Are you planning to do email marketing for your SaaS? Wondering what goes into a successful SaaS email campaign?
In this guide, you'll learn everything about using email marketing in SaaS — from sending emails to attract new customers, user onboarding, to ensuring continuous engagement with the customer base, and more.
Let's start at the beginning.
What is a SaaS email marketing strategy?
This may sound biased, but we're still amazed by how powerful, incredible and versatile email marketing is.
Email is probably the only marketing channel that allows you to actively engage with customers at almost every touchpoint throughout the customer journey.
It helps you promote your business and product, and attract potential customers. You can use email to educate your audience, turn them into paying users, and even help new customers see the real value of your product. You can also use the channel to strengthen your relationship with your customer base, ensure their success with your product, or upsell them to a higher price plan. It feels almost as if you could do everything with email marketing.
But let's get a bit more specific and look at the most common uses of email marketing in SaaS:
#1. Lead nurturing
You can tell two things about anyone who's signing up for your email list:
- They experience the pain points your product helps solve. Otherwise, they wouldn't be interested in getting more value from your content.
- While they might not have researched your product thoroughly yet, they see value in your solution — through your content marketing.
You can also assume that they want to continue engaging with you: something that gives you a chance to warm them up and build brand loyalty. Enter lead nurturing.
Lead nurturing emails are specialized sequences for people at different points in their journey. For example, you could have a different sequence for a new user and a different one for a past free trial user.
What's more, your goals for the strategy could be different too. For example, you could use it to warm up the lead towards a sale or strengthen brand awareness or loyalty.
Lead nurturing is all about educating potential customers and building relationships with them.
At some point, leads will become ready to have a more sales-focused conversation with you. Needless to say, you can use email to convert them into a free trial.
- Send subscribers more information about the product.
- Tell those people about your product's unique selling proposition (USP)
- Explain the core features.
- Entice them to try it out.
Retaining users largely depends on whether they can see the value of your product right from the start.
When onboarding users, your goal is to welcome them and ensure that they understand what they need to do, when they need to do it, and how. By doing this right, you can get customers to that "aha moment" faster, and help them realize that it's easier to do things with your product.
For example, here is our very own onboarding email sequence:
There are many ways to onboard users. But here at Userlist, one of our user onboarding principles is: "inspire, not instruct" because we believe an inspired user gets things done without many prompts. You can read more about these onboarding principles here.
#4. Converting users from trial to paid
Every new customer needs your support all the way through — from getting to know the product, to becoming a paying customer. Once users have had the chance to test your product in a free trial model, they can decide whether it is for them or not.
You can use email to help them reach that decision by sending email content such as:
- Testimonials, case studies, and user feedback
- Giving discounts
- Addressing their concerns personally by inviting them for a problem-solving call, and more.
Calm, a meditation and sleep company uses both discounts and testimonials in their conversion emails:
For a SaaS company, retention is everything. After all, it's what builds up your monthly recurring revenue (MRR).
And email is one of the most effective channels for retaining customers. In fact, email marketing is 56% more effective than any other retention method.
Retention emails focus on engaging users by delivering value to drive their product success. Email types that work best for that include:
- Re-engagement emails
- Customer loyalty emails, and many others.
Here is an example of an engagement email from Canva:
With this "milestone" email, Canva congratulates the user, building an emotional connection with them. Customers who have strong relationships with your brand are highly likely to recommend your product to others (71% vs 45%), and 92% of those will take the recommendation.
#6. General customer communications
There are some things your users just need to know about. It could be a company update, information about a new feature, changes to your legal agreements, and more.
Even though these are general messages, they are very important touchpoints in customer communication. These emails deliver useful information that helps maintain good relationships with your users.
#7. Upgrades and upsells
You simply cannot ignore the average revenue per user (ARPU), which is key to your company economics.
Upsells can help you improve this metric.
Not only does it make sense for your SaaS business to sell to an existing customer, but it's also cheaper compared to acquiring new customers. It also makes sense for your customers to buy more from you because you've already earned their trust.
The goal for upselling and cross-selling communications is simple: to convince users to upgrade or purchase more add-on features from you.
#8. Customer loyalty and retention
High ARPU is great. But compliment it with a good lifetime value (LTV), and you have a business miracle on your hands.
Here is a glimpse of what LTV looks like:
Unless you have an unlimited amount of resources to acquire new customers, it's the retention that drives your company's success. And with email being the number one retention tool, there is a lot that you can offer to your customers — early access to new features, exclusive offers, and more.
#9. Transactional communications
Users receive transactional emails after they've made a purchase with you. These messages make for an indispensable touchpoint in your email strategy.
Transactional emails have the highest open rates. Most of the time, they are proof of transactions, and most users will open them to check whether everything went smoothly.
But this also means that you could use those emails to your advantage.
By using personalization and including useful links in transactional emails, you can do more than build trust with your customers.
The most common SaaS emails
We already discussed how to use email marketing to communicate with customers at different touchpoints in the customer journey.
Now, let's take a look at the different message types that you could be sending in your campaign:
Lead magnet downloads
Lead magnets are incentives you use to entice visitors to join your email list and convert them into a cold lead.
But once someone signs up to receive, it's your job to deliver them a link to grab the resource. Typically, that's done with an automated email you set up in your email platform.
Here is an example of a lead capture form from Wishpond:
Time-based drip campaigns
Drip campaigns are time-based email sequences that you can set up based on your customer segments. Drip campaigns are the most commonly used email marketing campaigns and for a reason. They're simple to set up, cost-effective and personalized.
- When someone signs up on your website, you send them a welcome email series.
- When someone says they would like to hear more on a particular topic (via an opt-in form), you send an email series that contains or links to content that talks about that specific topic.
Here is an example of a drip campaign structure from WPengine:
Notice how the company sends emails to subscribers at certain intervals, making them aware of the different functionalities of their product:
Also called trigger-based email campaigns, behavior-based email marketing campaigns are several steps ahead of the previously described drip campaigns.
Drip campaigns are pre-determined in terms of when they will go and their content. Once you set them up, you cannot change them as per user behavior.
Trigger-based emails, on the other hand, depend on the user's interaction with your business, and so they are different for different users. For example, here's an email Dropbox sends to users who have been inactive on their platform for a certain time.
A one-time broadcast is a single (one-off) email you send out to a group of people, be it leads or customers, that is focused on that particular group. Some examples can be:
- Sign up offer
- Promotional offers
- Featured blog posts
- Webinar invitations, etc.
Transactional emails are sent once a transaction is done. Imagine billing emails, password resets, new comment notifications, failed payment reminders, etc.
However, they can also be related to an intended transaction — like cart abandonment.
16 SaaS email marketing tips for success
#1. Understand the SaaS buyer journey
A typical SaaS buyer journey looks like this:
Now, it might look slightly different in your own business. But overall, it will follow a similar framework of:
- Identifying a problem and researching more information about it.
- Discovering your product during research.
- Deciding to find out more about your product,
- Evaluating your product, often by comparing it to other solutions,
- Signing up for a free trial/demo/watching an overview video, and
- Making the final buying decision.
It's important to understand how your buyers research solutions before making a final decision. Map out your buyers' journey: from not even knowing anything about your product, to becoming a lead, a free trial user, and finally a paying customer.
Only then will you be able to plan what messages you're going to send them at every stage.
#2. Understand conversions at each stage of the buying cycle
Customers will have different questions, problems, and needs depending on where they are at the buyer's journey. This also means that you can't have the same goal for each of those stages.
For customers early in the journey, your goal might be just to educate them. Why? Because once someone knows more about their problem, they're more likely to pay attention to your solution.
As those people progress through the funnel, your goals will shift. You'll want to convert them into trial customers, focus on free to paid user conversion, onboarding, retention, and so on.
But here's the catch —- unless you have a lot of resources, you might not be able to target all stages of the buying cycle all at once. In that case, focus on the stage that promises the greatest potential for growth first, and expand to others later.
Here's an example of what we mean: your lead magnets might be attracting serious signups. Great. However, most of those people do not convert into trials. At the same time, your case studies generate far fewer sign-ups but result in more trials.
In this case, it's better for you to invest more effort in case studies and other middle-of-funnel content, and only expand to other lead generation strategies later.
#3. Use segmentation to understand subscribers better
Segmenting allows you to structure and understand the user base better.
With segments, you no longer look at a large group of various users because you can see the differences between them and group them accordingly. Those differences help you determine what content to deliver to those people to engage them better.
You can also use segments to activate various email automations. Once a user exhibits certain characteristics, they're added to a segment, and the automation takes over.
There are probably countless possible ways to segment your audience but here are some of the most popular segments in SaaS:
- Blog sign-ups
- Sign-ups from a particular topic page etc.
- Free trial users
- Users with a monthly subscription
- Users active over a longer period of time
- Inactive users, and more.
To make your email marketing strategy more effective, you must identify actions you'd like each segment to take at each stage of the buying journey. This will guide your email content and copy and will also help with designing more relevant CTAs.
#4. Review email data regularly
Finally, study your email list closely. Note which channels those people are coming from, why they might have signed up for your list or your trial, their characteristics, and so on.
Not only this will help you create additional segments to market to but you will also know what to double down on to continuously increase results from your efforts.
#5. Focus on simple email automation at first
Nobody sends marketing emails manually. You would need special email software for that.
But there is a danger when using email automation tools for the first time: it's so tempting to start building complex automations because they look super cool. Automation expert Chris L. Davis says that over-automation is one of the biggest mistakes people do.
But the truth is, they're also extremely difficult to get right, particularly at the start. Instead, start simple. Launch simple campaigns that target the most predictable touch points such as:
- Ask for feedback after customer support interactions.
- Set up a simple onboarding campaign to introduce new users to the product.
- Use basic email automation for lead magnets, and so on.
Don't do anything fancy at first. Over time, you'll gain enough confidence to start expanding your automations with additional rules and conditions. But to get things going, keep things simple at first.
#6. Use behavioral triggers when onboarding users
Drip emails are great, but they're also pre-determined and static. Every user receives the same email at the same interval.
Unfortunately, that's not enough when you're onboarding new users. In that case, you need to match the content to the person's interaction with your product.
Enter behavior-triggered emails. Trigger-based email campaigns are different for every recipient. For example, those emails might go depending on the user's activity within the product.
- New signups could receive an email series educating them about the product.
- However, your email automation software could trigger a completely different email series to someone who never finished the signup process.
- Similarly, you can use different campaigns to target users whose trials are ending soon, and so on.
#7. Create short welcome series focusing on driving action
There's a problem with many welcome email series: they're far too long and focus on educating users but never ask them to act.
Such educational emails are effective in some cases. However, welcome emails work even better when you focus them on driving a specific action: getting users to that "aha!" moment as quickly as possible.
#8. Don’t overload new users with emails
We get it: you want the user to love the product. And so, you bombard them with different messages over and over again. Or you use different products to communicate with leads and users, and in some cases, those lists might overlap.
The result? Eventually the contact might start feeling tired of your communications. Over time, all those emails might become irritating and end up in their spam folder.
Make sure to turn off specific communications after your marketing goal is reached and let the user focus on getting to know the product.
#9. Mix promotional and educational emails
There's a particular mistake SaaS companies tend to make:they stick to a single email type, regardless of the campaign.
It's easier to just send educational emails, for example, and leave it up to the user to figure out what to do next. Unfortunately, users rarely do.
Similarly, you may think that sending only promotional messages is going to convince someone to try your product out.
It might happen, of course. However, email campaigns work better when you mix different message types. Send educational content but mix it with a promotional message from time to time.
This way, you'll provide users with value but also show them what to do, should they become ready to consider your solution.
#10. Personalize your emails to increase open rates
Personalization is a tricky topic in email marketing. After all, the practice got a bad name thanks to being abused by spammers.
Luckily, personalization still works, although not in the same way it once was.
Before we discuss it further, though, let's define what personalization actually is.
Email personalization is a strategy that uses personal information to create targeted and relevant emails. The simplest example of personalization is using the recipient's name in the subject line.
(This is, unfortunately, also the strategy that's been abused the most by spammers.)
But you can go further, and personalize the content of the email. You can still include the recipient's name and also use the information relating to their personal information or characteristics.
Here are some ideas for that:
- You can ask them questions based on the person's demographics or business characteristics.
- Use their location or time zone to deliver emails at the right time.
- Use behavioral triggers we discussed already. They can help you personalize email messages too.
- Personalize your sender info to match the buying stage. You could send messages from a salesperson to somebody further down in the funnel, while a new lead could be getting emails from the customer success team or the CEO/founder.
#11. Use power words in subject lines
This is another incredibly powerful email copywriting strategy to increase open rates.
A subject line is the first part of the email copy a person sees. Leaving the sender's info aside, it is the subject line that makes them want to open an email or not.
Power words evoke an emotional response and trigger curiosity. And both of those responses can spur a person into action.
Take the word, free, for example. It's probably the most commonly used power word, and it works. Most of us get at least a little intrigued by emails with it in the subject line.
The same goes for words like "amazing," "superior," "rare," "invitation" or even, "sale."
Now, this isn't a strategy to use in every email. However, test how your subscribers respond to different power words.
#12. Use email marketing to re-engage inactive customers
Not all users log in to the product regularly. Some might even seem to have abandoned it completely. And although it is true for some, many users simply need a little nudge to get back to enjoying your solution.
Send re-engagement emails to rebuild relationships with them. Tell those people about what they're missing out on. Let them know about new features, or remind them of the value your product delivers.
#13. Send NPS and other customers satisfaction surveys
Customer satisfaction lies at the heart of successful SaaS products. Once users are happy with your product and understand its value, they're more likely to stick around and tell others about it.
The challenge? You probably can't tell which of your customers are satisfied and which ones have problems with the product.
Here's where email can help too. Use email marketing to send NPS surveys, CSAT, or other customer feedback surveys to gauge your user's satisfaction and loyalty towards your SaaS.
#14. Promote annual billing
More customers on annual billing means that your SaaS not only grows faster, you're also locking in users for an entire year.
Many customers might not realize that you offer annual pricing and stick around to paying you monthly. Simple email notifications could entice many of them to switch. That's what Grammarly did with us, for example.
#15. A/B test your emails to identify engagement factors
It's a common situation and quite frustrating too. You send emails to users, but while some seem to engage them, other messages go completely unnoticed. What's worse is that it's almost impossible for you to tell why.
Split-test your emails to discover what factors engage your users the most.
Split testing involves sending two versions of the same message. Each of those messages is different by a single factor like a different subject line. Half of your recipients receive one version while the other half see the other.
You can then compare the performance of each version, and identify which one fared better.
#16. Use micro-conversions to maintain engagement
There are two types of conversions you could target with emails. The first type focuses on getting a recipient to take a big action like signing up for a trial or upgrading the account.
But the thing is, you can't expect someone to be doing that all the time. Many of your email recipients will have signed up for the product already. And they might not be ready to upgrade or upsell their account.
To maintain their engagement, it's better to target micro-conversions. These are smaller actions that a person can take to engage with your product or content further.
Some examples of micro-conversions include:
- Clicking on a link to visit a particular piece of content or a landing page.
- Downloading another lead magnet
- Taking part in a survey
- Asking for feedback
- Asking to share your content on social media
- Watching your latest video, and so on.
Thanks for reading
That's it — SaaS email marketing in a nutshell. Now it's time to put advice to action.