Our own Marketing Automation tool of choice and one that we use to drive hundreds of thousands in revenue with for my agency clients each month.

In my view it’s better to go through with linking a set of best-of breed marketing tools together than trying to constantly work around the weaknesses of “all-in-one” systems, and ActiveCampaign sits right at the centre of our toolkit.

By Stephen Pratley

  • Posted July 12, 2019

Okay, so ActiveCampaign is my tool of choice for email marketing work and I’m going to talk a little bit about why I came up with this choice, what I see the alternatives are, and why I’ve landed on this particular one, so that if you’re in a similar situation to me selling similar kind of products, hopefully you can see why I’ve chosen it, but also to understand the particular strengths and weaknesses of ActiveCampaign and the other products in the market.

Now, I’m going to start off by saying that ActiveCampaign is not the be and end all of all marketing activity. There are things which it does really well, there are things that are missing from it which do exist in other tools.

None of the tools I’m going to talk about are perfect, so I get very, very frustrated seeing people say, “Ooh, can somebody recommend an email marketing tool?” Say in a Facebook group, or a Linkedin group.

Then people just list out names of software products with absolutely no context of what the original person wanted to use it for and what their needs might be and giving absolutely no depth to their responses as to why they think their choice is the one that somebody else should be using.

I have to say it pisses me off if you are asking that kind of question and you’re not giving context about what you want to use it for, then start doing that, start telling people a bit about your business so they can give you a better answer.

If you’re providing advice without any kind of backstory at all, stop it right now, because it just makes you look stupid. Okay?

Here we go. Active campaign is part of a class of email marketing products called marketing automation systems. Now, it’s a phrase that banded about a lot, and a lot of tools that call themselves … That say that they do marketing automation really don’t. Let me explain what I understand by marketing automation.

Marketing automation is the ability to send out messages to people in response to actions that they’ve taken. In the very early days it would be somebody signs up to your email newsletter form and you send them out a welcome email straightaway. That’s the most basic one. Then it moved on to if somebody clicks on that email, they might get a different followup, and it’s now moved onto all sorts of other actions, so somebody visits a particular page on your website, somebody makes a purchase. It’s the ability to change the track that your prospect is on. Probably the most obvious example would be if somebody buys your product, you want to stop sending them promotional emails and start sending them [inaudible 00:03:22] emails to tell them how to get the best out of your product. That would be the most obvious one.

A tool which can’t do that, which can’t react and stop one chain of activity and start another one, is not an automation tool. MailChimp, Mailjet, all these companies that say they do automation, they can’t do that, and you should ignore them.
Now I’ve mentioned it, let’s get MailChimp out of the way. MailChimp is a great little tool. It was born in the days when people would send out email newsletters, broadcast emails, to all their list at once. It works very fast, it had some nice looking templates, it’s easy to use and it’s obviously free at the lower levels. You cannot do even the most basic welcome series with MailChimp unless you’re on one of the paid plans, and their pay plans get fairly expensive quite quickly. Okay? I would say that ActiveCampaign and the other tools I’ll discuss are your next move on from MailChimp if you … If you want to start automating your marketing, so to send out messages as soon as somebody signs up to your list and to change those messages as they go along.

Right, so other marketing automation tools. The two that you’ll come across within the, typically the small business market, are Infusionsoft and Entrepot and the some extent at the slightly more expensive end of the market is HubSpot. Infusionsoft and Entrepot are different from ActiveCampaign because they have a shopping cart built in, so you can have actual financial transactions that go on. That does make them much more powerful tools. You can get far better … You can react far better to things like purchases, if you have that transaction data, you can see how much your customers are worth. All these good things.

However that comes with a very heavy price tag and a lot of complexity. Both Infusionsoft and Entrepot have aspirations to be an all in one product. That means that you can build landing pages that you can send your ads to, you can do the followup emails. You can do the activities within the shopping cart, sales [inaudible 00:05:58], things like that, all in one tool.
Now, I was almost persuaded by this about a year ago, that this was the way to go with my business. I went along to the user group meetings of some Infusionsoft retailers and I met with some Entrepot guys, and I spent a long time hanging around the Facebook support groups. What I found is that people replace almost every single part of the tool, okay? Apart from the email marketing bit. They would use tools like Leadpages to do the landing pages. They would use tools like WooCommerce or SamCart to do the shopping cart and then integrate that back in. The idea of the all in one tool just doesn’t really seem to work very well at all.

I decided that it was far better to take a smaller tool that does what it does simply and well and then just use those other tools. For example using ActiveCampaign for my emails, using Leadpages or a WordPress site for my landing pages, and using [inaudible 00:07:25] or another shopping cart to take money and to look at my customers inside that other cart tool.
That’s really why I’ve ended up on ActiveCampaign. The other part is just simply the ease of use. It is so much easier to set up campaigns within ActiveCampaign and any of the other tools. It’s so much easier to see what’s going on. It’s so much easier to get some basic results back on your campaign performance. They’ve really gone very hard at making sure that they’re the best email marketing tool out of our collection of products and they are incredibly cheap to start with. For 500 contacts, their lite plan, which is all you really need to get started, is $9. I mean that is the price of two beers. Every month. It’s not per day or per week. That’s $9 a month. It’s an almost unnoticeable amount of money. Compared with, I think it’s something of the order of $300 a month, maybe more than that, for Infusionsoft with the e-commerce plugins, and something of the order of $2000 to get started with it, because it’s so complicated to get set up. That doesn’t cover an awful lot from what I’ve seen.
Cost is undoubtedly a part of it. The ease of use is another part. The third thing is how well the tool integrates with other marketing tools. If you’re going to be the best of breed in one area, then it’s essential that you can integrate with other tools.

For example, that all of the landing page builders like Instapage and Unbounce and Leadpages and the Thrive Content Builder, they all integrate with ActiveCampaign, most of them directly. It has one of the best Zapier … It has one of the best integrations with Zapier that I’ve seen. Too many tools say, “Oh yes, we integrate with Zapier,” and all you can do is when somebody puts their email address into one system, it pushes across to another one. You don’t get any of the other data across, purchase data, tagging, all that other stuff.

ActiveCampaign have really put a lot of work into their API and just about anything that you can do inside the tool, you can do with that. For people who are intending to put ActiveCampaign at the centre of a number of other systems, and you will need other systems as you grow, it’s a fantastic tool there. It’s very robust. The documentation is fantastic. Freelance is what I’ve pulled in to help me to do integrations because the other tool isn’t on Zapier. The feedback I’ve had from them is that their documentation is brilliant. They’ve been able to get on and do the job very easily indeed without … With good worked examples and all the rest of it.

Now, their commitment to being the best possible in email marketing means that there’s a few things in there which I’ve not seen in any other marketing tools at any price. A big part of that is testing. Now, I have a little course being built up at which includes doing split testing on emails, trying one email against another. The way that’s normally done is on broadcast emails. Say you’ve got a thousand people on your [inaudible 00:11:29], on your email list, you send out one version of an email to a hundred people, another version of an email to another hundred people, see which one gets the best kick through rates or sales or whatever you’re tracking and send that one to the other remaining 800, so that in total 900 people get the best version of that email and you make more money.

That’s the basics of how these things run. Now, none of the other tools offer any kind of testing when you’re inside an automated email. Automated emails are very different. Automated emails get sent out one at a time as that individual signs up or as that individual makes the purchase, so you haven’t got a whole bunch of emails going out at once that you can compare. Active campaign will split test those emails over the course of a period of time and I’ve not seen that anywhere else. It shows to me that they understand email marketing, they understand the features that actually drive performance, that make an impact on the bottom line, they’re not trying to be all things to all people, that they really understand email marketing. I’ve been very impressed.

Lastly is the support. I have had great experience with their support. Their support generally gets back to us very quickly. They have some live chat options and telephone options as well, which means that you can get hold of them in a real emergency. They have coverage for 24 hours. Given that I’m in the UK and ActiveCampaign is based in Chicago, that’s quite important to me so that I don’t start working on something first thing in the morning and I have to hang around until mid afternoon before a guy come on the support line. It’s in very good quality. The people that work on their support desk sound like either they’re developers or they certainly have access to the core product developers very quickly when they have questions. My questions are not the kind of, “Which button do I press?” type thing that most support guys get. My questions are about complex stuff like APIs and [inaudible 00:13:35] split testing and the stuff that a lot of people don’t even get into with the tool.

Just run through those again. Ease of use. Particularly not getting tied up in knots with a million tags like Infusionsoft does. The price is certainly an issue, and that will help a lot of smaller businesses get started and get started on a tool that will grow with them to seven and eight figure businesses that are working with the top end.

Their integration with other tools is absolutely second to none. Their concentration on email marketing and the skills involved in email marketing are features that are needed in email marketing to make more profit. And their support.

Five really solid reasons why I’ve gone with them and why I’ll for the foreseeable future. I’m absolutely certain that there are people for whom MailChimp is a great option, who don’t need all of those automated features. If your email list is relatively small and most of your marketing is broadcast campaigns and you need emails which are visually very appealing, then I think MailChimp is a great option for you. Likewise, if you really need all of your transaction data sat inside the very same tool as doing your email stuff, that you can’t interrogate that stuff through a cart or an add-on service like wiki-reports like I do, then something like Infusionsoft or entreport might also be the right option for you. If you have access to a full time developer or technical skill staff within your business who you can give the job of being in charge of your Infusionsoft or Entrepot tool, and making sure that’s run properly, then that’s probably for you.

I think if you are a smaller business and you are trying to keep your, the more expensive overhead, like developers, to a minimum, then that would be a reason for maybe not going with them. I can see that there are people who are very happy with Infusionsoft. I know they have some big name users. I think also that they are spread too thin and they don’t have excellence in any one particular part of the product in the way that I think ActiveCampaign do.

That’s my reason for using them. I hope it’s helpful for you, and if you have any questions then please bash then in the comments below or ask them in my Facebook group, The Conversion Confessional, and I’ll be more than happy to help out. I’ve used a lot of different email tools, from ones that I host myself on my own servers, the terrible tools that were around in the late 90’s, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’m constantly checking my campaign to a new products that come out to see if there are better alternatives out there. I haven’t found one yet and when I will, I’ll certainly make that public should that ever happen.

I take the technology end of marketing very seriously, I pay a lot of attention to it and I’ve been working in that area for a very long time so I think I’m probably one of the better people to make judgments about what scenarios ActiveCampaign is best for you in. I’m not saying that it’s a outright better tool than Infusionsoft or Entrepot or MailChimp. I just think there are scenarios when you are selling products online where you need a more personalised emails going out that MailChimp will do, but that you also need best of breed tools to link up with it. I think that’s where its sweet spot is and that’s why I recommend it to the majority of the kind of clients that I work with.

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