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Mailchimp’s Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

Kalo Yankulov

Kalo Yankulov

Co-founder and marketer at Encharge.

Mailchimp is arguably the most popular ESP (email service provider) among starting businesses, mostly thanks to its generous freemium plan and established monkey-focused brand. Many SaaS companies use Mailchimp to send one-off newsletters to their whole contact database. But how good is Mailchimp if you decide to stick with it for more than sending email blasts?

We’re going to unpack this question in this post part of our series of marketing automation tool reviews for SaaS companies. 

A note before we start:

Mailchimp has gradually moved from being an email tool to a marketing hub for small businesses. In the last couple of years, they’ve rolled out a landing page builder, a website builder, a social scheduling tool, and a creative assets tool (and I bet I’m still missing a few).

Some of the things you can create in Mailchimp:

Mailchimp's Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

In this review, we’re not going to dissect the whole suite of Mailchimp tools. Instead, following the example of our HubSpot review, we’re going to focus only on the features related to customer messaging and marketing automation:

Continue reading for the most comprehensive review of Mailchimp, written specifically for SaaS companies.

What Mailchimp features do you need? (if you are a SaaS)

Mailchimp is a big tool, so you’re probably wondering what you should consider before you start using it. In my post on how to choose the right marketing automation tool for your SaaS, I covered the top aspects that every marketer or product person should evaluate in a marketing automation platform. Below we’re going to cover each aspect and examine how well Mailchimp performs in it.

All-in-one vs. Best-in-class tool

Do you prefer a single platform (suite of tools) for your marketing and sales needs or you want the best tool in each category? 


Well, Mailchimp is neither an all-in-one nor a best-in-class tool. 

As mentioned, Mailchimp has drastically expanded its feature set to offer things like landing pages and websites, but it’s still definitely not the all-in-one marketing platform you’d expect. Mailchimp even boasts a CRM feature, but trust me — there’s no CRM in Mailchimp. If you want a full-fledged all-in-one platform for SaaS, you’d be better off with HubSpot (if you could afford the price tag) or Intercom (if you don’t need a CRM).

Likewise, Mailchimp is not really a best-in-class tool because it doesn’t specialize in anything in particular. 

Mailchimp falls somewhere in between, and it best serves small businesses looking for a basic set of not-so-robust marketing tools.

Events and actions

User events are API triggers you send to your marketing automation platform in order to automate things that happen in your app/actions your users take. It’s one of the most critical things to consider if you run a SaaS.

Mailchimp supports custom events but only on its Premium plan, which starts at $399 per month for up to 10,000 contacts (check the next section for detailed price breakdown).

Multichannel marketing

Do you need to send more than emails?

If you’re B2B, you might be considering in-app messages. Conversely, if you’re B2C, you probably need text messaging. 

Mailchimp supports email, postcards, and Facebook/Google ads. In-app messages and SMS are not available on the platform. 

For SMS, you can use a 3rd party integration, and for in-app messages… well, I couldn’t find a way to tie-in in-app messages in Mailchimp.

Native integrations

Is customer messaging all you need, or you want to automate other tasks across your marketing stack? 

Mailchimp has a native integration with Facebook and Google retargeting. 

The other useful integration for SaaS is Stripe, which allows you to send transactional emails when people buy from you or cancel their subscription. 

The rest of the integrations are geared toward eCommerce:

Mailchimp's Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

That said, Mailchimp is certainly not the right tool for you if you’re looking for a marketing automation tool that automates things across your toolset. That’s due to the lack of a robust visual flow builder and a limited selection of native integrations.

If you’re after advanced automations across your apps, you need to check out Encharge or something like Autopilot instead.

Transactional emails

Do you need to send transactional emails from your marketing automation tool? 

Transactional emails are automated system emails your users get when important things happen in your app. For example, you can send emails when you need to inform that a user needs to reconnect their account in your app. 

Most SaaS companies send transactional emails in-house (through their own email systems). Still, others prefer that the marketers in the team have control over the transactional emails and send them through their marketing automation tool.

A few months ago, Mailchimp started the merger with its transactional email business Mandrill. Today you can send transactional emails through Mailchimp, but at an additional cost (check next section for more information on prices).

What Mailchimp plan do you need? (if you’re a SaaS)

How much are you going to pay if you go with Mailchimp?

It’s hard to consider every single use case, but here’s a list of the marketing automation features I find essential for SaaS companies:

  • One-off emails/newsletters (duh).
  • Triggered behavior-driven emails.
  • A workflow builder (especially if you consider building advanced customer journeys and multi-step sequences.)
  • Advanced user segmentation.
  • User activity feed.

And the ones I find good to have:

  • Marketing stack automation that integrates with CRM, billing tools, form tools, and others.
  • Transactional emails.

With that in mind, we need to demystify the Mailchimp pricing and figure out how much you’re going to pay. And believe me, this is not an easy task — Mailchimp has a complicated pricing model, especially when you start looking into the premium features.

Let’s examine the three pricing plans of Mailchimp:

Essentials Plan
Starts at $9.99 per month for 500 contacts.

This plan supports basic newsletter sending and “multi-step journeys”, or at least that’s what Mailchimp states on their pricing page.

When I started creating an automated campaign on my Free Mailchimp account, I was asked to upgrade to a Standard or Premium plan

Mailchimp's Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

I’m not sure what Mailchimp refers to as a “multi-step journey,” but it looks like automated emails and the (new) visual workflow builder are only available on Standard plan and above.

Even if we assume that automations are supported on the Essential plan, the “Customer journey builder” (i.e., workflow builder) does not include If/else rules on this plan:

Mailchimp's Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

In a nutshell, it’s safe to say that you will be extremely limited if you try to automate things on the Essential plan. This leads us to the next plan — the Standard plan.

Standard Plan
Starts at $14.99 for 500 contacts

The standard plan supports Customer Journey Builder + Branching Points (if/else rules). It also supports automated triggered emails from custom events (i.e., when a user does something — send them an email).

So is the Standard Plan a good fit for early and mid-stage SaaS companies?

Not really…

When I was researching how well different tools handle segmentation for SaaS, I found out that there are two types of segmentation in Mailchimp: Basic and Advanced.

Screenshot 2020 07 08 at 11.54.52 AM

Event-based segmentation falls under Advanced Segments, and therefore only available on the Premium plan. 

In other words:

YES, you can send behavior-based emails on the Standard plan.

But NO, you can’t segment people based on what they do in your product.

To give you an example:

Let’s say you run a Trello-like app. You’d be able to send an automated email when a user creates their first card, but you won’t be able to see the people that have created a card (not at least in a segment of people).

I find this a deal-breaker for any SaaS company that is serious about behavior-based emails.

Which leads us to the last and most expensive plan of Mailchimp.

Premium Plan
Starts at $299 for 10,000 contacts

The Premium plan finally supports everything SaaS companies need: customer journeys, behavior-triggered emails, and event-based segments.

So is the Premium right for SaaS companies?

The answer is — it depends.

It depends if you’re willing to pay $300 for 10,000 contacts.

With Encharge, you get 20,000 contacts for the same price + a marketing automation tool focused on behavior-driven emails.

But let’s say money is not an issue for you, and you’re a big fan of Mailchimp. Is the Premium Plan right for your SaaS?

We’re going to explore this in the following sections, by examining each of the components of Mailchimp.

Transactional emails

Transactional emails are a separate add-on for Mailchimp that you need to pay on top of your Mailchimp plan. 

The pricing for transactional emails is based on the number of emails you send (vs. the number of contacts like the rest of the plans). The price is $20 per 25,000 emails, and you need a Standard plan (or higher) to use transactional emails.

Mailchimp Automated Emails and Workflow Builder

Mailchimp supports two ways to send automated emails:

  • Automation builder (also known as Classic Automations) — this is their standard automation builder.
  • And Customer Journey — a new visual workflow builder that Mailchimp launched in July 2020.

To create a new automation go to Automations and click on Create.

Mailchimp's Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

Classic Automations

Classic automations allow you to send a chain (think sequence) of emails triggered in a linear order. 

Here’s a list of the supported triggers (a trigger is what starts an automated sequence):

  • Manual add — when you add a subscriber manually to a workflow.
  • Signup — when a new subscriber is added.
  • Changes in a subscriber audience field — when a contact field changes. You can only select absolute values, not relative like, for instance, “Lead scoring is more than 5”.
  • Joins group — Groups in Mailchimp are essentially qualification/self-profiling fields that let contacts self-categorize based on interests or preferences using responses you set.
  • Leaves group
  • Added tag
  • Event API
  • Sent campaign, Opened campaign, Not opened campaign, Clicked campaign, Not clicked campaign, Specific link in campaign clicked
  • And some eCommerce-related triggers that are not relevant to SaaS.

With the trigger you can choose:

  • An email schedule — Send ASAP, at a specific time or between specific dates.
  • Filter by a segment or tag
  • And a post trigger action — Update merge field, Archive, Unsubscribe, Add/remove from group, Add/remove tag. 
Mailchimp's Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

The Mailchimp classic automation builder takes an unconventional approach to workflow building by combining trigger, filger, and action in a single step.

Once you’re done with your trigger, you can add a time-based sequence of emails that would look like this:

Mailchimp's Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

Emails in the sequence could be spread with time delays (1 day after the previous email is sent) or when a previous email in the sequence is opened/not opened or clicked/not clicked.

As you can see, the classic automation builder doesn’t really have a lot to offer. I find the approach of combining filters, actions and triggers in a single step limiting and unintuitive. There are no ways to create complex branches or do anything more than automate basic time-based sequences. 

Even if you decide to use it for time-based sequences, managing multiple steps can easily get unwieldy. 

To wrap it up: I don’t recommend the classic automation builder. 

Customer Journeys

The customer journey builder is a new feature of Mailchimp and as of September 2020 is still in Beta. It’s Mailchimp’s take on the classic visual workflow builder that other marketing automation tools have.

Mailchimp's Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

It supports If/else conditions (filters), multiple starting points (triggers), and wait conditions, which is a step forward in the right direction for Mailchimp.

When it comes to the actual triggers and actions supported there are pretty much the same as the classic automation… except they don’t work yet because the tool is still in beta:

Mailchimp's Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

The customer journey builder seems like a good start in an attempt of Mailchimp to catch up with the rest of the players in the field, but it’s still far from being a viable choice.

Mailchimp User Segmentation

Segments in Mailchimp are situated under Audiences.

When you create a new segment, Mailchimp doesn’t allow you to search conditions, so you must select the right condition from a long dropdown list. This process can become overwhelming if you have many custom fields in your account.

mailchimp user segmentation for saas

Another drawback of the Mailchimp segments is that they don’t support And/Or groups. You can only segment contacts that match all conditions or any conditions.

As far as event-based segmentation goes, Mailchimp doesn’t support segmentation by event properties or by the number of times an event was completed, even on its Premium plan. This means that you can’t create segments based on events like “Have created 5 tasks” or filter people by a specific event property like, for example, “People that have created a task with a due date”.

All in all Mailchimp’s segmentation doesn’t provide much flexibility, even on the Premium plan.

Price-wise, Advanced segments (i.e., event-based segments) are only available on the Premium plan, which starts at $300/mo for 10,000 contacts (almost two times more expensive than Encharge, which goes for $179/mo for the same number of contacts).

User Activity and User Feeds in Mailchimp

Mailchimp has a decent user activity feed that shows the following information:

  • E-Commerce — mainly purchases.
  • Email activity — sends, opens, clicks, bounces, unsubscribes.
  • Notes
  • Conversations — any replies your contact has made to email campaigns.
  • Marketing Permissions — shows the date and time your contact selected a field for GDPR consent.
  • Postcards Sent
  • Signup — the date, time, and method by which your contact was added to your audience.
  • Events — custom API events. 
  • And tags.

You also get the option to filter by a specific type of activity, which makes finding manual activity search more convenient.

Mailchimp's Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

Mailchimp Email Marketing, Newsletters, and Lead Generation Forms

Let’s take a look at how emails are created in Mailchimp. 

When you create a new email, you get to choose from plain-text or the visual drag and drop email builder, but you can also code emails from scratch if you’re the tech type.

The visual email designer is easy to use, and the drag-and-drop motions are neat. All of the standard building blocks, like images, buttons, and share buttons are there. 

Mailchimp's Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

The only drawback of the email designer is that you don’t get the option to design an email layout — i.e., add/remove columns. If you want to use a different layout, you must start with one of the predefined email templates or code one from scratch.

Mailchimp's Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

Last but not least — lead generation in Mailchimp.

Mailchimp makes lead generation easy with features such as inline forms, pop-ups, and landing pages. Designing forms and pop-ups in Mailchimp is easy, and the layouts look clean. On top of that, all form/lead gen tools integrate natively with Mailchimp, so collecting leads in the platform is as easy as it gets. 

Mailchimp's Marketing Automation for SaaS: In-depth Review

✅ Mailchimp Marketing Automation Review for SaaS — The good 

✅  Easy to use email editor.

✅  Clean, nice-looking lead generation forms.

❌ Mailchimp Marketing Automation Review for SaaS — The Bad

❌  Lacks a robust visual workflow builder.

❌  Event-based segmentation is only available on the Premium plan, starting at $299 for 10,000 contacts.

❌  Even on the Premium plan, Mailchimp doesn’t support segments with event properties and the number of times an event was performed.

❌  No native integrations with other tools used by SaaS companies like CRMs, form tools, Segment.com, Intercom, etc. And no way to build automations across your marketing stack.

Final Verdict — Is Mailchimp Right for your SaaS?

The short answer is: No.

Mailchimp is a great tool if you’re just starting out or plan on sending basic one-off newsletters. The lead generation tools, plus the easy to use email designer makes Mailchimp an excellent choice for that task. Plus, you can send broadcasts on the Essential plan, which is affordable even for the high-volume businesses.

However, Mailchimp is not the right tool if you need a flexible marketing automation platform for your SaaS. Event-based segmentation is only available on the $399/mo plan, and even then, the lack of a robust workflow builder makes the tool less-than-ideal for the job.

Encharge — Powerful marketing automation tool built for SaaS that plays nice with Mailchimp

Mailchimp is still one of the best tools for sending newsletters, especially if you have thousands of subscribers.

The problem is that Mailchimp is not a good marketing automation tool for SaaS businesses like yours. That’s why we have a better solution for you: 

Use Mailchimp to send broadcasts and supercharge it with the marketing automation of Encharge.

We built Encharge — the most powerful marketing automation platform for SaaS companies. With Encharge, you can increase your trial conversions and retain more customers by sending automated emails based on what your users do or don’t do in your app. 

Encharge also has the most powerful user segmentation for SaaS currently on the market.

And…

You can build marketing automations with tools like Segment, Stripe, Typeform, Facebook Ads, Intercom, Salesforce, and more.

But the best part is that Encharge integrates natively with your Mailchimp. You can easily bring in your Mailchimp subscribers in Encharge with our native workflow integration.
Want to take Encharge for a spin? Register for a free 14-day trial or book a free strategy call with us and let us help you with your marketing stack.

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