Tragically, if you're like me, we live in a world where your average daily email volume exceeds the grand total of all the handwritten letters you've ever received.
That may be slightly exaggerated, but you get the point: email is hard to keep up with.
Email volume is growing, attention spans are shrinking, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to effectively manage your email.
What Is Proper Email Management?
For me, properly managing my emails simply translates into:
- Reading the emails that are important to me.
- Not reading the vast number of unimportant messages.
- Efficiently achieving objective #1 and objective #2.
There are countless techniques for email management, but in this post, I want to focus on the filter technique and 9 specific inbox filters that you may want to adopt, especially if you work in marketing.
Inbox Filters 101
An inbox filter is just a rule that you impose on the emails in your inbox.
A filter is an if-then configuration — e.g. if a message comes from X, mark it as important, and put it in folder Y.
Every email application is a little bit different, but almost every single one supports filters. At GuavaBox, we use Google Apps, so I live in the Gmail interface. If you use Outlook, Mac Mail, or something else, a quick search can help you figure out the best way to configure your filters.
9 Inbox Filters for Marketers
The first set of rules I set up are focused on filtering the important stuff to make sure that I see it. The "important stuff" includes personal emails, client emails, team emails, financial emails, and emails from leads or prospects.
I also combine filters with a folder system to stay on top of my mail. Let's dive in and I'll show you how it works:
1) Filter out personal emails
Sure, it would be ideal to use separate emails for personal and work stuff, but a lot of friends and family members send personal emails to my work address. For the common ones (parents, my wife, and close friends), my filter looks like this:
- Trigger: "from" address (this is the sender's email address)
- Actions: never mark as spam, star, and apply appropriate label ("Family," "Friends," "Home," etc.)
- Note: with Google Mail, I have the option to have the message "Skip the Inbox," but I don't choose that option for these emails. I want to make sure that I see them!
Another side note: I'm coaching high school baseball, and I've coached high school lacrosse, served on community boards, and been involved with ministries and in church. For the cases where I haven't had a separate email address, I set up filters for these emails as well. I make sure they hit my inbox, but get automatically labeled to take one step out of the tracking process in case I need to dig these up at some point.
2) Filter client emails
Part of my personal workflow when we add a new client is to add or edit my inbox filter for the client contacts.
- Trigger: "from" address (all of the client contacts)
- Actions: apply "Client" label and selectively skip the inbox.
- Note: if I'm CC'd on a lot of messages, but not the primary point-of-contact, I often choose to have those messages skip my inbox. I do have that folder name always visible in my sidebar, and it displays the number of unread emails inside that folder. Every day, I check all unread emails to make sure that I don't miss an action item, but I have the benefit of saving time by batching that process.
3) Filter team emails
We primarily rely on HipChat for internal communication. It's one of our 7 core business tools - grab the full list here . That said, we still send emails here and there. I filter those similar to my client rules:
- Trigger: "from" address (based on internal team members addresses)
- Actions: apply "Internal" label and/or additional labels based on that team member's role and our typical conversations.
- Note: I use a batching method for reviewing internal emails, similar to client emails. I also have a couple subject line-based filters set up that relate to finance, HR, etc.
4) Filter financial emails
Until recently, I handled a lot of bookkeeping and finance work for both GuavaBox and DoInbound. Because of that, I received a ton of finance-related emails that were important, but rarely required action.
- Triggers: "from" address (based on financial institutions domains), subject line, and whether or not the email has attachments.
- Actions: apply "Business Finance" label and/or additional labels based on email, never mark as spam, skip inbox if it met rules that didn't require action, otherwise, I keep those emails in my inbox until they are taken care of.
Side Note: if you're an agency struggling with your invoicing/accounting processes, tools, or follow-through, I'm putting together a bunch of resources on this right now (sign up for early access here).
5) Filter vendor emails
This is similar to the filters we've already covered. Based on what action I might have to take and what types of emails each vendors send, I pick a filter to weed through and bring the important stuff to my attention.
- Triggers: "from" address (based on vendor domain or specific address), subject line, and whether or not the email has attachments.
- Actions: apply "Vendors" label and/or additional labels (receipts, platform updates, etc.) based on email, never mark as spam, skip inbox if the message met rules that didn't require action (most of them don't require action).
6) Filter prospect emails
Response time is very important in today's high-paced sales environment.
As an agency owner, I'm involved in a number of sales conversations. It's important to showcase the kind of responsiveness during the sales process that a prospect can expect when they become a client.
A GuavaBox client should never wait 8 hours for a service response, so why would one of our leads?
- What Triggers This? It's a combination of triggers and non-triggers:
- Triggers: "from" address (if I've already set them up as a "lead") or subject line (if they've filled out a form and I know what that subject will be).
- Non-Triggers: I'm careful about what triggers I have in place. By using smart triggers to filter out the non-actionable items and to batch the actionable, but non-urgent items, I've already created a system that brings heightened attention to non-filtered items (like first-time emails from a referral lead).
- Actions: apply "Leads" label and/or additional labels based on email, never mark as spam, star the item, and keep it in the priority inbox until I move it.
7) Filter social media emails
Most folks get tons of notification emails from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. I set up filters to send most of my notifications directly to folders. That way, the notification is archived appropriately, should I ever need it, but it doesn't steal my attention from the important inbox items.
- Triggers: "from" address (examples: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc).
- Actions: apply "Social Media" label, skip inbox, and mark as read if appropriate. That way, I always have those notifications somewhere, but never bother with them unless I need them.
- Note: these notifications were more important to me before I started using HubSpot's Social Inbox all the time.
8) Filter lead nurturing emails
I'm on too many email lists to count. Big companies, small shops, single products, thought leaders... at this point, I've subscribed to them all.
Even though I've subscribed, I still don't want all these emails in my inbox. Here's how I get around that:
- Triggers: "from" address (you've read that before), or, a little more complicated, I'll filter based on contents.
- Example: I used to filter out emails that included the text "Powered by MailChimp" in the email. They would go into a "Subscriptions" folder and I would batch through that folder once or twice a week.
- Actions: apply "Subscriptions" label and/or additional labels based on email, typically skip the inbox, and I'll batch review these emails weekly.
9) Filter completed forms
We use a number of forms for leads, clients, vendors, and team members. Some forms indicate the status of the person submitting the form, and most form submissions require some type of action.
Some quick examples:
- We use a marketing inventory form during our GamePlan Development process - a submission indicates that the sender is a client.
- We use an Inbound Revenue Calculator during multiple processes. This doesn't necessarily require action, but it does require review.
I've got filters in my inbox that help me determine my action steps based on the forms that are submitted.
- Triggers: most frequently, I filter based on subject line for form submissions.
- Every submission through the design style guide creation tool creates an email with the phrase "New Style Guide" in the subject. My filter trigger is that phrase.
- Actions: apply appropriate labels, never mark as spam, forward as necessary, use canned responses (handy Google Mail add-on) where appropriate, and keep it in my primary inbox.
Suggested Resource: Unroll.me
There are a lot of places where filters come in handy, but for dealing with email newsletters and brand subscriptions, you may also want to consider using a tool like Unroll.me.
This allows you to easily unsubscribe from emails, or add all the marketing emails that you'd like to batch review, to a single, daily rollup email.
How does this save you time?
I currently have 709 subscriptions on my rollup, which translates to an average daily rollup including between 100 - 200 daily emails. Instead of clicking buttons to open, archive, or delete, I click on the single email, review the subject lines, and wind up taking action on (guestimating here) about 5% of the emails in my rollup.
Unroll.me saves me a ton of time every day, plus I don't have the distraction of seeing those emails hit my inbox, and going to look at what I just received.
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