Delivering Episode 11: Rethinking the Email Workflow with Rich Yu

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In this episode of Delivering, host Jason Rodriguez chats with Litmus’ Senior VP of Product, Rich Yu, about how Litmus is talking to customers, rethinking the email workflow, and making exciting changes to the Litmus product.

Delivering is brought to you by Litmus.

Litmus is the only platform that helps you send email with confidence, every time. Over 600,000 marketing professionals use Litmus’ tools to build, test, and analyze better email campaigns faster.

Head over to litmus.com to start your free 7-day trial of Litmus, and start sending better emails today.

Be sure to subscribe to Delivering on iTunes or Spotify to listen to future episodes and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #DeliveringPodcast.

Episode Transcript

Jason Rodriguez
Welcome to Delivering, a podcast about email marketing, design, development and getting work done in the email industry. I’m your host Jason Rodriguez. Delivering is brought to you by Litmus.

Litmus gives you industry leading tools to build, test, and analyze email campaigns from pre-send testing and campaign development to post-send analytics and insights. Litmus is the only platform that helps your emails perform the way you want. Get the most out of your marketing by signing up for Litmus for free at litmus.com. Today, I’m joined by Rich Yu. Rich is the Senior Vice President of Product at Litmus. If you’ve noticed a newly redesigned Litmus in the past week or so, that’s due to all of the amazing work Rich’s team, as well as the rest of Litmus, has put into the product the last year or so.

Welcome to the podcast, Rich.

Rich Yu
Thanks, Jason. Happy to be here.

Jason Rodriguez
So tell me a little bit about yourself to start off and just what you’ve been focusing on at Litmus over the past year and a half, two years, that you’ve been here.

Rich Yu
Sure, I’d be happy to. So first of all, I’m super happy to be here and I’ve been at Litmus for about a year and a half now. And the reason I came to Litmus is because I saw this wonderful opportunity to work with a super passionate group of folks who are just 100 percent dedicated to enabling and enhancing the email processes out there and helping our customers in their emails in their email processes and workflows.

Jason Rodriguez
So I know that over the past year, year and a half since you’ve been here, you spent a ton of time talking to current and past Litmus customers and just really anybody in the email industry that touches email at some point through that kind of convoluted process that we’ve all kind of known from past experience and email. What were some of the key things that you learned from folks as you were talking to them about their workflow process and getting these emails out the door?

Rich Yu
Yeah that’s a great question. I think the one answer I can offer is that there is no one email process.

So what I’ve learned and what we’ve learned from speaking with customers and getting all the feedback is that there are typically lots of stakeholders and lots of collaboration happening to get an email out the door. That said, though, we’ve seen and heard lots of variations in that process itself ranging from, you know, sometimes there’s an army of one that you know, the marketer is the email developer and email designer and the person who fires up the ESP and also analyzes the outcomes afterwards. But we also see lots of larger, cross-functional workflows across different folks within the company and even inter-company teams across, say, a brand and an agency and lots of folks collaborating together.

So I think what we really have learned and really embraced here is that every email is really a project. And to get that project successfully out the door with the highest quality really takes a ton of collaboration.

Jason Rodriguez
That totally makes sense. I like that. Yeah I’ve seen this too and, with talking to people, is that there’s usually a lot of stakeholders, a lot of really weird differing workflows when it comes to, like, approvals and feedback and stuff like that. I guess without naming any names, was there any, like, really weird process that you saw during these interviews or like something that was just wildly inefficient that people were doing out in the wild to get emails, get feedback on emails, and emails reviewed again?

Rich Yu
For sure. Without naming any names, we’ve seen folks who are current Litmus users who know that one of our strengths and core capabilities is the previews of renderings of an email across different devices form factors and operating systems and clients. So we see folks who are doing lots of great sort of review and approval processes or proofing type processes but they’re doing things like, you know, literally printing out the user interface of the Litmus application and sending that around as a PDF in an email attachment to get the review and approval process done.

So that was probably one of the most creative, I’ll call it that, collaboration processes that we saw.

Jason Rodriguez
That’s awesome. Yeah I am no stranger to like PDFs and stuff for handling feedback but taking screenshots of Litmus and putting that into a PDF is pretty wild. So it sounds like a lot of those challenges are around collaboration from a lot of different aspects but what were some of the other, some of those biggest challenges that people were facing when you were talking to them when it comes to actually producing these emails?

Yeah, it’s another great question. I think bottom line that I’ve embraced in my career in email and I think we’ve heard consistently from our community is that, you know, it’s really a tough job, right? You mentioned collaboration and that’s collaboration in a larger organization probably across setting a campaign strategy. So what are the goals and objectives? Who are we targeting, which audience members and how do we segment? And then once you have a strategy, figuring out, you know, from a design perspective and a copywriting perspective, what’s the content that goes in that email?

And then with modern day, you know, it’s all about coding. You have to write this fairly complex piece of code and sometimes you have scripting built in, sometimes there’s ESP-specific scripting built in to enable personalization and automation, so it becomes a big challenge in terms of both creating a technically high-quality email and of course to have the most engaging content in that email and you layer on top of that, you know, the speed and the volume of emails that get sort of churned through, if you will, in a modern day email organization or modern day marketing organization.

It just becomes a very, very tough process to get ahead of. And that’s what we hear a lot of from our users. You know, how can I get through my email process, create the best email possible but yet do it under the time constraints and the bandwidth constraints that I have today.

Jason Rodriguez
That makes sense and that’s, I feel like, that’s been what we’ve seen, too, on the marketing side of Litmus. And some of the research we’ve done is that, even though there is a long lag time for getting those email shipped, like I think it’s something like teams of 10 and more spend up to three weeks on a single email getting out the door, like that’s a huge amount of time! But it’s also because they’re dealing with so many different emails whether it’s from newsletters to transactional campaigns, you know, check out reminders stuff like that, but it’s just an absurd amount of work that goes into you getting emails into customers hands. That’s it’s a lot of different steps and I think that does really speak to that idea that a single email is in itself its own project.

So that kind of brings us to the how we’ve been thinking about Litmus and our suite of tools and how they interact across a single email. But before I get into asking about some of the updates we made about two weeks ago I wanted to hear about a lot of those interviews that you were having with people were about their challenges using the, I guess, older version of Litmus. At this point, kind of legacy version of Litmus. So what were some of the challenges that we saw our customers facing before this huge redesign that we just released?

Rich Yu
Yeah yeah. So that’s, it was a really interesting process for us to go through there and I think, candidly, some of the biggest challenges that our users faced with the previous version of Litmus, challenges that they were not aware of and what I mean by that is that a lot of them were coming in with fairly isolated process silos, though some of them came in strictly from a development building perspective, some other users came in strictly from a review and approval perspective, and because of the way the prior version of Litmus was structured, you know, those silos were also somewhat compartmentalized in Litmus within our tools.

So somebody building email didn’t always see what was happening when it was going through that proofing process or vice versa. So those isolated process silos and the lack of a connection across the workflow and also maybe a lack of a single source of truth across an entire email project really were the challenges that we heard and synthesized the feedback that we got from our users. That was the biggest challenge that we saw with the current email process and the previous version of Litmus.

Jason Rodriguez
So those seem like pretty big hurdles to overcome. I don’t think it’s anything, I feel like a lot of us were aware of those challenges and have had those conversations with people over the years but up until recently, it’s been hard for us to really encapsulate those challenges and then figure out a good way to overcome those challenges.

So walk me through the process that you and the product team used to go about addressing all those challenges in the newer version of Litmus.

Rich Yu
Yeah, I think you’re right, Jason. I mean none of this is sort of things that were unearthed. I wasn’t an epiphany of any sort. I mean really this was a, I’ll call it, synthesis of a lot of feedback. And both sort of reactive to feedback that we’re receiving from our users and also you know taking, I guess, maybe a more proactive stance over the last year and a half to go out and actively run surveys, conduct user research, and somebody out there might have personally participated in some of the user research that Litmus has conducted over the last year or so to bring us to the point of understanding that workflow, understanding the challenges, and also getting some direct feedback on some early concepts and mockups of a new way of working within Litmus.

We also went about doing a lot of benchmarking and looking at other tools like SaaS solutions out there who were solving sort of a workflow/collaboration challenge and thought deeply about how we can take some of the lessons learned from those other solutions and bring it into Litmus as we went through this redesign process.

Jason Rodriguez
That’s awesome. I feel like now’s a great time to do it because there’s so many different SaaS platforms and cool tools out there that there seems to be a lot of really good inspiration. Was there any specific tool that you guys looked at that you were really excited about or think, like, oh man this feature here would be really great or the process there or whatever that project happens to be… How can we bring that into Litmus?

Rich Yu
Yeah, you know, it’s funny Jason. I think we looked at a lot of benchmarking types of inputs but I don’t know if I can really think of one specific example. I think it was much more of a here’s an interesting idea from this solution. Here’s another interesting idea but how do we really bring them into the email workflow and into Litmus in a way that made sense for our users. And that’s where a lot of the direct feedback in the user research was super helpful because we didn’t want to just make Litmus a kind of a collection of random features of the entire SaaS universe.

Jason Rodriguez
So I like seeing that in our product teams and kind of philosophy of working on products. So earlier you mentioned that the one of the challenges that a lot of teams from your research have is that a single email is in and of itself a project. It’s not just like one piece of code that you’re shipping, it has all these different parts that need to be managed as a project. And that’s definitely made its way in, that kind of idea of a single email being itself a full project.

So I’d love to hear you walk everybody through what that new process of working on emails in Litmus looks like and what’s changed from that previous version of Litmus and how it’s really working through that process. And that idea of email as a project.

Rich Yu
Right. So I think as you said the biggest change, in my opinion the biggest improvement, is that there is a single email, meaning there is an email that gets moved step-by-step or sometimes, you know, maybe back and forth iterating through the steps of a workflow that goes from initial conception of an email through the actual kind of final check before you send. And also the post send steps of analysis and learnings from that email. So that’s to me the biggest singular improvement in the whole process. So how do you get started with that?

Well we heard very loud and clear that even though that single email view was super important and super helpful, our user stills came into that workflow sort of at any step. So we made it still possible to enter at any step in that workflow. So if you’re just starting at the very beginning of the workflow where you’re conceptualizing the email project itself or you know agreeing on the strategy and the objectives of the email you can start at the very beginning at what we call the summary view, where you can put in the description, sets of due dates, and capture some preliminary tasks and also capture the strategy and the goals of the email.

If you’re, for example, on the other hand, if you’re already coding and you’re ready to just jump into the actual testing part of Litmus, you can start there, too. You can enter into the workflow at the checklist point if you will. And any step in between. If you are proofing your designs, you’d come in at the the proof point of the workflow. So the thing that’s super important for those of you who are familiar with the prior version of Litmus is you don’t need to create a different project for building versus checklist versus proofing an email. With the new Litmus experience, you can start anywhere and that’s the same email you’ll be working on throughout the workflow, throughout the entire lifecycle of the project, all the way through the analytics of that email. So that’s kind of the biggest change in how I think about the new process. It’s super flexible and it gives you that single source of truth that you need for a project.

Jason Rodriguez
Talking a little bit about the single source of truth. I know we added something that’s been requested for a really long time which is this idea of folders or some sort of directory structure. Talk us through that a little bit. What does that look like? How flexible is that and what can people start doing with that structure to store all their emails inside of Litmus?

Rich Yu
Yeah. The folder thing is actually one of my my favorite parts to Litmus. So again, through our customer feedback and what all you out there have shared with us, you know, we know that there’s often lots and lots of simultaneous projects happening. There’s also the need to track historical emails that are still in progress that you’re collecting actual results against. And there’s also this notion of kind of archiving previous emails to use as starting points or templates for the next version of a similar campaign, if you will, on top of that. We know that most modern marketing organizations work with multiple ESPs. There may be a couple of different ESPs that are being used for marketing because of acquisitions or consolidation in large organizations.

And there’s definitely, you know, the notion of managing your marketing emails and promotional emails separately from your transactional templates. I think the foldering capability that we’ve added in the new Litmus experience really helps all of our users manage all that organizational need so they can organize in a folder that contains current work versus previous work ,transactional versus promotional, and really create any sort of a structure that works best for them. And also that ties back to how they’re organizing their emails inside of their ESPs.

Jason Rodriguez
Yeah, I think that’s super important. That’s something I remember when working at the agency for a long time before Litmus and we had pretty specific structures in ExactTarget at the time, now Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and it being really important for us to kind of mimic that same structure when we were working on campaigns locally or in testing tools like Litmus. I love seeing that in there.

And I think it’s important to note, too, it’s it’s extraordinarily flexible we don’t really dictate how you organize any of your emails. It’s entirely up to you how you want to structure those folders but one thing I really like, too, is that when you click on a folder you’re taken to kind of that folder dashboard view.

I’m not sure if, on the product team, there’s a name for that but it gives you insight into all of your campaigns inside that folder so you can see things like due dates, which is something we’ve recently added to those email projects, the status of that email campaign, who created that email, all that kind of stuff. So I think it really does speak to that idea that there’s lots of email projects going on at the same time. It’s ,you need that kind of insight from a collaboration perspective. So it’s really cool to see that when it comes to working with those folders. That kind of brings me to one of my favorite parts which is again that summary view of an email campaign. So it’s kind of the first page inside of your email project. Walk us through what that summary page looks like and how email teams can use it to help provide some of those insights into campaigns as individual emails.

Rich Yu
Yeah, sure sure. So I think we mentioned a couple of times now that this concept that an email is really a project to get through the workflow through the collaboration is there’s a bit of management happening. So you know I think of that summary view as almost the project management view now. So you’ve got kind of the way you’d expect from a project management view such as the status of the email: Is it being built? Is it in review? Is it ready to to send? You have the due date for that email, you have a placeholder for a description or a container for a description to capture the strategy and the objectives in that email and you also have this kind of running task list of things that need to be done on that email.

In addition to the specific sort of broader steps of the workflow like building, proof, and checklist and that, the task list is highly edited bullets. We don’t dictate what the tasks are. You can manage a template that automatically populates a set of standard tasks based on your organization’s requirements. And then, of course, for every email project you can add additional tasks like, hey, on this particular email let me double check with Jason on the exact verbiage for this piece of content that we need to put in there. So I think there are a couple more things that I find super helpful.

You know we talked about closing the loop with email analytics on every email project. So on that summary page now you can actually set up your analytics tracking code right there and you can also synchronize with your ESP, manage that synchronization process, directly from that summary. So it’s really the one place that if you are not building or actively doing something specifically within the workflow you can just come and take a quick look at where we are with a project.

Jason Rodriguez
Yeah that’s awesome. Especially that task list, I feel like it is an awesome thing to have. And correct me if I’m wrong, that takes the place of custom checklist, right?

Jason Rodriguez
That’s right. Really, I think of it as an evolution in the notion of a checklist because the checklist was positioned previously as these are things to make sure that you’ve done before you send the email. But we heard from our users that they they would like to use that concept to actually manage all the different tasks during the project. I think that’s key because that process is oftentimes messy and kind of requires that it doesn’t all happen on track. It requires you to kind of jump between those different things like building an email, getting feedback on an email, checking it before we actually send it. So I like that concept of tasks as opposed to the final checklist which checklist is still there in this new email project view it’s one of those steps. So you can still do those final pre-send checks but I like managing tasks kind of separately from them. So you mentioned before closing the loop with email analytics and I feel like this is one of those improvements, we’ve made some updates to email analytics, that has the potential to get lost in this wider kind of update of Litmus. So walk us through how Litmus is trying to make email analytics more valuable for our customers and provide deeper insights on those email campaigns.

Rich Yu
Yeah sure. And I hope that folks will actually find email analytics more easily now that it’s part of our workflow steps across the top.

So Litmus already had a good strong set of, you know, analytics especially to help our users track what we think of as deeper engagement around read time on an email. And of course on which clients are being used to open and view that email and we’ve heard from our users that that’s great information to have in conjunction with what they get out of their ESPs. And they really wanted to see that same information not just added an email-by-email level but sort of aggregated and across time and across emails so they could look at the overall performance of their entire email efforts.

So as a part of this new rollout of the new experience we also improved the reporting in email analytics and treated it as a dashboard view which is really a set of aggregations across, like I said, at a range of dates so you can now filter and view email performance within any given time frame or date range that you want to specify and of course across multiple emails and that could be defaulted to, say, all of my emails in the last 30 days or it could be further filtered down and refined to just in the last three days. Or all of my emails within a certain campaign like, maybe, my fall promotion campaign. And of course you can even drill down into one specific email and look deeply at the engagement in clients and additional information on that email still. So we really feel strongly that this is going to help our users get more information and more insights out of email analytics.

Jason Rodriguez
Yeah that’s awesome. Again from, like, agency days of my past life, I remember exporting a lot of data from various data sources and, you know, just kind of wrangling it in Excel or something else and trying to figure out how those different campaigns are performing against one another. So I think this has the potential to really kind of revamp people’s workflow to try to get access to that data and make it more accessible to everybody, which is awesome.

One last thing on that. We still, we understand there’s still a lot of folks who are doing that data wrangling in addition to all these improvements we made. We are still supporting that notion of hey, let me just export the data out of Litmus and put it in my data warehouse, so it might be a tool to do that additional analysis. Also we’re being extremely flexible about that.

Jason Rodriguez
I feel like that’s good and kind of speaks to trying to help people get out of those silos that we’ve seen them kind of congregating in and then make all that stuff available regardless of what platform they use which is cool. So what kind of feedback, have you heard from people using this new version of Litmus? What are people are really enjoying about this new version of Litmus?

Rich Yu
Yeah we we just heard a lot of really encouraging comments about the new experience. The new user interface design and sort of the look and feel of it. We’ve heard a lot about that filtering capability in terms of people being really excited and starting to use the folders to manage and organize their email projects. We’ve heard a lot about the workflow and the notion of oh, that’s great, now I can actually actively manage the workflow and I think that the biggest thing for me is there’s been a sense of rediscovering all the Litmus capabilities. So previously, Litmus was a little bit, kind of, siloed so that if someone was working mostly in checklists, they may not ever venture into the actual email coding and the builder part of our product. Or someone is working mostly at the proofing part of the workflow, they may not venture into say the analytics or even the spam testing capabilities of Litmus. And there has been an interesting, I’ll call it, rediscovery of the fact that Litmus has all these capabilities and they’re all enabled within one workflow. So that’s the most, I think, encouraging feedback that I’ve heard from our customers. And just to be fair, we have heard also very constructive feedback about well, you know, there’s a little thing here that doesn’t quite make sense in terms of the user interaction and where we’re paying a lot of attention to those issues and jumping on them as quickly as we can to make sure that there’s absolutely nothing standing in the way of our customers jumping on and adopting the new Litmus experience.

Jason Rodriguez
That’s awesome. I feel like that’s a good goal. One of our overall, overarching goals is kind of to get rid of all the friction that it takes to get an email from the concept stage to a subscriber’s inbox, so I like that we’re taking the approach again from the products perspective to try to reduce that friction as much as possible. So what’s your personal favorite part of the new, redesigned version of Litmus?

Rich Yu
I think I mentioned the folders being one of them. I mean, I’m really just excited about their ability to help our users organize and sort of curate their email. I think the other one that I’m really excited about is analytics and what we’re doing there and I’m a big believer in that feedback loop that I mentioned about how emails really are measured on engagement and the ability to track your audience as an email marketer. So the ability to bring more of that forward, to incorporate that into an email workflow and to show it at various degrees of aggregation, is super exciting for me.

Jason Rodriguez
That’s awesome. I would say, totally, the folders thing is huge for me and I don’t have to worry about the email team having to dig through random tests and stuff like that. I can just have my own folder, so that they don’t have to worry about that. But yeah I totally agree that getting that feedback loop more visible, making it more accessible to everybody, is going to be a really great thing.

I know, just in speaking with you and a lot of folks, you know, kind of across the organization, that this new version of Litmus kind of represents the first step in what we hope is a larger conversation with our customers and with the wider email industry. So I’m curious, from your perspective since you’re so close to the product and future plans, what’s next for the product team at Litmus? What’s that next step in the conversation actually look like?

Rich Yu
Yes. Great question, Jason. I think for me there’s really, there are two goals that we’re focusing on going forward. The first is to continue expanding on analytics and, you know, we built I think a great set of tools at this point to help you look at the data and our objective in the next phase is to bring some more insights back into the workflow. So we’re going to leverage all that great data and help you surface up and find maybe not so obvious insights about how to make either your email workflow more efficient in terms of moving projects through the different phases of that email workflow and of course to try to help you make your content more engaging. So different ways of identifying what resonates the most and what speaks to your audience the strongest and bring that back to a very data-driven process leveraging our analytics. So that’s one big piece of the conversation going forward.

And the second part, equally important, is to get even better and more efficient at helping all of you collaborate on the email workflow and that’s to bring in more integration with third party tools and other parts of your tech stack that you’re leveraging and we want to make sure that we’re connecting well with all those tools you might be using.

And we’ve also heard lots of feedback on, there are different aspects of building and email and treating email that we would like to do better, maybe enabling the, you know, building process for a non-technical email marketer. So people don’t have to work in code all the time. So there are different pieces of more efficient collaboration that we’d like to look at and help bring forward into the overall platform and the overall workflow—within limits—to make that collaboration even smoother.

Jason Rodriguez
That’s awesome. I feel like there’s plenty of opportunities to keep that conversation going, making a lot of those improvements, which is awesome to hear. We have a lot of friends across different teams, but on the marketing side of things I’m, you know, I know what’s going on in product land but I love hearing more about the way you’re thinking about these things and seeing that you are taking into account all this feedback from everybody and trying to make the product better. I like hearing your insights straight from the horse’s mouth. Any resources or anything you want to point people towards when getting started with the new version of Litmus?

Yeah, we’ve got a ton of information available on our website and, of course, you know, we’ve got an incredible customer support organization and also an account management organization available to all of you to reach out to and I just encourage you to opt into the new Litmus experience. Give it a try. It’s very, very low risk because you can always, for whatever reason if you don’t quite get comfortable with it quickly, you can always turn back on the prior experience and contact someone in support to maybe get a little more of a personalized tour of the new experience. But I would just encourage everybody to jump in and give a try. It’s super easy and I hope super intuitive.

Jason Rodriguez
Thanks so much again for joining me. I’d love to have you on future episodes especially as we start making some of those new improvements and focusing on some of those larger goals. And as we get more feedback from customers, so thanks again and I will talk to you next time.

Rich Yu
Thanks, Jason.

Jason Rodriguez
Cheers.

Delivering is brought to you by Litmus.

Litmus is the only platform that helps you send email with confidence, every time. Over 600,000 marketing professionals use Litmus’ tools to build, test, and analyze better email campaigns faster.

Head over to litmus.com to start your free 7-day trial of Litmus, and start sending better emails today.

Be sure to subscribe to Delivering on iTunes or Spotify to listen to future episodes and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #DeliveringPodcast.