When we conducted our study on the best email marketing & automation platforms, we spend hundreds of hours evaluatingd 100+ different platforms; ActiveCampaign came out #1.
Back in 2016, we decided to move all of our ventures onto ActiveCampaign (away from GetResponse, who we were failing to keep up with our needs).
Back then, ActiveCampaign were the underdog. Today, they’re the fastest-growing all-in-one sales & marketing platform with over 90,000 small business customers.
Unlike most reviews you’ll read of ActiveCampaign, which regurgitate facts and figures from the ActiveCampaign website, this review is a little different.
Here I’ll show you how we use ActiveCampaign with 20+ use cases, so you can see for yourself how the platform looks, what its limitations are, and how it could help your company convert more leads into customers.
And as a little extra, we’ve negotiated on your behalf for Venture Harbour readers to get up to $5,000 in free services, including free implementation and migration, your second month free of charge, free CRM with sales automation, and more.
What’s in this guide?
The article is split into six sections – feel free to click the link to get to them:
- Sales funnels, CRM & lead scoring – This section includes how to use deal pipelines and lead scoring in ActiveCampaign to put your leads into different ‘buckets’.
- Marketing automation & lead nurturing – The short, mid and long-term automation workflows we use to nurture leads into paying customers for our sites. Email marketing hacks to boost your open & click-through rates.
- Customer success, NPS & client account management – How our customer success team uses ActiveCampaign to collect Net Promoter Score (NPS) data, check-in with customers, and ensure client accounts are healthy.
- Weird and wonderful – See how we’ve experimented with automating aspects of our recruitment process, employee onboarding & accounting using ActiveCampaign.
Why ActiveCampaign is awesome
When I started Venture Harbour, we had no CRM system for two years. It wasn’t due to lack of trying – We had tried Pipedrive, Salesforce, Zoho and several others. But they all required so much manual effort to keep them up to date.
After getting my ass kicked by a friend for not having a CRM system, I turned to my Twitter followers to suggest which CRM to use.
While I did receive several good suggestions, none of them was a good fit. CRMs and Venture Harbour just didn’t seem to mix.
Then, a couple of months later, I came across ActiveCampaign while researching marketing automation vendors. I signed up for a trial and saw that ActiveCampaign also had a built-in CRM, but with a difference.
Unlike other CRMs we had tried, ActiveCampaign’s CRM could be almost entirely automated using rules and workflows…now we’re talking.
We signed up for ActiveCampaign about three years ago. Since then, we’ve moved all eight of our ventures over to their service. Here are some of the ways we’re using it.
Systemising sales funnels, CRM & lead scoring
One of my favourite things about ActiveCampaign is their deal pipelines. If you’re familiar with agile or have used ‘kanban boards’ in the past, these will be familiar. ActiveCampaign’s deal pipelines are basically just applying agile to sales.
1. Break your sales funnel into stages
Building a deal pipeline in ActiveCampaign forces you to break your entire sales cycle into a series of steps. Rather than viewing sales a messy and unpredictable beast, you can start to visualise the stages that your deals must go through in order to reach completion.
For Leadformly (the software we created for building conversion-optimised lead capture forms), we break our sales funnel into five stages – from cold leads to paying users.
2. Create a deal pipeline for each customer segment
It may not make sense to put all of your deals on the same pipeline. After all, if you serve enterprise and small business clients, these deals will probably vary so much that any report on average deal size or average time to close will be skewed.
Thankfully, ActiveCampaign allows you to build as many deal pipelines as you like, so you can just build different pipelines for your various audience segments.
For Leadformly, we have four pipelines; Enterprise leads, startup leads, agency leads, and SMB leads. This makes it easy to quickly view all of our leads in each category and to compare reports.
3. Leave no leads hanging
Rumour has it that Salesforce.com had a rule where if a salesperson ended the day with any of their leads not having a task assigned to them, that salesperson would be fired.
Tasks ensure that you know when you will next follow-up with every single lead in your database.
In ActiveCampaign, you can easily see if any leads do not have a task assigned to them. While Salesforce’s approach may be a bit extreme (and illegal in some countries), you can still train your sales team to ensure that every lead always has a task assigned.
4. Assign deals
Have multiple salespeople? ActiveCampaign makes auto-assigning deals to different sales people easy. You can assign deals based on value, a round-robin approach, or you can setup your own automation rules to assign deals to people based on other criteria e.g. geographic location or lead type.
5. Lead scoring
Lead scoring is one of those features that can make or break your entire sales process. When it’s set up correctly, it creates clarity around which leads your people should focus on and how good a job your marketing team is doing at nurturing cold leads into warm leads.
For Leadformly, we use lead scoring to determine whether a lead is cold, marketing qualified, or sales qualified. We also use it to measure the health of existing customers.
- Cold lead (has a lead score below 7 points)
- MQL (has a lead score between 7-14 points) – We apply points when people register for our webinars, visit key pages on our site, and engage with our emails. The purpose of this is to separate engaged leads from unengaged leads.
- SQL (has a lead score above 14 points) – We use the BANT (budget, authority, need, timeframe) methodology for this. Once we know all four of these criteria and they’ve above our agreed thresholds, the lead is considered sales qualified.
Setting up lead scoring in ActiveCampaign is extremely easy and makes it much easier to set clear KPIs for marketing and sales. You can also identify whether the % of leads that you’re converting into marketing-qualified or sales-qualified leads is increasing or decreasing, and much more.
ActiveCampaign has one of the most visual and intuitive marketing automation builders I’ve come across. In fact, it’s so intuitive that almost everyone in our company has built an automation sequence in ActiveCampaign with virtually no training.
If you’re new to ActiveCampaign’s marketing automation builder, it looks like this:
Here are some of the ways we’re using marketing automation to systemise our lead nurturing and marketing campaigns.
6. Short-term and long-term nurturing sequences
At Venture Harbour, we used to have one big lead nurturing sequence that initially may educate leads on a daily basis but gradually becomes less frequent as the lead gets colder.
We’ve since found it more manageable to break lead nurturing into a short 2-4 week sequence and then a long-term nurturing sequence that leads are added to when they complete the short-term sequence.
The short-term nurturing sequences are primarily educational in nature, making leads aware of relevant blog posts, webinars, interviews and other resources we’ve put together that help them develop their knowledge while positioning our ventures as authorities. We highly segment these to make them as relevant as possible for the different types of leads that enter our marketing funnel.
The long-term nurturing sequences are more about checking in with leads after certain intervals (e.g. 3 months, 6 months, 12 months), or when a certain behaviour indicates they may be thinking about our solution again (e.g. if they visit our website).
It’s worth noting here that the goal of these nurturing sequences is not to convert leads into sales, but instead to convert leads into marketing qualified leads and then sales qualified leads based on our lead scoring system. This helps us separate the leads worth speaking with from those that are currently too cold.
7. Use goals & automation split tests to refine email sequences
In 2016, ActiveCampaign announced a feature that I had been waiting for since 2014 – email automation split testing.
While email split testing is nothing new, very few marketing automation tools allow you to split test emails that are a part of an automation sequence. ActiveCampaign is among the first to do this well.
Theoretically, this means that your automated email sequences can only get better over time because you can setup unlimited split tests to refine your emails over time as you capture more data.
While this feature is quite new, we’ve already managed to increase the open rates of some of our key email campaigns by up to 300%.
8. Use reports to identify when you get highest open rates, then update the time your emails are sent out
One quick win that boosted our overall email marketing performance by 10-15% was using ActiveCampaign’s open rate report to identify which days and hours our emails were getting the highest open rates.
We then used this information to add ‘waits’ in our marketing automation sequences so that important emails were sent on Tuesdays at 10 am when our open rates were up to 4X higher than average.
9. Use goals to identify the time it takes someone to do something (e.g. visit to purchase time)
When we first launched Leadformly, we spent days trying to build a system for measuring the time between learning about Leadformly and becoming a paid user. We hacked something together with Zapier, Google Analytics & Google Sheets, but it was far from sophisticated.
Then, at the end of last year, ActiveCampaign announced goals – and my jaw dropped.
This meant that ActiveCampaign could now tell you the average time it took someone to reach a certain point in an automation sequence. So we built an automation sequence that triggered when someone signed up for Leadformly and then fired a goal when they became a paid customer.
As you can see, ActiveCampaign not only tells you the average completion time but also the completion rate. You could use this to identify the % and time taken for a customer to leave a review, the % and time taken for a customer to upgrade or buy a new product. The possibilities are endless.
10. Use conditional content to make your emails hyper-personalised
One tactic we’ve experimented with a lot is using data captured from our Leadformly form to personalise the content in our ActiveCampaign emails using ActiveCampaign’s conditional content feature. Basically, this allows you to personalise the content in your email campaigns using rules like ‘If contact’s organisation type = agency, display X, otherwise display Y’.
Here’s an example of a fully-automated email we send out using conditional content.
This email gets a 44% response rate, which is pretty incredible for an automated email. I suspect the reason is because it sounds natural and includes enough personalisation (it references that they’re running an agency) that people suspect it’s been written manually.
We’ve even received a lot of praise from people who’ve identified that it is automated, but are still impressed!
11. Send the same email with a different subject line to people that didn’t open your first email
If you want to increase your email campaign engagement by 10-20%, just send all of your emails twice, but the second time around only send the email to the segment of people that didn’t open it the first time round.
This means that everyone who didn’t open your first email due to bad timing will now get to see it. While the open rate won’t be as high as the first campaign, it’s still going to be opened by some of your list who wouldn’t have otherwise seen it.
12. Send follow-up emails to people that open emails but don’t engage with your offer
If someone opens your email but doesn’t click through to your offer it means that they were intrigued by your subject line, but the offer wasn’t quite right for them.
In ActiveCampaign, you could create a follow-up campaign for these people either asking them what wasn’t attractive – or offering something else that might be more suitable for them.
13. Use in-email surveys to get personalised feedback
One of our most responded-to email campaigns is a simple email that we send to everyone who attends a Leadformly webinar but doesn’t sign up for an account. It looks like this:
If someone clicks ‘Yes – but I have a question’ or ‘No’ it opens up an email addressed to me with the pre-filled text ‘Hi Marcus, I’m not ready to use Leadformly because…’. We receive hundreds of emails every month from customers like the one below telling us what’s stopping them from signing up, which is an extremely valuable source of feedback.
When we first started investing in tools for our customer success team at Leadformly, we tried Intercom, Drift, Promoter.io, and several others. After several months we realised that most of the functionality we were using in those tools could be replaced by ActiveCampaign.
Here are some of the ways we’re using ActiveCampaign for customer success.
14. Using deal pipelines to manage client onboarding
To quickly see where our new clients are in the onboarding process, we use ActiveCampaign’s deal pipeline functionality. While it’s meant to be used for managing sales pipelines it works well work managing any process that has a clear set of steps – like onboarding.
We’ve created automation sequences to automatically move clients between different steps of this pipeline based on what pages they visit or events they fire from within the Leadformly application. That way our CSMs don’t need to worry about manually updating which column each client should be moved into.
15. Collecting Net Promoter Score
I have to admit, collecting NPS scores in ActiveCampaign is not easy. We had previously used Promoter.io to collect NPS, which is (in theory) a plug and play solution. We struggled a lot with their service, which was one of the reasons for centralising it in ActiveCampaign.
Rather than explaining how we set it up here, I’d recommend reading brilliant article that ActiveCampaign published, which we followed to collect and automate NPS collection.
We then took this one step further and built an ‘NPS pipeline’ so that we can visually see which customers are detractors, passives, promoters, or yet to respond to an NPS survey.
16. Automated client onboarding & training
In order to educate our clients and make them successful as quickly as possible, we put all of our customers into a 7-day onboarding sequence, which drip feeds a series of tutorials, videos, and white papers that they can use to learn our software and get better results from their lead capture forms.
This automation sequence takes some strain off of our support team, as it means that we can answer questions in these tutorials that may have otherwise become support tickets/emails. This also helps our clients get better results from their forms.
17. Automated client cancellation sequences
When someone cancels their account or requests a refund for our ventures, it’s important that we learn what caused this.
In ActiveCampaign, we automatically trigger a sequence that asks the customer what made them leave, and then adds/removes them from the correct lists and sequences.
It’s simple but is one less thing that our customer success team need to think about.
The weird and wonderful
While marketing automation is primarily designed for trigger marketing and sales emails, there’s no reason why you can’t use it to streamline other areas of your company. Below are some of the ways we’ve used ActiveCampaign to automate aspects of HR, finance, and employee training.
18. Automate employee onboarding
When a new employee joins Venture Harbour, an automated email sequence is triggered that drip feeds information on how we doing things at Venture Harbour and why.
This ensures that all new employees have a consistent onboarding experience, and are aligned with the company’s bigger picture vision and goals. We can also constantly fine-tune the information we share with new employees to make their first few weeks as good as possible.
While unconventional, using marketing automation to streamline our new employee onboarding has made this process a lot easier.
19. Automatically filter out bad job applicants
We don’t read CVs at Venture Harbour. Instead, we ask all candidates that apply for a job from our website to complete a short quiz that tells us more about them and how they solve problems.
About half of the people who apply complete this quiz, which immediately rules out 50% of bad-fit candidates. At the end of the day, if you’re not willing to complete a 10-minute quiz to be considered for a role at Venture Harbour, you’re definitely not the right fit.
It also gives us a lot of insightful information about candidates. For example, one of our values at Venture Harbour is to never stop learning, so in our quiz we ask ‘What are the last three nonfiction books you read?’. This is perhaps one of the most insightful questions, as the books a person reads reveal a lot about them as a person.
This quiz is sent through a marketing automation sequence, which frees up hours of emailing back and forth with potential candidates, and ensures that we only consider the very best applicants to come in for an interview.
20. Automate the emails you hate sending
I used to hate chasing up invoices. While the majority of our clients paid their invoices on time, there were always a few that needed a nudge or two.
One day I decided to remove myself from the equation and create an automation sequence that automatically follows up on unpaid invoices. By sending the email from a ‘noreply@’ email address rather than my personal email address it depersonalised the message and came across more as an alert rather than a person asking for an invoice to be paid.
Not only was it just as effective as me emailing them, it meant I could stop sending an email that I hated sending – and it saved me time!
Thinking of using ActiveCampaign?
There are few tools that I wholeheartedly recommend on a daily basis, but ActiveCampaign is one of them. If you’re still on the fence – they offer a 14-day free trial, which I’d recommend giving a try. If your experience is anything like ours, you won’t be disappointed.