How to Write a SaaS Email

Presented live on Tuesday, November 10, 2020

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Writing a SaaS email is nothing like writing an ecommerce email.

There are certain… conventions SaaS marketers love.

Break those conventions, and you’ll find yourself in Revision Hell.

In this tutorial, Jo’s gonna show you:

How to Get SaaS Emails Approved

  • You need to have the DISCIPLINE to write it differently.
  • It needs the right voice and tone.
  • It needs to work in a designed layout / template.
  • It cannot be very long. It just can’t.
  • It needs to “sound good.”
  • Voice and tone.

So those SaaS emails get sent.

And here’s what this tutorial is based on: literally thousands of emails we’ve written for SaaS clients like Shopify, Canva, SproutSocial, Doodle, Wistia, Prezi and Tailwind.

Some of them never made it out of Revision Hell.

Others went straight to Approval Heaven. And those are the ones that followed the conventions I’m sharing with you today.

Which means, if you’re in SaaS, you should definitely take 20 mins to:

Join us here for this copywriting tutorial

Transcript

Introduction [00:00]

Joanna Wiebe: Alright, are we ready to talk about SaaS. The reason that I decided that we should talk with this is we write a lot of emails and have for a long time for software as a service or SaaS companies.

And when we bring freelancers in, or new hires in to help us with that, typically there’s a period there in which I have to break some habits for those folks in order to get them to write SaaS emails differently from how you might be used to writing all other emails. Ecommerce, anything for services, even win-back emails and things like that.

SaaS emails are different beast, largely because SaaS and SaaS marketers, or we have product marketers etc involved. They’re a little bit of a different beast, too. And I mean that fully in a good way. It’s a good kind of beast. I love all animals.

What to Expect in This Tutorial [01:07]

But let me share my screen. And we’re going to walk through the things that I recommend to the newer copywriters that work with us and that every time we get feedback from a SaaS client, and it’s not like, “That was awesome, Thanks. We’re good to go!”

Every time that happens, it’s typically because we’re breaking some of these rules and some conversion copywriting techniques do break these rules. So yes, we’re gonna dive into those. I wanted to show Lily and Puff. This is Lily – big picture. Puff – little tiny picture. My normal photos that are in here just weren’t working so somehow they weren’t loading in Google Slides.

So I was like, All right, it’s time to sub in two adorable little cats. Like really? They’re sitting on the kitchen table, not allowed. And I’m taking pictures of them on it. That’s how much they own me.

How SaaS Emails Differ From Other Emails [2:03]

All right. Let us write a SaaS email. How to Write a SaaS email. Now I’ve kind of alluded to this, but one of the primary reasons that we write SaaS emails differently from other emails is not because SaaS buyers or customers aren’t necessarily different from other people. It’s because the first approver, which we always need to think about as copywriters, is not the customer.

We need to always get our client or our team on board so that our email actually gets sent or A/B tests actually get set up, launched and run properly. We need to make sure that we’re satisfying that first approver, which is the person who asked you to do the thing in the first place and their team. This sometimes we are going to have to like make a strong case for your new conversion copywriting principles that you might be bringing into the organization. Typically, that doesn’t work as well with SaaS.

They want great results, they are very data driven, but it still does come down to certain conventions that need to be in place in order for that SaaS marketer to feel really good about going forward with your email. So we’re going to talk about what some of those things are now.

How to Get SaaS Emails Approved [03:16]

  • You need to have the DISCIPLINE to write it differently.
  • It needs the right voice and tone.
  • It needs to work in a designed layout / template.
  • It cannot be very long. It just can’t.
  • It needs to “sound good.”
  • Voice and tone.

Email that will outperform every SaaS email ever, which is not to say that this won’t work. Because typically what you’re going to do is you’re going to write this SaaS email. It will go to be tested against the control, which also has the same conventions that we’re seeing here.

Except yours will also have conversion copywriting principles in play, you’ll have a framework in mind when you’re writing it, you’ll be using voice of customer data, you’ll be using other data to drive that email. So you will still likely outperform the control, but you’re both you’re at least going to have the same things in common with the control. And that’s really what we’re going to talk about here.

You Need to Have the Discipline to Write it Differently [03:58]

First things first, and this is major, writing a SaaS email is different from writing other emails. Just like writing an ecommerce email is different from writing an email to sell a plumber’s services or a dermatologist’s services. It’s different. Accept it. And this is one of the biggest things that copywriters need to know.

You will have to sound different from how you normally sound. If you’re used to writing long form emails that are very one to one, personal feeling, that would be a very big stretch for a SaaS marketer to say, “Cool. Let’s go with that.” You could maybe run that after this, after you first do a set of emails that follow these basic principles or conventions.

Get a win out of this and then start nudging that SaaS marketer away from things that are the norm or that are comfortable for them. So really, nothing that follows will matter if you don’t have the discipline to recognize that a SaaS email has to be written differently from how you might write other emails like launch emails.

It Needs The Right Voice and Tone [05:02]

It needs the right voice and tone. So voice and tone is always going to go up when you’re talking to SaaS marketers, they typically conflate the two, voice and tone. So voice and tone, like it’s one word. So you don’t have to worry too much about, well, what’s your voice. And what’s the tone? It’s really a matter of voice and tone, you’ll know the difference. But just know that it’s not that SaaS marketers don’t know the difference. It’s just it gets conflated into a single idea, rather than, here’s your voice, this extends across your brand.

And here’s the tone of the piece, which is what most copywriters are thinking about. But just know that you need to basically be on voice and there’s a tone typically packed into that voice. And we’ll talk about all of these.

It Needs to Work in a Designed Layout / Template [05:44]

It needs to work in the design layout or template. So what does that actually mean? It means you’re typically going to have a standard template where your client may have 5, 6, 7 different templates that they have built internally. That are designed intentionally.

Maybe it’s in their CRM already or they get custom coded. That still happens, which is always surprising to me that people are custom coding emails, one by one, but it does still happen. So it’s likely to have, you know, the logo up at the top, possibly a picture. Definitely a footer that feels designed. It’s not going to be written like a Copyhackers email or like a Ramit Sethi email, or any of those sorts of marketers who aren’t writing for SaaS. So it has to, again, this is one more convention that you need to be aware of.

It Cannot be Very Long. It Just Can’t [06:35]

it cannot be very long. It just can’t. It just can’t. It just can’t. It just can’t. It just can’t.

Is that clear? Clarity, it can’t be very long. It doesn’t mean that it can’t have a little more length than your client is comfortable with. But once you get into, “Oh, we’re going to write a long email.” I would be shocked if you’ve got that approved to go out.

Chances are very good it will get edited by the designer, by the marketer, by the CMO even before it ever gets sent out. And that’s what we want to avoid. So lean away from long copy when you’re writing SaaS emails.

It Needs to “Sound Good” [07:14]

And it needs to sound good as well like, “sound good.” Does it sound good is a big filter for writing SaaS emails. It’s basically true for all emails you write except a launch email for a course, for example, doesn’t need to sound good. It doesn’t need to have any sort of wordsmithery going on at all, and I don’t believe copywriters are “wordsmiths” and hopefully everybody attending this, or who’s heard anything from Copyhackers ever, knows that that is not what we’re here to do.

However, you have that first customer that you have to get to approve it. That first customer is

the person who brought you in and they want it to sound good. So we’re going to talk about ways to make that happen too.

Voice and Tone [07:56]

Voice and tone. Let us dive in. Very, very, very, very often, and this just happened yesterday in a new lead call. I was talking to a software company out of San Francisco, and they wanted to work with us on, they’re redoing a bunch of different things.

And they brought up that they’re redoing their voice and tone. And I said, oh, so what does it sound like? And the very first word, and I knew it before they said it, was friendly. It’s always going to start with friendly and then there will be other words that follow it. Friendly, but whatever friendly and whatever.

And a common one, as well as is, and even when you’re talking about their voice and tone is this idea of, oh, we take the work seriously but not ourselves. That happens. That’s a common sort of thing that a lot of SaaS marketers think. And it’s good, it’s a good thing. None of what I’m saying is meant to be like, that’s a bad convention, it’s just insights into what the SaaS marketers are thinking.

So, make sure it sounds friendly and that there’s a sense of taking the work seriously, not yourself, not the brand.

Seriously, so those often turn into oh it’s, it sounds like my favorite professor during office hours. Okay, so imagine who that is. And that moment in office hours. Your favorite uncle. Maybe he’s your favorite Harvard educated uncle, in some cases. Or Jamie from Project Management, someone else internally, who really embodies what they think their brand stands for.

And so like interviewing that person can go a long way. And another one, it used to be, we want to sound like MailChimp and increasingly, it’s we want to sound like Drift. We hear this a lot, like a lot, a lot. Which is really interesting to me, the shift that people have made, not that they don’t want to sound like MailChimp anymore. It’s just that we hear more commonly, I want to sound like Drift.

So voice and tone. It’s likely to fall into a category like this. Basically, you’re pretty safe if you are friendly. If it doesn’t sound like you take yourself too seriously, but you definitely take the work seriously, as in, if you’re writing for software, the actual work that the software does is taken seriously. The way you get people into it, talking about it, is not taken so “seriously.”

The Template [10:12]

Okay, this is the actual template itself. This wide, like there’s a width to this, you’re not going to have a full page, or a full width. When you think about how wide an email can get, we’re talking about a narrow, but not too narrow email. Basically, like this when you’re writing this in a copy doc, you’ll want to bring that margin, the right margin, into about you’ll see the ruler up at the top, and it’s about 4.5, that’s where we typically write. Sometimes a little narrower.

And increase the size of that font as well, so it better reflects this chunky sort of email.

You have a centered headline. That’s a maximum of two lines. Three lines is a stretch, one line is very safe and comfortable and more likely to get that stamp of approval.

Open with a single sentence hook. So we want one line that will be one sentence, at least, and not a long sentence. This is going to be typically a question. Honestly, if you want to play it safe in order to get your client to say yes. Opening with a question, a data point or something from a customer story, really quickly goes a long way. So start there.

Then there’s a standalone line that builds on the last line and makes you think a little bit. So if you asked a question in that first line, you’re going to answer that question, but in a way that makes the reader go, “huh,” and keeps them paying attention.

Then you have a payoff for that line and that then introduces the feature. So you typically have, here’s my hook, here’s a quick one liner to make you kind of build on that hook. Pay off for that line and then introduction of the feature that satisfies the payoff. So, this is basically where we start getting into the how.

Typically, don’t open with a feature, you don’t start by talking about a feature. You start by talking about again, the question, the data point, the customer story. Introduce the feature then have typically an image or product GIF.

Sometimes that image can go right below the headline, but very typically we’ll see SaaS marketers approve an image that’s in line. Going above the copy tends to be kind of an ecommerce sort of thing to do, but an inline image tends to be approved. You’ve just told them what the feature is, or a cool way that it solves a problem, or is the payoff for what’s been discussed so far.

And then you want to show them that in actions, that again might be a GIF, videos, I think, are still difficult to embed there. You can embed them but playing them requires that you go to a new spot.

So, a GIF is what we typically recommend in there. And then you talk about the feature. Now you get to get into it. Typically, you can phrase that as, with x feature, so put that feature name in there. You can, and then tell them what they can achieve, what they can get done and what they can do.

And then you have the rule of three. So you can do this, do this, do this. And that’s really a really safe format for writing a SaaS email. You can have bullets that follow, that expand on it. Those are optional. They don’t have to happen. If you don’t have those buttons than that quick clever final line down at the bottom will typically end in the same paragraph as the with x feature you can. So if you take those bullets out, then that final clever quick line will move up to finish off the paragraph.

And then we have a button. This may seem obvious, but it’s not. It’s definitely not obvious. And it is the shortest path. Following this “template” is the shortest path to getting your email approved by that SaaS marketer. This is a very safe starting place. Your job is to make sure the hook is a really good one, one that the standalone line is really good. That the headline is really good, even if it has to be a little shorter to get approved.

That’s really solid. Everything that goes into this template is your job to make awesome, and that can be of course how you actually get it to beat the control which looks exactly the same as this, in most cases.

Example SaaS Email [14:26]

So here’s an example. This is a little long, all of my emails for Wistia were uncomfortably long for them and it would have been very difficult for them to approve these emails if there wasn’t already somebody internally, who was like we’re doing what Jo says. We’re just going to do it. That was the test. That was Andrew Capland, who has since moved onto a different role elsewhere.

But he was a big part of making these Wistia emails actually happen and get tested. And of course, we talked about these a lot. These are the ones that brought in 3.5 times the paid conversions. The control looked like this email. And these are what our emails look like too. So we followed those conventions, centered headline, that’s a max of two lines, a single sentence hook.

Now this was a bigger question to ask. We didn’t want to have a big stack of three, a three line paragraph to open an email. No one feels comfortable with that, so we broke that up. Then you have a standalone line. This is a bit of a longer one but it’s got the 6%, it’s got some numbers in there.

Pay off for that line, image or product GIF. And in this case we had a GIF where you would show people what that turnstile is and then we explain what that feature is, what it does for you, how it works. And then we have a quick final line and then that CTA.

So this is a basic format for all of them, but these are longer. This one’s longer than you’re likely to get approved unless you have somebody going, “Oh, hell yes we’re doing whatever that person says.” And that is not always the case for us. We have to follow the conventions shown on the left here in order to get that approved.

It was just Wistia took a big chance, but took a big chance as well, due to people like that. But that doesn’t mean that everybody always will.

Make it Sound Good [16:14]

  • Wordplay in your headline
  • Mostly short words, with one lengthier word
  • Sentence fragments
  • “Scary word” or “work word” sweep
  • Writerly rhetorical devices

Okay, then we want to make it sound good. How do you make things sound good. This is really where being a reader who is a writer goes a long way. The more you read the better you are as a writer. We all know that, and I do not mean only reading what’s on Facebook. That’s not reading. That’s not reading.

So we want to make sure that we’re reading things obviously, we’re all writers of some kind in the room. So that’s the best way to of course start learning how to make things sound good. Just pay attention and copy what other people do to structure their sentences.

Wordplay in your headline, that’s a great place to use wordplay.

Try focusing on short, short, short, short words. Maybe one lengthier word in there just to break up that staccato sort of nature of it.

Sentence fragments. You don’t have to have long sentences that are painful or hard to get through. Having empathy for your busy reader and writing an email goes a long way in a SaaS email in particular.

Do a sweep to make sure you’re removing any scary words or work words like, “learn” is a very scary word. It’s a work word, things like that we want to cut out. Make them feel friendly, make everything feel easy and desirable.

And then writerly rhetorical devices, and I’m going to actually discuss a couple rhetorical devices right now to give examples of how to make things sound good.

Rhetorical Devices [17:34]

Antithesis – A word, phrase or sentence opposes the original statement.

Okay, so here’s an example from one of the Wistia emails, and again we’re only really showing the Wistia emails in here because those are the ones that we have full approval to use wherever, for whatever.

Rather than ones for like Shopify and things like that so a word, phrase or sentence opposes the original statement. So it opens with, It’s good to be powered by Wistia. It’s best to lead with your brand. So the opening line is the statement, but then we’re building and saying, kind of, not the opposite, but it’s in opposition to that opening line. It’s a writerly thing, it’s antithesis.

Polysyndeton – Use more conjunctions than necessary, which can draw attention to each clause being joined.

This is a very hard word to say. And I always want to put an “N” before that “T.” Polysyndeton.

You’re welcome for me trying that. And this is where we’re going to use more conjunctions than necessary. So we have here in the headline. What’s red and unsupported and stuck in the middle of…

Instead of saying what’s red, unsupported and stuck in the middle of, we’re adding in those “ands” to keep drawing attention to kind of build up this idea of lots and lots of things. So that’s a bit of chaos going on. There’s more happening in there than if we just had commas and it felt like a normal everyday sort of sentence. So there is that.

Tricolons – Three words or phrases in quick succession, usually with commas and no conjunction (i.e., no “and”) (aka asyndeton, the opposite of polysyndeton).

And then there’s this sense of tricolons, which I only learned about very recently. I didn’t know we were doing it. But I learned what it’s called. And this is where you have three words or phrases in quick succession. And you’ll see that a lot. But this is a technique, just like the other two. There are techniques that you can use.

Go in to make things sound better. So we have three words or phrases in quick succession, usually with commas, but no conjunction. So this is a bit like the opposite of the polysyndeton. Okay, so we have, you can add a turnstile at the beginning of a video, at the end, or an exact point on your timeline that’s broken up with periods.

But we still have this tricolon effect going on: Grow your list. Bill your CRM. Let your marketing videos do the work they’re meant to do. This is all part of, not just making things sound good, but because these sorts of techniques have been used since forever, they register really well in the reader’s head as like, that sounds good.

And so if you can tap into that, instead of trying to make up your own rules, just start studying rhetorical devices and practicing using them, then you can make things sound good. And that’s part of the objective here.

So, to get a SaaS email approved again, have the discipline to write it differently. When you go into writing a SaaS email, don’t start by saying, how can I employ techniques that I used in ecommerce to this. That might be your second test once you get the first winner. And to get the first winner follow this.

Right voice and tone. Follow that template I showed you don’t make it too long. Make it sound good. And again, don’t write it like it’s for ecommerce or for services. Now this is a final note, it’s how to get your SaaS copy approved, from there, you have to make sure that it still works and follows those conversion copywriting principles.

Okay. Thanks, everyone. We have a couple more Tutorial Tuesdays before it’s end of year. Can you even believe how fast it happens? Like I’m shopping online in September, but like, you’re like, No, it’s too soon to buy any of that. And now it’s like it’s too late to buy any of that. How did this happen, Angela?

Angela Stojanov: I don’t know. We had grass outside like what, three days ago? And now there’s like a foot and a half of snow.

Joanna Wiebe: I know we have little rose blitzes and I was like, I’m going to be so pro and put something around my road this year. Now they’re completely covered in snow. They’re gone. I apologize to the roses of the world, especially my backyard.

All right y’all, have a good rest of your week stay hopeful and optimistic as we shall as well. Good. And we’ll see you on our next Tutorial Tuesdays. Thanks, everyone. Bye.

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