How To Use Automated Emails To Onboard Low-Value SaaS Signups, Profitably

There’s SaaS, and then there’s Enterprise SaaS.

Charging annual contracts upfront. Big setup fees. Big multi-seat license fees. If you’re charging the big bucks for your SaaS offering, then by design, you probably have big bucks for your customer onboarding program.

A dedicated account manager, multiple Webex’s between your engineers and theirs, maybe even an onsite visit from the VP of Customer Success. You can spend the big money to ensure that one account is going to be successful and have the best experience possible because, after all, this is big tickets. Big game. Big wins.

But what happens if you’re selling a product for $9.99 per month?

You can’t assign a dedicated account manager. You can’t afford to have a call with every signup. You definitely can’t afford to go and have coffee with their CEO!

Some might dismiss you a tiny startup. You need to get into the enterprise game to make any significant money. It’s small tickets. Small game.

But what if you have 100,000 of those customers paying you $9.99 per month?

That’s the situation for a lot of companies such as Buffer, Sendgrid, Mailchimp, Basecamp… They make a huge portion of their business from low value, zero touch accounts. And they’ve still grown to millions in dollars of revenue each year.

Sure, they have enterprise arms as well. But they manage to profitably sell and deliver their product for only a few bucks a month. How are they doing this, while still creating a high conversion onboarding experience, for hundreds of thousands of accounts?

The trick is they’re using clever email automation. Here’s how to introduce the same tactics to your SaaS company.

Start With Stuff That Doesn’t Scale

Before we can take an effective approach such as high-touch customer onboarding and success, you need to ensure you know what that actually looks like in your startup.

As Paul Graham advises, “Do Things That Don’t Scale”. This has never been more true than when you’re about to start implementing email automation as part of an onboarding process.

Even though that new account only pays $7.99, you should still do everything possible to try and jump on a 45minute Skype call. While it may seem frustrating that you’re wiping away the entire years profit on that signup with every minute, the key here is to take a note of all the objections, questions and “Aha!” moments that come up during the call.

If you need to jump on a screenshare for 30 minutes to run an existing customer through using a new feature, make a note of everything from that call. At one point did it all seem to “click”? Did you find yourself repeating certain instructions over and over? Which parts of the feature did the customer seem most excited about?

During this research phase, you need to reassure management (or yourself!) that this is not time spent “at a loss” financially. Instead, you’re investing the time to discover what exactly we need to automate and what questions that automation needs to answer.

Start Answering Questions Before Anyone Asks

The second stage in automating your onboarding for low value signups is to setup a automated email sequences that answer all of the questions and concerns that were raised during your high-touch experiences.

For example, if the 4 main concerns that came up repeatedly were “How do I upload our historical data, how do I integrate this with Salesforce, where do I go int he app to send SMS, and how do I invite my coworkers?”, then you’d want to setup a sequence of 4 emails to go to each new signup.

While you’d also want to move the answers to these questions into your documentation and help videos, by delivering these proactively into the inbox of new signups, you have the opportunity to delight your users before they even get around to asking.

Predict Who Might Have Specific Questions

Once we have a “catch all” email sequence in place, you might want to start refining it to target more specific questions to specific users. Remember, support tickets are a great way to delight users with amazing support and to build a relationship… but we also need to make the margins work! If our email sequences can anticipate problems before they arise for a user, we can make them more successful, with less frustration with our product, and save money on support overhead.

The trick is to use the data available to target niche automated emails more specifically based on the profile of the user and their behaviour within the app.

For example, if your signup form collects ‘Industry’ and a signup identifies as ‘ecommerce’, then you could specifically send an onboarding email 15 minutes later with links to your Shopify and Magento integrations.

Or perhaps if a user has repeatedly looked at the ‘Projects’ page but still hasn’t created their first project yet (even though most users manage just fine on their own). Trigger the onboarding email that answers “How To Setup Your First Project”. It’s not an email you’d want to send to everyone (why bombard an unnecessary email to users when most of them don’t need it) but for that 3% of signups who just can’t figure it out, it could be the difference between closing the browser in frustration or hanging around for years!

The key here is that you’re trying to anticipate the questions that usually come up during onboarding, targeting them to people most likely to be facing that problem, and delivering them at exactly the right time.

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.

  • Very good article Liam. I’m sharing. I fully agree with you, especially on the part where you spend a lot of time actually talking with your customers.

    The only suggestion I could have is that these talks could also help you to design your Website and your Offering. They shouldn’t only be reserved to Email Automation sequence.