39 Actionable Growth Hacking Tactics Part 3/5 – Retention Hacks

All 39 Hacks are not in this single post. Part 1 Acquisition hacksPart 2 Activation hacksPart 3 Retention hacksPart 4 Referral hacksPart 5 revenue hacks.

Retaining an existing user (or reducing Churn) is key to achieving profitability and ROI in your startup. The famous statistic is that it costs 5 times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to retain one.

We aren’t going to explore the psychology or theory of why that is true. Just accept that it is, and if you’ve solved Acquisition and Activation in your startup, you now need to focus on Retention.

This post is a list of customer retention hacks that you can implement right now into your startup that are proven to work.

Customer Retention Hacks

19. Daily and Weekly Digest Emails



If you have a user-generated content network like Twitter or Quora, doing a weekly digest of activity makes loads of sense. Even if users don’t click any links in the emails, they may just be enjoying the email content within their inbox.

Following on from this, could you send out a weekly (or monthly) digest of key metrics from their dashboard? Discussion highlights from projects? How many tasks were completed this week? Who were the biggest contributors in their team?

The key with these emails is that they must be personalised, they must be relevant, and they must be valuable. We’re not trying to get the user to take any other action other than just being informed – and maybe clicking to log back into the product.

But our no.1 goal with digest emails is to stay top of their mind. Don’t let them forget about you.

20. Transactional Emails (or Push Notifications) of In-Product Activity

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 17.58.31

What happens in your product that people would be interested in? What will play on their vanity? What can they take action on NOW? Sudden traffic spike? Important client just hit the website?

Showing people the events that interest them, via email or push notification, is a powerful way to hook people back. Make sure you’re tracking and monitoring these, and after X amount in a row not getting opened, it may be time to reduce the frequency or play with the content.

Too many emails like this can have a very negative effect. But get it right, and you’ll nail retention.

21. Add an in-product leaderboard or some kind of competitive gamification

Klout & PeerIndex are the obvious startups in this example, but startups have been using leaderboards for a long time. Don’t just “force” gamification by sticking an arbitrary set of badges and points against activity. Make it relevant, interesting, meaningful.

Projects such as ExaLeague are tracking London’s startups based on weekly social media exposure. 37Signals added gamification to their customer support with a simple Smileys app.

People love to be measured. People love to compete. People hate to be treat like children. Give them a meaningful leaderboard/ranking system and they’ll play the game.

22. Send Important Product Update Emails

Each time you add a significant feature, or make a significant change to the product, you’re missing a valuable opportunity to get back to top of mind for your users. These updates shouldn’t contain sales messages, or anything else that dilutes the message.

Just a clear “We improved the product, here’s what we did” is all you want to do. A simple update at each significant milestone in your roadmap achieves:

  • Any users who had become inactive may return because the new feature adds something they were previously missing or longing for
  • It reminds your active users how much focus you place on R&D, and that you’re a startup who’s here to stay

23. Retargeting (aka Remarketing) to pull users back for low CPMs (Adroll)

While typical PPC or CPM advertising is firmly a tool of Acquisition, Retargeting is the secret weapon of the startup team focussing on retention. Essentially, you only show your banner ads to people who have visited your website before. Because of this laser focussed strategy, you aren’t shouting in the face of uninterested strangers – but you’re gently reminding people you’ve met before that you’re still here. Your product is still awesome. It’s still able to keep delivering them value.

Again, we’re staying top of mind. But we’re going to pay Adroll around $2.50 CPM to do it. The total monthly spend is only going to be small (<$100 for typical B2B SaaS startup) until you scale up, so this is nothing like the doomed “Adwords-dependant Startup” stories.

As a bonus, Adroll offer the first 2 weeks of your ads running for free (I have no affiliation and no referral links. I just think Adroll is 1000x easier than Google Adwords Retargeting).

For extra targetted goodness, only run the ads inside you’re product dashboard so that they’re JUST for registered users. Remember, we’re doing this for retention, not acquisition.

24. Add a drip email campaign for inactive users, try coupons for returning users

nailed retention

In case it hadn’t emerged yet, Drip Marketing (or lifecycle marketing, behaviour marketing) is a big part of hacking your 5 AARRR stages. And re-capturing inactive users is no exception.

Did you churn a paying customer? Offer them a 100% discount voucher to bring them back for a month – making sure to leave enough time for either the product to change or their circumstances to change (sometimes people churn for reasons beyond your control).

Has a user not logged in for 2 months? Send them an update on the new Dashboard you launched 1 month ago.

Did the user never integrate with your API? Send them an email listing all the automated plugins you now support for a code-free integration.

Be creative, leave enough of a time window before sending the emails, and have a series of 2-3 to try a few different hooks (each one playing on a different possible reason for them churning.

25. Use “Peer Prods” For Inactive Users. Get your users to remind their own friends to come back

Instead of you asking an inactive user to come back, allow their peers to prod them instead! Great if you have any social graph within your product, but it even works if you just have small teams. Allow users to see when each colleague last checked the product.

Build convenient tools within the product to poke their colleagues with an email, tweet etc., but also don’t underestimate people’s offline peer-pressure.

“Sarah, it says here you haven’t logged into our project management in 6 weeks!” If all members of a team are using a product, it’s perceived value is naturally greater. If more of a users friends are active on a service, they’re more likely to hang around.

Popular photo-sharing app Path added a ‘Nudge’ feature to ask your inactive friends to take a photo:

Nudge   Nudge_FAQ-iphone_2

Note: a very similar method based on similar principles is sending emails/push notifications to inactive users to inform them that their friends just joined (using Facebook’s Open Graph). Instagram does this.

26. Invite the user to webinars to show them how to keep getting the most out of your product

Webinars play a huge part in your content marketing funnel to move users through the acquisition state. However, once you’ve acquired the customer, don’t underestimate the value in Webinars to keep them updated on the products value, how to use it, latest features etc.

You should be looking for every opportunity to speak with your existing user base, and some people for whatever reason) prefer webinars. Personally, 80% of the webinars I’ve attended have been terrible: terrible audio, terrible audience interaction, terrible slides/demo… But just make sure you’re in the 20% of awesome webinars and you’re all good.

The key to remember: this is not the 90’s. People don’t want to listen to audio droll on (that’s what Podcasts are for). Have discussions, do quick polls, allow questions, use a Pro mic and a great webcam, and prepare quality material.

Coming Up Next

26 Hacks down, 13 to go. I’m going to include some bonus material in the next 2 sections as a thankyou to anyone who has kept up with this monstrous guide so far!

Please let me know in the comments:

Which awesome retention hacks have you seen? Do you disagree with any of the techniques I’ve listed here? Hate receiving notification emails? Have your say below!


Published by

Liam Gooding

Liam is the cofounder and CEO of Trakio. Previously an engineer, he writes about growing subscription companies using data-driven techniques and inside glimpses to Trakio's own growth journey. He wrote a book, "Growth Pirate!" which discusses data-driven growth strategies for startups.

  • triomatt

    Really enjoying your posts and looking forward to the remaining 13 hacks!

  • Amul Patel

    Liam, these are fantastic! Keep up the great work.

    • Thanks Amul!

      (Yes this reply is horribly late – looks lie a bug in Disqus as I just got all the comment notifications for the last 3 months in one go!)

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