Leah Diviney
Author: Leah Diviney

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Email is a huge part of any marketing strategy. Even with the rise of other channels, email marketing still delivers an incredible 4,200% ROI.

However, the Saas customer journey is a little different than the traditional customer journey. That means your SaaS email marketing strategy will be a little different than a traditional email marketing strategy.

It’s not a massive difference. But you’ll see much better results if you tailor your email marketing to fit the SaaS customer journey.

This article covers what makes the SaaS customer journey special and how to create successful email marketing campaigns that fit that unique customer journey.

Table of Contents

What Is The Saas Customer Journey?

You’re probably familiar with the traditional customer journey:

Source: Mark Visser

Awareness > Consideration > Decision > Retention > Advocacy

This journey is often presented as a cycle, where advocacy leads back into awareness, because existing users recruit new customers.

These stages are the same in the SaaS customer journey. But the customer experience and marketing approach is a little different at each stage.

Clearly, SaaS is both a product and a service (hence the name). Therefore, the initial stages of the customer journey—awareness, consideration, and decision—use an evolution of the free sample marketing model.

Most SaaS companies allow customers to use the software for free to some degree. (A “free sample” so to speak. Or they have some sort of entry level package to attract new users, who then upgrade to a higher tier.

This means that the consideration and decision phases are primarily influenced by the software itself, rather than external marketing.

The later stages of the customer journey are also a little different, because you aren’t trying to get customers to come back and make additional purchases. For an SaaS company, it’s all about getting people to:

  1. Recognize the long-term value of staying on the platform. 
  2. Avoid the sorts of negative experiences that cause users to defect to other platforms.

It’s apparent to any SaaS marketer that the software itself is a marketing and sales tool in addition to being the end-user product. But what isn’t so obvious is how this fact affects your email marketing approach. 

Here’s how to make email marketing adjustments to fit each stage of the SaaS customer journey.

Awareness

In terms of email marketing strategy for SaaS, the awareness stage is very similar to the traditional customer journey. You have to get attention with external marketing because potential users aren’t yet using your software.

There’s a significant hurdle for SaaS companies at this stage: potential users have a huge fear of the learning curve for new software. It’s true for individuals, but this is an especially large hurdle for B2B SaaS companies because transitioning an entire organization to a new platform is no small feat.

Email is uniquely positioned to get new users over this hurdle, because it gets much more captive attention than most other marketing channels.

Once people are on your email list, your first order of business should be to demonstrate the value proposition of your software and show them how to make the transition from their current SaaS solution to yours.

How to solve awareness challenges with email

Keep your email welcome sequence. You don’t want to move too fast. But after that, the best practice is to create a second email or email sequence that shows new and potential users how to use your software and how to transition to your solution.

Trigger that email once your welcome email sequence is complete (this is where you prompt people to download the software or complete their account creation).

Whether you use one email or a series of emails will depend on how complex your software is and what the adoption process is like.

Showing new users how to get started and walking them through accomplishing their first tasks with your software is good customer service. And it helps people get over the fear that adopting a new solution will take a lot of time and effort.

A step-by-step email with images is good. But it’s better if you create a video for your email marketing during this stage and embed that video in your emails.

Source: Userpilot

Videos are the best way to walk people through processes and show what your software can do. Or, you can also make GIFs from your videos for a hybrid approach that displays well in most email clients.

After users understand how to set up and start regularly using your software, it’s a natural next step to upgrade from the introductory version to a paid subscription. 

Consideration

The consideration stage of the customer journey is unique in SaaS marketing because it’s not quite the decision phase. But you must get people to adopt your software on at least a limited basis.

In order to be convinced to upgrade their service or start paying for your software, users must use your software regularly. If they never use it, there’s no reason to start paying for it.

The best-case scenario at this stage of the customer journey is that new users adopt the free or limited version of your software. After they become comfortable, it will be easier for them to pay for your service than it would be to revert back to their old platform.

The key is getting new users to start using your software regularly.

At this stage, it’s difficult to reach users with external marketing, because they’ve already downloaded the software or created an account. Email is the best way to connect with users at this stage and convince them to achieve significant adoption.

How to get more user adoption with email

First of all, don’t neglect the reminder email. The biggest mistake companies make at this stage is being silent for fear of coming across as too intrusive.

Reminder emails can be annoying, but only if you take the wrong approach.

The best way to create good reminder emails is to take a customer service approach. Rather than reminding people that their account is just sitting there unused, reach out with a genuine interest in finding out why they’re not using the software more often.

In short: send a customer service email, not a marketing email.

The best way to do it is to send emails from a monitored email address that people can reply to and start a two-way conversation. Admittedly, this is resource intensive. And it’s tough to automate. But if you have the bandwidth, the payoff can be big. 

For a more automated approach, you can send a survey instead, designed to find out what’s stopping people from using your software.

Source: eleken

Segment your email list based on the survey responses. Send targeted emails designed to help new users overcome their objections or learn how to solve unique problems with your software.

But, whether you solve the problem with your sales team or a more automated approach, the key is to treat this stage as a customer service issue.

Decision

In theory, this stage of the customer journey is simpler for SaaS companies than other industries, because the prospect is already using the product. But there are still challenges at this stage.

The biggest challenge is giving new users the right opportunities to convert without making your software feel like a sales platform.

Offering too many prompts to upgrade within the platform itself tends to turn people off. And if you use a time-limited trial as your sample, new users eventually lose their access anyway.

This is where email comes in handy, yet again.

It might feel pushy. But it’s important to send those offer emails. People don’t want to be bothered while they’re trying to get stuff done with your software. You have to reach out to potential users when they’ve got time to click through and make a purchase, not when they’re using your app.

Email is the least intrusive way to do this. 

How To Get More Paying Users With Your Offer Emails

Obviously, follow the best practices for email marketing and create a good offer email.

It’s all about reducing friction at this point. Contacting users who are ready to upgrade via email serves two purposes:

  1. Reaching users when they’re most receptive to making a purchase. 
  2. Making the upgrade process as simple as possible.

If you can, send a link for one-click sign-in. Making customers enter their user details to sign in is a sure way to lose subscriber revenue. People will procrastinate upgrading their account just to avoid remembering a password. You can remove this step with the right email infrastructure.

Source: Friend Camp

If you can’t remove the sign-in step, at least send a link that takes them to a sign-in page which signs them directly into the payment page. Making users navigate to the account page adds steps, which causes people to procrastinate, which equals lost subscriber revenue.

With email, you have more control over the path users take to get to the purchase page. Take advantage of that. Make the path as short as possible.

Retention

Retention in the SaaS industry is largely a matter of continually evolving your software to better solve the user’s problems and address new problems that they would like your software to solve.

Sometimes upgrades are simple. And sometimes they require a massive overhaul of your software. This is where the other aspect of retention comes in.

You have to know what changes your users actually want. And you have to tell users when those changes are coming. Software companies have lost huge chunks of subscribers by making changes that users disliked or making big functionality or UI changes without warning users.

Email helps you address both of these challenges.

How to use email to retain subscribers

One of the great things about email is that it’s a two-way marketing channel. Most companies use email like broadcast media, but you can get responses from your email subscribers as well.

So use email to find out what changes users want.

Send email surveys. Use email to offer rewards for users who participate in live interviews. Or just send a simple request for feedback.

All of these methods work for gathering data on what upgrades users want. And this data will save you from making changes that shrink your subscriber base.

Source: WeekHack

On the other end, if you make significant changes to your software, send an email and tell users before the changes go live. If possible, also give them a short explanation about why you made the change and how you think it will make your product better. 

Logging in to find that the UI has been rearranged or that their favorite feature has been removed is a horrible user experience. It will cause people to defect to another SaaS provider.

Even if a user doesn’t care for a change you’ve made, they’ll be much less upset if you tell them in an email rather than blindsiding them with it when they log in hoping to get stuff done.

If you use email to get user feedback and tell users what you’re planning to change, you’ll avoid one of the biggest user retention issues in the SaaS world. 

Advocacy

Customer advocacy in SaaS is the most similar to the traditional customer journey.

The tactics of soliciting reviews and incentivizing referrals work well for SaaS companies. In some ways, these tactics work even better in the SaaS industry.

Incentivizing referrals works especially well for SaaS companies because they can offer subscription discounts as an incentive, which is logistically simpler than most other incentives. And subscribers use their subscription discount by literally doing nothing.

Additionally, SaaS companies have a relatively reliable indicator of which users are most likely to give a good review: subscription duration. If a user has been a paying subscriber for a long time, it’s likely that they think the service is really good.

This makes it easy to segment your email list and send targeted emails to your happiest subscribers. It’s a low-risk way to gather social proof for your external marketing.

How To Use Email To Get More Advocacy From Your Subscribers

The key is targeting the right users.

Set up automated email campaigns that trigger a review solicitation email and a referral incentive email once a user has been a subscriber for a certain amount of time.

Source: Proof

If you’re concerned about sending too many emails, you can send a single email that solicits a review and offers an incentive for referrals. But make sure to automate the emails based on subscriber duration.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how long a user should be a paying subscriber before you trigger these emails. But if you look at your subscription data, you’ll probably see that there’s a point where subscription lapses are higher than average. 

Typically, there’s a tipping point where paying subscribers decide whether or not they’re going to adopt your software for the long-term.

If you can identify that decision point, then you can set your review request and referral incentive emails shortly after that subscription length to target subscribers who have achieved full integration and are most satisfied with your service.

Alternatively, if it’s difficult to get a clear picture of where the non-committal subscribers tend to drop off, subscribers who’ve been subscribed longer than your average subscription duration is a decent guide.  

Conclusion: Upgrade Your SaaS Email Marketing In 5 Steps

Following the SaaS customer journey is largely a matter of sending the right emails at the right time. Triggered emails are your best bet for making sure that you never miss an opportunity to help potential users become paying subscribers.

And there’s a relatively straightforward trigger for each stage of the SaaS customer journey:

  • Instruction videos. Send emails with instruction videos on how to start using your software, whether it’s a simple user account setup or a full business migration and adoption. 

This email or series of emails should trigger shortly after your welcome email is received.

  • Customer-service styled upgrade email. Send a survey or reach out from a monitored customer service email address to find out why inactive users haven't started using your software regularly and help these users pick up your software as a core tool.

Trigger this email when a user creates an account but doesn’t log in or only logs in once or twice to look around.

  • A painless subscription process. Use your offer email to make subscribing as easy as possible. Take all the pain out of becoming a paying subscriber by offering one-click sign-in or creating a sign-in link that goes directly to the payment page.

Trigger this email once the free trial has ended or once a user has logged in several times on the freemium version.

  • A two-way conversation about changes. Use email to open two-way conversations with subscribers. Find out what changes they want you to make and inform them when changes are coming. 

These emails should trigger at the beginning and end of your development cycles.

  • Reviews and referrals. Trigger review solicitations and referral incentive emails to long-term paying subscribers. Target subscribers who’ve achieved long-term adoption by triggering emails based on your subscription data.

Check your data to find where non-committed subscribers tend to drop off, or use your average subscription length to determine which subscribers are best to ask for reviews and referrals.

For most companies, addressing the SaaS customer journey with email will be a simple adjustment to your current email marketing strategy.

But, even if you’re at almost zero email marketing, you can follow these best practices by creating just five automated email campaigns. Then you’ll have a base email marketing strategy that you can optimize.

In either case, email is your best tool for addressing the unique aspects of the SaaS customer journey.