Turning Subscribers into Loyalists, Part 3: Email and Loyalty for SaaS Brands 


In my two earlier Only Influencers (OI) blog posts on customer loyalty and email (find them here and here), I focused mainly on converting B2C subscribers into loyal customers. But loyalty is a major concern for B2B marketers, too, especially for "Software as a Service" (SaaS) brands, where you are selling subscriptions more than one-off products.

If you're already working with a SaaS brand, you know the dynamic is different. Increasing monthly recurring revenue, converting users to higher service tiers and reducing churn are three of your biggest concerns. Email can be your best tool to help you achieve these goals.

How email can lead to loyalty

You might already be using email to keep your users engaged – the process that can lead to loyalty. But there's an argument to be made for creating a series, or several series, of email messages targeted to your most loyal users, even if you don't have an official loyalty program.

These email series can help you lay the groundwork now for building a unique program later. And, if you do have an organized loyalty program, look at how you use email to help promote the membership and activity that will keep more customers using your service.

Why email? Email is a natural channel for promoting loyalty, whether informally or through your official loyalty program. But it also can help you collect and update customer-provided data, as Chris Marriott with Email Connect pointed out in a recent post for the OI blog, Email Marketing’s Next Secret Weapon: Loyalty Programs. This data helps you update your list and get your emails delivered to the inbox. 

Loyal customers, whether they just like you or belong to your loyalty program, are more likely to give you an email address they value and check instead of a secondary or burner address. That's a big win for email list quality!

Of course, list quality is always a major concern, even if your SaaS business is built only on paying customers and does not allow "freemium" or free-to-paid users. These three tactics will help you keep your lists clean and boost your sender reputation:

  • Always choose acquisition partners carefully
  • Prevent unwanted addresses right at opt-in
  • Clean your list regularly to reduce your exposure to undeliverable emails, block lists and spam traps, and general inactivity.

Making list quality maintenance a regular part of your email operations is just the start, though. You also need to find ways to use email to stay in touch with your users, help them use your service more effectively, and encourage them to stay subscribed or move up to premium services. All of those will help you build a healthy revenue picture.

What's your loyalty goal?

This is the starting point of any email program. What problem must you solve and how can loyalty help? 

These are the typical goals for a SaaS program. If some sound familiar, it's because they're the same goals for any B2C subscription business:

  • Increase monthly recurring revenue
  • Acquire new users
  • Nudge new subscribers to explore the service
  • Help them use features correctly
  • Help them use more of their prepaid services
  • Sharing useful insights and information
  • Resolve service problems quickly
  • Encourage referrals
  • Move free users to paid services
  • Upsell paid users to higher tiers or add-on features
  • Reduce churn

Knowing your primary goals will point you toward the email strategies and tactics you can use to build your program.

7 ways to use email to increase SaaS customer loyalty

Even though you have specific goals that will benefit your company through your emails, the messages themselves should focus on how your service can help your users win at their jobs: how they can be more productive, reduce stress, help or lead their teams, look good to the boss, win a promotion or advance their careers. 

This can build loyalty with or without an official program, or make your VIP program or users' community even more attractive to join.

These seven email categories should be part of your loyalty efforts. (Note: Most of the examples below are from B2C companies but can be adapted easily to a B2B loyalty effort):

1. A welcome/onboarding series gets users up to speed quickly and makes benefits clear.

This welcome email from Emirates aims to get new members moving about the cabin (I mean, the website) quickly. It highlights membership benefits first and then gives customers reasons to learn more about the brand and why they should share profile and preference data. 

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2. Deliver quick wins to boost points, membership tiers or other benefits.

In a discussion about my last OI post, 8 Tips to Turn Subscribers into Loyalists, we talked about why a good loyalty program should be based on more than just how much a customer spends on your products or services or how often they buy. 

This email, from Foot Locker's FLX rewards program, is part of the onboarding series and shows customers how they can start earning points without buying anything. After all, purchases are great, but you need customers to offer their data as well. This email adroitly clothes a standing profile-update request in a benefit – answering "4 quick questions" with data that will help them in the future. 

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3. Offer exclusive opportunities via email.

Adobe is a champion at sharing free content with its Creative Cloud subscribers and freebie users. This email invites both free and paid users to a high-value digital event before its annual Adobe Summit. People who register will receive an Instacart gift card to buy cocktail/mocktail ingredients so they can make drinks during the event along with access to the event.

Adobe also regularly offers free digital content, such as how-to guides and downloadable images and message templates.

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4. Promote tutorials and troubleshooting tips.

Even if you offer live customer service and technical advice, your email can give self-starters the tips they need to use your service successfully right away and to discover all the features that make your service worth the money they pay. Those two goals help you retain more users. You might also reduce your call load a little!

TechSmith, which sells SnagIt, Camtasia, and other digital production and editing services, sends its users detailed newsletters full of tips, tricks, troubleshooting advice, and behind-the-scenes info to help its users both navigate their services and do their jobs better. As the saying goes, you succeed when your customers do. 

Although the email is long, it's easily scrollable on a big or small screen, and the layout guides readers right to the services they use.

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5. Partner email with SMS for collecting data and sending urgent messages.

Email and SMS can be a winning combination, as Jeanne Jennings points out in a recent post on her Email Optimization Shop blog, Great Example of Progressive Profiling from the Dave Matthews Band. Jeanne shares a combination of email and SMS messages she received after she bought items on the band's website and offers suggestions for maximizing the use of SMS to complement an email program.

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6. Remind free or basic-service users about what they're missing.

Sharing exclusive content can nudge free users to become paid subscribers or to entice lower-tier subscribers to pay for higher services. Another way is to let them look behind the curtain to see what they're missing.

That's the approach used by MailCharts, an email database and competitive-intelligence service with both free and paid access. It regularly unlocks access for a week or so to exclusive data, email examples and triggered-message series available only to paid users. It also promotes that free content, along with exclusive data, in regular email newsletters like the one below.

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7. Set up an early-warning system to target potential churners.

This email series is separate from the reactivation or re-engagement programs you would send to your non-loyalty customers and should include data that shows you recognize your customer as a previously loyal user. How you set that up will depend in large part on how you track user activity and separate it from occasional or non-paying users. However, you can structure the message design and schedule like a regular re-engagement program. 

Wrapping up

Email isn't the only channel you can use to build and maintain a loyalty program. In fact, email works best when you use it in combination with other channels like your website, SMS per Jeanne Jennings' advice, client portals, your social communities, and even offline channels like direct mail. 

But the beauty of email is that you already have the foundation, through your message templates and other journey designs, and what you know about your customers through your email contacts. All you have to do is harness what you have and refocus it on loyalty. 

To learn more about email and loyalty, check out my two previous posts: 

8 Tips to Turn Subscribers into Loyalists

Turning Subscribers into Loyalists, Part 2 – the Empathy Connection

You can also view a list of loyalty-focused emails here: SaaS Loyalty Emails

sebastian vacca MW4bxbcQ 2U unsplash 600Photo by Sebastian Vacca on Unsplash