As many of you know, Campaign Monitor is a SaaS (Software as a Service) product for send email marketing campaigns.

Unlike a number of other tools, we operate on what is known as a ‘self-service’ model where people can literally come to our website, sign up for our product and start using it without ever having to speak to a sales person.

While this can be a great experience for users, it does have a few downsides for us.

See it’s much easier to get someone to convert into a paying customers through a sales person. They can show them how the tool works, walk them through sending their first campaign, answer their questions and build a relationship that makes the customer feel comfortable and confident about choosing Campaign Monitor as their email tool.

But how do you achieve all of those things for customers without having a team of sales people talking to every new person that signs up to Campaign Monitor?

That’s where email automation comes in.

In this post, we’ll tell you the story of how we used our own email automation features to roll out a series of ‘onboarding’ emails that increased new customer acquisition by 23%.

Why we rolled out onboarding emails

We’re very fortunate to get a lot of people signing up for Campaign Monitor on a monthly basis. Through our blog, guides and beautifully-designed marketing website, we’re able to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each month and convert almost 20,000 of those visitors into new signups.

However, for a SaaS product like ours this isn’t the end of the story. In fact, it’s only about half way through.

The typical SaaS customer acquisition process typically has 4 stages:

  • Visitor – A person (who isn’t an existing customer returning to login) visits our marketing website.
  • Signup – A person signs up for a free Campaign Monitor account
  • Activated – A person uses our product sufficiently enough that they would have realised the value the product offers
  • Customer – A person pays us money to send an email marketing campaign.

At each stage of the funnel people inevitably dropoff and it’s not uncommon for many SaaS products to be able to convert less than 10% of their signups into paying customers.

As you can imagine, this represents a huge opportunity for growth. If you have 20,000 signups per month and you are converting them to customers at a rate of 10%, you’d be acquiring 2000 new paying customers each month. Increasing that conversion rate by just 5% (to 15%) however, would net an extra 1000 new paying customers per month. That’s a 50% increase.

This is a much easier way to grow customers than trying to attract more visitors and signups. Not only are these people much more likely to convert (they’ve already shown interest in Campaign Monitor after all), it’s significantly cheaper to use email to continue marketing to these people than it is to use paid advertising, search engine marketing, etc to try and attract new people.

How we built an automated onboarding email series

Step 1: Planning & Research

The first step in our journey to building an automated onboarding series was to take a look at what emails already existed and generally how people moved through our application from signup, to sending their first campaign, to becoming a paying customer

Here’s what existed so far:

  • An account details email – After someone signed up for a Campaign Monitor account, they instantly received an email confirming their account details such as login email, URL, etc.
  • The feedback email – A few days after they signed up for a Campaign Monitor account, they received an email asking for their feedback on the product.

As you can see, there wasn’t a lot in place already so after mapping out what already existed, we moved on to planning what we wanted to start sending.

To do this, we took a deep dive into our data to see what people were doing after they signed up.

We found that of the people who signed up but never went on to become a paying customer, nearly ? of them dropped out before even creating a campaign (meaning they basically signed up and did nothing after that). Another ? of people dropped out after creating a campaign but before uploading a list.

This data really helped us see where people were dropping out of the process, but we still didn’t have a good understanding of why.

So we scoured support tickets, browsed reponses to the previous feedback email and setup conversations with people who dropped out at each stage until we found trends in why people were leaving.

We then used these data points and insights to create an outline of the kind of content we needed to send people after they sign up to help them progress through to becoming paying customers.

Step 2: Setting up data & segments

With our email series planned out, the next step was to get the information we needed about each person who signed up and sync it with our own Campaign Monitor account.

We have a backend system called Hex that we use to manage and monitor the Campaign Monitor system, and we built a connector between that and our own Campaign Monitor account using the API.

Not only did the connector that sync all new signups into our account, but we also set it up to constantly update a series of custom fields for each subscribers. So for instance, when someone creates their first campaign we automatically update a custom field called ‘Created Campaign Date’.

With all the data in and constantly being updated, we then used our Segments feature to create a series of segments life ‘Signed up but not created a campaign’ and ‘Created a campaign but not uploaded a list’ which we used to power the automated emails.

Whilst this may seem complicated (and you do definitely need a developer to do it), it wasn’t actually that hard. All the data we needed existed in our backend management system, and we simply used a handful of custom fields and the Campaign Monitor API (both of which are available to all Campaign Monitor customers) to send the data in and store it the way we needed to.

Step 4: Design & build the emails

With the email series planned out and the data flowing in, the next step was to build the emails that would get sent out.

We worked with our design team to come up with some beautifully-designed emails that were both aligned with the Campaign Monitor brand and reflective of the kind of beautiful emails users can send from their own accounts.

We then passed the designs over to our internal email designers (Stig and Nicole) who coded up the templates. The awesome thing about moving them to our own Campaign Monitor account (as opposed to being generated from our backend management system) was that we, the marketing team, could make edits to them on the fly without needing to bother our engineering team who were busy working on other projects.

Step 5: Testing & launch

The final step in the process was testing all the email to make sure everything worked.

Our testing plan not only included making sure they were responsive and working across all devices, but testing the segmentation and personalisation features in all the emails as well.

To test this without risking going live, we set up a new client within our own Campaign Monitor account and started adding fake people with various custom fields to make sure the right emails were being sent to the right people at the right time.

The automated email series we send

After going through the motions of working out what we need to be sending people and when, and then working with our design & development teams to create something great, this is what we launched to market:

Welcome Email

This email goes to out to everybody that signs up for Campaign Monitor and contains some basic information about their account that they’ll need moving forward, such as their login URL and email address.

It also contains a Next Steps section, which includes some links to help documentation and other resources designed to help the user get started with Campaign Monitor.

No Campaign Created Email

If a person has created a Campaign Monitor account but not yet created a campaign, we send them an email encouraging them to do so.

It focuses on showing people how easy it is to create and send a beautiful email campaign that looks great on all devices, with the goal of getting people to return to the application and create and send a campaign.

No List Uploaded Email

If a person has created a campaign but not yet uploaded and selected a list to send it to, we’ll send them an email prompting them to upload their first email list.

The goal of the email is to get people to go back into the application and finish the process of sending their first campaign, and features a call to action to setup a list as well as an alternative method of sending for those who may not yet have a list built.

Campaign Follow Up

Once a person has sent their first email campaign, we send them a series of emails thanking them for choosing Campaign Monitor and showcasing a few other features they may be interested in.

First Campaign Follow Up email (15 minutes after first campaign sent)

The first follow up email goes out 15 minutes after a person sends their first campaign, and showcases some other features of the product they might be interested in using.

Our data shows us that once people become more familiar with the product, set up automated workflows, etc. they become more likely to stay with us longer and use the product more. So the goal of these emails is to encourage people to get the most out of the various features and capabilities of Campaign Monitor.

Second Campaign Follow Up email (2 days after first campaign sent)

The second follow up email goes out 2 days after a person sends their first campaign, and is focused on educating them on how to create more relevant, higher-performing campaigns.

We’re big fans of customer success here at Campaign Monitor, believing that if our product makes you successful then you’ll continue to use it and ultimately help make us successful, so the goal of this email is to show you some other features and functionality you can use to send more relevant, higher performing campaigns.

The results of our automated email series

We launched this automated email series in late 2014, and after leaving it run for a few months we’ve been able to dive back into our analytics tools and see the results.

Open and click-through rates

Between the beautiful design and the fact these emails are triggered by a users actions, they have generated good open and click through rates.

On average, the emails are being opened 50% of the time and have a 20% click-through rate.

Effect on new customer acquisition

Although there have been some other changes made to the application that mean these numbers aren’t definitive, our data suggests implementing this automated email series has increased our new customer acquisition each month by 22%.

In conclusion

As you can probably imagine, we’re very happy with the results we’ve seen from implementing these automated email campaigns.

So much so that we are going to revisit them very soon. Our goal is to use the learnings and results from this series to make version 2 of the emails even better.

The best part is, this entire automated email series is sent from our own Campaign Monitor account using the same functionality available to everybody, so nothing is stopping you from opening up your account and trying to implement a series of onboarding emails for your product today.

Your turn: What other types of automated email campaigns do you send? And how have they helped you grow your business? Share your experience and best practices with our readers so we can all learn together.

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  • Elena Benavente

    Fantastic article!

    I had the same problem. I’m working in a SaaS and we thought that through email marketing we could help users to understand: how to optimize the use of our product, the benefits of using the product and why they need to upgrade to a higher version. That’s why we set up a serie of onboarding emails to increase their interaction with our software.

    I wrote a small post related to the topic and I was following your strategy :-P I mentioned one of your emails (It was a newsletter, but was related to the topic).

  • Bal Nuro

    Raally interesting and excited to see the development of email marketing.

  • Jaina

    Interested in finding out what you do with the customers who don’t convert whatsoever – they have signed up but haven’t created a campaign for a certain duration of time? Do you then contact them a little while later, or just segment them out and never contact them again?

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