Hey Product Hunt 👋 Get 30% off your first 3 months if you sign up using this link

Better Done Than Perfect · Season 3 · Episode 4

Email Automation for Membership-Focused Companies with Blair Wadman

You'll learn about the similarities and differences of these companies compared to the traditional SaaS model, the tools used to run these businesses, tips for email marketing, and more.

Blair Wadman

How should membership-focused companies think about marketing automation? In this episode, we talk to Blair Wadman, an email automation consultant specializing in membership-focused companies. You'll learn about the similarities and differences of these companies compared to the traditional SaaS model, the tools used to run these businesses, tips for email marketing, and more.

Show Notes 📝

Thanks for listening! If you found the episode useful, please spread the word on Twitter mentioning @userlist, or leave us a review on iTunes.

Key Learnings 💡

Blair Wadman's journey into email automation for membership companies started with a background in web development. With 15 years of web development experience, Blair led teams and wrote an ebook on Drupal development. The ebook spurred his interest in email marketing. With  Brennan Dunn's teachings and encouragement, combined with his developing focus on membership-focused companies, Blair arrived at what he does today — email automation specifically for these types of companies.

Blair describes that there are typically two types of membership-focused companies. On one hand, there are very large organizations that exist to serve their members and are industry standouts. On the other, creators and educators that want to add an additional service or community for their audience. Blair works with both types. 

The typical tech stack & payment processing

One of the first questions that Jane has is whether or not these membership-focused companies lean toward no-code tooling, specifically the companies that are smaller and more creator-based. Oftentimes they do. Blair describes that the no-code movement had provided a massive opportunity for these membership-based companies:

"If I go back a few years, when the no-code movement was at its infancy, it required a lot of custom development to do this stuff. I've worked with companies where we've had to do this kind of custom development, and it's really complex when you start to have to integrate systems together."

These companies typically have a CRM, a website, and a different system to govern their memberships. In the past, it was really difficult to set up the required integrations to get data flowing smoothly between these disparate systems. But now, no-code solutions can help tackle this problem:

"You can just sign up to four different SaaS products, and then you can use something like Zapier. This means that you can effectively send the user data between those four different applications without requiring custom development and custom code. You don't necessarily need a developer."

Lots of people set this up on their own, but some rely on a consultant like Blair to set up these integrations. Either way, these tools allow for time and cost savings over what it would have required in the past. 

When it comes to accepting payments, two popular solutions are Membestack and MemberVault: 

"Memberstack is an interesting one because that allows you to add a membership component to any website. You don't have to change your whole infrastructure to be a membership-focused website. You can add on Memberstack and that allows you to create a member section of the website that handles the payments.

Something like MemberVault is slightly different. It is a dedicated, bespoke system that is just for memberships and there's a whole range of them. So it depends a little bit on what you're trying to do."

What a membership means

Membership-focused companies typically provide some type of paid community, paid content, or often exclusive access to events as Blair points out. While online events have taken place in the last year due to COVID-19:

"A massive benefit to a membership is to be able to participate in in-person, real-world events."

From a business perspective, the range of pricing for memberships spans a wide range — from $5/month for member-only content, to hundreds or thousands of dollars. The value of the higher-end memberships is typically access and connections to others that will help your business and career:

"If you're a leading marketer for a big company, and you join a membership company that is focused on that particular market, and if the members are sufficiently high caliber, then it means you can go to one of those events and you can meet other marketers who are the same. It opens up a whole world of learning new stuff, learning new techniques, but also job opportunities, business opportunities, all that kind of stuff."

The benefits also depend on the business model of the membership-focused company. For some, memberships are the primary revenue and for others, memberships are just another stream of income alongside a core product. 

How membership-focused companies approach email automation

While there are some similarities between membership-focused and traditional SaaS companies, Blair says that they will often use email tools built for creators as opposed to ones built for SaaS, like Userlist: 

"They typically don't use the tools that are designed for SaaS, like Userlist. But I think they should because there is a lot of overlap with SaaS and membership. I think if you're going to choose a tool that's available that's not focused on membership, then one that's focused on SaaS is probably gonna be better."

At the high-end of sophistication and cost are tools like Pardot. Pardot is a natural fit for those companies that are larger and are already using Salesforce as their CRM as it makes integrations easier. No matter what email automation platforms these companies use, Blair typically sees that the email lists are maintained as a comprehensive, segmented list as opposed to several lists for all users versus members:

"It's typically one list that's segmented. That's the most common pattern, but sometimes you get it separate as well, and again, it depends on the scale."

Other patterns that Blair observes are mistakes:

"The problem I see generally with email marketing is that people have not thought through the experience from the beginning to the end."

The example he provides is having a goal focused on increasing list subscribers. If a "freebie" used to entice new list sign ups doesn't closely mimic the value that someone will enjoy while on the list or benefitting from the membership, the risk is that they will churn. Churn is a problem that these membership-focused companies deal with much like traditional SaaS companies do. 

Leveraging evergreen content

Evergreen content is tricky — Blair describes balancing sending "live" updates and news to your list with sending evergreen content as a way to both provide value and alleviate the burden of constantly needing new content:

"Evergreen is probably better, but it's also harder in a way because you've got to be really careful that you don't include anything that's going to make it obvious that it's evergreen." 

His guidelines for evergreen content are to make it valuable, give it personality, and make it timeless. For more sophistication, and to be able to intersperse evergreen content within live product updates or announcements, dynamic snippets in email automation play a key role. And the snippets can be used  for dynamic calls to action as well:

"Based on the status of the subscriber, you change the snippet and you give them the next thing, the next level up, the next call to action that's most relevant."

Tactical tips

Regarding emails, is it better to put in the full copy or to link elsewhere?

Test, but for full copy emails, people are preferring shorter emails as a trend. Additionally, as open rate tracking gets increasingly obscured in the name of privacy, including some type of link in the body of the copy is important. Tracking the click-through rates on these links will be the next best thing to tracking open rates and you can use these to prune your list and keep it to those who are most engaged.

When people join a list, should they be blocked from single broadcasts until making it through an onboarding or nurture sequence?

Blair recommends letting people finish the onboarding first so that they get a chance to "warm up" and get to know you. That way, they'll care about the broadcast emails when they get them.

Final advice

Do keep things as simple as possible.

"Try and keep things as simple as possible when you're starting out. Don't try and automate everything. Don't be afraid to do things manually at the beginning."

Don't pitch too aggressively to new users on your list.

"Every email you send should have some kind of value and it shouldn't be just pitching."

Thanks for listening! If you found the episode useful, please spread the word on Twitter mentioning @userlist, or leave us a review on iTunes.

Subscribe to win your free shirt

Join our mailing list below, learn about new episodes as they go live, and win one of our custom-designed shirts from Cotton Bureau.