Typical SaaS conversion rates are pretty dismal.

A consensus of Quora experts put the average conversion rates between 3-5% with great being 8%. 

On its part, Sixteen Ventures, a SaaS consultancy firm, says it’s about 3% (based on industry research).

Totango, a customer success platform, has rather low figures. It says the best SaaS companies had an overall 2% trial-to-paid-to-retained conversion rate compared to the average rate of 0.6%.  

How then do you jerk up conversion rates? How do you manage to get new users to stick around, use your product and achieve their first success?

A highly personalized customer onboarding email campaign can help. It has the potential to engage users and bring them to a ‘wow’ moment. It is based on the premise that the same emails won’t work for all users (different strokes for different folks).

Anatomy of a Great Customer Onboarding Email

Personalized–Smart SaaS businesses know it’s a mistake to treat sign-ups in the same way. Two people using your product can still have very different needs and mindsets. Your onboarding emails should take that into cognizance.

Why personalize emails? An Experian Marketing Services study says personalized emails deliver 6x higher transaction rates.

Also known as one-to-one marketing, personalized email marketing reflects a consumer’s previous interactions with your app. It tailors your email content to individual subscriber needs based on their demographics, behavior, and engagement. Mass emails blasted to subscribers are not as effective or profitable in comparison.

One way to personalize onboarding emails is to send custom reports reflecting the activities of subscribers. RescueTime, a time tracking app, does this beautifully. It monitors websites and apps you use and logs the time you spend on them. It then generates daily or weekly (depending on your product choice) reports based on how you spend your time. This is a highly personal and powerful way to deepen subscriber engagement. This report is delivered in-app but it can be sent as an email.

TimelyCustomer onboarding emails that are sent immediately a user acts perform best. Research by SeeWhy, a behavioral marketing company, suggests that you have a window of 90 minutes before the lead goes cold. Send your welcome email as soon as the user hits “sign up.”Prodpad, a product management software, experimented with sending its welcome email 10 minutes after sign up and the results have been phenomenal.

Trigger-Based – These are emails triggered instantly by user activity or after several days of inactivity. Basically, every stage of the sequence is triggered by the user’s activity or inactivity.

For example, when a trial user logs in after a week of inactivity, they might automatically get a personalized email welcoming them back. On the flip side, if a trial user does not login after a week, they might automatically get an email reminding them to log in.

Trigger-based emails have open and click-through rates twice as high as that of non-targeted email campaigns.

A few years ago, Groove, a helpdesk software, had a low conversion rate. To remedy the situation, the company redesigned its onboarding email sequence based on behavioral triggers. The result? A 10% increase in end-of-trial conversions.

Now that you know what an excellent onboarding email campaign looks like, it would be appropriate to learn how to send introductory emails that work. Here’s:

A Definitive Guide to Sending High-Impact User Onboarding Emails

This SaaS onboarding checklist works, whether you’re a startup or established business.

1. Understand your customer

You must research and understand your customers before composing an onboarding email sequence. Start paying attention to how people are using your app, and what actions ultimately lead to conversions.

Just as banks have the KYC (know your customer), you’ve got to gather customer data and usage metrics including but not limited to the length of the first login, frequency of logins, stage of product adoption, number of customer tickets submitted, features used, emails replied to, last login times, number of text and email reminders generated, etc.

Lincoln Murphy of Sixteen Ventures says the best way to know and understand your customers is to ask them. In his words, “the easiest way to figure out what success looks like for your customer – before you can break that down into milestones – is to ask them. What is their desired outcome? How do they measure success themselves? How are they measured by their boss? What are they trying to achieve with your product?”

Murphy says your definition of success as a SaaS platform may be totally different from that of users.“When I talk to someone about optimizing their SaaS free trial for more conversions, as an example. I ask them what a successful free trial looks like for their prospect. And no. It’s not ‘they convert to a paying customer. That’s YOUR definition of success; don’t confuse that with their definition of success.”

2. Segment Users Based on Individual Activity

You can segment users based on their interaction with your software. You can then use their behaviors to predict their next move and act on it.

You’ve got to prioritize segmentation to ensure you’re sending the right content to the right people at the right time. It makes every email to add value.

You can also leverage the data in your CRM and e-commerce solutions to create personas or user profiles. 

How Sleeknote Drove Up Customer Engagement with Segmentation

In 2017, Sleeknote, a customer engagement tool, shared how it boosted open and click-through rates by redesigning its onboarding email sequence and segmenting users into 4:

  • Subscribers in the e-commerce industry
  • Subscribers in the SaaS industry
  • Subscribers who are beginners in online marketing
  • Subscribers who work for an agency

This segmentation ensured the right content went to the right people. It also increased click-through rates from 1% to 16% while average open rates went up from 27% to 41%.

3. Craft User Onboarding Emails that Cater to each Stage in a User Lifecycle

Customize one email sequence according to user behavior. A user who logs in three times per day from day one shouldn’t get the same emails as a user who has never logged in after that first session.

Users who sign up for a free trial receive a welcome email.

Inactive users receive re-engagement emails.

Users who complete a free trial receive an evaluation email.

Users who abandon a purchase/cart receive an email urging them to complete the process.

Users who achieve success through your solution receive congratulatory emails.

Customized emails make engaged users feel more rewarded for their behavior.

4. Write Persuasive Copy

Laura Lopuch, an email conversion engineer, recommends the use of the following to create emails that convert:

Stories to show than tell. “To do this in your onboarding emails, show in your screenshots and testimonials and tell in the copy you write. Tell your new user explicitly what your app does and how it will benefit their life. Then, show them a story to cement that idea.”

  • Humor to break down user resistance. Why? We like people who make us laugh
  • “You” more than “I” or “we” to show relevance to your users. Lopuch says “relevance to your user’s life and situation are powerful. Don’t make your user do the heavy lifting on understanding how your app improves their life. When you show your user how your app benefits their life, your likelihood of getting a conversion skyrockets.”
  • Emotions to drive customers towards excitement and hopefulness (from using your app)
  • Focus on getting your new user that first success within days of sign up. Intercom discovered that the first ten days after sign up, your new user is pumped to take action and use your app. Lopuch suggests you ride on that excitement by helping them achieve the ‘wow’ moment. “Your onboarding emails need to direct that action, so the ‘ aha’ moment is triggered.”
  • Don’t be afraid to sell. Make your emails act as your online salesperson.
  • Show social proof by publishing customer success stories and testimonials

Case Study: How Wistia Got 3.5x Paid Conversions with Persuasive Copywriting

A few years ago, Wistia, a video hosting service, had a conversion problem and the major culprit was its email copy. Pricing was right and the brand was strong but the trial email wasn’t just converting. It then optimized its email copy to act as an online salesperson. This brought in a 350% lift in paid conversions.

5. Give Your Emails a Face

Provide a glimpse of the human personalities behind your software. Groove sends a welcome email from the CEO and the results have been positive.  This is how Alex Turnbull, the CEO puts it: “Emails that came directly from me, rather than from a faceless Groove account, performed better across the board. We learned that when users know that they have a direct line to the CEO, they feel more connected to Groove, and are less likely to quit if they hit a snag.”

Give your email address an avatar and avoid sending messages from a no-reply email address.

6. Focus on a Single CTA

Avoid multitasking your trial users. Don’t confuse them by having multiple call-to-actions in the same email. Ask them to take one step at a time, in your bid to help them record their first success.

ConvertKit has got this down to an art. Every customer onboarding email the app sends contains one email marketing tip. Talk about clarity and a single-minded focus!

A simple plain text email with a single CTA has a high chance to land in Gmail’s primary folder. It’s a good practice to send personal emails for higher conversions. You can read about tips to land your emails in the primary folder. Another good practice is to keep track of how your CTA’s are performing. For instance, you can use Rebrandly to create and track CTA’s performances. This way you know which CTA is working and which isn’t (and why). Amazing, isn’t it?

7. Keep in Constant Communication

Keep sending emails to trial users even if they don’t convert immediately. Skillshare, an online learning platform, does this beautifully (without nagging users). They continue sending valuable emails (inviting you to webinars and informing you of new classes) even if the standard onboarding campaign does not convert you. You can do this until users unsubscribe.

8. Keep Emails Short and Simple

One rule of the thumb with effective user onboarding emails is to keep it simple stupid (KISS principle). Avoid rambling. Go straight-to-the-point. Ditch the corporate lingua. Adopt a casual tone. Like Drift does in the email below:


SaaS brands that implement these best user onboarding practices see higher engagement rates, increased revenues, and a better overall customer experience. So, which of these tips are you going to start with?