August 03, 2016

Small Biz Advice: Emails & Windsor Circle

This is part of our Paleo Treats Small Business Series.  It’s one of the services we started offering after Nik was selected to be on the FedEx® Entrepreneur Advisory Board.  The thing we found most helpful when talking to other Board Members was short and simple:  What do you use, and how well does it work?  We decided to start sharing some of what we do in the hopes that we can help small businesses everywhere become better.  Enjoy!

Email automation and small business advice.

What do you do when you’re a small business committed to providing exceptional service? 

First, we defined what "exceptional service" means to us.  An "exception" is something unusual; what could we do that's unusual?  

We decided that our brand of exceptional service would be two fold.  

First, to treat every customer who actually reaches out to us as exactly what they are:  The reason we get to come to work and enjoy it so dang much.  When we talk with a customer we make sure we're ultra positive and proactive in solving any issue or answering any question they have in an excellent enough way that they tell their friends about it.  

Every one of us at PT has had the opposite experience when dealing with customer service out there in the wilds of Retail and the World Wide Web, so we've made a point of being extra helpful and useful when we talk with customers. The site you're on is built on the Shopify platform, which we love.  Super easy to use, super reliable, and straightforward to modify.  Highly recommended!

Second, aim to give every customer what they want at exactly the moment they're likely to want it.  

As part of that second drive for exceptional service we rely heavily on email.

We’ve noticed that most customers want to know their order was placed (an order confirmation email), they want to know when their order was packed and shipped (a tracking number), and they’re ready to learn what to do when their package arrives (chuck it in the freezer.) 

These are straightforward emails that can be well written once, timed to fire when most useful, and automated.

What can also be automated with the help of a predictive algorithm is what our customers might want, and when they'll be ready for the message.  

We use Mailchimp integrated with Windsor Circle.

What the heck do those two do? 

Mailchimp allows us to send out an email to everyone on our list, which is over 10,000 people.  We started using Mailchimp 3 or 4 years ago, and as our list grew bigger and we had more and more different people on it, we realized that we needed a way to talk to all the different customers we have.

Mailchimp allows us to segment our customers based on their declared interests.  (You can see our segments and sign up for our list here.) We ask all our customers to fill out a profile.  This allows us to get to know them better and to serve them the kind of information they are most likely to want.

If you decide to fill out your profile and tell me you’re a man interested in CrossFit and hockey, you’ll get different emails than someone who tells me she’s a Mom who loves recipes and travel.   

That’s an example of segmenting based on interests, which is what Mailchimp is really good at.  To kick it up a notch, we started using Windsor Circle. 

Windsor Circle allows us to segment people on our list based on their transactions rather than interests, so we can send different messages to someone who just bought for the first time vs someone who just ordered their tenth 36-pack of Mustang Bars. 

While “interest-based” marketing (what Mailchimp does) allows us to send messages based on what people tell us, “transaction-based” marketing allows us to send messages based on their actual behavior.  What’s the difference?  In a word, it’s building a brand vs building sales. 

Both are extremely important to us (see our “Digging deeper part II” post), and we do our best to make the most of both.

Building a brand is something you can do when you know both your own interests and you take an interest in what your customers want. 

By developing what you love and keeping in mind how it can specifically help your customers, you can stay “on message” and be a very focused, niche brand that delivers exactly what both sides (business and customers) want.  Simple and effective, but an awful lot of hard work to customize all those messages!

How do you go beyond a brand and actually create sales?  By focusing on a new domain, that of transactions.

We started off this article by talking about how we use automation to handle routine and common customer queries.  A more in-depth and nuanced version of that is the idea of automating predictions:  When will a customer be ready to buy, and what can I send that will make that process easier?  

This goes way beyond sending out automated order confirmations and tracking numbers and starts to get deep into proactive sales. In our quest for finding the best tool possible for that via email, and especially for automating predictive marketing, we found Windsor Circle back in the fall of 2015.

Now, if you’ve found this article via a search, it's probably because you were looking specifically at Windsor Circle for your business and you want to know how it works and whether it helped, right?  Let’s start with the numbers.

Once we started sending out automated emails that were based on transactions via Windsor Circle, we saw AOV (Average Order Value) go up 11%, CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) went up 12%, and email as a percentage of total revenue go from 16% to 19%.

At Paleo Treats, Windsor Circle (WC) emails have a 14% higher AOV than our other emails and account for a third of all email revenue!  This makes sense from our end; our “regular” emails are occasionally about sales, but mostly about building our brand and offering useful messages to customers. 

Our transactional emails use Windsor Circle’s formula to deliver a sales focused email right at the time when a customer is ready to order.

The huge benefit of Windsor Circle that we’ve seen is that they do a bunch of the heavy lifting, both with their people and their algorithms.  Their account reps help you figure out what kinds of emails to send, and how often. 

They go over the content of your emails to make sure it matches up with industry standards, and they’ve made some useful and profitable suggestions to us regarding what services and segments we should focus our efforts on vs what is probably not as effective.

Their algorithm makes possible what is basically impossible at human scale; to send the right email to the right customer at the right time on an automated basis.  For us, this has been a great way to leverage our strengths; we like to think we’re pretty good at knowing our customer and writing with a unique voice. 

Still, you can know your customer pretty well and write amazing copy, but it doesn’t matter if it shows up at the wrong time, or to the wrong person.  It’s up to us to write that “right” email, and to do our best job of presenting an offer or reminder that is appropriate. 

Are they worth it?  For us, yes. 

For you?  You’ll need to answer a few questions: 

How many emails are on your list and how many of them are legitimately interested in buying your product? I don’t think automated services like this work super well with less than 1,000 “active buyers” (not the size of your list, but how many people respond and buy regularly.)

How much more effective is it to send a targeted email at the right time to the right person?  I’ve shared our results above, and we’re still paying for the service.  It’s obviously working for us. 

How well can you write persuasively?  As much as I love to write and think it’s super powerful, this is probably the least important part of this.  In my opinion, just getting a basic message or reminder across at the right time to the right person is responsible for 70% of the results.  Here at PT we’re aiming for excellence, and there’s always room for improvement.

How much time do you have to set up and manage?  It’ll probably take an hour or two of your time to set up the account and learn the basics, then at least four hours a week for the first month or so until you have all your various triggers, emails, and messages in place, depending on how complex you want to make it. 

So, that’s part of our "exceptional service" plan.  We take standard tools available to anyone, tweak the heck out of them until they suit us and our customers perfectly, automate as much as we can, and really pay close attention to taking care of customers. 

We use other services in conjunction with email, and we have a very clear mission statement to guide us in what’s important, but I thought sharing some of the details of this little “piece of the pie” might be useful to you.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions, I’m always stoked to help others get better!


Nik @ PT 

Liked this article? Here's a few more on small business advice.

Nik Hawks


Nik Hawks helps run the show at Paleo Treats. Fascinated by humans in all their strange glory, Nik is harnessed in and pulling hard in pursuit of excellence with the rest of the PT Crew. Enjoy!

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September 20, 2016

Hi Diego, thanks! Yes, everything is sent via Mailchimp. You can now design and control damn near everything from within WC, but WC isn’t a sending platform. Does that make sense?


September 20, 2016

Hi Nik! Your post is awesome! I already have an Mailchimp Account and I was looking for a tool like Windsor Circle. I have one question, Windsor transactional emails sent via MailChimp too? like after purchase emails. Thanks!

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