Customer-centric Growth by Lincoln Murphy

5 Rules for SaaS Email Marketing and Transactional Messages

SaaS providers should use email to drive Engagement, Conversion, and Retention, but to achieve those goals, some rules should be followed.


Regardless of the type of email – Transactional or Marketing – your email has to:

The implementation of the tactics required to reach those goals vary from absolutely required (in the first two) to suggestions of what seems to work but you’ll want to test (the last three). I encourage you to know your customer and focus on them before creating any type of email marketing campaigns, follow-up sequences, etc.

Get Delivered

One day I was working with a SaaS vendor with a super-low free-trial-to-paid conversion rate. As I was going through their metrics, I saw that over 50% of the people that signed-up for their Free Trial never clicked the link in the activation email.

After some investigation, it turned out that they had a delivery problem that was causing the email delivery to fail… they worked hard to get people to sign-up for their Free Trial and INSTANTLY turned away at least 50% of their prospects because they didn’t get the activation email!

Don’t be like that… get your emails delivered using these tips

Generally, improving the chances of delivery is accomplished by using some combination of SPF and DKIM (as mentioned above) to basically show the email infrastructure gods that the system you’re sending from is an authorized agent for the domain you’re representing vs. some random machine out there sending “on behalf of.”

This is accomplished at the DNS level in conjunction with some settings with the provider you’re using. Before you choose a solution, make sure they offer this level of authentication. Also ensure that you have the ability to do this on your end (you have to make changes to your DNS settings).

Most modern outbound prospecting systems do since they’re usually built on top of Mandrill, Mailjet, or Sendgrid. And any modern systems built in the last few years – even from scratch – are going to support that.

You can also use Yesware or Hubspot Sidekick inside of GMail or Outlook and just leverage your existing email setup. This works really well, but in GMail you have to be cognizant of send limits

While there are behind-the-scenes reasons for signing and authenticating your emails, there is also something that’s receiver-facing that could erode trust if not taken care of.

If you’ve ever seen “sent on behalf of” or “sent via” in the from part of an email – especially in GMail – it was caused by an unsigned/authenticated email. This is most often the case when third-party systems send email for you. These include Email Marketing systems to CRMs to reminder services.

And this is a problem because it looks like the email comes from a third-party system… it’s obvious that your “personal email” was sent through an email marketing system and therefore is automated. Not a good way to start a trusting relationship, right?

Get to the Inbox

Google is continuing to make changes to GMail and their changes – as they should be – are for the users of GMail (and the advertisers that pay them to get access to the inbox UI).

Some of these changes – from the addition of the Tabbed Inbox to the image caching/proxy announcement of late 2013 – have the potential to massively disrupt email marketers and the way we’ve done business for years.

Of course, how substantially you’ll be affected by these – and future GMail changes – depends on the amount of your audience that uses GMail.

One thing we can assume, however, is if GMail does something and it seems like a good idea, then other Email providers – web-based or otherwise – may start to include those, too.

That said, there are still things we can – and should – to increase engagement with your audience regardless of what changes GMail has mad:


Asana is awesome because they have a todo list (which is what they are) that indicates you should check your email (though they still need to say who its from and to check your spam filter…)

  • Folks in the Internet Marketing business know that getting the email opened and validated is the most important thing right then so do whatever you can to make that happen.
  • You should look at it the same way.
  • Send both HTML & text versions as email systems that identify a piece of bulk mail but fail to see both versions will often see that as SPAM.
  • Make sure you’re CAN-SPAM compliant – address, unsubscribes

Get Opened



Get Read


Get ‘Em to Take Action


What SaaS Email Marketing / Engagement tools to use?

For transactional email, there is a list of resources in this post called “How to keep App-generated Email from Being Marked Spam

For email marketing, Free Trial follow-up, etc. you can use a variety of techniques.

Option 1 might be to roll your own follow-up process where you tag events in your app to send email via API through one of the vendors listed here.

Option 2 might use a more traditional Email Marketing service with an auto-responder (not triggered or behavior-based, but better than nothing!).

Option 3 could be to use one of the relatively new SaaS providers designed specifically for “lifecycle” email marketing.

Here are some potential vendors to checkout for Options 1 and 2:

Traditional SaaS Email Marketing / Newsletter / Auto-responder Vendors

There are tons of email marketing providers, but those are the six that I have direct experience with, though I recommend you do your homework when selecting any vendor.

SaaS Lifecycle Marketing Vendors

These are more focused on in-app messaging and heavier on the back-end analytics

There are tons of other “marketing automation” tools out there like Hubspot or Pardot… but that’s beyond the scope of this narrowly focused post. And many of those tools don’t do what some of these I’ve listed do.

Well, there you have it… no guarantees that all of that will help you, but I bet it will. I know for most SaaS providers, the time it took to read this was more time than they spent on their entire email marketing & follow-up strategy!

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