The SaaS onboarding emails you should be writing

Presented live on Tuesday, Feb 20, 2018

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So you’ve written the welcome email. …Now what? In this tutorial, head of marketing for Customer IO and email genius Janet Choi walks you through the best SaaS onboarding emails she’s seen, why they’re so good and how you can do what they do. Includes not one but TWO email templates (instantly add them to Airstory for free)

This tutorial is brought to you by Airstory writing software. Grab two free email templates for use in Airstory here


Joanna Wiebe:                 Okay. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, everybody. Joanna here, from Copy Hackers and Airstory, with Sarah as well. We are joined today, by Janet from Hello, Janet?

Janet Choi:                         Hello.

Joanna Wiebe:                 How’s it going?

Janet Choi:                         Going pretty good.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Yeah?

Janet Choi:                         Yeah.

Joanna Wiebe:                 No worries of parents walking in behind you as stay there?

Janet Choi:                         Yes. If anyone’s familiar with the BBC child, then we might have a elder version of that.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Yes, that’s awesome. We have our fingers crossed that that won’t happen.

Janet Choi:                         I didn’t put books on the bed, in case, you know.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Oh, that was the best. That was the best, I loved it.

Janet Choi:                         So official.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Okay, cool. So, today, I know people are filing in still, we have Janet here talking about SaaS emails. So, emails for onboarding, in particular. She is the director of marketing with, which is a behavioral email platform. So, emails get triggered based on what people do. Brilliant product. We love it, we love the whole team at Customer … I’ve been calling it Customer dot io, since the beginning. Now, you guys just say, is that right?

Janet Choi:                         They’re both good. Some people just call it Customer, and it gets a little confusing.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Okay. Yeah, we use Customer. Okay, cool. So, as people file in, some quick housekeeping before we dive in. I know Janet has a lot prepared for us in some of her notes. We have chat, which people are using. Hello everybody who’s chatting over where they’re from and the degree, like the weather there. What are you doing to me? It’s practically snowing outside. Please no weather envy for me.

Q&A is for all the questions that you have for Janet, that you’re like, “Well, wait, what about this?” So, real questions you would like Janet to answer at the end of her session, please put those in Q&A. If you chat something over and you want it to get to us or to everybody, just select panelist or attendees or whatever it looks like to you. If you want it to everybody, make sure it goes to everybody.

Cool. Anything else? Good. And now that I said don’t talk about the weather, immediately, everyone talks about the weather. It’s amazing. Okay. Which is cool, because I’m actually cool with that, why wouldn’t I be? Okay. So, Janet, what are you going to share with us?

Janet Choi:                         I’m going to share what will come after your very awesome welcome email. It’s a tough challenge for many folks, including me.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Yes, big challenge, huge. Perfect. Well, I can’t wait to see. Oh, a side note, while Janet gets that all ready to go, we have some templates that we we’ll be chatting on with you guys too. Some cool resources. So, lots to come. Okay.

Janet Choi:                         Alrighty. Can you see my screen everybody-

Joanna Wiebe:                 We can.

Janet Choi:                         … or not? Thank you. Shout out to the person who said they were from Earth, I’m glad you’re here. I like that. Okay, so, today I’m going to speed through, I might have too many slides for the time allotted. Slow me down if I ever get too confusing.

Keep Customers Interested In Your SaaS Product [03:14]

This is a common problem, people come in for your SaaS product and then they leave right away. And so, today, we’re going to talk about what to do to keep them a little longer than this. So, I wanted to just dip in to why this challenge tends to be pretty hard, you’re up against a lot of things. First of all, you’re starting out with your own curse of knowledge. That’s where you know something and it’s hard to imagine what it was ever like not to know it. That can really affect how you communicate out to people, and it can be challenging to communicate to that beginners’ mind set.

The next thing is, that people have their own priorities. You don’t know what’s on your new users’ mind already. Your software is often not their priority in life. People have other stuff going on, and you’re totally fighting for their attention with all the stuff going on in the world and online. I’m trying to break my habit of doing that, everything on the right there. And, of course, humans, earthlings, everybody, it’s really tough to change behavior.

Whenever I think about onboarding, I think of that first law of motion, that you guys might have learned like I did in school. That objects at rest tend to stay at rest. That’s sometimes called the law of inertia. So, that’s what you’re fighting against. These new habits take work to create and you’re changing the status quo, that takes energy and motivation, and that really matters. That’s why it matters how you do your onboarding.

Things to Avoid When Onboarding Your SaaS Product [04:45]

Now, oh, my slide, will it change? Oh, there we go. Okay, so I call this the kitchen sink approach. It’s common when I see an onboarding emails, whether it’s the welcome email or anything even afterwards. The sense is, you’re just throwing everything out there to see what sticks. It seems logical. You’re like, “I’m going to …” There’s that quote where, I think it’s  Wayne Gretzky, or it’s attributed to him. You’re like, “You miss all the shots you don’t take, so I’m going to put them all in one email or all these emails.”

The effect is like, “Oh my god, there’s all these choices, what’s important?” It’s really hard to tell when they’re all presented at once. To the user, it’s really annoying or confusing, and that’s the opposite of motivating. This is the affect that I feel when I get these emails, it’s just like yelling at me for doing nothing.

How To Improve SaaS Onboarding [05:40]

So, what do we do? I know I promised to show you the top performing onboarding email, but like everything in email, it depends. There’s no real format, I think, for success. I think it really depends, at a high level, whether you’re being specific, intentional and, hopefully, you’re choosing one goal for the post-welcome. And that fits your needs and your new users’ needs.

These are a couple of options that you might have for your goal, for the post-welcome. It could depend on lots of things, it could depend on whether you have a sales process. It could depend on the type of product you have and whether it’s super complex or very easy to pick up. It can depend on whether you’re an early stage company and you’re still gathering lots of information from your users. It can depend on your pricing, so you want to build trust and connection if it’s a high price.

Align With Customer Goals [06:34]

And then, you want to align that with your users goal. I love this image from Sam Hulick, who does the onboarding turndowns that’s you might have seen. Your user has an overall goal, but also very specific very context they’re living in. So, you want to consider the stage or whatever the funnel you’re using. That could be level of awareness, it can be an activation funnel. Again, it only depends on what your priorities are as a product company or a SaaS company. I think, in the end, you just want to say, “What’s the best thing that will set your new user post-welcome for success, to become that awesome Super Mario person on the right, using your product?”

Things To Consider When Onboarding Customers [07:15]

And these are even more considerations that go into your life cycle math, right? Because your emails never exist in the vacuum. You want to look at your overall onboarding strategy and process. Hopefully, you’re starting there and not at like, “Oh, it’s even non-boarding.” Think about your overall strategy and process, what’s going on in the product. You want to think about what were you asking them to do in the welcome email or what were your goals in the welcome email. What’s going to come next? You probably will also have to consider what type of email system and set up you have. Because that will direct what kind of triggers or non triggers, that you’re going to be able to send.

4 Categories of Welcome Emails [07:51]

We actually did an analysis on a lot of different post-welcome emails, and we found four categories, especially in SaaS. I’ll just go through them really quickly. They all depend on your business goal and the context of the user. You might find a quick conversion email. That’s just trying to get the user to perform some very quick converting action, that will lead them to an aha moment or set them up for success to do so. Because, sometimes, it takes longer. There’s the casual check up email, which has become really popular these days. After the welcome, you might get an email from like a founder or a product manager, that looks personal, requesting your feedback.

There’s the value sell. These emails attempt to show you more product value, and they’re great for building trust and motivation for the long haul. And then, on the bottom left quadrant, there’s the close. These emails just try to get you to buy pretty quickly. I think you see these more often when there’s a single use license, so you download the thing and you can see the value right away. Even just looking at this quadrant, I think you can see, if you send out the wrong type of email, depending on your goals, it’ll fall flat. So, if you have a long term, long haul product, I think, like a really complicated platform, if you send the closer right away, right after your post-welcome, that’s going to be down to fall flat.

I wanted to show you an actual email from a customer, where we used, really, back in 2014, which is such a long time ago already. It started as an experiment. is a pretty sophisticated platform and a lot of different teams members can use it, it requires a data integration. We actually found out, during this personal check-in email that offered concierge onboarding, to make it sound special, made a really big difference. We’re early stage, in 2014, I think we were two years old. This ended up doubling our conversion rate for new users, in a month. So, that was our little experiment that we deemed very successful.

Conversion Emails For Dropbox [10:06]

I’m going to talk about a couple different conversion emails, because they can really depend on your goals a lot. So, depending on your product, what your goals are for the user, what theirs is, and so on. On the left, you’ll see Dropbox. They’re actually asking you to install their app. Because I think they know that if you’ve got it installed somewhere, you’re more likely to stick around then use it. They connect it back to the user goal, like, “Dropbox lets you easily share docs and photos.” They take the time to connect it back to the user.

The one on the right is another very simple one. It’s just like four sentences, three sentences, I can’t count, isn’t that funny? So, simple action there is asking you to create a survey. You’re not going to go in to Survey Monkey and not know what a survey is, I think, hopefully. So, they’re getting ready for you to get started pretty quickly. They just want you to click that button and create a survey.

“Quick Conversion” Example [11:08]

There we go. Here’s two more examples of a quick conversion. I took the liberty of including an Airstory one, hopefully got that right. An email, is the second email I got, and one from Wistia. These are both interesting, because they’re talking about different features and teaching you stuff. But they’re actually leading you into a support video, to show you something that’s, hopefully, very relevant at the time they get you.

And maybe, Joanna, you can weigh in on this later. I’m guessing that this WordPress login is super important for people and largely resonate with most of your audience. That’s why it’s the second or third email that I’m getting. They all articulate whatever is connecting back to the user’s goal, speaks to what action is beneficial. I don’t know, I love these because they’re so succinct but without not talking about the user, if that makes any sense. You’re still including their point of view.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Point of view, right. Yeah.

Janet Choi:                         And these two quick conversion and the personal check-in are the templates we’ll have for you, I think at the end of the presentation.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Thanks.

Value Sell: How To Connect With Your Customers [12:15]

Janet Choi:                         The last example I wanted to talk to you … Oh, I blew through these. Okay, the last example I wanted to talk to you about is the value sell. This one’s a little bit, I think … I’m sure better minds like Joanna can come up with a template for this. It really depends on what your mission is and how your users are trying to … how you’re trying to connect with your users. I think this is a great example. Codecademy is an online learning platform where you’re learning how to code, and that’s not something that happens in a day. It requires effort and commitment to say, “Okay, I’m actually going to do this thing.”

The call to action here is almost like, “I don’t even care.” I mean, they probably include it for a reason, it leads me to the cost catalog. But the focus here, for me, is this actual copy. Zach, the CEO here, is taking time after the welcome to connect on an emotional level, and inspire the reader to be like, “Okay, I’m ready to get started and code.” There’s a little bit of that, I’m going to date myself, like, “I’m not just the president, I’m also a client.” That kind of connection thing going on, to try to connect with the audience. I think he does that in a very, again, in a succinct way. You can take as much time, of course, as you need, to do any of these things. I think just the examples that I chose tended to be pretty short.

That’s it. I think I ran through pretty quickly a bunch of examples, and there’s also a little reading list of some of the things I talked about.

Joanna Wiebe:                 That’s awesome. Love it. Thank you, Janet. Sarah is going to chat out some of those links as well. Also, the templates you put together in Airstory, those will be chatted out to everybody and available with the replays, as well as all the other stuff you have here, Janet. Amazing. I was really interested, like really intrigued by the quadrants that you had going on there. Can you talk through how you … I know you’ve been doing this for so long, but I haven’t seen anything displayed that way, for emailing onboarding, in particular.

Janet Choi:                         Here we go.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Yeah, it’s so helpful. And even, I’m wondering about, once you can see this, is there a strategy on how to use what we’re seeing here, to plan out our onboarding emails? Is it just like, “Okay, well, you’re at the top of the funnel, so make sure you start with a quick conversion.” Then the next email is a casual check-up, then other stuff happens and then you have the value sell and the close?

Janet Choi:                         Yeah, I think it’s actually a little bit of mix and match, depending on what you want to do and the timing. So, yeah, maybe you want to start with the casual check-up or quick conversion. And then, later on, drip out maybe a value sell. Then at the end, what Sophia’s Tutorial Tuesday was about, that final closer email. So, timing and these options are really important. You just have to think about what of these things are your goals when you’re onboarding users, even outside of the email context.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Okay. Wicked. I love it. So, I don’t see any other questions. Everybody is watching. I know, I am onboard. I am like, “Lets go through and look at some of these in greater detail.” But, no, that was awesome. So, if nobody has any questions, was that just the most on-time Tutorial Tuesday in the history of Tutorial Tuesdays?

Janet Choi:                         Did I speak too quickly?

Joanna Wiebe:                 No, it was amazing. It’s so thorough, so many great examples. The templates, as well, we got those too. So, if people have not downloaded them yet or added them to Airstory, do that. Janet, how can people find you online and learn more? I know the content you guys put out at is amazing. So, hopefully, people are reading that. But how else can they find you online?

Janet Choi:                         Yeah, you can find me, I’m mostly on Twitter, @lethargarian, if anyone is a Phantom Tollbooth reader, and that’s a character from there. And, usually, I tweet out stuff about emails, every couple of days. Everyday.

Questions [16:30]

Joanna Wiebe:                 Okay. So, we just got a crap ton of questions come in.

Janet Choi:                         Okay.

Joanna Wiebe:                 I guess it happened just like that. If you don’t mind taking a few of these, Janet, any idea how this onboarding email approach would work for a more service-based company? I know we’re focused on SaaS right now, but any thoughts on how it could translate to service-based businesses, if at all?

Janet Choi:                         I’m going to sound really dumb, I always forget what a service-based company is. Can you remind me?

Joanna Wiebe:                 I still, we’re talking more like, if you’re trying to sell professional services like [crosstalk 00:17:01]-

Janet Choi:                         Oh, yeah, yeah, okay.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Okay, yeah.

Janet Choi:                         Sorry. It’s one of those day … I was talking about this the other day, yesterday. I always forget what inpatient and outpatient means, even though it’s in the name. It’s one of the same things. Anyways, sorry if I had a brain fart.

Onboarding Emails for Service Based Company [17:18]

I think, actually, with service-based businesses, you have the same challenge of figuring out, so, you’ve welcomed your people, what’s that next step? You want them to either know about you, to connect with you or what step do you want to take with them next? With service-based businesses, I think, often, that personal touch or that indication of personal touch is a good move. Just to reach out and open up that channel of communication. So, I’d recommend, maybe, this kind of personal offer.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Yeah, yeah, I love that. Opening up that channel of communication. Okay, cool. Gabby says, “Can we get a copy of the Mario graphic?” And I think you can google user onboard or something.

Janet Choi:                         Oh, yeah, you can google, user onboard, super onboarding Mario. It’s everywhere, I think, in various formats. Also, you can probably find it at Sam’s site, which is, I think,, or something,

Joanna Wiebe:                 Yes.

Janet Choi:                         A lot of great stuff there too, if you’re nerding out about onboarding.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Totally, sounds awesome. Okay. Nicole says … Now, I don’t know what this is, so if you don’t know either …

Janet Choi:                         Okay.

Joanna Wiebe:                 “Any suggestions on best email software for EDMS?” I don’t know what that is.

Janet Choi:                         That sounds like a cool drug that all the kids are doing, but I’m guessing it’s not. Maybe Nicole can articulate?

Joanna Wiebe:                 Elaborate?

Janet Choi:                         Yeah.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Yeah, okay. Nicole, more detail please. Oh-

Janet Choi:                         Educational-

Joanna Wiebe:                 … “Best email software for emails,” she says.

Janet Choi:                         Oh, Okay.

Joanna Wiebe:       , of course.

Janet Choi:                         Yeah, Again, this is the question, it depends. It depends on what you need the email to do. I would say, in this day and age, especially if you’re in a SaaS company, you want something that is behavioral, so that you can trigger these actions based on what people do or don’t do.

I think, that Wistia one was a good example, where you’re going to get a different email for your post-welcome, depending on whether you have uploaded your video or not. I think that’s important, because that goes back to whether you’re nagging that person to do something that they already did. So, I would take that into consideration, in how are you going to be able to use your behavioral data?

Joanna Wiebe:                 Yeah, yeah. Yeah, Wistia is great at triggering different operating sequences based on what you’ve already done. Yeah, smart. Okay, last question, other than posting your Twitter handle in the chat, please, if you can-

Janet Choi:                         Oh, sure. Yeah.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Cool, thanks. VS, or Versus, who knows, asked, “What have you found about using pics, videos, or other media, versus text only, in your emails? Have you done any testing with that?”

Use Video To Enhance Customer Onboarding [19:50]

Janet Choi:                         Oh, okay. We, at, haven’t done any testing, but I’ve seen a lot where video is going to be really helpful. Just because, I think, again, depending on how complex your product is … Let’s start with there, how complex is your product? If it’s pretty simple, a good example that I like to use is like Cloudup, or one of those screenshot tools. You can just get a gist of what you’re doing with a gif, or gif, depending on what political party you are, they’re in terms of that word. So, you can start with that, with a nice show, don’t tell, kind of situation.

Then, I would say, if it’s more complex, I think, linking out to a video and having a screenshot in your email, not just including a link. Make it nice and visual and indicate that it’s going to be a video, has tended to be much more successful than writing out everything. I’ve also seen like, “First do this, then do that. Then come back to this email, and then do this.” It becomes super overwhelming to get a list of directions in your email. So, in that case, I would say try a video.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Nice, love it. Janet, that was amazing. Thank you so much, and we have your Twitter handle chatted out now.

Janet Choi:                         Yeah, I’m trying to find the chat button-

Joanna Wiebe:                 It’s already … Sarah did.

Janet Choi:                         So, here it is. Here it is.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Sarah’s got it. Okay.

Janet Choi:                         Okay.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Perfect.

Janet Choi:                         So helpful.

Joanna Wiebe:                 Yeah. Okay, perfect. We have the recording going out, as well, and everybody else should just follow up and learn more from Janet and the crew at They’re doing very, very cool stuff. Janet, thanks again. Everybody, thank you for joining us today and for all your great questions and participation. We will see you next Tuesday, for the last SaaS onboarding tutorial, for the end of February. Thanks everyone. Thanks Janet. Bye guys.

Janet Choi:                         Thanks for listening, bye.ttps://

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