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5 questions to ask yourself before creating an onboarding sequence

Onboarding, SaaS, Retention5 min read

By Abril Taker - Content Creator at Palabra

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:

💌 Confirmation/welcome

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.


Hope you enjoyed this post! If you are curious about what you can do with Palabra or would just like to try it go ahead and create an account here.

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