Did you know that there are 278 “top email marketing software products,” according to Capterra?
There are so many email marketing systems out there to choose from that it can quickly become an overwhelming process for marketers. Where do you even begin in order to narrow down the options and choose just one solution?
Well, we went through this, frankly, very confusing process at VentureApp. We hope sharing our process & criteria will be helpful to other businesses:
STEP 1: Determine The Types of Emails You’ll Be Sending
Marketing and sales emails are pretty different. For the purposes of this piece, we’ll focus on marketing email systems. We could write an entirely separate post on how to choose a CRM/sales email system, but we’ll save that for a rainy day.
There are several different types of marketing emails. To choose a platform that will grow with you, identify which subsets matter to your organization now and in the future.
Here is a high-level outline of subsets (keep in mind that subsets can be referred to in different ways by different people).
Transactional– these are functional emails based on actions by your user. Examples of these include password reset emails or confirmation emails. There’s a reason why these types of email tend to get higher open rates.
You can and should utilize transactional emails to market to your consumers (think: referral link at the bottom of a receipt), but these emails are meant to be informational. Transactional emails should be used only when necessary and considered almost entirely separate from marketing emails.
Behavioral or Event-Based– these emails are based on actions/events completed by your user and/or attributes about them and are different in nature than transactional emails. I like to call these “smart triggers” – triggers that you use to try to push users further down the funnel or encourage them to do a certain action.
Examples of event-based triggers include: signed up and didn’t complete an action, shopping cart abandonment, stayed on a particular page on your site for an extended period of time, etc. Examples of behavioral triggers based on user attributes would be number of orders placed or number of employees in a company.
Re-Engagement or Lapsed (very closely related to behavioral)– this is largely semantic, but I prefer to bucket re-engagement or lapsed emails into a separate section. In event-based terminology, this is marked by the absence of an event.
Examples of re-engagement include: have not performed an event in 30 days, have not signed on in 60 days, etc. It can also be helpful to bucket your users based on value within these lapsed segments, i.e., high value and hasn’t been seen in 30 days.
Newsletters– these are pretty self explanatory. Basically, you’re providing users with content from yourself or others, updates, tips, etc. It’s a regularly distributed email to your subscribers. This could be all users, a subset of all users, etc.
Broadcasts– these are informational emails used to announce any new product features, important changes in your product, etc.
STEP 2: Align on Criteria Needed
Once you’ve determined what types of emails you will send now and in the future (for us, it was all of the above), the next step is to identify what features are required for you and your team.
Understand the use cases & technical implications for email from all the relevant stakeholders in your company, especially your development team.
The following is the criteria that we landed on:
Integration with Segment
If you aren’t familiar with Segment, you should be. Segment collects data directly from our database and sends it to our relevant software and services such as Mixpanel, etc. Since behavioral and re-engagement emails are essential to our marketing campaigns, it was a no brainer that Segment integration was a must. This narrowed our choices down to 34 email marketing platform providers…still a lot to choose from.
The ability to create triggers based on the absence of events
This is a tough one to explain, but most email marketing platforms need events to trigger the start of an email drip campaign. As a result, a lot of email platforms create triggers in the form of HAS performed a certain action.
We want to focus on a lot of inactive use cases (a user has not performed a certain event). There are certainly ways to do this in the positive form (“HAS performed 0 times in the past 30 days”), but we want to be able to create segments and drips based on inactivity. So, it was important for us that the email system’s triggers were not just built around HAS done something, but also built around HAS NOT done triggers.
This is largely just internal preference, but by creating HAS NOT segments/triggers, it also protects us a bit more from user error. When creating lots of different segments & triggers, it becomes hard to create negatives working in the positive form.
The ability to create emails based on attributes and not just events
We need to segment our users based on their attributes and create emails accordingly. We don’t want to limit ourselves by only using event based triggers. More importantly, we want to take out users from email drips based on either attributes OR events. For instance, when a startup submits a “request” or an ask for a particular type of vendor, we log this event as “submitted_request.” However, this event translates in a change to the user’s attributes as well. Their request count number would go from 0 to 1 or from 1 to 2, etc. We want to be able to send and segment our users based on request count number as well as based on the event of submitting a request.
The ability to import & export data
This goes hand-in-hand with Segment integration, but we want to have a record of every email sent to our user stored not just within the email platform but also within our database. This means being able to send data from the email platform to Segment as well as sending information from Segment to the email platform. We also want to be able to import contacts and export data in a CSV files.
Transactional provider considerations
There are a variety of transactional providers such as Mail Gun, Mandrill, and SendGrid. While we were focused on choosing a marketing email platform, it was important to us that we had the option to send emails through the transactional provider (i.e. not through the email system) without any conflicting issues.
Furthermore, if in the future we decide to build our own internal email system based on triggers, we want to be able to stay with the same transactional provider.
Individual link tracking
If we send out an email with multiple links, we want to be able to get stats on which links were clicked.
Robust, US-based support
If we have any questions, we need their team to be responsive. In-app messaging support was a nice-to-have, but if they were quick with email support, that was sufficient enough for our needs.
We’re an early stage start up. Price is definitely a consideration when looking at the various options. Every email software provider typically breaks down their cost structure by number of contacts you’ll be emailing, feature set requirements, number of emails sent, etc.
Nice to have: Integration with Zapier
This was by no means a requirement, but it would be nice to have a system that integrated with Zapier so we could connect the various systems we currently use. That being said, if the API was easy to link up, that would suffice as well.
STEP 3: Outline Lifecycle Flow
Once we identified the necessary features, we mapped out a V1 of what the email flow would actually look like. Why do this before choosing the platform? This may sound odd or overtly obvious, but it has more to do with the person implementing the email system than the system itself.
You can outline the criteria perfectly, but part of it ultimately comes down to preference. The person implementing the system from the front-end needs to be comfortable with the segments of users and triggers before technically putting it into place. Once they have a good understanding of what the lifecycles will look like, they can look at the semantics of each email system and choose the one that matches accordingly.
For example, instead of using “tags” to send emails, I prefer using segmentations instead. This is a personal preference, but has implications in which email systems I preferred. This should be the lowest consideration, but if you are deciding between two systems, pick the one you are most comfortable with.
STEP 4: Make Selection
Here’s the list of systems we ultimately narrowed down to:
I will say, all of these platforms offer free trials (for Drip – you’ll need to wait a couple of days to receive their free trial), so we encourage you to explore each one for yourself.
If you are looking for an overview of email systems, Zapier wrote a good post, but it’s only limited to the ones who have Zapier integrations.
Curious who we chose? Need help evaluating email marketing software? Sign up to get a free consultation with one of our expert business advisors.