Email Automation: Your Definitive Marketing and Strategy Guide

There's no question that email marketing is effective — it can deliver an ROI of up to 4200%, and it’s 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 drain, 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 may also not 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 can 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 an email marketing automation strategy.

In this email automation guide, you’ll discover:

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 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 the process of sending messages.

How does email automation work?

Email Automation tools work differently with each system, but they generally follow two stages:

1. When users sign up to receive emails from your business, they are entered into your email marketing database.

2. The information the customer provides is segmented into selected categories of interest — which means campaigns can be automated and targeted specifically to the customer.

For example, 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.

Advantages and disadvantages of email automation.

There are lots of advantages to automated email marketing — but also some disadvantages, as we list here.

Scalability. When email marketing is automated, you can use it to reach a thousand prospects just as easily as you can a dozen.
Spamming. Email automation might be targeted, but there’s a risk that a business sends too many emails, too often, and the perception is that they are spamming customers. It’s important to get the timing and volume right.
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 in our introduction to this guide.
Mail list management. Email automation is only as effective as the quality of your mailing list, so you need to regularly clean and check your list to make sure emails are being sent to recipients who want to be contacted.
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.
Quality not quantity. If your email automation strategy is going to be effective, you need to be creative with your messaging and maintain customer interest – sending too many mails on the same subject will see people switching off.
Efficiency. By eliminating the need for marketers to set up and send each email individually, automation makes email marketing much more efficient.
Depersonalization. Even though email automation allows you to greet customers by their first name, automated email marketing can feel a bit… robotic at times. If you’re not careful, you can lose a little of that human touch.

Download the Definitive Guide to Engaging Email Marketing

Email automation campaigns.

Email automation can be used to support a variety of goals and address common marketing pain points. Your email marketing automation strategy can cover some, or all, of the following:

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 necessary 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 and remove the time pressures a manual approach would require.


Email is also a great way to connect with existing customers to market new or expanded offerings.

Using templates, you can automatically send emails 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. These can be personalized to greet the newcomer, which is a great way to get off on the right foot. 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 reading your email feels like a chore. 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.


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, while taking advantage of email automation means 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.

Milestone emails.

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 — demonstrating a friendly and warm approach. Emails like these might seem basic, but they 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. That’s potentially a lot of lost sales. As such, 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. Some emails often convey a friendly, ‘did you forget something?’ message — think gentle nudge, not hard sell.

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.

Mail automation v marketing automation: what’s the difference?

Contrary to some assumptions, email automation and marketing automation are not the same.

Read more about marketing automation

Building an email automation strategy.

6 top tips for email marketing automation.

If you’re starting to build an email automation strategy, here are some best practice tips to consider when preparing automated emails:

1. Include a personalized subject line.

Names and titles are really important for making that connection with your customer, and standing out in what could be a crowded inbox

2. Keep things concise.

Making your email content easy to digest is essential, even for readers who scan it quickly without reading every word or even every paragraph. Customers are busy, and often scan emails, so make yours jump out.

3. Include a clear call to action.

This should describe which step the reader should take in response to the email. Every email should have a point and a purpose — don’t send messages out just to make noise.

4. Try out different devices.

This will help 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

5. Vary your content.

Don’t make everything about making a sale or pushing a promotion

6. Test, test, and test again.

Find out what times work best for you by analyzing open rates and conversions. When do your customers respond the most?

To get the most out of email automation, you should aim to integrate it into a broader marketing automation solution. As covered in our section about email automation and marketing automation, 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.

For this, 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.

Frequently asked questions about email automation.

What is email automation flow?

Email flows are another term for email automation — essentially the same thing. Flows has been adapted from ‘workflow’, which automation provides. Email automation enables companies to set communications according to the action of a customer – viewing a product on a website might trigger a flow or automation email to that customer with further information on that product, or a teaser offer to persuade them to buy it.

What is the best email automation tool?

If you’re new to email automation, the process may seem complicated — but many external companies can manage the output for you. There are also lots of email automation tools out there. You’ve probably heard of some of the big names, such as Mailchimp and Hubspot. Shop around and see what suits your needs best.

Is email automation expensive?

The cost of email automation will vary depending on the provider you use, and usually the volume of emails being sent — if you have a database of 5,000 customers to reach, you can expect to pay less than if you were targeting 100,000.

But price plans are often scaled, and can be affordable for all sizes of business, so it’s not necessarily expensive. Put it this way – it can be cheaper than having permanent staff manually sending emails.

Setting up your automated email campaigns with the right tool.

Email automation is a powerful way to get the most out of email marketing without spending 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’re 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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