When your email shows up in someone’s inbox, they need to know who you are and why you’re there. Context is the difference between a well-executed onboarding campaign and spam.

Your welcome sequence sets the tone for your relationship. It frames your subscribers’ expectations for how you’ll use their email address—and how often.

And without these first few communications, you’re asking your future emails to do a lot more work.

There are numerous ways to approach an email onboarding sequence. While you’re bound to find people touting hard and fast onboarding rules, there are always going to be companies that break them and succeed anyways.

In this roundup of case studies, you’ll find organizations that:

  • Come out swinging and upsell brand-new customers within 30 minutes of their first purchase.
  • Can identify people’s personas 10 minutes after they start a free trial.
  • Slowly nurture their leads and don’t “make the ask” for weeks.

And along the way we’ll tell you what they did and how they did it, so you can apply their great ideas to your own campaign.

Here are the case studies we’re covering:

Bon appetit.

1. ProdPad: Personalized automation

Industry: Product management software
What they did:

  • Updated existing welcome email sequence to align with in-app onboarding.
  • Gamified the trial experience to incentivize ideal behaviors.
  • Segmented onboarding email campaign based on user activity.
  • Sent first email within 10 minutes. Content depended on post-download behavior.

What happened:

  • ProdPad increased their conversion rate by 100%.
  • Unengaged trial users gained a more appropriate path to conversion.
  • Engaged users feel more rewarded for their behavior.

Where the study came from: ProdPad offered a look behind the curtain in a two-part series on their blog in 2017, sharing the vision behind their onboarding strategy and how they implemented it.

Back in the day, ProdPad trial users received five onboarding emails throughout the 30-day trial. These emails provided a step-by-step rundown of how to use the software and explore features.

But as ProdPad puts it, “our emails were just data-free stabs in the dark.” So they started paying attention to how people were using the app, and what actions ultimately led to conversions.

Here’s what they learned:

“We found that on a 30-day trial, we could tell with 85 percent certainty by Day 9 whether a trial user would sign up.”

In part one of their onboarding series, ProdPad discusses how these findings led them to completely switch up their in-app onboarding experience. They cut the trial period in half and created a “magically extending free trial” which let users “earn” more days of free access.

It’s fascinating stuff (you should read it), but all you really need to know is this: they gamified their onboarding experience to incentivize the actions that lead to conversions. And they needed a new email onboarding campaign that aligned with this major transition.

But they didn’t just start spamming people with directions. They segmented their trial users into three personas based on their behavior in the first ten minutes after starting a trial.

Splitting the audience into personas based on engagement

Image source: ProdPad

The first onboarding email sent 10 minutes in, which gave ProdPad just enough time to decide which persona they were working with. Here’s how they define each persona:

Silent Shaun signs up for ProdPad and then leaves without completing any primary actions.

Average Joe completes one or two primary actions, but doesn’t stick around to explore.

Super Sally is on a mission. She completes the primary actions and moves quickly through the app.

Interestingly, ProdPad views their personas as a progression, using the onboarding sequence to lead Silent Shauns to become Average Joes, and Average Joes to become Super Sallys. (Super Sallys get to remain super.)

Each persona receives a separate onboarding sequence, with the intention of taking them to the next level. If a Silent Shaun suddenly started taking all the primary actions, their onboarding sequence would look a lot more like a Super Sally.

In the first email, Super Sallys are complimented for being proactive, reminded of the long-term benefits of the actions they just took, and nudged towards the next key behavior: installing ProdPad’s Chrome extension.

ProdPad's welcome email encourages Super Sally's to download the ProdPad Chrome extension.

Image source: ProdPad

Every step of the way, the emails respond to the actual ways people are using the software. For engaged users, the onboarding sequence acknowledges what they’ve already accomplished and recommends advanced features. It also shows them the other ways they can earn more time to play around with the software, like this:

Email showing people how to earn more trial time.

Image source: ProdPad

Now, as for those Silent Shauns who did basically nothing in their first 10 minutes, ProdPad decided to dissolve the awkwardness by asking one simple question: are you alive?

Email asking people if they were attacked by a bear.

Image source: ProdPad

The hope here, obviously, is that making light of the situation would open the door to conversation with an unengaged user, providing more opportunities to move them through the funnel (or to progress from one persona to the next). And it’s working.

“This email has helped us break the ice with users, book demos, schedule sales calls and show off our blazing fast customer support,” ProdPad says. “Users who would never normally get in touch, email us back.”

By creating personas based on engagement, ProdPad showcases how timing and relevance make an automated email feel personal.

2. Groove HQ: Converts 10% of blog subscribers into trial users

Industry: Customer support software (SAAS)
What they did:

  • Sent five emails over 12 days.
  • Gathers better targeting information with direct replies.
  • Shares blog posts, guest posts Groove HQ CEO wrote for major brands, discounts on business-related apps, and a free trial offer.

What happened:

  • 10% of blog subscribers converted to trial users.

Where the study came from: Groove HQ shared this case study about their onboarding campaign on their blog in 2016.

When you sign up for the newsletter on Groove HQ’s blog, the first thing you receive is a welcome email from their CEO, Alex Turnbull:

Welcome email from Groove HQ CEO Alex Turnbill.

Image source: Groove HQ

It’s nothing flashy, but right off the bat, they’re framing expectations for what people can expect from the list. A good onboarding email certainly doesn’t have to come from your CEO or senior leadership, but there are several reasons to consider it:

  • The personal touch helps subscribers build a relationship with your company.
  • Sending your welcome series “from” a prominent person can help subscribers feel valued.
  • If your welcome campaign positions someone in your company as a subject matter expert, it may as well be the most public-facing person. (This maximizes the benefit of establishing their authority.)

When Alex says, “I do my best to make sure that every email I send is valuable to you,” it isn’t a euphemism for a series of product pitches. Your onboarding sequence sets the tone for what is hopefully a long-term relationship with your subscribers.

Groove HQ knows that if they consistently deliver value, they’ll have more opportunities to seal the deal and make relevant pitches later. That’s why their five-oemail series only includes one direct pitch for their software, and it comes at the very end.

Here’s what their series looks like:

Chart showing Groove HQ‘s onboarding flow.

Image source: Groove HQ

A day after the welcome email, Alex sends people a roundup of Groove’s most popular posts. Since these people subscribed to read more of Groove’s content, a “greatest hits” email is both relevant and valuable.

This might not feel as valuable to your organization as a discount on your product or another special offer, but if people actually read the content you send them, and it’s good, you’re strengthening their relationship with your brand. Sure, you might make some quick short-term sales by being more forward, but a healthy email list is far more valuable in the long run.

A couple days later Alex sends guest posts he’s written on other blogs—and not just any blogs. These are big names: KISSmetrics, Buffer, and Copyblogger are brands readers should recognize.

This gives his authority a boost (being allowed to publish a guest post is an endorsement of sorts), provides relevant content subscribers won’t find on the blog on their own, and reinforces the value of being on the list—you’re getting a steady stream of content from a major influencer!

By the time Groove gets around to “making the ask” (day 12), the hope is that subscribers are looking forward to hearing from Alex again. Here’s how Alex pitches a free trial of Groove to conclude the onboarding series:

Email asking subscribers to sign up for a free trial.

Image source: Groove HQ

According to Alex, about 10 percent of subscribers become trial users thanks to this onboarding series.

“That number has stayed consistent as we’ve grown our list, which makes it pretty easy to understand why we focus so much on building more and better content,” Alex says. “We can draw a very direct line from the success of our content to the success of our business.”

After the onboarding series, the people who didn’t sign up for the free trial aren’t lost in the abyss. The newsletter continues to provide them with a steady stream of valuable content, and Groove gets more opportunities to find appropriate ways to pitch their product. (Like retargeting, for example.)

Those who do sign up for the free trial are plopped into a new onboarding series. (You can read more about that in the second half of Alex’s blog post.)

3. Peak Design: 72% open rate on first email

Industry: Photography accessories (ecommerce)
What they did:

  • Sent two emails over seven days.
  • Provided tips for using new gear, plus complementary accessories.
  • First email sent 30 minutes in, second email sent seven days in.

What happened:

  • 72% open rate on first email.
  • 64% open rate on second email.
  • Generated $150,000 in revenue in 12 months.

Where the study came from: Rejoiner is Peak Design’s email service provider, and Rejoiner shared this case study on their blog in 2017.

Peak Design keeps their onboarding campaign brief: two emails send within a week of a customer’s first purchase. After 12 months, it looks like brevity is serving them well:

Table showing results from two onboarding emails.

Image source: Rejoiner

Since new customers have just made a purchase, the first onboarding email doesn’t come instantly. People are expecting a receipt and transactional information first. But 30 minutes after purchase, Peak Design makes the official introduction—and another offer:

Welcome email promoting a new Peak Design product.

Image source: Rejoiner

This email is pretty informal, but it’s employing a bold strategy: Peak Design is upselling customers 30 minutes after their very first purchase. And it’s working. This email generates almost twice the revenue of the second onboarding email.

Clearly, this message is resonating with customers. Perhaps it’s because Peak Design’s brand is deeply tied to a lifestyle—adventure photography—and this email showcases that lifestyle through another product that compliments the one people just purchased.

But timing may be the biggest reason this promotional email works.

People are excited after making their purchase, but they’ve just seen the shipping information: they have to wait a few days to play with their new toy. Peak Design gives them something else to look at in the meantime. And since it makes what they’re waiting for even better, people are more open to buying these suggested products, too.

The second—and final—onboarding email comes a week later. Why a week? Hopefully, that’s around the time people are excitedly opening their new product. This email includes tips for using your gear and suggestions for other accessories that work well with what you just got.

Email telling customers how to enjoy their new gear.

Image source: Rejoiner

This is exactly when you want to learn how to use your new gear, and videos are way more consumable than instruction manuals. And when you’ve recently opened your package and started to imagine what it’ll be like to get out there and use your equipment, it’s not a huge stretch to think about what might make that experience even better.

Peak Design’s onboarding campaign is extremely forward, and in most cases, we wouldn’t recommend trying to pull off two product pitches in a row during your onboarding campaign. These are generally not considered emails that “add value” to your subscribers—they’re basically just ads. And if you’re trying to grow an email list, this strategy tends to focus on short-term gains, not long-term benefits.

But here are some things to consider about why this is working so well for Peak Design:

1. These emails are arriving when Peak Design is most top-of-mind.
The timing makes the experience more like finding coupons or ads in your packaging material. You’re seeing the brand in a context that makes sense, so the sales pitch isn’t out of the blue.

2. The products can stand alone, but they also add value to each other.
People don’t need to buy Peak Design’s whole suite of photography accessories to enjoy the camera bag they just bought. But each new piece of equipment draws them further into the adventurous lifestyle Peak Design presents and enhances the experiences they’ve already bought into.

3. These onboarding emails aren’t just product pitches.
Both of these emails serve a purpose that makes sense to the consumer. (Although admittedly, the first is basically just saying “Hi.”)

From the case study, it doesn’t look like Peak Design actually segmented these emails based on which products people purchased. Without segmenting, they run the risk of recommending a product someone just bought, and they won’t be able to make the best possible suggestions.

I also reached out to Rejoiner to confirm something: this is an example of what’s called a “soft opt-in,” where people don’t explicitly subscribe to an email list, but by purchasing a product from Peak Design, they consent to receive emails in a limited context. Not all email service providers allow (or recommend) this, but if you’re going to do it, you should strongly consider a double-opt-in.

4. The Bean Group: 66.7% increase in newsletter open rate

Industry: Affiliate marketing
What they did:

  • Added five emails to their welcome series.
  • Shared most popular offers and content from the newsletter.
  • Segmented emails based on sex and location.
  • Sent one email per day for six days in a row.

What happened:

  • Increased revenue from their welcome series by 13%.
  • Increased average newsletter open rate by 66.7%.

Where the study came from: MarketingSherpa featured this welcome series case study in 2012.

The Bean Group is a UK based company that provides a roundup of sweet discounts for college students on StudentBean.com. A good chunk of their subscribers come from partnerships with other websites, so the welcome series provides important context before new subscribers start getting weekly roundups from a website they’ve never been to.

Originally, The Bean Group’s “welcome series” was just a confirmation email plus a single email that introduced what they would send, and how often. And then these brand-new subscribers were thrown in with the rest of the list. It was better than nothing—but not much.

By extending their welcome series, The Bean Group hoped to accomplish two things:

  1. Increase the value of new subscribers.
  2. Increase engagement on their newsletter list.

They believed frontloading their list with more automated emails could help achieve these two goals.

It doesn’t look like they do much targeting, but The Bean Group does segment their emails to men and women, so they can avoid sending women ads like this:

Advertisement for men‘s workout clothes

Image source: The Bean Group

Or sending men ads like this:

Advertisement for women's clothing.

Image source: The Bean Group

The only other targeting information The Bean Group appears to use is location, which lets them send region-specific offers.

“People love to see ‘Rediscover Nottingham’ if they live in Nottingham,” says operations manager Charlotte Staunton

Since the primary purpose of their newsletter is to send people a steady stream of deals and money-saving tips, the updated welcome series doesn’t pull any punches. The Bean Group stuffed these additional emails with their all-time best deals and content to prime the pump.

New subscribers who received the longer welcome series were more engaged with regular newsletter emails than their counterparts, and they made more (or bigger) purchases. The average newsletter open rate was 66.7% higher with the onboarding audience, and the list generated 13% more revenue.

More emails aren’t always better. But in this case, more emails meant more context for new subscribers.

5. Upscope.io: Using email to address onboarding pain points

Industry: Customer support software
What they did:

  • Sent 22 emails.
  • Adjusted email sequence based on customer behavior.
  • Provided a consistent touchpoint offering support.
  • Encouraged trial users to take their first action.
  • Requested feedback.

Where the study came from: Upscope published all of their onboarding emails on their blog in 2017.

Upscope is a screen-sharing tool that integrates with popular live chat programs like Intercom, Zendesk, and Olark. In this post, Upscope cofounder Pardeep Kullar walks through their free trial onboarding series for organizations that use Intercom (though I imagine the others are pretty similar).

There are a lot of moving pieces in this onboarding campaign, and while the last email sends two months after someone upgrades from the free trial to a paid subscription, it’s not clear what the timeline is for the other 20 or so emails discussed in Pardeep’s post.

Right off the bat, there’s one major bottleneck in Upscope’s onboarding: the customer service teams who sign up to try Upscope have to get a developer to install the Upscope code on the company website.

This can significantly slow down the whole onboarding process, but for now, it is what it is. They try to address this problem upfront in the welcome email:

Email prompting readers to send an email to their dev team.

Image source: Upscope

(Note: it looks like they’ve updated their onboarding since Pardeep published this post, but they still eventually show you this strange blue button offering to help you send an email.)

Upscope collects phone numbers on their free trial signup forms, and they waste no time putting it to use. The second email in the series introduces an account manager who will call trial users to talk about their specific issues unless they opt-out.

Similar to ProdPad, Upscope makes a point of acknowledging its most proactive trial users. It’s a bit of a process to get Upscope up and running, so when people install on the same day they sign up, they receive this congratulatory email on day one:

Email congratulating users for installing Upscope quickly.

Image source: Upscope

Pardeep claims this email has a 100% open rate. Is it really that high? I don’t know, but for an automated email, the timing and tone really does make it feel like a personal high five in your inbox.

The rest of the emails in Upscope’s onboarding campaign are iterations of these five messages:

  • We’re available to help.
  • Install the software.
  • Here’s how Upscope works.
  • Upgrade.
  • Why didn’t you upgrade?

22 emails is a lot for an onboarding campaign. Especially if they can all be traced back to one of these messages. Still, it’s clear from their results that some people need to hear the same message more than once, and you can’t assume that because you sent a message, the people who needed to read it already did.

Upscope sends four emails just about installation. That might sound obnoxious, but remember: installation is the biggest hang up in the whole process. It may require teams that don’t even work in the same building to talk about making changes to the company website. That might take a couple nudges. And even that fourth email has a 4 percent response rate.

Pardeep is also pretty transparent about highlighting places where particular emails have totally flopped. One email had a 0 percent response rate. And only one person took advantage of Upscope’s prompt to upgrade from a monthly subscription to an annual one.

6. Knowtify: Every email has two paths

Industry: Email service provider
What they did:

  • Sent seven emails over 15 days.
  • Emails were triggered instantly by user activity or after several days of inactivity.
  • Every email had two possible paths based on user’s activity or lack thereof.
  • Provided tips and guides for using the platform, encouragement to try particular features, and offers for more personal assistance.

Where the study came from: Knowtify mapped out exactly how they developed their onboarding series on their blog in 2015.

A lot of these case studies show off a flowchart that portrays how a subscriber moves through the onboarding funnel. None of them are as intricate as Knowtify’s.

It’s kind of overwhelming, actually:

Intricate flowchart showing email sequence.

Image source: Knowtify

Basically, every stage of the sequence is triggered by the user’s activity. Yes, the user took the desired action, so they receive this email. Or, no, the user did not take the desired action, so they receive this other email.

But despite what appears to be a timeline above the chart, the sequence doesn’t necessarily follow a fixed schedule.

“We designed our flow so that as soon as a user passes one of our activity milestones (created an email, integrated data, sent email, etc), we automatically trigger the next email in the flow,” Knowtify’s Derek Skaletsky explains. “This means that all the YES path emails are triggered by specific activities that determine the passing of a milestone. These are NOT based on time.”

Here’s where the timeline comes into play:

“BUT if a user does not pass an activity milestone, we send a NO path email after a specific period of time.”

Some organizations (like Groove HQ) simplify their flow charts to essentially represent separate “yes” and “no” funnels. Knowtify’s flowchart recognizes that every email and every action contains its own yes/no path.

And Knowtify doesn’t cut corners on their activity milestones, either. They have a milestone labeled “Sending a real email” that might be more appropriately named “Sending 50 real emails.”

Knowtify walks through the triggers and goals for each email, but Knowtify’s planning process is the most valuable part of this case study.

7. Wistia: New onboarding emails increased conversions by 350%

Industry: Video hosting platform
What they did:

  • Sent eight emails over eight days.
  • A/B tested updated content against original email sequence.
  • Treated each email like a sales sheet.

What happened:

  • Increased paid conversions from trials by 350 percent.

Where the study came from: Copy Hackers renovated one of Wistia’s onboarding segments and shared their results in a case study on the Copy Hackers blog in 2017.

Wistia had a great product, but it wasn’t enough to overcome their OK onboarding. So they brought out the big guns and hired Copy Hackers to overhaul the campaign copy.

There were three main “tracks” in Wistia’s onboarding sequence, and Copy Hackers took the reins on the third track, which had the sole goal of converting trial users into paid subscribers. In a few cases, Copy Hackers retained the underlying message of the original email—they just communicated that message more thoroughly and explicitly.

At a glance, the updated emails look more like what you’d expect to see in an email course, not an onboarding sequence. But Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers cautions critics: these emails performed far better than Wistia’s short and sweet originals.

“So when you’re reading through and going ‘meh, that’s too long’ or ‘there’s no way this would work for us,’ remember: all together, these emails more than tripled paid conversions,” she says.

Compare Wistia’s original email (left) with the updated version:

Side-by-side comparison of the original onboarding email and the updated version.

Image source: Copy Hackers

Obviously, longer emails aren’t inherently better emails. And they’re harder to pull off. You risk losing someone before they even see your call to action, and there’s more room for your message to get lost in your copy. But you also have more room to develop an idea, build your case, and close the sale.

Through experimentation, it became clear that these longer versions were definitively outperforming the originals.

“Every single email we wrote used more copy than the control,” Joanna says. “In 7 of the 8 emails, our versions were at least 3x as long as the control.”

Wistia’s problem wasn’t necessarily the vision or direction. (Or even the length of their emails.) It was the execution. They often had the right ideas, but not the right words to express them.
Take a look at how these two emails address Wistia’s biggest competitor:

Side-by-side comparison of emails addressing YouTube.

Image source: Copy Hackers

Not all organizations are comfortable directly addressing their competitors. But if it fits your brand, and you’re going to do it, don’t be shy about it.

The version on the left has zero value until you click through the links to watch some videos. Is Wistia asking people to leave, watch some videos, come back to the email, and click through to upgrade? Or do they think the links alone are enough to convince someone to upgrade?

The updated email is blunt, but more importantly, it provides a direct comparison right there in the copy, so you don’t have to go somewhere else before you’re ready to consider upgrading.

If you think solid copy is the missing ingredient in your onboarding formula, keep this in mind: before Copy Hackers started rewriting these emails, they used the five stages of awareness to rework the way users progressed through the campaign.

Schwartz awareness scale shows progression from unaware to most aware.

Image source: Search Engine Land

Joanna suggests out that part of Wistia’s problem was they were stuck in the “solution aware” and “product aware” stages, but at this point in the funnel they needed to progress towards “most aware” to close the sale.

Still, this is a good case study if you’re concerned copy may be at the root of your onboarding issues.

8. Evernote: Turning trial users into premium subscribers

Industry: Note/document platform (SAAS)
What they did:

  • Sent 10 emails over 36 days.
  • Provided tips, promoted particular actions, and recommended upgrades.
  • Emails were a week apart at first, then two days apart as the trial period came to an end.

Where the study came from: Vero published this onboarding case study on their blog in 2015.

You can use Evernote Basic for free. But once you sign up, their onboarding will do two things:

  • Teach you about the most crucial features.
  • Prompt you to unlock more features with Evernote Premium.

“Evernote sends some of the most basic (and useful) onboarding emails I’ve ever seen,” Jimmy Daly says in the case study. “They do blend some behavioral emails into the mix but for the most part, they simply deliver information that every user would find valuable.”

While a lot of the organizations we’ve looked at try to use catchy subject lines to increase opens, Evernote uses subject lines to reinforce people’s expectations. Half the onboarding emails arrive in your inbox with a subject line like this:

List of subject lines showing which of the five tips you received.

Image source: Vero

Each of these emails provides a simple tutorial of a key feature available in the free version of Evernote, with a call to action that links to a blog post about the feature:

The first of five onboarding tips from Evernote.

Image source: Vero

As Jimmy points out, linking these onboarding emails to blog posts does two things:

  1. Helps increase organic traffic to the blog posts.
  2. Provides social proof through the accumulation of comments.

But Evernote’s onboarding campaign isn’t purely a benevolent bestower of tips. Woven throughout the sequence are a couple of promotional emails that encourage free users to upgrade, and some pretty strong hints that it’s really important for people to forward emails to Evernote.

Three emails point users to try this one particular feature:

Email asking users to forward their email to Evernote.

Image source: Vero

“Evernote has likely found that their best users frequently forward emails into their app,” Jimmy says. “It’s an action with a very low barrier to entry and is associated with power users, many of whom are likely premium users.”

When you know what actions people take before they convert, your onboarding campaign is the perfect opportunity to get more people doing those things.

9. Naked Wines: Increased app downloads by turning onboarding into a game

Industry: Wine delivery service
What they did:

  • Sent five emails over 30 days.
  • Asked customers to complete actions in the app.
  • Segmented based on whether people were members of their subscription program.

What happened:

  • Customers who received the onboarding emails were 125% more likely to download the app.

Where the study came from: MarketingSherpa shared this onboarding case study in 2016.

Unlike a lot of the other case studies we’ve looked at, this was an instance where a company previously had no email onboarding at all. Once people signed up for Naked Wines’ $40-per-month subscription, they were left to flounder around on the website and figure everything out on their own.

Naked Wines claimed that subscribers who downloaded the app were 72 percent more likely to remain customers one year later, and that they make purchases more often. They also knew that customers who took specific actions within the app early on were more likely to stick with it. They didn’t share the data that led them here, but they narrowed these key actions to:

  • Setting their preferences.
  • Following a winemaker.
  • Rating the wines they purchased.
  • Rating the app itself.

Getting subscribers to download the app was crucial, but without a welcome series, it wasn’t likely that people would stumble into it. So Naked Wines set up a five-email onboarding sequence, directing new customers to download the app and take the key actions they identified.

Since engaging customers early meant they would make more purchases and remain customers for longer, Naked Wines used a free $20 bottle of wine to incentivize these key actions. As customers progressed through the actions, the website showed them how close they were to earning their free bottle.

Checklist showing progress towards earning a bottle of wine.

Image source: MarketingSherpa

Basically, Naked Wines gamified their wine subscription service. And it seems to have paid off. Customers who received the onboarding campaign were 125 percent more likely to download the app (because someone was actually telling them to do it). And since the subscription is $40 per month, and app users remain subscribers for longer, that free offer pays for itself pretty quick.

10. Sleeknote: 12X’d their onboarding open rates

Industry: Lead capture platform
What they did:

  • Delivers some of Sleeknotes’ most popular blog content, free tools, and education.
  • Segmented leads into four groups based on industry:
    • Ecommerce
    • SAAS
    • Online marketers
    • People “who work for an agency”

What happened:

  • Average click through rates increased from 1 percent to 16 percent.
  • Average open rates improved from 27 percent to 41 percent.

Where the study came from: Sleeknote shared this email onboarding case study on their blog in 2017.

Sleeknote had an onboarding campaign, but it wasn’t doing too hot. Their open rates were above average, but they were pretty disappointed with their 1 percent click through rate.

Tweaking the copy gave the campaign a little bump, but it wasn’t the kind of change they were hoping for.

So they started over.

They redesigned their onboarding flow from the ground up, and prioritized segmentation to make sure they were sending the right content to the right people. The very first email asks people to self-select into a segment (where they’ll be rewarded with a relevant white paper).

Email asking subscribers to select which audience fits them.

Image source: Sleeknote

It’s not perfect, but it certainly gets the job done.

One of the other things Sleeknote is doing really well now is providing multiple onboarding paths based on how people respond to a given email. If they open an email but don’t click through, they’ll be sent down a different path than someone who does—or someone who doesn’t open the email at all.

Since they’ve segmented their list, Sleeknote is far better equipped to provide the most valuable content. Before, opening an email from them was a gamble—will this one be relevant to me? Now, Sleeknote’s onboarding campaign is a prime example of what it looks like to make sure that every email adds value to being on the list.

Instead of just giving away a free tool, they take the opportunity to reinforce their position as subject matter experts:

Email sharing discouraging statistics about how hard it is to calculate ROI, and a free tool to do it for you.

Image source: Sleeknote

Throughout the onboarding sequence, they consistently send lengthy, informative emails (one is practically a novel), and they give, give, give, before they make an ask. If people don’t respond to Sleeknote’s pitch to start a trial, they return to sending emails that add value before making another ask.

It takes some work to write strategic, value-driven emails, but it’s clearly working for Sleeknote. Unhindered by irrelevant emails, their segments are all doing far better than the hodgepodge list they had before.

The SAAS segment is performing absurdly well, with an average open rate of 87.5 percent and an average click through rate of 29.27 percent.

How do you bring new people on board?

Every onboarding campaign is a little different. Your objectives, your audience, your brand, your funnel, and your product can all drastically change what it looks like to take subscribers from Point A to Point B.

You might only need two emails to get the job done. Or you might need 20. Your onboarding campaign may not even need to be what takes potential customers to Point B—it could be that a chatbot, retargeting ads, or free trials ultimately work better for your organization.

If you use onboarding to grow a healthy long-term email list, this could be the introduction to a mutually beneficial relationship that lasts months, or even years. (Never underestimate the value of “dud” leads.)

That said, there are a few things that have come up again and again in these case studies, and they’re worth noting before you set out to optimize your own campaign:

  1. Plan the path with flowcharts before you get into the individual steps.
  2. Create event triggers to send the right message at the right time.
  3. Segment your list to ensure nobody falls through the cracks in your onboarding.
  4. Personalize your emails to help subscribers build a relationship with your brand.
  5. Test multiple versions until you’ve optimized your onboarding. (OK, that one didn’t come up much, but it’s a freebie.)

If you want help exploring what a successful onboarding campaign might look like for your organization, we’d be happy to talk you through it.