A Guide to Setting Up Email Workflows

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Email marketing is a powerful way to nurture your leads and convert them into customers. Getting someone’s email address is a good start, but the steps you take after that are even more important! 45% of emails sent are spam, so it’s not surprising that people are less trusting as to who they actually give their email address to. 

When someone does trust you with their email, it’s up to you to build upon that initial trust and prove that you’re worth the space in their inbox! This is where creating effective and personalized email marketing workflows come in. 

What Is an Email Workflow?

A major component of marketing automation is email marketing. Rather than manually sending emails individually to your subscribers, you can use various email marketing platforms to easily and automatically send your list a series of emails at scale over a set period of time.

A content creator planning a workflow strategy

By automating emails, you can send personalized emails to every contact based on pre-defined triggers and actions you set up. Email workflows have varying names, depending on the software you use to create these workflows. Other common names include:

  • Email funnels
  • Email series
  • Autoresponder sequences
  • Welcome workflows
  • Drip campaign

The beauty of workflows is that there are countless ways to customize and tailor them for your business. For example, they can be as simple as sending the same set of emails to everyone on your list, regardless of the actions they take throughout the email funnel. 

On the other hand, you have the option to really customize your funnel to tailor the experience for every subscriber on your list. You can serve them different email content based on how they interact with each email in the series. 

The latter option requires more strategy, is more time-consuming to set up, and is much more technical. However, you can typically achieve more successful results because you are providing subscribers with content they actually want to receive. If creating a workflow like this is something you’re interested in, we can help with that

Why Should You Create Email Funnels?

Email workflows are a powerful tool, especially in the beginning stages of a lead’s life cycle of getting to know your company. While workflows can be used throughout every stage of a subscriber’s journey, we’re going to focus on the importance of building out these email funnels for new leads. 

The purpose of your welcome workflow is to establish a relationship with your contacts. While your new leads are at the top of the marketing funnel (also known as the ToFu stage), your goal should be focused primarily on engaging with them and providing them with a lot of value. This is not the time to ask them to sign up for a membership or pay for a product.

This is where you want to give to them, rather than ask for something. 

ToFu stage of an email marketing funnel

By creating email funnels for contacts in the ToFu stage, you can begin to do the following:

  • Stay top of mind with your subscribers
  • Establish your expertise in a certain field
  • Gain their trust
  • Build your audience
  • Give them relevant content they can engage with
  • Begin to move them one step closer to eventually buying your products or services

Here are 3 opportunities you can take advantage of to enter your contacts into a ToFu workflow:

Accessed Lead Magnet Offer

If you’ve created a free lead magnet landing page for your audience in which they needed to provide you with an email address to access, this is a perfect opportunity to utilize an email workflow. 

The first email in this series should include access to the freebie they signed up for (this might be an e-book, a video, or an interactive spreadsheet). In addition to this, use this as an opportunity to introduce yourself and your brand to the subscriber. 

This might be the very first email they’ve ever received from you, so it’s important to not only provide them with immediate value (such as the download link) but also let them know who you are and what they can expect to hear from you about in the future. 

Because the lead has signed up for a very specific piece of content, they’ve provided you with a huge advantage for you in knowing what they are interested in. What does this mean for you? 

Instead of guessing the type of content you should share in the following emails within the workflow, keep the content focused on what you know they like! This will help keep leads engaged with your material and continue opening up your emails. 

Signed Up for Blog Updates

If you’ve placed a focus on creating content for your blog, you can create an email workflow specifically dedicated to sharing blog posts with subscribers. On your blog, consider creating a pop-up or sidebar banner that allows people to subscribe to your blog. 

While this is not as targeted as a lead generation piece (since your blog likely covers a variety of topics), it does let you know that people are interested in reading your content. 

To create a more targeted workflow focused on blog updates, you can ask subscribers which content they are most interested in. Hubspot does a great job of this when signing up to receive blog updates. They let you select which topics you want to be informed about, and then they tailor their emails based on your response.

As you can see in the image below, Hubspot allows you to choose which of the 4 main topics you’re interested in learning more about.

Screenshot of Hubspot's blog update options

Interested in Receiving Your Newsletter

There’s a good chance people don’t come to your website eagerly anticipating to sign up for your newsletter. With all the other unopened mail in their inbox, why should they want to add another company’s email to their inbox? 

When you’re trying to encourage someone to sign up for a newsletter, it’s all about the way you present it to them. Are you simply asking them to sign up for weekly updates, or are you actually giving them an enticing reason to want to hear from you throughout the month?

Setting Up Email Workflows

Once you’ve determined the various ways that someone can enter into an email workflow, you need to build out the workflow. Taking time to fully think through a lead’s journey is incredibly important. You cannot just serve them a handful of emails and assume they’re going to trust your brand and want to continue learning more from you. 

The 6 basic steps to setting up your email series is to:

  1. Determine the goal
  2. Choose the content
  3. Pick the number of emails in the series
  4. Set the time frame between emails
  5. Select your triggers
  6. Build it out

Determine the Goal

This step is crucial! Before writing your emails, determine what the overall goal of the workflow is. If you skip this, you risk creating a series of emails that lack direction. This can cause your audience to lose interest in the content you’re sending, be confused why they’re getting certain emails from you, and ultimately, want to unsubscribe. 

Having a clear goal helps to keep you on track as you write the emails and ensure that every single email in the workflow is tied to the goal. If you write an email that does not relate to the goal or help to move your email series closer to the end goal, consider whether or not it should really be in your series.

Here are some examples of goals you might have:

  • Staying top of mind
  • Getting leads to engage with specific content
  • Moving people down the funnel

Staying Top of Mind 

Yes, the goal of your email funnel can be as simple as wanting to stay top of mind with your contacts! This doesn’t mean that you can serve them any content you want without a strategic plan, though. 

Throughout the duration of your funnel, you might want to serve your audience different topics and types of content to get an idea of what they respond best to, and from there, tailor each person’s experience to receive content they’re most interested in.

By providing content they actually care about, they are more likely to remember you when they’re in need of your product or service.

Getting Leads to a Engage With Specific Content

Oftentimes, the goal of workflows can be to encourage contacts to engage with specific content you have. This might be a certain blog post, a downloadable lead gen piece you have, or even a free trial of your product or service. 

Moving People Down the Marketing Funnel

Email marketing campaigns are commonly used for ToFu leads. These are leads who have expressed some interest in your company because they’ve provided you with an email address, but they are not ready to buy products or services you offer.  

With leads who are in this stage of the marketing funnel, it’s your job to entice and engage them with every single email you send. A common mistake is to want to pitch products and services too early, and this can turn off newly acquired leads (and potentially cause them to completely lose interest in your company). 

With ToFu content, help leads understand who you are, a background about your brand, and provide them with compelling content. This sets them up for successfully moving into the middle of the funnel, followed by the bottom of the funnel, where you would then deliver your sales pitch.

Advanced Tip: Re-engaging Inactive Leads

Up to 33% of the contacts on your list will likely never open an email from you. It sort of makes you wonder why they signed up for your emails at all, right? While it might seem harmless to keep sending them email after email, you need to stop doing this and evaluate whether or not they are worth being on your list. 

Continuously sending contacts emails that they never open can hurt your deliverability rates, but before you wipe them off your list entirely, try re-engaging them through a re-engagement campaign. Based on the activity they take (or don’t take) in this campaign can help you accurately determine who to remove from your email list.

Choose the Content

Once you’ve determined the goal of your series, you can begin working on the content plan for each email. The content is going to be directly tied with the overall goal, and it’s important that you make sure each email is relevant to this. If your emails stray from this, it can negatively affect your results and cause leads to unsubscribe. 

According to a study done by TechnologyAdvice, 48% of subscribers wish that the content within emails was more informative. Keep this in mind as you write your emails!

Here are some additional factors to think through when working on your email content:

  • Length of each email
  • Visual appearance
  • Number of links to include

Pick the Number of Emails to Include

There is quite a bit of strategy that goes into picking the right number of emails to include in workflows. Include too many, and people can grow annoyed about hearing so much from you. Include too few, and it might not be enough to foster a relationship with your contacts. 

Here are some recommendations for various email sequences you might create:

  • Welcome emails: 5-7
  • Email course: 5-10
  • Re-engagement campaign: 3-5
  • Blog subscription: 4-8 times per month

Set the Frequency Between Each Email

Determining the frequency between each email is the most important step of this process once you have the goal determined. 69% of people unsubscribe from emails sent from businesses specifically because they feel they receive too many from that company. 

When someone signs up to receive emails from you, your first email should be immediately of them doing so. If you wait too long to send this initial email, you risk them forgetting about your business and what they signed up to receive.

90% of your leads go cold in the first hour of them taking action on your site, so staying top of mind and acting quickly is crucial, especially in that first hour. 

Your first week of emails should be the heaviest touch point with contacts. This is also when you should manage their expectations for how often they will be hearing from you. If you’ll be popping into their inbox a couple times each week, a quick mention of that is good, just to manage their expectations.

You can even say something like “talk to you next week” or “be in touch soon” at the end of your email so that subscribers have an idea of when you’ll next be talking with them. 

Set Your Triggers

Setting triggers and actions throughout your workflow is a more advanced email workflow strategy; however, it can help increase the overall engagement in the series. The level of customization you have for your triggers will also be very dependent on the email platform you’re using. 

Setting triggers for an advanced email workflow strategy

Triggers allow you to personalize a subscriber’s journey even more as they move through your emails. For example, after you send a subscriber their first email, you could have a trigger that identifies whether or not they opened that email. If they don’t open your email after 7 days, your trigger could automatically resend that same email, just with a different subject line.

If they did open your first email, your trigger would recognize that and send them the second email of the series.

Triggers allow for a deeper level of personalization, making each contact have a unique experience with the emails they receive from you. 

Build Out the Workflow

Once you’ve completed the 5 previous steps, you’re ready to build your workflow in your preferred email platform. When you have the workflow fully set up, be sure to test it to ensure all of your emails, triggers, and actions work properly.

Create reports that allow you to monitor the results and progress of your workflow so you can evaluate its overall effectiveness and the areas you need to improve. 

Final Thoughts

Email workflows are an effective way to stay in touch with subscribers, build trust, and convert leads into customers. As you create various workflows for your business, remember to have focused and clear goals for each in order to be able to track the success of each funnel.

Photo of author

Jared Bauman

Jared Bauman is the Co-Founder of 201 Creative, and is a 20+ year entrepreneur who has started and sold several companies. He is the host of the popular Niche Pursuits podcast and a contributing author to Search Engine Land.