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19+ Onboarding Emails You Can Steal in 2022

You’re getting a lot of website visitors, and your visitor to trial conversion rate is north of 10%. Yet, it’s too early to pop that champagne bottle you’ve kept in your cupboard since your prom.

To your avail, the majority of your trials are not returning to your site!

To prevent user drop-off at this sensitive stage in your funnel, you must nail down your onboarding emails.

Well, this guide is all about onboarding emails and helping you increase your trial to paid user conversion through emails.

My team and I spent a lot of time researching onboarding guides, books, reports, and email sequences, so I can bring you the most essential and practical information on creating effective onboarding emails.

As always, strategy beats growth hacks. Apart from providing you with a list of example onboarding emails and sequences, I’m going to dish out plenty of concepts and frameworks so that if you decide not to use a carbon copy of these emails, you’ll still walk away feeling like you learned something about onboarding.

Note: we’ve completely revamped and expanded this post in Dec 2021. Now you are looking at a 10,000-word guide. Make sure to bookmark this piece to read at your convenience.

Who is this guide for?

While all digital businesses can benefit from onboarding emails, this guide is primarily for SaaS (Software as a Service) companies with a free trial or a freemium model that want to convert more users into paying customers.

People with products and services that want to nurture leads into customers will also find practical applications.

So, without further ado, let’s get it on and convert some of those trials into paying customers!

If you’re looking for inspiration for onboarding email sequences, skip to here or download the Encharge onboarding flow below.

If you’re looking for a super quick and practical way to get started with trigger-based onboarding emails (and don’t have the time to read a long post), check out our short step-by-step guide on creating your first trigger-based email onboarding flow.

What are onboarding emails?

Onboarding emails are sent right after users sign up for your product or purchase a service. Onboarding emails get new customers familiar with the interface, key features, and the platform so they can get the most value possible out of it — especially during the trial period (if your SaaS is offering one). 

In short, onboarding emails help users experience an optimal customer experience (CX), so they stick around and use your SaaS.

But first, let’s step back and think about what a customer experience is. 

Customer experience is the overall impression a customer has when dealing with your business. An exceptional CX helps users realize the value of your app, making them more likely to subscribe to your paid plans in the coming days or weeks.

A bad CX makes you lose potential customers. This is the reason why more than half of customers switch to another brand.

So, where do onboarding emails fit in the equation?

As onboarding emails serve as one of the very first interactions with your customers, they shape the initial customer experience.

They guide new customers on what to do first and how. They help deliver your promise. They speak to customers on behalf of your brand. All these make up a considerable part of the CX. 

And as I already mentioned, most of your trial users will never return to your website once they visit it for the first time. Onboarding emails (and more specifically, reminder/nudge emails) are the only way to get potential customers back to your site and allow them to continue experiencing your product. 

With that in mind, onboarding emails are not just good-to-have addition to your tactics; they are an essential part of delivering a great cohesive customer experience from start to end. 

Why email as the main onboarding channel?

You could argue that email is such an old marketing tactic. But here are the top reasons why I think email should *still* be your MAIN channel for onboarding:

Almost everyone owns an email address.

I know it, and you know it. Billions use email worldwide. Registering on Facebook, the most popular social network today requires an email address. And they have almost 3 billion users worldwide. 

Customers already expect your onboarding emails.

Since you asked for an email address during sign-up, people are most likely to anticipate notifications sent to their inboxes. Consequently, this is also the channel they use to reach you out if they run into a problem.

Emails are versatile.

Most of the email content is plain text, but other options are also available. You can add an image, an explainer video, or an audio message. With AMP, you can even build interactive elements like surveys (although this technology is far from widely supported just yet).

Emails are simple and easily optimized.

There’s no question here. You know how easy, fast, and cheap it is to set up emails. Plus, most email platforms allow you to optimize them for instant ROI easily. For instance, you can tweak subject lines to reach more people, include shareable links to get more traffic to your blog, and improve the design to improve engagement.

3 key advantages of email onboarding

Convinced about using emails for onboarding? If yes, then here are the benefits waiting for you.

1. Help new users learn how to leverage your product.

When new users sign up, most of them simply know your product’s overview. The features you’ve mentioned on your homepage. 

Part of the onboarding email campaign is to let your users know what else they can do with your SaaS. Onboarding emails highlight distinctive features (that you probably keep up your sleeve) and demonstrate the unique value that only your product has.

2. Deliver relevant communication

Do you know that highly engaged customers are 6x more likely to test a new product or service from a brand as soon as they are launched? Well, that’s expected…

Further reading: 30 Product Launch Announcement Emails (Tips, Templates & Examples)

Engagement happens when you constantly communicate with your audience. This is true when you send messages based on their activity. It appears more timely and relevant. You start to build loyalty and trust in your product.

The best marketing automation platforms such as Encharge empower you to be more relevant to your customers. They let you send action-based emails that target engaged customers depending on their app events.

3. Reduce churn

You know it’s hard to stick to a brand that offers poor support, right? 

So when your users don’t get value from your product, they would tend to stop using your app altogether. This adds to your churn. 

A well-designed onboarding sequence can make SaaS users enjoy your product for a long time. 88% say they’re more likely to stay loyal to a business that invests in onboarding content that welcomes and educates them.

Put in other words, well-onboarded customers are less likely to churn. Conversely, unqualified or badly onboarded customers are more likely to leave you sooner than later. 

Do you need to focus on user onboarding now?

Before building your onboarding campaign, let’s first answer this question.

I know, a bit contradictory considering this post is all about onboarding, but I really don’t want you to invest your time in the wrong things.

As I showed in the guide to marketing automation for SaaS startups, onboarding happens in one stage of your funnel — it doesn’t matter what the name of that stage is. Still, usually, it is towards the beginning of your funnel.

Marketing automation strategy funnel

Being a busy founder or marketer, you only have the resources to focus on a single stage at a time. Bigger and well-funded startups have people in charge of email marketing and whatnot, but I’d assume that you don’t have a full-time owner of onboarding emails, so my advice is:

Tackle your most urgent problem first. Focus on onboarding only when you need to.

Here are some scenarios in which I would AVOID spending time and resources on onboarding emails and put my efforts elsewhere:

You have a self-serve, free trial SaaS with a visitor to trial conversion rate below 5%

Yes, this number could be wildly different, depending on whether you run a B2C or B2B business, the quality and quantity of your website traffic, and so on. But the gist is if you are struggling with a very low visitor to user conversion, you probably don’t need a sophisticated onboarding process — simply because there aren’t that many people to onboard yet. You have a bigger problem to fix.

Your monthly subscription churn rate is 10% or more

If you have enough data to calculate the churn rate for your business, and if it is 10% or above, you have a bigger problem than onboarding, again.

The benchmark for B2B SaaS for monthly churn is around 4-5% (according to Recurly research). At the rate of 10% and above, you’re churning your whole customer base in less than a year. I would focus on retention and not customer activation or acquisition.

Churn rate benchmarks

One caveat here is that a lousy onboarding could be a significant reason for churn (as discussed previously). Suppose people are churning because they are not getting onboarded well. In that case, it means that you have issues with onboarding, are not attracting qualified users, or are not delivering on the promises you make at the top of the funnel. In that case, onboarding emails might as well be the solution to your churn issue.

Your customers are not using email

Since you’re reading this article, I assume this is not the case with you or your audience, but I had to include it.

Suppose you’re selling to restaurant owners, for instance, or a B2C audience that doesn’t have the habit of opening their inbox. In that case, you should rethink email onboarding and dabble with other channels such as Facebook Ads and SMS.

Get started with onboarding emails

Onboarding emails are just an output you create as a marketer, a small building block, part of the complete marketing system you created to guide people towards success with your product.

In isolation, onboarding emails won’t make your startup successful. But as a part of a well-designed funnel, they can certainly help.

Before you dive into user onboarding strategies and tactics, I encourage you to answer these questions:

  1. Do you need to focus on user onboarding now?
  2. What’s the quantitative goal of your onboarding campaign?

1. What’s the goal of your onboarding email campaign?

If you’re sure that you need to improve your onboarding emails, the next step is to figure out your goal. For example:

  • Increase conversion rate (i.e., convert more trials to paid customers.)
  • Schedule more demo calls with qualified leads.
  • Add more new MRR.
  • Increase ARPU (average revenue per user.)

These are a good starting point, but you need to quantify them.

How many trials do you convert monthly, and how many do you need to convert to reach your revenue goals?

This is where most SaaS companies are looking for sanity checks and industry benchmarks.

There are some great resources on the topic from Lincoln Murphy, like this post on benchmarks.

“Generally, and this is from my own experience, the best SaaS companies with opt-in Free Trials see a free trial-to-paid conversion rate of > 25%. Less than 25%, and we know we have to work on optimizing for conversions.

More than 25%, further conversion optimization may result in diminishing returns on that effort, which means you’d likely be better off working on getting more prospects into the trial, as well as focusing more on expansion (upsells, cross-sells, etc.) to grow revenue.

Best in class SaaS companies with opt-out Free Trials should have free-to-paid conversion rates of > 60%. The same rules about optimization apply with this type of trial, too.”

 Lincoln Murphy

Sidenote:

  • Opt-in Free Trials = Trial users don’t leave their card in the signup process.
  • Opt-out Free Trials = You ask users for a credit card in your signup process.

I’m not a big fan of comparing yourself against benchmarks.

Using data from others to ascertain your own performance — is fraught. Differences in site design or digital analytics tool implementation make comparison shaky – Tracy Rabold, Digital Analytics Consultant at E-Nor

My approach to defining goals usually narrows down to a simple backward calculation.

Let’s say our goal is to convert trials to paid customers.

Based on our current funnel metrics, how many people do we need to convert from a free trial to a paid subscription in order to reach our weekly/monthly revenue goal?

For example, let’s say our ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) is $50, and we need to acquire 10 paying users this month to reach our monthly recurring growth goal of $500.

  1. We currently get 1,000 monthly website visitors to our website.
  2. Of those, 7% (70) convert to trials.
  3. This means we need a 14.3% conversion rate from trial users to paying users to reach our goal of 10 paying users for the month.

At the moment, we’re only converting just 5 people from trial to paid, which means our Onboarding Goal would be to double that conversion.

I know this is oversimplified, but I believe it’s way healthier than measuring yourself against others.

As you now know, you need to get twice as many people to convert; it’s also easier to work out your email open and click-through rates goals.

Other example goals include:

  • Increase your demo calls from onboarding emails with XX calls per month.
  • Increase qualified leads by XX%.
  • Increase ARPU by XX% (for example: by onboarding/activating more team members in the onboarding phase).

2. What’s the desired outcome of your onboarding emails?

Now forget about your goals, and think about your users’ goals.

What’s their biggest problem?

  • Lead generation takes too long.
  • Marketing automation is too complicated — it requires development resources.
  • Slow email communication.
  • Intradepartmental processes are too slow.

How does your product solve that problem and deliver value?

  • People will find a new lead in 15 seconds instead of 2 minutes.
  • People will be able to set up their marketing automation system without a developer.
  • Teams will always be on top of their tasks, and their clients will have peace of mind that everything is delivered on time.
  • Teams can communicate faster and have better visibility into the job of other team members.

Then map out the ”Aha” moments in your product when a user recognizes and internalizes that value.

Example:

“Buffer is a social media management tool that lets you easily schedule social posts into the future. Buffer makes this value quick to internalize by prompting users with the “Add to queue” button by default (over instantly publishing a post) to help them reach Aha!”

Pulkit Agrawal, Chameleon

Buffer Aha moment

Understanding your users’ problems and your product value will help you identify the main bottlenecks that prevent the user from reaching these milestones (or Aha moments).

Automated onboarding emails can help your users reach these milestones through different levers:

  • Get your users where they are and pull them back into your product. If someone signs up but never touches foot in your app, the best in-app messaging and in-app onboarding flow won’t help you. Email, on the contrary, can pull the users back pretty swiftly.
  • Increase user motivation to proceed further along your onboarding process. By picturing a better world through case studies and positive affirmations, onboarding emails can nudge your trials or leads to move forward in the onboarding flow.
  • Reduce user experience friction by reminding people of the next most critical action. Trigger or action-based emails can remind people to continue where they last left your app and help them focus on the essential features of your product. Super important, especially if you have a more complex SaaS.

Apart from that, onboarding emails are helping us get as much information as we can, especially from users who are leaving (or more likely to leave). Information that we can use to iterate on our onboarding flow.

By knowing the desired outcome of your users and the roadblocks they experience in your app, you can facilitate your users through your onboarding emails.

Understand where onboarding emails fit in your customer experience

Your onboarding email campaign is just a part of your onboarding flow. Onboarding emails should serve as an extension of your product, not a siloed element.

To create a cohesive onboarding strategy, use The Bowling Alley Framework.

Bowling alley

The Bowling Alley framework is a powerful onboarding strategy from Wes Bush, author of the “Product-Led Growth” book.

If you have never played bowling before, this is what the sports look like:

You throw a heavy ball towards 10 pins that stand at the end of a lane. The goal is to knock over all of the pins.

It sounds pretty simple, but there’s just one issue: there are gutters on the edges of the lane. If your ball falls into the gutter, you won’t knock any pins.

To make life easier for bowling rookies like me, a smart bowling guy invented the bowling bumpers, which keep balls from going into the gutter.

According to Wes, in the world of Customer Onboarding, bumpers guide your users to the outcome that your product promises:

Diagram based on “Product-Led Growth” book by Wes Bush

There are 2 types of onboarding bumpers:

Product bumpers 

In-app experiences like product tours and tooltips. They help users adopt product usage in the application itself.

Behance In-app checklist

Product bumpers include:

  • Onboarding tours
  • Checklists
  • Tooltips
  • Progress bars
  • Empty placeholder states

Conversational bumpers

In-app messages and onboarding emails.

Example in-app message bumper
Example in-app message from Intercom

Conversational bumpers include:

  • In-app messages from a tool like Intercom or Appcues
  • Push Notifications
  • SMS
  • And of course, onboarding emails

As you can see, emails are just a part of your whole onboarding process; therefore, you need to decide how they will work with the rest of the bumpers to create a smooth onboarding experience and set up users to succeed with your product.

Design your email onboarding campaign

OK, so far:

  1. You’ve decided what your goal is.
  2. And planned how to incorporate emails with the rest of your onboarding flow to get the best results.

The next step is to start planning out your actual email onboarding campaign.

Onboarding email vs. welcome email — are they the same? 

A common misconception among marketers is that if you have a great welcome email, you have a great onboarding campaign. 

If this sounds like you, you got the idea partially right and wrong. 

Welcome emails are mandatory emails you send as soon as a user enters your contact list.

They serve as the company’s true first touchpoint to a potential new customer or subscriber. Yes, they are important because they are the most opened email. But that’s it. They are just intended to welcome users, no more, no less.

However, onboarding emails are a series of emails that INCLUDE the welcome email. They don’t just greet the new signups. They’re a great way to educate the new audience about the benefits of your offering and share a case study of a customer already using the product. So aside from the welcome email, they also include nurture emails, exciting customer stories, upgrade emails, trial expiration emails, and more.

For example, a SaaS company with a 14-day free trial can have this onboarding email campaign:

Day 0Confirmation email/Welcome email
Day 1Product feature
Day 2Product feature
Day 3Case study
Day 5Check up email
Day 7Halfway through the trial email
Day 10Upgrade email (For those who didn’t upgrade yet)
Day 14Trial expires

How many emails to send and when?

Before you start writing any emails, you have to decide how long your email onboarding campaign is going to be, how many emails you’re going to send, and when.

There’s no single one-size-fits-all answer.

The factors to consider are:

A post by MadKudu sheds light on a couple of important observations:

It takes about 40 days to get 80% of SaaS conversions

Diagram by MadKudu

Regardless of trial length, people need up to 40 days to pull the trigger on a new SaaS.

But as you can see, the 14-day trial (purple line) has a bigger spike in the beginning — more people are converting faster than a 30-day trial, which is expected.

Half of SaaS conversions happen AFTER the trial ends

A free trial creates artificial purchasing urgency. But there isn’t anything magical about the last day of a trial — some customers continue to convert at their own rate based on incentives or their perceptions of value. – Mad Kudu

Onboarding emails are not the END of your onboarding — a lot of your users will come back to your product long after they’ve exited your email onboarding flow. In fact, MadKudu mentions that most companies had customers converting 6 months after signing up. (Insane, I know!)

Moreover:

In a research report by Oracle from 2014, it was found that, on average, the first 90 days of the customer lifecycle are the most volatile. Apparently, this is when banking customers are most likely to churn, and up to 30% of customers are susceptible to competitive offers.

ConversionXL

Emailing your leads (and paying customers alike) in the first 90 days after they signup is absolutely necessary.

A case study by Returnpath solidifies these observations by stating that:

Subscribers are generally most receptive to your marketing messages within the first 30 days of opting into your program.

Longer trials don’t lead to more conversions

Tomasz Tunguz, managing partner Redpoint Ventures, recently shared in a report on 600 SaaS companies that the conversion rate is the same across trial lengths.

In other words, giving people more time to test your product would not make them more likely to convert.

Trial conversion rate is the same across trial lengths

There are a few conclusions that we can draw from these stats:

  1. Shorten your trial length – 7 to 14 days is the golden range. Trial length doesn’t alter conversions, but shorter trials create momentum, leading to a higher % of your trials converting faster.
  2. Send more emails at the beginning of your onboarding – Recency in your emails is crucial. To accelerate sales and increase conversions, you have to be aggressive with your email marketing in the first days of the user lifecycle.
  3. Engage your users after the trial ends – Pursue post-trial sales and expand your email campaign beyond your trial period.
  4. Employ action-based emails – Time-based emails are helpful but are not going to do much for that fraction of your trials that don’t convert within the trial period. Target users based on qualification and behavior and pursue them aggressively with trigger-based emails. For example, when a user logs in after a long absence, re-engage them using a trigger-based email.

Here’s an example schedule that you can use for your onboarding email campaign:

Day 1-7Day 7-14Day 14-21Day 21-30Day 30-40Day 40-90
7-day Trial7-10 emails5 emails3 emails3 emails3 emails1-2 emails / week
14-day Trial5 emails7-10 emails3 emails3 emails3 emails1-2 emails / week
30-day Trial5 emails3 emails3 emails7 emails3 emails1-2 emails / week
Freemium7-10 emails5 emails3 emails3 emails3 emails1-2 emails / week
Example email sending schedule

This schedule is on the more aggressive side, and you should reduce accordingly if your audience is not used to receiving (many) emails.

The takeaway here is that the first 30-40 days of your user cycle are crucial, and you want to email your leads at least 90 days after their signup.

Self-serve only vs. sales-assisted onboarding

In other words, should you expect people to onboard themselves or help them with demos and calls / hire salespeople to call your trial leads?

The short answer is that it’s better to assist users in their onboarding.

Citing more stats from the report by Tomasz Tunguz:

75% of SaaS companies have salespeople contact Freemium leads

There is a reason. Assisted conversion rate is almost 4x that of self-serve conversion rate:

Salespeople increase trial conversions 3x

What does that mean for your email onboarding campaign?

You need a sales-touch email flow.

Sales-touch emails take the form of personal emails that you send to your trial users to help them with your SaaS, get them to book a call, etc. More on that in the next chapter.

Further reading: Product-led Onboarding Vs. Sales-driven Onboarding Strategy: Which one you need to choose?

Who is going to send the onboarding emails?

It’s also important to consider who will send the emails — the founder, account manager, support, etc.

Most marketing automation platforms like Encharge support multiple sender profiles. That way, you can send an onboarding welcome email from your founder and any further emails from the customer success team, for example.

Also, make sure you’re using real reply-to emails and checking your inbox regularly!

Important note: Do not send onboarding emails from a no-reply email.

Onboarding flows

Your onboarding email campaign is built of multiple email flows or email sequences.

Taxonomy of an automated email campaign

There are different types of onboarding flows that you can implement:

Onboarding flows you can implement

  1. Welcome flow
  2. App usage flow
  3. Expiry warning/trial extension flow
  4. Sales-touch flow/Customer success onboarding flow
  5. Upgrade flow
  6. Demo flow — sent to those users who booked a call or potential B2B leads. Similar to the sales-touch flow.
  7. Winback flow
  8. Post-trial flow
  9. Expired trial nurture flow
  10. Review request flow
  11. Referral flow

Each flow serves a different purpose in your email onboarding campaign.

You can also mix these flows to create hybrid flows.

It’s terrific to start with a single onboarding flow (or one that mixes emails from all flows), but as you progress, you should aim to make your email onboarding more sophisticated. Unless you’re already pleased with a single flow or your users are allergic to getting many emails.

Continue reading because we’ve dedicated a chapter for each of these flows.

If you’re at a loss for words, don’t worry! We will provide onboarding email examples, or you can start with any of these email sequence templates that we’ve created for you.

The welcome flow

The welcome flow is triggered as soon as someone signs up for an account.

It’s usually a time-based sequence that consists of a Welcome email, Product tips, Case studies, and CTAs to upgrade.

A typical structure for a Welcome flow for a 14-day trial could look like this:

  • Day 1: Welcome email
  • Day 3: Product tip 1
  • Day 5: Product tip 2
  • Day 7: Case study 1
  • Day 10: Product tip 3
  • Day 12: Case study 2
  • Day 13: Case study 3 + CTA to upgrade

Let’s explain each email in the Welcome flow.


Welcome email

Goal: Train your users to open your emails and clarify what they expect in the trial period.

When to send: As soon as a user signs up.

Your welcome email will be the email with the highest open rate in your onboarding campaign. It’s realistic to expect 30-60% open rates.

Data source Wordstream

Given the high engagement of that email, you might be tempted to include a lot of information and multiple aggressive CTAs in it. This is the wrong approach.

The purpose of the welcome email is to set the right expectations and introduce people to your software. It also needs to have just one CTA.

Example Welcome email:

Encharge welcome email

Subject line: Welcome to Encharge, Name!

Encharge user onboarding email example
Encharge welcome email

We’re currently getting a 46.3% open rate and a 6% click-through rate on this email.

🔥 What’s good about this email:

  • Personalized subject line. (Notice we’re also using liquid tags to avoid awkward blank spaces for users without names)
  • Benefit-oriented overview of the product. Just because people have signed up for your product doesn’t mean they understand (or remember) what it does. The welcome email is your opportunity to reaffirm your product’s value.
  • Sets the right expectations.
  • A simple CTA that gets users back in the product.

💩 What can be improved:

As a new company, maybe we should focus on collecting feedback in our very first email and ask people why they’ve signed up for Encharge (it’s something we do in the next email in our welcome flow).

Want to see the rest of our onboarding emails? Check out our full email onboarding flow.

Further reading: How to Write a Killer Welcome Email Series (with examples)


Product tip email

Goal: Provide value-based product information and nudge the user to complete the next step in the onboarding.

When to send: Depending on your onboarding email schedule, every other day is a good choice.

It’s ludicrous that as marketers, we get so obsessed about user acquisition that amidst this disproportionate emphasis on getting more leads, trials, or whatever, we forget to educate people when we actually have their attention. Use the welcome flow as an opportunity to help people be more successful while highlighting the key features of your app.

You can use product training videos, GIFs, webinars, or articles to expand on the information in your product tip email.

Wix.com product tip email

Subject line: Pro design tips for your site

Wix product tip email

🔥 What’s good about this email:

  • Ridiculously simple and easy to read. The short tips combined with bullet points would make scanning this email a breeze.
  • Practical yet benefit-oriented. The email presents the high-level benefit “stand out” and “look professional” while providing the solution. And all that in less than 50 words.
  • A call to action button that’s clearly visible.

“Including a call to action button instead of a text link can increase conversion rates by as much as 28%.”

Campaign Monitor

💩 What can be improved:

A bit more personalization would definitely promote engagement here. Take out the generic “your website” and swap it with a merge tag with the name or domain of the receiver. “4 Professional Design Tips for Encharge.io”, for example.


Case study email

Goal: Handle any objections trial users have and provide social proof.

When to send: Depending on your email sending schedule, 1 to 3 case study emails is preferred.

So far, you’ve been sending emails from you and your team. Now it’s time to let others sing your praises and address your trialing users’ common objections.

It doesn’t need to be a full-blown, in-depth case study. You can use one of your 5-star reviews on G2, a video testimonial, a customer story, or even a conversation you had with a happy customer on your live chat.

Airtable use case email

Subject line: New York City Ballet’s golden ticket

Airtable case study email

🔥 What’s good about this email:

  • The email body emphasizes the sheer amount of data “hundreds of hours of footage and marketing collateral” that their client is dealing with, which alludes to the power of Airtable.

💩 What can be improved:

  • This email needs a lot of work! First of all, taking into account the broad audience of Airtable that spans hundreds of industries and verticals, the subject line doesn’t give up even a vague indication that this will be a case study for the tool.
  • The body copy doesn’t help either. It lacks any concrete information on how Airtable improves their customers’ workflow.
  • It also lacks any social proof or objection handling.
  • On closer inspection, the actual case study contains powerful quotes that could fit very well in the email and provide more context:

In your case study emails, you’d want to pair one or more of your top objections with a case study or testimonial. The most common objections among SaaS customers (or in business in general) are:

  1. I don’t need it.
  2. It’s too expensive
  3. I don’t trust it/you.
  4. I’m not in a hurry to buy it.

Call to action email

Goal: Get people to pull the trigger on your trial.

When to send: 1-3 days before the trial ends or on special occasions

Every email you ever send needs to have a call to action (CTA)! So don’t get me wrong, you don’t need a separate email to get people to upgrade or purchase a subscription. In fact, you should sprinkle in upgrade CTAs anywhere from the middle of your welcome flow until its end.

Yet, your onboarding is not one of those times to be shy. A more aggressive ask for commitment will not hurt your conversion rates.

Headspace call to action email

Subject line: 3 ways to make your summer better

Headspace user onboarding email example

Headspace CTA onboarding email

🔥 What’s good about this onboarding email:

  • Gorgeous graphics! Headspace has one of the most beautiful sets of animated GIF illustrations I’ve seen in my inbox.
  • A distinct and straightforward call to action (this is the whole purpose of the email after all?)
  • Solid social proof — “Join the 50 million people.”
  • A straightforward summary of what I’m getting with Headspace Plus
  • With this little blurb at the end of the email, Headspace is taking away the fear of buying a new app just to find out that you don’t know to use it later:

💩 What can be improved:

Headspace is a seasoned player on the app market, and as marketers, we have a lot to learn from them. My only humble critique for this email is that as a user, I wished the subject line somehow indicated that this would be an upgrade email. Also, a mention of their pricing would help me make up my mind if I want to click on the email.

Next steps

Register for Encharge and use these welcome flow templates with a single click:

  • Onboard Trial Users and Help Them Reach the “Aha” Moment
  • Convert Trial Users With Targeted Onboarding Campaigns

The app usage flow

The App usage flow consists of trigger-based emails, also known as event-based or action-based emails.

These emails get sent according to a user’s activity in your app (or lack therefore of).

What separates mediocre onboarding campaigns and unrivaled, effective onboarding campaigns is indeed the app usage flow.

Building an app usage flow takes deliberate planning with your development team and additional effort. That’s why most companies don’t incorporate a trigger-based email sequence at all.

This is a huge missed opportunity for you and your business.

Setting up trigger-based emails is tough. Everybody knows they need to do it, but nobody wants to do it.

That’s why we spent the last few years building Encharge. We aim to solve this problem with easy native app integrations, powerful user segmentation, and drag and drop simplicity to build effective app usage flows without a developer.

A simple trigger-based flow in Encharge – Send an email when a user becomes a trial

Trigger-based emails help you send the right message to the right people at the right time on the right channel. Their purpose spans beyond onboarding, and you’re going to use them across the whole customer lifecycle communication — from product adoption to retention and upsell.

The possibilities for what emails to include in your app usage flow are endless. You can literary create any type of trigger-based emails, as it all depends on your product user experience. Therefore, we can’t feature every single trigger-based email, but we’re going to give you 4 use cases that are especially helpful in the onboarding phase of the customer journey.

  1. Motivate users
  2. Highlight the progress your users have made
  3. Provide proactive support
  4. Push unfinished registrations to complete the signup

Motivate users

Goal: Incentivize new users for exploring your product 

When to send: After a user completes a specific action in your product successfully

People are hardwired to seek rewards. Every time someone likes or comments on your Facebook posts, Facebook gives a little dopamine hit.

Now I don’t ask you to become a little marketing genius that exploits human psychology to control people, but a little reward here and there can undoubtedly help your conversion rates.

You can use the motivational reward email to reward users for exploring your product and completing crucial steps, that way leading them to the desired Aha moment.

Ascend motivational email

Subject line: Your First Email Campaign Is Live

Ascent motivational email

🔥 What’s good about this email:

  • Ascends celebrates an important milestone in the user experience of their tool with a cheerful email and provides guidance about the next steps.
  • They give me enough inspiration for my email broadcast and a concise call to action button that pulls me back in that feature of the tool.
  • Towards the end of the email, I can see a list of actions related to my email.

💩 What can be improved:

If Ascend included the person’s name or the campaign’s title, the person would’ve been more convinced that this is a special “reward” for them and not a cookie-cutter email Ascend sends to everybody.


Highlight the progress your users have made

Goal: Create a feeling of progress and nudge people to move forward in your onboarding

When to send: After a user completes one or more actions in your app

In 2004, marketing researchers Joseph Nunes and Xavier Dreze teamed with a local car wash in a busy metropolitan area.

For one month, the researchers handed out loyalty stamp cards.

They used two different cards depending on the week:

• Customers on the first and fourth week received a card with an offer to “buy eight car washes and get the ninth one free.”

• The second group of customers received a card with a slightly different offer. They were awarded one free wash for every ten purchases, but they were also gifted two free credits.

In absolute terms, each deal was the same. Eight trips to the car wash earned one free wash. Yet twice as many people in the second condition completed the stamp card; having earned two credits, the feeling of progress nudged them to return.

To Create a Habit, Focus on the Reward, TechCrunch

Nunes and Dreze term this tendency the endowed progress effect:

We’re more committed to completing a goal when we have made some progress.

Autopilot example email

Subject line: Account review

Autopilot user onboarding email example
Autopilot progress email

🔥 What’s good about this email:

Autopilot is a competitor of ours, but we give credit where credit is due. They’ve come up with a brilliant onboarding progress email. The Autopilot “account review” gives you a checklist of what you’ve completed in your onboarding. When you complete an action, the ❌ becomes a ✅

💩 What can be improved:

This email is personalized, provides context, and presents dense information in a simple way. The only thing I’d play around with is A/B test the subject line “Account review” with something more inspiring like “Kaloyan, see the next steps for success with Autopilot.”


Provide proactive support

Goal: Identifying and resolving users’ issues before they become problems.

When to send: When a trial user visits your help desk multiple times; or is halfway through a step in the onboarding process.

Reactive customer service: A customer is browsing your SaaS and has a question or issue. Typically, they find a live chat button or email you and wait for a response.

Proactive customer service:

It means anticipating customer problems and addressing them proactively.

Email is a great way to address user roadblocks in advance, and with marketing automation tools like Encharge that provide advanced segmentation based on events, this can even be automated.

For example, if a user visits a particular page on your knowledge base more than 2 times in less than a week, it’s worth checking with them if they need help.

Podia proactive support email

Subject line: Need some help connecting your Stripe account? 🔧

Podia proactive support email

🔥 What’s good about this email:

Rather than just asking if you need help, this email actually highlights the reason why you’d like to integrate with Stripe while also handling the objections of transaction fees and waiting. Clever!

💩 What can be improved:

Instead of stating that you can message them on live chat, I’d include a link to a contact page, or even better — the Stripe integration page that automatically opens an Intercom live chat window (possible with a Javascript). In that way, guiding the user to the right location in your app while providing them with an immediate 1-click live contact.


Push unfinished registrations to complete signup

Goal: Get people back in the app and nudge them to finish their registration

When to send: When a user starts a registration process but doesn’t complete it

This flow is activated before a lead becomes a registered user of your product.

For example:

When in a 2-step registration process that consists of Step 1. User details and Step 2. Billing details — the user completes the first step but drops off before filling in their billing details.

Grammarly unfinished registration email

Subject line: Writer’s Block? We’ve Got an App for That

Grammarly pushing unfinished installations to complete signup

🔥 What’s good about this email:

  • You will receive this email if you signup for Grammarly but never install their Chrome extension. Rather than just pushing you to complete your registration, Grammarly actually reminds you, “Why you need this again?”
  • Notice how they’ve combined the progress type of email with this unfinished registration email to create a sense of momentum and handle the objection of dealing with a long-winded signup process.

💩 What can be improved:

This email would benefit from a clear call to action like “Install Chrome Extension.”

Next steps

Register for Encharge and use these welcome flow templates with a single click:

  1. Register for Encharge
  2. Bring your user and customer data in Encharge. We support native integrations with Segment, Stripe, and Zapier, but you can also integrate with our API
  3. Use one of these app usage flow to get your creative juices flowing:
  • Educate Users About a Recently Activated Feature
  • Push Unfinished Registrations to Complete Signup
  • Revive Dead Product Leads
  • Follow Up On Pricing Page Visit (you can substitute with a follow up on a visit to a knowledge base page instead and send proactive support message)

Step 4: See your trial to paid conversions skyrocket!

Expiry warning/trial extension flow

Expiry warning and trial extension flows are other great tools in your onboarding arsenal. They leverage the inner psychological triggers of scarcity and urgency to help you convert more of your users into paying customers.


Expiry warning email

Goal: Let the users know they need to act quickly, and immediate action should be taken

When to send: Send 24-72 hours before the trial expires

Urgency has everything to do with timing. It’s pointless to flood someone’s inbox with warnings about a trial expiration before they have started exploring your product.

Typically, you’d want to send the trial expiration emails 1-3 days before the trial is over or 1-7 days if you have an extended trial (20-30-day trial).

On the last day of the trial, you’d want to send a trial ends email. The sole purpose of this email is to close the lead. It’s your chance to illustrate what life would look like for the trial user if they don’t upgrade now (clue: life is worse without your software.)

There’s nothing that motivates people more than telling someone what they’ll miss out on. In psychology, it’s called loss aversion.

So ask yourself:

What will users miss out on if they don’t upgrade to a paid plan?

Sophia Le has written this brilliant article on CopyHackers dedicated to the trial-ending email.

Upscope trial expiry flow

Subject line: ⚠️ Your trial ends soon!

When: 3 days before the trial is over

Clickthrough rate: 6%

Upscope user onboarding email example

Subject line: Trial ends tomorrow

When: 1 day before the trial is over

Clickthrough rate: 5%

Upscope user onboarding email example

Subject line: Your trial has ended 😢

When: Trial ended

Clickthrough rate: 6%

Upscope user onboarding email example

You can review the whole Upscope email campaign on their blog.

🔥 What’s good about these emails:

A simple, clear call to action combined with great timing.

💩 What can be improved:

  • Not a huge fan of sending emails from the Team’s email account. Stick to your personal email address.
  • Each email you send is an opportunity to reaffirm the value of your product. Don’t expect that just because people have reached the end of your trial, know what the product can do for them. Life happens!

    A simple “I really don’t want you to miss on [Product] and [high-level benefit].” could go a long way. For example, “I don’t want you to miss on Upscope and the opportunity to reduce onboarding team’s call time by 27%.”
  • In the trial-ending email, Upscope has missed the opportunity to emphasize what life will look like without their tool — prolonged support conversations, lack of qualitative data, longer support ticket response rates, and so on.

Trial extension email

Goal: Provide one last opportunity for people to test your product before they get locked out of their free trial

When to send: Send 24-72 hours before the trial expires

There’s little reason to send scarcity emails to people who haven’t used or opened your software.

Urgency starts with importance.

In order for something to be urgent, it has to be important. Think about a man selling helium balloons at a golf course. He can’t really use urgency to sell his balloons because no one at a golf course needs or wants a helium balloon.

Crazy Egg

You can create a trialing segment of people that have been inactive in your app and offer a special extension for them.

Squarespace trial extension email

Subject line: Your trial ends tomorrow

Squarespace user onboarding email example
Squarespace extension email

🔥 What’s good about this email

  • A little touch of personalization — Squarespace has included the name of the website
  • Squarespace doesn’t assume the user knows what SquareSpace is just because he reached the end of the trial sequence. The second paragraph describes what Squarespace is while also describing some of its top features.
  • Squarespace reassures that it’s totally OK to give the tool some more time without putting too much pressure on the user.

💩 What can be improved:

I would break the trial extension and trial ending emails into two separate emails and send the extension email only to inactive users. With your trial-ending email, you want to keep it simple and close the deal ASAP, not provide an excuse for the already active users to delay the purchase. The old sales axiom “Time kills deals” is also true in SaaS.

Sales-touch flow/Customer success onboarding flow

Sales-touch emails are personal emails that you send to your trial users in order to engage them in a conversation with you.

The purpose of these emails is to ultimately convert trials to paying customers but without being “salesy”. Think of sales-touch emails as an opportunity to advise people, collect feedback, and book success calls with potential leads.

Sales-touch emails should be personalized and create the notion that you’re sending them manually.

To get higher engagement, you can also follow up on your sales-touch emails whenever you don’t receive a reply.

Sales-touch emails can be time-based or trigger-based. Here are a couple of examples that you can use in your onboarding campaign:

Personal introduction email

Goal: Introduce yourself as a real human, collect viable customer feedback, or get the person to book a demo call with you.

When to send: 1-24 hours after the signup. To make it look more personal, you can delay sending this email a few hours after user registration.

This email is very similar to the welcome email but puts a human touch to it. The goal is to start a conversation with your trials.

This iconic example from GrooveHQ has been making the rounds on the web. I’m not going to lie that I’ve copied its structure in my previous start HeadReach, as well as Encharge.

Groove personal intro email

Onboarding emails usually don’t get a whole lot of responses. This is not the case with the personal intro email. By asking the crucial question: why did you signup? Groove were able to collect tons of customer data without doing anything more than setting up this automated email.


Demo call email

Goal: Offer a demo call and personal help for trials

When to send: 1-24 after the signup or whenever a user shows an indication of being stuck in the product

Frame these emails as “success calls”. Your role as a product advisor is to help people get more out of your product or orient inactive trials.

This sales-touch onboarding email from GatherContent asks people if they need help but also incentivizes them to jump on a quick chat by offering a quick “sneak peek” into new features. Who wouldn’t want to feel special by being the first one to see the new features?

GatherContent demo call sales-touch email

Upgrade Flow

Upgrade emails nudge the active users to upgrade to a paid plan. They’re usually sent to free users who are actively using the app. 

Check the example below.

Upgrade email

Goal: Convert the active free users to paying users

When to send: Periodically. It can be every week, every other week, or every month.

Most upgrade emails also double as an activity update email to summarize what you’ve done inside the app. These get sent to users who are heavily using the app. 

In other words, these users must have already gotten value out of the app; that’s why they’re the right targets for this upsell.

RescueTime upgrade email

Subject line: 13h 35m of Business this week – RescueTime Weekly Summary

🔥 What’s good about these emails:

This productivity review gives you input on how well you’ve managed your time for the week. It also shows you a weekly comparison and if you’ve nailed the goals, you’ve set for yourself.

💩 What can be improved:

  • It feels too templated and not so personal.
  • The weekly nudge to upgrade using the same copy week after week could be too much for some users. And it’s the first thing you read when you open the message.

Further reading: Make More Money with Better Upgrade Emails


Yearly upgrade email

This is the email for pushing active users toward a yearly subscription. Instead of just letting their account lapse without any contact or prompts about renewing, you can send them quarterly reminders.

Offer promos, discounts, or savings that they’ll get if they choose the plan.

UTM.io yearly promo email

Subject line: Don’t FOMO while WFH, big changes!

🔥 What’s good about this email:

They give a sense of urgency that attracts users to upgrade fast.

💩 What can be improved:

I feel that the email is impersonal. There’s no proper closing nor a signature from whom it was. 

Win-back flow

Win-back or re-engagement emails are emails that you send to inactive users in the hopes of reactivating them. Most SaaS users sign up for your tool today and forget what your tool is about the next day. 

It’s not their fault. There are just lots of things that compete for their attention once they leave your app. 

 “The reality is your free-trial user signs up for a trial… and then heads back into a massive, endlessly explorable digital and physical world, filled with rock-climbing classes and sangria-on-patios and deadlines and Facebook and existing processes and people and shiny distractions and shitty distractions…“

Sophia Le

That’s why win-back emails should be part of your onboarding campaign. They remind the users why they signed up to your app in the first place and how you can solve the pain they’re in right now. 

Win-back email

Goal: Re-engage inactive subscribers

When to send: After weeks or a month of inactivity.

This email gives the user a reason to come back and check out your SaaS. The goal is to get them to visit your app again and give it another shot. 

SparkToro’s win back is a smart approach to getting users to come to use the app again. It reminds them that the number of searches they can do is back to 5.

SparkToro win-back email 

Subject line: 5 More SparkToro Searches Are Yours

🔥 What’s good about these emails:

I like how short and sweet it is. It makes me want to use my available searches again. The CTA is also enticing, and the closing (“Your friends in audience research”) is a subtle reminder of the ease of using SparkToto when doing market research.

💩 What can be improved:

I don’t know about you, but adding .gifs in emails and showing how a search is done — and what you can get from that search adds 100 points to persuasiveness! If I see it, I’m most likely going to click on it as fast as I can. 

Post-trial flow

Remember when we said that half of the sales in SaaS actually happen after the trial period, and you should pursue post-trial sales. Well, the post-trial onboarding flow is your opportunity to:

  1. Ask for feedback.
  2. Offer a discount to your ex-trialists.
  3. Continue nurturing them with valuable content and materials.

Post-trial survey email

Goal: Understand why trialing people didn’t buy

When to send: 1-3 days after trial expires

This email collects information about why people didn’t buy and helps you craft a better onboarding experience or improve your product. It also gives you a second chance to convert your trials by addressing the right objections and fixing any highlighted user problems in your future win-back emails.

Instapage post-trial survey email

Subject line: A Quick Question from Instapage

Instapage post-trial survey email

🔥 What’s good about this email:

Simple, plain design with a prominent call to action.

💩 What can be improved:

People loathe filling in surveys. To handle this objection, Instapage can include a tiny tip that this is a single-question survey, and it will take me less than 20 seconds to complete.

Instapage post-trial survey

Once you know why people don’t buy, the next step is to address the reasons by putting people in a relevant marketing automation flow (hint: you can use Encharge for this, too)

  • I’m using another solution to create landing pages → Send to a nurturing flow to stay top of mind when they decide to churn from the other tool.
  • Instapage is too expensive → Offer an exclusive one-time discount.
  • Instapage is too difficult to learn to → Start a sales-touch flow offering a 30-minute free crash course with a product success hero.
  • Instapage is missing features I need → Inquire about the feature or ask the person to submit a request in your feature request software. Let them know when the new feature is live.

Post-trial discount email

Goal: Pull-back in good fit trials with a money objection

When to send: 1-3 days after trial expires

This email tries to convert active people that find your product expensive.

Attracting cheap, unqualified customers is a recipe for high churn and long support conversations. You should reserve any discounts only for people that are a good fit for you.

Discounts are especially effective for high-margin, low-expense apps like Headspace.

Expired trial nurture flow

Onboarding doesn’t simply stop when the free trial period is over. Users signed up because they found your product as the solution to their current problem. 

So even weeks after they sign up, you can still send them nurturing emails. They’d unsubscribe if they wanted to. These nurture emails make you their top of mind whenever they’re ready to give your solution a shot.

This flow may include these emails:

  • Product updated
  • New additions to your blog collection
  • Invites to special events

They still send me nurturing and educational emails 2 years after the trial period. 

How can I forget them?

🔥 What’s good about these emails: 

They keep sending messages even after months of trial expiration. Most of the emails are helpful and are focused on productivity.

Here’s a closer look at some of the emails sent:

💩 What can be improved:

Most of the emails are newsletters, though. They all point to the blog. As a free trial user, I’m way past that stage as a free trial user, and I’m ready to hear more product-centered emails. 

Zapier could’ve sent emails containing Zapier tips, case studies, and how-tos. This will probably get the users to try Zapier one more time, especially when the CTA leads straight to the Zapier app.

Review request flow

Getting reviews is a big deal for SaaS, especially if they’re B2B. 92% of B2B buyers are more likely to purchase after reading trusted reviews. Plus, SaaS companies that invest in 4 or more review sites earn 36% more revenue than sites that don’t.

And guess what? You can leverage emails to improve your visibility on these review sites.

Review email

Goal: Get users to leave reviews on review sites like Capterra and G2.

When to send: Only after a user has been actively using your tool for at least a month or already converted to a customer.

This email asks the user to leave you a review in exchange for credits or gift cards in some cases. Others don’t offer rewards at all. They just ask. 

Chameleon review request email 

Subject line: Quick reward for reviewing Chameleon

🔥 What’s good about this email: 

It’s a straight ask, and I think I’m gonna use that $10 to buy some books online.

💩 What can be improved:

Nothing significant that I can spot. The only thing I would suggest is giving a slightly bigger reward. When it comes to reviews, most of the companies out there offer $20-40 gift cards, depending on how valuable that review is to you 🙂 But let’s not get too greedy, right?

Referral flow

This is the last type of onboarding flow we have, so congratulations on reaching that far! You’re a real marketing automation warrior.

Most SaaS have referral programs that let them grow their userbase effortlessly. They usually offer the referrer rewards in the form of coupons, credits, or vouchers. 

During onboarding, you can invite your best users to join your Referral Program so you can get more users fast.

Referral email

Goal: Get more users on demand (without spending on ads)

When to send: Preferably after a month after signing up

For your current users to refer their friends, they should have a great experience with you. So it pays to give them time to explore your app. For most SaaS, 30 days is enough time for their users to see if users can swear by the app or not.

Signaturely referral email 

Subject line: Quick question

🔥 What’s good about this email:

It’s short and direct to the point.

💩 What can be improved:

There’s no way I can tell which segment they’ve sent it to, but this email is best sent to happy users. You don’t want to target inactive users or users who’ve had bad experiences with you because they’ll probably not hop into the program. 

Bonus: 6 tips for action-inducing onboarding emails

Here are some action-inducing ‘must-haves’ of your onboarding email campaigns: 

  1. Activate and inactive users need different sequences. 
  2. Make personalization a priority
  3. Keep it to one CTA per email
  4. Keep it to one topic per email.
  5. Know when to use HTML vs. plain text. 
  6. A/B test your messages. 

1. Activate and inactive users need different sequences. 

Yes, all must receive the welcome email. But after that, that’s another story. 

You can enter users into different sequences based on their activity.

  • Have they used the feature?
  • Did they visit a specific page?
  • Did they stop using your app?
  • Or did they upgrade halfway through the trial? 

2. Make personalization a priority. 

You can personalize your onboarding even further as you gather more data about a customer during sign-up or through their email engagement. 

Also, it is recommended that the emails are triggered in response to actions that a user takes in your app.

Lastly, segment your users first before sending emails, making your messages more targeted. 

3. Keep it to one CTA per email

Don’t confuse your users into acting by presenting different CTA buttons. Too many options may make users feel overwhelmed and not act at all. Simple onboarding emails with one CTA work the best.

4. Keep it to one topic per email.

One crucial rule that many marketers fail at times. Giving receivers more than one main item to digest. 

Say you’re talking about pricing objections. Just stick there and don’t narrate the urgency to use your product. 

5. Know when to use HTML vs. plain text. 

There’s the advantage of using one over the other. 

  • Compared to HTML, plain text emails are more personal and easy to read.
  • Compared with plain text emails, HTML provides more flexibility over the layout.
  • Despite the clarity of plain text emails, they don’t have the appeal that HTML emails offer.

6. A/B test your messages.

Creating action-inducing emails is tricky. What works for you may not work for the majority. That’s it is critical to use variation and use the winning version.

Further reading on onboarding emails

Additional resource

4.8/5 from 228 reviews
4.9/5 from 158 reviews
4.9/5 from 155 reviews
4.91/5 from 154 reviews

Meet your new marketing automation platform

Customer messaging tools don’t automate workflows outside your product and marketing automation tools are bad at behavior emails. Encharge is the best of both worlds — a marketing automation platform built specifically for startups and digital businesses.

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

camille-photo
Camille Richon
Founder Payfacile
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