Why We Switched from Mailchimp To ActiveCampaign

When you get started with email marketing, the stunning variety of email service providers can be overwhelming. Looking at their pricing and features, it can be hard to discern which of them you actually need, much less what you’ll want in the future.

Most people end up making a decision based on price and ease of use, and that’s okay. But what it means is that, almost inevitably, you’re going to find you’ve grown out of your email service provider — starting the research process all over again.

That’s what happened to us recently. After 5 years of using Mailchimp for email marketing, I made the switch to ActiveCampaign.

While everything is sunshine and roses right now, it wasn’t an easy process getting here. I talked to a few different providers and made a big misstep that cost the business time and money.

So today I’m going to share what I’ve learned about choosing an email provider, and why we ultimately switched from Mailchimp to ActiveCampaign.

Click here to get my cheat sheet on choosing an email service provider.

A brief history of our love affair with Mailchimp

I’ve been with Mailchimp for the entire life of my business, and they’ve treated me well.

I wasn’t quite as green with email marketing as most new business owners. In my last job before launching my business, I served as marketing director for a nonprofit, and email marketing was part of my job.

From that experience, I was able to cobble together a list of requirements:

  • I was not going to use Constant Contact, the email service provider I’d always used in my PR jobs. Holy glitches, batman!
  • I needed to be able to add an optin form to my website.
  • I would use a double opt-in process, because I’d read it was better for quality list building.
  • I hoped for a simple user interface.
  • I was open to paying up to something like $40/month at the start.

I looked a few options (including Emma and some others I can’t remember now), but Mailchimp clearly emerged as the winner. The interface was straightforward and even kind of fun to use. I loved their marketing and was happy to support the company. And, best of all, they offered a free plan for up to 2,000 contacts (although I seem to remember this was 500 back in 2011, but don’t quote me on that).

Within no time, I created an account, set up my list and put an incredibly simple optin form on my website. It said something like, “Want more content like this? Sign up for my free weekly PR tips for busy people.”

Here you can see the very first message I sent out — to 34 subscribers! Amazingly, a few of those 34 still open and read my emails today. #warmfuzzies

The very first email

But, believe it or not, I should have switched email providers just one year later.

In October, 2012, I hosted my first teleseminar (like a webinar but audio only). My guest was Tara Sophia Mohr, who joined me to talk about “How to Get Your Voice Back.”

In setting up this event, I first stumbled across the missing capability in Mailchimp that finally led me to switch email providers.

Here’s the problem: Mailchimp doesn’t give you the ability to tag subscribers according to their source.

I couldn’t just let people subscribe to my main list, if I wanted to tag them based on where they came from (which tells us what subscribers are interested in). I had to set up a new list, then create a group in my main list, and remeber to manually transfer subscribers over.

Segmenting with Mailchimp

With one event, this is not a big deal, and if you don’t offer more than one “lead magnet,” this may never become a problem for your business.

But I was running lots of events — one a month. Before long, setting up the back-end functions and manually transferring contacts became such a pain that I stopped doing teleseminars altogether.

Which sucks, because they were working.

Today, there are workarounds that make this process a little better. With a Leadpages account, you can tag subscribers in your main list according to the landing page they subscribed from. And there’s a Zapier formula that people use, although I do not recommend it (if you’re using Zapier for this, it’s overriding the data you had with the new information on transfer).

…Or, you can simply switch to an email provider that allows you to create multiple opt-in incentives for one list.


Why Did We Choose ActiveCampaign?

There are a lot of businesses that grow to 6, 7 and even 8-figures without ever segmenting their email lists the way I’m talking about.

But there’s a reason a lot of the businesses you look up to use InfusionSoft or other expensive providers — and it’s partially because they are built for detailed segmentation and automation sequences.

ActiveCampaign wasn’t the first email service provider I looked at. I tested ConvertKit and spoke in detail with Hubspot.

ConvertKit is a new company, and while they do offer the kind of list segmenting I was looking for, there were some other features missing. I found this out the hard way, when I had to hand tag “all contacts that clicked a link in ___ broadcast,” because I didn’t set up the automation beforehand.

ConvertKit is new, and they’ve assured me this ability will be available in the near future. But I’ve compromised before, and I wasn’t willing to stick around and wait.

On the flip side, Hubspot is an integrated service that offers everything you could possibly need — they can even replace WordPress! I was seriously impressed with the one-stop feel of Hubspot, but at the end of the day, it was more muscle than I needed.

ActiveCampaign is just right.

I had no problem setting up the backend so you can sign up for my email list through our main opt-in bonus, The Content Remix, or an event-specific lead magnet like this crowdfunding checklist I created when I was a guest expert on Creative Live, or a post-specific upgrade like the worksheet Maggie and I created for this post on Boosting Holiday Sales.

All three of these different options feed into our main email list, and the back-end is set up so you’re tagged based on which one you join. This helps my agency customize the messages we send out — and ideally you end up seeing more content you find useful and less you don’t.

We might outgrow our email service provider yet again, but for now, I’m thrilled with our service. It does everything we need it to do, and then some, for just a smidgen more than we were already paying.

We were paying Mailchimp $50/month + $37 to Leadpages for that workaround I mentioned. Now I pay ActiveCampaign $113/month, and I *could* get rid of LeadPages (but I’m sticking with them for now).

And I suppose that’s the final lesson.

Don’t assume you can’t afford what you want.

I expected to pay $300 or more to get what I want, and I was shocked when I realized that I could find options that met all my requirements for less.

If this post has made you realize that you’ve been putting off a similar switch, here is what I recommend for your next steps:

1. List your own requirements. Be sure to include capabilities and “soft” stuff like, “easy of use” or “nicely designed” if that matters to you. I was sure I was going to have to learn a complicated user interface, but that turned out to not be the case!

2. Decide what improving your email marketing capabilities is worth to you. I looked at services that cost everything from $50/month (ConvertKit) to $900/month + onboarding costs (HubSpot). Before you go too far down the rabbit hole, know what you can afford and how you plan to use your new features.

3. Ask around — and make sure you put more value on the recommendations from others who understand the features you’re looking for! Ultimately, I found ActiveCampaign by looking in a forum I’m a member of. The group is known for its sophistication when it comes to email marketing, which was more appropriate for what I wanted than a group just starting out.

4. Don’t be afraid to get on the phone or ask a question via live chat! I spent a lot of time talking to sales reps to understand the services I was looking at. Not only did it help me hone in on what I wanted, but it gave me new ideas for what I could do with my campaigns.

5. Decide if you want to pay for support moving your list. When I moved to ConvertKit, a rep managed the back-end move. But I ended up doing it myself for ActiveCampaign, so I’d better understand some of the features I wasn’t familiar with. This is more of a personality and temperament thing.

6. Set a date and dive in! My setup took about 2 weeks to fully transfer, because I had a few automation campaigns set up and a lot of groups in Mailchimp that I had to convert into tags. Your mileage will vary, but it’s better to set aside too much time than too little.

If you’d like to reference this list later (plus a few extra tips on some of the other amazing things a full-featured email service provider can do for you), download the cheat sheet.

Click here to get my cheat sheet on choosing an email service provider.

And finally, if you have questions for me, feel free to @ me on Twitter or share them on our Facebook page. I’m happy to help!