Create a Trigger-Based Email Onboarding Flow for Your SaaS. The Step-by-Step Guide

Let’s face it. Setting up a trigger-based email onboarding flow is hard.

If you’re a founder or a CMO of early-stage SaaS, you’re most likely frustrated about how complex creating an email onboarding for your tool is.

Even worse, you’re scared about all the things that could go wrong:

  • Sending the wrong email to the wrong people.
  • Spamming your users (especially if you have parallel trigger-based and time-based sequences).
  • Setting up all your email onboarding into a marketing automation tool with a high learning curve, just to find out later that you’re locked in a tool with limiting features.

Unfortunately, marketing webinars and posts don’t make this easier. There’s a ton of material on the topic — hundreds of email examples, guides on how to write better emails, marketing automation tool reviews, and so on.

Don’t get me wrong. I have my share of long resources on the topic, too. You can still learn heaps from these resources. But what’s still missing is an easy to follow, actionable piece on how to put together a basic trigger-based email onboarding.

This post is the missing piece!

This is not the “ultimate guide” on how to write the most effective emails, or how to set up the most sophisticated email onboarding flow.

My goal is to provide a boiled-down, step-by-step, actionable guide that will take from start to end when creating your first trigger-based email onboarding.

Think of this as your cheat sheet to trigger-based email onboarding for your SaaS.

Without any more fuss, let’s just jump in.

Who is this guide for?

  • Early to mid-stage SaaS companies with a free trial or freemium self-serve onboarding model.
  • People that are just launching their product and have no onboarding emails.
  • People that have launched their SaaS but only have a few time-based onboarding emails (like a welcome email) and want to get higher conversions with trigger-based emails.
  • SaaS founders and marketers that are unhappy with their trial to paid conversion rate.

What do you need to set up your first trigger-based onboarding flow?

  • Google Docs.
  • Free Segment.com account — for event tracking and sending events to Encharge.
  • Encharge.io account — to map and automate your email onboarding.
  • Development resource with 1-2 days available to allocate to this project.

Our goal

  • We want to get your trial users to follow the shortest path to their desired outcome (whatever that is for your app).
  • To achieve this, we’re going to create an event-triggered email onboarding flow based on the actions your users take or don’t take in your app.

Our action plan

  1. Identify the user actions/events that we need to track.
  2. Create a Segment.com tracking plan and get your developer to implement the events.
  3. Map the action-triggered flow in Encharge.
  4. Write the emails
  5. Launch your flow.

Leat’s unpack each step.

Step 1: Identify the user actions/events that we need to track

Whether your app is complex or simple, your users can do a lot of things in it. The key here is that we don’t need to track every single action.

We only need to track the actions that are relevant to getting people toward their desired outcome.

We’re going to use one of our customers, Veremark, online reference checking software,  as an example. The desired outcome for Veremark users is to get faster insights on their job candidates.

These are all the actions that a Veremark user needs to take in order to get their first candidate response and receive insights:

  1. Signed Up — User needs to sign up to experience value. Duh!
  2. Sent Request — a “Candidate Request” is a questionnaire that Veremark users send to their job candidates. This is Veremark’s “activated” event. To start getting value out of the product, the Veremark user needs to send a request.
  3. Request Criteria Met — when a job candidate completes a request, the user is receiving value out of Veremark. This means that the user has reached their desired outcome.

That’s it, nothing more, nothing less. These are the three most important events that Veremark needs to track in order to get its users to experience value.

Of course, there are other events that Veremark could track like “Custom Questionnaire Created” or “Request Draft Saved”. You can put these actions under “Additional events” on our event tracking plan, but you definitely don’t need to care about them right now!

Step 2: Create a Segment tracking plan and get your developer to implement the events

Segment.com is a data-piping tool that sends events from your app to other marketing apps like Encharge. Think of it like Google Tag Manager but for user actions in your app.

As a marketer, you don’t need to understand how Segment works under the hood. All you need to know is that it will save a ton of development time down the line, and allow you to send user events to different marketing tools without bothering your developers every single time you need to work with a new tool.

However, you still have some homework to do:

Your job as a marketer is to provide your developer with an event tracking plan.

An event tracking plan is a simple spreadsheet that lists all of the events that you want to track.

The process works like this:

  1. You fill in the tracking plan with the events that you identified in the previous step.
  2. You go to your developer and ask them to code the events in Segment.com.
  3. Your developer codes the events and starts sending them from your app to Segment.
  4. Once the events are active, you can send the events from Segment to Encharge or any other tool supported by Segment.

Use this event tracking template. Click on File → Make a copy to duplicate the template.

Screenshot 2020 03 04 at 9.53.14 AM
Segment.com Event Tracking Plan

The events are grouped into Core and Additional Events. For now, we only care about the core events. In Veremark’s case, these are “Signed Up”, “Sent Request”, and “Request Criteria Me”.

For each event, there are a bunch of columns on the spreadsheet. All you need to fill in are the first three columns. The rest is for your developers.

  • Name — Name of the event (Case sensitive). These are the exact event names that your developers will code. We’re going to use these in the next step of this guide.
  • Why — brief info on why this event is important and needs to be coded.
  • Properties — data attributes that are carried with each event. For example, for the event “Signed up” we need the name of the person, their email, timeStarted (when the trial was started), subscription plan, and so on. We need properties to make better user segmentation and build more relevant onboarding flows.

Step 3: Map the action-triggered flow in Encharge

When your developers are finished coding the events, you can start using them in your marketing automation tool — Encharge.

This is where the fun part begins!

Encharge has a visual drag-and-drop flow builder that works with 3 types of steps:

  1. Triggers — starts a flow/email sequence.
  2. Actions — used to send an email, tag a person, or execute another action.
  3. Filters — put people into different buckets/swimming lanes based on their attributes or activity.
Screen Recording 2020 03 04 at 10.09 AM
Using Trigger and Action steps in Encharge

There are a ton of ways to build an email onboarding flow in Encharge. This might feel overwhelming at first, but fear not!

Here I’ll provide a simple action-triggered email onboarding flow that you can use with the user events from the previous step.

Tag people based on their actions in your app

The first flow I want to create is a simple flow that tags people when they take an action (i.e., complete an Event) in your app.

  1. When they complete the event “Signed Up” → Add tag “signed-up”.
  2. When they complete the event “Request Sent” → Add tag “request-sent”
  3. When they complete “Request Criteria Met → Add tag “request-criteria-met”

To do this, we’re going to use the “Event” trigger step and the “Add tag” action step like below:

Create a Trigger-Based Email Onboarding Flow for Your SaaS. The Step-by-Step Guide
A tagging flow in Encharge

Now every time someone signs up they will be tagged with “signed-up”. Every time someone sends a request they will be tagged with “sent-request”. And so on.

The goal of this step is to:

  • Be able to create segments of people based on their activity in your app. We can create a segment of people that have the tag “sent request”.
  • Use the tags in the email onboarding flow to filter people based on whether they’ve taken the specific action or not. Check the next section.

Map the action-triggered email onboarding sequence

This step is really important! Once your tagging flow is ready, you can now build your action-triggered email onboarding flow.

Once you’re done it should look something like this:

Screenshot 2020 03 04 at 10.42.15 AM
A trigger-based email onboarding flow in Encharge

Let’s unpack what’s going on here.

1. Event — “Trigger on Event Signed up”.
The flow starts here when a user signs up.

2. Send Email — “Welcome email”.

 We send the first email.

3. Wait for 3 hours.

4. Hast Tag —  “sent-request”.

On this step, we’re checking if the user has sent their first Request.

If NO → We sent a Nudge email getting them to take the action. Then we wait 1 more day and check if they’ve completed the next required action “Request criteria met”

If YES → We check if they’ve completed the next required action “Request criteria met”

5. Has Tag —  “request-criteria-met”

On this step, we’re checking if the user has received their first completed Request Criteria.

If NO → We sent another nudge email.

If YES → We sent “Criteria met — sales/upgrade email”.

6. We send the sales upgrade email

Flow wrap-up

This may seem complicated at first, but what we’re doing is just checking if people have taken certain actions in your app or not.

If they haven’t we send nudge emails that try to get people back to the app. Otherwise, we move forward with the next action.

If they’ve completed all of the required actions, we send them an upgrade email.

This action-triggered email sequence works in pace with your user journey, rather than blasting your users with irrelevant time-based drip emails.

By implementing an event-based onboarding flow, you will see an immediate jump in your trial to paid conversion rate.

The flow below uses only 3 events, but you can use the same structure to implement a larger sequence with more events. Just follow the idea of “has the user completed the action”. If NO, send nudge email. If YES, move them down the sequence. When they’ve taken all of the required actions, send the upgrade email.

Step 4: Write the emails

Now, as you’ve mapped your flow visually, all that’s left to do is to write the emails.

When it comes to SaaS email onboarding, I encourage our customers to follow something that I call the simple emails formula:

1 Email = 1 Goal (for you) = 1 Desired Outcome (for the user) = 1 Call to Action

Let’s unpack the formula:

  • 1 email — Let’s say we work with the welcome email.
  • 1 Goal (for you) — With the welcome email, your goal is to get people to the “aha moment” (a.k.a the value moment, the moment of realized value, the value switch, etc.)
  • 1 Desired Outcome (for your user) — Your users are hiring your software to do one or more jobs. If you run a moodboard creation software, people want to know if your software can create awesome moodboards that help them close more client deals.
  • 1 Call to Action — one button/link that moves the user closer to their desired outcome and closer to your goal.

Let’s review one of the Veremark’s nudge emails that follows this formula:

Image 2020 03 04 at 11.13.09 AM
The “simple email” formula in practice

Read more on how simple onboarding emails can help you convert more customers.

Step 5: Launch your onboarding flow

You made it!

You just created your first action-triggered email onboarding flow. Now you’re ready to convert more users to paying customers.

Let us help you create your trigger-based email onboarding flow

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

Additional resources

Want to dive deeper into onboarding emails for your SaaS? Check out the resources below:

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