May 15, 2014

Understanding Email Tools : MailChimp and Contactually

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Contactually loves MailChimp

MailChimp is beloved among small business owners and bootstrapping sales & marketing types -- including yours truly -- for a lot of very good reasons. It's easy to use, enables you to create original, reliable, high-quality material for your business, and very subtly introduces you to many of the real-world benefits that come with something like a CRM, without sucking you down into a rabbit hole/time-suck of configuration and planning. You get to focus on building the thing you need right now (a great mailing list and channel for reaching your audience), and then, almost as a side benefit, you get a customer list and the beginnings of real, useful business intelligence.

Also, there are monkeys and trivia. It's really a win-win.

Here at Contactually, every now and then we're asked something about MailChimp, usually along the lines of how it relates, competes, or connects to us. So, here's my take.

Email is a channel, not just a task

Email isn't really a method of communicating with people, so much as a channel for sending a wide variety of different messages. We built Contactually to help with one of the most common types of email messages -- the follow-up -- with the added ability to send it through other channels, like social networks. The challenge with follow-ups (and the problem that Contactually helps you solve) is that you need to send a couple different messages to different groups of people, often at different intervals of time. That's just the nature of building individual relationships, and that's what most people turn to Contactually for.

MailChimp also uses the email channel, but for a very different purpose -- sending a single, powerful message to a whole bunch of people at the same time.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480"] This isn't a follow-up -- it's a campaign! Thanks, MailChimp.[/caption]

There are points where the two overlap, and you'll have to decide for yourself when it's worth your time to design a full MailChimp campaign, for instance, instead of using something like Contactually ScaleMail. But in general, we're really talking about two different tools that, together, cover the full spectrum of business email. Think of it this way :

There's no exact cutoff point for when it makes sense to start addressing people with a more general, less personal (but awesome looking) MailChimp campaign. In fact, it's very likely that as your network grows, you'll develop a large group of contacts who it makes sense to address as a general group (by using MailChimp), and some that need to be handled more individually over a longer period of time, to build and maintain relationships with key customers, influencers, and media folks (by using Contactually).

We know this, and while I don't want to speak for the good people at MailChimp, my experience as a customer leads me to think they know this as well. They have a wonderful set of integrations and a terrific API because they know people rely on their service to be an awesome, reliable, distribution system for good looking email content, regardless of whether the audience for that content was originally built through MailChimp. Likewise, Contactually offers direct integration with MailChimp, so as you organize and grow your network through buckets and follow-ups, you don't have to go do all that work again when you want to send a big-time HTML email campaign -- simply tell Contactually which lists to assign certain types of contacts to, and you'll always have the two in sync.

Connecting Contactually to MailChimp is easy.

On the other end, Contactually lets you see your MailChimp campaign interactions alongside everything else you've done with a contact, from meetings, to individual emails, to tweets.

MailChimp is the first true mass-communication tool I recommend to people who are growing a business, because -- to be honest -- I think it's the best. But most businesses don't start with mass communication; they start with individual relationships. Contactually helps you build those relationships throughout the life of your business, whether they are part of a 25,000 person mailing list on MailChimp, or a friendly, personalized hello for a loyal customer or helpful partner.

Are you using MailChimp with Contactually? What's the experience like for you, and how could we improve it?