Using drip email to make money with SaaS

This was originally posted on my personal blog in 2012. in 2019 it's not revelatory, though it still should be a core tactic in your marketing playbook.

I was chowing down a bacon hot dog and perusing Hacker News over lunch when a comment caught my eye.

Patio11, otherwise known as Patrick Mackenize, mentioned he’d written an email course for WP Engine.

Patrick being one of my unofficial mentors (he doesn’t know it, but I learn something from pretty much all of the stuff he writes about engineering and marketing), I hopped on over to WPEngine and signed on up for the email course, both because I was in the market for WordPress hosting, but also because I wanted to deconstruct what Patrick had done.

Here were my two key takeaways:

First, the “email-course” (e-course) technique is a powerful sales tool.

Second, dripped emails like an e-course (called “dripped” because they’re sent at set intervals automatically) can make you a lot of money. Note: I use “e-course” and “dripped emails” interchangeably in this post, but an “e-course” is, of course, a way to use dripped emails.

Read on to learn how they did for me.

How the WP Engine E-Course Worked

The WP Engine course was offered as an add-on to getting a “speed test” of your WordPress site.

I received 8 emails “dripped” out to me automatically over the course of a month. Here is the subject of each:

  1. Results of your Speed Test
  2. Why Hosting Matters
  3. Backups, Maintenance, Migrations
  4. Keeping your site and users safe
  5. Making sure your site doesn’t go down when it gets popular
  6. Saving money on hosting
  7. Two quick wins for improving your site’s performance
  8. More WordPress resources (this is the closer)

Each email:

  • describes a benefit that hosting with WP Engine offers
  • explains why it’s important to you and/or your business, and
  • mentions that, oh, in case you want to pay a small amount of money every month to get these benefits and have it handled by the credible experts who taught you why the benefit is important, the good folks at WP Engine will gladly take your credit card info

Why a course works

A course is a fantastic sales and marketing tool. It frames selling your product in the guise of education, letting you teach your prospect why your product’s benefits are important, addressing pre-sales objections, make an ROI case, and helping your prospect envision how much better life would be with your product.

The brilliant part of this approach is that they were primarily teaching me why managed Wordpess hosting was worth paying for, while demonstrating credibility about their expertise. And I knew a sales pitch was coming – WP Engine is in the business of making money – but because they provided so much value for me, I was fine with it (turns out I was very receptive, since the blog you are reading is hosted on WP Engine).

My pal Noah told me that in the early days, he wanted people to feel guilty not buying from AppSumo because they gave away so much valuable stuff for free.

Ramit Sethi does the same – his info products are expensive, but he gives away tons for free (taking advantage of the Reciprocity principle – if you’re selling anything online and haven’t read Cialdini’s Influence, go buy it now – it’ll change your life. But I digress.)

Dripped email courses work especially well for products that don’t have a super short sales cycle (i.e. B2B or B2C purchases with non-trivial pre-sales signup friction). Educating these prospects about how your product or service improves their lives often takes time and effort. And since prospects have demonstrated interest in what you have to offer, dripping out a set of emails is a great way to turn that demonstrated interest into dollars (indeed – short of the prospect returning and taking the time to learn about your product – emailing them is the only way to turn that interest into dollars).

How we used an email course at SocialWOD

At SocialWOD, we followed the same approach I deconstructed from the WP Engine emails. When someone joins our email list (to get a free ebook), we send him or her six emails over the course of three weeks. Here are the subjects of each email we send:

  1. Building your gym’s community will build your business
  2. Recognizing your athletes when they hit personal bests will keep them coming back
  3. Call your athletes when they don’t show up to keep churn low
  4. Using Facebook for word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful way to grow
  5. Help your athletes set and reach their fitness goals and they’ll love you
  6. More resources for your gym + close

Here’s what the open and click rates look like for each email:

1 49.1% 2.9% 5.8%
2 47.2% 2.8% 6%
3 51.8% 1.9% 3.8%
4 50.4% 4.3% 8.6%
5 50.6% 5.7% 11.2%
6 52.2% 13.4% 25.2%

Notice that clickthroughs go up as we build credibility and give away value for free.

And while click-throughs are nice, revenue is nicer. I can write unequivocally that our e-course is directly responsible for tens of thousands of dollars in annual revenue.

And that’s in a tiny market of 4000 potential customers.

FWIW, these are unoptimized emails – we “set and forget” them a few months back. There’s definitely room for improvement, but for a marketing experiment, we’re pretty happy with the results.

Why you should use drip email marketing

The reasons why you should use drip emails are many. You:

  1. Get to build a permission marketing relationship with a prospect
  2. Demonstrate credibility and expertise
  3. Teach your prospect about the benefits of your product in general, and why they’re valuable
  4. Get to pitch prospects on why they should buy from you
  5. Actually make money when they do

In terms of bang for our buck, drip email marketing really moved the dial for us. It took a couple days to write the emails, and a couple hours to set up the Mailchimp autoresponders.

Toss in a couple of free ebooks that your prospects are interested enough in to trade their email address for, and you’ve got a great formula for making money.

Update: in a funny coincidence, I just noticed Patrick launched a course on lifecycle email marketing today. Go check it out (not an affiliate link). I’ll be buying it shortly.

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