I don’t have to tell you that every product team wants users to be successful with their application. That notion of user success is a defining characteristic of nearly every quality we try to deliver: a compelling value proposition, highly functional workflow and features, and a delightful UX.

But that’s rarely enough. “Build it, and they will come” is never a reliable strategy—but for SaaS applications that face the constant risk of customer churn, a disengaged approach to user behavior is a big mistake.

So what’s the alternative? Last week, I shared several examples of effective email notifications from Pinterest and LinkedIn. Now, I’m going to dig further into how other SaaS businesses can make use of email in their products. They’re some of the most powerful tools product management teams have to drive conversion, retention, and growth.

Identify the actions that drive engagement and retention

But where to begin? Whether your SaaS product is B2B or B2C, there are some key moments in your user lifecycle that are essential to their (and your) success. These points might be specifically about user activation and conversion, or reflect potential roadblocks to renewal. But in each case, the more we provide users with the essential information they need to succeed, the more likely they are to take the actions that lead to more engagement and higher renewal rates.

Consider onboarding. As soon as your users sign up, you need to help them hit the ground running. That means making it easy to connect to your value proposition, discover the most important features, and take key configuration steps like confirming an email address or setting up two-factor authentication.

But onboarding is just one example. There are many additional times when alerting a user to take action in the app is essential to their engagement and success. Think about the user lifecycle in your own application. Perhaps a team member needs to assign a task to a colleague. Or a manager needs to approve a scheduled time-off request. Or a user can’t proceed until she acts upon a security notification or password reset.

Product Emails in the User Lifecycle

Situations like these can be make-or-break moments for your service. If the user takes the appropriate step, they’re more likely to integrate your app more deeply in their workflow. But if they miss the alert and work around the obstacle in some other way, they’re more likely to ignore your app… and eventually give up on it and churn.

Essential use cases for product emails 

Product email notifications aren’t generic. They should reflect the unique qualities of the apps and services that send them. However, there are several types of emails that nearly every SaaS app should be sending.

Activation emails: Account activation emails serve two purposes. First, they verify that the email address the user provided is valid and working. That’s essential for future messages. Second, they remind busy users that they chose to sign up for your product—believe it or not, that simple step sometimes makes the difference between an engaged user and a drive-by signup.

Trello Account Confirmation Product Email

Welcome and onboarding messages: Once a user has taken that first step of creating an account, the next logical piece of product email is to help your user actually hit the ground running. But don’t be tempted to provide a lengthy tutorial! Feature-driven onboarding messages are far less successful than emails that reconnect specific user activities to your core value proposition.

Eero Welcome Product Email

User invites and shares: Sharing content and inviting friends to try an app is a viral sort of product email often is associated with B2C social platforms. But the utility of this sort of message applies to almost every sort of SaaS app. Great examples include explicit invitations to colleagues to join a project team as well as implicit invitations in the form of workflow notices that require signups by users that haven’t yet joined a platform.

Asana Invitation Product Email

Activity notifications: For many SaaS products, activity and status notifications are the primary way offline users are drawn back into an app. Whether it’s a reminder to complete a task or a summary of missed highlights in a social media feed, these product emails help passive users reconnect to the problem your product addresses, even if they’re not logged in.

Lattice Activity Product Email

Reports and dashboards: For B2B SaaS products, reports on workflows are very tangible artifacts of the value of your service. Examples might include a detailed summary of a sales pipeline or a high-level overview of team members’ activities during the past week. Information like this is critical to your customers’ business. That means it’s also an essential email your product should deliver.

DocSend Report/Dashboard Product Email

Password resets and 2FA: Password resets are essential for any app. Email notifications also support related features like two-factor authentication. It’s hard to imagine more literal examples of product emails that either make or break user success—an undelivered product email of this sort is a showstopper.

Apple ID Password Reset Product Email

Security and account change notifications: Immediately providing updates to the user when their account information or login details have been changed is an important part of building trust and confidence in a SaaS product. These messages, as well as alerts about logins from new locations, also are crucial for helping users protect their accounts—and therefore your app!—from possible fraudulent use.

LinkedIn Account Change Product Email

How you implement product emails matters

I’d wager your app probably already relies on at least some of these types of product-generated emails, like account activations and password resets. How they’re implemented varies widely, though.

I’ve seen examples of basic messages hard-coded or otherwise treated in an ad-hoc fashion. But SaaS products that really handle their product emails right have generalized into a function to send notifications of any stripe. That gives product teams a lot more flexibility to drive user engagement and activity.

There’s another reason to think carefully about how to manage product-generated email: these messages only work if they’re delivered on-time and to your user’s inbox. Doing product emails the right way ensures that the complexity of handling email doesn’t become a problem that negatively affects your users.

Just think about the impact of three common examples of app-generated email that have gone missing:

  • If a sign-up confirmation is delayed or gets lost in the spam folder, you run the risk that your user won’t even complete the signup process, churning before you even have a chance to show them the value your application provides.
  • Delayed or lost password resets and two-factor authentication (2FA) messages can lock your users out of your application completely, resulting in show-stopping frustration and churn.
  • Even missing notices like status changes or receipts can lead to increased support costs and a gradual erosion of trust and engagement.

This kind of negative impact is why customers churn when messages are delayed or lost in spam folders.

Sending an email is simple, but getting it delivered on-time and to the inbox is not. Moreover, if product teams don’t have insight to what email is arriving (or opened, or clicked), they’re left with little visibility into the impact of these key drivers of user retention, conversion, and churn.

Mitigating that risk is an important part of what product teams (and their development colleagues) should think about when they implement app-generated email. Not sure where to begin? Our Introduction to Email Deliverability section of the SparkPost Academy is a great resource.



It’s easy to think that email compliance regulations and email engagement are at odds. Engagement makes us think about good marketing techniques.  Compliance sounds like constraints.

You probably know that FCC regulations require you to offer an unsubscribe link and that you need to provide the option for somebody to be able to unsubscribe from all your email lists (these rules apply to bulk email you send, not to transactional email).

If we look carefully, compliance is an opportunity to be a good communicator. There’s the quick and easy approach, where you ask, “Do you want to unsubscribe from all our email?” But why not go further and create an opportunity for engagement? By presenting a list of all available distribution lists (such as new feature information, special offers, and news), and asking, “Do you want any of these or would you like to unsubscribe from all of them?” we encourage a two-way conversation that actually improves our understanding of the customer. Using several mail streams like this also allows you to retain subscribers who want just some of your mail, but who would otherwise be forced to choose between accepting all of it or unsubscribing from all of it.

Tell recipients what email address you are sending to. A lot of people have multiple addresses that funnel together. Make it easy for them to unsubscribe the precise email address in use, rather than forcing them to figure out why email keeps showing up after repeated attempts to unsubscribe.

Compliance is also about making sure that things are set up properly. Doing it right in part defines you as a trustworthy communicator.

  • Make sure that the domain that you’re sending your email from has [email protected] and [email protected] set up for the domain so that they’re forwarding to you and you can respond to any of those messages.
  • Make sure that you’re using SPF and DKIM email authentication. (SparkPost requires that at minimum you use either SPF or DKIM, but implementing both is even better.)

We know you get better engagement when you stick to these guidelines. Of course compliance is about regulations, but it is also about making you a better communicator.

To learn more:

Opt Forms – Strategies and Best Practices for Deliverability

deliverability_panel_eecI’m in Miami wrapping up #EEC15, The Email Evolution Conference. The closing Keynote Panel Discussion organized by Dennis Dayman and Ryan Phelan was worth the price of admission; the panel they organized featured key postmaster/abuse personal from Comcast, Hotmail/Outlook, AOL and Gmail. Although regular fixtures at M3AAWG meetings, the folks in this room don’t normally have a chance to hear first hand how an ISP measures activity within the inbox and responds to emails as they arrive. There were furrowed brows, heads nodding and a plethora of other emotions as questions were asked, assertions made, accusations levied and laughter enjoyed by all.


One of the most important things I took away from this session and I think you may find this valuable too are the signals that most ISPs read as good vs. bad. Here’s a cheat sheet and take away that you can help you better understand how engagement, which was called ‘a philosophical principle rather than a secret sauce’, is measured by a mailbox provider or an ISP. One of the major disconnects I’ve seen between senders and receivers is the idea that engagement is a single measure. Quite the contrary, senders are not privy to the metrics that receivers are and vice versa, there may be some attribution, analysis through web behavioral data, that leads to a very different picture of engagement on the sender side. This is the fundamental conundrum that I think is best represented by the metric system vs. the english system. Both are valid (well one’s more practical than the other), both are capable of measuring the same distance but use different units. One doesn’t invalidate the other, hence the philosophical nature of the construct.

Positive Signals

  • Open an email
  • Adding a sender to the address book
  • Moving a message to a specific folder (filing)
  • Rescuing a message from the spam folder
  • Replying to a message.

Negative Signals

  • Deleting a message without opening it
  • Marking a message as spam
  • Reporting phishing

Thankfully there are more positive signals that inform engagement at a mailbox provider than negative ones. One thing to consider: I’ve seen a number of senders instruct their recipients not to reply to an email, that the email box will not be checked or monitored. Given that replying to emails is a positive signal that will ultimately improve a sender’s engagement, leading to better reputation and finally deliverability, it might be worthwhile to make the sending addresses accept replies and even review them for customer correspondence.

Weekly Email Marketing News Digest

One of the biggest tech news this week has to be the phenomenal rise of Netflix’s stock price to more than 40% since Wednesday. Some have called it the triumph of legacy media over new media – Netflix’s international subscribers grew by 229% last year and the company gained 2 million domestic subscribers. Just as reports of the demise of big entertainment are greatly exaggerated, so too are those that predict the end of email. In the world today, it’s no longer about marketing in winning silos, but integration and convergence.

And it’s also about listening to your customers.

Email Marketing: Why don’t you want to hear from your customers?

Note: This email was automatically generated from a mailbox that is not monitored.

Looks familiar? We’ve probably all seen this at some point in our inbox. Most likely, it’s a transactional email that companies send with your personal information included to remind you of a flight you booked or money you withdrew. In some sense it’s a highly personal email. On the other hand, it’s become incredibly impersonal for something that contains such delicate personal information.

Having a no-reply email means a missed opportunity for marketers to connect with customers that want to reach them. It’s like telling them to talk to the hand. Do that, and you could be losing some serious upsell opportunity.

Email-Social Integration: Past, Present and Future

We’ve seen a great example from Bonobos on how the company is using an innovative tactic to integrate email and social. Here are 5 other things a business can do:

1. Sharing email content into social streams.
2. Email acquisition via social channels.
3. Socializing email content.
4. Using social sign-in for account registration/opt-in.
5. Social CRM.

Personalization key for email in 2013

Personalization was big news in 2012, and it continues to be big news in 2013. You know what else is key? Email and mobile integration. Julia Rieger, Director of Marketing, LiveIntent says:

“Along with the rise of ‘Smartphones’ has come a resurgence of email as the primary tool for information exchange.  The first thing that most people set up on a new Smartphone is going to be their email accounts.

As the email address continues to gain in importance as the unique identifier necessary for joining and using services like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, former detractors will come to realize that email isn’t something to fix, it’s something to leverage to create greater engagement.

Beyond its messaging applications, email addresses retain their position as unique identifiers and database primary keys and as such key ingredients for ‘big data’ and CRM.”

We agree and we’d go one step further to declare that a marketer who is going to be a runaway success is one that integrates email, mobile and social into one seamless messaging stream.

Key Email Engagement Tactics: Benchmarks and Trends

A study has found that 50% of marketers are planning to optimize email campaigns for the mobile experience. Their plans include developing a rich-text mobile version (36%), promoting mobile apps (21%), and optimizing email dimensions (18%). Other findings:

• 71.5% of marketers are inviting subscribers to fill in surveys through email. 25% of these surveys are opt-out surveys, where marketers try to glean some info on why these customers are unsubscribing.
• More than 52% of marketers have used gifs in their campaign and the report states that gifs are a good way to attract attention.
• 21% of marketers use symbols in subject lines – a study has found that it could increase open rate by more than 15%.
• When it comes to social integration, Facebook (98%) is the number one platform, followed by Twitter (91%) and YouTube (45%).

Industry slow to adopt DMARC email standards

For those of you not in the know, DMARC was created by a group of companies, including our partner, Return Path, to set certain standards to reduce online security threats such as phishing. As our Chief Revenue Officer, Ralph Lentz notes:

“If you’re a bank, retailer, publisher or any kind of brand, do you want your email to be the only message in your customer’s inbox not flagged as DMARC-secure?”

While the speed of adoption by the industry may be in a grey area, adoption by the email community has been rapid. As of now, it is an email marketing best practice, but in a few months, it might not even be a choice for marketers, as all the leading gatekeepers such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are already on board.

Is your company’s email DMARC secure? Are you effectively integrating social, mobile and email? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section! Or you could find out more about DMARC when you download the How DMARC Is Saving Email eBook!

How DMARC Is Saving Email