Marketing channels come and go, but email is, for the moment, here to stay. My guest today will tell you how to use emails to increase customer retention and establish trust.
This week we’re joined by Val Geisler, email marketing expert, and CEO of Fix My Churn. In this episode, you’ll learn how to design retention-focused email sequences that help you drive revenue and reduce churn.
Listen to the episode:
- Why email will still be relevant in 5,10, and 50 years
- How customers can be your “free marketing team”
- How to segment your customers for survey
- Why customer research is the foundation of great email campaigns
- The top 3 questions Val asks in customer surveys
- Signs that you need an onboarding and retention email sequence
- Why you should check-in with customers from time to time
- Why onboarding sequence is an excellent place to put a referral/affiliate program
- André Chaperon: How to Send Emails w/ 83%+ Open Rates
- Fix My Churn
- How To Use Jobs To Be Done to Read Your Customers’ Minds
- How to Use the Jobs-To-Be-Done Framework to Create Better Products
- Outdoor Voices
- Neil Patel
- The Jobs-to-be-Done Handbook
- Email Marketing Rules
- Nonviolent Communication
- Val Geisler’s website
- Val’s Twitter
Louis: Bonjour bonjour, and welcome to another episode of everyonehatesmarketers.com the no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host Louis Grenier.
Louis: In today’s episode you’ll learn how to grow your customer base through email. Email is a topic we’ve talked about once in the show with Andre Chaperonn. We haven’t really touched on the subject for a long time, so that’s why I’m super happy to have you, Val, on the podcast. You are an email marketer who helps SaaS and subscription based e-commerce brands to convert leads to retain customers in the long term and to close more recurring revenue. You’re also the founder of Fix My Churn and I think Lisa knows, I’ve guessed what this service does, which is really to help to fight churn using emails.
Louis: You’ve spent over a decade behind the scenes of any possible business and business model and you work with a lot of really well-known companies in the space like Podia, Buffer, AWeber, Stripe, InVision, Appcues, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And you’re also very famous, I would say, in the world of tech I would say or marketing for your email teardowns. I think the one that I would remember for a long time is the one from Spotify. So super happy to have you onboard, Val Geisler, welcome.
Val: Yeah. Hey, thanks for having me. I’ve been a fan of the show for a long time and I’m surprised that in the world of marketers and marketing that you’ve only talked about email once-
Louis: Only once.
Val: Because it’s such an important piece-
Val: And there’s so many parts of email that can be done and that are done really badly and that are done really well. So, I mean we could talk for a long time about shitty email.
Louis: We can and we will. Again, I guess I can tell you the reason, right? Whenever I do interviews, whenever I try to pick guests and try to cover different topics, I always ask myself, “Will this episode be relevant if someone listens to it in five years, 10 years, even 50 years,” right? And to me email is a channel that is unlikely to move and to go, right? And even if it goes, it might be replaced by another type of communication that is very similar. Maybe like Facebook messenger or something similar, but the principle behind them might remain the same. It’s just a personal… I guess it’s nothing to do with email, it’s more like, the guests I had on the show, not really me trying not to speak about email too much, but there isn’t that many people that I trust in the space around email. So you are one of the one that I follow on this.
Louis: So I’m speaking too much at the minute. So let’s go back to you. Do you think that email as a channel is likely to be still like relevant in five years, 10 years, even 50 years?
Val: Yeah. There have been articles for, I don’t know, I started my business in 2011 and I know I read articles back then that said, “Email is dead,” and both sides of it, like “Email will never die,” and “Email is dead.” And I feel like every year those sets of articles come out in some new way, sometimes regurgitating the same shit everybody else already said. So, I just feel like there’s this constant battle of, is email relevant or not? And yet we all still talk about our inboxes all the time. It doesn’t matter how many Slack channels we have, we still have emails to attend to.
Val: You see screenshots of people’s inboxes where they have like 27,000 unread emails. And those make me… Yeah, I’m like, “I can’t even look at that.” I want to run and find that person and help them so badly. But yeah, I mean email is not going anywhere and it will change. So if somebody listens to this in 10 years, guaranteed a Gmail inbox is going to look really different in 10 years and have different rules and deliverability. Some of that more technical stuff is going to change. But the foundation of written communication from a business to a person will never change. Like you said, whether that’s email or Messenger or whatever the next platform is, a lot of what happens in the world of email can be applied to just communication in general.
Louis: What do you think makes emails so sticky compared to other channels that come and go? Like you know, Snapchat, Instagram, whatever channel that were there that aren’t there now, that I don’t even remember because they’re dead. What do you think makes the… What is the fundamental difference between email and and all of those other channels do you think?
Val: Because you own your communication and everything else is algorithm-based for the most part, I don’t know, every single platform and like I don’t even have Snapchat but I think that that one is like you can send messages directly to somebody but everything else is algorithm. Like these influencers on Instagram who have 150,000 followers, it’s up to Instagram if… If I follow one of those people and… it’s up to Instagram, if I get that post. So, and I’ve heard about Instagram influencers. I was listening to a piece this morning about how they… This one woman said, “Well I spend two hours shooting, but that’s after and an hour or two of planning and hour of sourcing props, like three hours doing some hashtag research.” So they do a full day’s work for one image that maybe a third of their followers are going to see.
Val: If you do a full day’s work for one email, every single person who is on your email list, as long as you have, good deliverability, good reputation with inboxes, all of those things and you’re not landing in spam, every single person who was on your email list is going to get that email. And so it’s like, I think that that is the staying power of email is that it’s a direct line of communication. You’re not relying on other platforms to say whether you deserve to be seen or not. And then it’s just a matter of like keeping up with your sending reputation, which is a bit like predicting the weather. Sometimes you can really get it right and sometimes you say it’s going to rain and it’s sunny all day, so.
Louis: Yeah, I guess the other reason why email is sticky is the fact that you, as you said, you own it and it’s not… The email system, the way it’s built like behind the scenes, the SMTP and all of the technology behind it is not owned by a company that controls its output, right?
Louis: I’m not going to say something stupid, it’s probably not open source, but at least it’s a technology that is available to everyone and it’s not owned by one corporation.
Val: That’s right. Yeah. And you know, there are dozens of inboxes. So like an Instagram post is only being posted to Instagram and only being delivered through Instagram. An email is being delivered by any number of dozens of ESPs and then landing in any number of dozens of inbox types, Gmail, Outlook, Hotmail. People still have AOL. So we’ll see, if someone’s listening 10 years from the day this posts, they can let us know if AOL still exists at that point.
Louis: Yeah. So if you are listening to this podcast in 2029 please send me an email because that will be really funny.
Val: Yeah. And also email will be the only way to guarantee to reach you.
Louis: There you go, because yeah, Instagram who you never know. Okay, so I think we made a compelling case for why email is important nowadays. But maybe I’m just want to ask you one last bit challenging question. I’m playing devil’s advocate here as always. But when I think of my little sister for example, when I think of her habits online, I don’t see her going onto her email that much. I see her using all of those platform way more. Don’t you think there is a risk in the future that we are not going to be able to reach out to the younger generations that are coming in? They don’t seem to be used to email that much anymore.
Val: Yeah, it’s true. It’s not the first platform of choice. Like I think maybe our generation, definitely people older than us, the first thing they check is email, right? Whereas the first thing a younger generation tracks is Snapchat maybe. But if, let’s say you are that Instagram influencer with 150,000 followers, if you have a weekly email that you send out and you use Instagram to promote that email list, whether it’s a link in your bio that links to the email list sign-up, or you use a post every week to tell people to go check their inboxes. I think if you are able to give people the directive of checking their inbox, they’re going to pay attention.
Val: A lot in the same way that there’ve been studies about the millennial generation, that they’re more likely to trust influencers than they are to trust a brand. And that’s why brands are going to influencers all the time. I think that that trust that’s been built up with the influencers extends to what they ask of you. So they’re asking you to invest in brands. But if you’re willing to do that, then it’s a super easy ask for them to say, “Go check your email,” instead of like, “Please make this purchase and help me make a living.”
Val: It’s a $0 ask to ask someone to check their email. And if you do it right, especially for those influencers who are relying on Instagram to deliver their content and then link their followers to a affiliate link for a particular product, if that link is also inside of an email, the likelihood of people being able to come back to it to find it again, to link through if they go and check their email, if they missed your previous posts, they’ll see it in the email. So I feel like it just makes sense. I don’t think that email will always be the absolute epicenter of communication with customers, but I do think that it will always exist in some capacity.
Louis: Makes sense. Makes sense to me. So today we wanted to talk about how to grow your customers, how to get more customers through email, right? And you have an interesting take on that. You know the concept of the show. You listen to it, you know that I like to go into detail, step by step so that people listening right now can actually apply that to their business straight away without having to guess or without having to find those steps out themselves.
Louis: So let’s play this exercise together and perhaps you can pick an example of a business that is like the typical business you’d like to use as an example for this process. Or maybe you don’t have to because maybe the principles behind this is the same everywhere, whatever you want. But let’s get started and talk about a process and really help people to grow their customer base remit. So what would be step one, or at least do you have any foundations you like to set before starting into kind of this methodology?
Val: Yeah. So when I think about growing your customer base, I think farther down the funnel than most people do. So most people think about acquisition and very top-of-funnel, going out and getting new customers. That’s how you grow a customer base. I think it happens… it does happen there obviously, but it also can happen and happen very easily through email, further down the funnel when there is some kind of retention sequence in place and a relationship being built with your customers who already exist.
Val: And their job then becomes a free marketing team who goes out and helps you get new customers, right? So there’s that side of it that like, Okay, attracting new customers is in one way or another, asking your existing customers to bring new customers in for you. The other side of it is that a lot of the companies I work with… So I work with SaaS and subscription-based e-commerce. And a lot of the SaaS companies I worked with have a pricing structure where if their customer’s business grows, they grow, right? So they move up pricing plans, they need new features and as they grow then my clients’ business grows without any new customers at all.
Val: So it’s a little bit of a thought experiment of like let’s say we have 15,000 customers in our customer base. If all, if we shut off the pipeline of like we’re not bringing in any new customers at all, how do we grow a business? And that’s by helping the existing customers you have. If your pricing model is such that them growing means you grow, then you can still grow your monthly recurring revenue using your existing customers and building the relationship and helping them.
Val: So that’s where I think email is really powerful is connecting with your customers and creating relationship that goes beyond like, “We’re a piece of software doing a thing for you,” or in the world of e-commerce, “We’re a product fulfilling a need,” to now we are a group of people who are connecting with another person on the other side of the email and solving a problem, fulfilling a need, creating a change for them. Building relationships to me is what email does best.
Louis: All right, so let’s take the example of let’s say a subscription-based e-commerce. I don’t think we’ve ever taken such example before, so it would be nice to use. And maybe like you can mention a client of yours, you don’t have to mention the name or just pick a random example. So let’s for the sake of it… I don’t know what type of subscription-based commerce would you like to talk about?
Val: Okay, so a client that I’ve worked with works in a consumable product. So they work in food and in the world of like ketogenic food, right? So it’s consumable and it’s a very specific niche and it’s an audience who is super excited about the type of food that they are eating and this new lifestyle. So we can start with them.
Louis: Okay. So, yeah, and we don’t necessarily have to just stay to this client, but just in general, we will apply the principle if you have subscription and perhaps there are some principles that can be applied if you don’t have a subscription-based business. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of stuff you can learn from that. Right?
Val: Yeah. And I mean, I like this example because it’s a consumable which in the world of e-commerce, if you don’t have a subscription set up on your consumable product, that’s the first thing you should go do. You should actually just stop listening to this and go set that up and then come back and listen to the rest. But I think you’re doing yourself and your customers a disservice if you have a consumable product, food, makeup, other stuff that I can’t think of right now and aren’t utilizing as subscription model for it.
Louis: Why not?
Val: Well, because okay, for example, I use a deodorant called Lume. Deodorant is consumable. I use it up, at some point it’s gone. They don’t have a subscription set up on their platforms. So also the bottle is opaque. So I can’t actually see how much is left. And so I get to what amounts to like maybe two days worth of deodorant left. And I’m like, “Oh, I have to order more deodorant.” Well now it’s going to take more than two days for the order to be placed, fulfilled, shipped to me. So while, I have now made the decision to order like two or three at a time, it would benefit me so much more as a customer if they had a subscription set up where they say, “Hey, it takes most of our customers six weeks to go through a tube of deodorant and would you like to be on a six-week recurring subscription?”
Val: I would say yes to that in a heartbeat and I’m sure there’s so many of their other customers would and it benefits them because now they have ongoing revenue where… and then I’m not frustrated. I get mad at this brand every time I start to run out of… It’s a great deodorant but I get mad at this particular thing. I can’t see how much is left and then I just run out and now I’m stuck with whatever I have in my cabinet until it gets here. And I have to remember to go from the time I run out of deodorant to everything else that’s happening. If you think about your mornings, everything you do all morning as you’re getting ready, and then when you sit down at your computer or you pick up your phone remembering, “Okay, now I have to go on the website and buy more deodorant,” sometimes you forget. So it does everybody service to set a subscription up. And I need to email them that.
Louis: let’s do that, yeah. At the end of this podcast. So actually I think they’re the example you just gave, deodorant, is actually a really good example. So let’s say we work with them. When you typically start working with the clients and for listeners listening in who want to set up the same process, what do you do? What is the first step? What do you tend to do when you get set up, when you get started?
Val: The first thing I do is I want to know about the customers, about my client’s customers. So I always start with customer research. And most of my clients think that they know their customers really well, especially in the world of SaaS and e-commerce, they’re typically their first customer. They created the product because they needed it and they couldn’t find it anywhere else. And so they built it. I mean, how many T-shirt companies come out of somebody designing their own first T-shirt and then being like, “I can screen-print anything.” So they think because they were their first customer that they know all of their customers inside and out.
Val: And the fact of the matter is after a period of time, and typically where you’re at a point where you’re hiring someone like me, your business has grown to where you are no longer your best customer. The customer has changed, their needs have changed. And the other thing is that usually the conversations you’re having with your customers is centered around the product and their user experience. I want to do research that centers around the customer and who they are, the way that they think, how they make purchasing decisions, what matters most to them. And I use a technique called Jobs-To-Be-Done to do those interviews. That’s the very first thing I do.
Louis: So, we talk about Jobs-To-Be-Done quite a few times in the podcast. I think we talked to Catherine Thorpe about it. We also talked to the author of When Coffee and Kale Compete.
Val: Oh yeah, Yeah.
Louis: I’m not going to fucking remember his name, but we did talk about that as well. So I think listeners are quite familiar with Jobs-To-Be-Done, which is good, but maybe you can tell us more about the outcome that you want out of the research because we did talk also about customer research in the past and I think your unique take is how you apply that to email. So what at the end of this process, when you want to understand the jobs that your customer are hiring this product to do, what do you like to have in front of you? Like to really have a solid understanding of that customer. What do you think is the ultimate list of things you know?
Val: Yeah, so the things I’m looking for are what their day-to-day looks like and how they like to communicate. So a customer who is a software engineer is a very different kind of customer than a mom of three kids, right? So sometimes those are the same person, and as far as the product goes, their needs are different. The level of communication is different. The amount of communication is different. So knowing more about them, what their days look like is really helpful to understanding, “Okay, how often should I be emailing them? What’s the length of the emails? What do they want included in the emails? How are they consuming emails?”
Val: To know a software engineer is typically sitting at his or her computer and likely using your software for their work day. So they’re consuming your emails from a desktop during the week. A mom of three kids who has your app for taking video of their family, she’s likely consuming your emails on her phone also because you have an app. So it’s likely she’s on her phone a lot. She’s on the go. She’s probably not connected to Wi-Fi when she is on emails, which matters as far as like what kind of elements you put in your emails. How templated they are. Those kinds of things like knowing how they go through their day on average is incredibly helpful to understanding the email framework and the strategy behind the email.
Louis: So how do you find that out actually, because again we talked on a podcast in the past around research but never really about research applied to email and communication. So how do you find that out?
Val: So the very first question… So there’s two things that happen. One is we have our clients send a survey to three different segments of customers. We typically are looking for the very best customers. So like your most active clients, the customers who have had an account for a period of time and then canceled. And then customers who had a trial or in the case of e-commerce, maybe bought once and never bought again. So how to trial and never converted to a paid account in the world of SaaS. So we send a survey out to everybody and we ask a series of questions. And the very first one is like, “Tell me about what you do. What’s your day look like? Walk me through an average day for you.” And then the questions start out talking a hundred percent about them. “What does your day look like? What is your job title and your role? Who influences you when you’re making purchasing decisions? Do you make those on your own? Do you ask somebody in your family?” Those kinds of things.
Val: So we talk a lot about them and then throughout the survey we get closer and closer to the product. So we end up talking about like, “What happened in this product when you realized this is definitely for me,” or in the case of people who don’t have an account or haven’t purchased anymore, “What happened that made you think this isn’t for me anymore?” So we do start to talk about the product but in relationship to them.
Val: And so we send the survey first just to kind of feel people out and we get a ton of responses to surveys. And the last question on the survey is, “Would you be open to a chat about what matters most to in the world, how you think,” those kinds of things. Like “Would you be willing to talk to one of us?” And we asked them a yes, no on that. We tend to get about 80% of people say yes and then we send out interview requests to get them on our schedule. We’re actually in the process of that right now for two clients, getting interviews scheduled. And the interview is really do a deeper dive on those same questions.
Val: So we asked them… In a survey you’re only going to write a couple of sentences max on what your day looks like, but I recently talked to an architect, it was a customer of a video software and he was talking about winning contracts because he sends videos. And just in the conversation I was able to say, “Wait a second, so you’re saying that you’re winning contracts more often because you’re sending videos. Talk me through that. What does that… I’ve never sent an architectural contract, so what does that look like?” And so he just talked me through like, “Well I used to sit down and plot out all of these points and send this huge PDF and that’s what all of my competitors do. But now I sit down and I record a video for them and I walk them through the PDF audibly and I send the PDF. But I also send the video and I’ve had clients,” he said he had had clients choose him and tell him that it was solely because they got to know him through video.
Val: I would have never gotten that information in a survey and I would have never gotten that information in a product-related call. I’m-
Louis: And that’s why… Sorry to cut you, but that’s super interesting and I promise listeners right now that I don’t pick guest and make them say, “You need to start with customer research every time.” I don’t force them to say that. It’s amazing to know that the marketers who believe in the long term, believe that marketing starts with the market, all use the same first step and that’s what matters, right? So Val is talking about it from an email perspective. Everyone else has been talking about it from a different perspective, but it’s the single truth that unites all of those marketers in my opinion. Thanks for going for going through that.
Louis: And I hear sometimes people talking about interview saying, “Oh, but you only interviewed 10 customers. How do you know if it’s statistically significant?” Right? And it makes me laugh so much because those people have clearly not interview customer yet. They don’t understand the power of talking to 10 people saying the almost exact same thing in their own language and there’s no statistically significant or not. It’s just so fucking clear that you must do something when you see their face, their body language. It’s so fucking clear that you don’t need the math behind it. It’s just, let’s go for it.
Val: Right. We usually stack our interviews too, so we’ll do like a Tuesday of just back to back interviews, and so then we can start to hear the patterns really quickly, right? If you spread them out over lots of weeks, you might not notice it. But when you sit down for six interviews over the course of a Tuesday and you hear the same thing over and over, by the sixth one you’re like, “I know exactly how they’re going to answer this.” And sometimes they surprise you. But the other thing I do with the survey results is I’ll go through and I’ll do like a command F for a particular word. Like I’ll see a word a lot or a phrase a lot. And so I’ll search the document for it and see how many results I have of that word in these survey results. And then I highlight those for my clients and say like, “Look, this is coming in again and again and again.”
Val: So those things, those responses become email subject lines. They become call to action buttons. They become the whole framework of the email sequence, right? So being able to say in a subject line like… So this architect was saying that now all he does is send video and he closes statistically larger number of projects because of the videos. And so to say something like, “Win eight times more projects with video.” Someone’s going to be interested in opening that if they’re a freelancer.
Val: And the other thing is that we’re humans. This is a podcast people listen to podcasts because they want to hear other people’s stories. We are all walking around and I love taking like dusk walks around my neighborhood because… not in like a creepy way, but there’s just something, there’s something interesting and very human nature about wanting to walk around and look at other people’s… Like looking in somebody’s apartment window and thinking like, “Hmm, I wonder what they’re doing right now,” or hearing someone else’s story that makes you feel like, “Okay, I’m not alone in this.” And that’s one of my favorite things about big cities is going for walks around and just thinking like, “Oh, that person has a really nice garden, I wonder how much time they spend on it,” and just thinking about that person’s life.
Val: And there’s something that happens for almost every human being I’ve ever met, cares about other people’s stories and how they relate to them. And so when you can take other people’s actual stories and use them in email copy, it helps people relate to your brand in a totally different way than like, “Hey, we built this amazing feature and isn’t it awesome?” And nobody cares.
Louis: Nobody cares.
Val: But if the feature helps you land eight times more clients on your proposals, then they care.
Louis: Of course they care. I have to say though, It’s a bit creepy what you do. I’m not sure everybody does that-
Val: Walking around-
Louis: On campus-
Val: Walking around looking… Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve talked to a lot of people who, especially when it’s, getting dark and just like that people have lamps on and TVs on and it’s like, “Oh, okay, there’s a family sitting down and watching TV,” or it’s just, it’s nice to think about what other people are up to in their world. And it’s cool to hear other people’s stories too, especially when it relates back to yours.
Louis: Great. So you talked about sending a survey to people who, your best customers, people who actually turned on recently, and people don’t only vote once or were in the ultra square in the trial but never bought. Can you remind me maybe the top three questions you like to ask? So you mentioned, “Talk me through like your day this, describe your day, no detail,” what else you’d like to ask. What are the top three?
Val: Yeah, so I asked them… Top three, let’s see. So in the sense of what matters most to them, I would say that, “How do you describe the work that you do? How do you describe your day to day work?” Because everybody has some kind of work, whether they work at a job or not. I think it’s important to ask them what they’re working on right now. Like what matters most to them now. That gives you some insight into what is most pressing for them and in relationship to that, the third question about them that I would ask is what is the biggest problem their facing on an ongoing basis? What is it? The thing that kind of like quote keeps them up at night or just bothers them in general that they are trying to solve.
Louis: Okay. And then you tend to set a back-to-back us rate of use during like on the same day to really build this empathy for them and see patterns quicker and all of that.
Louis: You mentioned as well doing a command F on Excel. I actually use an Engram analyzer sometimes as well. So it gives you the frequency of words used, even association of words. And I’ve started to use another tools like, not machine learning tools, but more like AI tool that analyze text and then give you context automatically based on interviews. And that’s quite good to see themes as well. But I always come back to command F as well to see words and to see what people use. It’s quite powerful when you start saying, “Listen, everyone says same thing, just not… there’s no fucking way this is by chance. Like just we need to use this word more often.”
Louis: Okay, so you have this research in front of you. You know there are those customers are better. You have the answers to the sub-questions. What do you do next? How do you translate that into email that works?
Val: Yeah, well, and I’ll go back and say, when you do those interviews to do them on something like Skype or Zoom or whatever 10 years from now’s video service is and then get a transcript. So don’t worry about taking a million notes. Maybe you’re jotting down a couple of words here and there. But getting the transcript and then doing that same kind of search and, and word mapping with transcripts is really useful.
Val: So what do I do next? So then next the email task is to determine what email sequences we actually need to be sending. So, a lot of people want to hire me to write a new onboarding sequence or to write a retention sequence. And I always… I definitely look at what they’re currently sending, but based on the research, that and the way that their customers talk about what they do, that tells me which sequences are the most important sequences to be sending.
Val: So I do believe strongly in a powerful onboarding and retention sequence. So those typically come up on the top list. But if the customers are talking about… Like we had one recently where one of the questions we ask is like where they heard about the product, how they found out about it. And majority of people said, “From my friend,” and to me that says, “Okay, we need to do an affiliate sequence. We need to promote an affiliate program or build one if that one doesn’t exist and then promote it.” Right? But that needs to be built in to the cadence of emails that we’re sending. So the research will determine what emails come first. Like I said, it’s typically onboarding and then ongoing retention, but sometimes it changes.
Louis: So tell me what is the number one sign that they need a better onboarding sequence or a onboarding sequence period.
Val: Huh, yeah. Not having one is the number one sign. And then I would say there’s a bit in the quantitative data that can tell you if you need better onboarding and that is like drop off on open rates sometimes are valid measures, but they are so inaccurate that you really can’t rely on just open rates.
Val: It’s the goals, like are you reaching your goals are not just clicks, but like are the clicks resulting in the intention of the email. If the intention of the email was to get a conversion, are the conversions happening on that email? So you want to look at like, are you reaching your goals with your email onboarding? And if you aren’t then you likely need to do something about that. And typically what I see is everyone’s afraid of sending too many emails. So I’ll get into somebody’s email program and have the research sitting next to me and looking at their, DRIP account or whatever it is. And they have four emails over the course of a month and that’s their onboarding sequence and it’s just not enough emails. If you think about the volume of email that you get on a daily basis, four emails over a four weeks is just not going to cut it.
Val: The goal of an email onboarding system or a sequence is to build habits. You’re asking someone to build a new habit, whether it’s purchasing the product or especially in the world of software, you’re asking them to start doing something new that they’ve never done before. And like any other habit in the world, you have to create the muscle memory of it. And the muscle memory in this case is opening your emails, doing the task at hand and responding. Logging into the app, doing an action, right? So if you don’t build that muscle memory through email, then you’re doing your customers a disservice and you’re doing you a disservice too in that you’re just not converting as many people as possible.
Val: And you can’t build habits with an email a week. That’s for like ongoing or attention, and once they’ve already built a habit. But in the world of like habit research, something like 21 days, you have to do something on a consistent basis and then it’ll become something you just do without thinking about it. And especially for SaaS, you’re either asking them to do something they’ve never done before or you’re asking them to change the way that they’ve done something. So if your QuickBooks and they’ve always used like FreshBooks, if they’re a freelancer and they’ve always used FreshBooks and you’re QuickBooks and they’re trying you out, you’re asking them to stop logging into FreshBooks and come log in to QuickBooks and change their pattern of habits. So it’s an even bigger challenge and that’s where you need email cause you have to go to where they are.
Louis: So, what do you answer to people who might say, “I get the habit forming and all of that idea, but like what if people start complaining and what if the markers are spam and then no one will ever receive our emails?” What do you say to that?
Val: There is this really cool onboarding sequence that I saw from Customer.io. They sent a welcome email, I think one other email and then I got an email that said, “Hey do you want to learn more? Like do you want us to walk you through Customer.io? And we have eight lessons to send you. Here they are. Here’s what each one is, what they’re about. Are you into it? If you want this, click this button and we’ll start sending it to you tomorrow. If not, you won’t get any other emails from us.” And so getting their buy-in is huge. And then they, I think a week later send a reminder like, “Hey reminder, did you want this or no, this is your kind of last chance to grab it.” So getting their buy-in to say, “Yes, I do want daily emails for eight days,” they’re not going to mark you as spam, when they have said yes to doing it. It’s very unlikely that they will do that.
Val: Some people use the spam button like the delete button, but hopefully in the world of like software, we’re not running into those customers. So I think getting their buy-in and then segmenting your list to know who they are and how… if the emails are valuable to them and they are able to follow through on what’s being asked of them in each email, then it’s not spam. It’s just not. If it’s valuable and teaching them something, it’s unlikely that they would mark it as spam.
Louis: Yeah. I see it as a choose-your-own-adventure type of step of deal, right? And I’m glad you’re mentioning this because to me that’s kind of the secret of good emails, right? You give the choice of people. They might receive an email, they might not be interested. They don’t show any activity, there’s no point in trying to send them 21 emails in 21 days. However, if they click a link that says, “Yes, please send me something, send me those because I’m interested,” your open rate is going to go through the roof, your click rate is going to go through the roof. I mean it’s just-
Louis: It’s basic email to do it this way, but people are so attached to the number of emails they receive that they don’t want to let them go, right?
Val: Right. Yeah, and then the other thing that I remember is that you have a noisy few, right? So you have the people who reply to your emails and say, “You’re sending me way too many emails. You’re spamming my inbox.” And you might get three responses like that in a week. And then that starts to scare people and say, like as business owners, you start to go, “Ooh, am I emailing people too often? I don’t know, Zach said, I’m emailing him too often, so I probably am.” But that’s one of how many customers?
Val: And just because one person says this is too much, it does not mean that it is. Again, you have to go back to okay, well maybe even looking at that customer’s history, are they a good customer to begin with? Are they someone who’s maybe not a good fit for your product? Are they even opening all of your emails? Or are they just deleting them without even opening them? So look at that before you take someone’s feedback like that and, and change your entire course of action. Look at the kind of quality of that customer and say, “Is this a customer we want to listen to? And do we want to dig into this feedback further,” or do we want to say, “Thank you so much for sharing how you feel. Hear you. There’s an unsubscribe button anytime you want to hit it.”
Louis: What other signs that you need a retention sequence?
Val: If you don’t have one.
Louis: And then, what else?
Val: After that. Yeah, so most companies that I run into have at best an email every month with a receipt for their monthly payment and if they’re on an annual plan, they don’t email anybody. Annual plan customers get no emails until their annual plan processes again and then they get an invoice or they get a receipt for their payment and they’re like, “Whoa, you just charged me $800,” or more like people, you got to send heads-ups on annual plans that you’re charging them again. But so a lot of people don’t send anything other than a monthly receipt and kind of call that like the retention plan.
Val: A retention sequence is so important for building a relationship outside of the fact that you are a piece of software and they have a wallet with a credit card in it. Your customers will feel like you care about their business and the growth of their business and that you want to see them succeed. Because at the end of the day you as a software company or as an e-commerce company, don’t have a business without your customers. And so if they aren’t succeeding and if they aren’t loving your product, then they’re not around.
Val: And it’s super easy to churn away from a piece of software that does a job and really hard to turn away from a person or a group of people that are helping me succeed in my business. Whether I run the enterprise company or B to B or B to C or I’m a small business owner. All of those things matter. And even in the world of e-commerce, like something simple like gathering the person’s birthday makes them feel like they matter and that they are a human being that they… It’s just like, okay, so an example from the world of e-commerce is Outdoor Voices is a fitness brand. I don’t know that they would call themselves a fitness brand because they’re kind of like fitness for non fitnessy people. But they, they do this beautiful thing where they like proactively email people about a particular item.
Val: So I ordered a pair of leggings and they emailed me a couple of days after I placed the order and they said, “Hey, heads up, these leggings tend to fit pretty snug and you may have seen that before you placed your order and that’s great and but if you didn’t and you get them and you feel like they’re a little too tight, that’s why. And we’re happy to do an exchange. Remember we have free refunds and returns and all that.” So that made me feel like they saw me as an individual even though I knew that that was an automated email because I’m an email marketer and it just made me feel like I mattered versus any other workout clothes that I could possibly buy.
Val: And that happens across the board with software. I’m not saying that you have to send a weekly or twice a week email as a retention sequence. It’s like once a month, every 60 days, something. Check in with your customers, share a piece of valuable information that we can help them build their business. If you run a scheduling software, it’s likely that your clients are interested in things like productivity and time management and what resources can you provide them that help them with their productivity and time management that then they can track back. And if somebody learns about the Pomodoro Technique from a guide that they get from a scheduling software, they’re going to relate every time they use that technique and it’s effective, they’re going to relate that to your scheduling software and feel a sense of like ownership over the software too. So yeah, I’m a huge advocate for retention sequences and if all you’re sending is receipts, you got to change that.
Louis: It sounds a bit like you try to automate how you would typically send emails to people if you had a small business, right? To customers you don’t really talk to that often you want to check in with them, right? You just want to say, “Hey, I came across this article, it’s pretty cool. Read it.” Or you may say, “Happy birthday,” or “Happy business anniversary,” or you try to check in. Obviously it’s going to be hard to be automated when you have thousands and thousands of customers, but you can make it really be personable by checking in like you would normally do with another person.
Val: Yeah, and transactional emails, those email receipts and about your order and all those kinds of things are, they’re great for being very straightforward. You can add personality in the transactional emails, but I think that they should focus on the details of “Here’s the information, what you ordered, what you paid, when it will arrive,” all of those things.
Val: Relationship-building emails, like a retention sequence should be focused on providing value and storytelling. They should be more text-based. They should be telling about wins. Other customers are getting with the platform, like if you’re gathering case studies, use those in a retention sequence and tell the story of other people like that customer and say, especially like if you’re an email platform and you have customers who have like under a thousand email subscribers, so they have a smaller list, you can send that segment a customized retention sequence all about other people who have those small lists. And like, you could tell a story about how someone with 700 subscribers made $1,000 in a week. And that’s really exciting to someone who has a small email list.
Val: But if they’re getting stories about people who have 20,000 subscribers that are making $10,000 every week, that’s, that feels out of reach for them. So segmenting is really important in retention as well because you want to speak to the customer and where they are in their journey and help them see themselves at that next phase. So they keep going. It just gives them a little bit of fuel for their fire.
Louis: And then the last sequence you mentioned was this, especially with the sign if word of mouth is a big referral channel for you. If there’s a lot of people coming from word of mouth, you mentioned you need an affiliate program, some sort of sequence like that. So maybe you can share the briefly about the concept because I’m not sure I’ve heard about it that often.
Val: Yeah, so this typically… Well it happens in both software, and e-commerce, but you know an affiliate program or referral program is where somebody gets money or product for referring other customers. And if this is happening in your audience, naturally a lot of people feel like okay well it’s already happening and we’re not having to pay anyone to do that, so that’s great. The benefit of saying, “Hey, we’ll give you a kickback every time we get a new customer,” is that they’re more likely to share that information and they’re more likely to write about it on their blog and to, if they are a service-based business, they are likely to sign their clients up for your service. So it becomes much more front and center when you can monetize it for them. And it doesn’t have to be huge. It can have caps on it. It all depends on the way you run your business.
Val: Some people do… like I think it’s Postmates maybe a food delivery service that we have, that said, “You can earn up to $100 on Postmates for referring other people.” Great, so they have a cap on it, they’re not saying like you can endlessly earn money and that’s going to put them in the hole really fast. But some people, a lot of software companies just pay out a percentage of the fee that they’re getting for our client. And I know if you’ve done any affiliate marketing, you probably know that there are people who make a great living doing affiliate marketing. There are also a lot of people who struggle with affiliate marketing. But as a business, if you see that happening already, it’s a really great thing to set up for your customers to kind of pay it forward to them.
Val: And if you don’t see word of mouth happening, that’s another indicator that you might want to set something up that incentivizes some word of mouth. Building out a email sequence that talks about this affiliate program. What happens a lot is people launch an affiliate program and they go, “Hey, we have an affiliate program.” They send an email and it’s like, “Yay, we launched this affiliate program and here’s the link to go sign up and go sign up.” And then they never mentioned it again. They don’t even think to like, “Now we need to go back into our onboarding and put an email about that. And the onboarding now that we launched this program.”
Val: So there’s a lot of intricacies with launching a affiliate program, but I think the most important one is to continue to talk about it after launch day and build it into your… Not necessarily onboarding cause that’s still a little early to be asking people to refer other people. But definitely in your retention sequences you want to build in mentions of your affiliate program and how they can join and then building out entire sequences for affiliates. So that they understand how they can refer people to you and you know, giving them resources to do that. That’s something that I love doing is helping people build those programs and it makes such a big difference.
Louis: I guess another benefit of it is actually it becomes more measurable, right? Word of mouth is… I wouldn’t consider it to be a channel. Some people say it’s a channel. I think that’s bullshit. I think it’s just normal behavior. I don’t think you can classify it as a channel as other, but at least it’s a… Using it as a affiliate program or referral program is great way to measure its success, right? You can start seeing, “Okay, we got X number of sales coming from referral,” and it’s starting to become a bit more tangible. Right?
Val: Yeah. And it’s also everybody talks about dark data and this, “Well we don’t know when people are talking about us and Slack channels or Facebook groups or whatever.” Well, this is a way to know. So it makes sense if you feel like you get all these referrals or leads and you don’t know if you’re working really hard top of funnel and you’re doing UTM links and everything and you’re trying to track and yet you’re getting all these customers and you don’t know where they’re coming from, trying an affiliate program and see if that changes what you see on the quantitative data.
Louis: Do you think I’ve… Is there a point you want to make about the email that I haven’t asked you? Is there a question that I should have asked that I haven’t? Is there a point that you’d like to make around email marketing that you tend to rant about? Tell me.
Val: I rant about a lot of things in email. I think we have covered most of them in that you need an onboarding program, you need a retention program, and it all has to be centered around customer research. I mean, yeah, on this show it’s kind of like beating a dead horse to talk about customer research at this point, but.
Louis: It’s never enough.
Val: It matters. It matters in email and you’re right. It is never enough because everybody thinks that they’ve done customer research because they talk to their customer. “We talk to our customers all the time.” No you haven’t. You haven’t talked to them about them.
Louis: Uh-uh (negative), you haven’t.
Val: Uh-uh (negative). I know some people that I really admire who have a Post-it Note on their computer that says, “Have you talked to a customer today?” And I think that’s really powerful to just make sure that you talk to a customer every single day and continue.
Louis: Tell me a name, who does that?
Val: Oh, there’s a product manager that I met at a product conference last year. He works for Klaviyo and think he runs the product Team. Name’s Jeremy. And he talks about having that Post-it Note to say, “Do I talk to a customer every, have I done that?” And if he does nothing else in that day, he feels really accomplished if he’s talked to a customer and taken some insights back to the team. So product people tend to be really customer focused if they have the time to do it and they make the time to do it. So no, I think we’ve talked about kind of my biggest rants on email.
Louis: Awesome. You know what? Here’s my view about the customer research debate or whatever. What I think is happening is the old game that some marketers are still playing, is about growth acts and shortcuts and copying competitors and trying to go as fast as possible to the finish line, treating it as a sprint instead of a marathon and all of that. The new game, a lot of markets are playing, including you, is that they understand that the way to be in longterm is to focus on the customer and go outwards, right? Everything start with the customer market inc. There is market in this and it’s all about the market first and if those people don’t catch up, they’re going to be fucked. They’re going to have to evolve, right?
Louis: And you know what? Even the market that I would say is not the most customer centric, in my opinion Neil Patel, even him is starting to talk about this, which is super surprising. Even him understands that the old game is not really working out anymore. It’s time to upgrade and start to think about marketing to start with market. And a lot of really good marketers have been playing this game for I would say almost centuries at this stage. So it’s not new, but I’m glad to hear that from you. I’m glad to hear that from other guests over and over again, because I think that’s the only way to convince people to play this new game or at least this game that a lot of people are ignoring.
Val: Well and you know the thing is about customer research and I’d say this is probably my other rant in the world, is you can have all the customer research in the world and you can still create an email sequence that does not perform well. But if you take that as data and use it to inform the next iteration, then it’s worth doing. And email is 100% about testing it. You have to do the research, put the test out into the world, get the data back, the quantitative data and see how it performs and then iterate. And keep going through that process, wash, rinse, repeat because email is never done and you need to always be testing it. So that’s the other thing that I’ve said, if some email conference, I’m just going to walk out and be like, “Test everything,” and then just mic drop and walk away. Because that’s all anybody needs to know.
Louis: I knew you had a rant left in you before the end of this broad cast. The last question for you, what are the top three resources you’d recommend marketers or listeners today? It could be anything from podcasts, books, conferences, whatever.
Val: Yeah, three books. How about that? So three books. One is The Jobs-To-Be-Done Handbook, it written by Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek. They are the founders of Jobs-To-Be-Done Methodology. It’s a really great… It’s like 60 pages at the most, very thin, very easy to go through. The second book is called Email Marketing Rules. It’s by my friend Chad white who used to run research at Litmus, which is a email authority platform and a really great kind of overview of the rules, ins and outs of email marketing if you’re into that or want to know more. And then the third one is not a business book, but I think it’s the best business book and that is called Nonviolent Communication. It is a book all about how to communicate with other people and what makes for powerful communication that makes people feel seen and heard and understood.
Val: And to me, especially in the written format, you have to be able to convey that people matter. And it’s one thing to look somebody in the face and have a conversation and you can get a lot from body language and eye contact, but when you’re writing, you have to understand better communication and nonviolent communication is… Marshall Rosenberg is the author of that and it’s a fantastic business book for dealing with writing emails to your customers, writing your email sequences, but then also dealing with clients, interfacing with other people, business partners, all of that. It’s all improves from nonviolent communication.
Louis: Nice. Val, you’ve been a pleasure to talk to really enjoy your take on email and on marketing in general. Where can people send you an email and connect to you?
Val: Yeah, so you can join my email list. So there’s a couple of places you can find me. One is at fixmychurn.com. We mentioned earlier, that’s a company that I started recently where we kind of take a holistic approach to fixing churn problems, but largely centered around email. And then also you can find me at valgeisler.com and if you go to valgeisler.com/subscribe I think, is my email list. It’s just in the footer of my website all over the place and I’m on Twitter a lot @lovevalgeisler over there.
Louis: Awesome. Once again, thanks so much.
Val: Yeah, thanks for having me.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.