An onboarding flow introduces the user to a product or service.

While onboarding flows usually include in-app messages, interactive walkthroughs, and emails, this post will focus on the role of emails in the user onboarding experience.

Customer acquisition can be costly.

Yet, most brands continue to spend increasing amounts on new user acquisition instead of trying to improve the onboarding experience.

A great user onboarding flow can be the difference between a user never logging back into your app and a user frequently returning to take advantage of your product benefits.

Mess up your onboarding emails, and your churn goes through the roof. Optimize it with your user in mind — like Copyhackers did for Wistia — and you could experience an increase in paid users and revenue.

The key is to ensure you include key messaging, being helpful, and meeting the user exactly where they are.

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Who uses onboarding emails?

Onboarding flows and onboarding emails can be used for all kinds of businesses, but they’re most frequently used in software as a service (SaaS) businesses.

These businesses often have a free trial period that is critical to the onboarding process.

The free trial period is the SaaS business’ one opportunity to welcome, educate, engage, and convert the user.

This makes writing for SaaS different from writing for most other industries.

In this Tutorial Tuesdays video, learn how to write an effective SaaS email with Joanna Wiebe.

Now that you’ve learned the basics of the SaaS email, I’ll share 6 key emails that should be part of your onboarding flow.

I’ll also include email examples from the budgeting software You Need a Budget (YNAB).

Let’s get right to it.

1. Welcome new users to your onboarding flow

The welcome email is your first — and best — opportunity to connect with your users.

Once a new user signs up for your product or service, it’s important to acknowledge and thank them for their decision.

YNAB’s welcome email:

  • Acknowledges the user’s reasons for signing up — a desire to get control of their budget.
  • Reassures the user that with YNAB, they’ll be able to achieve their budgeting goal.
  • Provides getting started resources in both video and text formats.
  • Invites the user to join a 1-week getting started challenge.
  • Sets expectations for future emails.
YNAB onboarding welcome email

2. Provide resources to help the user make the most of your product

An excellent onboarding flow doesn’t end with a welcome email.

You should continue to nurture your users with information that will help them make the most of your product.

The second email in YNAB’s onboarding flow is beautifully framed in the context of “knowing your why” with the subject line — “The most important question to make this budget work…”.

This resource email:

  • Points out that Q&A sessions are available.
  • Shares a list of blog resources the user can read to help them along their budgeting journey.
  • Invites the user to answer the big “why” question.
YNAB onboarding resource email

This approach is effective in an onboarding flow.

Encouraging the user to consider their “why” reaffirms their decision. This is likely to encourage them to keep returning to the app.

3. Share a success story in your onboarding flow

We like to know what’s possible for us when we sign up for a new product. It’s why case studies are so effective.

YNAB plays into this need for stories by sharing the success story of two YNAB users.

The email goes into the challenges Oscar and Jamie (not their real names) faced and explains how YNAB helped them overcome this challenge.

YNAB onboarding case study email

The YNAB team goes even further by breaking up the story into a series of emails.

This encourages the user to anticipate future emails.

4. Remind the user to take key actions

There are several key actions that users must take to make the most of your product or service.

You should include at least one email in your onboarding flow that prompts the user to take this action.

In YNAB’s case, the user will find the greatest success with the software if they connect their accounts.

This reminder email encourages users to connect their accounts and includes a video with four options for connecting their accounts.

YNAB onboarding flow - feature email

5. Remind the user your product or service exists

Your users lead busy lives.

That explains why 55% of users never return to a website or app after signing up — either out of frustration or confusion.

It’s important to remind the user why they signed up for your solution and how it can help them.

Email nudges like the one below from YNAB remind users why they signed up for your app.

This nudge email:

  • Keeps things short and to the point.
  • Acknowledges why the user may have stopped logging in.
  • Provides encouragement and a clear CTA to log back in.
YNAB onboarding nudge email

6. Encourage the user to upgrade in your onboarding emails

Upgrade emails — usually sent toward the end of the onboarding flow — encourage the user to upgrade to a paid plan.

Depending on your free trial period, you may want to send multiple upgrade emails.

Sending upgrade emails one week before, one day before, and the day the user’s free trial expires is a good idea.

The email below from YNAB is sent one day before the user’s free trial expires.

YNAB onboarding upgrade email 1

The following upgrade email starts with the end of Oscar and Jamie’s story. (Remember them from earlier?)

Next, the email encourages the user to subscribe to a paid YNAB plan to continue their budgeting journey.

YNAB onboarding - upgrade email 2

Using these 6 types of emails in your onboarding flow will help you get better conversion results.

Just remember to always put the user experience first.

If you’re looking for further guidance on writing onboarding emails, there’s an entire lesson inside the 10X Emails course that focuses on plotting a SaaS onboarding campaign.

You can join the course here.