Your guide to better email
Stop sleeping on this powerful growth channel
Welcome back to a (belated) ninth edition of The Gist by Growth Unhinged.
The Gist is my attempt to get to the point — giving you one specific action item to grow faster. You can catch up on the most popular editions here:
Today I want to talk about a powerful channel for growth that you’re probably sleeping on.
It’s not new. It’s not exciting. But it’s cheap and it works, time and again.
I’m talking about EMAIL. And it could make you 🤑🤑🤑
Let’s dive in 👇
Revisit your automated email program to improve activation, conversion and retention — with no incremental CAC.
Why you should care
Simply put, you need a way to engage and nurture users outside of your product in order to draw them back.
That’s because very few users meaningfully engage with a new product during their first visit:
In my experience, 40-60% of new users drop off without doing anything — never to return again.
Only ~3-10% of users ever upgrade to a paid plan.
Even for customers who do upgrade, a surprisingly large share don’t buy until 30+ days after they initially signed up for the product.
In a B2B context, email is ubiquitously adopted and still effective for driving both awareness as well as action. Just consider this email newsletter — it’s something most folks still open and it’s extremely easy to share with a colleague or friend 😉. While I’m bullish on the promise of other communication channels (like Slack Connect, communities, text messaging, WhatsApp), email reigns supreme.
But email programs fall victim to SaaS entropy. We’re constantly moving to a state of email disorder:
Product sends more and more emails introducing new features
Marketing wants to highlight case studies, ROI proof points and customer use cases
Sales comes over the top to suggest hopping on a demo
Growth adds to the mix with upgrade CTA emails, trial reminders, promo offers and one-off email experiments
Interns join in with that accidental yet ubiquitous *TEST* [copy goes here] message
It’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Tell me more
I’ll walk through the components of GOOD email nurture, what you can do to take your email from good to GREAT and bonus email opportunities to save for later.
What good email nurture looks like:
1) Welcome email.
Triggered soon after a user signs up.
It should welcome folks to the product and remind them of who you are and what you do. This is an email that people will come back to or, ideally, forward to their team.
I especially love:
a call to action (CTA) toward the top of the email
a specific action item — what’s the most immediate thing a user should do next?
an engaging overview video
2) Personal introduction.
In the 24-48 hours after signup, I recommend sending a personal introduction “from” a founder.
This should tell the story of the brand and the mission, and should create a connection to the people behind the product.
Keep these short, to the point, unformatted (they shouldn't look like a "marketing" email) and have an easy ask — so you can see if these trigger the response you're looking for.
Make sure a user can reply to these emails and reach a human!
3) Product adoption emails
These should be sent on an ongoing basis during the first couple of weeks post-signup.
The goal is to reinforce both WHAT a user should do next and WHY they should do it — in the context of where that user is in their adoption journey.
Focus on one action or step at a time and be opinionated about it.
A typical SaaS company might have three to five core product actions and then between one to three emails per action. Don’t overdo it.
4) Upgrade email
Once users have started to see value, don't forget about the conversion (upgrade now) email.
These are a good way to reinforce the value of premium features (which your average free user probably doesn’t understand) and to create loss aversion.
Ideally, these emails link directly to the checkout screen and highlight one specific plan that you recommend.
5) Bridge to the GTM team
Email isn’t just for pushing information to users and hoping they come back to the product. It’s for starting a two-way dialogue.
While the optimal GTM touchpoint will vary based on a company’s product-led sales strategy, you might consider (a) offering a 1:1 call with an onboarding specialist to help new users get set up or (b) simply asking a question like how did you hear about us?
Bonus points if:
the email comes “from” the assigned AE or CSM showing their name and headshot
the user can schedule their preferred time straight from the email — no back-and-forth required.
6) Product activity report
Emails can also reinforce the value that a user or team is already seeing, helping make the case for them to keep going and do even more.
These emails are by default personalized — it’s their activity report — drawing on a user’s natural curiosity to reflect on what they’ve done and how they compare to others.
Don’t forget to highlight the next best action based on the user’s past experience and/or the experience of teams with the same use case.
Anna Debenham from Boldstart wrote a great guide about how to do this.
7) Bonus: Price increase email
Thinking about raising prices? There’s an email template for that, too.
Best practices are to:
remind users about *why* you’re raising prices — emphasize product improvements and new features
use the price increase as a marketing tactic by creating a sense of urgency — lock in current pricing by X date
call it a pricing update, not a pricing increase — this softens the blow
emphasize the value proposition of paid offerings
give users a choice
Thanks for reading Growth Unhinged! Support my work by subscribing, liking and sharing.
Already feeling good about your email program? Here’s how to take it from good to GREAT.
👉 Personalization to specific industries or use cases.
Great onboarding flows collect information on who users are and what they're trying to do. The more you can tie your case studies and language back to this information, the better the response rate usually is. (Of course, don't go overboard here before product-market fit!)
👉 Trigger emails based on *website activity* and not just product actions.
Website activity is a huge signal of intent for both folks who haven't signed up yet (think of this as warm "outbound") as well as existing users. Tag key real estate like integrations pages, pricing pages, help docs, etc. and follow up based on what users are trying to do.
👉 Earn trust by doing the work.
When people click on an email, ideally they'll land in the product in the exact right place where the email pointed them (removing friction). If links are broken, case studies are out of date or the message feels irrelevant, you'll quickly lose trust.
👉 Optimize email based on outcomes, not click-through.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how many people click through an email sequence. What matters is whether the sequence drove the actions you care about.
Other things to click on
📖 To read: The CEO/founder prioritization heatmap template from Unusual Ventures. And thecrash course in B2B startup marketing.
🎧 To listen: Empire. This podcast got me through 20 hours of driving to and from Ohio for the holidays. Yes, it’s a history podcast. But it’s shockingly fascinating and entertaining. (My suggestion: start with episode 108 about The Endeavour exploration.)
📺 To watch: Fargo Season 5. I’m fully addicted to this new season. Pancakes for dinner, anyone? (You can binge on Hulu.)