Successful Drip Email Campaigns: How to Pick the Best App, Add Advanced Automation and More

By Matthew Guay - Published February 16, 2015 -

You are reading: Chapter 8 of 12

You’ve built a great product, planned your marketing well, and have successfully launched it. There's a ton of people interested in your product, and you’ve even sold it to a handful of customers already. Now, it’s time to prompt those potential customers to buy, and make sure your new customers know everything they need about the product they just bought.

You could email each new person manually, but soon you'd be spending more time sending emails than building your product. That's why drip emails—also know as automated email campaigns, lifecycle emails or autoresponders—are such a great marketing tool. They let you write a series of emails once, then have them sent to every new contact automatically.

We've already looked at the basics of drip email marketing, and explored some of the best apps to send drip emails. Now, it’s time for you to select your drip app, set it up, integrate it with your other tools, and hone your drip strategy. Here's how.

  1. Find the Perfect Drip Email App
  2. Build Your Own Drip Tool
  3. Automate Your Drip Emails
  4. Hone Your Drip Strategy
  5. Use Drip Emails to do More
  6. Stay Human

Find the Perfect Drip Email App

"I chose Drip [app] after using a dozen other email platforms."- Elliott Kosmicki, entrepreneur

Sending a series of emails to your customers doesn’t have to be difficult. At a minimum, all you need from a drip email app is a way to make template emails that’ll be sent out on a schedule to your contacts. There are more advanced tools, as well—apps that will let you customize your drip emails based on contacts’ info, interests, and their interactions with your site. And, of course, there’s the marketing automation apps that can send drip email, manage your contacts in a CRM, and much more.

But you don’t have to start out with something advanced. You’ll send drip emails to your new contacts, primarily, so switching to a new service in the future wouldn’t be too difficult. That’s why StoreMapper founder Tyler Tringas recommends starting out with MailChimp before graduating to a more advanced drip email app—in his case, Intercom.

“If you want to start regularly emailing your users with announcements, you should use MailChimp,” says Tyler. But then, he continues, Intercom is “super powerful, but not worth the setup until your app really gets off the ground.” Now that his startup has grown, he’s using it to send automated lifecycle emails, drip campaigns, follow-up emails and more. They’re a powerful extension of a standard drip campaign, but perhaps too much to take on when you’re just getting started.

Intercom vs MailChimp
Power versus Simplicity (click to enlarge)

Your best bet is to find an app that looks like it has the features you want right now, and then give it a try to see how you like it. If you’re already using an email newsletter app, or a CRM that offers marketing automation, your best option might be to try out its drip features. Otherwise, look for an app that works well with the other apps you use. That’s what prompted the Influence & Co. team to choose Contactually: it works with Zapier, and so by extension integrates with the other apps they use.

It might take a few tries to find one that fits your needs, but there’s bound to be a drip app that meets your requirements and budget. Bright Learning marketer Lisa Renneisen found this after trying out a number of new drip apps and coming back to their original pick, Vision6. “Vision6 honestly remains my software of choice, largely due to the advanced functionality and features that it offers,” Lisa says.

Entrepreneur Elliot Kosmicki noted that he tried a dozen apps before he settled on Drip after it ended up being the perfect drip app for his work. “Drip, for me, is the perfect balance between full-blown (and expensive) marketing automation, and a basic email autoresponder,” says Elliot.

So open up our drip email app roundup , look through the options, and try a few of the apps that look most promising. One of them is likely to be the tool you’ve been waiting for.

Build Your Own Drip Tool

app dev

Or, there just might not be one absolutely perfect tool for your team’s needs. In that case, it’s time to build your own drip campaign app—and it doesn't even have to be that difficult.

The drip email apps post details how you can use Zapier to send drip emails from any app, and there's quite a few teams who are doing just that. Oval Business Solutions uses Podio forms for client inquires, but the app doesn't include a drip email tool. "This is where the ever-evolving box of tricks, Zapier, comes to the rescue," says Adrian, managing director at Oval Business Solutions. They use Zapier to send drip emails to these potential clients using a combination of Podio forms, Gmail and Zapier's delay trigger.

Zapier lets you tie as many apps together as you'd like, to make the perfect app setup for your team. The EviRental team, for example, uses their own app in Knack, a database tool, to gather leads, then uses Zapier to send the leads to Zoho CRM and send the contact an email in Mandrill, a transactional email app.

"Zapier filters the customers [from Knack] for specific criteria, sets an email delay and then sends all the information to Mandrill for delivery a week or so later," says Rick Maggio, EviRentals' marketing director. "We are able to get customer feedback in an automated and scalable way using Zapier, [and] we've been able to get the feedback we need to improve our users' experiences."

Or, perhaps you have an app that works great for managing your contacts, but isn't quite as great at sending emails. Then "making your own app" might turn into just combining the best features of two apps. That's why DeedGrabber's Rick Dawson uses Infusionsoft, but then supplements its email features with Mandrill. He wanted more control over his emails and their deliverability than Infusionsoft offered, so he set up a Zapier integration that lets him use Mandrill to send email instead.

"I can just apply a tag in Infusionsoft when I want an email to be sent, and when Zapier sees this, it tells the email provider to send that email," Rick says. "All the contact fields are available in Zapier to personalize the email too, which is great."

For the most customizable drip setups, though, you still might end up wanting to construct your own drip email app from the ground up. That's why we built our own Django Drip tool at Zapier. "We tried a bunch of drip email tools back in 2012, and found them a bit narrow on segmentation abilities," says Zapier CEO Wade Foster. "If you wanted to do any segmentation you had to replicate your user data in a third-party system which is both challenging and scary."

Django Drip
Some of Django Drip's segmentation features (click to enlarge)

So, the Zapier development team set out to make something better for their needs. “Django Drip lets us set up complex segments based on all the data we have about users in our database," says Wade. "Finding things like what apps a user uses, how much they've used it, and when they did certain actions are a breeze with Django Drip.” If you find yourself with similar needs, you might also find that building your own tool or using a customizable self-hosted tool like Django Drip is the best solution.

Automate Your Drip Emails

"Email automation is a must-have for my type of business. It takes time to set up, but it's a fantastic marketing approach."- Fard Johnmar, Founder of Enspektos

Drip emails are, by definition, automated emails. But you can automate far more than just your email sending schedule. With a bit of work, you can automatically find new contacts, add them to your drip emails, and even customize your drips based on your users' needs.

The most obvious way to add contacts to your drip email lists is via a sign-up form, but there are plenty of other ways, too. If you're selling products, your shopping cart may well be your best source of leads—and ideally, it'll add the lead's contact details directly to your drip app.

“If your shopping cart doesn't integrate with Drip make sure to set up Zapier," recommends WordPress developer David Hehenberger. "This way, you can track events such as 'made a purchase', 'refunded' or 'abandoned cart' (assuming your shopping cart can send these Triggers to Zapier)."

If your shopping cart doesn't work with Zapier, there still may be a way to get your customers automatically added to your drip email lists. One easy way is by using Zapier's email parser—which can copy data from any email you send it, including sales emails. Just have your email app forward the emails you receive after you make a sale, and Zapier can automate everything else. Elliott calls this his favorite feature in Zapier.

"When I sign up a client or make a sale, I simply forward the email to one of my parsers," Elliott explains. Then, "I let Zapier add the user to the correct Drip series, tag them as clients in Drip, add them to Google Contacts and Sendhub groups, as well as schedule a to-do on my task manager to call the person!" All of that, just from one email.

Events are another great source of leads. You could go around with a sign-up sheet and manually add people's emails to a list, but there's far better ways by integrating your drip list with event tools like Eventbrite or GoToWebinar. That's how Lisa Renneisen, marketer at Bright Learning, sends drip emails to their organization's event attendees.

"Eventbrite is brilliant for event registration, but I don't love their email formatting," says Lisa. "So by plugging in to Vision6 I can automatically populate the database and send wonderful emails that reflect my brand. It also allows me to do away with horrible data extraction and import tasks that everyone hates!”

Hone Your Drip Strategy

"We send Drips because it's a great way to engage with users based on specific things they do in our app."- Wade Foster, CEO of Zapier

You've poured your heart and soul—or at least countless hours—into creating your drip campaigns. Don't stop there. No matter how good your emails are right now, there's surely ways you can improve them.

One of the simplest ways to improve your drip emails is by A/B testing them. Many email apps will let you write two different subject lines and even email bodies, and then test to see which one performs better. Repeat that as much as you want to continuously perfect your emails.

But then, you can use your apps to improve your drip emails for each of your customers. Depending on your email app, you might be able to move contacts to a different list or send them a separate set of emails based on their interactions with your list. Rick Dawson does this with Infusionsoft with his drip emails at DeedGrabber. "Trackable links in Infusionsoft allow you to move people to different lists if they click on emails, and perform other actions on them," Rick explains.

Even if your app doesn't directly let you move contacts to another drip list based on events, there's likely another way to get it to work. For example, Elliott uses Gmail and Zapier to move contacts to a new list in Drip.

“I use Gmail tags to trigger Zapier to move a sales prospect from one list to another inside of Drip, or mark events and tag contacts in Drip," Elliott says. He then uses Drip's own features along with Zapier to customize drip emails based on contacts' interactions with his site. "Drip watches your web events, so I can also trigger actions through Zapier when a lead does something on my website. Then, through the Drip integration with Zapier, you can add a user at a specific point in a Drip email series."

Or, you can combine two drip tools to achieve something similar. The Enspektos team uses both MailChimp and Drip, the former to send email newsletters and the latter to send drip emails. They then use Zapier to automatically add contacts to drip email lists with bonus material in Drip based on their interactions with MailChimp email newsletters, such as clicking a link or forwarding the email. "These emails have reduced my churn rate significantly," says Enspektos founder Fard Johnmar. "People know that they are receiving secret bonus content and this makes them feel special (because they are)!"

Use Drip Emails to do More

"Be clever and think laterally. It's amazing what you can achieve if your just plan out your integrations carefully!"- Lisa Renneisen, marketer at Bright Learning

There's a number of common types of drip emails, from welcome emails and timed training courses to prompts to finish checking out or reminders about upcoming events. Beyond simply making the best possible traditional drip campaigns, though, there's a wide range of ways you can use drip emails.

For example, you could sell drip emails. No, really—instead of making a course and selling it as a download, you could sell a course and deliver the lessons as drip emails. Author Nathan Barry did just this in his recent 10 Days to Better Design project. "I set the product up in Gumroad, then linked it to ConvertKit through Zapier," wrote Nathan. "When a person buys the course, they’ll automatically get enrolled and start receiving the content they just purchased right away."

Drip emails can also be an easy way to make a self-paced course, whether paid or free. Author Paul Jarvis used Gumroad, MailChimp, and Zapier to make a self-paced course with his free "Write and Sell Your Damn Book", which you could get via email for free or download as an eBook.

"The course was about writing a book," explained Paul, "and some of the lessons were slightly onerous — like 'Write a first draft.' So, setting a fixed time delay wouldn’t work because some people complete things like that much more quickly than others." That's why he used MailChimp's autoresponder feature to only send the next email after readers clicked a button in the email they'd received. And if you'd like to make a similar self-paced course, but charge for it, he recommends charging via Gumroad, then using Zapier to send the customers to your email list.

Or, instead of sending stuff to help out your contacts, you could ask them for help. The Dotted Music team does this with their drip emails. Whenever anyone's added to their drip emails, the first email they receive asks them to fill out their profile. That helps the Dotted Music team market directly to their customers needs, and keeps people engaged right from the start.

Sometimes the help you need is actually something that'll help the customer out. For example, if your user's credit card expires, their subscription to your service will die—which means you'll lose revenue and they'll lose access to your app. A simple drip email, prompted by your billing service, can help you both. The Moonclerk team uses Stripe, Zapier, and Mandrill to accomplish this, reducing churn by 25% and saving hours each week.

You can even use your drip emails to attract new customers who've never heard of your brand, by getting your email recipients to share your emails and refer new users. Odds are, very few people will forward your drip emails unless you give them a reason to do so. That's why entrepreneur Sacha Greif added an incentive to drip emails for his startup Sidebar—if you forwarded the email and the recipient signed up, you'd both receive a free eBook or credit for Creative Market.

The setup was a bit more complicated than most drip emails. He had subscribers sign up via Wufoo, and the normal drip emails were sent via MailChimp. The trick is that the Wufoo form contains a hidden referral field that contains the email of the person who directed you to the form. That way, if you signed up after clicking a forwarded email, the form would now trigger Zapier to send the incentive in a new email via Mailgun.

And just that, you'd have drip emails that could help your startup go viral. Be sure to check Sacha's full tutorial if you'd like to set up something similar on your own, and think of unique ways that you can use your drip emails to do far more than you'd ever imagined.

Stay Human


"We don't automate communication. We automate the little things. That allows us to save time, in order to spend more time on communication."- Andrew Apanov, Founder of Dotted Music

Of course, all the automation in the world won't replace human touch. You can automatically add contacts to list where they'll receive automated emails—and that'll convert on its own many times—but there's plenty of times when people will have extra questions. Perhaps you could automate that, with some nifty scripts, but you're far better off to reply by hand to those inquires.

Many drip emails are written to sound personal, using your contacts' name and perhaps being signed with your team's names. That's great—but only if you really have people behind those emails.

"If you do decide to send out these personal emails, make sure you’re actually going to respond to each reply," suggests Dan Goldin, data scientist at TripleLift. "Otherwise you’re better off not sending that email in the first place."

Designer Brian Casel takes the personal touch even further—in addition to having drip emails automatically sent to people who fill out his Gravity Forms contact form, he also has Zapier send the data to Trello so his team can followup with a phone call or email. "The key component that makes this entire sales system work is not any app, or metric, or magic sales script," says Brian. "It’s the simple act of following up."

So use these tips to make the best drip emails you can, and automate as many of the tedious tasks as possible. Then, use the time you've freed up to add a personal touch to your communications, and you'll have an unbeatable email marketing strategy.


Sometimes you won't want a new app just to send your email messages. Perhaps you have your own in-house tools that can send emails, or you'd rather build a drip feature into your own software. Either way, you'll still need a service to send your messages, and for that, we'll look at the best transactional email services in the next chapter.

Or, if you're happy using a pre-made app to send your drip and newsletter emails, perhaps with one of the tools we just looked at, then you might want to jump ahead to chapter 10 to learn about ways to A/B test your email messages to make your email marketing more effective.

Go to Chapter 9!

Image credits: Water Droplet photo courtesy Nithya Ramanujam via Unsplash. App dev photo courtesy via Unsplash. Work photo courtesy Startup Stock Photos.


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