By Caroline Graham

If you’re familiar with Marketo’s program types, you know that engagement programs are great for drip nurture emails. You can use them for your welcome series, for mid-funnel emails that go out when a lead score increases—really anything that goes out on a set schedule. 

Engagement programs are loaded with incredibly flexible features like streams and transition rules. Streams keep your audience organized and send your emails; transition rules allow you to move people between streams. Today, I want to dive into when you might want to use transition rules to move people between streams within an engagement program.

How Do Engagement Programs Work?

First, the basics: Engagement program content lives in streams. Streams cast (send) emails on a schedule. People don’t all get the same email at the same time. Instead, they receive the first email in their stream starting on the first cast that happens after they are added. 

You specify the schedule for each stream. You control day(s) of the week, time of day, and frequency. You can also pause, add, and reorder content within a stream without worrying about anyone getting the same email twice. 

Engagement programs can have multiple streams, but program members can only be in one stream at a time. Transition rules allow you to move people between streams within an engagement program. 

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When Should You Use Transition Rules?

Marketo has plenty of documentation of how to use transition rules, but when should you use them? Why might you decide to move people from one stream to another? Here are four use cases. The first is best practice; the others have more pros and cons to consider. 

1. Move people based on their funnel stage.

This is definitely the best practice for engagement programs. As Marketo user Guy Goldstein put it, “An engagement program represents a series of related messages with a goal of driving a lead from one point to another in the funnel. An engagement stream represents a part of that journey.”

In this vision, transition rules are a tool for moving people between streams as they move through stages in your marketing funnel. 

You might decide to move people based on the content they’ve received. After a once-a-day week-long welcome series, you might move people into a stream for ongoing nurture at a slower cadence, perhaps weekly instead of daily. To do this, you could set up a transition rule that triggers when they receive the last email in your daily series.

Or you might decide to move people between streams when they hit certain milestones. For example, you could transition people when a sales rep creates an opportunity for them in your CRM or when they hit a certain lead score threshold. 

People will remain in their current stream until something happens to trigger the transition rule. When people exhaust the content in their stream, they won’t receive anything else from the engagement program until you add more content to the stream or until the transition rules fire. 

2. Vary the cadence. 

Using one stream for each funnel stage works great if, within that stage, the cadence is static. But what if you want to vary the cadence? 

Maybe you want to send emails on Tuesdays and Thursdays one week, then Mondays and Fridays the next. Back when engagement programs first came out, an early blog suggested using transition rules in scenarios like this to move people back and forth between streams with different cadences. 

If you decide to use transition rules in this way, first consider the impact on your reporting. Marketo’s engagement program reports can be filtered by stream membership. When your streams represent different stages in the buyer journey, filtering by stream can be a useful proxy for how many people are in each stage of your funnel. If you choose to use transition tools to move people back and forth between streams, make sure you are aware of how this will impact your reporting; labeling your streams consistently by funnel stage can help. 

Also remember that there are a number of different ways to achieve any goal in Marketo. For example, you can also update the cadence of your streams manually; for temporary changes, transition rules may be more complex than you need. 

3. Use one welcome series at a time.

Say you have a number of different downloads that all lead to similar welcome series. You want people to get  the version of the series that aligns with their first download. You don’t want them to get the welcome series again if they download twice.

Streams could be one option for accomplishing this: Simply create a stream for each version of the download. Then, tweak your emails as needed for each stream. People can’t get the same email twice within a stream. However, they can get the same email if it is in two separate streams. 

To avoid sending duplicate emails, you wouldn’t want to transition people between different versions of the same series. You might still use transition rules in this program though: for example, to transition people from their initial welcome series into a later stage. 

There is a limit of 15 streams per engagement program, so this solution makes most sense if you have limited downloads. A more scalable option would be to create a program for each welcome series. Alternatively, you could just create one welcome series and use My Tokens to populate different creative and copy based on your different assets.

4. Build based on persona.

Instead of building a stream based on lifecycle stages, you may be tempted to build a stream for each of your personas. You could then use transition rules to move them between streams as you learn more information about people. 

For example, you could move them between a default stream and a decision-maker stream when they fill out more information in a subsequent form. 

The problem with this approach is that some of your content in certain streams may be similar to content in other streams, and you don’t want people to receive the same content twice. 

Instead of this approach, consider setting up a master field in your database for “primary persona,” creating a segment for persona, and then using dynamic content at the email level to tailor content within the same stream. If it doesn’t make sense to set up a segment, you could also add programs to your stream to send different email versions based on complex list logic. 

Multiple Streams, Programs, or Engagement Programs?

Finally, make sure you are asking the right question. If you are wondering when to use transition rules, you are already assuming that you need one engagement program with multiple streams. But there are a number of ways to organize engagement programs. 

You may be better off with multiple engagement programs. Or you might need multiple programs within each stream, depending on your reporting needs and other goals.

Here are a couple threads from Marketing Nation that explore these different setup options:


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Caroline Graham

About the author

Caroline Graham was formerly a Marketing Automation Manager based in Indianapolis. She is a Marketo Certified Expert focused on understanding how the digital age impacts consumer behaviors. Read more articles by Caroline Graham.

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