Automated emails deliver information to your customers right when they need it, in a way that’s efficient for you and your team. Send a series of emails to introduce your new customers to your company, share product recommendations based on the purchase history of your customers, wish your subscribers a happy birthday, and more. With MailChimp’s Automation workflows, you can easily create and track trigger-based emails that automatically send to your subscribers. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps of setting up an Automation workflow, share tips and tricks for getting started, teach you how to learn from your reports, and show a few inspiring examples to help you on your way.
Workflows are available in all paid MailChimp accounts. You can upgrade your account to a monthly or pay as you go plan in your account settings.
Workflows use triggers to send an email or a series of emails to specific subscribers on a list. A trigger can be an open or click in one of your campaigns, a subscription to your list, or an action that's combined with one of MailChimp’s other features. Every email in a workflow can have its own unique trigger. We’ve created a series of workflows with preset triggers to help you get started. If those don’t fit your needs, you can also create a custom workflow of your own.
How Automation works
A regular campaign sends to your subscribers at the time you choose. With an Automation workflow, emails are sent automatically to specific subscribers as they meet your trigger and sending criteria.
Choose a workflow, create one email or a series of emails, and set your sending criteria. We’ll use activity and subscriber data to determine who should receive your emails and when. After you set up an Automation, MailChimp will manage your subscriber queue and email sends, so your emails get to the right people at the right time.
When to use automation
An Automation workflow is great when you have content you want to automatically deliver to your subscribers at a specific time. Here are the common scenarios available in our preset workflows:
When a subscriber signs up for your list: Welcome new subscribers with a single email—or a series—to help them get to know your company or organization. Tell them what they can expect in future newsletters, send a special coupon, or give them tips on how they can take advantage of everything you have to offer.
When you have a series of emails: Maybe you have educational content, like an online course, that needs to be sent out on a regular basis over a period of time. Break that information into a series of steps that can be sent over days, weeks, or months.
When you need to send an email once a year: This might be for a subscriber's birthday or an anniversary. Set the workflow to send annually, and we'll take care of the rest.
Following up on website activity: When a subscriber navigates to a specific link on your site from a newsletter, automatically send them follow-up information using Goal. Help them make a purchase decision, thank them for downloading your latest song, or send a survey about their experience on your website.
When you want to thank your best customers or most loyal fans: The customers who purchase from you on a regular basis are important to your business, so let them know they're valued. Send a simple thank you, invite them to a special VIP program, or offer a discount.
Follow up after a purchase: Send additional product recommendations or product care tips based on what your customers have purchased.
When you want to get feedback: Use a survey to make your customers feel valued and get important feedback about their shopping experience on your site.
When you want to create a win-back campaign: Develop a series of win-back emails to encourage inactive subscribers to re-engage, and utilize post-sending actions to automatically perform a specific list action on subscribers after they receive the final email in the series. This could be used to update one of their merge fields, move those subscribers to a different interest group, or to remove them from your list completely.
When not to use Automation
The possibilities of Automation seem endless, but there are some scenarios where using this feature doesn’t make sense. You want to make your customers feel special, not like they’re interacting with a robot.
When you want to send a one-to-one, personalized note: MailChimp offers a lot of helpful personalization tools that can help you add a touch of humanity to your Automation emails, but sometimes you’ll need just a little bit more. To send a truly personal note to a small group of your loyal customers, it can sometimes be better to opt for creating unique, fresh content every time.
When there's more content than you can manage: When setting up Automation, keep in mind the potential time commitment. The more custom and targeted your messaging gets, the longer it might take your team to plan, test, and develop new content. A few basic workflows can still be powerful—and manageable for a team to execute and maintain.
When you need to send transactional email: A transactional email contains one-to-one content tailored specifically to an individual user, like a Facebook notification or a password reset. While workflows can handle one-to-one marketing emails, such as a welcome message to a new subscriber, they're not designed to handle large volumes of transactional email.
For transactional emails, we built Mandrill, a delivery API for MailChimp users. It's optimized for password reminders, order confirmations, receipts, and personalized notifications. Mandrill will help you manage and monitor your transactional messaging through advanced tagging, webhooks, and more.
Before You Start
Whether you create a custom workflow or use one of MailChimp’s preset options, there are a few steps you’ll need to think through before building your first Automation workflow.
When should emails send?
You can decide the timeframe and what days of the week you want the email to go out. Immediately after the initial triggering action? The next day? The next week? It's your call.
For workflows with multiple emails, you’ll also decide how much time should pass between each new message being sent. If you’re not sure about how to pace your content, set up a test workflow with the delays you’re considering, then send that workflow to yourself. Or take a look at your own inbox: Are there companies sending to you too frequently? Consider spacing your own emails further apart.
You can decide which days of the week to send both custom and preset workflow emails. If you have content that is likely to get missed over the weekend, don’t schedule an email for delivery on Saturdays or Sundays. The time delays you’ve built between emails will take the days you exclude into account. So, if your series has a 3-day delay between emails and one message sends on a Friday, exclude Saturdays and Sundays so the workflow will start its 3-day delay on Monday. If you want a message to go out on an annual date, you'll want to have the option to send any day of the week.
What is the trigger?
The trigger is the catalyst that starts an Automation workflow and prompts all subsequent emails in the workflow to send to the appropriate subscribers. Every email in your workflow can have its own unique, independent trigger.
For example, if you want to send a follow-up email to every user that clicked a link in your last campaign, that click would be your trigger. Inactions can also trigger. Maybe the subscriber opened a campaign, but didn't click anything—that can be set as a triggering event, too. Or, you could add a customer to an Automation series after they join your list, send the next message after they open the previous email, the next after they make a purchase, and so on.
Our preset workflows have triggers defined for you—you’ll just need to input values for the trigger criteria. Custom workflows require you to define the trigger.
Will the workflow be tied to a regular campaign?
If so, you’ll need that campaign to be set up and ready to go. Then, you can tie subscriber actions in that campaign to your workflow triggers.
Who will get the emails?
Pick a list—or a segment of a list—to associate with each workflow as you’re building it. You can choose to have the workflow send to any new additions to the list that meet your conditions, or send to all subscribers that meet the conditions. To further target your message, send to a specific segment of your list.
What will happen after an Automation email is sent?
On the Emails step, you’ll have the option to choose a post-sending list action for each Automation email that you create. Automatically update a merge field, add or remove subscribers from an interest group or static segment, and unsubscribe or delete a subscriber from your list altogether after an email is sent. This can, for example, help you encourage past customers to re-engage with your email and makes it easy to remove them from your list entirely if they remain inactive.
Do you want to receive a daily email that contains reporting data from your workflow?
In the Setup step, you’ll notice a Send activity digest email checkbox. When this option is enabled, it will send to the selected account users on days when there was Automation workflow activity on the previous day. For a more in-depth look at the information provided in this email, skip ahead to the Reporting section of this guide.
Do you have a legacy autoresponder that you’d like to convert into an automation workflow?
This article details the steps to follow.
Automation allows you to create a series of targeted emails that send when triggered by a specific date, event, or subscriber’s activity. We’ve built several preset workflow options that cover a variety of industries and events. You’ll find the complete list of available workflows below, along with an example of two of how they can be used.
E-commerce and Retail workflows
E-commerce workflows are triggered by a subscriber's buying behavior. To use these workflows, you need to set up eCommerce360 in your MailChimp account, so we can track your subscribers’ activity.
- Post-Purchase Follow-Up: Specific Product is used to send an email or series of emails to subscribers who have purchased a specific product.
- Example: Provide tips for using their new item or to get feedback on their satisfaction with their purchase.
- Post-Purchase Follow-Up: Category is used to send an email or series of emails to subscribers who have purchased a product from a specific category.
- Example: Highlight other products that might also interest your customers.
- Post-Purchase Follow-Up: Any Product is used to send an email or series of emails to subscribers who have purchased a product from your store.
- Example: Thank your customers for their purchase or offer a limited-time discount to encourage repeat business.
- Best customers is used to send an email or series of emails to acknowledge and reward your best customers.
- Example: Reward your biggest spenders or most loyal customers with a special coupon or offer to thank them for their patronage.
- Customer Re-Engagement is used to send an email or series of emails to win back customers who haven’t purchased in a specific timeframe.
- Example: Create a series of emails to give your lapsed customers an extra incentive to return to your store and make another purchase.
Education workflows are triggered by various events and student activity. Educators who want to inform and engage students can use these preset workflows.
- New Student Orientation is used to send an email or a series of emails to welcome new students or share helpful resources.
- Example: Send your students a collection of tips to help them get acclimated with a new class or school.
- Course Series is used to send an email or series of emails to educate students.
- Example: Send your students the latest lessons, assignments, or other course-related information.
- Student Re-Engagement is used to send an email or series of emails to re-engage students.
- Example: Send your students new course offerings, study tips, or enrollement discounts.
List Activity workflows
List activity workflows are triggered by subscribers signing up or being added to a list, and can be sent immediately after the triggering action occurs.
- Welcome message is used to send a welcome email to subscribers as they join your list.
- Example: Provide additional information about your company or organization, inform your customers of upcoming events, and more.
- Educate subscribers is used to send a series of emails to subscribers as they join your list.
- Example: Send new subscribers a helpful getting started guide or share links to online courses that might be of interest.
- Welcome series is used to send a series of emails when subscribers join your list.
- Example: Share useful onboarding information with your new subscribers or simply welcome them with a series of friendly messages.
- Joins List Group is used to send an email or series of emails when subscribers join one of the groups in your list.
- Example: Give subscribers a quick taste of the content they can expect as a member of the group.
- Leaves List Group is used to send an email or series of emails when subscribers leave one of the groups in your list.
- Example: After leaving a group, suggest other groups or content that might catch the subscriber's interest.
- Website Activity is used to send an email or series of emails to subscribers based on when they perform a specific triggering action. To use this workflow, you’ll need to set up the Goal integration in your MailChimp account and add the Goal tracking snippet in your website’s code.
- Example: Send a follow-up message after customers visit a page on your website to encourage a purchase, download, or other type of action.
- API 3.0 is used to send an email or series of emails triggered by API calls. After you create the email series—in the MailChimp app directly or through the API—a list subscriber can be added to the workflow with a call to a provided URL. API requests can trigger an Automation email when a single subscriber meets your sending criteria via the API delay settings.
- Example: Send a quick email when a customer updates their profile in your CRM.
Transactional workflows are triggered by actions taken in Mandrill emails.
- Mandrill Activity is used to send an email or series of emails to subscribers triggered by Mandrill email activity, like when they open an email sent through your connected Mandrill account. Choose a Mandrill email tag to target subscribers who received a Mandrill email with the selected tag.
- Example: After purchasing an online course, send a series of homework assignments after a subscriber has opened the purchase receipt email that was sent through Mandrill.
Date Based workflows
Date Based workflows are triggered by a list field date, like a birthday or the date a subscriber was added to your list. To trigger a Date Based workflow, you must have subscriber information saved within a Date or Birthday field on your list.
- List Added Date is used to send an email or series of emails based on when a subscriber joins your list.
- Example: Welcome your newest subscribers, give them a recap of what they've missed and what's to come.
- Annually Recurring Date is used to send an annual recurring email or series of emails based on a specific list field date.
- Example: Send your subscribers a yearly reminder about a holiday or special event.
- Birthday is used to send an email or series of emails based on a Birthday list field.
- Example: Send an offer for a free item or download to help your subscribers celebrate their birthday.
- Specific Date is used to send an email or series of emails based on a specific list field date.
- Example: Send coupons for school supplies in the days and weeks leading up to the first day of school.
Software workflows are triggered by various events and subscriber activity. Use these workflows to promote new products and features.
- Product Feature Engagement is used to send an email or series of emails to announce product updates and new features.
- Example: Reach out to all customers who've downloaded your app to let them know what to expect in the next update.
- User Onboarding is used to send an email or series of emails to help new users become experts with your product.
- Example: Send a series of instructional documents or videos to help customers learn how to use a new program or item.
- Pre-Launch Series is used to send an email or series of emails to announce the release of a new product.
- Example: Introduce your customers to your latest innovation.
- Whitepaper Download is used to send an email or series of emails with a download link to your product whitepaper when a user performs a specific action on your webpage.
- Example: Share usage instructions, research, or any other type of useful data with your customers.
Nonprofit workflows can be triggered by a variety of events and list fields to suit your business needs. Use these preset workflows to inform and engage your donors.
- Top Supporters is used to send an email or series of emails to acknowledge your most generous donors.
- Example: Add a "Donor Level" merge field to your list and send a special thank you note to everyone who reaches the top level.
- Supporter Onboarding is used to send an email or series of emails to welcome new volunteers or donors, and present other ways they can support your organization.
- Example: Let your new volunteers know about the upcoming opportunities they'll have to help out around the community.
Music workflows can be triggered by a variety of events and list fields to suit your business needs. Use these preset workflows to promote new music, events, and engage with fans.
- Download is used to send an email or series of emails when a listener purchases or downloads your music.
- Example: Thank fans for their support or suggest other songs they might enjoy.
- Fan Orientation: Band is used to send an email or series of emails to welcome fans to your band’s email list, share news, and offer free downloads.
- Example: Share all of your latest news and offer exclusive downloads to fans.
- Fan Orientation: Record Label is used to send an email or series of emails to welcome fans to your label’s email list.
- Example: Introduce fans to artists on your label and offer free downloads from your most popular acts.
If none of our workflow options quite fit your needs, consider customizing a workflow to help you target subscribers. These flexible workflows allow you to create an automated series of emails based on a combination of different triggers.
Planning your content
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you’re getting started.
Will a one-time, targeted message suffice?
If not, think about how a subscriber will receive your automated emails. Are there too many in the series? How's the pacing? Does the information arrive in the most useful order?
Are you targeting the right subscribers?
A customer may like getting occasional updates about your products, but not want weekly reminders about seasonal items or your current special offers. Consider creating groups based on the interests of your subscribers—or the frequency at which they'd like to receive your email—and developing workflows that are specifically tailored towards the subscribers present in each group.
Most importantly, do your messages sound human?
The key to a good automated workflow is making sure the content doesn't sound like it's automated.
Creating an Automation Workflow
Keep these things in mind when creating your Automation workflow:
- Activity based workflows are triggered by a subscriber's action. If the subscriber does not trigger the first email, they won't receive any others in the series either.
- Once an automation workflow starts, you can't select a different list or change the workflow type. If you’d like to change the order of the emails, you’ll first need to pause your workflow.
- You can add or remove existing subscribers from a workflow at any time and use post-sending actions to update certain aspects of a subscriber's list data automatically. You can also add emails to the end of your workflow or delete emails and workflows entirely.
- For Pay As You Go plans, an email credit is used for each email that goes to a subscriber via the automation workflow, including test emails.
- Each Automation workflow can contain up to 100 emails. If you need more than 100 emails, you will need to create multiple workflows.
Create a workflow
- Navigate to the Automation page and click the Create Automation Workflow button.
- To choose the list that will receive the emails in your workflow, make the appropriate selection from the Choose a list to get started drop-down menu. You'll have the option to segment recipients later.
- Select the workflow type that best describes your specific use-case. Available workflows display based on the list you've selected. To use one of the grayed-out workflows, your list needs to meet the indicated requirements.
- In the Setup step, fill out the Workflow configuration fields and choose your tracking options. These settings will be applied to all the emails in your workflow. You'll configure each email's settings later.
- Click the Send activity digest email check box to receive a daily email with reporting data for your workflow. Select Edit to choose which account users you want the digest email to send to.
- When you reach the Emails step, you’ll add and design emails, organize them in your workflow, set up your segmentation and trigger conditions, determine any post-sending list actions, and tell us when each email should send. The edit trigger, edit schedule, edit segment, and edit actions links will display an overlay menu so you can select the appropriate settings for each email. Remember: every email in your workflow can have it’s own unique triggers, segmentation settings, and post-sending actions.
- In the Confirm step, look over the Pre-delivery Checklist and test your emails if you haven't already. Click Resolve or Edit to make changes.
- When you're finished reviewing, click Start Workflow.
Add and edit emails
Automation workflows can have one email or up to 100 emails. You'll add, design, and organize your emails in the Emails step.
Create an email
- Navigate to the Emails step and click Add Email.
- On the Emails step, you’ll select the trigger, schedule, segments, and post-sending list actions for each email in the series. As mentioned earlier, the edit trigger, edit schedule, edit segment, and edit actions links will display an overlay menu so you can select the appropriate settings for each email in your series. Keep in mind that our preset workflows are designed to help get you started with your Automation series, and as such will come with pre-selected triggers or schedules. You can, however, modify these settings as needed, or add or remove emails from your workflow at any time.
- Fill out the Email Information. These fields only refer to the specific email you are editing, not the entire workflow.
- You can use Automation merge tags in your subject line to automatically display the numbered position of the email within the workflow. If you reorder your emails, the merge tag will update with the new position. The merge tags can also be used in your email content in the Design step.
- During the Template step, choose your layout from Basic templates, Themes, Saved Templates, or Code Your Own. Click Select next to the template you want to use.
- Then, you'll design your campaign in the Email Designer just as you would with a regular MailChimp campaign.
When you're all finished, click Save and Continue and we'll take you back to the main Emails step, which displays your workflow timeline.
Set workflow timeline
The first email in your workflow will send when a subscriber meets the initial trigger criteria. Triggers and delay times for subsequent emails in the workflow can be completely customized to fit the needs of your business. For example, you could choose for each email in the series to be sent X hours, days, or weeks after the previous email in the series. You’ll also have the option to trigger each email in the series by an entirely different event. You could add a customer to an Automation workflow after they join your list, send the next message after they open the previous email, the next after they purchase a product, and so on.
- Navigate to the Emails step.
- Click Edit trigger.
- You’ll see which triggering event you’ve selected (i.e. “A subscriber joins your list”), and you’ll have the option to determine when the first email is sent. Input a number in the first field, and choose hour(s), day(s), month(s), or immediately. Then, click Update Trigger when you’re ready to return to the Emails step.
- The Edit schedule option will allow you to choose the time and days of the week at which the email is sent. For example, if you only want to send subscribers email Monday through Friday, you would simply need to uncheck the “Saturday” and “Sunday” boxes. Keep in mind that when you limit sending times by day or time, subscribers might not receive the scheduled emails when you expect them to. If you use a Date-Based workflow, we recommend sending all days of the week so subscribers don’t miss any emails. Click Save Schedule when you’re finished.
- Note: MailChimp Pro users will also have the option to enable Timewarp for Automation emails here on this step.
- The Edit segment option will allow you to choose which segment of your list receives the email. If you segment subsequent emails in your series, your queue will be limited to only the available subscribers who meet the conditions that you’ve determined. Click Save Segment when you’re finished.
- The Edit action option will allow you to perform a specific action on each subscriber after the email is sent. You could update a merge field, unsubscribe or delete them from the list, add or remove them from an interest group in your list, or add or remove them from a static segment. Click Update Action when you’re finished.
You can Send a Test Email or Save and Exit from the navigation bar at any time.
Automation workflow reports are similar to regular campaign reports, except they show complete workflow statistics as well as individual email statistics. To view your Automation reports, navigate to the Reports page in your account, select the Automation tab, and click the View Report button. Here, you’ll find the overall statistics for the automation workflow. Statistics include Subscribers who’ve completed, which is the number of subscribers who have been sent every email in the workflow, and Emails sent, which is the number of individual emails sent out to subscribers who are part of the workflow’s queue.
Additional tracking on the Workflow Overview page includes the Monthly Performance chart, which displays open rate, click rate, and emails sent for the overall workflow. Because the chart is designed to show month-to-month performance, the workflow needs to be active for at least a month before the chart populates with data.
On the Automation page, you'll find a summary of each workflow's performance. This summary includes trends that will show the change in the Open rate, Click rate, and Send data, so you can compare the statistics from the previous calendar day to the daily average for the series.
To view the reports for individual Automation workflow emails, navigate to the Reports page > Automation > View Report area of your account, scroll down to the Workflow Emails section, and choose View Report for the email you want to view.
Many of the stats on the Automation email’s report are the same as those in a regular campaign report, but there are a few stats that are unique to Automation.
- Delay: the delay time set for the email
- Status: the current status of the email, including how long it’s been sending and if it is currently paused
- Queue: Number of subscribers currently in the queue. If a subscriber has been sent all the emails in the workflow, they will not be counted as being in the queue.
- Last Sent: The last date and time that the email was sent to a subscriber in the queue
Viewing stats for deleted Automation workflow emails
When an email in a workflow is deleted, we will include its basic reporting data on the Automation report’s Workflow Overview page under Deleted Workflow Emails. These stats will help you understand the aggregate stats for the overall workflow.
Once an email is deleted, we no longer hold on to the full email report. Only the stats shown in the Deleted Workflow Emails section are available. This includes the day and time the email was deleted, its open and click rates, and the number of times it was sent to subscribers in the workflow’s queue.
Information in the Activity Digest email
The digest email—when enabled during the Setup step of the Campaign Builder—will include the previous day’s reporting data, like the number of emails sent, open and click rates, and the amount of income generated if eCommerce360 is enabled. It will also include the statistics pulled from the total opens, clicks, and sends for the overall workflow.
- Sent: The number of emails from the workflow that were sent in the previous day
- Opens: The number of times an email in the workflow was opened in the previous day
- Clicks: The number of times a link in an email in the workflow was clicked in the previous day
- New Subscribers: The number of subscribers added to the workflow in the previous day
- Completed: The number of subscriber who completed the workflow in the previous day
- Bounced: The number of emails sent in the previous day that bounced
The percentages beneath the Sent, Opens, and Clicks stats in the gray box are based on the percent increase or decrease for the previous day against the overall average for the workflow.
Here are a few MailChimp customers we think do a great job with automation.
Tofugu is a website that teaches users Japanese through an online textbook. They use automation to help their customers feel great about their progress and stay motivated.
Skillcrush wants to help you learn tech skills through online classes. They use automated emails to send a 10-day getting started bootcamp.
Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
The museum hosts a variety of exhibits, hands-on experiences, and education programs in the Chicago area. One way their team uses automation is to follow a guest’s experience in the museum's “Talk to Me” booth.
Education and Support
We hope this guide has helped you as you get started with automation. If you have any questions about automation workflows that weren’t covered here, visit our Knowledge Base or contact our support team.