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How Simple Onboarding Emails Can Help You Convert More Customers

Users ignoring your emails? Continue reading to understand how making your onboarding emails simpler can help you convert more trial users into paying customers.

If you’re a founder or a marketer at a SaaS company and your app gets few hundred trials per month, then you know the direct impact an increase in trial activation rate can have on your revenue.

Let’s do a little bit of number crunching here:

  • Let’s say you get 100 trials per month.
  • And convert 5 paying customers per month
  • With an average Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) of $1,200 per customer
  • = It means you’re adding $6,000 of ARR each month.

In that case, just a 1% total increase in your trial activation rate would translate to an additional $1,200 in ARR each month. Double your trial to paid conversion rate, and you get $6,000 in additional annual revenue, and so on…

Let that one sink in.

What can you do with an extra $6,000 per month?

  • Invest in Facebook ads
  • Add to your content calendar pipeline
  • Subscribe to better, more robust software tools.
  • Buy a truckload full of Cheetos for your regular Friday office parties?

I don’t know, I don’t care.

All I care about is turning your long, boring onboarding emails into powerful conversion weapons that transform even the most severe case of unbelievers into fanatical fans of your SaaS.

In fact, do you know that your automated emails are your hardest-working salespeople? But that’s not even the best part. You don’t pay your emails any commission, there are no fixed costs to them, and they require very little maintenance.

Apart from your email marketing/marketing automation tool, your onboarding emails cost almost zero to run. And they work damn hard… every day and night, even when you sleep, to turn those trials into $$$.

Still, most marketers spend a whole lot more time and money trying to bring traffic to their website (or other hopeful top-of-the-funnel activities).

Even if they have the best intentions with onboarding, they have no clue how to tackle email onboarding in an effective, structured way.

With that out of the way, let’s first examine one of the most common (but ineffective) ways of approaching onboarding emails.

The “MORE” approach to email onboarding

Since I started studying emails, I have observed that marketers tend to overwhelm their trial users with long, irrelevant emails.

Usually the following happens:

The marketer/founder or whoever is responsible for the onboarding emails knows that the welcome email gets the highest email engagement. So they tend to cram in every little bit of information into it — intros, features, next steps, multiple prompts, a survey, and whatnot.

The thinking goes along the lines of:

“Doing more surely should lead to better results. This is our best chance to show people EVERYTHING we could do for them. Right?”

Maybe not literary, but it surely translates to this on a subconscious level.

The natural inclination is that when you want to achieve MORE, you should do MORE.

+ More emails

+ More value

+ More content

+ More Calls to Action.

The email below illustrates my point. While the information provided is helpful, and the design is beautiful, there are just too many things going on. The email has 2 text sections, with a total of 11 links leading to different web pages.

But before we dissect why the MORE approach is not effective, let’s take a step back and answer:

Does the welcome email really get the highest engagement of all onboarding emails?

I looked at our own onboarding flow. Last year it got an average open rate of 39%.

Screenshot 2020 03 11 at 4.14.23 PM

Email engagement metrics by Encharge

This is a breakdown of each email in that flow:

  • Welcome email — 53% open rate (OR), 5% clickthrough rate (CR)
  • Email 2 — 53% OR, 2% CR
  • Email 3 — 39% OR, 2% CR
  • Email 4 — 43% OR, 2% CR
  • Email 5 — 39% OR, 2% CR
  • Email 6 — 36% OR, 5% CR
  • Email 7 — 40% OR, 3% CR

There are a few more emails in the sequence, but they follow the same pattern.

As you can see the first two emails (which by the way are sent on the same day within 3 hours) get the highest open and click rates.

I checked our blog subscription lead nurturing sequence, and it was the exact same pattern — the first 2 emails get the highest engagement.

In the past, we’ve also shared data that backs this pattern. (Feel free to check out our post on welcome emails).

So yeah, in a nutshell, you’re right to think that your welcome email is your most popular email.

Now, you might be asking:

“Does that mean that I should add 10 CTAs in my welcome email, Kalo?”

No, not really.

Continue reading to find out why.

7 reasons why users will always ignore your long, complex onboarding emails

Long, complex onboarding emails that try to do many things, are a bad idea.

Here’s why:

1. Choice overload leads to decision paralysis

You might have heard of overchoice — “a cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options”. The term was first introduced by futurist writer Alvin Toffler in 1970.

When it comes to onboarding, the more links and calls to action you have in your email, the harder it is for the user to know what they’re supposed to do next. They might not get back to you with feedback, but in their mind, they have no clue what you actually ask of them.

“Should I go through every single link, watch all of the webinars, read the guide … or log back in the app?”

The effect of decision paralysis could be detrimental, as it impedes your users from moving with the expected customer journey.

2. Unnecessary information is distracting

Overwhelming emails not only obstruct the user’s progress with your tool, but they could also send users in the totally wrong direction.

For example, sometimes signup steps are critical to a user’s success and must be completed immediately before proceeding with the onboarding.

Let’s say you run an app that requires the user to install a Chrome extension. Showing a user a dozen ways of using your tool would be pointless unless the user has already installed the extension.

Not only that but the untimely information could lead to confusion and frustration — e.g. “I did everything in the guide so why the heck is this not working for me?”

3. Emails don’t work well as resources

If you think about how people operate on social media, scrolling through their feed, it’s essentially the same with email. The email inbox is the new social media feed.

People scroll through their inbox, often on their phones, and evaluate emails based on the subject line and preview message (the message under the subject line). Then they scan the email and if you’re lucky click on a link or two in the email.

This is why comprehensive resource-like emails that follow an article format won’t work. People won’t bookmark your emails or use them for reference.

4. Emails don’t work well as how-to guides

Similarly, turning your onboarding emails into step-by-step guides with multiple pictures, steps, and feature explanations is not effective either. Learning a tool from an email would require a lot of back and forth between your app and the email client, making the whole process a nightmare.

5. It’s hard to track the performance of emails that do many things

It’s really hard to evaluate if an onboarding email is performing good or bad if you don’t know what’s the goal of that email.

If one email serves many purposes, like asking to he user to Log in back to the app, write a response, click a webinar link, and so on, how are you supposed to track and asses its performance?

6. Email engagement is spread across multiple Calls to Action

Continuing from the previous point, even if your email gets a good open rate, the clicks will be spread across all of the links in the email.

So if you want your users to click on that specific link you better make sure to remove any other distractions out of that email.

7. Overwhelming emails don’t take top-of-the-funnel trialists into consideration

Regardless of how great your product and landing page is, there’s always going to be a segment of trial users that sign up for your tool without having a clue what they’re signing up for. Call them opportunists, tire kickers or however you like, but they exist.

Assuming that all of your trial users know what your tool does, is simply wrong. Sharing a bunch of information or guides with those users is rather useless.

What you need to do instead, is provide a simple, concise explanation of what’s the job of your app and clearly define what are the next steps for those top-of-the-funnel uses.

In the following section, I’ll share the single, easiest way to create effective onboarding emails without boring your people to death with irrelevant copy and CTAs.

It’s what I call the simple emails formula.

Use this formula to get your onboarding emails from 👎 to 🤘💵

There’s a super easy formula you can follow to turn your long, overwhelming onboarding emails into action drivers that convert users. Check it out below:

1 Email = 1 Business Goal  = 1 Desired Outcome = 1 Call to Action

Let’s unpack each component of this formula

The email

This is pretty straight forward. Let’s take the Welcome email, for example, as we usually tend to overwhelm the welcome emails the most.

The goal

Each email needs to serve your business in a specific way.

Is the goal of that email to move the customer down the customer journey, collect feedback, retain the customer, get the customer to refer a new user, help him recover his password or something else?

It’s critical that you identify what you want to achieve with the email, as this will guide the overall direction of that email and also allow to track effectively its performance. Again, just one goal, not more!

In our post on automated emails, we have shared 38 different types of emails you can use in your app, a big bunch of them are related to onboarding.

If we take the welcome email, your goal would be to get people to the “aha moment” (a.k.a the value moment, the moment of realized value, the value switch, etc.)

Alternatively, you might want to understand more about your trials or start a conversation with them.

Whatever your goal is, you must clearly define it before you build the email.

The user’s desired outcome

Your users are signing up for your software because they expect it to do something for them:

  • Improve the efficiency of team meetings.
  • Close more client deals with awesome mood boards.
  • Speed up their hiring process with better recruitment intelligence.
  • Find targeted leads quicker with a more robust search, and so on.

Let’s say you run a moodboard creation software — people want to know if your software can create awesome mood boards that help them close more clients.

When you know what your trialists are trying to achieve with your tool it gets so much easier.

This is where segmentation comes into place. If your tool serves different sectors or industries, people might want to achieve different things with your tool. Even further, your cold trial leads might have different needs from the ones that have started using the software.  

Whatever your users’ desired outcome is, you want to focus your email on that single outcome and provide the path of least resistance for your users to achieve that outcome.

The Call to Action

Every single email needs to have just one button/link that moves the user closer to their desired outcome and closer to your goal. Not two, three, or more, just one.

Again, the challenge is that as marketers we try to do too many things in our onboarding emails. We don’t have a clear goal, we don’t understand the desired outcome for the user, and our CTAs are all over the place because we think that more links = better results.

So let’s check some onboarding emails that follow the simple emails formula.

Example of simple, effective onboarding emails

Image 2020 03 04 at 11.13.09 AM 1

The email above is from the trigger-based email onboarding flow we created for Veremark.

  • Goal: It’s a nudge email that we use to get people back to the app to complete their first request.
  • Desired outcome for the user: reduce their reference check time and ultimately hire faster.
  • CTA: Submit a new request (one link)
1e0a8d9b 1e93 4f24 b282 6a5d61eee878
  • Goal: Convert an active trialist to paying customer.
  • Desired outcome for the user: Keep their internet privacy uninterrupted. This email would benefit from a clear affirmation of the benefits of their tool and quantifying what exactly are people losing if they fail to upgrade.
  • CTA: Upgrade My Bear
Screenshot 2020 03 12 at 5.51.59 PM
  • Goal: Build a new habit with the user. (that helps both onboarding and retention)
  • Desired outcome for the user: Stay on top of their team’s activity
  • CTA: See all your notifications
Screenshot 2020 03 12 at 6.17.07 PM
  • Goal: Help the user to adopt a feature and move them along the
  • Desired outcome for the user: Stay on top of their team’s activity
  • CTA: See all your notifications

Wrap up

Straightforward, easy to understand and act on onboarding emails with a clear goal, are way more effective than long emails with multiple CTAs. Just remember to use the simple emails formula and your emails will start raking in money for you:

1 Email = 1 Business Goal  = 1 Desired Outcome = 1 Call to Action

Excited about what you see here? Let’s work together on your onboarding emails and help you convert more free users to paying customers. Book a free strategy call with us now.

Additional resources

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“Encharge helped us visually redesign our onboarding flow resulting in a 10% increase in our trial activation rate."

Camille Richon
Founder Payfacile
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User onboarding
Boost product activation and guide your users to value faster
Trial conversion
Smart marketing automation and behavior-based emails to double your trial conversion.
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Landbot automates the onboarding for 80,000+ users while saving 320 hours/month
Confect transitioned to Product-Led Growth and increased user engagement by 28%
Samdock reduced the cost and time spent on acquiring a new customer by 77% with Encharge
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