Getting people to get value from a product is not an easy thing, but looking into the funnels it has can help make it easier. Wait … aren’t funnels a marketing thing? 👀
What is a funnel anyway?
Imagine a pyramid, now invert it and then slice it into different parts: congratulations, you have a funnel.
A funnel is a concept usually applied to marketing strategies, and refers to a series of steps that the visitors or customers must go through to complete a concrete action. They have a top, middle, and bottom section; that can vary according to the use of the funnel, e.g: the AIDA funnel model (Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action).
In other words, a funnel is a system to understand how customers move towards a desired action.
Every business is different, so everyone has to plan out their own funnel to use it correctly. You can imagine how your funnel should be and then you can adjust it as business grows.
Outlining every funnel in your business is the first step to be able to optimize them and meet your goals.
Funnels aren’t just for marketing
Yes. Funnels are traditionally associated with marketing. However, at Palabra we quickly learned funnels can also be used to improve your product.
Business goals are important for product teams, but so are the users. So they need to converge: funnels are the perfect tool for such a task.
According to Alex Iskold, partner at 2048 Ventures, we can think of every department in a startup as a step in the funnel: Marketing would be at the top and Customer Success at the bottom. And the product? right before Customer Success. That means that Product and Customer are the two main cores of the startup and there’re where your focus should be applied.
What if… your product is a funnel?
Once you get the funnel concept out of marketing, you find that you can apply it to just about anything. Including the product.
You can go deep into your funnel to find the precise actions that make up your product success, and the exact steps people take to get there.
In a funnel, the beginning of the process is where the largest number of users enter. As they go through the steps, many of them are lost throughout the process. The final number that reaches the conversion is a minimum percentage of the start.
Studying the metrics of the funnel process allows you to work to reduce the loss of users in each step of the process.
For example: Let’s say your product is a video upload platform. Success for that product is not to get people to upload videos, but rather to do something with that upload.
We may want users to embed the video in their website, or share it with someone else (that depends on our business goals as well). That’s the end of the funnel. And the steps users take to value are what makes up that funnel (like signing up, uploading a video, maybe installing a plug in).
Once you find your product’s main funnel, you’re ready to start optimizing each of those steps. We may find, for example, that most users fall out before embedding the video. Looking into it, we may find there’s a UX improvement we can do (or a notification we can send).
Optimizing one or more steps in a funnel is the easiest way to improve your product KPIs.
Likewise, this can be applied with all facets of your product. You can visualize each of these stages as a funnel in itself.
Some examples for product-oriented funnels:
An important part of delivering a product is that your users can reach value soon to understand it. If you have many steps people need to take to get to value, you’ll probably have a lot of users falling out. Finding where the drop off is and optimizing your onboarding will improve your activation.
Free to paid funnel
Whether you have a free trial or free plan in your product, you probably want to keep track of the steps users take to move from free to paid users. There can be infinite reasons why users are not converting, so tracking more than one funnel on free to paid is an easy way to meet business goals with your product.
Why we chose funnels as a tool for product teams
Product teams are used to think about user flows rather than funnels. We think funnels provide unique insights to teams, helping connect business goals with product efforts.
While creating Palabra, our focus was in creating an easy way for product teams to create and see their main funnel.
In the sea of information, product teams have to navigate to get answers and prioritize features, funnels are a good way of creating order within the chaos.
By focusing on a specific funnel (or even specific steps within that funnel), you can quickly look into what you can do to improve conversion, and prioritize features.
The best part of funnels is that they give you something to focus on.
Ours is not the only funnel-oriented product tool, of course. Most analytics tools use funnels, like Mixpanel, Smartlook and Amplitude.
We’d like to extend that use of funnels for non technical teams, and are working towards it.
If you haven’t yet found the funnels within your product, or the tools you’re using aren’t working for non-technical roles within your team, we’d love to help out.
You can book a demo if you want us to discuss your funnels in depth.
While finding product-market fit for Palabra, our marketing strategy was exclusively organic and our first sales came from 1-1 conversations with potential users. After a month of difficult conversations and failed demos, I learned a very new and innovative approach to direct sales: actually listening to what people are saying. In this post I’ll share my experience and some tips to listen to users, in the hopes of saving founders & early startup teams some time and energy.
What we mean by direct sales
As the name suggest, direct sales means you talk directly to your prospect and try to sell them your solution via a 1-1 conversation. This conversation usually starts by reaching the prospect you think your product would work for, and sharing why you think your solution would be good for them.
Taking a direct approach is more common for B2B businesses, because the decision to purchase is strategical and the price is higher, which means you get a bigger return for each user you convert. But I think it’s a good strategy to follow for any early stage SaaS, because it’s an easy and direct way of learning about your users and implementing solutions that work for them.
The biggest challenges to direct sales is finding the right prospects and knowing how to show them value as quickly as possible. With direct conversations you’ll probably get a higher conversion rate than self-served sales, but at a much slower rate.
Why direct sales in a SaaS startup?
When we launched Palabra we had no audience and not enough user data to understand who we should be targeting or how to convert them into paying users. We had two possible paths to follow:
- Awareness-first: Experimenting with low-budget ads or organic strategies in different channels, with different messages to see which stick better. This approach is the startup playbook, feeding the top of the funnel with as many prospects as possible assuming most of them will not end up buying, and learn how to convert them better later on.
- Conversion-first: Spending almost no time to feed the top of the funnel (keep a low stream of leads and prospects) but improving that funnel to have better conversions. Leads would be scarce, but we’d learn how to qualify them and provide value so they are willing to buy and stay around.
The first path was the riskier for us. First, because we had little experience with paid acquisition, and wouldn’t know if our misses would be due to lack of experience or just wrong channels.
Second, we wanted to engage in deep conversations with users as soon as possible. We didn’t really care about general trends, we wanted to actually understand what people were struggling with in email automation, and where to take our product so that it worked for them. That’s why we decided to take the second path.
Our initial strategy was to ask a bunch of questions about people’s current email automation strategies and try to turn the initial conversation into a sales pitch. We’d learn fast and get a few sales in the meantime.
Sounds easy, right? Well, it was not.
What a failed sales conversation looks like
After my first couple of calls I knew I was doing something wrong, but didn’t know what it was. Sign ups were rarely because of my “sales” 1-1s, and every conversation left me with a sour feeling.
What usually happened was that I got to a call, asked the person a couple of questions about their strategies, and at some point I’d get nervous and start talking a lot. People are usually nice and would listen to what I had to say, but I could feel they weren’t really interested, and felt like I was wasting time.
So what was I doing wrong?
After talking with my co-founder and a couple of friends in the SaaS industry, I found that I wasn’t really paying attention to what prospects were saying. My team would ask questions about our prospects that I didn’t know how to answer.
That meant I wasn’t really selling, but I also wasn’t learning about our users. I found I had to learn how to listen first, and sell later.
How to talk less and sell more
Listening to prospects is not at easy as it sounds when you are worried about selling them your solution. Specially if you’re in early stage and don’t have much experience selling software, it’ll be hard to keep a clear mind and letting the user take the conversation where they want to.
But here’s the thing: selling isn’t about convincing people to try your product, it’s about identifying how your product can solve a problem for them.
In a direct sales conversation, you should have two take outs:
- Identifying if the person you’re talking to has a problem you could solve (the more details the better)
- Communicating clearly how your product is a solution to their problem.
If you fail at #1, you’ll end up trying to convince people who don’t actually have a problem you could help them with. Those are not your users, and there’s nothing you can do today to make their life easier. Even if you somehow convince them to sign up, they’ll probably cancel their subscription, making your churn go up.
Failing at #2 is usually connected to #1, because the only way of communicating a solution clearly is to understand the problem perfectly. You have to listen really carefully to understand what those problems are.
Most of your conversations with prospects should be about #1. Make a lot of questions. Listen closely and follow up on what isn’t clear. Make the other person feel listened to. Worst case scenario, you end up with valuable insights about what problems people have. As an early stage startup, this information is crucial to find product-market fit.
Here are some lessons I learned while taking a direct sales approach to SaaS. Most of them came from reading The Mom Test, talking to awesome people and experimenting on my own.
3 direct sales tips to listen to your users
Writing down what you want to get from the conversation
This list should be really short. My initial conversation guide had 15+ questions to get to understand the problem, and then a short demo. It worked kinda fine, but I usually got lost by question 5, and then started thinking about what to ask next instead of listening to the answer.
The Mom Test suggests you should “prepare your list of 3”. Three things you want to get from each conversation, depending on who you’ll be talking to. And that was magic.
In early Palabra demos, when I asked to have a quick chat to someone in a startup, I usually had three different scenarios:
- The founder talked to me directly, who had no details about the email automation strategies his/her team was using but could provide context.
- I talked to a marketer in the startup, who usually had many years of experience and had tried a bunch of other email automation tools.
- I talked to a technical co-founder or dev, who had a lot of questions about technical aspects of Palabra and had tried different integrations before.
I prepared three different notes to look at before each conversation, one for each “buyer” persona, and wrote down my list of three.
I started asking questions that came to mind from listening to what people were saying, and spend almost no time looking at my notes. If I ever felt I was starting to get lost, I just glanced to my list of three for that particular person to check if I was missing something. Freedom.
Having a structured set of questions
This advice came from a great friend and the best UX designer I’ve met. She knows all about user interviews, and since I was also trying to learn from our prospects, I knew it would help. Her advice was to divide my questions into chunks or topics I wanted to know about.
Having differentiated topics gives you flexibility to follow the conversation and not worry about what to ask after each answer. If you ask a question from the first topic and your user’s answer goes to a slightly different topic, you can go to that part of your guide and then come back after that’s done.
As an example, this was the structure I ended up using for each guide:
- About them/their job/their goals
- About their emails, what they were using them from
- About their email automation tools, what they were using and how
- About their pains, what was missing from their current tools?
What usually happened is that my email questions got answers related to tools. So I just moved over to the “tools” set of questions and then looked to see if I was missing something important at the end.
A smart move was to leave questions about pains for last. By then I usually had enough information about their problem and could offer a clear solution with Palabra.
If we had a solution, I’d briefly tell people why I thought this would work, and offered to show them in a demo. By focusing on their specific solution in the demo, I only showed one feature and not the whole product, which was a much better use of everyone’s time.
Doing some background research – but still ask people
You can’t go into a sales pitch without knowing who you’re talking to. For B2B sales you need to know about the company and the person you’re actually going to talk to. The key here is to use that information wisely.
I used to start conversations on what I’d learned from their landing page, to let people know I had done my homework. But his was actually making me start with the wrong foot -by talking too much.
Asking about their company and what they do there gives you inside information you wouldn’t get from LinkedIn or a landing page. And it also helps break the ice, since it’s an easy answer for anyone.
My solution was full transparency. I started each conversation by saying I had done a bit of research about them but still wanted to hear from themselves. Then I would ask what they usually do.
This was incredibly effective. Being honest took away all of my nervousness and allowed me to relax into the conversation. I felt like I had no secrets, I was just telling the truth and asking questions. And I think this works both ways: the person you’re talking to will probably trust you more if you’re honest about what you’re doing.
Just keep in mind the introduction should be short, and they should be doing all the talking. Trust that your research was enough to make people know they matter to you, and then focus on listening.
What I enjoy most about working in startups is doing a bit of everything and learning a lot. As a co-founder in an early stage startup, this means learning even more and having almost no time to prepare for stuff.
But worrying so much about my lack of time made me actually waste it, because I wasn’t paying full attention to what I was doing.
Learning to have better sales conversations, for me, was learning to create a process I could trust. That got me to stop overthinking everything and paying closer attention to what was actually happening. It gave me much more room to learn, not only about sales but also to improve our product.
I also think learning to listen makes us better people to talk to, and that’s a benefit on it’s own.
Would love to hear your thoughts, you can find us at Twitter to continue this conversation. Promise I’ll listen!
Low open rates? Don’t throw your content to the trash! It could be your domain settings. Having your settings wrong (or not having them at all) could ruin all your email marketing efforts.
Deliverability rates are a big deal for us at Palabra, so here’s a few things you can do on your end to make sure your emails get to your audience’s inbox.
Why you need to pay attention to your domain settings
As an early SaaS or as an all-in-one boss and employee, especially if you’re a no-coder, it can be tempting to not invest time and resources into your domain settings.
But they are super important, because they improve several aspects of your email marketing and your company image in general:
You can have your GSuites account or you can create email accounts which are hosted on the same server than your website, or on a different one. Whatever your preferences are, is priority number one that you configure the DNS MX Record.
It goes without saying that if you have your GSuites account (or any other paid email service) you must configure the extension to match your domain name. Getting business information from email@example.com is kinda weird. It sounds like a joke or a scam.
When we set up MX Records we are informing the servers that receive the message that our address and our domain are legitimate. That we are backed and credible.
Make your customers take you seriously.
The email domain settings, when wrongly applied, can cost your domain authority.
Domain settings, as we said before, bring a kind of approval stamp for your mailing. When you don’t have this, your emails could be flagged as spam or could be read by the filters as phishing emails.
While doing email marketing implies sending hundreds of emails, imagen that those hundreds of emails are seen as perjudicial messages, your domain authority is going to crush quicker than a kid after eating all the halloween candy.
Credibility and Domain Authority are two points that overlap and complement each other to help your email marketing strategy.
A crucial point for doing business is to make connections with clients. And if you’re using an email account that is not properly configured or if you don’t have the necessary settings to send marketing emails to tons of clients, this increases the chances that these emails will be rejected by spam filters.
To guarantee your deliverability there are several things to check out: SPF, MX Records, DKIM and DMARC, among others.
Now you know the dangers of ignoring your domain settings, let’s talk a bit about some of them.
The most important email domain settings
With the increase of bots and new technologies for mass mailing of emails, IPS’s today put on a great effort in verifying the authenticity of email senders.
In order to avoid being cataloged as an illegitimate email sender, you have bear in mind these practices to assure, most of all, the email deliverability:
As you must know, MX comes from Mail Exchange. Normally a domain works with several servers, which means that there could be one or more email servers.
The MX Record indicates which email servers accept the incoming email and where emails sent to your domain should be routed. Basically, it connects the dots between the sender and the recipients.
It is important for both outgoing and incoming emails, if it is not properly configured you could have problems sending or receiving your emails.
Usually the MX records can be managed in the panel of the hosting company where your domain is registered.
Another important setting nowadays is the DomainKeys Identified Mail or DKIM. The task of this setting is to give the approval seal to email the source.
It encrypts the signature of the emails or messages and it can be verified by an external source. This cryptography works the way wax seals worked on paper letters, meaning that it shows that the message is legitimate and comes from a legitimate source.
The functionality must be enabled in the outgoing mail server in order to configure the DKIM. If you want to check that you’re sending emails signed by DKIM protocols you can write an email and send it to a free email account (gmail, yahoo or whatever).
Also known as Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance.This standar assures the clients that the email address is authentic and it’s been sent by you. It prevents other people from sending emails using your domain.
It was implemented for the first time in 2012 and is based on the authentication techniques such as SPF and DKIM .It’s currently supported by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and any major IPS’s.
This is a powerful and important weapon to prevent scams and frauds committed in the name of your company. Your clients and you could be safer using this standard.
They are not exclusive and we recommend checking all of them out.
These are strong items to consider to implement a successful email marketing strategy.
And, although email marketing is an excellent way to contact your customers, many people do not make use of its full potential. To reach this you should not only send emails, but send emails based on user actions.
✨Improve deliverability sending trigger emails✨
Applying trigger emails is the next step in the email marketing evolution. According to a Smartinsights survey, trigger emails report a major open rate than other email marketing methods, with autoresponder emails in second place.
Palabra allows you to automate your user actions from your app and transform them into powerful communications. Although there’s no amount limit to send emails with Palabra, with trigger emails you can send more effective emails and lower their frequency.
Also, with Palabra, you can configure a custom MX Record to ensure deliverability. Not only can you improve your open rates, you also can be the first in line in your user’s inbox.
Set your domain and start to manage all your conversations from a unique platform. Every action is registered in a timeline for every user, and it reflects the engagement rate from everyone.
Do you already have your own domain and want to start automating your communications? Join our community!
Great onboarding emails don’t need to have impressive design. They should provide a clear path for new users to follow to get as much value from your product and as quickly as possible. While creating Palabra’s onboarding, we went through our favorite plain text emails. Here’s what we learned.
Plain text is the way to go 🚀
Writing HTML emails takes a lot of time, even with image based builders. As an early stage company, we simply didn’t have enough time to design and mark our emails.
We also have a lot of reasons to go with plain text instead of image-based. It helps deliverability, accesibility and looks much more real and important than ad-looking emails.
That’s why we decided to go with plain text emails all the way. We explored different email sequences that used plain text (or simple styling) to understand what they did best. And where better to start than our very own inbox?
We noticed a few of the onboarding email sequences we got were really helpful for us as users. They kept simple a simple design and used mostly text to share their best features.
And we found some awesome examples of onboarding sequences that use little to no HTML styling:
- Notion’s awesome and personal onboarding (simple styling).
- Superhuman’s daily bits of information on its greatest features (only text and images).
- Zest.is drips using only plain text and images or gifs (our personal favorite).
Here’s what we discovered.
Welcome emails are more than a confirmation
Every SaaS company must start their onboarding sequences with a welcome message that is sent when a user joins the platform. This is a must by now, since everyone who signs up will expect some sort of confirmation of their transaction.
I mean, it is essentially a welcome message, but it can be so much more.
For example, SuperHuman sends you a warm welcome message that immediately teaches you how to use their Command.
Another excellent example of welcome email is from Zest:
We love these simple but catchy lines. They nail the exact effect that plain text should achieve: make you feel among friends.
Both Superhuman and Zest suggest a next step you should follow after receiving that first email. This gives a clear path for people to follow if they want to get value from their products. And that’s the best thing you can do with a welcome message.
A name and a face
This is a great tip to increase engagement. I always feel awkward when I don’t know who is writing on the other side. Is it the CEO? Someone from Sales? Is it a super intelligent baby? Who knows.
We can see this information clearly in Notion’s emails. Ivan is not only a name, he is Notion’s Co-founder. It’s flattering to receive a direct message from a co-founder, it also gives the impression of commitment from the very roots of the company.
At Palabra we do the very same thing. Our emails are sent by Paula or Karen, who are the founders (and the heart) of this project.
A photo is not a requirement in itself, yet, the clearer the image we have of the person who sends and receives the emails, the more engagement we can generate.
Even if you have hundreds of people working in your business, you can create an identity to address your users.
Emojis in the subject (use with caution)
This point is more to talk about email subjects, a very important topic that sometimes is forgotten.
If every email is a gift to your users, the subject is the wrapping paper. You want it to be shining, flashy, stunning so the reader has no other option than to open the email.
Definitely, most of the plain text onboarding sequences than we observed have emojis (at some stage) in their subjects.
Remember: emojis are important, but they have to reinforce the idea of the text in the subject. Otherwise you’re gonna look cu-cu or, even worse, desperate.
Zest win the contest of better subjects seding thing like:
- you here -> 💗
- make yourself at home 🍋
You can also include them in the body of the email to generate a greater visual impact and a neatear appearance.
Email ’til you make it
Yes, we received tons of emails per week. In fact, Superhuman mentioned it in their onboarding email sequence.
(this is simply genius)
But preciscely for that reason you have to be present. The first days are critical to impress your users.
Zest has the strategy of sending an email the first day a user joins. And then three more during the second day, another 4 days after and another one 10 days after.
Imagine someone you’re dating sends you 4 emails in 10 days (well, in that case, you’re probably Meg Ryan, so maybe it’s not so bad).
This could sound excessive, but it can take a while until people understand your value. Just make sure the value you’re providing is clear, and that each email you send has a reason to be in people’s inbox.
Thank yous matter
Far from recommending you stalk your users, we want to encourage you to use emails as a tool for a meaningful exchange of information. You can learn one thing or two about your own service or product.
The Superhuman sequence puts feedback as a priority, using sentences like:
“We love hearing your feedback: please reply to this email and say hello :)”
“We love hearing from you! Please reply and let us know what you think 😃”
In the email sequence that we mentioned from Zest, at the 10 day after the user joins, they ask for the thoughts and feelings about the platform and for the likes and dislikes.
A “thank you” at the end of every email leaves a good impression. Of course. It’s also a good idea to make a special thanking email. When a business is growing, every user is something to thank, so let them know that in your own words (or emojis!).
If you read this far, ping us at Twitter and tell us who sent you your favorite onboarding emails.
Plain text sounds boring? Well, let me tell you that plain text is more important than you can imagine. At Palabra we love plain text to send every email, specially our onboarding sequences. And in this article we’ll share why we think you should start using it too.
Isn’t plain text for grannies?👵🏼
Plain text has been around since the beginnings of the Internet. So it is understandable that some people think it is obsolete. Maybe there was a time where HTML emails were on a boom, but plain text today is more functional than ever.
Before we continue we’d like all of us to be in the same page about what plain text is:
The term Plain text, when we talk about an email, refers to the composition that consists of the copy within the style. Which means that it does not include complex formatting or styled fonts. Although it can have images and links.
Even if plain text could sound boring at first compared with HTML emails, you will discover that their use can bring many benefits in general, and especially for onboarding sequences.
Use plain text for onboarding sequences 🏆
When you have a service or a product that depends, on a large portion, of having a constant flow of users, you might want to apply an onboarding sequence in order to avoid the churn rate and to connect with your community.
If you’re still in the early stage of your strategy, we recommend to read our article about 5 questions to ask yourself before creating an onboarding email sequence, it will guide you in the process.
Over the years, new technologies have risen in the field of user experience. We now have many tools to call the attention of customers. This means people are getting a bunch of emails that now look like ads delivered right to your inbox.
Onboarding should look nothing like ads. That’s when you start a close relationship with early users, you educate them about how to use your product better, and open communication channels.
5 reasons why plain text is always a good idea
📩 It ensures deliverability
The number one thing that you need to do to engage with someone is to get their attention. And for that, you need to get them to open your emails.
As we said before, HTML emails have images, links, GIFs, all sorts of things that attract the attention of email filters. So they’re more susceptible to being redirected to the spam folder if they have broken links or suspicious behaviours.
Since plain text emails don’t contain much more information than text, it’s much more likely that they will not alert spam filters.
Also, plain text emails seem more “real” to your email filters. And that’s also handy for your readers!
📜 It feels more personal
Once your customers open your emails, you don’t want them to say “ugh, another stupid corporative email. DELETE”. That’s probably the worst case scenario.
Plain text has been proved to have higher click-through rates. Not just because they can pass spam filters, but also because they feel more personal. They look like something a real person sends, to offer information instead of driving sales.
Then, when you receive a plain text email, it is more associated with a regular person, someone who just wants to talk and know about you as an individual (and not as a target). Your users can perceive you more relatable, human and trust-worthy ✨.
🗣️ Starts 1-1 conversations
As you can see, there’s a progression. And with plain text you help your emails to be delivered and opened. Do you know what is even better? If your users answer the email!
We like plain text precisely because of this. Through this kind of emails, we’ve received feedback from our users that was very valuable for us to grow as a company and as a team. They respond because there’s a real email address from a real person to answer to.
We send onboarding emails that appeal to conversation. Having a dialog is the fuel to power the relationship with the users. We try to build a space where the user can feel part of the process and can say something to improve the use of a tool that is so necessary in his life.
👩🏼🦽 Is more accessible
Now we want to highlight something that usually goes unnoticed. Plain text is readable for accessibility systems. This kind of emails has an ethical benefit, because they’re reachable for people with different needs.
When you send an HTML email, you’re making it more difficult for a blind person, for example, to understand your message.
At this point, it is good to ask ourselves if our emails can be accessed by a blind person using a screen reader.
🔮 Adapts to new technology
From the previous point it follows the fact that plain text is more readable. I personally was surprised to discover that you can read your emails in smartwatches and smart assisters,or that you can obtain a more comprehensible preview of the content.
I know, it is super obvious when you think about it. But we do not always have in mind that there are other kinds of displays where people read their emails or notifications. And that we have to be ahead of the new possibilities, because we don’t know what type of devices will be developed in the future.
In this case, keeping it simple will ensure you that people can read your messages.
So, now you know, don’t be shy and start sending those emails and talking to your users. You may be pleasantly surprised with what you discover.
People are signing up? YEY! 😍 But then they drop out? OUCH 😭
Early retention is a big issue while growing a SaaS business, and one of the most common strategies to reduce churn for new signups is onboarding sequences. The thing is, creating a good onboarding sequence isn’t as easy as it seems.
To onboard new customers you need to have a very clear value proposition to show them, and a message that resonates with a particular audience’s needs. Here’s the questions we had to answer about Palabra‘s value and users when we worked on our onboarding sequences.
We think asking yourself these questions first will help you create great onboarding flows and save some time.
What are onboarding sequences?
Before we share our journey, here’s a quick definition of what an onboarding sequence is.
An onboarding sequence is a series of messages sent (generally by email) to new users or customers, with the purpose of generating a relationship with the people that receive them.
So, it’s the first action we can take to approach our users. It’s applied the very first days after a user signs up to a platform or service. And it’s oriented to retain the customers by starting a relationship with them.
The first two days after a user joins a service or starts to use a product are critical to reinforce the relationship. In some industries, up to 90% of users abandon the service a few days after they joined.
That ‘s A LOT 😧.
A great onboarding helps build loyalty to your brand and your product. Starting long term relationships reduce churn, as long as you’re getting to the right people.
The basic messages of onboarding sequences
There are some initial actions that are essential no matter what your onboarding sequence is for:
After submitting their email to a site, people expect to receive some sort of confirmation. Specially if they’re signing up for a product, or have committed to paying for it. But confirmations don’t have to be simple transactional messages, it should make newcomers feel part of something. Sending a simple welcoming message, true and personal, is what we chose for Palabra.
💌 Start a conversation
Most conversations with users begin when they have a problem and come to you for support. But with an automated onboarding sequence you can start talking to users before they have a problem. Just asking how they’re using your product, or giving them information about how to reach you when they need to, will be enough.
5 questions to help you build an email onboarding sequence 💥
At Palabra we’ve had those two simple messages since we launched, but when we started offering free trials for our paid plans, we thought of improving our onboarding so people would get a hang of our tool in 14 days.
Turns out, it was much harder than we thought. Creating an onboarding sequence meant having a really clear message to send to a very specific audience, and we didn’t have the answers to those questions yet.
So we sat down with the team and asked ourselves a series of questions in order to build a better onboarding sequence for the new users.
Here are those 5 questions. We want to make it clear that there could be as many questions as you need to ask yourself, and that this questionnaire is just to guide you on your personal journey.
1. Who are you gonna talk to?
This is probably an obvious question, but at the same time we usually lose focus about the person that we’d like to talk to.
It’s important that you think about who your user is, what they want, what they like.
A useful tool for this purpose could be to create a User persona. The User persona is a model of your ideal user, it allows you to put a name, and even a (fictional) face. We oriented our job better when feeling that we are talking to a real human being. It puts things in perspective.
Your user persona can be created from your initial hypothesis, but we strongly recommend using as much real evidence as possible. If you have a few users or prospects, try talking to them and asking as much as you can about their needs and use of your product.
At Palabra we had 10 active users when we started this process, and 5 of them agreed to have a conversation with us. We asked them about their automations, why they were using them for, and what they were lacking. If you’ve never done interviews before, here are a few lessons we learned to have real conversations with users.
2. What are they going to use your product for?
Maybe this is more like a 1.2 step, but this point is essential to design a copy that shows the benefits of your services.
For example, even if your user persona is someone who likes outdoors and your service is to rent bicycles, not everyone who likes outdoors could use that service.
Frequently, onboarding emails promote the “value” of the product or service to the users. But they do so in terms of describing the features, the pricing, the plans, etc.
That’s not bad, however is sooo generic. It reminds the reader that they’re a target and not a human with feelings, thoughts and desires 🙍♀️.
You want to propose to them your value, but do it in a way that the person who is reading the email says “oh, this is what I need for my project” or “this makes it easy to deploy this task in my life”.
3. What do you want the user to do when they join?
Once you have your user persona, and how they could benefit from your service. You could design a path that they ideally must follow to achieve the use of your product.
⚡A tool: Draw a User Flow!⚡
A User Flow is a map that’s used to design the structure from a web site or an app. Probably you already have a clue about this thing. Whimsical is a good website to draw one.
Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. Make it easy for them to find your features, that will encourage the use of your service and the engagement.
This question is also easier to answer once you’ve talked to your users or even seen them interact with your product. We use Fullstory and Cohere.so to understand what people are actually doing in Palabra, and create our ideal user flows trying to make them as realistic as possible.
4. What level of engagement does the user have?
The previous step should be your starting point, but every person is different.
We usually think of the ideal user and the ideal path for that ideal user. Now it’s time to think in different levels of engagement and to think of something we like to call “the anti-user”.
Meditate which are the points that could drive away the users or make them inactive. Why would they stop using your service? 🤔
Use that knowledge to create different onboarding sequences to connect with different levels of engagement. For example, you can trigger an email if a user is inactive or never answered your emails.
You don’t need to do this right away, you can develop this step over the time. The previous steps should work to connect with people and encourage feedback from the active users.
5. In what tone do you want to address your readers?
This is more of a copywriting and graphic design question, but since we’re planning an email strategy it’s kinda the whole point.
This is the stage where you can personalize the message that you deliver. And that’s why it is important to resolve the first four questions. Otherwise, how could you personalize something you don’t know anything about?
Have you thought about whether you want to address your customers informally or formally? or if you want to use plain text or HTML emails? 🤷♀️
Our personal choice was to deliver plain text emails with an informal tone. Because to our users this gives a familiar or friendly vibe💖 rather than a corporate one👔. And plain text helps to achieve that goal.
Each question is hard in its own way, but they are all worth answering. The result will be an unique and authentic email onboarding sequence. And that’s something people value.
If you’re wondering why, despite all your efforts, your customers are still dropping off your products, then you need to continue reading this article. That, my dear friend, has a name and it’s churn rate. We’re gonna tell you what this means and how you can avoid it for your SaaS business by sharing a few easy strategies that worked for us in Palabra.
What’s customer churn rate?
Let’s start with the basics: the easiest definition for churn we found is in this Hubspot article, they just say churn is:
People who have cut ties with your company.
It is also known as customer attrition.
So, we can understand the churn rate as
A metric that measures the percentage of customers who no longer interact with your business. This may be because they unsuscribed or because they haven’t opened one of your emails in a year or more.
The churn rate is one of the most valuable metrics when applying a customer retention strategy. It allows you to measure if your business vision is having a positive impact on your clients and gives you important feedback to improve.
As you know, as a member of a SaaS company, subscriptions are one of the most valuable assets. So, customer churn is something that you want to avoid at all cost.
Here is a universal truth: It’s less expensive to keep customers than to gain new ones.
It’s impossible to achieve churn zero. People are constantly changing, and that includes their purchases. Also not all users are gonna like your service for a lot of different reasons, and that’s ok. But it’s important that you try your best to reduce churn and even predict it.
Calculate customer churn rate
In order to understand what is going on, you have to calculate your customer churn rate.
The formula to obtain the magic number is quite easy: take the number of customers who churned and divide it for the total of new customers, then multiply the result by 100%.
For example 1️⃣0️⃣➗1️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ = 0️⃣,1️⃣0️⃣✖️ 1️⃣0️⃣0️⃣% = 1️⃣0️⃣
The churn rate is calculated over a specific period of time. It’s key to study what’s the best criteria for your company. You can calculate it over a period of a year, monthly or even to ten years, it’s up to you.
Your minimum goal should be that your churn rate is never higher than your new customers rate. It’s like sailing a boat: you always want to keep it “over” the water.
How customer churn can affect your business
An unexpected increase in the churn rate can mean many things. High churn rate can impact your business in a variety of ways:
📉 Wrong strategy: it doesn’t necessarily mean a wrong marketing strategy. It could be that one of your products doesn’t match with user expectations. It could be a lack of performance in the customer service area.
📉 Revenue loss: no clients, no money. As simple as that.
📉 Stronger competitors: If a client isn’t in your nest, she’s in another.
📉 It can hurt your public image and translate into more revenue loss. Your investors will not be pleased with this picture.
Keep in mind that long-term customers bring in a big piece of your revenue. So you have to nurture those relationships.
How to avoid customer churn
Now the section that you probably were waiting for. The answer to this problem that afflicts us all. In Palabra we’ve tried different formulas to reduce customer attrition. We’re still working on it, but we have found a couple of strategies that worked for us even at an early stage.
📌 Actively listen
Build the habit of listening to what your clients have to say about your services. They can help you see things that you might be overlooking.
We like to apply surveys, because we think they are a great way to communicate with our audience. And when you are analyzing churn rate, you should especially use exit surveys. Take into account that they should be short, three questions at most.
But nothing like an old fashion call to really listen to what they have to say.
In that way, customer service is your most valuable player, your first line of attack. It’s crucial that, once your customers acquire your services, they feel valued and understood. A happy customer is the best advertising that you can get.
📌 Segmentation. Segmentation. Segmentation
It’s a golden rule that your product should be delivered to the right person, or else you’re wasting your time and your money.
A segmented customer base will aid you in making your services and products more effective. It makes it easier to recognize the requirements that they need.
Targeting too many clients can backfire. The best thing is to focus on the clients that align with the focus of your business.
For example: integrations with their favourite platforms. Here in Palabra our public started being exclusively the no-code community, so we started by integrating to their most used platforms, like Webflow, Zapier and Airtable.
As we started getting some customers with coded products, like other SaaS businesses, we created features to integrate to their preferred apps, like Segment, Hubspot or even direct webhooks integrations.
✨Remember: deliver the right product or service to the right user.✨
📌 Focus on early engagement
This is an obvious one, but to prevent churn you have to start working on retention as soon as possible. For that purpose, onboarding strategies work quite well.
As soon as users sign up for your product, this is the most important moment to engage with them. It’s that moment when they don’t necessarily understand the product quite well and, therefore, can’t take full advantage of it.
Provide value for your customers as soon as possible and you will win.
At Palabra we are constantly trying to improve 3 things in our onboarding:
- Product: work on UX to make it as easy as possible for people to find their value in your product. We created simple user flows so that automating and triggering emails can be done in a couple of minutes
- Welcoming sequences: Encourage your users to interact with your product multiple times in the first week. Sending automated emails with tutorials could be an excellent method to achieve that (you can use Palabra to create those sequences pretty easily 😉)
- Customer success: make every user feel as important as they are to you. In-app chats are the obvious choices to engage with users as quickly as possible (we’ve used Crisp and Intercom for that). And quick direct answers are always the best way to go. This gets harder as you grow your user base, but it’s always something to keep in mind.
Now that you know the churn rate basics, you can start to develop strategies to boost your retention engagement and build long term relationships with your customers! 🙌🏾