Ditch your WELCOME email

Suresh Sambandam

October 8th, 2014 Kissuகிசு  

And, still get 10X conversations with your prospects.

 

Lincoln Murphy is a legend in the SaaS world. He recently put out an email with the subject, “You don’t know me, can I get 30 mins?”. After reading it, I was inspired to write this post.

Sometime during July 2014, we started thinking about the poor use of welcome emails. These are sent by almost all SaaS companies, KiSSFLOW included. We rarely like to do the normal thing here, so we decided to try out an alternative welcome email.

We throttled a few days of our signups through an A/B test, and here are the results from that test:

Email Type # of Email # of Replies % Conv.
Welcome Email 582 16 2.74%
Alternative to Welcome Email 560 131 23.39%

 

Yes, you read it right – we had nearly a 10x jump in email conversations. That’s not just the open rate, it’s the conversations! That means prospects actually replying to us.

So how did we manage to pull this off?

1) We asked ourselves: Do our prospects need welcome emails?

Yes, this is a scary one. We questioned the very purpose of welcome emails. This is a typical example of the famous ‘angry monkey experiment’. Welcome emails have been sent for so long and by pretty much everyone, and yet no one thought about why they need to send the email in the first place. In the SaaS world, I sign up and play with the product. I don’t look into my inbox for a welcome email. In most cases, your prospects either understand your product or they don’t. If they don’t, you’ve pretty much lost them right there. An email titled ‘Welcome …..’ is not going to move that needle. Hence we decided to ditch the welcome email altogether and use that precious slot for something better.

2) The Subject Line

In our case, KiSSFLOW is a workflow/business process management software and often our prospects get mixed up understanding the difference between workflows and task management. We end up spending time with bad leads who are looking for task management solutions. This is just not a problem for us, the service providers – it is a problem for our potential customers who are evaluating the software too.

So, if we can make sure we have the right leads early on, we save ourselves and our potential customers a lot of time. The problem is genuine and our intention is to help the customer; so this is very much an attempt at fair play and not cheating with cheesy opening lines.

So this became our new subject line: 

KiSSFLOW is *not* for everyone!

Our hunch is that the subject line contributed heavily towards high open rates of the emails in the first place, and that led to the improvement in conversation rate.

 

3) Email Body

Let me first show you the actual email content first and then explain the nuances of the same.

===========================================

Hi XYZ,

Thanks for signing up!

Lots of software companies claim they can do anything and everything. We aren’t one of them.

KiSSFLOW is not a jack of all trades. We have mastered one thing: workflows.

Workflows are repetitive processes with predictable tasks involving two or more people. However, some people confuse workflows with task management, which KiSSFLOW doesn’t do as well as other software.

Within five minutes, I can assess if KiSSFLOW is the best fit for the problem you have, saving you lots of time on evaluation. 

I will call you in the next 30 minutes or would you prefer to do this over email?

Cheers,

===================================================

Thoughts:

  • We didn’t use a third party email tool. Our team sent sent a text-only email every 30 minutes using our Google Apps account. This works well for us because most of our customers also use Google Apps. Most SaaS providers automate their welcome emails through a third party tool, but Gmail throws these in the Updates folder. 
  • We didn’t track any open rates. For us, open rates are a vanity metric. The only thing that matters is replies and conversations.
  • To make sure we got to their primary inbox, we avoided HTML. Rather than using bold text, we used the asterisk (*) to highlight a word. 

 

That’s all folks.

P.S: Please feel free to shoot your questions across using the comment section below.

    • Interesting one! Would be also great to figure out if your conversion rate is growing with this approach, because I’m guessing 131 replies x 30′ makes at least 65h you spend in evaluating new clients. I’d read case histories like this all day long 🙂

      • Suresh Sambandam

        Have some more trick in our sleeves not covered in the post. We don’t spend 65hrs. 🙂 !

    • I never even paid attention to the importance of the welcome emails, you just made me understand that I’m probably loosing a lot from my actual clients.
      In my case I’m offering something for free and I try to pitch in with a product to make some extra on the side, I never imagined that a welcome email could be this important!

      Have you tested with a form in the email to try to pitch users or images to your products ?
      Like, hey take a look into our “better-product abc”.

      • Suresh Sambandam

        No! The point is if they have signed up , they have seen our website. And, that is the best place to pitch. Why pitch in the 1st email. 🙂 ! It’s too late anyway.

    • Good post.

      Would to quibble with one point you made. Open rate is not a vanity metric, it’s a diagnostic. If your conversion rate is low, then you can use the open rate to *diagnose* where the problem may be — is the email not getting opened at all, or is it getting opened but not responded to?

      • Suresh Sambandam

        David,

        You are right. Will concede that one! 🙂 ! Sometimes, we are so pissed off with email marketing metrics and blinds us situations where it might be useful.

        Thanks,
        Suresh

        • You can also track open rates right in gmail if you use a freemium tool

          It’ll give you the information you need without effecting the user experience of your new customer, or diverting your email away from the main inbox.

          • Suresh,

            Great post and I agree with David Joerg that Open rate is not vanity metric but a diagnostic metric.

            You got me thinking that the welcome email should not be a welcome email after all because by the time the user sees it they have already exited your app.

            I think it makes sense to think of it as a follow-up email and communicate from that angle.

            Cheers,
            Kiran K.

          • Bryce,

            Parallelo (http://bit.ly/1z42qSm) is one such freemium tool. Doesn’t reside in Gmail but integrates well with it. It brings a ‘pipeline’ view to email opens, doc opens, and call-requests.

            I co-created Parallelo.
            Thanks.

        • Suresh,

          Great post and I agree with David Joerg that Open rate is not vanity metric but a diagnostic metric.

          You got me thinking that the welcome email should not be a welcome email after all because by the time the user sees it they have already exited your app.

          I think it makes sense to think of it as a follow-up email and communicate from that angle.

          Cheers,
          Kiran K.

          • Steven

            I was racking my brain trying to find a suitable welcome email template. I decided I didn’t need. Just simple intro to product and description etc. You have verified my thought in welcome email thank you this is a wonderful post.

    • Great post Suresh! We’re running an eCommerce platform over at Paddle.com and I’m constantly trying to refine that initial “welcome” email, but this approach does seem worth a shot.

      The subject line is sure to throw most people off guard since it isn’t expected, and the main body is the same. Will be interesting to see how that works out!

    • Question: does your team actually call them after 30minutes?
      I can see how that phrase will push people to actually reply to your email (“holy crap I don’t want to talk to a human about this” *click reply*). I’m just wondering if that’s a hollow threat or if you guys actually call.
      I also really like how you establish credibility by conceding that you DON’T do everything well, just workflow.
      Well done!

    • Suresh Sambandam

      @Craig,

      Thanks for your compliment. Credit goes to @Kau in our team. Yes, we do call not necesarily in 30mins may be few hours and sometimes even next day.

      Suresh

    • Can I use your case study (with credit) for my new blog? It’s targeted to nonprofits/SMBs. Also, can I send you referrals? I think some of them may be interested in workflow mgmt. I can email you a draft for review.

      • Suresh Sambandam

        Sure Neesha send me a mail to suresh at kissflow dot com.

    • Thanks guys – this was a super helpful post and makes a really strong case to move away from Mailchimp for purposes like these.

      I have a specific question about implementation on this. Suresh, do you mind if I contact you direct?

    • Love this approach — I’m already talking with our team to see if we can implement some changes inspired by this post.

      On the plain-text v.s. html-email front, there was a good post on this over on Medium earlier this year: http://l00p.co/MOVROA. 22% improvement in response rate for plain-text emails over HTML/”pretty” emails!

    • Awesome post!
      Love that you guys get on the phone and call new signups – think this is still so underutilized in the startup world. That’s why I wrote about the call every signup within 5 minutes rule 🙂

    • Avery

      Interesting post.
      Makes me want to move in a different direction with our own email campaign.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Very interesting article.
      I was thinking of replacing our welcome email, since it is a bit generic and not very personalized.
      Iv’e tried some more personalized emails in our email marketing flow lately, without any html, and they got better stats (open rate and engagement).
      Thanks for the article 🙂

    • Whoever wrote the body of the email did a super job. I really *really* like the advice here. Thanks for this!

    • Nice post. This was the first article I read form the growth hacker community after they sent me a welcome email. The irony.

    • Great post. Our own experience mirrors yours. I found that once we ditched our fancy looking HTML email template for a more personalized 2-3 line “anything we can do to help” type of welcome email, our engagement went through the rook.

      Whereas the older fancier email looked way better, it got zero responses, the simpler personal one actually gets a really high response rate.

    • I love this because of two things you’ve done:
      1.) Really examined a part of marketing (welcome email) and made it better, rather than just doing what everybody else does.
      2.) You actually helped customers solve a problem. Customers are always trying to find ways of solving their problems, and you made a huge leap by offering your genuine assistance, rather than just trying to force them to buy your product. In my eyes a satisfied customer is worth more than 5 that feel cheated after using your service for a while and founding out it’s not what they need.

      Great job. I’m going to share your article now:P

    • Dan

      Interesting take on things. If it’s worked for your customers, then great, but I would question if it’s the right move for everyone. A few interesting things that came to mind when reading this:

      – The changes you made has obviously worked well for you, so well done on that, but I find the tone of that email incredibly aggressive and I would wonder of your “%Conv.” stat are people replying because they’re panicking that you’re going to call them in 30 minutes. The aggressiveness of that email would make me fear what the sales call would be like? If I got this email, it would make me want to unsubscribe in a heartbeat.

      – Seems a little odd that you’ve humble-bragged about not using HTML, but then added all that pseudo-markdown characters. It makes the email really messy and almost misses the point of a plain-text email in the first place. Just because your email is HTML, that doesn’t mean it has to be ugly and gaudy. I would suggest that if you continue to use this email, you need to ease off the markdown. Plus, if you’re going to use an interrobang, use an actual interrobang or decide on whether it’s “?!” or “!?” because it looks pretty messy.

      – Open rates are, imho, still a very important metric worth tracking. It doesn’t tell a whole story, but I think you’re really missing the whole picture by excluding it. I think it would be a fools errand to base the success of a campaign on these three figures alone.

      – I think a subject line of “KiSSFLOW is *not* for everyone!” is a little too dismissive. I get that you’re probably trying to create a sense of “the cool group” by saying it’s not for everyone, however I think that this is where your landing page is vital: if you can’t explain to someone what your tool is in a way that convinces them that they need it, then you need to rethink your offering, and I doubt a pushy sales call is going to convince me.

      I’d be interested see what your original welcome email said, and be keen to see what further A/B testing would show with perhaps a less aggressively worded email. I’d also be curious to see more stats than just what you’ve put here (unsubscribe rate, for example).

      However, despite my unintended negativity, I also appreciate it when companies really put some actual thought into their lifecycle emails, so well done.

    • Interesting…you actually sent an email as if you were a friend of your recipient and not a company.

    • Trevor

      In my opinion that’s a poorly-written email. It opens ambiguously – “lots of softwares say we can do anything” – what does that even mean? Softwares? It does not have a plural form, at least not in common usage. Who is we? Where is the focus? The hook? It’s a waste of an opening line. You’ve failed to frame your customer’s problem and the reason they subscribed in the first place.

      “We have mastered one thing really well: *workflows*.” – this is redundant. If you’ve mastered something, it’s implied that you do it really well. For example, if I said “I have mastered the violin, and I play it really well” you’d think I was taking too many painkillers or emulating Rain Man.

      I could go on but won’t. You’ve taken an interesting technical approach (text-only, no-ESP). But have sent a disjointed and grammatically dubious message.

      • Neil Miller

        Hey Trevor, thanks for the honest evaluation. I think we both agree that the approach is unique.

        As for the grammar, you are spot on. Recently, we updated this email to bring it to higher standards, but we forgot to update this post. Thanks for catching that! What do you think of this version? I actually tweaked it a bit based on some of your thoughts.

        10 minutes to Wapner. Gotta go.