activecampaign automations maria peagler digital

Ultimate Guide to ActiveCampaign [INFOGRAPHIC]

Whether you've just started with ActiveCampaign or need help in optimizing your emails and marketing automations, this comprehensive guide offers advice, tutorials, infographics, and videos you won't find anywhere else.

Bookmark this post so you can return to it: do one of the actions recommended each week, and you'll transform your ActiveCampaign account from lackluster to a revenue-generating machine.

We used ActiveCampaign for our own business before we ever become a Certified Agency. We saw it's potential, as well as the learning curve and frustration entrepreneurs experienced when they were setting up their own email marketing campaigns and marketing automations.

So let's get started.  Click on a topic you need from the Table of Contents below:

Why We Specialize in ActiveCampaign

Why do we specialize in ActiveCampaign email marketing? It's simple.


  • Email marketing has the highest ROI of any form of marketing: for every $1 you spend, you get over $40 in return (in the video I say $32, but it's increased since then).
  • ActiveCampaign hits the sweet spot for small to medium-sized businesses with its affordability and robust features.
  • Our agency used it for over five years before we ever considered becoming a certified agency. After we saw the results we were getting with it, we wanted those for our clients too.

Learn ActiveCampaign Basics

Before we dive into how to generate revenue with ActiveCampaign, it's critical you understand the fundamentals of how it's designed. You likely don't need to every feature and option, but instead can rely on the 20% of the tool you need to master to generate 80% of your results.

At its most basic, ActiveCampaign is an email marketing tool, allowing you to send email campaigns to people on your email list. They place high emphasis on deliverability (keeping your email campaigns out of contact's Spam folders), and you can track who opens and clicks on your emails.

While it's similar to MailChimp, Constant Contact, Keap and other platforms, its unique blend of robust features and affordability make it a great solution for small to medium-sized businesses.

What are the important ActiveCampaign features have the highest impact in growing your business?

  • Tags
  • Website Tracking
  • Marketing Automation
  • CRM

Let's briefly take a look at each and what role they play in growing your business.


Tags are labels you add to a contact's record to identify a particular action they've taken or characteristic they have. At Maria Peagler Digital, we use tags extensively to identify who is opening and clicking on your emails, what they're clicking on, what videos they watch, and what they've purchased. It's like getting a look inside your contact's pain points.

We use tags instead of lead scoring, which ActiveCampaign also offers.  Why? Because tags provide all important context as to what essential actions your contacts take and why they're qualified. Lead scoring doesn't (see the section below on exactly how we use tags instead of lead scoring to qualify our client's leads).

Website Tracking

One of my favorite ActiveCampaign features, website tracking tells you what pages of your website a contact has visited. We use that data to trigger marketing automations like Abandoned Carts, making an offer when the contact is interested, follow up and much more.  Combined with tags and automations, website tracking gives you first-person data that is the most valuable asset your business will ever own.

Marketing Automation

The crown jewel in ActiveCampaign's treasure trove of features is their robust marketing automation. Admittedly, it has a learning curve. But once you master it, you can develop a 24/7 sales and marketing machine that works tireless to promote your business to the right people, at the right time.

ActiveCampaign offers two types of automations: triggered and manual.  Triggered automations occur when a contact takes an action qualifying them as an ideal prospect. Examples of triggered automations are Abandoned Cart, Lead Nurture, and Follow Up.  A manual automation is one that you activate manually, such as launching a new promotional campaign series of emails over a period of time.

Triggered automations are usually more successful in reaching your business goals, as they reach your contacts at the right time - when they've raised their hand that they're interested.


One of ActiveCampaign's lesser-known features is its Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, comprised of Deals and Pipelines.  A pipeline is a visualization of the stages your contacts through before a sales, and a deal is a transaction occurring within that pipeline. You set up your Deals and Pipelines to reflect your sales process, and you can move prospects through it either manually or with automations.

The CRM also offers the ability to take notes, send emails one-to-one, and create tasks and reminders for follow up with a prospect.

These are the features most critical to growing your business using ActiveCampaign, and in building something called a Sales Funnel.  

What's that? Let's take a look at the Sales Funnel next.

What is a Sales Funnel?

In this post we'll refer to a sales funnel often. So first, let's talk about what a sales funnel is and ActiveCampaign is critical for it:

The bottom line? A sales funnel is the process of taking someone who's never heard of you to becoming a buyer. That doesn't happen overnight, but requires a series of strategically designed steps to make the right offer, to the right person, at the right time.

The beauty of ActiveCampaign is you can build a 24/7 sales & marketing machine that identifies when people are at each stage of your sales funnel, and then acts on moving them to the next step.

Yes, it's a thing of beauty.

This infographic shows the stages of a sales funnel and how your potential buyers move through it:

What is a sales funnel infographic maria peagler digital

Now that you know what a sales funnel is, let's take a look at the ActiveCampaign marketing automations you can build that move people through that funnel faster.

Moving Contacts Through Your Sales Funnel with Automations

To say that a sales funnel has a lot of moving pieces is, well, an understatement. They are notoriously complex, as in, "I'm ready to throw my laptop out the window!" complex.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Instead, start with those automations providing an almost-immediate return on your investment (ROI). They start by providing an over-the-top experience for your most important contacts -- your clients -- then takes care of those contacts who showed interest in purchasing, and lastly follows up with your new leads.

Once you build these three automations, you have a fully-functioning sales funnel.

The best part? These automations are fast and simple to build (or let us ActiveCampaign build them for you).

The automations are:

  1. New client onboarding
  2. Abandoned cart (even if you don’t have a shopping cart)
  3. Generating new leads & follow up

Why these three particular automations?

Because they address the most profitable stages of your sales funnel, starting with the people already spending money with you:

  1. New client onboarding provides an exceptional welcome to people who recently purchased from you, so you’re likely to retain them as clients longer
  2. Abandoned cart targets people who have shown interest in spending money with you, but were interrupted or possibly have objections
  3. Generating new leads & follow up provides a steady flow of potential clients for the previous two automations.  After all, where do those new clients and abandoned cart prospects come from?
activecampaign marketing automations for small business

These three automations create a 24/7 marketing & sales flow providing qualified traffic at every stage of your sales funnel.

#1: New client onboarding automation

“The person most likely to buy from you again is the customer who bought from you most recently.” – Chris Baggott, Email Marketing by the Numbers

If you remember just one thing from this article, it’s Chris’ quote above. Take care of your current customers first: too many entrepreneurs and marketers chase new customers then forget them once they buy.

Instead, start with an automation delivering an outstanding experience for people who just bought from you.


By triggering a welcome email immediately after someone makes a purchase.  Triggered automations begin as a result of your subscriber’s (or buyer’s) activity — in this case, they made a purchase.

Here’s what the automation looks like in ActiveCampaign: 

New client onboarding automation

How does it work?

  1. When someone buys one of my digital marketing service packages, ActiveCampaign adds them to the Digital Marketing Services list, which immediately triggers this automation. New clients aren’t left wondering, “what’s next?”
  2. The automation checks to see if the client already has the Client Welcome Email tag, and if so, ends the automation. This prevents existing clients, or previous ones, who have already received this email, from getting it again.
  3. I send the Client Welcome email delivering outstanding client service (my favorite welcome email is this one from Derek Sivers, author of Anything You Want and founder of CD Baby).
  4. I add the Client Welcome Email tag, so if the client purchases anything else from me, they don’t get this email again.
  5. I end the automation.

Simple, effective, and makes a fabulous first impression on a new client!

#2: Abandoned cart automation

The abandoned cart automation is the darling of digital marketing agencies and brands, as it’s practically guaranteed to capture lost revenue.

What is it?

An automation triggered when people visit your Pricing or Shop page, but don’t buy. The automation sends a follow-up email to remind visitors to complete their purchase and offer to answer any questions they may have.

In my experience, however, abandoned cart automations are notoriously complex to create.

And what if you don’t have a shopping cart? Most marketing automation tools integrate with major shopping carts, but what if you don’t use one?

I was determined to find a simpler way. The result is this elegant abandoned cart automation.

Here’s what the automation looks like in ActiveCampaign: 

Abandoned cart automation

How does it work?

  1. When someone visits my Pricing page, ActiveCampaign immediately triggers this automation. 

  2. I wait one hour to give the visitor time to purchase. They may have been interrupted and completed their purchase a few minutes later, so I don’t want buyers to get this email.

  3. After one hour, the automation checks to see if the visitor is already a client (the Current Member tag). If they are, then the automation ends. If they’re not, then the automation continues to the next step.

  4. The automation sends the Abandoned Cart Reminder email. Make this short & simple: remind them to complete their purchase, give them a link to your Pricing or Shop page, and also offer to answer any questions they have (bonus points for including a client testimonial). 

  5. The automation ends.

Here’s what my Abandoned Cart email looks like:

Abandoned cart email

That’s it! The abandoned cart automation acts as a 24/7 sales team on your behalf, since it triggers automatically: anytime people visit your Pricing/Shop page without buying, it follows up with them.

And no complicated shopping cart integration necessary.

If you’ve got website traffic, and they visit your Pricing/Shop page, this automation pays for itself in no time.

Generate new leads & follow-up automation

Now that we’ve nurtured new clients and potential buyers with the previous two automations, we can turn our attention to generating a consistent pipeline of qualified leads for those automations.

Again, we’re keeping this simple by:

  • Capturing new leads with an opt-in form on your website Home page
  • Immediately following up with those leads using an automation

You can use this same process for any page of your website, including a blog post or a landing page. For this article, we’re keeping it simple so you can start with the one website page everyone has: their Home page.

First, ask yourself WHY someone would give you their email address? What’s in it for them? Start with an outstanding offer they can’t refuse.

On my Home page, I make an offer for a free Social Media Strategy class, as shown below:

Social Media Strategy class image

Once people enter their email, the automation takes over and immediately starts the follow-up process. Here’s what the automation looks like:

New lead generation and follow-up automation

 A new lead generation and follow-up automation.

Let’s see how it works. The follow-up automation:

  1. Triggers when a visitor offers their email and is added to the Free Social Media Strategy class list
  2. Adds the SMS Class tag to identify the offer this subscriber opted in for
  3. Sends the Welcome email with access information for the class
  4. Adds a LM Active (Lead Magnet Active) tag: I use this to ensure these subscribers don’t get other emails while they’re in this automation. I don’t want to bombard their Inbox with multiple offers at the same.
  5. Waits for one day before moving to the next step in the automation, giving the subscriber time to open the email and start taking the class.
  6. Ends by entering another automation where I make them a buying offer and ultimate removes the LM Active tag. You could end your automation here with a simple End Automation step, but this is the perfect time to make an offer: they’re a new subscriber and you have their attention.

Remember where we started? Wondering what your first steps should be with your shiny new marketing automation tool.

You now have a blueprint for three foundational marketing automations you can build that provide ROI in 24 hours.

Your Action Item: Create These ThreeMarketing Automations

Now that you know which marketing automations provide the fastest ROI, it's time to build them.  

  1. Start with the New Client Onboarding automation.  Make sure your new clients get the welcome they deserve and retain them longer. 
  2. Now you're ready to build the Abandoned Cart automation. ActiveCampaign integrates with the most popular shopping carts, making this relatively simple.  Even if you don't use a shopping cart, you can follow up with people who visit your Pricing page but don't buy.
  3. Lastly, build your New Lead Follow-Up automation. You've likely paid good money or spent significant time developing organic content to capture those leads: now it's time to get them to nurture them through your sales funnel.

Need help in building these automations for your business?  Book a free strategy call with Maria Peagler here.

Qualifying Your Leads as They Move Through Your Funnel

I wanted to love lead scoring — the score you give each subscriber to identify if they’re a qualified prospect. I scoured the web in search of the best articles on how to apply a relevant score to each of my leads: 

the further a lead traveled in my sales funnel, the higher the score they earned

Seemed simple enough.

I excitedly applied that advice, scored my leads, and . . . 

. . . found the results lacking. All I saw was a number. That data didn’t tell me why they had that particular lead score.

For me, lead scoring lacked context. What did my subscriber do to earn that score? Download 30 lead magnets or visit my pricing page? Click a link on an email or reply to it?

I’m also a visual person — I need to see something other than a number telling me what actions my subscribers take to travel down my sales funnel.

My ultimate goal? I wanted to paint a visual picture of where my subscribers were in the customer journey. Who's just starting out vs. who's close to becoming a customer?

Instead of lead scoring, I used an ActiveCampaign feature hiding in plain sight: tags.

Tags are labels you assign based on actions your subscribers take:

  • List they subscribed to
  • How engaged they are
  • Key actions they take: download a PDF, visit high-value pages on my website, show an interest in a particular topic

I created automations to assign tags to contacts based on their behavior and ActiveCampaign immediately painted that visual picture I was looking for.

Lead Scoring vs. Tags: a Customer Value Journey Story

When I was using lead scoring, a subscriber who was engaged, but not a buyer, would get an average lead score of 15. A subscriber who was engaged AND a buyer would get a lead score of 35.

What was missing for me was the why: what actions did the buyer take the non-buyer didn’t? And what can I learn from that?

I used tags to tell that story.  

Let’s take a look at the story tags tell for two subscribers who joined my list on the same day:

How to Use Tags as an Alternative to Lead Scoring Two subscribers Who Joined the List

Those tags may look like greek to you, but to me they tell the story of one subscriber who purchased the same day she joined my list, while the other did not.  

Let’s follow those two subscribers to see their different customer value journeys and how tags tell their story:

Top of the Funnel Story

When I used lead scoring, a Top of the Funnel subscriber (TOFU) would earn a score of 5 - 15: they opted in, opened an email and/or clicked on it, and maybe even downloaded their lead magnet.  But what list did they join? What form did they fill out on my website? Did they actually open my welcome and follow up emails? What lead magnet did they fill out?  

Sure, I could look at an individual subscriber record to see that; but I wanted to see that data at scale.

I was literally left with more questions than answers. But using tags, I saw the story each subscriber told:




The join page leadbox tag tells me the form they filled out on my website.


The sms class tag tells me they opted in for my free class.


The EVENT tags tell me they opened my email and clicked a link in it today.


The sms class links tag tells me they started consuming their free class (many subscribers who opt in for that class never actually consume it)


The LM Active tag tells me they’re currently in a follow-up email automation lasting several days; Indoctrination tells me they’re also receiving my welcome email.

You can create your own tags to tell your subscribers’ unique stories.

Middle of the Funnel Story

A Middle-of-the-Funnel subscriber (MOFU) might get a score of 25: now they’re consuming the lead magnet they opted in for, and possibly opening an email and/or clicking on it.  But which lead magnet was that? 

Lead scoring wouldn’t tell me. But using tags, I could see it immediately:




The Download FB Infographic tag tells me the subscriber clicked on a link to download an infographic on Facebook marketing.

This subscriber is getting much closer to becoming a buyer, as they’re more engaged. She didn’t just opt in, she’s clicking on a link in my email to download my content.

Bottom of the Funnel Story

A Bottom-of-the-Funnel subscriber (BOFU) would get a score of 30 - 50: they’ve made a purchase, and the higher the purchase value, the higher the score. 

I still wouldn’t know what they bought. Tags tell me though:

  • Buyer Status
  • Product




The Current Member tag tells me they’ve purchased a class and are on one of my purchase lists.


The Trial Member tag tells me exactly which product they purchased: Trial Membership. Now I have 30 days to onboard that member to retain them.

From these tags, I know one subscriber found exactly what she was looking for: she consumed her free class, opened my welcome email and clicked a link in it to download her infographic, then became a trial member.

From here, I’ll continue to nurture this buyer and tag her along the way using a triggered automation: she gets a series of onboarding emails to help her find exactly what she gets in her membership, as well as weekly emails telling her what’s new in her classes. ActiveCampaign made it easy to take care of that new client from the moment she first visited my website and opted in, to her moment of purchase and beyond.

And tags let me follow her through that entire journey.

The other subscriber didn’t make a purchase: she consumed the class, but hasn’t gone beyond that. I’ll be sending her additional emails this week, and my tags will tell me if she’s continuing to open and click on my emails. If so, I’m nurturing her further down the sales funnel. If not, after 60 days she’ll get a re-engagement sequence of emails based on the tags she gets after being inactive.

This infographic shows the customer journey through your sales funnel and the tags you can use to identify where your contacts are to paint that visual picture:

How to Use Email Tags as an Alternative to Lead Scoring

Here’s how to create tags so they paint a visual picture of your subscribers’ path through your customer value journey:

Create Your Tags

Identify the tags that tell your subscribers’ story: what actions do they take demonstrating interest, commitment, and purchasing behavior? Those are the actions you want to identify with tags.

For MariaPeaglerDigital subscribers, the behaviors I assign tags to are:

  • Name of list joined
  • Name of form (if you have multiple forms, this tag tells you which form is performing better)
  • Engagement (I recommend AC’s pre-built engagement recipe for this - Recent Activity, Engaged, Disengaged)
  • Downloads a file
  • Visits important website pages (pricing, browse classes, services)
  • Makes a purchase
  • What products/service they buy

Be judicious with your tags: a common mistake I see with my clients is they overboard with tags, assigning too many. A key strategy is to keep your lists, tags, and automations simple.

Display Tags on Your Contacts' Dashboard Screen

Displaying your tags on the ActiveCampaign dashboard is my favorite step in this entire process, as it shows me exactly what I need to know about my subscribers at scale. I don’t have to peek into each subscriber’s individual record to see what they’re doing.

Again, for this to work well, keep your tags limited to important behavior: too many tags and your dashboard will become a hot mess.

To display your Tags on your dashboard, select the gear wheel then Tags:

MPD How to Use Tags as an Alternative to Lead Scoring Display Tags on Your Dashboard

Assign Tags to Contacts

How do your subscribers get tagged? ActiveCampaign offers several ways, but my favorites are to assign a tag:

  • From an email form
  • Within an automation
  • When a subscriber clicks a link in an email

Let's look at an example of all three for the customer journey: 

When a visitor signs up for my free social media strategy class, the form they fill out assigns a tag for that list, as shown below:

How to Use Tags as an Alternative to Lead Scoring Assign Tags to Contacts

The tag from that form triggers an ActiveCampaign automation to deliver the free class login details to their Inbox, along with several onboarding emails. So I assign a tag telling me they’re in that automation (preventing me from bombarding them with promotional emails at the same time).

When the subscriber opens the email and clicks on a link, I tag that action directly from the email itself, as shown below:

How to Use Tags as an Alternative to Lead Scoring Assign Tags

While you can assign tags in the Manage Tags area, I don’t recommend it. It’s too easy to add too many tags, forget you’ve done it, and have unused tags hanging around.  

Use Manage Tags to See the Most Popular Tags

It took me a long time to realize ActiveCampaign even had this feature, so I’m delighted to share it with you: Manage Tags. While that sounds like a standard way to create, edit and delete tags, it also offers my favorite way of using tags: to sort by my most popular tags. 

Before I knew ActiveCampaign offered this, I would export all of my contacts to a spreadsheet and do a complex COUNTIF formula to see which tags were most common among my contacts.

Totally unnecessary! Instead, simply select the Tags heading and ActiveCampaign sorts in descending order.  Select again and you’ll see the tags in the most popular order, as shown below:

How to Use Tags as an Alternative to Lead Scoring_Use Manage Tags to See the Most Popular Tags

This is one of the first steps I take when I review a client’s ActiveCampaign account: reviewing their popular tags tells me what actions their contacts take in the greatest numbers, and where our easiest wins are.

Your Action Item: Use Tags to Move Subscribers Through Your Customer Journey

At this point, you’ve set up tags, have automations running, and you should be seeing your tags displayed on your dashboard.  Congratulations!

Now what?  What exactly do you do now? (That’s the tricky question of any data: what action should I take because of it?)

My recommendation is this:

  1. Evaluate what your most popular tags are (using the steps I outlined in the previous section). That tells you what your contacts are doing in the greatest numbers.
  2. Have those tagged contacts reached your goal for them? If not, find out where the bottleneck is in your funnel and continue your relationship with them with emails appropriate for their stage in the customer journey (TOFU, MOFU, BOFU).
  3. What about the people who don’t have popular tags? What are they doing instead? Encourage them to move further along in your customer journey using a different approach: it could be an email series based on a page they visited on your website, or a re-engagement series if they haven’t opened your emails in a while.

Use your tags to make educated decisions about how to continue your relationship with those contacts.

Extra Credit: Advanced Subscriber Segmentation with a Spreadsheet

Here’s an example of an advanced segmentation process I used to find out even more about my audience . . .

When a subscriber purchases an introductory offer from me, I assign them a BUYER tag. What I wanted to know was this: what actions led those contacts to become buyers?

While I could search AC for contacts with that tag, I really didn’t have a way of finding out what other popular tags BUYERS had. What actions did BUYERs take in greater numbers?

So I resorted to exporting contacts with the BUYER tag and creating a COUNTIF table in Google Sheets. Here’s how I did it and how you can too:

  1. Search your AC contacts for contacts with BUYER tag (substitute your tag here). 
  2. Export them to spreadsheet. 
  3. Separate tags into columns by selecting Data>>Split Text to Columns in Google Sheets. 
  4. Create a COUNTIF table to identify which tags are most popular: these are the actions that lead subscribers to become buyers.

See the spreadsheet below, containing the table of popular tags using a COUNTIF formula.  In the formula, =COUNTIF(Tags, “buyer”):

  • Tags is the name of the range containing all of the contacts’ tags
  • “Buyer” is the name of tag being counted in that particular cell
How to Use Tags as an Alternative to Lead Scoring_Advanced Segmentation with a Spreadsheet

What did I learn? 

  • Keeping my subscribers opening my emails leads them to become a customer. How did I know that? Because people who had had the BUYER tag also had a tag identifying them as opening an email in the past week. In fact, that OPEN tag was the most popular of all second to the original BUYER tag. My mantra now is, "keep them opening my emails". 
  • People who opt in for my free Social Media Strategy class are more likely to become a full paying member. The SMS CLASS tag was the third most popular tag, behind OPEN and BUYER.

By exporting that list of BUYERS to a spreadsheet and identify their most popular tags, I identified the two most important actions my contacts take in their customer journey: opening my emails and joining my free Social Media Strategy class.

None of that would have been possible without ActiveCampaign tags.

ActiveCampaign Case Studies

How We Generated $88K in 6 Weeks for a Client

Our client came to us with a lot of things going well for their brand, including:

  •  a good website
  • a lot of traffic

  • consistently sending emails to potential customers

But, those website visitors weren't buying.

Our client wanted a system . . .

. . . one that could retarget people who added a product to their cart, but didn't buy.

So we rolled up our sleeves and built what's called an abandoned cart automation: it's a 24/7-system automatically identifying those abandoned cart visitors, and then follows up with three emails over three days.

In less than six weeks, that abandoned cart automation is paying off BIG:

  • $88,000 in revenue generated

  • 52% conversion rate for the abandoned cart marketing automation

  • 110X return on their investment (what they paid us for their marketing automation)

Our client earned $88K from three emails in less than 6 weeks

Are those results typical?


Most businesses don't have a good website, traffic and consistent emails. Those worked together, with the marketing automation we built, to deliver results.

Even if you don't have a good website . . .

Even if you don't have a lot of traffic . . .

Even if you don't use email marketing yet . . .

 We can still get results for your business.

He Went Through Four Marketing Automation Consultants Before Finding Us

Our client came to us after trying — and failing — to see results with FOUR different marketing automation consultants.

He had outstanding results with web development, social media marketing and pay-per-click consultants, but marketing automation experts who could deliver what they promised were in short supply.

I reviewed his project and gave him news no business owner wants to hear: his marketing automation was a mess, and it would cost him DOUBLE what he had been paying to clean it up.

To his credit, he agreed, and we got to work cleaning up his automations by:

  • making them smaller and more modular
  • measuring results by location (instead of all locations together)
  • cleaning his email list (open rates had dropped 75% in 6 months)

Within one month, he saw improved results and detailed reports from us for every email we sent out (over 20 of them)!

I promised you a secret, so here it is: he's is the owner of a digital marketing and strategy firm specializing in tech startups. He develops their strategy, then works with trusted partners to deliver the marketing services.

He owns a marketing firm, but couldn't find trusted marketing automation partners.

So he hired us. To do work for his client.

Guess what he wants next?

He wants Maria Peagler Digital to handle his own marketing, because he's not seeing results for his own brand's marketing automation either.

Marketing firms (the experts) rely on us us to do their own marketing automation!


Maria Peagler is the founder of Maria Peagler Digital, a serial entrepreneur, and award-winning author/publisher of nine books. She is an award-winning artist in both watercolor and quilting. She is married to her husband of 30 years, mom to two adult sons, and enjoys hiking in the north Georgia mountains.