The following is a guest post from fnBlog Contributor Michael Fern, Co-Founder/CEO of Intigi, Inc. This post, originally posted on the intigi instant payday loanslog.intigi.com/”>blog, provides startup founders advice on lifecycle emails.
“Even the dumbest possible implementation of [lifecycle emails] prints money in my experience” – Patrick McKenzie
Lifecycle emails (sometimes referred to as “drip marketing” or “email marketing automation”) are a progression of emails that you send to potential customers to increase their engagement with your offering and, in turn, increase conversion rates.
Align Lifecycle Emails to User Maturity
The current best practice is to align lifecycle emails to a “user maturity model.” A user maturity model is an understanding of how a new user progresses through your application until they have an account that is fully setup. For example, LinkedIn’s user maturity model includes the following seven steps (e.g., your industry and location, an up-to-date current position, two past positions):
The idea is that if users fully setup their account in an application, they will gain more value from that application (e.g., in the case of LinkedIn, “40 times more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn”) and thus are more likely to convert and continue as engaged customers.
You can promote user maturity by sending emails (and/or in-application notifications) that are triggered by events (or non-events) that take place in your application. For instance, in the case of LinkedIn, you might receive an email from LinkedIn that suggests you add “a profile photo” (e.g., if you’ve added “your skills” but not a photo).
Setting up lifecycle emails based on user maturity is simple in theory but complex in practice. The complexity arises from two issues. First, you must have a relatively firm grasp on a user maturity model for your business. This takes the right mindset and time to develop. Second, baking the maturity model and proper triggers into your application and email platform is technically complex if you’re not a programmer. Sure, you can turn to marketing automation software such as Marketo and Eloqua, but be prepared for enterprise sales and pricing (e.g., Eloqua starts at $2,000/month).
Quick and Dirty, but Effective
If you’re a startup or small business, and don’t have the time or financial resources to go all in on lifecycle emails, don’t dispair. There’s a much simpler and cost effective approach that provides significant value, at least until your ready to implement a more sophisticated approach.
The quick and dirty solution, which existed well before marketing automation became in vogue, is to send lifecycle emails based on the time elapsed since you captured a user’s email address. For instance, as soon as a user signs up, you might send a welcome email and a link to support documentation. The next day, you could share some best practices on using your particular product. A week after signup, you could send users another email asking if they have any questions or feedback.
Sure, this approach isn’t perfect. For instance, what if a user is fully engaged with your application right from the start and you then send them a series of emails that provide little or no value. Nevertheless, the benefits definitely outweigh the downsides, especially when you consider the alternative: users signup for your service and then never hear from your company again.
At Intigi, we’ve been sending out three simple lifecycle emails. The first email, which we send out about 24 hours after signup, reads as follows (“Welcome to Intigi”):
Email, day 1: “Welcome to Intigi”
Did I really want every new potential customer to email me back with an answer to this question? Yes, because as an early stage company we wanted to maximize our learning by hearing from and speaking with as many potential customers as possible. Did we receive many responses to this email? We’ve received hundreds of responses. And yes, I personally read and responded to every email!
We then send another email about a week later that reads as follows:
Email, day 7: “Reaching Out”
You’ll notice this email asks users if they need support to setup their account, encourages users to share content so they’ll gain more value from our application, and requests feedback so we can continue improving our product. While the response rate to this email was definitely lower than that of the first, we still received a number of questions and requests from potential customers.
We send a final email to users one day after their trial expired, which reads as follows:
Email, day 15: “Your Intigi Trial has Expired”
I send this final email manually, since we do not have the proper triggers and rules setup in Intigi and our email platform (I did say this was quick and dirty, right?). The response rate to this last email was lower than that of the first two, but we still received regular responses with requests for trial extensions and/or feedback.
For the first two automated emails, we used the Autoresponder functionality in MailChimp. I highly recommend MailChimp. Note, for this to work, we needed to automatically add all new user signups to our MailChimp list via API. For the third email, “Your Intigi Trial has Expired,” I just used my email client.
I’m not claiming to be an expert on lifecycle emails, and there were definitely some challenges with our approach. For example, a user would receive the second email, “Reaching Out,” even if they already shared significant content via Intigi or provided feedback to our team. Furthermore, the third email, “Your Intigi Trial has Expired,” requires a lot of manual work. The timing on this last email is also somewhat problematic since I bulk process these emails about once a week.
Despite these problems, we learned a great deal from potential customers by hearing their feedback via email. We were also able to help many customers with their product questions. These emails also improved engagement and increased our conversion rates.
So that’s been our approach with lifecycle emails. It’s not “state-of-the-art,” but it was very quick to setup and provided significant value to our users and our company. I can’t overemphasize the importance of “quick to setup” when you’re working with a small team and you want to focus any engineering time on building out your core product.
We’re now working on upgrading our lifecycle emails and will launch our new and improved approach in the next several days. This new approach will move us a bit closer to aligning our lifecycle emails with user maturity.
Here are some additional resources on designing and implementing lifecycle emails:
- Intro to Lifecycle Emails – guest post by Patrick McKenzie
- Lifecycle Of An Email Subscriber: What To Send When
- Savvy Software Companies Make Great Use of Email
- Also, you should check out these two startups in this space: customers.io and intercom.io
I’d love to hear your tips and experience about lifecycle emails in the comments below.
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Want to learn more about @intigi? Connect with Michael on Twitter @mjfern