I want to preface by saying that every automated email tool has it’s pros and cons.
To me, the important thing is to actually set up an automated email system and use it.
Even if you my least favorite automation tool, MailChimp, that’s fine. As long as you’re collecting data and sending messages, you’re ahead of almost everyone else.
That said, below, you’ll see my notes on Intercom’s Acquire, ActiveCampaign, Autopilot, Drip and MailChimp. These notes are a shortened version of six months testing and usage.
Intercom’s Acquire has amazing conversion rates, since it’s perfectly placed and is basically a live chat. I’ve seen a variety of Acquire setups, and lately, I’ve found them to be a great way to contact company founders and notify them of an issue. They’re a superb replacement for the traditional contact form.
Pricing, though, is an issue. Acquire is at least $50/month, and that doesn’t even get you automated email. That’s extra (Intercom calls their automated email product Engage), so you’re looking at $120 to combine the two. I wish they’d just combine everything into one package.
ActiveCampaign is pretty sweet. Plus, their automation education library is top-notch. That said, they don’t have on-page widgets like Drip or Autopilot, and you have to pay quite a bit extra to activate their CRM functionality.
I say: a) What’s the point of this software without lead management and, b) I hate it when a primary function is treated like an addon. Otherwise, ActiveCampaign is solid software that I suspect will give up their functionality tiers in the future and move to a much simpler usage-based pricing.
Autopilot is the new kid on the block. They offer on and off-site automation. Their new tool is called Headsup. It isn’t a livechat like Acquire, but it is a highly personalized popup that can offer downloads or other CTAs, similar to Drip.
In time, Headsup may turn out to be a better lead gen tool than Drip, but right now, Headsup is only for users or visitors who have already filled out a form. To me, this is a wasted opportunity, and I harangue Autopilot regularly to petition changing this to target non-cookied visitors, too :p
That said, if you already have the visitor in your database, Autopilot still has the best-in-class on-page and email targeting system. Their customer journey drag and drop interface can be as simple or as complex as you need it.
And besides on-site and emails, Autopilot also hooks into lots of other third-party tools, like SMS and postcards, to deliver very timely, very targeted and very unique messages (and gifts).
Right now, no other autoresponder has out-of the box lead-collection like Drip. Their toaster popup widget is ubiquitous on so many marketers’ websites.
The only problems with Drip are that a) it doesn’t iterate much, and b) Drip doesn’t offer targeted on-page messaging (without manually creating extra forms, plus maybe running page A/B variations). There’s no Drip roadmap, either, so you have no idea if a feature will ever come.
Still, Drip is as good of a tool as you could use today for both lead collection and autoresponders. It’s also easy to find a 2-3 month trial for the service, while the other tools tend to offer only 14-day trials.
MailChimp is just a pain-in-the-ass to use. By the time you set up a campaign, you’ll find out that some required autoresponder feature is missing, and by that time you’ve wasted your day.
MailChimp is clearly still a newsletter tool, and automation seems like an afterthought. My opinion: They would have been better off starting from scratch, similar to the way they segregated their transactional email tool, Mandrill.
Your automation tool should be able to speak to your website and your ecommerce platform. Not only should you be sending out emails based on time, but also on activity.
Speaking of activity, I hate that so many of these services charge per stored email address. How does an email address that sits idle affect their billing rates?
If I had my druthers, I’d prefer something more like Amazon services that charges you per MB or at least per message sent. Charging me per contact is just egregious, especially when I might be importing a list from elsewhere, and I’ve yet to trim it.
Finally, besides the above pro-sumer tools, there are other enterprise automated email tools, such as Hubspot, Infusionsoft and Marketo.
I don’t know much about these guys, but a lot of people use them. My feeling is that the pro-sumer tools are borrowing the more expensive tools’ functionality piece by piece. Because of this, the enterprise tools have lost a lot of their selling points over the last few years.
Regardless: Whatever tool gets you publishing and automating your customer contact is a good tool. These days, you don’t have to spend $2000/month on software to have a successful automation campaign.
Chances are, $100/month should set you on the right path.