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How to send SaaS onboarding emails without being a nag

Most people write their onboarding emails all wrong. The key to onboarding new people in your SaaS app isn’t to nag them in to submission. In this article, you’ll learn going how to write onboarding emails that provide value and that people will appreciate receiving. We’re going to show you how to not be a nag.

A few months ago, Colin addressed how you can use email to improve activation. In that article you learned not communicating with people isn’t helping them, and sending emails is an effective way to boost conversions or move people along who are stuck in your activation funnel. But be careful! Sending emails that nag is even worse for your relationship with customers than doing nothing at all.

Nagging emails irritate your customers. Don’t send them.

Imagine this scenario: you sign up to try a new app. You’re excited to get started, but things come up at work, and soon you get distracted. You get an email the next day saying, “You signed up, but you didn’t do anything. Start using us now!”. You want to, but you have too many other things to do.

Now imagine if you kept getting that same email saying “You didn’t do X, so do it.” Eventually you’d get annoyed, frustrated, even angry. That’s because emails like this are extremely nagging and unpleasant. Like your mother telling you to do your homework over and over again.

What classifies a nagging email?

  • It assumes the recipient already knows the product is worth their time
  • It assumes that since someone signed up for a trial, they’re immediately ready to buy
  • It repeats the same request, over and over.
  • It doesn’t focus on how the reader benefits, only the sender
  • It’s impersonal, cold, and solely concerned with making a sale

Some people might be ready to purchase immediately when they sign up for an account. But many more sign up to try out your product and take a look around before committing. Potential customers want to see how your product will help them solve their problems. Use onboarding emails to explain how you help people achieve their goals, before you try to convince people to buy.

When you’re sending emails to encourage people to use and eventually purchase, it’s worse to nag than to send nothing at all. Nagging emails are annoying, irritating, and not worth anyone’s time. Next I’m going to show you a way to send onboarding emails that don’t nag and will improve your conversions.

Takeaway: Don’t send nagging emails that accuse people of inactivity and tell people to take actions. It will only frustrate and irritate your potential customers. It’s better to send nothing.

Ditch the nagging emails for messages that deliver real value to potential customers

Here are four strategies to help you move away from nagging emails and send messages that actually have something worth saying.

1. Address common questions and objections at that stage in the funnel

With each email you send, put yourself in the recipient’s shoes. Where are they in your activation funnel when they receive your message? Why are they receiving it? How is it going to help them move forward with your product?

Not sure what the common questions are? Start by looking through support tickets for what people write in about.

There are multiple reasons someone may have stopped progressing through your funnel. It could be because of lack of motivation, trouble understanding the product, or a combination of both. Successful onboarding emails explain why they should move forward in the funnel, with a way to get more information about how.

A good example comes from Nimble, who emailed Colin after he signed up but hadn’t made any changes to his account.

Nimble convincing email example onboarding

This email addresses that he hasn’t added any team members to his account, clearly highlights the benefits of doing so, provides more information that might motivate him to add in members, and then gives him the tools to go in and do it.

Emails like this don’t have to be contained to cases of inactivity. Rewarding people for doing something is equally effective. Check out this message from Hackpad:

Hackpad email positive reinforcement onboarding example

A few days after signing up for their product, and only using their basic features, I received this email informing me of more advanced tools I could try. This positive reinforcement encourages me to continue using the app, and to try more advanced features within it. That encouragement might even lead me to make a purchasing decision.

To design a great onboarding experience, think about where people in the funnel might be coming up against roadblocks. Write articles that answer their questions and send them out before people even have to ask. Rather than pushing people to do something, give them the tools to do it themselves, and reasons why they should.

Takeaway: Help your prospective customers by anticipating their needs and addressing common questions at stages in your funnel.

2. Keep educating people about why your product is awesome

When picking new software, people often evaluate multiple tools at once. Educate people about why your product is great at solving their problems, and you’ll show them why they should commit to you over the competition. For example, check out this email from Generator, which highlights features that makes their product stand out:

Generator education highlights email onboarding example

This email clearly states what’s valuable about Generator, and what makes it a good product. In a few simple lines, it demonstrates the advantages of using this service. It also shows that Generator has subscribers’ interests at heart; they’re providing a service to make their product more enjoyable to use, for their customers’ sakes.

Takeaway: You should never stop educating people on how great your product is. Demonstrate your value to potential customers by highlighting the benefits of your product until they buy. Then, continue to educate them to show why purchasing was a good decision.

3. Focus on benefits (not features) of your product

Potential customers need to know what benefits your product will bring to them. Focus on what people will gain by highlighting how using particular features or taking the next step in your funnel will help them solve their problems. For example, check out this resource Gibbon sends out to their email subscribers:

Gibbon email reinforcement benefits onboarding example

This reminds recipients why they signed up in the first place. And if the next step in Gibbon’s funnel is to get people to start a course, then this email clearly demonstrates the benefit of moving forward.

Takeaway: Demonstrate how advancing to the next step of your activation funnel will help your customers access even more unique benefits from your product.

4. Give people a single, clear call to action

When sending an onboarding email, use a single call to action. When people are stuck at a step in your funnel, confusing them with too many choices makes it less likely they’ll pick one. This email from Runkeeper has one single, clear call to action:

Runkeeper single CTA call to action example email

If people want to advance, they’re drawn to that big blue button.

A single CTA can dramatically improve click-through rates. Even in a newsletter, HelpScout managed to boost its click-through rate by 17%, simply by eliminating multiple calls to action. Imagine what a 17% boost in your onboarding email click-throughs would mean.

Choice paralysis is kryptonite for purchasing decisions, as demonstrated in an experiment by Sheena Iyengar. She set up a table selling jams, varying the number of jams in each condition. With only six jams on the table, 40% of people who passed by stopped, compared to 60% who paused at a table with twenty-four jams. However, nearly 30% of the people in the six jam condition made a purchase. Only 3% did at the larger table. Too many choices made it harder for people to make a purchasing decision, leading to less sales overall.

Graph demonstration Sheena Iyengar choice paradox example data

Providing people with too many choices, especially when they’re already stuck in your activation funnel, will only make it harder for them to advance. Give people one way out, and they’re much more likely to follow your direction.

Takeaway: Giving one call to action will eliminate choice paralysis and actually encourage people to advance to the next stage of your activation funnel. Provide a single, clear call to action.

All of these strategies highlight one key point: the secret to not being a nag is by delivering value in every email. Even if the email you’re sending is triggered by someone’s inactivity, or because the person hasn’t done something yet, you want to deliver value and education to help them make informed decisions about advancing into the deeper stages of your service.

When you’re educating people, providing them with answers to their questions, and alerting them to the benefits of using your product, you’re not only helping them. You’re building trust and making your onboarding experience, and by extension your service, stand out from the rest of the crowd. If that doesn’t convince people that you’re worth sticking with, then what will?

Takeaway: The goal of your onboarding emails should be to deliver value to your customers. Do that, and you’ll easily avoid being a nag.

Looking for a smarter way to send onboarding emails? Check out for its anti-nagging capabilities!