The Ultimate Guide to Marketing & Product Alignment
Download now!

Building The Best SaaS Onboarding Email Flow - Explained With Examples

Usha Vadapalli
October 17, 2023

Imagine two SaaS products: a user-friendly project management tool and a complex data analytics platform. The project management tool employs a straightforward onboarding flow, offering users intuitive tutorials upon signup. New users quickly grasp its simple interface, completing basic tasks within minutes. In contrast, the data analytics platform adopts a phased onboarding. Users start with essential functions, gradually delving into advanced features. For instance, a marketing team might begin with basic data visualization, later learning predictive analytics for targeted campaigns. These tailored approaches ensure users engage meaningfully, whether they prefer simplicity or need comprehensive guidance.

SaaS onboarding email flow varies based on user needs and product complexity. A tailored onboarding experience, be it for a simple tool or detailed roadmap for a complex product, ensures users reach their goals.

Have Clear Goals

When it comes to building a SaaS onboarding flow, one-size-fits-all is never really a helpful approach. With the diverse range of user personas and other factors to consider, it's important to have a clear sense of direction. And that direction starts with answering a fundamental question:

What are your onboarding goals?

Before diving into the process of creating an onboarding email sequence for your product, take a moment to reflect on what you truly want to achieve with your product onboarding. Whether it's improving product/feature adoption, increasing free-to-paid conversions, or reducing churn, defining your goals will provide the necessary guidance for your onboarding efforts.

You can take this free onboarding assessment to understand how your current onboarding experience stacks up.

While the overall goal might differ, the underlying principles of guiding users, providing value, and creating a seamless user experience remain consistent. Here are the standard onboarding emails you can customize for your product and onboarding goals:

1. Welcome and Introduction Emails

The welcome email still sets the tone, expressing gratitude and introducing the user to the core value of your product or specific features. Welcome emails are historically known to get more opens, so use them wisely.

This can contain important information like the contacts for support and technical help or steps to complete before using the product. It can also be your opportunity to establish the customer relationship with a human touch. Send a personalized plain text hello from the CEO, Co-founder, CSM, etc., instead of a generic welcome message. These examples from Okta and TestBox illustrate my point.

2. Product Tour and Guided Setup Emails

Users are guided through the product, focusing specifically on the features you want them to adopt and their use cases. The emphasis is on showcasing these features and explaining their benefits is the target of this step. These emails can also be used as reminders to complete an abandoned product tour or set up.

Segment does these interactive product tours in a webinar format to showcase use cases to their users. This can be done during onboarding too, especially if your product has complex or highly technical use cases.

3. For Basic Feature Adoption and Immediate Value

Users are encouraged to adopt and utilize basic features immediately. The focus is on demonstrating how these features solve specific problems or improve their workflow. Showing value to the user quickly helps them adopt the feature or product faster. Check out Zapier’s welcome email that nudges users to the first “aha” moment.

4. Tailored Follow-up Emails

Personalize onboarding communications based on their product activity, like the features users interact with, incomplete details, or unfinished product tours. Tailored content, reminders, and notifications guide them toward related functionalities, increasing the chances of adoption.

Loom sends this email to users who recorded their first Loom and haven’t shared it yet.

5. Educational Resources and Support

Educational materials are geared toward the features you want users to adopt. Tutorials, webinars, and support channels are structured to address questions related to these specific features. You can also use a checklist to encourage users with small goals, like Appcues and Inflection.io.

6. Trial of Premium Features

If your product has premium features, users can try them for a limited time. Highlight the unique advantages of these features, emphasizing how they enhance the user experience. Offering premium feature trials to a large user volume can create extra pressure on your support teams without little or no success in conversions. This approach works great when you can narrow down your ICP and manage the activity volume.Here’s a good example from Trello.

7. Engaging Content and Incentives

Content and incentives revolve around the specific features you want users to adopt. Case studies and success stories could showcase how others have benefited from these features, making them more appealing. Many SaaS businesses use the gaming technique to make the incentives more appealing to the users.

Canva does this best. The milestone emails with badges for leveling up help create sticky users.

8. Regular User Engagement

Engagement efforts focus on the adopted features. Regular updates and communication center around improvements, tips, and tricks related to these functionalities. Many SaaS companies, like Snowflake for example, also engage their users on discussion forums and online/offline communities for heightened user engagement.

9. Conversion and Upsell Strategy

If the goal is to encourage users to upgrade to a premium plan for additional features, a conversion strategy specific to those features can be implemented. Offers and messaging emphasize the value of the advanced functionalities.

Grammarly’s weekly writing report shows your product activity, reminding the value you are getting. They also create FOMO by showing what more you can achieve with a premium subscription. Using product activity data in conversions and upselling emails just makes sense.

10. Post-Conversion Support and Retention

Post-adoption support ensures users are fully utilizing the features. Regular feedback collection and excellent customer service continue, ensuring users remain satisfied with their feature adoption and overall product experience. Here’s an example from Notion.

Depending on factors like your product complexity, user persona, etc., you can pick and choose which onboarding steps make more sense to you.

3 Pillars for Any Onboarding Strategy

Despite the onboarding journey you build, three load-bearing pillars decide the effectiveness of your strategy. These concepts are valid for any step you choose to use in the flow, even after onboarding.

Personalization Is Key

Personalization is crucial at all steps in all onboarding or product experiences you craft. Personalizing makes the message more relevant and useful for the user at any stage. This is an example close to home. At Inflection.io we employ product activity and CRM-based personalization for a successful onboarding journey.

Like many early-stage startups, we built an onboarding experience from scratch with limited feedback while our product was still evolving. Initially, we followed a conventional time-based model for onboarding, aiming to gradually introduce users to our product's features over a predefined period.

The intention was to prevent information overload. However, we didn't receive the response we had hoped for from our users, who had varying levels of expertise and needs. It became clear that a one-size-fits-all approach was far from reality. We decided to personalize the onboarding journey in a way that is meaningful to the users and effectively guides them towards their "aha" moments.

To address this, we made significant strides and adopted a product activity-based onboarding approach. We identified the key actions that led users to crucial moments of understanding and value within our platform.

For example, integrating with Snowflake and similar data warehouses or CRMs like Salesforce is a critical step to realizing our product value. By customizing the onboarding paths based on these actions and the user's role within the product, we tailored the experience to their specific needs.

Here is an example of a flow step from Inflection's product onboarding: users receive precise instructions based on the product data source they chose to integrate with our platform.

Instead of bombarding new users with generic resources, we ensured they received relevant and specific instructions. This approach of segmenting based on product and marketing activity data, and account information (like which or the customer is in their company, team size, etc.) is more personalized, efficient, and scalable, resulting in an improved onboarding experience.

You should check out our blog post on Inflection’s switch from a time-based onboarding sequence to a product activity-based onboarding for more details.

Skipping Steps

You don’t want to send instructions on how to add a credit card to file on your product to the user who already paid for a subscription.

As important as it is to maintain consistency and seamless product experience during onboarding, it is also crucial to skip some steps that are not relevant to the user. In other words, keep it highly relevant and avoid fluff.

It is necessary to exclude users from certain steps that offer no value. For example, we just discussed the personalized instructions to Inflection’s users based on their product data source. Here’s a zoomed-out snippet of the same stage in onboarding which shows the branch filter step before the integration resources step checks if the user already connected their product data source to the Inflection platform.

Track and use your product activity data to decide on which steps to skip. You can also use account-related information like which paid plan they are on to personalize your communications. For example, it’s a good idea to delist a new enterprise customer just added to the team from the onboarding flow a free user goes through.

Measuring and Optimization

A successful onboarding strategy is never static; it evolves based on user feedback and behavioral insights. Understanding the user journey doesn’t stop once they're onboarded; it’s an ongoing process. By gathering feedback, and implementing robust analytics and tracking tools, you can gather valuable data on user interactions, drop-off points, and engagement levels. This data-driven approach allows you to identify bottlenecks and areas of improvement in your onboarding flow. Regularly analyzing this data empowers you to make informed decisions, adapting the onboarding experience to meet changing user needs.

A/B testing different onboarding approaches, experimenting with interactive elements, and refining content based on user preferences are essential optimization techniques. By embracing a culture of continuous improvement, your onboarding strategy remains relevant, engaging, and effective, ensuring long-term user satisfaction and product success.

Wrapping Up

Acknowledging that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t align with user expectations and requirements is the first step to building a successful onboarding experience.

Onboarding need not be one linear path for all your users. Users arrive with varied expectations, experiences, and goals. Recognizing the diversity among your user base enables you to build effective onboarding journeys as long as you are mindful about not enrolling your users in more than one flow at a time.

This non-homogeneous approach ensures that each user receives a personalized journey, addressing their unique needs and preferences. And, also allows your product to cater to different user segments effectively.

If you are thinking about revamping your product onboarding, grab a 1:1 with our expert for a free onboarding consultation.

Get monthly blog roundup

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.