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When we first reviewed ActiveCampaign back in 2012 it was an underdog fighting the email marketing goliaths. Today, with 150,000+ small business customers it’s one of the most popular marketing automation platforms. 

Still, no marketing automation software is perfect.

In this ActiveCampaign review we’ll share ActiveCampaign’s pros and cons from our 10+ years experience using ActiveCampaign across our portfolio of ventures, as well as the experience of the ActiveCampaign users we interviewed as part of our annual email marketing guide research

You’ll see examples of automation sequences we use to scale our business, and learn the good and bad aspects of ActiveCampaign’s email builder, CRM, automations and more.  

Overview

Given there are 670+ email marketing tools, it’s interesting to reflect on how ActiveCampaign became one of the industry’s most-used platforms. 

Having tested many of these tools, my view is that ActiveCampaign is the most feature-rich and easy-to-use platform that’s also affordable. 

Of course, there are more feature-rich platforms out there (e.g. HubSpot) but they’re prohibitively expensive. There are easier-to-use and cheaper platforms (e.g. MailerLite and Benchmark) but their functionality is more limited. 

I’ve talked about this in more detail, as well as a visual walkthrough of ActiveCampaign’s platform in our latest setup tutorial video.

Pricing

ActiveCampaign starts at $9/month for 500 contacts. As with most email marketing automation tools, ActiveCampaign’s pricing grows as your list grows. We’ve outlined the cost for different list sizes in the table below. 

LitePlusProfessional
500 contacts$9$49$149
1,000 contacts$29$49$149
2,500 contacts$49$99$149
5,000 contacts$79$149$209
10,000 contacts$139$229$339
25,000 contacts$229$379$549
50,000 contacts$339CustomCustom
75,000 contacts$449CustomCustom

ActiveCampaign has four pricing tiers:

  • Lite This plan has a limit of one user and includes features for unlimited email marketing and marketing automation. This plan starts at $9/month.
  • Plus This plan has a limit of 3 users, and includes CRM, landing pages, eCommerce integrations and more advanced automation and reporting features. This plan starts at $49/month.
  • Professional This plan has a limit of 5 users and includes machine learning optimization features (we’ll review these later in the article), a Salesforce integration, attribution reporting and other advanced features. This plan starts at $149/month
  • Enterprise This plan has a limit of 10 users and features enterprise-grade security and compliance features like SSO, HIPAA support, custom mail servers and more. This plan is priced on a customized basis. 

Pros & Cons

We’ll explore the main features of ActiveCampaign’s platform in detail in the next section, but at a glance these are the main strengths and weaknesses of ActiveCampaign in comparison to other marketing automation software.

Pros

  • Visual automations – ActiveCampaign’s automation builder is one of the best we’ve used. It’s both easy to use, has 135+ triggers and actions, as well as 500+ pre-built automation recipes to fast-track automating your marketing and sales.
  • Guaranteed service – ActiveCampaign makes 22 guarantees around service and trust. These range from free migration and a 2-year price lock, to making guarantees around data privacy and deliverability.
  • Value for money – Starting at $9/month, ActiveCampaign is accessible for most budgets and good value considering the features offered.
  • Integrations – ActiveCampaign offers 900+ integrations, including deep native integrations with most CRM and eCommerce platforms like Salesforce and Shopify.
  • Easy to use – As you’ll see in the next section, ActiveCampaign is easy to use and takes very little time or training to use.
  • Optimization features – ActiveCampaign’s split testing and predictive optimization tools mean you can ‘set and forget’ your email marketing to self-optimize over time.

 Cons:

  • The CRM – ActiveCampaign’s CRM is great for small sales teams, but it is lacking in functionality for larger or more complex use cases.
  • Reporting – Reporting in ActiveCampaign is relatively dull and limited when compared to other platforms.

With these pros and cons covered, let’s take a deeper dive into ActiveCampaign’s platform. Feel free to jump ahead to one of the following sections if you’re interested in learning about a specific area:

Email Marketing 

ActiveCampaign’s email builder is one of the few we’ve used that’s as good for beginners as it is for advanced marketers. It’s drag and drop, auto-saving, and it just works. 

ActiveCampaign's visual email builder

But it’s not simplistic either. You can edit the HTML, insert content blocks that would usually require a developer (e.g. countdown timers, videos and eCommerce products), and split test almost anything you can think of.

One of my favourite things about ActiveCampaign is the ability to optimize your marketing with personalization and split testing.

For example, you can create conditional content to display different content to contacts based on any field (saving you from sending out lots of variations of the same email). For critical emails, you can even create variations of the content and let ActiveCampaign’s predictive content algorithm show the most-likely to convert content to each contact for you. 

When it comes to templates there are four options. You can choose from the 150+ pre-designed templates, use a basic template (i.e. a layout with no design), a past campaign, or start from scratch. For those looking to send emails that look personal, you can also choose between plain text and HTML. 

ActiveCampaign email template gallery

To help you improve deliverability, ActiveCampaign has a handy range of checks for spam filters, email client compatibility and you can preview how your email appears on different devices. 

When it comes to sending emails, one feature I like about ActiveCampaign is that you can segment who your email is sent to based not only on a contact’s list but on any condition – from whether they’ve visited a certain page on your website, to their geography, or based on company information.

Segmentation in ActiveCampaign

The segmentation options will of course depend on what information you collect about your contacts – which brings us onto the next part of ActiveCampaign’s platform.

CRM

Combining your email marketing software and CRM is one of the best decisions you can make when choosing a tool, as your CRM is generally the source of truth when it comes to information about your contacts. 

This provides invaluable opportunities to trigger emails when your leads change statuses, buy products, or take actions on your website. 

This is all achievable with ActiveCampaign’s CRM, which is built around an intuitive deal pipeline.

ActiveCampaign's CRM

When you click into any deal on your pipeline you can see the information about that company and the associated contacts. If you’ve installed site tracking, you’ll see every action they’ve taken on your website, as well as a history of interactions made with your email campaigns and automation sequences.

What a company looks like in ActiveCampaign

Contacts (i.e. people) have a similar view, though with more emphasis on the specific information you’ve captured about that person. It’s here that you can also see which lists, automations, and tags are applied to that contact. 

Contacts in ActiveCampaign

It’s also here where you’ll find lead scoring. This 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 one of our ventures 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.
Lead scores in ActiveCampaign

Setting up lead scoring in ActiveCampaign doesn’t take long 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 over time and more.

Our verdict on ActiveCampaign’s CRM

While the CRM is great for small teams, our experience with ActiveCampaign’s CRM has been that it tends to get a little bit cumbersome when you have a large number of deals and contacts. Where we’ve tried to collaborate with larger sales teams, they’ve often ended up using Salesforce instead and integrating this with ActiveCampaign to manage the automations in ActiveCampaign. 

On the whole though, this is more of a cautionary tale to set clear guidelines with your team on how to use tags, custom fields and other CRM data, rather than a specific critique of ActiveCampaign’s CRM. 

Marketing Automation

With 135+ triggers and actions to build your automation sequences from, ActiveCampaign’s automation builder is leaps and bounds beyond those offered by competitors like HubSpot and Mailchimp

It’s also the easiest automation builder we’ve used. In fact, new staff have been able to use ActiveCampaign in their first week with no training or onboarding needed. This is largely down to the flowchart style automation builder that’s visually self-explanatory. 

Split actions in an ActiveCampaign automation

If you’re just getting started, ActiveCampaign has over 500 pre-built automation recipes. These are particularly good for eCommerce businesses, as you can integrate your eCommerce platform (e.g. Shopify or WooCommerce) and use automation sequences that run when someone buys a product, abandons a checkout, or uses a discount code.

Triggers and actions

You can trigger an automation to start when almost anything changes to a contact or deal. While not exhaustive, these include when:

  • A contact submits a form, joins a list, visits a web page, opens/clicks an email, achieves a goal, has a tag added/removed, a field change or lead score updated. 
  • A deal in the CRM changes status, deal stage, value, owner or has a task added.
  • A conversion occurs, or a person abandons a cart.
  • A date arrives (useful for birthdays, contract renewals, and holiday promotions).

You can then build out your automation workflows with a combination of conditions and actions. Conditions tend to comprise mostly of “If/Else” rules, waits, and go-to’s, while actions broadly fall into three channels for communicating with your contacts – email, SMS, and site messages (notifications that appear on your website). 

Here’s an example of a SaaS onboarding sequence we built showing each of these steps. This sequence is triggered when a contact subscribes to a list. We then have a condition to wait until the time is 2pm on a weekday (when we have the highest open rates). We then send a series of educational emails on how to use the software.

A SaaS onboarding automation sequence example

Split testing

While email split testing is nothing new, few marketing automation tools allow you to split test paths of an automation sequence. ActiveCampaign was among the first to do this, and in my opinion it’s one of the best features in its platform.

This is because you can test hypotheses like “Does sending 10 emails vs. 5 emails, sending the emails over a week vs. a month, or combining SMS and email vs. just email improve your conversion rate?”

ActiveCampaign's automation builder

This also means that your automated email sequences can improve over time because you can set up unlimited split tests to refine your automation sequences while you focus elsewhere.

By running all of our emails as split tests, we’ve been able to increase the open rates of some of our key email campaigns by up to 300%.

Reporting

ActiveCampaign’s reports have always been a little too reminiscent of a dull powerpoint presentation for my liking, and there’s a lot of room to improve the data organization and visualization.

ActiveCampaign sales reports

With that said, reporting should be judged on whether or not it provides answers to questions, and how actionable the insights are. To be fair to ActiveCampaign, the data is actionable and insightful – thanks to Goals, integrations, and attribution. 

Goals

One action I didn’t cover in the section on marketing automation is goals.

In essence, you can trigger a goal being achieved in ActiveCampaign when a contact does something – whether that’s buying a product, completing an automation sequence, or opening an email. 

This enables the goal and conversion attribution report, which shows who’s achieved the goal, the conversion rate, touchpoints and, my favourite – time-to-completion. This means you can track how long, on average, it takes to get a lead to convert, buy a product, or anything else. This is a great metric to then try and reduce.

ActiveCampaign goals

One habit I recommend is ensuring every automation sequence you build has a goal. This allows you to see how all of your automation sequences are performing at a glance.

eCommerce revenue reporting

For eCommerce users, ActiveCampaign is able to integrate with your store and work out how much revenue is generated from your campaigns and automation sequences, enabling you to assign a clear ROI to every email campaign and automation.

Revenue attribution in ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign currently offers deep data integrations with BigCommerce, Shopify, WooCommerce, and Square.

Campaign reporting

ActiveCampaign also offer all of the standard reports for tracking campaign performance including list growth tracking, open/click through rate tracking, as well as reports to identify when your open rates are highest and how they vary by different mail clients. 

Our verdict on ActiveCampaign’s reporting

ActiveCampaign’s reporting can be summed up as function over form. You’ll find everything you need to optimize your email marketing, but just don’t expect them to look great. 

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Landing Pages

If you’re after a simple landing page builder to webinar, event or simple one-page microsite landing pages, ActiveCampaign’s landing page builder will do the trick. But if your needs are more complex then you’ll likely be better off using dedicated landing page software. 

ActiveCampaign landing page templates

While the landing page builder itself is easy and intuitive to use, it lacks any kind of advanced functionality for personalizing your pages. I’d say this is a missed opportunity for ActiveCampaign given they have an in-built CRM, but I’m not convinced that ActiveCampaign users are likely using this feature to build dozens of PPC landing pages or run their websites from here (as is sometimes the case with HubSpot users).

Instead, this area of ActiveCampaign is little more than a lightweight page builder for publishing simple landing pages without the need of a developer. 

ActiveCampaign's landing page builder

Forms

Forms play a crucial role in capturing leads to build your list. ActiveCampaign offers four types of forms – inline, floating bars, modals, and floating boxes. 

ActiveCampaign’s form builder is easy to use and offers a variety of ways to share and embed your forms – with the CSS and HTML fully editable to ensure it matches your website. 

One handy feature when designing forms is the ability to load a preview of the website URL the form is going to display on, so that you can match colours and ensure it looks good in situ.

Building a floating bar form in ActiveCampaign

Finally, If you use Zapier, you can also connect your ActiveCampaign forms to your other tools easily to ensure that your contact data gets piped to the right place. 

Customer Support

In ten years as a user, I’ve had to contact ActiveCampaign’s support a total of three times. Each time, someone based from the US has responded within 24 hours – with a solution. 

ActiveCampaign customer support email example

That is to say, while ActiveCampaign’s support is good – you probably won’t need to use it because they put so much emphasis on prevention and over cure. For example, you get access to:

  • ActiveCampaign University – a series of videos and guides to get started
  • Free 1-to-1 strategy sessions
  • A free migration service
  • In-person events and workshops
  • An active community forum, Slack community and Facebook group
  • A help center with a huge range of how-to guides

But if you do run into an issue, they do have phone, email and live chat support.

Still on the fence?

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. Otherwise, you might be interested in trying some of these alternatives.

ActiveCampaign alternatives

When friends and family have asked which email automation platform I’d recommend, there are only three instances where I’ve recommend a different tool to ActiveCampaign:

  1. If you’re an eCommerce business you may want to consider Klaviyo, which is dedicated solely to eCommerce email marketing.
  2. If you’re a B2B service business with high-value leads (and a decent budget) you may want to consider HubSpot
  3. If you’re a coach, trainer or educator looking to build out sales funnels with a membership site or gated content you may want to consider ClickFunnels.

As mentioned at the start of this review, ActiveCampaign is unique in that it’s easy-to-use, feature-rich and affordable. Most of ActiveCampaign’s competitors make a trade-off in at least one of these areas that make it difficult to whole-heartedly recommend. 

FAQ

What is ActiveCampaign?

ActiveCampaign is an all-in-one marketing and sales automation platform that combines a CRM, email marketing, automation, landing page builder and forms.

Is ActiveCampaign good?

Yes. ActiveCampaign is one of the highest-rated platforms among all of the automation software we’ve tested with 78% of users saying they are very satisfied. 

What is ActiveCampaign used for?

ActiveCampaign is used by marketing and sales teams to automatically communicate with their list of contacts via email, SMS and site messages.

Is ActiveCampaign compliant?

ActiveCampaign is compliant with some of the most stringent data protection and security regulations including GDPR, SOC 2, CCPA, and HIPAA. 

Is ActiveCampaign worth the cost?

Whether or not ActiveCampaign is worth the cost depends on your specific needs and budget. If you require advanced features such as customer segmentation, automation, and CRM integration, and are willing to pay for them, then ActiveCampaign may be worth the cost. If you have a smaller budget and only need basic email marketing capabilities, there may be more affordable options available.

Who is ActiveCampaign best for?

ActiveCampaign is suitable for businesses of all sizes, but it may be particularly well-suited for small to medium-sized businesses that require advanced email marketing features such as split testing, segmentation and automation. It is also a good option for businesses that are looking for a platform that integrates with a CRM system.

Why is ActiveCampaign better than Mailchimp?

It’s difficult to say definitively whether ActiveCampaign or Mailchimp is better, as both platforms have their own strengths and are suitable for different types of businesses. ActiveCampaign offers more advanced features such as customer segmentation and automation, and it also has a CRM system built in. Mailchimp is a more affordable option and is better suited for businesses with basic email marketing needs. It’s important to consider your specific needs and budget when deciding which platform is best for you. You can compare ActiveCampaign vs. Mailchimp head-to-head here.

Is ActiveCampaign easy to learn?

ActiveCampaign is a feature-rich email marketing platform, so there is a learning curve involved in getting the most out of the tool. However, the platform does offer a range of resources to help users get started, including documentation, video tutorials, and customer support. Many users find that ActiveCampaign is easy to learn once they have familiarised themselves with the platform’s features and workflows.

Marcus Taylor

Marcus Taylor

Marcus Taylor is the founder of Venture Harbour. He’s also an early-stage investor, advisor & the youngest Patron of The Prince's Trust.

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11 Comments

  • Jorick Sikkes says:

    Thanks Marcus for this extensive review. Lot of value here! In the beginning however I read who it is not suited just now in one of the comments I learned that it is better to use other software for e-commerce or SaaS. Are there any other examples of use cases in which it is not a good fit?

  • Matt Raskin says:

    This was super helpful!

    Thank you Marcus!

  • Linda Willis says:

    Hi Marcus,

    Thank you for this excellent article with so many detailed ideas about how one could use ActiveCampaigns.

    Reading it, I realized that you have a quite large staff. We are a 2 person online business. A consultant friend has told us we need to implement marketing automation to get users and to scale.

    Can a small home-based business such as ours handle something as complex (though intuitive) as ActiveCampaigns?

    Would appreciate hearing your thoughts.

    Thank you,

    Linda

    • Marcus Taylor says:

      Hey Linda,

      On the contrary, my team is currently six people. However, I feel like we’d be a 50+ person company if it wasn’t for all the automation 😆

      I would say that absolutely ActiveCampaign is right for a small team size. I started using ActiveCampaign when it was just myself and have grown with it. Compared to other good tools out there (such as Hubspot, Autopilot etc), the benefit with ActiveCampaign is that it remains quite affordable as you grow and has a good balance of power/ease of use/affordability.

      Most other tools only have two of those three ingredients. That doesn’t make them less good, it just makes them less suitable for all use cases, whereas ActiveCampaign is universally a very ‘safe’ tool regardless of use case.

      The only exception I’d say is perhaps for SaaS or eCommerce tools, where something like Autopilot/Omnisend would be a better fit.

  • James Persson says:

    Thank you Marcus for putting this together.

    Learnt quite a lot

  • Dan Hodgins says:

    Marcus, thank you for this detailed review of Active Campaign.

    You’ve shared a lot of value here.

    In particular, I enjoyed reading about your ideas for automating business functions outside of sales and marketing e.g. recruitment/hiring and accounts receivable.

    It’s clear that automation can be extremely valuable.

    I can’t wait to start applying some of the tactics you’ve shared here.

    Thanks again!

    Dan Hodgins

  • Ladislav says:

    Thank you very much for your very helpful article.
    I really like your way of structuring and automating whole marketing and sales process.

    One thing I am not sure, how do you exactly setup the scoring for cold lead, MQL and SQL.
    Would you mind sharing your insights on how you approach the scoring itself from strategic point of view?

    Thank you very much.

    • Marcus Taylor says:

      Hi Ladislav,

      From a strategic point of view, we just created a list of all of the criteria that we felt increase or decrease a lead’s propensity to convert across two axes: engagement and fit. The point system is weighted, so for example opening an email may add +1 point to their engagement score, whereas visiting our pricing page may add +3 points.

      From there, we set thresholds (e.g. if the fit score ever goes above 7 points, we consider that lead a ‘good fit’ and add a tag).

      This way, all leads fall into one of four quadrants:
      – Good Fit + Engaged (put into sales funnel)
      – Good fit + Not engaged (put into nurturing funnel)
      – Bad fit + engaged (disqualify + remove from lists)
      – Bad fit + not engaged (remove from lists)

      At a tactical level, this is all configured with tags and lead scoring inside ActiveCampaign and is 100% automated.

      Hope that helps!

  • Rebecca Caroe says:

    Marcus – I know you wrote this a while back, but it’s still great. Appreciate you taking the time.