How to make PLG onboarding emails that drive activation

7 examples of great onboarding emails for PLG and how to power them with product data.

Fred Melanson

April 20, 2023
·
4
 min read

The success of product-led companies largely depends on their ability to onboard new users effectively. 

Unfortunately, many PLG organizations stick to the old-fashioned method of onboarding, which consists of a time-based sequence of sending a few emails over a short period. 

This approach sucks. Don’t believe me? One huge PLG company (that I won’t name) had a bug in their system last year. 

The bug made it so that no onboarding emails were sent to new users. 

Result: nothing… 

No impact on activation rates, at all! 

In a recent interview with Rev-Ops Co-Op, my colleague Stephen Moock laid out the most burning PLG trends for 2023, with one key opportunity for improvement being the need for marketing to change how they think about onboarding users. 

In this article, we'll explore the problems with traditional time-based onboarding sequences and introduce how you can use product usage data to craft onboarding sequences that: 

✅ Actually help your users become successful

✅ Increases activation

✅ Brings users closer to your brand, thus decreasing churn risk 

Time to put your generic onboarding sequences aside

They suck and users ignore them. 

Traditional time-based onboarding sequences typically involve sending new users a series of emails over a fixed number of days. 

While this approach may seem simple and straightforward, it has significant drawbacks:

Lack of personalization

Time-based onboarding emails often fail to address the unique needs and preferences of individual users, which can result in disengagement and lower conversion rates.

Inadequate engagement

Since these emails are sent on a fixed schedule, users who progress more quickly or slowly through the onboarding process may not receive relevant information at the right time, leading to confusion and frustration.

Appeal to everyone = appeal to no one

Time-based onboarding emails assume that all users have the same level of familiarity with your product and require the same information, which is rarely true. 

This can result in irrelevant content that doesn't resonate with your audience.

What makes a great PLG onboarding email

Before we get into how to use product data to superpower your email cadence and PLG strategy, let’s start with the basics, shall we?

Great onboarding emails have the following ⤵️

  1. Clear subject line: A great onboarding email starts with an attention-grabbing subject line. Ensure that it's concise, informative, and clearly communicates the value the email offers to your new user.
  2. Keep it simple: Keep your email content easy to digest by using short sentences and breaking up large blocks of text. This approach enhances readability and increases the likelihood that users will absorb the key points you're trying to convey.
Tweet from Tro Osinoff on emails
  1. One goal per email: To avoid overwhelming your users, focus on just one goal or objective per email. Whether getting them to complete a specific action or introducing a particular feature, maintaining a single focus ensures that your message is clear and effective.
Graph about reply rates from Lavender.ai
  1. Human as the sender: Instead of using a generic "no-reply" email address, consider sending your onboarding emails from a real person, such as a sales representative or customer success manager. This helps humanize your brand, making your users more likely to engage with your content.
  2. Relevance to user's product behavior: Your onboarding emails should align with the user's current stage in their product journey. By addressing the user's immediate needs and concerns, you can make your emails more relevant and valuable.
  3. About them, not you: Onboarding emails are not about showcasing what you have to offer, they’re about understanding where users are coming from and what can be communicated to help them. 
Email illustration from Kevin MLZ
  1. Show > Tell: Use screenshots, product gifs, and videos to show not just tell what you're asking them to achieve.
  2. Leveraging product data: More on this below ⬇️

Whether you get fancy or not, simply incorporating these elements into your PLG onboarding emails will do wonders for your user experience. 

Remember: the key to successful onboarding lies in personalization, relevance, and a genuine understanding of your user's needs throughout their product journey.

Best user onboarding emails for PLG

A well-crafted onboarding sequence can greatly impact the user experience and help new users get the most out of your product. Here are some types of emails to consider including in your onboarding sequence:

Welcome email

This email sets the tone for your relationship with the new user. It should thank them for signing up, provide an overview of your product, and offer clear guidance on the next steps for them to gain value from your product.

Welcome email from Clay

Product education email

These emails introduce new users to key features and functionalities of your product. Break down complex concepts into simple, easy-to-understand steps, and consider using visuals or linking to video tutorials for better engagement.

Onboarding email from Loom

Milestone or achievement email

Celebrate your users' accomplishments by acknowledging when they've completed essential tasks or reached specific milestones within your product. This encourages continued engagement and creates a positive user experience.

Onboarding email from OpinionX

Check-in or feedback

Based on what they’ve done with your product, check in with new users to gauge their progress, address any questions or concerns, and collect feedback on their experience. This helps identify potential roadblocks and demonstrates that you value their opinions.

Contextual onboarding email from Josh @Hugo

Personalized recommendations

Leverage user data to provide personalized recommendations for additional features or content that may be relevant to their specific needs. This fosters a deeper connection with your product and encourages further exploration.

Onboarding email from Userpilot

Case studies and success stories

Share real-life examples of how other users or businesses have successfully used your product to achieve their goals. Make sure these successes are related to how that user is using your product, their role, use case, etc. This helps to inspire and motivate new users while showcasing that you understand them.

Helpful email from Asana during onboarding

Invitations to webinars or events

Based on a recent feature they just activated or poked around in but perhaps dropped off, invite new users to participate in webinars, training sessions, or other events that can further enhance their understanding of your product and its benefits. 

Webinar invite email from OpinionX

Ready to level up? 

Step 1: Fire emails with product usage data

This means that you trigger messages off users’ adoption of your product. 

Why is it powerful? 

It allows you to: 

  1. Personalize onboarding: By sending emails based on user activity, you can tailor your onboarding process to each individual, addressing their specific needs and interests.
  2. Optimize engagement: Product activity-based onboarding emails are sent in response to user actions, ensuring that users receive relevant information at the right time, improving engagement and overall satisfaction.
  3. Accelerate onboarding: This approach typically requires fewer emails than time-based sequences, resulting in a more efficient onboarding process and faster adoption of your product.

How? 

Platforms like Customer.io allow you to build cadences off product usage data coming from either a customer data platform (CDP) or warehouse. 

Workflow builder in Customer.io

Step 2: Branch users by firmographics for enhanced personalization

On top of firing emails off product usage data, layer in firmographics like: 

  • Industry, 
  • Company size, 
  • Title
  • Location
  • Etc.

Why?

First, each industry has unique challenges and requirements. By tailoring to specific industry pain points, you're speaking directly to the user's needs, making your content more relatable.

Second, large enterprises have more complex structures and different needs. Adapting your emails to match the user's company size lets you resonate with their context.

Third, users from various departments have different objectives for your product. Branching by  role helps you share personalized onboarding content focused on use cases for their position.

Illustration showing how a user might not care about the same features as a manager

Fourth (and by far most important), firmographics influence which product signals should be tracked to fire onboarding emails. 

Let’s say we’re Asana, here’s an example: You may want to wait until end-users complete 25 tasks before you send a help doc about Projects, yet send the same email after only 1 task is completed if the user’s a decision-maker!  

Step 3: Qualified users should be out of onboarding campaigns and passed to sales

With some users, you’re wasting your time with onboarding cadences. Or at least leaving money on the table. 

Who are those users? Product-qualified leads or top users at product-qualified accounts? 

With a Product-Led Sales platform like Calixa, PQLs and PQAs are surfaced automatically and sent to sales.  

What's key here is that sales is made aware of qualified users exiting onboarding. Reps should focus on providing personalized onboarding, and picking up where the emails left off instead of just trying to sell them. 

Product Qualified Accounts in Calixa

Went that happens, top PLG companies have their reps run playbooks to either drive users to success or convert them faster on a paid plan. 

Example of a free-to-paid conversion playbook

Read this to find examples of manual emails sent to qualified leads by sales. 

Marketing’s job doesn’t stop at onboarding

💡 In a product-led growth (PLG) motion, the marketing team's responsibility extends far beyond the onboarding process.

One of the most critical reasons is maximizing LTV. When you continue to engage with and nurture users after onboarding, you can drive more revenue from each user through upsells or expansions.

Besides, nurturing helps enhance product adoption. By educating users about advanced features and use cases, you ensure they continue exploring your product and getting the most value from it.

Well-nurtured users are more likely to become brand advocates. They'll promote your product within their networks, contributing to organic growth and word-of-mouth marketing.

Keep in mind that PLG thrives on cross-functional collaboration between marketing, sales, product, and customer success teams. Nurturing shouldn't just be through email. It should carry over to the other parts of the user experience (website, email, slack, in-product, etc). Your ongoing nurturing efforts contribute to a seamless and cohesive user experience throughout the entire customer journey.

Putting It All Together: Creating a Powerful Onboarding Process for Product-Led Companies

To create an effective and personalized product-led onboarding process for your product-led company, consider:

✅ Transitioning from time-based onboarding sequences to product activity-based onboarding emails. This approach ensures that users receive relevant information at the right time, resulting in increased engagement and satisfaction.

✅ Branching users by firmographics to provide a more tailored product-led onboarding

✅ Tracking where in your product-led onboarding users should exit self-serve campaigns and be passed on to sales. 

✌️

Ready to see a product-led sales motion in action?
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How to make PLG onboarding emails that drive activation

7 examples of great onboarding emails for PLG and how to power them with product data.

Fred Melanson
|
Head of Content
|
Calixa
High Intent Logo

Your PLG roundup in 5 minutes.

April 20, 2023
ReadTime

The success of product-led companies largely depends on their ability to onboard new users effectively. 

Unfortunately, many PLG organizations stick to the old-fashioned method of onboarding, which consists of a time-based sequence of sending a few emails over a short period. 

This approach sucks. Don’t believe me? One huge PLG company (that I won’t name) had a bug in their system last year. 

The bug made it so that no onboarding emails were sent to new users. 

Result: nothing… 

No impact on activation rates, at all! 

In a recent interview with Rev-Ops Co-Op, my colleague Stephen Moock laid out the most burning PLG trends for 2023, with one key opportunity for improvement being the need for marketing to change how they think about onboarding users. 

In this article, we'll explore the problems with traditional time-based onboarding sequences and introduce how you can use product usage data to craft onboarding sequences that: 

✅ Actually help your users become successful

✅ Increases activation

✅ Brings users closer to your brand, thus decreasing churn risk 

Time to put your generic onboarding sequences aside

They suck and users ignore them. 

Traditional time-based onboarding sequences typically involve sending new users a series of emails over a fixed number of days. 

While this approach may seem simple and straightforward, it has significant drawbacks:

Lack of personalization

Time-based onboarding emails often fail to address the unique needs and preferences of individual users, which can result in disengagement and lower conversion rates.

Inadequate engagement

Since these emails are sent on a fixed schedule, users who progress more quickly or slowly through the onboarding process may not receive relevant information at the right time, leading to confusion and frustration.

Appeal to everyone = appeal to no one

Time-based onboarding emails assume that all users have the same level of familiarity with your product and require the same information, which is rarely true. 

This can result in irrelevant content that doesn't resonate with your audience.

What makes a great PLG onboarding email

Before we get into how to use product data to superpower your email cadence and PLG strategy, let’s start with the basics, shall we?

Great onboarding emails have the following ⤵️

  1. Clear subject line: A great onboarding email starts with an attention-grabbing subject line. Ensure that it's concise, informative, and clearly communicates the value the email offers to your new user.
  2. Keep it simple: Keep your email content easy to digest by using short sentences and breaking up large blocks of text. This approach enhances readability and increases the likelihood that users will absorb the key points you're trying to convey.
Tweet from Tro Osinoff on emails
  1. One goal per email: To avoid overwhelming your users, focus on just one goal or objective per email. Whether getting them to complete a specific action or introducing a particular feature, maintaining a single focus ensures that your message is clear and effective.
Graph about reply rates from Lavender.ai
  1. Human as the sender: Instead of using a generic "no-reply" email address, consider sending your onboarding emails from a real person, such as a sales representative or customer success manager. This helps humanize your brand, making your users more likely to engage with your content.
  2. Relevance to user's product behavior: Your onboarding emails should align with the user's current stage in their product journey. By addressing the user's immediate needs and concerns, you can make your emails more relevant and valuable.
  3. About them, not you: Onboarding emails are not about showcasing what you have to offer, they’re about understanding where users are coming from and what can be communicated to help them. 
Email illustration from Kevin MLZ
  1. Show > Tell: Use screenshots, product gifs, and videos to show not just tell what you're asking them to achieve.
  2. Leveraging product data: More on this below ⬇️

Whether you get fancy or not, simply incorporating these elements into your PLG onboarding emails will do wonders for your user experience. 

Remember: the key to successful onboarding lies in personalization, relevance, and a genuine understanding of your user's needs throughout their product journey.

Best user onboarding emails for PLG

A well-crafted onboarding sequence can greatly impact the user experience and help new users get the most out of your product. Here are some types of emails to consider including in your onboarding sequence:

Welcome email

This email sets the tone for your relationship with the new user. It should thank them for signing up, provide an overview of your product, and offer clear guidance on the next steps for them to gain value from your product.

Welcome email from Clay

Product education email

These emails introduce new users to key features and functionalities of your product. Break down complex concepts into simple, easy-to-understand steps, and consider using visuals or linking to video tutorials for better engagement.

Onboarding email from Loom

Milestone or achievement email

Celebrate your users' accomplishments by acknowledging when they've completed essential tasks or reached specific milestones within your product. This encourages continued engagement and creates a positive user experience.

Onboarding email from OpinionX

Check-in or feedback

Based on what they’ve done with your product, check in with new users to gauge their progress, address any questions or concerns, and collect feedback on their experience. This helps identify potential roadblocks and demonstrates that you value their opinions.

Contextual onboarding email from Josh @Hugo

Personalized recommendations

Leverage user data to provide personalized recommendations for additional features or content that may be relevant to their specific needs. This fosters a deeper connection with your product and encourages further exploration.

Onboarding email from Userpilot

Case studies and success stories

Share real-life examples of how other users or businesses have successfully used your product to achieve their goals. Make sure these successes are related to how that user is using your product, their role, use case, etc. This helps to inspire and motivate new users while showcasing that you understand them.

Helpful email from Asana during onboarding

Invitations to webinars or events

Based on a recent feature they just activated or poked around in but perhaps dropped off, invite new users to participate in webinars, training sessions, or other events that can further enhance their understanding of your product and its benefits. 

Webinar invite email from OpinionX

Ready to level up? 

Step 1: Fire emails with product usage data

This means that you trigger messages off users’ adoption of your product. 

Why is it powerful? 

It allows you to: 

  1. Personalize onboarding: By sending emails based on user activity, you can tailor your onboarding process to each individual, addressing their specific needs and interests.
  2. Optimize engagement: Product activity-based onboarding emails are sent in response to user actions, ensuring that users receive relevant information at the right time, improving engagement and overall satisfaction.
  3. Accelerate onboarding: This approach typically requires fewer emails than time-based sequences, resulting in a more efficient onboarding process and faster adoption of your product.

How? 

Platforms like Customer.io allow you to build cadences off product usage data coming from either a customer data platform (CDP) or warehouse. 

Workflow builder in Customer.io

Step 2: Branch users by firmographics for enhanced personalization

On top of firing emails off product usage data, layer in firmographics like: 

  • Industry, 
  • Company size, 
  • Title
  • Location
  • Etc.

Why?

First, each industry has unique challenges and requirements. By tailoring to specific industry pain points, you're speaking directly to the user's needs, making your content more relatable.

Second, large enterprises have more complex structures and different needs. Adapting your emails to match the user's company size lets you resonate with their context.

Third, users from various departments have different objectives for your product. Branching by  role helps you share personalized onboarding content focused on use cases for their position.

Illustration showing how a user might not care about the same features as a manager

Fourth (and by far most important), firmographics influence which product signals should be tracked to fire onboarding emails. 

Let’s say we’re Asana, here’s an example: You may want to wait until end-users complete 25 tasks before you send a help doc about Projects, yet send the same email after only 1 task is completed if the user’s a decision-maker!  

Step 3: Qualified users should be out of onboarding campaigns and passed to sales

With some users, you’re wasting your time with onboarding cadences. Or at least leaving money on the table. 

Who are those users? Product-qualified leads or top users at product-qualified accounts? 

With a Product-Led Sales platform like Calixa, PQLs and PQAs are surfaced automatically and sent to sales.  

What's key here is that sales is made aware of qualified users exiting onboarding. Reps should focus on providing personalized onboarding, and picking up where the emails left off instead of just trying to sell them. 

Product Qualified Accounts in Calixa

Went that happens, top PLG companies have their reps run playbooks to either drive users to success or convert them faster on a paid plan. 

Example of a free-to-paid conversion playbook

Read this to find examples of manual emails sent to qualified leads by sales. 

Marketing’s job doesn’t stop at onboarding

💡 In a product-led growth (PLG) motion, the marketing team's responsibility extends far beyond the onboarding process.

One of the most critical reasons is maximizing LTV. When you continue to engage with and nurture users after onboarding, you can drive more revenue from each user through upsells or expansions.

Besides, nurturing helps enhance product adoption. By educating users about advanced features and use cases, you ensure they continue exploring your product and getting the most value from it.

Well-nurtured users are more likely to become brand advocates. They'll promote your product within their networks, contributing to organic growth and word-of-mouth marketing.

Keep in mind that PLG thrives on cross-functional collaboration between marketing, sales, product, and customer success teams. Nurturing shouldn't just be through email. It should carry over to the other parts of the user experience (website, email, slack, in-product, etc). Your ongoing nurturing efforts contribute to a seamless and cohesive user experience throughout the entire customer journey.

Putting It All Together: Creating a Powerful Onboarding Process for Product-Led Companies

To create an effective and personalized product-led onboarding process for your product-led company, consider:

✅ Transitioning from time-based onboarding sequences to product activity-based onboarding emails. This approach ensures that users receive relevant information at the right time, resulting in increased engagement and satisfaction.

✅ Branching users by firmographics to provide a more tailored product-led onboarding

✅ Tracking where in your product-led onboarding users should exit self-serve campaigns and be passed on to sales. 

✌️

Fred Melanson

Head of Content

,

Calixa

Fred is a passionate generalist in the Product-Led GTM space, with experience in content creation, marketing strategy & sales. His LinkedIn has over 1M views every year and his Vlogs have hundreds of thousands of views. He runs the High Intent newsletter, read by hundreds of GTM leaders.

LinkedIn