Learning from SaaS: 6 onboarding emails that transform new users into paying customers
Congratulations … someone just signed up for your SaaS.
Now, the real battle begins.
Because even though many SaaS products focus on acquiring freemium users, first-time users, or new installations, SaaS lives and dies by customer retention.
So what’s the secret?
In a word: onboarding.
In nineteen words: an onboarding email sequence that packs value and creates small yet significant touch points for connection, communication, and conversion.
As Nora Landis-Shack from CustomerIO, explains: “Use onboarding emails to explain how you help people achieve their goals before you try to convince people to buy.”
Unfortunately, it’s all-too-easy to screw up onboarding emails by trying to badger subscribers into submission or by flooding them with features and sales pitches.
In lieu of that bothersome approach, here are six types of onboarding emails that set the stage for profitable and enduring relationships.
The SaaS welcome email
The welcome email is the first piece of personal communication with customers. It reveals the company’s personality and sets expectations for future interactions. It gives an idea of who your company is, what it stands for, and why your audience should care.
The most effective welcome emails have a clean design, a conversational tone, and a single call-to-action (which is the immediate next step for the customer). This removes confusion and eases initial experiences with the platform.
In other words, they’re simple.
In fact, the best way to take advantage of your subscriber’s anticipation post-sign up is to split your welcome email into two.
The first welcome email from CoSchedule, for example, comes from their customer support department. It includes the subscriber’s username along with a clear call-to-action (CTA) that takes them to their account page to start using the platform immediately.
Easy and effective. However, it’s the second email from the company’s founder (see below), Garrett Moon that seals the deal.
The down-to-earth greeting, casual language, and (again) explicit call-to-action create a bridge between the CoSchedule and their subscriber.
Most importantly, the email leaves no doubt as to what to do next –- grab a spot at their Getting Started demo – and clearly lists the benefits of attending the interactive event.
The cherry on the cake?
The “P.S. Connect With Me on Twitter” line. Making yourself available to your followers is a foolproof technique to forge trust.
The SaaS most popular feature email
Once someone’s been invited in, the next step is to connect them directly to your best, most popular, highest ROI feature.
The idea is to get them not just using the product, but benefitting from it as fast (and painlessly) as possible. Singularity on this front is paramount. Notice the word “feature,” not “features.” Instead of drowning your new user in a flood of “here’s all the wonderful things our product does,” take it slow.
In this email, give them one feature connected directly to one leading benefit with one CTA.
Buffer is renowned for its spot-on customer service, educational articles, and a stellar social media etiquette. Not surprisingly, the brand understands that the most popular feature email is the perfect way to showcase both their tool and their personality.
This email encapsulates all that’s wonderful and virtuous and memorable about this brand.
The subject line is unambiguous: “The single most powerful way to share with Buffer.” You know exactly what you are going to get by opening the email.
With a dash of humor, a dollop of heart, and a clear CTA, the Buffer team introduces their subscribers to their most popular feature: the browser extension. And they’re laser focused on that extension and that extension alone. The smiling face of the sender, along with the invitation to connect with them at any time lends a special touch.
You can certainly seed more best-feature emails into your onboarding sequence, especially if your SaaS is complex or expensive. But beware of loading up a single email with too much information. Instead, follow Thinkific’s lead and create a webinar or personal demo. Replace or augment your best feature email with an invitation:
As Thinkific’s VP of Growth, Sid Bharath, told me about 12% of new users attend the webinar, which leads to a 15-20% upgrade rate.
However many features you think are essential, separate them so that each email contains one feature highlighting one massive benefit tied to one CTA for them to get those same great benefits for themselves.
The SaaS social proof email
Social proof is one of the most compelling “weapons of influence.”
Humans have an innate need to fit in with their peers – they want to like what others like, choose what others choose, and do what others do.
“All of us look to others to help us decide how to act, to guide our behavior, to determine whether something is right or wrong,” writes Dean Rieck, a Direct Response Copywriter and founder of Pro Copy Tips.
Social proof emails validate your product using external testimonials and reviews. Instead of broadcasting your own greatness, you let other people do the marketing for you.
You can build your social proof email around a variety of angles: a detailed case study, the results of a successful experiment, ratings, reviews, testimonials, or recommendations.
Sprout Social, of whom Klaviyo is a customer takes the case-study route, which they send a few days after a new sign-up.
The customer-centric subject line – “How Grosvenor Casino Increased Engagement 300%” – offers a real name and a real statistic to drive home the results.
The single call-to-action (CTA) – which they link to three times in the body of the email – is in sync with the title of the case study. Describing the problem below the CTA is a masterstroke because it indirectly presents the merit of Sprout Social’s solution. In other words, they make it about the customer and not themselves.
The final section leans on reducing effort. Sprout Social eliminates the friction of using their tool and aims for the next smallest step in the process: sending “your first message.”
Your own social proof email should do the same. If you don’t have an in-depth case study, highlight a collection of reviews, ratings, or testimonials. Just be sure they all go after the same key feature and benefit from your last email. This creates continuity and reduces the complexity that plagues many SaaS onboarding sequences.
The SaaS check-up email
Behavioral-based segmentation is key to the success of SaaS onboarding emails.
Did you know that less than 25% of marketers use site-based behavioral targeting? This is a tremendous opportunity to differentiate yourself from the pack.
While the aforementioned three emails can be sent out to every subscriber, the remaining emails should be customized based on their activity (or inactivity).
To do this, utilize in-app analytics to send emails that intensify their interest in your software and ensure relevance.
SaaS giant Dropbox sends a friendly reminder to its new signees if they haven’t jumped into the platform. The doodled image of a box and the anthropomorphized subject line – “Dropbox is lonely” – are not only persuasive, but amusing. The singular CTA and summarized benefits of the product add extra credibility.
Proof-reading app Grammarly goes even further with their check-in email by sending a host of user-specific stats.
Next, they call attention to exactly – in numerical and visual form – what free users are missing out on:
Your check-in should follow suit.
First, tailor it to the inactivity (Dropbox) or activity (Grammarly) of the individual user. Second, push them toward becoming paid users by connecting what they’re already doing with what they could be doing … if only they committed. In both cases, the key ingredient is personalization.
The SaaS pitch email
At some point in the onboarding process, you have to go for the close.
Getting heavy-handed at the beginning of a trial, or even within a week of signing up, would be a mistake. Give subscribers some time to learn, explore, and assimilate the essence of your platform.
SaaS customers rarely make impulsive purchases. At a personal level, you have to convince them of your expertise and empathy. At a product level, they have to experience the benefits for themselves.
At the end of the trial, you can craft your pitch email in one of two directions: (1) pain or (2) pleasure.
With the first direct, ask yourself the question, “What hell will this email save my subscriber from?” Admittedly, that’s a deep question, but the answer doesn’t have to come from theology. Rather, it should come directly from the best-feature email and check-in email you’ve already sent.
This is the direction Brand24 goes:
Alternatively, you could go in the direction of pleasure by asking yourself the question: “What heaven will this email deliver my subscriber unto?”
Squarespace’s pitch email majors on two key benefits:
Pitching doesn’t mean hitting your user with a series of spammy “Buy Me NOW” messages. Keep the personal and personality-driven emphasis flowing.
FieldPulse nails this by sending their pitch email without a clickable CTA:
It’s a risky move forcing users to respond rather than click. But keep two things in mind. One, FieldPulse isn’t merely trying to rescue a potentially lost customer, they’re gathering data on their trial period itself.
You need to find out why these people didn’t convert. Were they just not ready? Was your product complex? Was it difficult to navigate? Why didn’t it fulfill their specific needs?
The only way to know the answers is to ask.
The SaaS one more or last chance email
Well, it’s over. The trial period has come and gone and some users haven’t upgraded into paying customers. Now what?
The obvious answer to do exactly what Squarespace and FieldPulse both do: give ‘em one more chance.
Send out a short survey to all those who didn’t convert, or encourage them to write to you with their comments, feedback, questions, or suggestions.
The second thing to keep in mind is this: just because the trial is ending … doesn’t mean your email sequence is ending too.
While Squarespace still places the visual emphasis on upgrading, FieldPulse puts their one-more-chance extension – which they call “restarting” – front and center. Then, in the body of the email, they once again invite subscribers to respond directly:
In Grammarly’s case – because their product is built on a free version whose trial never expires – they lean on urgency, a deep-discount incentive, and a visual contrast between the two versions:
Naturally, your final email should be adapted to the kind of SaaS you offer. But whatever tack you take, ensure one thing: end your onboarding sequence when you say you will. Keeping users in a content-focused email list – i.e., altering them when you post new reports, articles, or case studies – is one thing. But nobody likes getting more sales pitches when you’ve promised they’re over.
From SaaS subscribers to SaaS Customers…through email
Getting a new subscriber is only the first step. What you’re looking for is lifelong customers.
The process of email onboarding paves the way for deeper conversations, stronger relationships, and loyalty. There’s nothing sacred about the total number of emails in your onboarding sequence. But every sequence should have at least one email from each of the six types:
- The SaaS Welcome Email
- The SaaS Most Popular Feature Email
- The SaaS Social Proof Email
- The SaaS Check-Up Email
- The SaaS Pitch Email
- The SaaS One More or Last Chance Email
The best way to perfect onboarding emails is to test, adapt, and repeat. Take guesswork out of the equation to find a unique formula that works for your particular brand.