What is Email Automation? Email Marketing Guide

There's no question that email marketing is effective — it can deliver a ROI of up to 4200%, and it is six times more effective than tweeting for attracting clicks.

Sending marketing emails manually will prevent you from realizing the full potential of email marketing, however. It’s a massive time suck, and email open rates vary widely depending on factors ranging from when an email is received to whether the email is personalized or not. If you distribute email manually, you may not always be available to click "send" at the ideal time to engage your audience. You also likely don't have the time to customize the subject line or body of each email for every recipient in your send list.

By automating the distribution of emails, you save your team a tremendous amount of time and effort while also maximizing your ability to reach potential customers at the right moments. This article explains how email automation works, why it's beneficial, and how to make it a part of your marketing strategy.


What is Email Automation?

Email automation, or email marketing automation, is the process of automatically sending emails to multiple recipients, tracking data about email engagement, and customizing the content of emails for each prospect. It helps ensure that each recipient receives the right message at the right time, which drives engagement and ultimately leads to conversion.

Email automation should be integrated with other marketing and sales tools for best results. By integrating with customer relationship management (CRM) software that keeps track of customer data and preferences, you can automatically personalize the contents of email messages based on relevant data, such as a customer's purchasing history. You can also integrate email automation with marketing analytics tools to track things like which recipients opened an email and which clicked on links inside it. These integrations and features go far beyond what you can obtain by simply automating sending messages.

Email Marketing Automation in Practice

Consider a marketing team that needs to engage a group of leads spread over multiple time zones. With email automation, the team can schedule emails so that recipients in each time zone receive them at a time of day when they are most likely to open them. In addition, the team can personalize the content of each message by including the recipient's name in the subject line, as well as by mentioning a local event in the body, based on the region in which each recipient is located.


Benefits of Email Automation

Email automation enables a variety of opportunities that would not be available when sending emails manually:

  • Scalability: When email marketing is automated, you can use it to reach a thousand prospects just as easily as you can a dozen.
  • Great ROI: Email automation makes it easy to take advantage of the tremendous ROI that is available through email marketing specifically. On average, the ROI for email marketing is 122%, although it can be as high as 4200%, as noted above.
  • Greater engagement: When marketers use email automation to deliver emails at ideal times, like when recipients are first sitting down to check their inboxes in the morning, they are positioned to achieve greater customer engagement.
  • Efficiency: By eliminating the need for marketers to set up and send each email individually, automation makes email marketing much more efficient.


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Email Automation Campaigns

Email automation can be used to support a variety of goals and address common marketing pain points.

Lead nurturing

Nurturing leads — cultivating and deepening relationships with people who have entered your sales funnel as prospective customers — is critical for maximizing conversion rates. Companies that excel at lead nurturing make 50% more sales while spending 33% less.

Email marketing is a great way to nurture leads at all stages of the sales funnel and stay in touch with leads until the sale closes. You can send follow-up emails when a lead first fills out a web form to express interest in your product, and you can send additional emails after a lead has completed a sales call or viewed a demo of your product. 

When done manually, lead nurturing via email would require a great deal of time and effort. Most sales teams don’t have the resources to write a custom email every time someone signs up to learn more about your product. But with email automation, it's very easy to deliver personalized emails efficiently.


Email is also a great way to connect with existing customers to market new or expanded offerings. Using templates, you can automatically send email to customers who use one version of your product in order to explain why they should consider upgrading. Or you could use automated, personalized emails to announce a new product that is similar to one customers have purchased in the past. Here again, the ability to customize each email — as well as acting quickly whenever an upselling opportunity arises — is something that would not be possible when sending emails manually.


Email automation makes it fast and easy to send emails to new leads when they first share their contact information with you. Welcome emails help kick off the customer relationship and nurture the new lead. They can also help to qualify leads by inviting them to share more information that you can use to determine whether the lead is a good fit for what you are selling.

Welcome emails should generally be brief and to the point. You don't want to inundate a new lead with so much information that your email feels like an overwhelming chore to read. It's also critical that your welcome email includes information about what the lead should do next to continue along the customer journey, such as setting up a product demo or downloading more information about your offerings.


Email provides an easy way to announce new products, sales, and other types of promotions. You can direct promotional emails at both leads and existing customers, and by taking advantage of email automation, you can also personalize promotional emails. For instance, when sending this type of email to a customer, you can include information about the customer's specific purchase history to highlight why they may be interested in your promotion.


Email also offers a method of reaching out to customers whenever they reach a milestone, such as their first year of working with your company. You can also send emails on customers' birthdays and other important life events. Emails like these help to sustain personal engagement with customers over the long term.

Abandoned Shopping Carts

The average rate of shopping cart abandonment — when a shopper adds an item to their online cart but leaves the site before making a purchase — hovers around 70 percent. This represents a great opportunity for marketers to increase sales by convincing these customers to come back and make a purchase.

Email automation offers an efficient way to do this. As long as you have contact information for a customer, you can automatically send an email to follow up after the cart has been abandoned. Consider offering an incentive for the customer to complete the purchase, such as a discount on an item in the cart if the sale is completed within a certain time frame.

Gathering Feedback

Email automation is not only about communicating information to customers. It's also a tool for interacting with customers by soliciting their feedback in a personalized way that would be difficult to achieve via other channels. For example, you can send emails asking customers to provide a product or brand experience review. An automated email can follow up with customers who have expressed positive or negative feelings about their purchase and invite them to provide additional details through an email form.


Building an Email Automation Strategy

To get the most out of email automation, integrate it into a broader marketing automation solution. Tools that simply automate the sending of email itself don't provide the additional insights that marketers need to personalize and analyze email marketing campaigns.

You need a comprehensive marketing automation platform that simplifies the email automation process while giving you access to analytics and customer segmentation capabilities.

It's crucial to collect and analyze metrics about automated emails. You should know how many customers open your email, how many follow the call to action within it, and so on. By tracking this data and assessing how it varies when you make changes to your emails, you can test and improve marketing emails over time.

Personalization is also critical to effective email campaigns. This is not just making sure you include the recipient's name, but also making sure your emails originate from an address with a personal feel — like the name of someone on your marketing team, rather than a generic address like [email protected] Segmenting emails by delivering different content to recipients based on their geographical location is another great way to personalize emails.

Finally, there are some best practices to follow when preparing automated emails:

  • Include a personalized subject line.
  • Make sure the email content is concise and easy to digest, even for readers who scan it quickly without reading every word or even every paragraph.
  • Include a clear call to action that describes which step the reader should take in response to the email.
  • Test your email to make sure it displays correctly on different devices and in different mail apps. This is especially important if the email includes images or complex formatting.


Download the Definitive Guide to Engaging Content Marketing


Set Up Automated Email Campaigns with the Right Tool

Email automation is a powerful way to get the most out of email marketing without expending unreasonable amounts of time writing and customizing emails. It makes email marketing more scalable, increases engagement, and improves ROI.

Marketo Engage offers the tools you need to take full advantage of email automation. It powers your emails with all your marketing data and provides easy customer segmentation, so you are able to tailor emails to each prospect. It also includes built-in testing features to help optimize the effectiveness of email marketing. And because it doesn't require extensive custom programming, it enables you to engage with customers via email whenever you need, without having to wait on your programming team to build the automations you require.


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