Auto-Responders: Why Trigger-Based Email Will Increase Your Conversions

Internet marketing research firm MarketingSherpa recently asked online businesses what types of automated emails they send. The results (full chart here) show that outside of welcome, thank you and transactional emails (such as receipts), most business are not fully embracing the power of auto-responders. In fact, based on their data, about 75% of businesses are […]

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Internet marketing research firm MarketingSherpa recently asked online businesses what types of automated emails they send.


The results (full chart here) show that outside of welcome, thank you and transactional emails (such as receipts), most business are not fully embracing the power of auto-responders.

In fact, based on their data, about 75% of businesses are missing out on the email marketing sweet spot.

Why Use Auto-Responders?

What’s the sweet spot, you might ask?

Auto-responders sweet spot

Per the diagram above, newsletters (i.e., one email distributed to many people) have an open rate of around 20%.

In contrast, transactional emails have an average open rate of around 50%. Simply put, this means that trigger-based transactional emails are over 100% more effective than newsletters on average!

The fact is that emails sent based on customer actions get more opens, clicks and conversions because they are contextual.

Auto-responders are in this sweet spot: they deliver marketing messages just like newsletters but use automated triggers, providing the user with context.

So, if you want to get started with your own trigger-based marketing campaigns and be part of the 25% that send the most effective email campaigns, here are some tips on how you can get started — along with some real-world examples so you can see these tactics in action.

1. Segment Your Customers Based On Their Behavior

Sending personalized offers to customers based on their on-site behavior is an incredibly effective email marketing tactic. For an example, let’s look at Amazon, the world’s largest (and arguably most efficient) online retailer.

Chris Schwarz over at The Search Guys talks about an experience he had where he browsed a series of point-and-shoot digital cameras and received a series of automated follow-up emails from Amazon, all directly referencing products he had browsed.

Here are just two examples:



Not only are these emails extremely targeted, they also use various psychology techniques to encourage customers to click through and, ultimately, purchase. The A-Z sweepstakes is a particularly sneaky example of automated email marketing in action!

The key takeaway from these emails is to use customers’ actions to drive segmentation. Rather than asking customers, “What do you want to buy today?” (which is difficult to do), Amazon infers their customers’ intent is based on their browsing habits.

2. Use Social Triggers To Drive Engagement

Customers love to interact. Companies like Twitter, LinkedIn and OkCupid truly understand this.

Take this email from Twitter. Many of you may recognize this campaign from your own inboxes:


Twitter understands that engagement with their service requires users to “follow” and be “followed” a certain number of times, i.e., they must interact with a certain number of other customers. To help drive customers toward activation, Twitter uses trigger-based emails like these to suggest relevant profiles for its users to follow.

LinkedIn has recently rolled out their “endorsements” feature. This feature allows you to ‘endorse’ a colleague or friend for a particular skill, such as “ecommerce.” Email marketing has been a big part of the roll-out of this feature. For example, you may have received these emails in your inbox of late:


An email like this is sent whenever a user endorses you for a new skill. These emails are great for two reasons:

  1. They make you feel special (you’ve just been told you’re awesome at a certain skill!)
  2. They encourage you to click through and endorse another user.

Both of these are great outcomes for LinkedIn as they strengthen the community and your investment in the LinkedIn platform. Rather than just telling you, “Hey! You’ve been endorsed,” adding the call to action turns this trigger-based email into a marketing channel to drive an engagement loop that is really powerful.

OkCupid is an online dating app that is particularly data-driven. They’re very savvy email marketers, too. Take this email as an example:


Whenever a new profile matches a certain percentage hit-rate with your own profile, they’ll automatically send you an email like this. Similarly they automatically email customers when new profiles are added that meet your search conditions.

3. Educating New Leads

WPEngine is a WordPress host that offers managed hosting. Despite charging a premium, they’re growing quickly in a market that is generally dominated by price-sensitive customers.

Their email marketing course is an effective lead-generation engine that provides customers with something of value, educates them with a series of automated emails and converts them into trial signups.


WPEngine automates 7 emails over 30 days that give away virtually everything they know about optimizing WordPress sites. This might sound counter-intuitive to making a sale, but by giving away their secrets, WPEngine shows potential customers just how hard it is to optimize a WordPress site. This quickly shows that it’s a no-brainer for you to spend $29 per month on their managed hosting.

A course like this is a tried-and-true method of turning new leads into customers and is a great application of a trigger-based email marketing campaign. Get customers interested with something of value, give them lots of fantastic content sent directly to their inbox and earn a customer for life.

HitTail employs a similar methodology and even goes as far as capturing leads on their homepage. This is a great move, as it gives customers who are not yet ready to start a free trial an alternate option.


4. Automate Yourself Out Of The Equation

Some of the best auto-responders are simply campaigns that are designed to imitate the real-life follow-up emails you, or a member of your team, already send.

HelloFax is a SaaS company that makes it easy to send faxes online. They send out this welcome email from one of their founders, Joseph, to all new signups:


Joseph isn’t actually typing out all of these emails, but the simplicity of the emails certainly lends itself to this impression.

This sort of email always impresses customers and leads to a high response rate with priceless customer feedback. In this example, writing back actually directs your response to HelloFax’s help desk.

This is just one in a series of welcome (or activation) emails sent by HelloFax and is a great example of a campaign that is simple and to the point.

Great… So Where Can YOU Start?

It’s all very well to look at these examples and be impressed, but you might wonder how you can put together some auto-responders that will provide quick wins for your own business.

There are two really well-defined steps you should follow to get started with your first auto-responder campaign. By following these steps, I guarantee you’ll find at least one campaign that will give you a 10 times ROI on your email marketing spend!

1. Find Your Key Trigger

What should you use to actually trigger your auto-responder campaign? The place to start is to focus on your quickest win.

To find your quickest win, you should review your website’s core funnel.

An ecommerce store might review the steps from landing on their homepage, viewing a product, adding a product to the cart, beginning checkout and, finally, to completing checkout.

A software as a service application might review the steps from free trial signup to taking a core action within the application to becoming a paying customer.

When reviewing your funnel, you want to find the step at which you have the highest drop-off. That’s where you’ll find the trigger to provide you with the quickest win.

Flightfox provides a great example of this. They’re a travel search company with a five-step process. Most importantly, step one is providing your itinerary details and step two is providing your credit card details.


They identified a key drop-off between steps one and two and decided to focus on decreasing the drop-off rate with an auto-responder.

Using Vero, they set up an email that goes out 24 hours after a customer completes step one but doesn’t complete step two.

This email lifted their overall funnel conversions by 20%!

The key takeaway here is to find the place you can get the quickest win and implement an email remarketing campaign targeting that particular point in your funnel.

Disclosure: Flightfox is a customer of my company, Vero. You can read the full case study on how they used email remarketing to increase their email conversions.

2. Keep It Simple!

Once you’ve found your key drop-off point, the next question is what to write in your initial auto-responder.

It can be tricky to get started — and often, worrying about the perfect copy, the perfect call-to-action or the perfect formatting can prevent marketers from getting started.

A fool-proof formula for coming up with the copy for your first auto-responder is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes: what are they thinking at this drop-off point? What questions do they usually ask you or your support team at this stage of their life-cycle?

Search your email or your help desk and you’ll quickly be able to come up with some idea of what these questions should be. Pick the top three most frequently asked questions and write out a simple email (no fancy HTML template) that addresses each question one after the other.

Here’s the email Flightfox put together:


Although extremely simple, this email is the perfect example of where to start. It does two things really well:

  1. It answers customers’ questions directly. It is a useful email.
  2. It has a clear call-to-action.

This format works equally well for customer activation, cart abandonment, engagement and any other automated campaign you intend to set up! If you do these two things well, you’ll nail your first automated campaign.


Now, it’s over to you! What sorts of trigger-based auto-responders are you going to set up first? Let me know in the comments or send me an email if you want to discuss tactics!

Next month, we’re going to look at some examples of great email copy and calls to action… so stay tuned.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Chris Hexton
Chris Hexton is the CEO and Co-Founder of Vero. Chris spends his time working with Vero's customers to send smarter emails based on what their customers do and don't do on their website.

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