I have 2,689 unread emails in one of my inboxes.
I check this inbox every day. Sometimes, I even open an email.
But 99% of everything in it has the same appeal as getting a microdermabrasion facial with a ten-hour sunburn.
Painfully tedious, borderline scarring, and prone to inducing existential nihilism.
The worst offenders are the SaaS email marketing campaigns that borrow BuzzFeed’s headline tricks without any of the self-indulgent entertainment factors.
It’s a lose-lose scenario. They’re sending emails I don’t want to read, and if I do, I don’t click anything except my back button.
If your customers are feeling the same way and your open rates show it, here’s how to flip the script and get back on a win-win track with emails they want to read.
Why SaaS Email Marketing Matters More
Email (and live chat, if it’s applicable) is your primary communication channel as a SaaS company.
You might have other channels like social and SMS, but it’s not where your customers want to meet you — especially for marketing.
In fact, email is the safest channel for commercial outreach. Users are only 22% averse to receiving marketing messages through email.
And since you should reserve aversion for distant family members and exes you once drunk dialed (sorry, Josh), that makes email a sweet spot of communication for SaaS companies.
It also means if you get said communication wrong, you may be cutting off the only avenue of contact you have with that customer.
In other words, you may be heading for the dreaded churn.
If you’re not familiar with what customer churn is — I seriously envy you, for one — but it’s basically the worst thing that can ever happen to your business.
It’s losing customers (and their money).
Unfortunately, it’s also natural. You’ll lose about half your customers every five years.
Here’s another fast statistic for you, and it’s a big one:
Dropping your churn rate down by 5% can boost your profits by 125%.
So, now that we’ve covered how emails are your lifeline as a SaaS company and getting them wrong can spell financial ruin (or just no financial gain, which is pretty parallel), here’s what you can do about it.
You can send these six types of emails that customers want to receive.
Helpfully, we’ve sorted these into two categories — customer engagement and brand engagement — to make it easier for you to sound impressive in your next shareholder meeting.
Customer Engagement Emails
1. Welcome/Activation Emails
A warm welcome is a prerequisite for being Southern (which I am), and in the case of SaaS marketing, it’s an excellent opportunity to set expectations and offer a clear value proposition for your lead.
It also should be sent immediately with a snappier-than-frostbite subject line.
Why should you rush the send (or automate it)?
Because there’s practically no email more well-received than the welcome email. They have an open rate of 50%, which puts these emails at an 86% overlordship above a garden variety newsletter.
If you want your welcome email to go even further, add free, valuable content to back up your value propositions like InVision does here.
This is just a crop to show off my favorite feature of the email — in addition to a hella useful asset like a UI kit, this email included a link to a massive list of free plugins for one of design’s hottest programs and an inspiration swipe.
The headline wasn’t bad, either. Peep this:
So despite having to compete with 2,689 unreads (hey, at least it’s not 257,623), this one got me to click. Why? Because it offered me free stuff.
And, thanks to that free stuff being useful and audience-specific, it got me to partake in the content that they offered.
This lead? Nurtured.
Key Takeaway: Welcome emails are welcomed. Give them even more gravitas with clear value propositions and helpful content.
2. Thank You Emails
Saying “thank you” is another one of those Southern prerequisites that crossover with strong SaaS marketing.
You can say it after someone signs up as a subscriber as InVision did in the above example, after a purchase, or any other time, but bottom line: they’re a courteous — and engagement-boosting — touch.
And, like the welcome email, users are highly receptive to it. Check this out:
Thank you emails have an open rate of 61.73%.
The psychology behind why these emails work is pretty simple:
It makes users happier when they read it.
This is similar to how I felt when Grammarly sent me this email to thank me for forking over a small kidney (for my budget).
It’s a small touch, but the excitement of the email helped offset my immediate soul-crushing despair as I stared down the receipt.
Plus, they used the opportunity to educate me more on the product and give me a lifeline to customer support.
Well done, disconcertingly intelligent AI.
Key Takeaway: Mind your manners and say thank you. It can go a long way toward engagement, and in turn, that goes a long way toward keeping your customers from churning.
3. Apology Emails
Speaking of manners…
Look: lousy customer experiences happen. But they don’t have to lead to churn if you’re fast and sincere in how you deal with them.
And you do need to be fast.
Just one negative experience can cost you over half your customers.
But don’t just stop at fixing the issue and paying the disgruntled customer off like a low-grade mafia member.
Apologize and own up to the problem.
And then move on and start talking about solutions.
New research from interactions between customer service representatives and 111 of the most stressed-out customers — airline passengers with bags on their way to hyperspace and flights that connect twenty minutes before they land — finds that an extended apology can backfire.
If your apology takes more than a few seconds, they perceive it as a distraction. Customers want you to give them results, not platitudes.
Not many platitudes, anyway: it is true that customer satisfaction doubles when you combine an apology with compensation. So some platitudes are definitely a plus.
But at the risk of sounding new age and like I sell holistic aprons out of a minivan, it’s all about balance.
Check out this boss-level example of balance from ecommerce clothing retailer Everlane.
Quick to the apology, specific in its explanation, clear in its solution — and this is the most critical part, sincere in its execution — this is the kind of apology that could save a relationship.
(Brb, emailing Josh like I’m Everlane’s PR team.)
Key Takeaway: Mistakes happen. Apologize when they do and start talking solutions. To err is human; to correct divine.
Brand Engagement Emails
An excellent newsletter is one of my favorite things to find in my inbox.
Sometimes I find really, really good ones that resonate with me. And when I do? I click on the links and browse the site, hiding from my editors.
Which is in line with Greentech Media’s study that found users who read their newsletter spent 80% more time on the site.
Typical content for a newsletter includes summaries of new blog posts, company announcements, and lead magnets.
Unfortunately, a lot of SaaS newsletters do their best to bore you into submission with “good enough” content.
One of my absolute favorites — as in, I remember this one and think about it when looking at every other newsletter — came from Copyblogger.
This is newsletter content done right. It starts off challenging — who’s ever heard of ethical marketing, right? — then pivots, repositioning itself and offering a unique value proposition for their upcoming workshop.
It also includes a ton of image-rich snippets that I haven’t included in the screenshot because it was holy-mother-of-spaghetti long, but you know what I did do?
I scrolled through and checked out a few of those snippets because the content at the top hooked me enough to make the case.
Is your newsletter doing the same?
Key Takeaway: Newsletters are the chance for your copy skills to shine, so let them. The better your copy, the better chance you have of getting a user to spend time on the site — and in the store.
5. Event Invitations (Webinars)
No industry loves a webinar quite like the software and technology sector.
Software and technology — in other words, SaaS — companies host 26% of all webinars.
And if you’ve ever subscribed to a site that’s putting on a webinar, you know how damn needy companies get about advertising it.
It makes me hit the unsubscribe button like it’s made of my money.
Obnoxious email frequency is the number one cause behind unsubscriptions. The best number of emails to send for events?
About one. Once a week. Maybe two.
Which is why I love Hootsuite’s elegant webinar invitation.
Beyond the fact that it’s hitting my subtle gradient aesthetic, it’s just that: a single email that tells me about an upcoming event I might be interested in.
Be like Hootsuite. Send a webinar email.
And then stop sending emails about the webinar. Please.
Key Takeaway: Telling customers about current events and webinars is a great way to get them to engage with your brand — but stop short of yelling at them over their inboxes. Just one email is fine. Really.
6. Inactive/Win-Back Emails
Remember talking about customer churn? Acquiring a new customer is a lot like trying to source a new car: expensive.
This is probably why 52% of SaaS companies have been doubling-down on their customer retention efforts.
Enter the win-back email. It’s the email equivalent of a boombox outside of your customer’s window, except nowhere near as creepy or intrusive.
And, if done well, 12% of dead-as-a-doorknob subscribers will re-engage with your brand.
What makes a win-back email stand out?
Authenticity, in my experience, and an offer too good to resist.
DramaFever does this better than anyone I’ve ever seen.
Funny, catchy, and offering me the top-rated dramas I don’t have time to watch but would if I could, this is a stellar example of how to do the win-back.
Chiefly, by doing it in a way that’s uniquely on-brand and unlike anyone else.
Because let’s face it: the only thing you’ve got going for you is what your customers fell in love with in the first place, so don’t try to win them back by being someone else.
Key Takeaway: Win-backs are like email necromancers, and if you do them right — which means in a way that’s uniquely on brand — you can get back 12% of your subscribers and keep them from churning.
Email marketing is the heart and soul of your customer communication as a SaaS company.
Which means you really, really need to get it right.
Begin by sending emails people actually want to read.
Welcome emails are a good start. Thank you emails are even better.
And if you screw up? Say sorry. Then tell them how you’re going to make things right.
Sending a newsletter that’s anything less-than-amazing is a waste of everyone’s time. Make newsletters as tight and crisp as any other piece of copy you produce.
Got a webinar coming up? Cool. Great. Tell customers about it. They may be interested. But resist the urge to tell them about it repeatedly. Seriously. Don’t be that guy. They’ll unsubscribe.
Finally, if you want to keep your customers around, do your best to win them back. Win-back emails are a last-ditch effort that can actually revive 12% of them — as long as you’re on brand and making an offer worth their miraculous return.