The Six Triggered Campaigns Every SaaS Marketer Should Try

Almost any business can benefit from the strategic implementation of triggered campaigns (see: to increase mindshare, walletshare, and lifetime customer value. For SaaS businesses, though, the benefits can be even more powerful as success depends on the optimization of the ongoing revenue stream from existing customers and prospects in trial. In a SaaS business, there is a proliferation of customer “moments of truth” – points in the customer lifecycle when the customer experience can significantly affect the business decision-making process. Because services are often paid for as-you-go, a change in usage volume, a service experience, training attendance (or lack thereof), and the degree of understanding of the product features can all lead to decisions to increase or decrease contract levels. As a result, marketing based on usage behavior and lifecycle rises significantly in importance as there is a strategic imperative to influence and/or drive interactions.

With that in mind, the following is a list of triggered campaigns that any SaaS marketing team should think about putting into circulation:

  • Free trial conversion. Once a prospect is in trial, that is the opportunity to communicate the value of the product – to reiterate the benefits and make it an easy decision for them to move from trial to paid. The conversion campaign should be planned as a series of communications, ideally including sales scripting. Customer testimonials and cautious use of incentives (e.g., discount offers) can be effective.
  • Win Back. You win some; you lose some. Having invested in getting the prospect to trial or even to a paid subscription, you shouldn’t sit back and simply accept the loss of a customer. A campaign based on common reasons for cancellation and/or non-purchase, potentially featuring incentives to entice the customer back, is vital to ensuring that you are maximizing the return on your acquisition costs.
  • Onboarding. Immediately after a customer has agreed to a pay is not the time to sell, but it is definitely the time to reaffirm the customer’s decision and the value of the product, as well as preparing the customer for future communications. The Onboarding campaign can be a single email, a series of emails, or even a multi-channel/multi-touch effort.
  • Training attendance. Even if it’s the greatest software in the world, customers won’t use more, expand their user base, and spend more unless they really understand how to use it. A triggered campaign targeting training attendance is therefore vital to maximizing lifetime customer value. The campaign can target individual users or a point-person/advocate who has a stake in training attendance.
  • Cross-sell and up-sell. After the onboarding campaign has laid the relationship groundwork and the training attendance campaign has ensured initial satisfaction, it is time to begin trying to increase walletshare. Cross-sell and up-sell campaigns should not apply a “hard sell” approach; they should be informative rather than overtly promotional. Again, customer testimonials (e.g., “see how customers like you are getting the most out of the software”) can be a powerful messaging element.
  • Feedback. Nothing enhances satisfaction like being asked for feedback. Any important point of contact (e.g., service call, initial implementation, training session attendance) should be seen as an opportunity to solicit opinions. But beware: if you don’t take action on the feedback, asking can be worse than not asking at all.

The good news for marketers is that not only is lifecycle information available for triggers, but now, through companies like Totango (, one can easily create and execute triggered campaigns based on software usage.

Say “No” to the Third Helping of Meatballs: The Strategy and Pursuit of Trigger Campaigns

Launching a trigger email is a little like going back for seconds and thirds at an all-you-can eat buffet: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The temptation to launch a trigger campaign becomes stronger in light of the steady drum beat of email marketing experts who tell you it’s the right thing to do. However, what all this talk of email marketing “best practices” loses sight of is that, like any marketing tactic, trigger campaigns should be a logical response to a strategic problem.

The good news is that there are trigger campaign approaches that align with many common issues — you just need to figure out which campaign matches your strategic need. For example, let’s say you are a company that has made or will be making a commitment to content marketing as a driver of customer and prospect engagement. Your business model requires you to nurture contacts over a period of time until they are ready/have the need to buy. During this interval, you need to keep your company and products top-of-mind, but your response data suggests that you are not maximizing your potential to engage your audience.

In this scenario, the best application of a trigger campaign is to use your target audience’s responses to drive deeper engagement. Leveraging your available content, you can create a collection of emails triggered by a range of positive responses — clicking on an email, downloading a white paper from your website, visiting your booth at a conference — that offer the recipient “next steps” or additional information. The keys to making this kind of trigger successful are:

  • Clean data: Make sure that the email address to which you are sending the triggered email is the email address of the person who took the positive action.
  • Low friction: Make the featured content easy to consume to lower barriers to incremental engagement.
  • Timeliness: Deploy the triggered email within a day or two of the positive action to ensure that whatever spurred the initial engagement is still fresh in the target’s mind.

In our experience, triggered campaigns targeting those with a positive recent response have delivered view rates in the 60-70% range and engagement rates as high as 20%.

A Customer Experience and Lead-Nurturing Horror Story

What you are about to read really happened. It illustrates why companies need to pay better attention to the customer experience and why marketing — or a dedicated customer experience function — needs to have visibility into all points of communication with customers and prospects.

About two months ago, I received an email from Ronnie, a salesperson at a call center technology provider. I’m sure he was emailing me because I had previously filled out a form to obtain a white paper. I read and deleted the email because EMI doesn’t handle provisioning or recommending call center technology and I felt that talking to the sales person would be a waste of both our time. A few weeks later, Ronnie sent another email; he speculated that I “might have overlooked” his previous email and again asked for a meeting. I know how not getting a “no” answer can be a drain on a salesperson’s time, so I decided to write back to Ronnie:

Hello Ronnie,

I didn’t overlook your last email…I read it and deleted it. But kudos to you on your persistence. The reason I deleted the email is that we are not in the business of using or even recommending to clients contact center technology. If a need should ever arise, I’ll look you up.

Good luck and good hunting.

Imagine my surprise — and by surprise, I mean aggravation — when two days later I received another email from Ronnie, this one more insistent than the last:

Trying to reach you. Can we schedule a call?

That’s the whole email. Makes you want to be a customer, right? I wrote back to Ronnie in a tone much less considerate than that of my previous email, explaining I had in fact responded to his earlier email and he should not email me again.

Guess what happened three weeks later? That’s right, another email from Ronnie — exactly the same as his second one. Needless to say, he got another email back from me, fuming. Now the (somewhat) happy ending to the story is that Ronnie finally got the message (literally and figuratively) and responded very apologetically, which restored a bit of my faith in Ronnie and his company. But some significant damage was done.

What this story illustrates is how detrimental a lack of coordination and oversight in customer communications can be. This situation might have been avoided if sales email outreach were templatized and triggered by a lack of response by a customer. Obviously there was a template involved (hence the exact same wording in the second and fourth Robbie emails), but the triggering mechanism failed. Moreover, even if I hadn’t been furious about the lack of recognition of my replies, I would have been turned off by the fact that the second and fourth emails were exactly the same; if you’re going to create templates, create multiple templates for different stages in the sales process and don’t repeat their use.  Email templates in the sales process should follow a logic that assumes consumption by the recipient and seek to respond to that consumption/lack of response by changing the messaging and/or offer. While there is always the potential for innocent human error, the objective of lead nurturing should be to make the entire process as automated and mistake-proof as possible to maximize the impact (and also reduce the burden on sales to compose and send the emails).

I hope Ronnie learned a lesson, but did his company — or is some other Ronnie destined to make the same mistakes that could cost the company a real prospective customer?