Review under “construction” – check back soon!
What’s up everybody? Sam here with another review for you. Today I’m looking at a product … I’d heard of it quite some time ago actually but I’d never had the chance to use it until I started working with a company here in Christchurch that specializes in doing high performance building technology. I look after the marketing for them. And the guy who runs that company is really clued up and switched on to using various technology solutions to making running his business easier. And he introduced me to this product, that basically he’s using in his business, is like a hybrid CRM and lead generation and mailing platform. I mean, marketing automation as well. I mean it’s called Active Campaign and I’ve been using Active Campaign fairly regularly for about a year, getting on for a year. And to be honest, I’ve been wanting to do a review of it for a while, but just haven’t had the time.
It’s a big product to cover, so I guess I’ve been a bit slack in putting off doing a review of it. Now I’ve changed the way I do my reviews. I just talk about the product, and then have the audio transcribed and do a bit of editing. It’s much easier for me. I sort of felt a bit overwhelmed at actually just sitting in front of a desk for potentially hours and typing up under a bunch of pre-selected headings. So now what I’m doing to do is just basically talk about Active Campaign for probably about 45 minutes to be honest, so this will be a long review. But I’ve put headings in as well in the editing process, so you can jump to what you’re interested in. And there’s even a table of contents at the top of the page. So how helpful is that?
So anyway, what is Active Campaign? Well Active Campaign is a marketing automation platform. So it covers a bunch of different applications actually. So I guess probably the easiest way to think of it, is to compare it to other things and then see how it differs. So there are a whole load of different functionalities within Active Campaign. The first is like a sort of basic CRM for keeping track of leads and customers. There’s a mailing system so a bit like what you’ve got with Mail Chimp for example or A-Weber. You can create a campaign and send it to a list. There’s a lot of options for list segmentation based off actions or data you’ve got about the leads. There’s also another probably key part of it, it really is the automations process. So that’s what you use like, sort of drag and drop flow charts, to create these marketing automation funnels.
So I mean, an example of a marketing automation funnel is like someone comes to your website. They chose to download your free whitepaper that you’ve got or report or video series, or lead, classic sort of lead hook, and then they get added to an automation. And then depending on the actions they take, you might do different things. So if they take enough positive actions, you know, you might get to the point where actually you feel like this lead trusts you enough that you can actually pick up the phone and start talking to them. On the other hand, if they don’t take any action, you might say okay, after three months, just delete them off the list so I don’t even have them on there. Yeah, there’s so many features under the hood, that’s why this review is going to be a long one.
I want to try and cover as much as possible. So I will jump around a little bit. I will sort of talk about things as if you were sitting right here next to me, while I go through it. But hopefully, by the end of it, you’ve got a good understanding of what Active Campaign is, why you’d use it, what are the feature, what are the benefits, and what are the downsides as well. It’s not a perfect product by any stretch of the imagination. So what I’ll do now is talk through the features.
As we know in life, nothing is perfect. There’s no such thing as a perfect or flawless product, especially when it comes to stuff for internet marketing. So now we’ve looked at the good parts of Active Campaign, I want to take some time to talk about the things I don’t like as much, and there are a fair few things I’m not particularly fond of. Mostly I think it’s good, but there’s definitely some things that need to be mentioned.
The first and the biggest one for me is that Active Campaign doesn’t allow affiliate marketing using its platform, and look, if you’re an affiliate marketer that automatically disqualifies Active Campaign for being suitable for you. I personally think it’s not really good enough, I think you should be allowed to do affiliate marketing as long as you’re able to prove you’re doing high quality affiliate marketing. I suppose it’s a bit like MailChimp, they don’t really like affiliate marketing either, but the difference there is that MailChimp is offering a free platform that would be pretty ripe for spam, people creating lots of different accounts and spamming everything.
Active Campaign, you’re paying a decent price for it, so it does gall a little bit to know that you can’t use it for affiliate marketing, because it would literally be perfect for high quality affiliate marketing, especially info products, or anything where you want to move people through a funnel from, say, downloading an initial report to buying a higher value product. It would just be so handy to have, but yeah, if you’re an affiliate marketer you can’t use it, unfortunately, which is a massive shame and it takes what is fundamentally a pretty decent product, in my opinion, and ruins it for anyone who wants to get into affiliate marketing.
So if there’s anyone from Active Campaign watching or reading this, I would encourage you just to actually allow affiliate marketing, even if you have to be a bit strict on managing it, maybe have an option in the signup process to say, “Yes, I will be doing affiliate marketing.” And you have to pay a little bit extra, or your account has to be subject to some scrutiny, or you have to go through a little interview or something. But there are a lot of people out there doing really good quality affiliate marketing, it’s not just churn and burn spammy crap. There are some people with some amazing websites who could benefit from the platform, and who would be good paying customers. So it sort of feels like cutting of the face to spite the nose, but I guess Active Campaign have their reasons, and they’re probably worried about spam and all that kind of thing getting their sending platform reputation tarnished.
Another thing I don’t like about it is the campaign editor, it’s clunky, and awkward, and feels quite limited. You compare it to something like MailChimp, which is so fluid now and so easy to work with, the Active Campaign one does feel really quite dated. I can’t put my finger on it exactly why I don’t like it, but basically what I find is that often when I’m working with this company that I work with on a regular basis, I send a good few campaigns a week from Active Campaign, and the one that I hate about using it is when I actually have to type up the email content and drag and drop things around. It just feels slow and a bit poorly designed. It’s not critical, because really I think the sending functionality is secondary to the automation functionality anyway, but if you’re going to be using a platform for doing lots of emails, to be honest something like MailChimp is better. So that’s another thing to bear in mind.
What else? Let’s have a think about what else I don’t like about Active Campaign. There are a few bugs in the platform that I’ve noticed as well. I had a really bad bug a while ago, I was trying to send out a really important email to a customer database, and it was just stuck in processing with send for ages, and ages, and ages, and that was really frustrating because there was no way to cancel it and do it again, I didn’t want to send it twice, so yeah, super frustrating there. That was a bad bug, but apart from that you do see occasional bugs of people not being added correctly, or things not saving. Like, there’s been about four or five times when I’ve thought I’ve saved an automation, and give it a name and everything, and some of them have been fairly detailed automations, and then I’ll navigate away come back in and find that the automation was never saved, and so I have to start again and that pisses me off as well.
So that’s frustrating. So yeah, there are some bugs, I mean it’s probably par for the course with something that’s so complicated in terms of what you can do with it, but do be aware, double check your work definitely. There are a couple of other things as well that are relatively minor I’m not too fond of, there is one feature that I really like but then there’s an annoying aspect to it as well. So when you send an email campaign, you can actually select to resend it to people who didn’t open it the first time, which is really good, that’s something I’ve seen, I think MailChimp does it, and I know AWeber does it, and it’s relay handy because say you send out an email to 1000 people, and you have 250 opens, then in a couple of days time you think, “Right, that’s sunk down everyone else’s inbox, let’s send it to those other 750 people.” And you might get another 50 opens, or something like that.
It really is, I mean some people would argue it’s spamming, but I actually think it’s best practice if you want to get the most you can out of your contacts. There’s always going to be a percentage of them, and a large percentage, who never open everything, or anything, or hardly ever open emails, so as long as you’re providing good content, or good promotions, you do want to try and get the most you can out of your list. So yeah, you send your campaign and then you go into reselect to send, and here’s a really annoying thing; if you’ve used complex list segments, you can’t just resend the email. The little option will pop up, a little notification box saying that due to the lists or segments you’ve selected the only option you’ve got is to actually create another campaign based on that one, so duplicate, and then select, go manually into the segment creation tool under contacts and basically select your contacts, match this region, and then contacts haven’t taken the action of reading your last campaign.
It would be so much easier if there was just a one click, send it to anyone who didn’t open the last campaign, regardless of how complex the original segment was, because that’s quite a time waster, because when you get a decent number of contacts into your list, this is another buggy aspect of the platform, when you’re dealing with a decent number of contacts it can feel a bit slow, like searching segments and things, searching and creating segments can be a little bit slow.
For example, when you create segments, we use region, so we’ve got, like you’ve got states in the United States, we’ve got different regions here in New Zealand, and we’ve got them all set up, but if I wanted to select, say, three different regions, I have to select the first one, wait for it to refresh, so say lead matches, or contact matches Auckland region, wait for that to refresh, that might take 10 seconds. Then select all contact matches, Wellington region, wait for it to refresh, and it’s small time, but it all adds up and it just could be a bit faster if you picked everything and then hit load. Even if you had to wait a little bit longer on the other end I think it would be better and more fluid.
Then, apart from that, probably the other downside I can see of this product is that it is actually quite overwhelming. There’s just so much you can do with it that, unless you’re willing to spend some time learning the ropes and seeing how it can work for your business, it’s probably not going to be worth you using. You’ve really got to decide that you’re going to commit to Active Campaign, and have a good idea of how you want automations to work, and things like that. Don’t just sign up and play around with it. The first thing I recommend actually, is knowing what actions do you want people to take, and then draw out on a whiteboard, or something like that, a flowchart of how that might work as an automation, and make your Active Campaign automations, with the options they’ve got, work around that. I suppose that’s not so much a downside of the product, it’s just you do need to bear this in mind if you want to maximize the value of it.
So, that’s probably something I’ll actually talk about in a future blog post, it might not even be a review, it’s just how to make sure you’re getting the most out of this kind of software, because there’s so much power, but I suspect there’s a lot of users who are paying a decent price a month. It’s not the cheapest software out there. I don’t think the price is a negative, I think it’s very fairly priced, and I’m not going to mention it as a negative, but it is decent money, and the value you extract from it is going to be entirely ties to how well you can use it.
So look, those are the negatives, the biggest one, again, I want to mention I’d you can’t use it if you’re an affiliate marketer. You know I cut my teeth on affiliate marketing, it’s what I still love doing. I do consulting, I do freelancing, I do affiliate marketing, I do all sorts of different stuff to make money online, but my passion will probably always be affiliate marketing. If I could do one thing and live on it full-time, it would be affiliate marketing. So it is a shame, I suppose I just take it a little bit personally, being an affiliate marketer myself, but we’re not all bad people and it would be nice if Active Campaign recognized that. But apart from that, the list of negatives is relatively small.
Now we come to the final bit of this review of ActiveCampaign, that’s the conclusion. We’ve looked at what the product is, we’ve looked at why you might want to use it, we’ve looked at what’s good about it, and we’ve looked at what’s bad about it and all the sort of boring facts, pricing and all that kind of stuff, but here’s really where the sort of rubber hits the road so to speak: Is it actually worth using?
If you’re an affiliate marketer, no, because you can’t use it, but apart from that if there is a way you can use marketing automation to improve your business, which I think just about every business can, especially if you’re trying to sell something with a bit of a sales cycle behind it and you need to be able to grade leads and you want a way to sort of keep all that information about them in one place and you want a very efficient and effective platform, then, yeah, ActiveCampaign is definitely worth using.
I mean, the way it’s been used in this business I’m working with, and I’m deliberately not mentioning the name because I just want to keep that side of what I do private, although if you probably went and checked out my LinkedIn and things you wouldn’t find it too difficult to find out who I’m talking about, but, yeah. We use ActiveCampaign to such an incredible effect. I mean, for what’s a cheap piece of software, it acts as our CRM and it does a really good job. We do really effective automations. It’s so good for doing segments. You know, if we want to select a segment of people living in a certain region whose job title matches this, well, that’s easy to do. Yeah, the campaign sends, you know, we do a lot of those as well and the stats are pretty good.
I mean, I did mention I don’t like the campaign editing tool, and that’s probably one of my biggest criticisms is that it just feels a bit clunky and not smooth as something like MailChimp, but, yeah, that’s probably not major if you’re not doing a huge amount of campaigns or you’re just setting them up for automations and leaving them. If you were doing like e-commerce style emails every day, I probably wouldn’t recommend it. I would say try something like MailChimp. I think MailChimp Pro is the one with the good automation features. I can’t remember off the top of my head, but, yeah.
Look, overall for say like a small business. I mean, let’s say you run like a … What would be a good example of a company that could really benefit from this? Well, let’s say you run a pool cleaning business, okay? I’ve got a pool cleaning client, so this is kind of relevant to me. Say you run a pool cleaning business, so you might do a give away that’s a free ebook or a free little video course or something on how to keep your pool cleaner for longer. That’s just a silly little example of a give away, but you use it as a hook to get people to sign up.
Well, now you’ve got their data in ActiveCampaign. You can add them to automations, so you can see the people who are more frequently opening your emails. You know, you might have weekly newsletters talking about pool cleaning and keeping your pool nice and tidy and making sure it’s in good condition, and you can see the ones who frequently open it. Well, there you could add them to another automation that actually requests, “Hey, do you need your pool cleaned? Put your number in here and I’ll give you a call,” and you move them through those automations. I mean, that’s a pretty poor example really, but it hopefully gets the point across.
Certainly, if you’re selling anything that requires a bit of a sales cycle rather than people just coming straight to your website and buying it on impulse. Well, if there’s any sales cycle at all involved from a week to months, I think ActiveCampaign can really help reinforce that. Your sales team, if you’ve got one, will find it easy to work in with ActiveCampaign, and it helps bring sales and marketing closer together as well.
So, look, overall I don’t think ActiveCampaign is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think it is really good, as long as you’ve got the ability to think logically about how you’re going to actually extract value from it and make sure you get your money’s worth. So, yeah, have a think. Is there a place for marketing automation in your business? Feel free to send me an email or leave a comment as well if you’d like to sort of run something by me. I’ve got pretty good experience in this now. It’s somewhere I’m looking to consult in more as well, but, look, just say, “Hey, this is what my business does or this is what my client’s business does. Do you think there’s a role for ActiveCampaign?” And I’ll give my hones feedback. Like I said, it’s not perfect for every business, but if you do have a sales cycle or you need to sort of warm leads up to get them ready for a sale, yeah, it would be absolutely perfect for you. Just remember that if you are an affiliate marketer, you can’t use it, which is a big disappointment.
But overall, ActiveCampaign is worth trying. Probably you’ll find it worth buying as well. It is fairly priced in my opinion, and there are a lot of features, and the support is absolutely excellent as well. Really is some very world-class support, and the team of people who provide the support really know their sort of stuff as well, so, yeah. Give it a go and try and build up some automations and see is it working for your business to generate better leads and generate better commercial outcomes. I think you’ll find it will work, but as always, a lot of it comes down to your diligence and using the platform. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a great day.