How to Bring Inactive Users Back from the Dead

Written by: Ty Magnin Ty Magnin 


Chances are, you’ve got a whole graveyard full of dead users.  

Dead, or inactive users, churn for a lot of reasons. Maybe they didn’t stick around after a free trial—which happens all the time. Softletter’s 2013 SaaS report found that for 41% of SaaS vendors, 9 out of 10 trial users don’t convert. Aside from that, you have people who aren’t willing to pay for an upgrade, who switch to a different service, or who just lapsed. 

A lot of companies make the mistake of assuming that their inactive users are gone forever—and in doing so they’re wasting a huge opportunity. Their inactive users have already demonstrated interest. It’s just a matter of re-igniting that initial spark. And it’s well worth it—re-engaging inactive users is 5 times more cost-effective than acquiring new ones.

Your resurrection efforts can pay off big time, as long as you keep these things in mind. 

Discounts Aren’t Always the Answer

Discounts can be a super powerful way to reactivate users—but applied without careful thought, they can also be deadly for your business. Sure, you get crazy-high clickthrough rates on discount emails, but that doesn’t mean you’re netting a profit from them in the long term. 

As a Fresh Relevance study found, a number of discounts in reactivation efforts weren’t worthwhile. In an A/B test of emails with and without a 15% discount, the company they studied made less net profit with the discount than without, even though they made more sales. 

  • With 15% incentive: $79,620
  • Without incentive: $80,184

This is especially true when it comes to acquiring customers. As SaaS pricing expert Patrick Campbell of Price Intelligently writes,”Discounts are the laziest path to a customer conversion and have serious ramifications for your SaaS unit economics over the long term—to the point of reducing SaaS LTV by over 30%.” Here’s what Price Intelligently found when they dug into SaaS discounts: 

price intelligently experiment

One way to get around this is to only offer discounts to people who have already demonstrated a tangible, bankable interest in your product—the people who have already bought it. It’s important to remember that not all inactive users are created equal. Former buyers are the best targets to offer discounts, as they’ve demonstrated actual real intent far beyond what free trial users do.

In fact, former buyers are statistically more likely to reactivate. An Experian whitepaper examining reactivation found that when offered the same reactivation discount, former buyers deliver 14x more in revenue than free trial users, and are more likely to continue making future transactions. 

Offer Discounts to Former Buyers

This email from ClassPass employs this tactic by offering discounts to churned customers—not churned trial users. In addition, instead of offering the same service at a different price—which, as Campbell writes, can devalue your product, they offer an alternative service that’s only offered for discounts.

ClassPass resurrection email

They give churned users a 4-class package instead of the unlimited one this customer had previously purchased. It feels novel since it’s not on the site or pricing page—it’s just for you. And since it’s only offered to people who have already bought the service, it’s statistically more likely to pay off. 

“We Miss You” Messages Need to Add Value


The “we miss you' email, when done wrong, can feel kind of pathetic. If a customer opted out of your service, they probably don't want to hear from you anymore. So if you’re messaging inactive users—whether through an email or push notification—you need to give them something valuable, not an empty “we want you back” message. Nobody wants that. 

Say Anything want you back

There are lots of ways to provide something of value (yes, even without offering a discount). This re-engagement email from CNET, for example, was sent to users who hadn’t opened or clicked an email in 180 days. The goal: get them to click through again. This email offered customers entry into a sweepstakes, if only they clicked through.  

Because it was something valuable and not just an empty email, CNET saw a win-back rate of 8%, and customers continued to open emails after this one! They got back into the habit of clicking on CNET emails because this one nudge urged them to do so. 

cnet email summit

Source: LinkedIn

Send Personalized, Triggered Messages

The good news is that it’s easy to add value to customers these days, especially if you’re tracking actions and can send triggered messages. Blue Apron doesn’t just send “we miss you” messages—they send ones that still add value because of insights they’ve learned.

This email personalizes its message to the recipient by recognizing that they opted out of the subscription this week (and there’s no animosity there), but they still offer you something. Like the CNET campaign, this email offers something valuable: recipes. What’s more, because Blue Apron remembers user preferences, the recipes are curated so that they’re tailored to that email recipient’s taste preferences. 

Blue Apron email

It takes an entirely different tone than the classic “come back to us” email, by turning it on its head and saying “look at all the fun you’re missing out on,” inducing the reader’s FOMO

Show Lapsed Users What’s New

One of the best ways to resurrect inactive users is through a new feature update. If you’ve just launched a new feature, and you’ve been working on it for a long time, you probably want to shout it from the rooftop. 

This email from Grammarly does exactly that. They want to show off some new features to lapsed users, and in the process, encourage lapsed users to install their native app. This email aims the new feature announcement message at users without the native app installed. If they have the app installed, they see feature updates in-app. If not, they get an email that also makes it really easy to install the app.

grammarly email get app

What’s more, this works even with old features. You can easily “re-release” old features to users who don’t actively engage with that aspect of your app, which is really common due to feature blindness. When users don’t get to an aha! moment fast enough, they start to become blind to the tools around them. 

Remind Users You’re Still There


HubSpot Product Manager Dan Wolchonok ran a number of experiments to reduce churn for Sidekick, a HubSpot producct. In doing so, he discovered that a lot of users weren’t actively deciding not to use the service anymore—they had just forgotten about it. A lot of users had forgotten to re-enable the Sidekick tracking box in their emails, which meant they weren’t getting a lot out of the service, and probably weren’t getting to an aha! moment. 

Sidekick’s solution was to create a small pop-up box to remind people of the feature. It worked wonders. Turns out, a lot of those churned users hadn’t actively churned, they’d just forgotten about the product!

dan wolchonok resurrecting users hubspot

It took Sidekick a great deal of trial and error to figure out how to boost their retention. If you’re wondering which features are most important for app stickiness, you can use tools like Amplitude that help you run behavioral cohort analysis, which allows you identify the features that correlate with long-term retention. Those are the ones that you want to make sure to bring back to your user’s attention, whether in an email or by using a tool like Appcues to send them an in-app message.

Ask For Feedback with Emails

Groove boosted their exit survey responses by 785% simply by making the call-to-action of their “reactivation” emails clearer and easier. Asking for feedback is much more effective—it shows that you’re listening and you care.  

groove open ended question feedback

The clear call-to-action, and ability to reply to an actual person at the company rather than just a “noreply@mycoolcompany.com” meant Groove saw real responses that made a difference.

It’s a strategy that Steli Efti, CEO of the CRM Close.io, uses as well. Offering up your time is one of the most valuable things you can give a customer. But not only does it show generosity, it invites meaningful feedback. “By sending the message from a real person,” he writes, “and giving users the option to hit the 'reply' button, you invite better responses... They’ll hand you concrete, actionable feedback that you can implement without waiting for quantifiable data to pile up.”

A written response is going to be much more valuable than clicking random numbers on your NPS survey. 

In the End, Quality beats Quantity 

If you’re going to send this kind of notification, it’s important to do it at the right time—and to the right people. iOS sends over 40 billion push notifications per day, and that number is only getting higher. In order for your notifications to be read, they need to feel relevant. Too many emails can feel likewise spammy. 

When it comes to brining your lapsed users back from the dead, it’s the quality of your messaging strategy, not the quantity of messages you send. In fact, one message can be much more effective than an entire campaign—if it applies these strategies and focuses on quality over quantity. 

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