Mailchimp Automations:
A Quick Guide

Automations you need, should use and the ones to ignore

…and remember, automations are great and will save you time, but they won’t do your homework…

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Don’t… Waste… Time…

The most precious thing we have available to us is time… because once it’s gone, we can never get it back (unless you can find a battered DeLorean nearby), and yet consistently, I come across business owners and entrepreneurs wasting it.

It could be that they are doing jobs that really aren’t urgent, or ones that can easily be given to someone else to do.

It could be that they are wasting time trying to learn how to do something themselves, when in fact just getting someone in who’s an expert would be a much better plan.

…or it’s doing the same task manually, again and again, which in reality with a bit of preparation can be automated.

Whatever the reason, they are wasting time… and they won’t get it back.


Automated Emails… stop you wasting time

As a Mailchimp partner/expert, it’s my job to help people make the most of Mailchimp and their email marketing… and one of the key areas that I come back to repeatedly is the importance of using Mailchimp’s automated emails.

Automated emails are, in my mind, the #1 thing that ALL businesses can benefit from, whether it’s ensuring that emails that ‘should’ be automatically sent at specific points, actually get sent, or cutting down the manual sending of emails that could be done ‘by the computer’.

I could go on, but the fact is that if you’re in business, automating part of your marketing communication is a ‘no-brainer’ and something you should actively be looking at.

…but if you’re just starting out, you probably are wondering what emails you can automate and how you should automate them using Mailchimp.


Fail to plan, plan to fail

The first thing you should consider before actually diving into Mailchimp is what emails you actually want to send in the first place… and which of those emails can be automated.

It’s a subject I’ve covered several times and this article on Email Marketing System Planning should help you develop an overall structure, but let’s drill into the specifics and look at a number of types of email that you might want to automate…

  • Welcome Emails – the most obvious automated email of them all is the welcome email. It gets sent to anyone who joins your audience automatically and gives them some context and background about who you are and what you do (and why you do it).
  • Confirmation Emails – an email sent to someone who has completed a specific action. It could be they registered for an event, or completed a specific form, or even took part in a specific activity.
  • Delivery Emails – when someone takes an action which requires you to send something to them – the best example being promising a report/guide when someone completes a form on a website.
  • E-Commerce Emails – when someone purchases (or abandon’s a cart) in your e-commerce store and you want an email sent to them based on what they’ve done.
  • Birthday/Anniversary Emails – Who doesn’t like getting an email on their birthday… especially one that has a special gift contained.
  • Live Event Emails – whether it’s getting someone to attend an event, or getting back to them after the event, there is huge value in using email to communicate.

To be honest, the list is almost endless and I’m sure that every industry will have specific emails that they can automate.

…so before getting too far down the rabbit hole, take a moment to understand the specific types of email that you want to automate in your business.


Finger on the Trigger

Unlike other emails where ‘you’ are the reason they get sent (i.e. you are the trigger), automated emails get sent because something triggers them… and every email in Mailchimp that you want to automate must have a trigger.

If you don’t know the trigger, you don’t have the option to automate…

Triggers usually fall into the following broad categories:

  1. Something in the database changes – it sounds obvious, but when something changes in the database, this can trigger an email. It could be someone joining it, or a field changing, or even a group or tag being applied. The change triggers the email to be sent.
  2. A date – emails can be triggered based on a date, and even set up to trigger several days either before or after a specific date.
  3. An action someone takes – you can trigger based on someone taking a specific action, such as opening a specific email, clicking on a link
  4.  An action someone doesn’t take – you can even trigger based on someone not doing something, such as not opening a campaign or not clicking in it.
  5. Part of a sequence – obviously automations aren’t just single emails, they are sequences, and if you’re on a paid Mailchimp account, you can trigger emails based on them receiving previous emails in a sequence or taking actions in previous emails.
  6. You manually trigger the automation – yes, you can still trigger an automation by starting it yourself.

…but without a trigger, an automated email can’t be sent.


Conditionally Speaking

One thing that you can do in Mailchimp is set up an automated email to trigger… but then set a condition so that the email doesn’t actually get sent to people who meet/don’t meet that condition.

A good example of how to use this is if you’re selling attendance to a specific event via a series of automated emails… but once someone actually buys a ticket you don’t want them to get any more.

All you do is set up the automation but set a condition of “don’t send to someone who’s bought a ticket” (which could be as simple as you applying a tag to a person) and then the automation won’t send to them.

Conditions are very handy if you want to exclude people for whatever reason from a series of automated emails.


…and once the email is sent

Post Send Actions are also a handy thing you can use as part of your email automation. These are actions that you can set up to happen to someone once an email is sent.

You could add them to a specific tag or group (indicating they’d reached a certain point in your customer journey), or you can even unsubscribe them automatically – something I use if I want to avoid having them use the official Mailchimp unsubscribe link.

…but they do give you options that you may not have considered and provide flexibility as you work on your ‘automated workflows’.

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The automated emails I’d consider as essential

Now you know all about the options, here are some of the automated emails that I love to use and have put in place for many of my clients:

Welcome Email Sequence – the original automated email(!)
Welcome emails are so important because they are sent automatically at the time someone says they are most interested in you – wait (or don’t automate) and you’ll lose them.
I trigger these emails either simply by someone joining the audience, or by making sure that everyone who joins the list via certain methods is ‘tagged’ and then use that tag being applied to trigger the email

Confirmation/Delivery Emails – In my view, just as important as welcome email sequences, a confirmation/delivery email is you, fulfilling the first promise you make.
When someone completes a form based on you ‘promising’ something, the confirmation/delivery email fulfils that promise by sending them what they wanted.
If this isn’t automated you could be letting people down.
Again, I make sure all my “forms” apply a tag to someone when they are completed, and use the tag to trigger the automation.

Value Sequences – Once someone has completed a welcome sequence, I love using a series of emails which are ‘pure’ value.
No selling here, just educating your customer and delivering pure value. I’ll usually trigger them based on tags (see the theme – I like tags!), and use the last email in the welcome sequence to apply a post send action which then triggers the value sequence (If you do this remember to put in a delay before it starts, otherwise the last welcome email is sent, the post send tag is applied and the next email is sent immediately).

Lapsed Customer Sequences – With a number of clients who have repeat businesses, I’ve set up emails to be sent based on someone not visiting for a while.
This is ‘tricky’ as it’s based on the information available in Mailchimp, but if you’ve got date fields and can get the data into Mailchimp smoothly, this can be a great ‘re-activation’ activity. I trigger these usually on dates or on tags being applied.

Live Events – One of my favourite set of automated emails is when you are doing a live event, like a trade show. I even wrote an article about it here.
People can pre-register for the event (and get an email sent automatically), they can get reminder emails (based on a date field in Mailchimp), and you can then set up confirmation & welcome emails for people you meet at the event (and if you can add them to your system whilst at the event and tag them appropriately, they get the email before they’ve finished – which is VERY slick!), and even date based emails for attendees after the event to follow up.

If you are able to get these up and running for your business, you’ll get more time and capture more leads.


Some automation caveats…

If you are thinking of setting up automations in your Mailchimp account, there are a couple of things you need to be aware of…

  • For most automated emails, they can only be sent once. Once someone has had an automated email triggered, they can’t trigger it again (so you can’t send a welcome sequence to someone more than once).  The only emails that this doesn’t apply to are date based or e-commerce ones.
  • Mailchimp automations are extremely literal. When you set an email to send when “someone joins a group”, that’s when it’ll send.  If there are people in the group already, they won’t get it as the trigger is “when they join”.
  • If you are ‘daisy chaining’ automations together (i.e. using post send actions to fire the next sequence), be aware that you need to build in a pause between the end of one automation and the start of another – otherwise you’ll end up sending two emails virtually at the same time… the last in the first sequence and the first in the next sequence.
  • If you pause an automation, Mailchimp will stockpile people in the queue and when you set it live, they’ll get sent the email… this is especially true if the email is part of a sequence and you add one to the end with a trigger of “x days after previous email”… as soon as you set it live, anyone who has received the prior email will get the next one, even if it’s much longer than x.

Concluding thoughts

The fact is that if you’re in business and you use Mailchimp, in my mind automations are an absolute no brainer.

They save you time, repeatedly sending emails out so that you don’t have to… and they make you money by sending emails to new leads automatically (leaving you to concentrate on actually confirming the sale).

Time is a very precious commodity and we’re all guilty of wasting it regularly.  Using automations in your Mailchimp account is essential if you want to succeed with email marketing AND save you and your business, time and money.

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Robin Adams

Robin Adams

Robin Adams is a business owner who is passionate about helping businesses build effective marketing systems that work and don't waste money. Having a lifetime of Marketing experience (he's got a degree in Marketing before there were degrees in Marketing!) and having worked for big and small businesses and both client and agency side, he understands not only the theory, but the systems that are required to underpin everything.
51% marketer and 49% Chimp, Robin is the main man behind chimpanswers.com and the Mailchimp Answers Facebook Group - the world's biggest Mailchimp User Group. Connect with him on Linkedin.

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