diagramming your email marketing workflow

When your company is small and you're marketing to your first customers, you'll find that their needs are very similar. Even with a minimum viable product and with customers using it in slightly different ways, you can get away with sending them all similar emails.

But this stage doesn't last forever. As your product evolves and becomes more complicated, customer needs also evolve and become more differentiated.

This means that your email marketing workflow has to get more complex to accommodate the different types of customers. It's less about coming up with multiple email variations and more about understanding how customers use your product so that your emails keep them interested and engaged.

That why you need a plan that lays out the different tracks your email marketing workflow can follow. The best way to do this is to diagram your email marketing workflow so that you can anticipate and respond to customer needs proactively.

Planning an email campaign around the different actions customers can take in your product does two things:
  • It lets you think through and organize your email sequence and messaging to make sure that your emails serve a helpful and specific purpose.
  • It makes for a more personalized UX because emails are sent in the right context. Personalization isn't just about adding someone's name to the top of an email, it's about sending emails that matter to them as individuals.
Let's look at how to set up a workflow diagram and build email campaigns that get noticed, inspire action, and covert more customers.

Why timely emails are important

A study by Litmus found that only 21% of people find promotional emails memorable. If emails aren't relevant and targeted, people won't follow-through on the call-to-action (CTA). Or worse yet, they'll scroll right past the email without opening it.

The key to high open and click-through rates is to build campaigns that send emails to people exactly when they need them. It's like a new customer being unsure of how to upload content in a new app and then getting an email explaining the process.

This is how personalization works: you send specific emails to each customer or group of customers, based on actions they've taken, instead of blasting all customers with the same email in a general drip campaign. By doing this, you're already increasing your emails' relevance to customers—the open rate of personalized emails is 17.6% vs. 11.4% for non-personalized ones.

But how do you know when to send the right emails, especially when you have a diverse customer base? They're all potential customers and your goal is to convert them all, but neither group uses your product the same way.

For example, let's say you give people the option to sign up for a newsletter or sign up for a trial. People reading the newsletter want to learn more about your product and how it'll help them. People using the trial version of your product are on board with what you offer but want to experience the product firsthand before they buy. Emails to this group of free trial users should focus on product features and processes.

That's why you have to diagram your email campaign flow to create structure and an organized workflow. Lay out the paths customers can take in your product and then match emails to specific actions. So when customers buy products, sign up for a newsletter, contact customer support, add something to their cart or reach some other kind of milestone, your emails are specific to them and sent exactly when they need them.

A diagram of your email campaign flow can also help you:
  • Identify how many emails you should send to keep customers engaged without overwhelming them.
  • Highlight if you've missed steps in your email sequence. Do the emails follow a logical flow or will they confuse customers?
  • Expose weak points in your process or branch points. If open rates dip, this is where you'll be able to spot that.
  • Pinpoint where your processes get complicated. There might be a point in the sequence where there are lots of branches. Make your sequence less confusing by breaking them into smaller campaigns.
With a diagram to guide your email marketing efforts, there's less head scratching on your part and more opportunities to proactively meet customer needs.

Build a roadmap to direct your campaign

To start, you're going to need a diagramming tool to design your workflow diagrams and lay out your email roadmap. With a tool like Gliffy, you can build diagrams that:
  • Outline all the actions customers can take when they use your product
  • Lay out the types of emails you'll send for each action
  • Define email triggers
Here's a closer look at how this works:

Outline customer actions

Make a list of all the actions customers can take in your product. Include things like uploading content, reading blog content, downloading files or page searches.

Then begin to outline the steps within each one. For example, people land on your welcome page and go to your product page.

Outline your campaign and think about the type of content your emails should contain to match the actions you've identified.

Determine email types

With your outline, segment your customers based on their actions. This is where your diagram goes from concept to visual roadmap.

For each segment, make sure the type of email you send matches where customers are in the customer lifecycle — awareness, purchase, relationship building, retention and advocacy.

Here's an example for the product page search:

It lays out the two actions people can take on your product page: buy something or browse. If they decide to browse, there's a specific order to the types of emails you can send depending on their lifecycle stage.

For example, don't send retention emails that talk about advanced features and options if they're in the purchase phase. Instead, send general pricing emails and follow that up with emails that grow and nurture the relationship, like emails that talk about improvements to your product or industry news.

Define email triggers

Your diagrams also give an overview of how to handle unfavorable customer actions. For example, what happens if a customer falls off the track you've laid for them? What emails will you send to re-engage them?

Let's say you have a networking app people can sign up for. After you onboard users, you expect them to open the app every day to find new connections and send messages. If your original email campaign focuses on sending tips on how to start a conversation or how to improve their profiles, you'll have to shift this approach when users stop opening the app.

Instead, your new track will include emails that show examples of people who'd like to network with disengaged users. These emails use the fear of missing out as a way to get users to come back. Here's what that diagram might look like.

The green track includes the original emails you send based on what you expect users to do. The blue track is the secondary sequence that you have to plan for when users stop using the app.

The point here is to use your diagrams to build a contingency plan. This way, you're still prepared and able to send the right emails to the right customers.

How to put your diagram to use

Once you've built your email roadmap, use an email marketing tool like Campaign Monitor, MailChimp or ConvertKit to set up the campaign.

They all let you set up customer journey maps or segments based on the conditions you identified in your diagram.

Let's look at an example. A customer journey starts with an action like a purchase or signing up for a service. Next is the followup action that triggers the first email in your roadmap.

Let's say you offer a digital service. When a customer opens your product page and buys something, that represents the first action. If you offer more than one package and the customer chooses the least expensive starter package, that's the trigger that starts the email campaign. The first email might be a welcome email talking about features in the starter package.

Here's what your diagram would look like:

As your customer uses the product, more emails are triggered based on their actions.

Let's look at an example using Campaign Monitor. Their drag-and-drop email builder tool makes their platform really easy to use. It lets you customize your email campaigns so that the look and feel match your brand standards. Since you've already diagrammed the process, choose “build your journey” from the start menu. 

Give the journey a name and decide what action to start the journey with. For our digital service example, if you choose “subscriber enters a segment,” the segment would be customers who buy the starter package.

Here's what the first step in the journey looks like:

Next, add the trigger. In our example, the trigger is buying the starter package. Because you've planned and know what triggers you're tracking, use the “condition” option. Meaning, we set up the journey to track whether or not customers complete a desired action.

In our example, the condition is whether or not the customer bought the starter package. Then we choose what email these customers get depending on whether or not they buy that package. Here's an example of a sample campaign:

Depending on whether subscribers were in the VIP segment or not, they get a customized email.

Notice that a quick view of the email is visible in the email boxes. To get your custom emails to show up, use the drag and drop feature to set up the emails beforehand.

You can set up as many different journeys as you need depending on the workflow you came up with in Gliffy. Once you've created a customer journey for all of them, they'll automatically trigger as customers use your product.

Remember, customer journeys are living documents. Customer actions and triggers are going to change over time as your product and your customer base evolve, so the diagrams and campaigns have to adjust to stay accurate. This guarantees that customers continue to get emails at exactly the right time they need it.

Getting in the flow

Taking the time to plan ahead for these potential pathways through your product and potential email triggers results in more customer engagement. Customers are more motivated to open and click-through because the information matters to them and arrived at the right time.

Keep in mind that as your product grows, you'll find that customer actions will adapt. Create new email sequences to accommodate, so that you're always one step ahead of your customers.