Editor’s Note: This article is a contribution from Ken Ott, co-founder of Metacake.
Automated email sequences are a crucial component of building a successful ecommerce machine, yet most brands are not using them to their full potential. It’s one of the most commonly overlooked pieces of an email marketing program for ecommerce, and it’s also the piece most likely to make money while you sleep. Thinking long term, a great email program is also one of the best ways to grow customer relationships at scale.
Now, let’s be clear: This is NOT where you beat people over the head with unsophisticated, repetitive emails. This is where you use smart automations to deliver personalized emails that build relationships, increase customer lifetime value, and create brand fans at scale.
Read on to find a proven framework for creating successful automated email sequences for your ecommerce business that will grow customer relationships more than ever before.
What are automated email sequences?
An automated sequence is a series of emails that are pre-built and they typically include dynamic customization. They are sent based on a logic tree where certain emails are triggered when established conditions are met. These triggers could include actions such as:
- Purchasing certain products
- Spending a certain amount
- Adding to cart or abandoning checkout
- Joining a newsletter list
Automated sequences have the unique ability to create a highly-personalized email experience for your site visitors and customers at scale. Unlike one-off email campaigns that require you to build and schedule emails one by one, your automated system will run all the time and continually nurture relationships with your contacts, educate them on your brand, and sell your products. This is the golden ticket to growing strong relationships with your customer base.
What are the benefits of automated email sequences?
Take a look at some of the exciting elements that come with using automation:
Build it once
Automated email sequences are one-time builds. Of course, they will require monitoring and optimizing and should be adjusted as needed, but generally speaking, they run all the time after you set them live.
Easily test and optimize
With a platform like Klaviyo, you can A/B test subject lines and creative variations at every step of the automated sequence. This allows you to see the performance of every email in a sequence and optimize it.
Improved customer relationships (at scale!)
A business is not really a business unless it runs on scalable systems. These sequences are capable of building relationships, educating customers, and selling products at scale, using pre-written content as well as dynamic data based on what actions users have taken.
How to build your own automation strategy
Every ecommerce store is different, but the framework for creating a successful automation strategy is the same for most businesses. The key is to think about how people behave based on the actions they take in your store.
For simplicity’s sake, you can categorize your site visitors’ and customers’ journeys into three categories:
When you think about each category, consider what mindset someone is in for each stage. Think about how you’d talk to someone in person in order to build a relationship, and then make that your goal with your emails.
For example, what would you say to someone who has not bought yet but has shown interest by signing up for your newsletter (pre-purchase stage)? Or, what could you communicate to someone who abandoned checkout yesterday (mid-purchase)? Maybe they have objections you haven’t addressed.
For each stage of the journey, identify these important messages and then map out the series of emails for each stage. We’ll dig into these sequences and provide examples of each momentarily.
Another way to consider this is to think about customer actions as triggers: “If a user completes a certain action, then we trigger a specific message to be sent to them.”
Here are a couple of examples using customer actions as triggers:
- Trigger: Site visitor signs up to your newsletter
- Automated sequence: A welcome series of three or more emails that tell more about the brand and offer an incentive for a first purchase.
- Trigger: Customer purchases for the first time.
- Automated sequence: A follow-up series of emails with tips for how to use this product and recommendations of other products they might love too.
Pro Tip: Start small and keep it simple! There are a few basic sequences that are important to get in place first. Then, you can monitor, optimize, and add to them over time. As these gain momentum, you’ll have more ideas to build automations unique to your customers’ needs.
Three automated sequences every brand needs
Every company’s email strategy is different, but there are three foundational automated sequences every ecommerce brand should use as a baseline. Brands that do not have these in place are likely leaving money on the table and, more importantly, missing out on opportunities to form fruitful relationships with their customers!
The goal of the pre-purchase email sequence is to nurture new contacts until they eventually make a purchase. These names are typically gathered from newsletter signups, but they could also be acquired from lead magnets, referrals, or events like trade shows.
Here’s what you could do with a simple four-email pre-purchase sequence:
- Explain the features and benefits of your product and/or brand
- Share your brand story, your “why” (because customers take action based on emotion)
- Identify and disarm potential objections to a purchase
- Provide an irresistible offer (great deal with urgency)
You could also use a pre-purchase email sequence if you use a pre-launch email signup prior to a new product release. In this case, all the emails in this sequence would be geared toward the specific new product or collection. The goal is to build anticipation and communicate urgency leading up to the launch date.
Check out this great first email in a welcome series from Wanderer Bracelets. We love the embedded video to learn more about the brand and the recommended products at the bottom.
One opportunity of a mid-purchase email sequence is to encourage the visitor to complete their purchase after abandoning checkout. This is typically called an abandoned cart sequence. With some store platforms, you’ll be able to email the user as soon as they add to cart but exit the site. However, it’s more likely that you’ll do this once they initiate the checkout process (entering their email along the way) but exiting before completing the purchase.
Two ways to follow up with your customers after they abandon checkout include:
- Reminding them of the product they left behind. It’s possible that the user simply stepped away and forgot to finish their order.
- Offering your best deal or discount to incentivize a completed purchase.
Here’s an example of an abandoned cart email we designed for one of our clients, Tend Dental. Notice how the brand voice comes through even in this type of email:
Take a look at this creative email from Warby Parker when we abandoned our cart. Notice how they address a common objection in the email:
Communication should not stop after a purchase has been made! This is when a post-purchase sequence comes into play, with the goal of continuing that customer relationship and eventually turning them into a raving fan. Encourage them to use the product, evangelize to their sphere of influence, and (of course) buy more.
The initial opportunity to communicate with your customers post-purchase is to keep them informed throughout the shipping process. This may not seem necessary, but it’s actually a huge opportunity to create fans of your brand.
Here are several ways you can keep the customer up-to-date during the shipping process:
- Celebrate or thank the customer for purchasing
- Notify that you are preparing their order
- Build anticipation with reminders of the features and benefits or with sneak peeks
- Provide education around how to get the most of their product
- Inform with simple shipping notifications and tracking options
- When it arrives, reach out with additional tips for use
Once customers have received their orders, continue to follow up with valuable content. These post-purchase emails might include:
- Tips or further education around use
- Reminders them to share feedback
- Requests for a product review or a testimonial video
- Discounts for their next purchase or to share with a friend or family member
- Recommendations for complementary or additional products they’re likely to enjoy
Note that if you have many different types of products, it’s helpful to create a different post-purchase sequence for each product type. This will allow you to communicate with customers specifically for the products they bought.
Take a look at two of the emails in Tend Dental’s post-purchase sequence below:
How do I know if my automated sequences are working?
The ultimate goal of automated email sequences is to build relationships with customers, turning them into brand fans. However, because that goal is a bit subjective, how do you know if your emails are a success?
Pay attention to a few key metrics when assessing the health of email flows, including:
- Open rate
- Clickthrough rate
- Number of unsubscribes
- Revenue per email
Of course, since each email in a series is a part of a bigger sequence, don’t just assess each in isolation. If you view them as a funnel instead, you’ll be able to identify specific areas of drop-off or changes in metrics compared to the sequence as a whole. If one step is out of line, that’s an indicator that you need to adjust something at that stage of the funnel.
The key to automated email sequences is to build, monitor and then tweak them. Similar to running an ad campaign, it’s not effective to simply build and then forget about it. Optimizing is the name of the game!
Ready to get started?
If you want to make the most of your email program as an owned channel, automated email flows are a must. These sequences are capable of building relationships, educating customers, and selling products with a relevant message for every customer— all the while, doing so at scale. Begin building trust with the names on your email list (and ultimately create brand fans) with automated sequences today!
Looking for more examples of automated email sequences and other essential email strategies in action? See how a comprehensive email strategy helped take Groove Life from brand new to generating over eight figures in under three years.
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