As I’ve written recently, I’ve had some problems with my Email provider Mailchimp. I use Mailchimp to do a variety of emailings as part of my software company, CNCCookbook. We’re a bootstrapped company that makes software for CNC Manufacturing, and we’ve managed to do very well largely using Content or Inbound marketing. The company is completely bootstrapped, yet we have traffic that makes us the largest CNC-related Blog and Content resource on the Internet.
The problems with Mailchimp were not life-threatening. Basically, they were getting some links wrong in the Plain Text version of my RSS Newsletter. They have been quick to follow up, comping me with some free months and promising to get the problems fixed. There’s a reason they’re as large as they are and they know how to handle customers.
The thing is, I’ve wanted to move up to a more powerful Marketing Automation solution. To do so, I needed features that were missing from Mailchimp and that it doesn’t look to me like they will be adding very soon. In essence, they boil down to more powerful Workflows that let me do highly personalized Lead Nurturing. I believe Lead Nurturing is the next step in getting the maximum value out of my large mailing list (nearly 50,000 members).
So I took this as an opportunity to try another vendor, and I settled on Drip. The information on their web site made it look like they had the functionality I needed and I had seen that some of the sites I value for marketing information were using Drip. The price was reasonable for a company like mine–a bit more than Mailchimp but bringing more functionality. Best of all, I really felt their marketing slogan was perfect for my needs:
Lightweight Marketing Automation That Doesn’t Suck
Unfortunately, despite a week of working hard with Drip, it became clear that it just wasn’t ready for Prime Time. At least not for a firm the size of CNCCookbook (which doesn’t seem all that large to me being bootstrapped by one guy who is an engineer and not a Marketing Guy).
Let me describe what I was trying to do and what problems I encountered so that others may understand. By all means, if you’re aware of a solution that can deal with these things without breaking my bank, let me know about that too. The Marketo’s, Eloqua’s, and Pardot’s in the world can probably do it with ease, but they’re far too expensive. Even Infusionsoft looks extremely expensive to me.
Step 1: An RSS Email Newsletter
CNCCookbook has grown through content marketing and I put out 3-5 new articles every week on our blog. I build the mailing list for that blog via various forms and popups on the web site coupled with premium content offers for signing up. One of the reasons I picked Mailchimp at the time was that it made it extremely easy to automate a newsletter with an RSS feed, and one of the reasons I picked Drip is that it clearly advertised the same capability.
Drip does a lot of things with their RSS (and other email workflows) that I love:
- With one click you can specify to do a follow-up remailing to those who didn’t open the first one. This is hugely valuable all by itself.
- Their email creation UI is fully on part with Mailchimp’s and even a bit cleaner and easier to use.
But, there were problems–some major, some minor, all added up to my not getting a single Email Newsletter out before I decided to cancel my trial after a little over a week of intensive effort. Here’s what I found:
- You have to request the RSS Feed feature be turned on. I found this to be odd and off-putting. It’s like they’re not very proud of it or something.
- It does show up in the UI looking like something of an after thought.
- There’s no way to do Mailchimp’s useful “Forward to a Friend” link.
- You can’t customize the Subscription Management page.
- You can’t manually control whether a user gets the HTML or Plaintext version. In fact, I don’t think you have a way to even tell which one a given user has chosen though the UI shows both.
- I was never able to successful send myself a Plain Text version so I could verify it was good to go.
- Importing my Mailchimp list took hours. Makes me wonder just how scalable this SaaS app is in an age of Cloud Scalability.
That was all stuff I got my head around and was willing to move forward with. But then there were some major gotchas. For example, you can set the RSS up to generate the bulk mailing but wait for you to approve it before it goes out. You can even trigger its generation without waiting for the once a week date so you can use it to debug your efforts.
Bravo, very cool feature!
But the bad news is, each time you trigger it, it won’t run again until the specified interval. So, if you test it, but don’t send the mails, you can’t do it again for real for 1 week. Whoa, totally unworkable and the reason I never sent one email newsletter.
Lead Nurturing and Fancy Workflows
Want to know if they opened emails or clicked through? No worries. There’s even a lead scoring mechanism. Oh boys! Now you’re ready to put together some awesome Lead Nurturing Workflows, right?
Well, not so fast. Let me describe the very basic lead nurturing program I came up with, and my attempts to implement it. Here is the basic Lead Funnel I was after:
No Rocket Science, right? The Brand Loyalty stage is about our giving value in the initial emails by sharing our most popular and valuable articles. Gradually, we start to introduce some popular articles that are about the sorts of problems our software addresses. Then we provide articles that show how our software solves the problems. Finally, we provide articles that show why we are the best choice.
What we want to use the workflow in a product like Drip to do is to determine which articles are being read. Based on that, we may escalate or fall back from one stage in the funnel to another:
Based on which email links readers click, we may escalate them to later funnel stages. If they quit clicking or opening emails, we drop back and start over because they’re not ready…
Again, this is pretty basic lead nurturing, so I’d expect most products to be able to handle this kind of thing. Here are the obstacles I encountered with Drip:
- Inability to work with large numbers of links in Visual Workflows. For example, they’re very excited about their new Visual Workflow Editing. It looks awesome in the demo, but for even middling complex workflows it is very cumbersome. For example, you can’t horizontally scroll the diagrams. I was stretching the window across 2 32″ monitors but still lost the ability to edit when I wanted rules based on 5 links.
- You can use their Rule Editor, but it is going to be a lot of work. What would be ideal would be to simply enter a list of links that trigger a new campaign, with one campaign assigned to each funnel level.
- There’s one single lead score and one threshold for everything. I need separate funnels, campaigns, and lead scores for each product. I want to potentially trigger transition to another level of the funnel not just on links clicked but on leadscore. Maybe a score of 25 = Awareness, 50 = Consideration, and 75 = Decision, or some such. Not possible–Drip’s Lead Scoring is way too embryonic. It would also be nice to be able to reset or reduce the lead score if the prospect fails to move forward and we fall back to wait for another time.
There were a number of other detail level fit and finish issues, but I tend to overlook those if a company is moving at a good clip and working with me. Speaking of working with me, I will say that Drip has some of the best Customer Service I’ve yet come across.
I really wanted to work with these guys, their product has a lot of promise. But I had so many problems during the 21 day trial it was clear I wasn’t going to get it figured out. So I sent the founder a proposal. If he’d comp me a quarter and work with me on the issues, I’d work with him. I’d write about his product, serve as a case study, and provide him with input. In the end, I’d be a decent sized account for him too as we’re off the top of his published plans.
I was surprised when he turned me down:
Thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts down and let us know your situation. I’m sure it’s been frustrating so far as you’ve attempted to get setup, and I appreciate you touching base about this.
From your email, it sounds like a tool like MailChimp, AWeber, or ConvertKit is actually going to be your best bet. It seems that Drip isn’t a fit for what you’re looking to do based on the number of issues you’ve faced. We are unable to extend trials past 21 days as you’ve requested (our competition, such as Infusionsoft, AWeber, ConvertKit, do not offer free trials at all).
With that said, I do appreciate you getting in touch and I’m sorry this last week has been a challenge. I wish you the best of luck with whichever provider you settle on.
I probably shouldn’t have been, but I have always gone out of my way to work with folks who are providing good feedback about problems that I knew we would have to solve to move forward. CNCCookbook seems to me is small enough and the problems we had seem broadly applicable enough I would’ve thought we were in that category.
In any event, we have parted company. I wish Drip all the luck, as I mentioned, I really believe in their core value proposition. Companys like CNCCookbook need affordable marketing automation.
I do have a couple of other potential solutions in mind. Heck, maybe Mailchimp will keep moving in this direction, I don’t know. I will keep you posted.