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5 Productivity Killers for Email Teams: Webinar Recording + Q&A

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When productivity is high, your team is in sync, and you’re meeting deadlines with ease, getting campaigns out the door can be—dare I say it?—fun. But such a well-oiled machine is a rare occurrence.

Why are most email teams less productive than they’d like to be? We teamed up with the productivity experts from Trello to look at the biggest mistakes that kill team productivity and share what you can do to help your team create better emails, faster.

Didn’t have a chance to watch the webinar live? Don’t worry. You can access the full recording  and download the slides at any time and read the Q&A below.


Q&A

A big thank you to everyone who chimed in during the webinar with a question! Here’s a recap of our answers to the most popular questions, along with our take on some of the questions we didn’t get to during the live webinar. Have any additional questions? Please leave them in the comments.

How do Litmus and Trello handle approvals?

Jason Rodriguez: More and more, we are relying on centralized tools to collect approvals. For us, we use Litmus Proof for campaign feedback and signoff before sending, and Asana for project management, where team members check off approvals as tasks that are assigned early on in the project by the project owner.

The key here is to use agreed-upon methods to collect approvals instead of ad-hoc methods. We’ve talked to far too many teams that use email threads, verbal feedback, and other unreliable channels to try to wrangle approvals from different people and departments, which is almost always a huge productivity killer. We had similar pains, which is why we built Litmus Proof in the first place.

Chris Kaundart: At Trello, we handle our review and approval on Trello cards. We have a well-defined process with consistent deadlines throughout that (generally) keep us on track. We also all designed and built our process together, so every stakeholder is on the same page.

How can you avoid last-minute edits to an email after it’s already been approved?

Chris: This is a difficult problem to solve. So difficult, you’ll never truly escape last-minute edits. With that said, I think there are some straight-forward approaches you can take to make it a bit smoother.

First, I recommend trying to drive a mindset change about the email process. I’ve had success trying to structure our process as a collaborative experience, rather than just taking requests and fulfilling them (like an internal agency). When I get a stakeholder more involved in the process, everything goes significantly smoother. The biggest opportunity for collaboration is upfront when defining and scoping a campaign.

Second, adding some padding to your timelines can go a long way. Pushing and structuring the process to give some breathing room between final approval and deployment can help. For example, if you absolutely need approval by 4pm, try setting the deadline to 2pm and see if that helps.

How can you make sure you’re getting thorough and accurate requirements from your team up front rather than hunting it down?

Jason: Formalizing your requirements and collection process is a great way to avoid hunting them down later. Setting up a form in something like Google Forms to collect information, using an email brief, or creating default card templates in Trello are all good ways to formalize that process. The key is to use the same tool for every single campaign and make sure it collects all of the information you need, from goals and audience to design and copy assets, KPIs, stakeholders, and more.

Chris: Structure is your friend here! Build a consistent and repeatable request process to help gather requirements at the start. At Trello, we use a Google Form that’s connected to a Trello board via Zapier. Requesters have to fill out each question in the form in order to make the request. This leads to less time hunting down information and more time shipping campaigns.

How can you get your management team on board to commit to an email process?

Chris: While every manager and management team is different, I generally find leadership to be very receptive to a good data-driven narrative. If you can start to illustrate the real costs and downsides to a lack of an email process, you may be able to sway their thinking.

The slides for this webinar (in addition to Litmus’ State of Email Report) should help get you going to illustrate that the lack of a process is costing your company.

What’s the best way to parse down the list of email previews we review? How can we know which email clients are most popular with our subscribers?

Jason: The best way is to use a tool like Litmus Email Analytics (or something provided by your ESP) to see which email clients and rendering engines your subscribers actually use. We allow you to see how many subscribers open on web, desktop, and mobile—including which actual clients they’re using—to make sure you’re not wasting time testing in email clients you don’t even send to. If you’re not a Litmus customer, you can get a good idea of the most popular email clients by visiting emailclientmarketshare.com. Every month, we aggregate anonymous data from our analytics platform and rank the top ten email clients worldwide.

Chris: Building on what Jason said, this is a great place to apply the Pareto Principle. The idea is 20% of your effort will generate 80% of your results. Use the analytic tools available to you to figure out how your subscribers are opening your email. Make sure your emails look great in those top clients. It’s OK if it’s not pixel-perfect in an email client that’s not being heavily used by your subscribers.

How should we approach email-related meetings so they aren’t a productivity time suck?

Jason: Like with all meetings, you should follow a few guidelines:

  • Restrict the meeting to only necessary parties to avoid wasting people’s time.
  • Have a clear agenda with links to resources (like email briefs) and goals of the meeting.
  • Be explicit with what outcome you expect from the meeting. Work towards that outcome without going off on tangents. You can always take things into Slack or another meeting if needed. 
  • Have a clear start and stop time that respects people’s calendars. Try not to cut into people’s deep work time so you can avoid costly multitasking.

A lot of meetings can be avoided by having a clear process and responsibilities, combined with a central source of truth for email campaigns—so try to hash things out there first.

Chris: At Trello, we manage to do a large majority of our email work asynchronously over Trello. When we do need to meet up to discuss an email, we always go in with a clear agenda about what we need to discuss.

Designing a good process can go a very long way in reducing the need for meetings. For example, if you find yourself holding meetings to gather email requirements, implement a formal request process that essentially fills out an email brief. This alone could probably reduce or eliminate the need for those types of meetings.

Where do you actually store assets, copy, and code? Do you use something like Dropbox?

Jason: We use two main tools for email assets: Google Docs and Litmus Builder. Writing copy is a team sport at Litmus and Google Docs is where we practice. Once copy is hashed out, our amazing email team actually designs and develops campaigns in Litmus Builder before syncing things to our ESP (after we work through Proof and Checklist, of course!). 

A lot of teams use cloud storage providers like Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive, though, which is why we made it easy for customers to sync emails to Litmus with our integrations.

Chris: I definitely recommend using a centralized place to store assets. Tools like Dropbox and Google Drive work great. At Trello, we use a lot of Confluence, Litmus Builder, and Google Docs to share and collaborate.

Is there a more automated way to get approvals for emails?

Jason: Yep! We built Litmus Proof with this in mind. Litmus Proof allows you to gather feedback and approvals in one centralized place, right on that email itself. The easiest way to automate that process is to add clients or stakeholders as Litmus Reviewers in your account. Once added, you can @mention them in Litmus Proof and we’ll trigger an email to prompt them to review and approve. The beauty of Proof is that—if there are issues that need to be fixed—you can jump back into the code in Builder to fix it and push those changes right back to Proof for a second round of reviews.

Chris: For a Trello-specific automation tip, you can use Butler commands to help remove some of the steps along the way. For example, when a checklist is complete you can trigger another action (like a comment to ask the final approver to take a look).

Take a hard look at any type of task you do over and over and you’ll find great automation opportunities!

Is there a way to avoid stakeholders taking it upon themselves to push a campaign out the door before it’s ready?

Jason: Again, I think this is where having clearly defined roles and a workflow come into play. Make sure everyone knows the correct steps for sending a campaign. If the stakeholder is aware that there’s a final round of QA before the actual send, they’re more likely to respect that step instead of skipping over it and claiming ignorance. It also helps, at least with large enough teams, to have dedicated roles for each part of the email production process including sending campaigns. Having someone on the team that reviews subscriber lists, segmentation, spam checks, etc. before hitting send will stop most issues that arise as a result of jumping the gun. If a stakeholder routinely goes rogue and pushes campaigns out the door before they’re ready, limiting their ability to hit send is probably necessary.

How can I get started with implementing email briefs in my workflow?

Jason: The best way is to download our email brief template and use it on your next campaign! Even if it’s a personal exercise, using our email brief template can help you identify the information you need in your own brief.

Once you get a feel for what info you need in your brief, it’s a good idea to have a kickoff meeting with anyone that requests emails to introduce them to the format, show them how it works, give examples of helpful and unhelpful information, and show them how to correctly submit a brief. As with most things in email, the more you can educate colleagues and stakeholders, the better.

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