How to segment your email list to boost engagement and sales

Vinay’s Note: According to a MailChimp study, segmented email list campaigns performed markedly better, with 14.28% higher open rates and 57.69% higher click-throughs than non-segmented campaigns. In this post, Christopher Gimmer provides us with list segmentation lessons learnt through experience with his SaaS company.

If you’re still sending email blasts to everyone on your email list, you should probably re-think your strategy when it comes to email marketing. In fact, you might already recognize that you have a problem.

In a recent episode of The Tropical MBA podcast, Dan and Ian (the hosts) had come to this exact realization.

They wanted to send an email to promote the last 20 tickets remaining for their upcoming conference. But their lack of segmentation meant that they couldn’t send the message to the right people. They had no way of identifying who had already purchased tickets and who were most likely to buy.

Their only option was to ‘spray & pray’. That is, sending 1 email to their entire list.

Fortunately, segmenting features have made their way into lightweight email marketing platforms that don’t require a team of engineers to instrument. As a marketer or business owner, you now have the power to segment your list properly and send relevant emails to your subscribers based on their actions.

In this post, I’ll walk you through some of the fundamental ways you should segment your email list and provide you with in-depth examples of how we do this at Snappa.

Why general broadcast messages must die

Before we dive into the different types of segments you should set up, it’s worth talking a little more about the ‘why’. Why is it so critical that you segment your list?

The most important reason is relevancy.

Someone who hasn’t signed up for your product is in a much different stage than someone who has. Similarly, someone who’s at the beginning of a trial has much different goals than someone who’s a paying customer. Wouldn’t it then be crazy to send all of these people the same emails?

By knowing who your subscribers are and what actions they’ve taken, you have the power to send them highly targeted emails that guide them through your funnel.

When Salesforce analyzed the impact of behavioral emails, they found that predictive intelligence caused a 22.66% lift in conversion rates.

Salesforce found that predictive intelligence caused a 22.66% lift in conversion rates. Click To Tweet

And not only can proper segmentation provide a big lift in conversion rates, it can also improve your email deliverability. That’s because when email service providers like Google are trying to decide whether to show your email in someone’s inbox or spam folder, they look at something called Engagement Score.

If you want to improve your Engagement Score, then you should aim for higher open rates and lower unsubscribe rates, both of which can be accomplished by sending the right message at the right time.

Now that we’ve covered the importance of segmenting your list, let’s discuss the 3 different segments you need to set up right away.

Blog subscribers / Marketing list

Not everyone on your email list is ready to buy your product or service. In fact, they may never be ready to buy your product or service. That’s okay!

With this segment of your email list, your number 1 goal is to educate your subscribers, not sell them. Until you educate them enough about your industry and the problem your solution is solving, there’s no point in trying to sell them.

One of the most popular articles on this blog, for example, is on how to speed up your WordPress site. Before reading this post, you might not have realized just how important website speed is and how many factors go into it. But once you’ve realized the importance of optimizing your WordPress site, you might then start to see the value that a service like WP Curve provides.

Alternatively, your blog subscribers may never need your product or service. But, they can still become part of your marketing. If blog subscribers are reading, commenting and sharing your articles, they’re extremely valuable to your business.

This is exactly why Alex Turnbull from Groove markets to the “wrong” people.

“Many people who read the Groove blog will never become Groove customers. We’re ok with that.” Click To Tweet

When people who do read the Groove blog end up becoming a customer, it normally takes a while before that happens. Here’s an example of how this might play out.

Groove user acquisition flow

Based on this example, you can see pretty quickly that it takes a lot of education and nurturing before someone is ready to buy.

Now, while you may have blog subscribers who are not ready to purchase, you may also have the opposite case – customers who don’t want to receive your blog content. It’s just as bad to send new blog posts to customers that don’t want that type of content.

When users sign up for Snappa, we give them the option to receive marketing tips (i.e. blog content). If they opt-in, we tag them as ‘Blog’ and we’ll send them helpful content. If not, then we’ll only send them product related information.

Snappa signup

We also go one step further…

If a new user signs up for our product, we don’t want to send them blog content right away. That’s because new users are added to a sequence that educates them on how to use our product. For the first week or two that they’re trying out Snappa, we want our emails to be focused on getting value from the product.

As a result, blog updates are only sent to people who are tagged ‘Blog’ and not subscribed to any of our onboarding sequences. Here’s what that looks like in Drip, our email marketing provider.

Blog content segment

Now that you’ve got your top-of-the-funnel marketing list setup, let’s move on to your trial users.

‘Trial’ users

When I say trial, I don’t just mean software. Someone who signs up for a free email course can be a trial user of your premium training course. Someone who signs up for a free consultation can be a trial user of your consulting service. But for the sake of this section, I’ll be focusing on software since that’s what we sell.

During the trial stage, you want to show your users how much better their lives will be with your product. Now is not the time to educate them about your industry. Instead, you want to educate them about your product.

If you’re familiar with onboarding, you may have heard about the ‘aha’ moment. It’s the moment when a trial user suddenly realizes the value that your product provides. It could be the day they sign up or 2 weeks into the trial. For this reason, it’s a big mistake to treat all of your trial users the same.

In our case, Snappa helps marketers and business owners create amazing designs without the help of a graphic designer. Therefore, the only way our users can get value from the product is if they actually create a design.

Naturally, the first few emails that we send them are focused on just that. Helping them figure out how to create images using our software. Here’s what our initial sequence looks like:

Snappa signed up campaign

Why do we send these specific emails? Well, when we compared non-engaged users to our power users, we found that those who added shapes and applied background effects were way more likely to become power users.

Snappa power users

As a result, we felt that it was extremely important to send these 2 emails at the start of the sequence.

Now here’s where things get a little more advanced…

If a trial user downloads or shares an image by the time they finish the initial sequence, we’ll move them to an ‘Activated’ campaign with additional tips on how to get value from Snappa. If they don’t, then we’ll move them to a ‘Rescue’ campaign where we offer them more help getting started.

It makes no sense to send advanced material to a user who’s struggling to complete the most important thing that your application does.

Here’s a simplified overview of how we guide our users based on key actions we want them to take.

Snappa email flow

Users can only graduate to Phase 2 if they’ve performed the critical action of downloading or sharing an image. And if they haven’t upgraded their account by the time they’ve finished the ‘Activated’ campaign, we try to upsell them to a Pro account.  

Notice that the trial user is getting extremely relevant emails depending on where they are in the trial sequence. Without proper segmentation, this would not be possible and the user would get emails that may or may not be relevant.

You can even take this a step further and send users 1-off emails if they haven’t performed certain actions. For example, Snappa integrates directly with Buffer and other social media platforms. So if they haven’t connected their social accounts, we can send them an email showing them how to do so.

This should give you some ideas on how you can segment your trial users and the types of emails you may want to send. Now let’s move on to 1 more critical segment…

Customers

When someone becomes a customer, then you never have to email them again right?

Wrong.

If you run a SaaS business, then you need to make sure that your customers are still getting value from your product on a monthly basis. If you run an eCommerce business, you’ll want to maximize repeat purchases. If you sell info products, you’ll want existing customers to buy your new course when you release it.

Customers are actually one of the most profitable and vital segments of your email list. You’ll want to keep them informed of new product updates, advanced features they haven’t tried yet and upsell them when it makes sense.

Customers are actually one of the most profitable and vital segments of your email list. Click To Tweet

In our case, we’ve even segmented our customers based on their billing subscription (monthly or annual). In a SaaS business, getting a year’s worth of payments up front greatly increases cash flow. So when a customer signs up for a monthly subscription, we add them to a campaign that will present them with an offer to switch to annual billing after they’ve been a customer for 3 months.

If we add a third tier to our product, then we’d have additional segments depending on which pricing tier they’re on. This would give us the opportunity to show users on the lower tier how great their lives would be if they upgraded to the top tier.

Depending on your business, you can segment your customers in a number of different ways. The important thing is that you still keep them in the loop and continue to present them with relevant offers.

Conclusion

After reading this post, I hope you’ve concluded that general broadcast messages are extremely ineffective. Instead, you’ll want to segment your list properly and send highly targeted emails based on user interactions.

By utilizing this approach, you’ll boost your engagement score and significantly improve your email deliverability. But more importantly, you’ll be able to craft highly targeted messages that move your subscribers through your sales funnel.

You do want more sales right?

About

Christopher Gimmer is the co-founder of Snappa - the easiest graphic design tool you'll ever use. You can follow him on Twitter @cgimmer.

16 responses to “How to segment your email list to boost engagement and sales”

  1. Hugh Culver says:

    Christopher, thanks for this. We have a small start-up and have yet to map out our sequences or segment at opt-in stage. Great road map for us – thanks!

  2. Thanks Hugh glad you found it helpful. Best of luck with your startup 🙂

  3. Summer Star Howard says:

    Great article, Christopher. What email service do you use to easily segment? I plan on sending an email out soon to my list to gauge what kind of content is relevant to them. My field is coaching individuals on relationships and divorce, so some on my list are dissatisfied with their relationship, some contemplating divorce, while others are establishing their new-normal after divorce…and not all articles are relevant to all of these situations. I use Mailchimp. Any advice on where to get info on the tech side of segmenting an already established list? Thanks a bunch!

  4. Kyle Gray says:

    Great post Chris! This is such an important part of email marketing and it is often overlooked. You can learn so much from your audience from segmenting. This is a fantastic resource for it.

  5. Nickmarquet says:

    Great article.

  6. Hi Summer, Christopher uses Drip as his email service. So do I. It is much more advanced (but not more complicated to use) than MailChimp.

  7. Great article. I just moved to Drip a couple months ago and love it! Just yesterday I was wondering how to exclude people from receiving my newsletter while they are still in one of the initial campaigns. Thanks for giving me the answer 🙂

  8. Summer Star Howard says:

    Thank you Yamile!!

  9. Ben McAdam says:

    Thanks for the article, Chris! Particularly the ‘trial users’ for non-SAAS businesses, and the example campaign flows.

    Great timing, too: we’re moving from MailChimp to Drip as our project in the 7 Day Startup Challenge this week, and this article is very helpful!

  10. Yup I use Drip 🙂

    You can do quite a bit of segmentation without writing any code at all.

  11. Awesome, glad it was helpful.

  12. Great move!

    I have a few saved segments which speeds things up when I want to exclude people from certain broadcast messages.

  13. Thanks Kyle. Keep up the great work on the WP Curve blog.

  14. Terrific article Christopher, thanks for keeping it simple and to the point.

    One question: Do you do something with the users tagged as “Dormant”? If yes what has worked for you?

    Thanks in advance!

  15. Sorry for the late reply Alex…

    At the moment not really but we may try some re-activation campaigns in the near future. It also helps us when we need to clean up our email list.

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