Customer Life Cycle Emails: Best Practices

In email marketing there are 3 main types of emails: transactional, periodical and sequential. Each type of email is used in specific circumstances in the customer life cycle, and if you leave out any one of these you’re not delivering a complete and positive experience for your customer.

Of course a book can (and has) been written about each type of these emails, but let’s take a high level pass to make sure you have the basics down…


Transactional emails are predominantly sent out upon completion of a special event (registration, payment, unsubscribing, password resets). The most common transaction email is sent on registration, a welcome, activate and/or opt-in email. These emails are very important, but are often overlooked as they are not inherently sales emails.

When you send a transactional email to a customer you need to make sure they are expecting it, and know who it is coming from.

Best Practices

On a registration email, you need to make sure your from address includes your company or service. An excellent example can be seen in the GrooveHQ¬†emails. The From name was “Alex at Groove” and the Subject was “You’re in ūüôā | Plus a quick question…

I instantly knew who was emailing me and I felt a personal connection because the email came through with a name and inviting subject line.

Upon paying for Groove, another good feeling email came through from Alex again telling me that I’m awesome. Stroking your customer’s egos in a non-patronizing way and making them aware of your appreciation is a great tactic to use. ¬†And extra bonus points if it’s really genuine!

Email Service Providers

Services that handle transactional emails have been around for many, many years, in fact, since the dawn of time people have just sent with their default SMTP relay built in to their server or hosting provider. Now, though, when SPAM is being sent through every open SMTP relay you need to use with a trusted, white-listed email provider. A few years ago, this would have cost you 2 arms and 1/2 of a leg, leaving you unable to write the emails you just sold your limbs to be delivered.

Now there are two really good services and one mediocre service.

First and, in my most humble of opinions, the best is Mandrill. It’s a cheap $0.20/thousand sends and you get 12,000 emails/month for free. They are owned by Mail Chimp and have support for Mail Chimp templates, so¬†if you use them as your newsletter provider, you are able to easily keep a consistent look and feel. ¬†This is a perfect setup for non-techies. ¬†Mandrill also tracks opens, clicks, bounces and spam complaints, supports split testing and demographic data.

My next choice would have to be SendGrid. They are only second due to price – they are 3 times more expensive than Mandrill. The feature set is roughly the same, but they have one killer feature I have used many times in the past: email categories. Each email you send you can categorize and break down your open, clicks, spams and bounce stats out per category and compare them. This is how we have handled simple split testing, and I do like it better than Mandrill for this. ¬†The standard free version of SendGrid allows only 200 emails a day, but if you sign up for the free account through Windows Azure, you are able to send 25,000 emails per month. If you’re on a tight budget, this may push SendGrid ahead of Mandrill.

The bottom of the three would have to be Amazon’s SES web services. It’s more restrictive (you have to manually register every sending domain through DNS updates), they don’t have any of the fancy features that Mandrill and SendGrid have, but they are cheap (half the price of Mandrill), and for almost any business they would be completely free (2000 emails/day for completely free).

But Amazon SES lacks open, click, bounce and spam tracking so unless you’re just blasting emails randomly around it’s not a good joice. ¬†And lets face it, like all Amazon websites, it is ugly and difficult to navigate.

Periodicals (a.k.a Newsletters)

One of my least favorite emails to put together are newsletters. For a non-blogging business, you have to come up with content, you then have to format it, make sure it looks good on the receiving end and passes the SPAM sniff test. All in all, its a half days work, but if used correctly can be an effective marketing and goodwill-building tool.

Proper blogging is hard work for most businesses, which is why I urge every business I talk to to suck it up and blog, even if it is only once a week. Once a week blog posts are all you need for a monthly newsletter.

Best Practices

  • First and foremost, you MUST¬†(if I could triple underline that, I would!) include an unsubscribe and your business address at the bottom of EVERY periodical email. Not only is the unsubscribe link part of CAN-SPAM Act of 2003¬†but it will also help keep email services from automatically delivering your email to the Spam/Trash folder.
  • You should also always include a link to view the email in the web browser. While your email should render properly in most clients, there are always the random few that might fail (Outlook 2007+, anyone?).
  • Always make sure you content is completely relevant to your customers. If you are a microbrewery, you shouldn’t send them an email about sneaker deals! I hope this point is common sense, but I see this every couple months in my inbox. Some list I got on for what ever reason and now I get random affiliate links to horrible Forex trading system and weight loss pills.
  • Don’t send to your list too often. You wouldn’t want that guy you talked to at a conference that one time emailing you every day, would you?
  • Always direct your audience back to your site and/or blog. I cannot stress this enough, if your newsletter is read then discarded without the user clicking through, it was a missed interaction. ¬†Ryan Deiss over at Digital Marketer always preaches this. ¬†Train people to click the links in your emails by sending them to additional information – videos, infographics, detailed blog posts, etc.

Newsletter Services

These are also everywhere – you can’t throw a rock without hitting another newsletter service. They all have roughly the same features, and most of them offer a free plan as well. So just take your pick and pick which one you like best. ¬†Everyone has a favorite but all should do the job.

Sequential Emails

Sequences have to be my absolute most favorite emails to send.

Sequential emails are a group of emails you send on a predictable schedule. The most common use of these emails are training and informative pitch emails. You will receive them generally any time you put your email address into a lead magnet (like under and to the right of this post¬†— go ahead, do it now! ¬†:D). They will usually start with a transactional email sent immediately followed by a one or two day delay between another 3 to 5 emails.

Best Practices

As with newsletters, since this is an automated email, you MUST (if I could triple underline that, I would!) include an unsubscribe and your business address at the bottom of EVERY email.

Try to be personal with the user. Let them know you are there for them if they need any help with your product of service, and be prompt when replying to their questions.

Let them know when they can expect the next email and tease what it will be about, but be light with it: “I am going to check back with you in couple days with a couple cool tricks you can do with our service. ¬†You’re going to love it!”

Sequence Services

There are a lot of services are out there, but they’re not as mature as the typical newsletter service.

AWeber is the oldest and most well known of these services, and is pretty rock solid. It also has the added benefit of giving you newsletter blasts as well.

Drip is my favorite. It’s just beautifully simple, comes with a training sequence (of course!) ¬†and has a single copy+paste opt-in widget that pops up in the footer of your website. It is slightly costlier, but is well worth it for the amount of polish.

InfusionSoft is one that we use for some of our SEO services. ¬†We fully integrated it into our processes to handle Newsletters and Sequences, and find that it’s largely a VERY overpriced AWeber for what we use it for. ¬†Unless you know what you’re doing with it, I suggest saving your money and going a different direction.

A final (and cheaper) solution if you aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty in some coding is using Mandrill’s scheduled emails feature. It raises the price from $0.20 to $0.27 per 1,000 emails sent, but that is still cheaper than any of the competition. If you get 500 new subscribers a month and have a sequence that is 10 emails long (way too long by the way, you should really shorten it!), you will send out 5,000 emails in a month costing you roughly $1.50.

A Full Example

When a user signs up for a free account on your website, you send them a welcome email.

SUBJECT: Welcome to WidgetSoft… one more step!

Hey Bob,

Welcome to WidgetSoft! We are really excited you decided to try us out.

You still need to activate your account by clicking the following link:
Activate My Account

If you have any questions, just email us at [email protected]

WidgetSoft Team

This email will be followed up after 2 days with a sequence of helpful tips and a reminder if they haven’t used their account.

SUBJECT: Re: WidgetSoft Account

Hello there Bob,

I just had a moment to look over your account, and realized you haven’t set your profile up. Did you have any questions?

Let me know. I’ll be emailing you again in a few days to check back in with you to let you in on a few tips and tricks with our software.

Your personal customer advocate,

Every time you release a new feature be sure to send out a newsletter with a link to a blog post with the full details of the new feature.

SUBJECT: New Features and a New Team Member


A lot has happened since last month, we rolled out a couple of new features we are really excited about. Read more here.

We released the results of our latest customer feedback poll (we were upset you didn’t contribute to it). Read the takeaway here.

Last but not least we hired a new developer who will be able to help us crush through the new feature requests everyone (except you! :D) sent in over the poll. Read more about him here.

Until next time,
Happy Widget Designing!

As you can see everything links nicely, Bob knows we miss him and everything has a pretty personal touch.

Using all the email types together will not only boost conversions, but will retain much better. And everyone knows it is easier to retain a customer than to gain a customer. Stay in front of them, give them good information and NEVER spam their inbox!

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