Shay Howe, VP of Design at ActiveCampaign, explains when we should start using automation, describes the role of email marketing in a product's onboarding process​, and shares his insights on how to grow your email list.

Shay Howe is VP of Design at ActiveCampaign, an integrated SaaS for email marketing, marketing automation, and small business CRM. He is also the co-founder of leadhonestlyco, which helps employers actively engage their employees with insightful questions and one-on-one meeting assistance.

Shay is a product leader with a design and engineering background. He specializes in product design, interface development, and organizational leadership, areas in which he regularly writes and speaks about.


When Should We Start Using Automation

The first step most small digital businesses, freelancers or agencies is email marketing. For example, sending their blog posts, activities, and events. When is the tipping point where we should also think about more sophisticated automation, that ActiveCampaign allows?

“From day one, honestly. The automation capabilities basically give you superpowers. The ability to take in a core business process and to begin automating it, it’s like having an extra employee without the desk, right? You can start to do things you’ve never been able to do, and or provide time to do things you’re more equipped and more capable of doing. You can use automation to augment what might be the mundane task that you have within your role or your job. I would start to think about that from the beginning, of how can you use automation to get your time back, to use it more effectively in other areas of your business.”

Can you give an example of this sort of starting point?

“For sure. Yeah. One of the easiest ones and one of the ones people pretty quickly recognize, say you run an ecommerce business, and someone is on your website and they put an item in the cart but don’t end up actually purchasing it or checking out, they abandoned the basket so to speak. Abandoned cart, email automation is a really big one, right? To say, Shay was interested in this pair of shoes, he put them in the cart but never actually made the purchase. Let’s email him and give him a coupon to get him to come back, to entice him to actually come back and make that purchase. That’s an easy one when you think about ecommerce, but you can do that across the board for anything.

So Elementor for example, could build automation to say, someone subscribes to our newsletter and we notice that they’re blogging, or excuse me, browsing certain categories of our blog. Maybe we should reach out to them and ask them if they have questions around how to create specific landing pages, or how to create a specific call-to-action, because that seems to be where their interest is. Likewise, if that same person then visits your pricing page, you might be able to say that they’re a more qualified buyer than those who aren’t. Right? Like they’re expressing some level of interest or actions and moving through your funnel. You can use automation to help to show and expose that, so then you can actually build a human connection or relationship from that too. So I think you can find the right ways to blend the automation and human touch around it. But those would be like two quick examples.”


The Role of Email Marketing in a Product's Onboarding Process

How significant is the role of email marketing in an onboarding process?

“I think it’s a big one. Getting people onboarding to your product is going to be one of the largest key indicators of how successful they are, and how long they retain with your product. The onboarding isn’t buttoned up or isn’t functioning well, the chance of them actually getting on board and becoming an active user of your products and if it currently follows, and as does the same chance of them being a customer a year later. So getting them onboard properly is big. Right? That’s something you definitely want to dig into.

I think a lot of that can be product-led, where the product is helping them actually engage and go through the onboarding. But you can use email to augment and pull people back to it. So if they fall off in a process, you can email, excuse me, you can use email to kind of entice them and pull them back in. You can also use email as a confirmation to say, ‘Hey, you took these actions, congratulations.’ Right? Like you’re actually making significant progress here.

So you can use it as a channel of reward. And you can also use it as a channel of education. So just say, ‘Hey, you did these things, here’s what’s next. Here’s what’s upcoming, here’s what you should be paying attention to or be aware of.’ I see email as an incredible companion into what that onboarding process can be.”


How to Keep Automation Simple yet Effective

One of the challenges designers face at the beginning is actually to not getting too confused about automation. It can get a bit complex, the structure of the automation and the number of emails. How do you keep it simple yet effective and personalized?

“That’s a great question. It can be difficult, and I think it can be intimidating, as you look at it as you start to get into it. Honestly, much like you’d approach any other project, start to break it down. So if you were to design a website, if you were to write a blog post, think about the outline of it, what is the structure of that, how are you going to get into it, how will you start to block and tackle certain sections of it?

One of the things I love to do and can encourage others to do when they’re getting automation, is just to think about what is that customer journey? Or what is the process you’re looking to help augment with automation? And just do it on a whiteboard. Do it with pen and paper, and from that circle look at and say like, ‘Okay, where can automation help or what would be the right moment to layer in some automation. Or where could automation help us build some process here?’

And then just scope there. Right? So start small and just build automation into that one piece or that one part, and then layer in additional automation as you want. But I would do so in a modular fashion, and or component-based system.

So I wouldn’t build one day of automation that does everything inside of your customer onboarding, for example, I’d have a few different automations that handle different parts of it. So as you dig into the ability to edit, monitor, and change those automations over time, you’re not stuck wondering how this big automation works itself. Right? You’re dealing more in tune with the individual automations within.”


How to Grow Your Email List?

Another great challenge is growing your email list. What things has Shay seen that work for his customers and for his own brand?

“Yeah, providing value. So people kind of intrinsically know… If you just have like a website and you’re like, ‘Hey, put it in your email and we’ll send you our newsletter.’ You can have to tell them what is the value of the newsletter. Do you have examples of that value with content on your website or on your blog? So giving something up in order to get their identification of an email address, is a big part of it.

So for us, we write a lot, we have blog posts that we’re putting out every single day. We’re thinking about the value added to our customers through that. What would we need to do that would earn their respect and allow them to basically identify themselves to us? So that’s been a big way.

Another side of that is like gated content to say, maybe we create an ebook or we have a webinar, could we use those as ways to identify someone and get them into our email nurturing sequences? Those work, and then honestly having really good emails. Like having a good value added content through your emails and allowing those to be forwarded and shared with others, is a great way to basically drive back more customers and get higher engagement on those lists too.

When you’re getting into it and thinking about how to grow your list, it would always be about thinking about how you’re adding value to the conversation, and giving far more than you’re taking through it. If you do that well, your list will continue to grow.”


How to Improve Your Emails Deliverability

Deliverability has always been a crucial topic. Essentially what it means is when an email successfully arrives in the person inbox, it’s not just enough to deliver it, but there are a few factors that actually have a lot of impact on this. We asked Shay to share some tips on how to improve deliverability:

“Deliverability is a big topic. There’s a lot you can dig into it. And one of the things you’ll notice is if say you switch like your email providers, right? So say you’re switching from one host to another, deliverability is like almost immediately one of the things people pay attention to quickly.

A lot of times to the respect of deliverability isn’t the same as it was with a different email service provider. A number of things go into that. So it could be the address from which the emails are sent, new IP behind that. So as you get into, as you want to think about your deliverability and how to improve it, one of the things that I would recommend and dig into is email and connect with like your highest engaged contacts first. Build out a segment, create an audience where you’ve seen historically really good interactions from opens, click-throughs, forwards, replies — areas where you get good engagement and email them first.

And do that for a couple of weeks honestly, that we’ll begin to build up a reputation for your emails as something that is highly valuable, that people appreciate and will engage with, and slowly start to expand that net of other contacts into that reach. Those contacts that might not be as engaged, but you still want to reach out to, still want to engage with and start to create some value for.

So I generally recommend starting small and expanding that out. Areas I would just completely avoid is, don’t email anyone who has actually hasn’t given you permission to do so. Right? Someone who hasn’t opted in. So just researching and dumping contacts into a list or buying a list is one of the quickest ways to ruin your reputation and significantly decrease your deliverability rates. So I would certainly stay away from those areas as well.”