails, Marketo Engage supports website, SMS, and landing page personalization. 
  • Behavior tracking: With Marketo Engage’s behavior tracking, the system is always learning about what individual customers and audience segments are interested in. This is another valuable tool for larger businesses.

Frequently asked questions 

Here we cover some of the most common questions about email automation.

What are email automations? 

Email automations are when your email marketing and automation platform sends emails without you having to personally press “send.” They use “if-then” logic to send appropriate email messages based on events or customer behavior. 

Welcome emails are one common email automation. Typically, when a user fills out an email subscription form, that action triggers the email automation system to send a welcome email. 

You can also create more complex email automations to send single emails or email sequences over weeks and months. By setting conditions and time controls, you create “guardrails” to avoid sending them inappropriate or poorly-timed emails.

Can I automate email in Gmail?

Modern email automation tools integrate with major email service providers, allowing you to implement automated emails on Gmail, Outlook, and other email platforms. Within Gmail, you can schedule individual emails, but this requires manual action on your part.

How do I set up email automation?

How you set up email automation depends on what email marketing platform you use. Some offer pre-built automations, but most allow you to build email automation workflows from scratch. An email automation workflow requires a “trigger” (such as a purchase) to set off the “action” (sending an email).

ActiveCampaign has an intuitive visual workflow builder from which you can build automations, but it also includes over 800 automation recipes for common workflows, like cart abandonment emails, event reminders, and more.

How much does automated emails cost?

The cost of automated emails depends on which email automation software you use and how many contacts or email sends you have. Most email automation systems have several plans that are charged monthly, ranging from $9 per month to thousands of dollars.

Tap into the power of email automation 

Between transactional emails, newsletters, promotions, and new product announcements, the number, and variety of emails even a small business sends can feel overwhelming. Email automations allow marketers to keep up with their emails and provide much more personalized, timely, and relevant content to customers.

When you understand how email automation works, you just need the right email automation tool to help you get started. Naturally, you want a platform that makes it easy to design beautiful, responsive emails, but look closely at how powerful and intuitive the automation process is. 

With hundreds of pre-built automation recipes and an easy-to-use responsive email designer, ActiveCampaign empowers marketers to take their email strategy to the next level. 
Start your free trial today to see how ActiveCampaign gives you the power of easy and effective email automation.