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Trigger emails: What they are and 6 examples to nurture leads

Trigger emails

It’s well-known that email marketing is effective at driving ROI (it’s cheap and people spend a lot of time in their inboxes). However, there’s plenty of room for improvement. The average open rate for marketing emails is only 21.5%, and worse, people only spend 10 seconds on average reading the emails they open.

A trigger email campaign is a powerful tool you can use to drive sales and activate your customers, with GetResponse reporting higher open and click-through rates than any other type of email (38% and 6.8% respectively).

In this guide, we’ll answer what are trigger emails? Then we’ll look at how you can use them to increase customer engagement, retention and satisfaction.

After that, we’ll list six great examples of trigger emails and cover some tips you can use to make your triggered email campaigns more effective.


Table of contents


What is a trigger email?

A trigger email is an automated marketing email sent to a subscriber based on a triggering event. The purpose of a trigger email is to send relevant information to your subscriber at key times and increase the chances that they’ll become a customer.

By paying attention to your subscriber’s online activity, you’re able to send an email exactly when they’ll make the most impact.

For example, your customer signs up for your newsletter (the trigger) and receives a welcome email with a call to action (CTA) to check out your website.

The main three types of triggering events are:

  • Action-based emails. An email is sent after a customer performs a specific action, such as making a purchase or registering for an event.

  • Behavior-based emails. These are sent when the customer meets certain criteria regarding their general behavior, such as a period of extended inactivity or long-standing customers.

  • Time-based emails. Time-based trigger emails are sent based on the information you’ve collected from the subscriber, such as their birth date or the anniversary of signing up for your newsletter.

You should plan the messaging and CTA with the trigger in mind so that they’re well-timed and meaningful to your subscriber. This way, you’ll keep them engaged and encourage them to interact more with your brand.

Trigger emails should also change as your subscribers interact with your business, meaning they will only receive particular emails when it’s relevant to them. This means that the email campaign will differ for each user depending on their behavior.

The emails are only sent when there’s a specific reason, so the customer is more likely to open them. This is in contrast to other email marketing techniques like email broadcasts which, while effective, generally have a lower open rate (although segmentation improves this).


Trigger emails help drive sales in every industry

Regardless of your industry, you can use trigger emails to nurture leads and drive sales. Remember, triggered emails have a 6.8% click-through rate – higher than every other type of email. This is due to the fact that customers often expect these emails, especially in the case of purchase confirmations and welcome emails after sign-up.

Here are some examples of how trigger emails can provide value to customers in a few different fields.

Ecommerce platforms

Triggered emails are an exceedingly valuable tool for ecommerce platforms. Through effective marketing automation, trigger emails act as a tour guide to support your customers through each customer journey stage.

For example, you may send an email when:

  • A customer places or cancels an order

  • A customer browses without buying or abandons their cart

  • A customer hits a certain milestone, such as a year since they first signed up or a particular number of orders with you

The goal of ecommerce trigger emails is to drive sales by anticipating customer needs, providing answers and removing obstacles in the customer journey. Trigger-based emails help to make the recipient’s experience smoother, increasing your conversion rates.

SaaS companies

A SaaS company can use trigger email campaigns to automatically send relevant information to leads and customers to maximize their chances of making a purchase.

Some trigger email strategies that SaaS companies often use include:

  • A new customer purchases your software, leading to a set of onboarding emails providing informative guides that educate them about your product

  • A customer’s trial (or subscription) is ending soon, triggering an email that reminds them to purchase a new plan

These types of emails create a dialogue between you and your customer and increase their engagement with your company, leading to more sales.

B2B companies

The main way that trigger emails benefit your B2B marketing workflow is by helping to nurture your leads. Even if the lead isn’t quite ready to make a purchase, providing them with valuable, relevant information will push them down the sales funnel, making it more likely that they’ll eventually convert into customers.

For instance, if prospects sign up for a webinar that you’re hosting, you could send them relevant whitepapers, case studies or ebooks showing how your product or service could help them.

Another strategy is to automate your cold emails to prospects that haven’t opened them in the past. If they go a certain number of days without opening your email, it’s automatically sent again to nudge them into taking action.


How trigger emails and automation help marketers and salespeople increase engagement

Trigger emails have many benefits for salespeople and marketers alike. Because they provide relevant information at key points in the customer journey, they can serve multiple functions. Depending on your strategy, you can use trigger emails to:

  • Keep your customers informed as they undergo transactions with your company. Let them know how the process is moving forward. For example, when a customer purchases online, they expect to receive a confirmation email. Each purchase can act as a trigger, sending an automated email letting the customer know the transaction was successful.

  • Build trust with your subscribers to show them that you care and want to make their journey with you valuable and enjoyable. The more you keep your customer informed, the more you build your credibility and gain their trust.

  • Nurture your leads to get them to take the next step toward becoming a customer. Sending them relevant information lets them know that you value them and want to help.

  • Promote sales to give potential customers a nudge in the right direction. Trigger emails help provide customers with the information and motivation to make a purchase decision.

  • Increase customer retention and satisfaction by paying attention to existing customers. You can send “customerversary” emails to celebrate their tenure as your customer. Have they been inactive for a while? Send them a reactivation email to keep them involved. Think of trigger emails like a conversation between you and your customers.

  • Save time by automating your customer engagement with trigger-based emails. As we all know, time is a valuable resource. You can use the time you save sending emails manually to take your strategy to the next level.

  • Gain important feedback about your company. Find out what people like about your company and where you can improve your sales strategy.


6 email marketing examples that use triggers (without annoying customers)

There are many ways to use customer actions as triggers to enhance your email marketing campaign and generate sales. Here are six trigger email examples you can use for inspiration.

1. Welcome emails

Welcome emails are one of the most popular forms of triggered email. As soon as a new user signs up and agrees to receive email communications from you, they should receive a welcome email in their inbox.

Your email should be short but warm, inviting your new subscriber into your community. The welcome email message can include a simple thank you or an introductory overview of your brand (and products or services). The goal is to show them your brand and begin their journey with you.

Here’s a great example from Adobe Lightroom:


Why this trigger email works:

  • It delivers a warm welcome

  • It reminds them about the Lightroom community

  • It shows some examples of what they can expect

  • It includes a CTA to increase engagement

2. Transactional emails

Transactional emails are sent to customers after they make a transaction (usually a purchase). Transactional emails include information and reminders relevant to the customer’s purchases.

Examples of transactional emails include:

  • Confirmation of purchase emails

  • Shipping notification emails

  • Delivery confirmation emails

The key purpose of a transactional email is to facilitate a sale. However, they’re also important to communicate important information to your customer at key points in their journey.

Here’s what Uber’s travel confirmation email looks like:


Why this trigger email works:

  • It reminds customers of important information, like their fare and the card they used

  • It lists charges and provides a download link (useful for expensing costs)

  • It delivers other useful information, like maps of their trip

  • It reminds customers to rate their driver

  • It incentivizes repeat use with their free ride offer

3. Celebratory emails

These are emails sent to your subscribers on key dates based on personal information that they’ve given you. The most obvious example is a birthday, but they can also be sent for anniversaries.

Of course, you can only send this type of trigger email if your customer gives you that information, so it’s important to have a means of collecting it – like a form.

Mostly, celebratory emails include a short message of congratulations and a discount that they can use. This makes the subscriber feel special and valued and encourages them to purchase.

Check out Grammarly’s first-anniversary email:


Why this trigger email works:

  • It’s creative, which can help your email stand out in an inbox

  • It reminds subscribers of their next tier upgrade

  • It offers subscribers an incentive to sign up for Grammarly Premium

  • It uses urgency to encourage the sign-up

4. Feedback emails

Brands send feedback emails as a follow-up to customers some time after they make a purchase. The purpose of a feedback email is to allow the customer to provide their opinion on your product or service and see if they need anything further.

Customer feedback is vital if you want to make the right decisions with your business. Finding out what’s working and what needs improvement means creating a better product or service and making more sales.

In your feedback email, you can include surveys, questionnaires or a rating scale and comment box. It can be helpful to include an incentive that will encourage your customers to follow the CTA and give their thoughts on your brand, as it shows the customer that you value their feedback.

Take a look at this example from Anthropologie:


Why this trigger email works:

  • It shows customers that their feedback is valued

  • It offers an incentive to complete the feedback form

  • It encourages another purchase with a discount code

  • It invites subscribers to act quickly with a deadline

5. Reactivation emails

You should send emails, or re-engagement emails, to your subscribers after they’ve been inactive for a certain period of time. How to define “inactive” varies from brand to brand. Some will consider subscribers inactive if they haven’t opened or clicked on an email in the last five campaigns, the last month or the last three months.

The goal of a reactivation email is to re-engage your subscribers, so they continue doing business with you. As such, reactivation emails are an important tool for customer retention.

Reactivation emails also help keep up your domain’s sendability. Sending endless emails to unresponsive inboxes is bound to drop your sender reputation over time. Giving customers the option to unsubscribe minimizes your chances of this happening.

Identify these inactive subscribers regularly (e.g., once a month or once a quarter), then segment them into a new list group. Send a separate email, or series of emails, to this new segment reminding them why they signed up.

For example, check out this email from Udemy:


Why this trigger email works:

  • Its purpose is clear with a simple layout and clear ask

  • Subscribers are reminded of the benefits of the service

  • It reminds subscribers that their opinion is valued

  • It offers an incentive to sweeten the deal

  • It encourages fast action with a deadline

6. Abandoned shopping cart emails

Cart abandonment emails are sent to subscribers when they leave your website without finalizing a purchase. Sometimes, people just forget to take that last step or get distracted. Remind these customers that they were in the middle of something to invite them to complete the sale.

How many emails you send depends on your brand and email marketing strategy, but two is generally enough. If the subscriber isn’t purchasing two reminder emails, they just aren’t interested anymore.

Here’s an example from retailer Alex Mill:


Why this trigger email works:

  • The layout is clear and simple

  • It lets subscribers know that their shopping cart is still available

  • It personalizes the email with an image of the product they left behind

  • It offers an incentive discount

As you can see, there are several common themes among these trigger emails. They’re each designed to help the customer feel valued and encourage them to take an action. While incentives are a great way to get customers to purchase, a significant discount isn’t always necessary. Work with your budget, and if possible, A/B test different incentives to see which one works best for your audience.


How to improve your triggered email campaigns

Triggered email campaigns are powerful tools, but they can do more harm than good when deployed in the wrong way. This is because overusing trigger email marketing can frustrate your subscribers. The more you annoy your subscribers, the more chance you will lose them to another brand.

Here are a few tips to keep your triggered email campaigns effective:

  • Choose your triggers carefully. To get the most out of your email campaign, you need to think about which triggers will drive engagement and sales the most. This will depend on your brand, product and target audience. To work it out, consider the moments in the customer journey when a strategically-timed email will encourage them to make a purchase.

  • Plan ahead. Without the right data, like email addresses and product information or birth dates, you can’t send a trigger email. Consider what kind of personal information you need to capture from your subscribers in order to send them relevant and timely emails.

  • Keep your subscribers engaged. Engaging and adding value to your customers’ experience helps to keep your company in their thoughts. Engaged subscribers are more likely to become customers, and the better the engagement, the more likely they’ll be loyal to your brand. To keep your customers engaged, you need to send follow-up emails. Take a look at our follow-up email templates to get started.

  • Stay on topic. Each triggered email follows a specific trigger, so make sure your subject line and messaging are relevant. For example, if your trigger email responds to inactivity, use a subject line that will get their attention, then keep the content on topic.

  • Budget accordingly. Triggered emails mean more volume coming out of your email service provider, so consider whether your current plan will be sufficient. It takes tools and time to create a great email campaign, so plan for your budget and needs.

  • Start small. It can be helpful to start with one or two triggers, like a birthday or reactivation email. As you learn the ins and outs of trigger emails, you can expand to more complicated triggers and multiple campaigns.

  • Provide value. Your email should anticipate your customer’s intentions and provide the answer and a clear CTA. At the end of the day, if the email isn’t useful to your subscriber, it probably isn’t worth sending.


Final thoughts

It’s crucial to nurture your leads and improve your customer’s experience at every touchpoint, and trigger emails are the perfect tool to do just that. With trigger emails, you can personalize each step of your subscriber’s journey, provide value and encourage them to become customers

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