How to Use Email to Improve Your Onboarding Activation Rate (📈 MTN #21)

Move The Needle Oct 10, 2023 8 minutes read

Table of contents

    In this edition

    • 📊 YouTube Benchmarks for B2B
    • 💡 Growing a YouTube channel for your brand
    • 📈 Using email to increase activations during onboarding

    📊 Featured Benchmark Data (from Benchmark Groups)

    YouTube Benchmarks for B2B

    Median performance for September, 2023:

    • Views: 899
    • Watch Time: 1d, 4h
    • Subscribers Gained: 7
    • Avg View Duration: 1m, 16s

    Are your sales, traffic, or ad costs good compared to other companies in your industry? Search hundreds of benchmarks and find out in seconds.


    💡 Trends & Insights (from Reports & Surveys)

    Why you should think about growing a YouTube channel for your company

    In my opinion, YouTube is one of the most untapped marketing channels in B2B. It combines the organic reach of SEO, with the high-value thought leadership content you’d typically publish on your social or blog.

    Take Ahrefs, the popular SEO tool, for example. They put together a series of videos teaching viewers how to do great keyword research, and naturally, used their tool when it came time to show some real-world examples.  Their top 2 videos on the topic got over 500k views combined. And their “SEO for Beginners” video has gotten over 2 million views to date.

    When it comes time for viewers to purchase a tool to help them execute the strategies they learned in those videos, Ahrefs will naturally make the top of the list.

    (By the way, if you’re curious to learn more about their YouTube strategy, check out my interview with Sam Oh (VP Marketing) here)

    As it relates to you, your target audience is using YouTube for two reasons:

    1) to learn more about your category/market (e.g. how to do SEO), and…

    2) to learn how your product works (e.g. watch a demo or tutorial video)

    In other words, if I’m Ahrefs, I probably want to create two types of videos – broadly speaking: thought leadership, where I’m educating viewers on my category (keyword research, how to do internal linking, how search crawlers work), and product education (how to use Ahefs, how a specific features works, etc).

    By publishing high-quality content for both of those categories, you have a great opportunity to build trust and awareness for your product, while simultaneously reducing strain on your customer support team (especially if you’re a product-led growth company).

    According to our benchmark data, the average number of B2B YouTube channel views in July 2023 was 1.49k, which is more than many B2B blogs get. And keep it mind, this is the average. Companies who invest in YouTube more heavily (like Superside) have been able to far exceed this, racking up hundreds of thousands of views.

    While social platforms throttle companies’ organic reach and SEO remains incredibly competitive, YouTube seems like a unique opportunity to reach your target audience. So if the opportunity is so great, why aren’t more companies investing here?

    The bar is high. In order for your videos to get seen and recommended, they have to be great.

    This usually requires a subject-matter expert on camera and relatively high production value. For example, Ahrefs has their VP of Marketing and CMO creating these videos, both of whom are incredible subject matter experts in the category. If your company isn’t willing to invest like that, you might have trouble creating content that gets seen.

    Besides that, you need to produce at least semi-regularly, for some time. Amrita Mathur, the former VP of Marketing at Superside (and now at ClickUp) told me she planned to commit 1 year to building their YouTube channel before measuring business impact. For them, the commitment and bet paid off, but they went in with a long-haul mindset. Many companies aren’t willing to make the investment for so long without seeing results. 

    But if you can pull it off, the payoff can be immense. In a recent article, we surveyed B2B companies to learn how they’re using YouTube for their B2B company and to get insights on how to grow.

    Here are a few takeaways:

    • Over 60% have been using YouTube for 5+ years
    • 37% use it for educational/thought leadership content, while 45% use it to showcase their product
    • 55% said that it’s product tutorials or demos that drive most of their views
    • The top 3 YouTube growth strategies cited were: 1) YouTube SEO (68%), 2) posting new videos regularly (65%), and 3) sharing videos across other platforms (59%)

    📈 Drive Predictable Performance (from Metrics & Chill)

    How to use email to improve user activation during onboarding

    If your company is a product, chances are you’re trying to “activate” new customers who sign up. You want to get them to take an action that strongly indicates they’ve experienced value and realized how your product can help them solve their problem (AKA the “aha! moment”).

    To get users to that moment, most companies rely on email. And for good reason, it’s one of the best tools you have to onboard new customers. I recently chatted with Casey Hill (Sr. Growth Manager at ActiveCampaign), to learn 6 tips for using email to improve customer activations.

    Tip 1: Limit your send frequency, and calls to action

    Casey has found the sweet spot is 3-4 contact points (not counting transactional emails, like email verification) in the first 2 weeks of onboarding. More frequent contact than this seems to be correlated with negative inflection.

    I’ve experienced this myself with many products that just bombard you with messaging after you sign up. Over time, their emails just become white noise that get ignored or end up in spam.

    Besides limiting the number of emails you send during the first two weeks, you should also limit the number of CTAs (calls to action) you give users. Casey recommends limiting it to 1, maybe 2 CTAs per email.

    It might be tempting to tread onboarding emails like a help doc, sharing a list of instructions or helpful links for readers. But in reality, users don’t treat email that way. They’re not coming back to a pinned email to take the next step, as though they’re reading a recipe. Casey finds they often take the first step in a list of instructions and then go browsing in the product or don’t return to the email.

    So choose a single action you want users to take in each email.

    Tip 2: Personalize your onboarding

    Another way to drive activations is to personalize the steps you want users to take.

    For example, if you want them to create a dashboard, you might include a case study from a company in their industry or a customer with the same role, who created a dashboard to achieve a big result.

    Of course, this might mean collecting data you’re not currently collecting, like the user’s industry, job title, or use case. Casey finds many companies are hesitant to do this since they’re understandably concerned about adding friction to the onboarding experience. 

    But if you can find a way to do it, you’ll unlock a lot of opportunities to make the activation more personal and relevant for the reader.

    Tip 3: Reform content (don’t add it).

    If you find you need to add personalized emails, make sure you reform the existing flow and follow the first rule (no more than 4 messages in 2 weeks). Many companies want to improve onboarding and add personalization, and end up back where they started: annoying the customer with too many messages. 

    Tip 4: Segment your users

    Don’t let users progress in onboarding until they take the action you need them to. For example, companies will send one email inviting the user to take a certain action (e.g. creating a report). But then they’ll send the next email in the sequence, regardless of whether the user took that action or not.

    Casey recommends camping out on the current step until the user takes action. For example, if activating a user requires getting them to take 3 specific actions in your product in the first two weeks, don’t move to action 2 until they’ve completed action 1.

    And if you find they aren’t taking the action, proactively reach out to learn why or to offer help. This may help prevent future churn, and offer crucial insights into trouble the user is having.

    Tip 5: Improve subject lines & hooks

    Casey suggests thinking of your onboarding emails like you would your newsletter. Use the subject line of each email to tell the user exactly what value they’re getting by taking this step, and what to expect from that email’s content.

    The goal is to write a subject line and hook that grabs the reader’s attention, promises clear value, and gets them to open and read.

    For example, if you want users to create their first Report, don’t make the subject line “Create A Report”. Instead, make it something like, “Share performance with anyone, automatically” or “Replace manual reports and save hours every month”.

    Tip 6: Tag “at risk” users

    In your system, set up a way to identify users who haven’t engaged with onboarding content or logged in. Tag them “at risk”, and have your Customer Support team connect with them ASAP. Being proactive is key. The time to do this is during onboarding, not after they’ve churned.

    To hear all the insights Casey shared about using email to improve your product’s activation, give the interview a listen…


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