How to use wait steps to control timing in ActiveCampaign automations

by | Apr 28, 2022 | ActiveCampaign Tutorials

ActiveCampaign Wait Steps are actions we can use in automations to control the timing for each contact as they move through the automation.

The job of a Wait Step is to hold a contact in that spot until we are ready for them to move on – it’s basically like casting an immobility spell on them.

Doing the right thing at exactly the right moment makes customers happier by delivering the experience that’s right for them personally.

Wait Steps are how we can tell ActiveCampaign to wait two days, or until they filled out a form, or to hold there until their appointment is three days away.

We can set time limits and schedule actions based on just about anything ActiveCampaign knows about our contacts – which is a lot!

Read on to learn how to use wait steps creatively and safely, including how to delete a wait step, or skip a wait step for a contact.

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Follow these steps to send ActiveCampaign emails at the right time using wait steps:

Watch Kay Peacey’s tutorial on using wait steps in ActiveCampaign automations

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Set up an action to make a contact pause for a number of days

The simplest Wait Step to use in an ActiveCampaign automation is a basic timer.

Wait here for this period of time.

Use this when you want to make someone wait for 3 days before moving on to the next step. Or if you want to set a delay of 30 minutes in your ActiveCampaign automation.

You need to set three things to create the timer:

  • Select “Wait for”
  • Select a time unit from minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years 
  • Enter how many of those units they should wait through

The timer starts when the contact reaches the Wait Step. 

They wait right there until their time is up.

When the Wait Step timer runs to zero, the contact moves on to the next step in the ActiveCampaign automation.

It’s a bit like having a bouncer on the door, making everyone wait 15 mins to get in, no exceptions, no queue jumping, no bribes accepted.

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Discover how to make a contact wait until conditions are met

You can set a Wait Step for hold a contact where they are until something specific happens.

This type of Wait Step uses the ActiveCampaign Conditions Editor to control how long a contact has to wait, using anything ActiveCampaign knows about the contact.

You set the conditions, and ActiveCampaign holds the contact in that spot in the automation until they match the conditions you selected.

The conditions you choose are totally up to you.  You can use anything ActiveCampaign knows about the contact – tags, custom field values, page visits, automation activity, purchases, deals…

This way to use a Wait Step is like having the contact wait for their name to be called to step forward. If they don’t meet the conditions, their name doesn’t get called, and so they wait….

Using conditions to set a Wait Until type of wait action is very, very useful in ActiveCampaign automations.

We’ve got a lovely worked example of using a condition wait step in our totally free Accelerated ActiveCampaign training course, ready for you to see, step by step, how to build and use the Wait Step in a real business use case.

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Learn how to set a time limit in ActiveCampaign automation

You can also set an upper time limit for an ActiveCampaign Wait Step that uses “wait until” conditions.

This upper time-limit setting is gold because otherwise, contacts can get stuck in automations, in a Wait Step looking for conditions they don’t meet.

Sometimes, you’d like a contact to hang on in the hope that they meet the conditions, but not, like, forever!

Like when you’re getting your kid ready to go out, and you’re waiting until they have brushed their teeth and put their shoes on. But that might never happen, or at least, not in time for you to get the shops before closing, which is 2 hours from now.

So the wait you want to set is this: wait here until they meet the conditions (teeth brushed, shoes on) but only up to a maximum of 2 hours.

If they get their teeth and shoes sorted soon, great, off we go the moment they’re done!

If the 2 hours passes and they *still* don’t have teeth brushed and shoes on, you’re leaving anyway and they can take the consequences (cold feet, no ice-cream).

I love these mix and match Wait Steps in ActiveCampaign automations. They allow people who are ready to move on to jump the queue – and who doesn’t love it when they get jumped to the front of the queue?

Understand date and time with contact timezones in ActiveCampaign

You can use the date and time in conditions in ActiveCampaign Wait Steps.

Date and time wait conditions are very powerful when used well, but be warned… they are challenging to work with and the settings can be confusing, resulting in mistakes.

There are two main bear-traps to watch out for when using date and time conditions in Wait Steps.

ActiveCampaign contact timezone vs account timezone

When setting time and date conditions in Wait Steps you have to choose Contact Timezone or Account Timezone

The contact timezone involves ActiveCampaign making an educated guess at their timezone using geo-location tech. This geo-location is based on mail server locations and is frequently not accurate. So that means if you use Contact Timezone for a Wait Step, you’re rolling the dice on whether ActiveCampaign will have their correct timezone.

I much prefer to use account timezone in almost all use cases.

Plus vs Minus and Is vs Is on or After

Using a date in a custom field is very powerful, and you can compare it against the currect date to create Wait Steps – this is a great move.

In the settings you can choose Plus or Minus a set number of days. This means you can set the step to wait until their webinar date is two days in the future – very handy!

But beware – you’ll need to think it through carefully to pick the right one. Drawing a timeline on your table is helpful when doing this.

And here’s another date time wait step hazard to watch out for…

By far the most frequent failure I see with date and time Wait Steps, is contacts getting stuck in an automation waiting for a date and time combination that is already in the past when they reach the wait step.

Using Is on or after instead of Is saves late-arriving contacts from getting stuck in date-waits. Is on or before is also useful – just make sure you pick the right one!

Read 10 tips for using ActiveCampaign wait actions to hold, pause, or skip

  1. Do not ever delete a Wait Step with contacts queued up in it. Others may tell you it’s fine and that the contacts will just move on.  They don’t. They vanish from the automation, and it’s not fun trying to fix it.
  2. To remove a Wait Step safely, edit the wait to a 5 min timed wait, then when it’s empty (approx 5 mins later!) and the contacts have moved on, it’s safe to delete the wait action.
  3. You can skip a Wait Step for individual contacts from their individual automation pass on the contact record
  4. Multiples of 24 hours are more reliable than whole days for anything less than a few days
  5. Five minute waits are wonderful for giving enough time for wheels to turn elsewhere
  6. Thirty minute waits are super for giving Goals time to be triggered
  7. The minimum wait you can set in ActiveCampaign is 5 mins
  8. Avoid 1,000 year waits at the end of automations – they’re more trouble than help in most use-cases
  9. When using date or time wait conditions, run a test, always, every time, no excuses – I still get these wrong on the first try sometimes
  10. Timed and time-of-day waits are not pinpoint accurate – be reasonable in your expectations, just like in the real world

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Get more help to use wait steps to automate ActiveCampaign actions at exactly the right time

ActiveCampaign Academy training with Kay Peacey

We’ve just covered the bare minimum of what you need to know about using Wait Steps in ActiveCampaign.  I bet you have a ton of questions… and would love to talk that over, see some worked examples, and get a sanity check or somet troubleshooting on why it’s not working how you wanted it to…

In the ActiveCampaign Academy we help members to use Wait Steps to run their automations smoothly.

Complex automations get streamlined, mistakes corrected, and date-time waits simplified and used with confidence. Phew!

Join us in to the ActiveCampaign Academy, and you’ll have Kay Peacey and the Slick Business team, and all your lovely fellow members, to guide you every step of the way to fabulousness with ActiveCampaign.

You’ll be able to set wait actions with total confidence that your contacts will wait an hour. Or until their card has cleared. Or until the next working day. Or until the day before their appointment. Or some combination of all sorts of things, like until their mum has called to say they can go out to play, and granny came by with their packed lunch, and I’ve done the dishes and found my coat, but by 5pm at the absolute latest.

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Fast, effective training & support for ActiveCampaign users everywhere

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