As we made the transition from an outbound lead generation organization to a full sales and marketing consulting agency, the need for a reliable marketing automation platform became imperative. That’s when we came across ActiveCampaign: a powerful, user-friendly marketing automation (MA) and CRM software that allows you to easily create, monitor, and analyze marketing campaigns and sales funnels.
What is ActiveCampaign?
ActiveCampaign (AC) is a robust, powerful, and dynamic MA and CRM platform that has a simple, intuitive user interface. Users can easily set up an email sequence and track a contact’s interactions (whether they opened the email, clicked on a link within the email, visited a website, etc.). You could take several approaches to implement marketing outreach strategies within AC, such as:
Campaigns. In AC, a campaign refers to a standard, one-off email blast that sends to all contacts in a list at a designated time and date. A campaign might be used for a newsletter, or, perhaps, to notify contacts of a sale on your website. But while this method is useful in certain cases, you’ll probably find yourself wanting your outreach efforts to be more dynamic and customizable. You might want to send a sequence of emails or send certain emails based on a contacts’ actions. This sort of outreach can be done through…
Automations. With automations, you can create a campaign workflow tailored to the specific objectives of your marketing outreach. You can create a linear sequence of emails to be sent at specified times, like in most other MA platforms, but AC’s real power can be seen in the ability to automate different actions. Your automation could send different messaging based on whether or not a contact opened an email, clicked a link, or visited a specific page on your site. These actions could also trigger the start of the automation, creating a reactive, dynamic marketing approach.
Automations can help track and monitor your contacts, allowing users to follow a contact through the life of the automation and analyze how they have interacted with the outreach. Your automation could tag or divide contacts who have interacted in a certain way or number of times, easily segmenting who you might want to begin follow-up with. Automations can even be built to alter a prospective client’s stage in a sales process, found within…
Deal Flows. AC’s CRM can not only record and organize a contact’s general information, but it can also monitor a contact’s progression from prospect to customer. A deal opportunity can be moved through stages within a sales pipeline, providing users with a visual representation of how close or far the opportunity is from its goal. Furthermore, automations can be built around these deal flows, automating the process of moving a deal or contact from stage to stage, or entering the deal or contact into an email campaign based on stage advancement.
What We Love about ActiveCampaign
First and foremost, AC is easy to use. The capabilities of MA and CRM platforms are ultimately the most important features, but AC provides a user-friendly interface that allows even novices to create and monitor campaigns, automations, and deal flows. Simple, effective color schemes, drag-and-drop abilities, and intuitive page designs instill user confidence and provide a level of comfort that just isn’t found on other platforms. While softwares like ActOn and Marketo may share similar capabilities, their interfaces are outdated and clunky, creating greater learning curves for even experienced MA users.
Despite AC’s user-friendly interface, workflows and automations can get complex. Often times, a simple email sequence is not nearly enough for an outreach effort, and many campaigns that require more complex workflows can end up convoluted and confusing. But don’t fret. AC has tons of resources across multiple platforms to help with both frequently asked and more uncommon questions, including their blog, Vimeo channel, and forums.
At the end of the day, AC works how you would expect it to. Users can feel confident that their automations, campaigns, and deal flows will work properly and not break. Back in our OutboundOps days, we primarily used the free, open-sourced MA platform Mautic for both warm and cold email campaigns. While Mautic provided us a platform to learn and experiment with, it’s drawbacks as an open-source software included no documentation, and with certain updates, lower reliability.
What We Don’t Love about ActiveCampaign
Despite its many benefits, we would like to see drip functionality in campaigns. Currently, a campaign is only capable of sending a one-off email at a specified time that is blasted to all contacts in a chosen list. If your list is extremely large, you could run into issues with SPAM filters or sending to multiple contacts at the same organization at the same time (something you’ll want to avoid).
Currently, AC offers four pricing plans to choose from: Lite, Plus, Professional, and Enterprise, ranging from $70 to $350 per month (based on 10,000 contacts). While $70/month for 10,000 contacts isn’t going to break the bank for most, the capabilities in the Lite plan are severely lacking, forcing most users to choose the Plus plans or higher. The Lite plan does not include deal flow/CRM capabilities and only allows up to three users. If you want phone support or unlimited users, you’ll have to fork over $350 per month. And if you have more than 10,000 contacts, you’re looking at well over $500 per month. Again, the pricing isn’t absurd, but it would be nice for the more basic plans to have higher capabilities, allowing smaller start-ups to utilize software that could significantly grow their company.
Lastly, while form building in AC is fairly intuitive, if you want your form to look drastically different from the default template, you’ll have to manually write custom CSS code, which can get a little messy. And even then, some things prove rather difficult, like the positioning of text boxes or radio buttons, for instance.
Issues, Workarounds, and Quirks
Issue: Only higher-priced plans feature lead scoring. And since point-based lead scoring is only available in the higher priced plans, and if you don’t have that kind of cash to spend, you might think you’re out of luck.
Workaround: Engagement tagging. All AC plans have pre-built automations that add and remove tags to a contact, indicating how active they are within certain time frames. These tags allow efforts to be focused on contacts who are more engaged with your outreach. Lead scoring may be more sophisticated and user-friendly, but engagement tagging automations can get the job done for many.
Quirk: Automations can be built with multiple start triggers. This is a great feature, but a contact will enter the automation each time a trigger requirement is met, even if each trigger is set to run only once. You can create an If Statement to begin your automation that checks whether a contact has previously entered the automation, but this will dirty up your workflow and make things a little more complicated, especially for novices. We suggest using only one start trigger per automation, whenever possible.
Issue: Tags can be bulk added to a designated group of contacts, but this will not trigger an automation, even if an automation is built with the “Tag Added” start trigger.
Workaround: Instead of having an added tag trigger your automation, you could have a List Subscription be the trigger instead; for whatever reason, bulk editing contacts to a list will trigger an automation that is built in such a way. (We should also note that this issue is not encountered when uploading contacts with a tag or if adding a tag individually, only when bulk editing contacts already in the system.)
Quirk: When adding an image to a created or edited email, it is best to do so by uploading an image through AC’s Image Manager. While the option to drag and drop an image from a file on your computer is available, you may run into issues where a blank image box appears below your image on sent emails, despite not appearing on the email builder page.
The first thing you’ll see written on AC’s website is “Finally, marketing automation that’s powerful and easy-to-use,” and we’d have to agree with that statement 100 percent. The capabilities are vast yet reliable, the interface is aesthetically pleasing yet functional, and resources documenting functions and solving issues are supportive and easily accessible. And we’re not the only ones who feel this way. We’ve received excellent feedback from clients who currently use the software. The reporting AC offers on campaigns, automations, and goals feature detailed and intuitive graphs, charts and lists, allowing users to easily monitor and analyze their ever important marketing outreach efforts.
Of course, automations and deal flows within AC can get very complex, and there are tons of features we haven’t yet discussed. If you’re an AC user or are simply interested in hearing about our experiences with the software, be on the lookout for future blog posts detailing the intricacies of campaigns, automations, deal flows, and more.