Hack your customer development with a drip email course

I recently described a more effective technique for getting high-quality customer insight in Customer Development for SaaS: Do training, not interviews.

However, you still have to find customers and offer them training. Here is a hack we used to meet more customers and validate demand for All Aboard! using drip email courses.

Why use email courses for customer development

Customer Development is a sales process – you’re asking someone to trade their time and knowledge in exchange for some (yet unknown) future benefit. That’s why it is hard to find them.

In sales we ask customers to take steps, and a free email course gives them an easy first step. We’re offering to trade them knowledge in exchange for an email address and time.

Additionally, courses attract customers who

  1. know they have a problem,
  2. are looking for a new way to solve it, and
  3. think you might be able to solve it

IOW, those likely to buy from a startup.

How to get customer interviews through an email course

In January we hypothesized All Aboard!, a new “concierge” onboarding product for SaaS companies based on what we learned about customer behavior in SoHelpful. Here is the process we used to validate demand with our drip email course Double your trial-to-paying conversions with concierge onboarding.

Step 1: Know WHAT you’re trying to test

I didn’t try to validate demand for All Aboard! through customer development – that’s unrealistic.

Instead I was trying to test assumptions about how SaaS teams felt about onboarding:

  • They believed they would get more paying subscribers by talking to trial customers on the phone.
  • They wanted to “qualify” trial customers before investing in calls.
  • Scheduling customer calls, following-up, tracking results was a major PITA using a collection of different tools.

Take a look at these assumptions – you’ll notice they have nothing to do with my product ideas. Test assumptions about customers’ motivations, feelings and problems.

Step 2 – Create customer personas

We use customer personas to give focus to our marketing efforts and copy. Here are the two we created in January before writing the course:

Sassy Sally – Sassy Sally is a a founder SallyAPP, a SaaS company. She is the prospective buyer of All Aboard!

Helpful Heather – Helpful Heather is SallyAPP’s first customer success rep. Onboarding is one of her key responsibilities and she is the primary user of All Aboard!

Here are the Sassy Sally and Helpful Heather personas we created

They are messy and imperfect – that’s life in a startup, you get it 70% right and move on.

Obviously … I’m a Sassy Sally and Chiara is a Helpful Heather.

Step 3 – Create the email course landing page

Once we knew what we wanted to test and who we wanted to meet we were ready to write the landing page copy. We needed to explain who the course is for and what they can expect to learn. We also try to make it sound fun.

Here is our landing page – the design is much better now but the copy is very close to the original.

Do not start by writing the course – start taking sign-ups first

Step 4 – Ask them to hit reply on the final confirmation email

MailChimp and other email solutions have final “Welcome” emails you can send to those who enroll in your course. Your customer development starts by customizing this email.

final_welcome_email

This email should have the following:

  • A warm subject inviting them to get help from you right now
  • An explanation that you’re still writing the course
  • An invitation to hit reply to provide some information and ask for your help

You will learn a lot just by reading their replies. Here is the exact email I used.

actual_final_email2

Step 5 – Email 10 friends a day asking for help to spreading the word

I learned this from Dan Martel – this is how you get people to your course.

Get a simple CRM (Streak is fine) or start adding your friends’ email addresses to a spreadsheet. Every day send 10 of them a personal, hand-typed email asking for help spreading the word about your course on social media.

Make it drop-dead simple for them with click-to-tweet or pre-written copy they can forward. I spend about 15 minutes on each email, so this takes 2-3 hours/day.

Step 6 – Train them – and write down a summary of what you discuss

I cover how to do the training in this post.

Be sure to write down a summary of everything the customers ask and what you discuss. You’re going to answer these questions in your course. Review it all with your team.

Step 7 – Write 1 course email a week

Write the email courses based on what you learn with the customers you train. Listen to their questions and tell your story in a way that answers them. Be raw. Talk about your failures, your fears, in a way that captures how they feel about their problems.

This type of writing is hard. Chiara and I work together and discard more than 50% of what we do. But occasionally it comes out well.

Email 2 of our course is my favorite. It took us days.

Step 8 – Send out the emails as you finish them

It took us 3 months to write our course with this process. We did it while working on the All Aboard! MVP.

You’re creating the beginning of a sales funnel

Yes, this is a LOT of work – every bit as hard as building the product. But going through this process will accelerate your sales experience by a year. You’ll meet potential customers, learn where to find them, and get real insight into their problems.

In a future post I’ll explain how you can use your course to get trial customers.


What the heck is Concierge Onboarding? Learn how SaaS founders, product marketers, and Customer Success VPs are doing it to increase trial-to-paid conversions and reduce churn in our free concierge onboarding course.

Photo credit: Kevin Fitz
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