12 User Onboarding Email Best Practices for SaaS Companies

Since the beginnings of email, it has been the best way to contact and onboard users. To this day, there’s no other tool that can replace it. Some have tried to replace it on the internal level, but still not a mission completed (sorry Slack!)

User onboarding emails are the first step in the onboarding UX and signup flows. Once a user signs up, an email is sent to that user. Each company has their own approach, but they all have one purpose – to educate and guide new users.

There are certain requirements to ensure a successful onboarding process. Personalization, education and user behavior tracking are the keys for effective onboarding emails.

Every user’s like a baby learning to walk. A lot of education is down the road. In this article, I will shed light on 12 different user onboarding email best practices & approaches. Hope you’ll find it useful!

1. Make it personal

Humans want to buy from humans, not from companies. Writing in first person is what I recommend. Funnelytics have chosen their Founder and CEO to give a warm special welcome to their new signups. This leaves a good impression and gives the personal touch needed to kick off this relationship.

Funnelytics’ onboarding email is a less formal and a very delicate choice. A choice to admire and consider one of great examples.

Funnelytics user onboarding email.

Why it works?

Funnelytics’ CEO introduces himself in the email and writes in first person, making it feel like you’re having a one-on-one conversation. Using phrases like ‘to be honest’, the email connects with you on a personal level, because it’s almost like sharing a secret. It focuses on your new-built relationship, emphasizing the ‘you’s’ and ‘I’s’. Also, at the end, it asks you to whitelist the email address, and it works as a seal of trust.

I feel connected to the brand and the CEO of the company. I find him reachable. I know whenever I have a problem, I could simply respond to his emails. How can adopting this strategy benefit you? You’ll get to see customer problems, feature request- and support-related content to address it quickly, and perhaps create customer stories and content out of it.

And how can you implement this kind of personalization in your email sequence? Start the email with your CEO/any customer-facing person’s name, imagine you’re having a one-on-one conversation, share some social proof, like how many users are already using your product, make them feel the ‘we’ feeling showing them that they’re part of a movement or a community of thought leaders, and give them a very simple call-to-action. Last but not least, do let the user know that there will be more emails coming on his/her way.

2. Give tips on the best use of the platform

Accompany the user along the journey. Follow up frequently and make sure the user’s on track.

Onboarding emails should provide the user with the product knowledge they need. Mixmax have definitely succeeded on that level. After I signed up, Mixmax shared their usage tips with me. How did they do it?

They created a series of nurture emails which are useful to get to know their platform.

For example, they chose 10-15 features critical for a user to adopt. Later on, they sent gif examples with it. That way, if I missed a feature, I’d still learn about it. Below’s one of their emails on how to use their reminder and goal features.

Mixmax user onboarding email with usage tips.

These were all the emails I got from them, from the welcome email to all the the nurture tips ones:

Mixmax's user onboarding emails and a welcome email.

A crucial element of these nurture emails is reiterating the value proposition. They do it well by highlighting it in the beginning.

I asked the CMO of Mixmax, Loretta Jones, about how such kind of onboarding email is helping them. She said:

Everyone who signs up for a Mixmax trial gets the nurture series, so our goal is conversions from trial to paid. Right now we are seeing an overall .6% conversion rate from our nurture series. While that percentage may seem low, given that we’ve sent out over 1M emails, the overall number is pretty good. Originally we only sent nurture emails to our base during the 14-day trial. However, having seen success with paid conversions from the nurture series, we’re now sending ‘business/thought leadership’ emails after the 14 day trial ends. We send these emails out weekly and we’re also seeing the same .6% conversion rates from these post-nurture emails.

So what’s the key takeaway from Mixmax’s example? Have a nurture campaign during the first few days/weeks with use-case tips and a nurture campaign after that to educate the user on a bit more than your software. You could use webinars, feature updates, and product updates to do that as well.

3. Educate the user on the topic (not just on your features)

You have a great software, but your users are still not adopting it the way you’d want them to?

It might be because the users need education on the topic, rather than on the software.

Education should start on day one, then you could send daily follow-ups. Also, onboarding emails shouldn’t be just product manuals. They’re a journey!

Like I mentioned before, you could use this approach in your post-nurture series. Instead of educating users about your features, you can focus on free resources, such as webinars, industry best practices and interesting articles to help them be great in their field.

4. Focus on storytelling

Did you know that the human mind forgets almost everything other than stories?

Storytelling is a powerful marketing tool that is often underused. Storytelling involves a deep understanding of human emotions, motivations, and psychology to truly move an audience.

How to tell a story in an email? With your welcome email, introduce your story with a vision, problem, or motivation, sharing why you started working on this product and how it makes the world a better place. You can do it by writing a nice copy or making a short video.

You can make the onboarding emails fun and interact with the user for a better result.

Funnelytics are giving another great example here with their storytelling. It ensures the user’s attention is always caught. They made a video (as you can see in the email example below) to show you their office and how they work.

Funnelytics storytelling email.

Another great example is Val Giesel’s newsletter. Val Gielser starts the drip campaign with “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Me” – that way I learned a little bit about the email sender and felt a personal connection. This kind of storytelling can give the perfect personal touch to your emails.

Val Giesel's newsletter – storytelling.

These emails are effective if you want to show your brand is more than just great software. Also, if you want to make your users feel attached to the brand, its story and the community around it.

5. Personalize in creative ways

To make your user onboarding emails stand out in the crowd, you should think of new, creative ways to personalize them.

Barmetrics went an extra mile in the personalization of their onboarding emails sequence. A demo recorded for each user – no obligation, just flexing their muscles. That’s a winner move!

Video marketing is the biggest trend in 2019. You could make a personalized video after a user signs up and show them the key features from their dashboard. Wouldn’t that be amazing? The email below was sent by Corey Haines (Head of Growth at Baremetrics). See what a smart move they made!

Baremetrics personalized demo email.

Baremetrics video email.

He personally made a video for me. (Since there are key numbers in it, I had to make it private.)

I went ahead and asked Corey about the effectiveness of such emails. Below are the rough numbers for you:

Personalized demo email stats:
~60% open rate

~20% reply rate

If your reply rates and open rates are below these, you might just want to tweak your onboarding emails in a fun, innovative way.

6. Ask “Why” for the trials that didn’t convert

Churn is the greatest enemy of all, for any SaaS. Understanding the reasons behind it is extremely important. But, user onboarding emails are a fantastic weapon to fight churn!

Many SaaS companies are losing tons of users because they don’t know why churn happens.

a why email to understand churn – baremetrics.

Getting feedback from customers who didn’t stay to the end of the free trial is a problem for a lot of SaaS companies. But Baremetrics have figured this part out. I also asked Corey to share the effectiveness of this above “why” email to know how well people responded.

The “Why” email stats:

– 50% open rate

– 15% reply rate

This email was sent after 14/30 days of the trial period, when the user didn’t convert. You can ace the copy for such an email when you follow these tips while writing it:

-Be personal

-Be empathetic

-Be non-salesy.

Why is this email effective?

It’s non-intrusive, not pushy/salesy, honest and humble. It’s humanly. I’ve tried a similar email myself and I had a 33% response rate.

It could help you understand your target personas, their onboarding problems, and how can you serve those customers better. There are a lot of benefits, but you need to use the right language to make your prospect customer respond. I’ve used this email, I thought you could too.

7. Make the brand voice resonate with your audience

Brand voice plays a huge role in the way users react.

How can you establish your own brand voice? Review your company’s ideal buyer persona, research your current audience on what language they use in their daily life, try to figure out what you’re not as a brand, take the three to four words that best represent your brand, decide on a tone that fits your brand and document it for consistency.

For example, Zest has decided that it should be more fun and less formal. It’s very important to put the user in the comfort zone. And this will make the user interact better with your onboarding emails.

I personally enjoy emails from Yam Regev. Zest has demonstrated personalization at it’s best through the sample emails shown below.

Yam Regev brand voice in emails.

Yam Regev brand voice in emails 2.

Yam Regev brand voice in emails 3.

I asked Karolis Vangas (Head of Partnership at Zest) to share their opinion on why they choose this way of working. He said:

In onboarding, tone of voice can repel or attract like magnets. Humans want to belong, feel welcome and successful. It’s awkward to say that we just pour our hearts out because it doesn’t sound so special, but we love to spread authenticity, enthusiasm, informality and positivity. It’s important for us that our members experience and share this feeling with their new friends at Zest. It’s a big family and every new member is a celebration moment for everyone! 🍾🥂

8. Use behavior-triggered emails

As I mentioned earlier, it’s really important to track the users’ behavior. Understand how your users behave in-app and then trigger events based on it. For example, if your software is a CRM, see if the user has imported contacts or not. This is one of many events you can track and react to.

For example, Albacross is a product that requires a JS code to be installed. If a user hasn’t installed it yet, that will trigger an email to push this user to the next step.

Behavior-triggered emails will increase the amount of personalization in your emails and will enhance the onboarding process for sure.

albacross behavior-triggered email.

These conditional and behavior-based emails are highly personalized, and move the user along the journey. Why it is recommended? The chances a user gets “activated” and convert to become a customer are much higher with this strategy.

9. Reconnect with the lost user

Let’s define who’s a lost user. A lost user is someone who started a trial and engaged with your product but did not buy it. Also, the lost user has not come back to your application, for 15 days after the trial ended. You can define the non-engaged user as you want, but general opinion says that it’s someone who hasn’t come back to your app for 15 to 30 days after the trial.

For lost users, onboarding emails can be turned into a weapon to fight churn.

Every business loses users every day, and it wouldn’t be possible to follow up with a phone call. Another way to reconnect with a user who hasn’t become a paying customer yet is to keep demonstrating your product value with demo videos.

Drift is setting an example here. They’re showing a quick demo video to make the user understand the value of their software.

why don't we reconnect email for drift.

Why do these types of emails work? Drift is trying to reconnect without selling too much of their software with a video demo. It led me to their official video demo page. I don’t have to interact with a salesperson, but I could simply look at the video again and see if there’s any feature/benefit I missed.

10. Send a confirmation email

What’s a confirmation email? It’s an email to confirm your email address, and verify if you’re a real person. Many SaaS companies use it either to confirm subscription or activate the user’s accounts.

This part of the onboarding email sequences serves as a firewall against fake signups. It comes really handy for the platforms who have a freemium. At this point it’s either to complete the flow or reduce some unnecessary traffic.

Confirmation email example.

The email has a fun subject line, tell me if it’s really you. This is a great opener to make people read the email further.

Val’s emails are thoughtful and human. Her emails are engaging and make me want to take action and respond. Most SaaS companies just take the standard template and don’t try to ‘humanize’ it. It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? Sounding like a bot and requesting somebody to confirm they’re not one. Making it human makes engaging with it worthwhile.

Don’t lose the opportunity to make people love your brand with using a standard and non-engaging template for the confirmation email. Put a little bit of effort into these emails, because every touch point of interaction should make your readers/users/customers fall in love with you. So, focus on those ‘robotic’ emails too.

11. Use transactional emails to re-engage even if the trial is over

End of trial? That’s not really the end.

Transactional emails are powerful even after the trial period. Why?

-They keep showing the product value.

-They keep your brand top-of-mind for the “churned” customers.

Leadfeeder goes beyond their trial period with the onboarding emails. Sending transactional emails to the churning masses can be a deal-saving move.

leadfeeder transactional email after the trial.

With leadfeeder, my “aha!” moment was not inside the app, when I connected in the Google Analytics, because it takes time to retrieve the data. My “aha!” moment was when I kept seeing the leads in my inbox. Even after the 14 days trial, they kept showing me 3 leads each day on who visited my website.

If you don’t send transactional emails for a while after the trial, I’d definitely recommend it.

12. Prevent churn

Churn happens when a user unsubscribes from your services and stops paying for it. These users were previously convinced about your services, but aren’t anymore. How can you prevent churn with your email campaigns?

You need to act preemptively and if the user clicks on the “cancel my subscription” button or “disconnect my account” send an email to prevent it.

A good example on fighting churn is given by Profitwell. When their users stop using a tool or disconnect an account, they act before it’s too late.

feedback email to prevent churn.

I asked Neel from ProfitWell for the effectiveness of this email. Here’s what the said:

We get like 90% of users to at least respond which is what we’re optimizing for. A conversation can then lead to us learning more about how to save that user.

Isn’t it amazing?

Again, it’s behavior-triggered, and it’s powerful. ProfitWell prevented churn before it happened with this email. The above email also isn’t “pushy”, it’s asking for feedback.

Summing up

I hope the examples above will help you improve your user onboarding emails. The key takeaway is to consider the other side of the email is human. And to treat your onboarding emails as if you’re personally writing them to your user every time.

So, which idea are you going to borrow form right away?

Author: Aazar Ali Shad is a SaaS enthusiast, he has been working in SaaS for 5+ years. He also runs The SaaS Meetup in Munich. He’s the Head of Growth at Userpilot.com. Userpilot is a user onboarding software that helps teams enhances user onboarding and increase user adoption by allowing them to trigger the right in-app experience to the right persona at the right stage of their user journey. Code-Free. You can find Aazar on LinkedIn & Twitter. In his free time, he loves dancing Salsa and Kizomba.

12 User Onboarding Email Best Practices for SaaS Companies.

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