And just because a free trialer does convert doesn’t mean that they’ll necessarily adopt your product, stick around, and be willing to pay for further upgrades. There will always be some customers who switch to a different service, or who simply lapse and become inactive.
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 the effort: In our 2019 report on the state of product-led growth, we found that compared to acquiring net-new customers, it’s 2X cheaper to upsell to an existing customer—and almost 8X cheaper to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one.
Your resurrection efforts can pay off big time, as long as you keep the following things in mind.
1. Proceed cautiously with discounts
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 click-through rates on discount emails, but that doesn’t mean you’re netting a profit from them in the long term.
Patrick Campbell, SaaS pricing expert and CEO of ProfitWell, explains:
“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:
Customers who came in through discounts had a lower willingness to pay, higher price sensitivity, churned at a much higher rate, and had dramatically lower lifetime value than the core group. Overall, discounts led to short-term gain that quickly diminished over time.
One way to get around this is to only offer discounts to people who have already demonstrated a tangible, bankable interest in your product—in other words, the customers who have already bought it.Former buyers are the best targets to receive discounts, as they’ve demonstrated real intent far beyond what free trial users do.
In fact, former buyers are statistically much more likely to make a purchase. According to Paul Farris’ book, Marketing Metrics, repeat customers have a 60-70% higher chance of converting compared to other shoppers. Adobe conducted a similar study and found that customers who had made 2 previous purchases were 9x more likely to convert than a first-time customer.
2. Offer special promotions to former customers
This email from Hulu employs this tactic by offering discounts to churned customers—not churned trial users. And, since it’s only offered to people who have already bought the service, it’s statistically more likely to pay off.
With a subject line of “$2.99/Month Hulu Just for You: LAST CHANCE,” Hulu not only makes former customers feel special , but they also convey a sense of urgency to the offer.
Hulu also knows acknowledges these customers have already used the service once and left. They’ve added another compelling reason for customers to sign up again by emphasizing new seasonal TV shows and movies.
3. “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 more valuable than an empty “we want you back” message.
This re-engagement email from Blue Apron, for example, demonstrates how you can combine a discount with personalized content to add value. The email was sent to customers who hadn’t purchased a meal kit in a few months, with the goal of getting them back in the habit of using Blue Apron to cook dinner.
The email offers a $60 discount on a customer’s order, but not just any meal kit. Blue Apron deliberately highlights a meal kit that they know customers will be interested in based on their previous purchasing behavior. In this case, the customer had ordered vegetarian meal kits in the past, so Blue Apron highlights a new meal with meatless ingredients to create a more relevant experience.
4. Send personalized emails based on customer interests
The good news is that it’s easy to add value for customers these days, especially if you’re tracking in-app actions and can send triggered emails based on product behavior. Canva, for example, doesn’t just send a bland “come back to us” message to inactive users—instead, they send emails that directly speak to customers’ interests and visual aesthetic based on insights they’ve gathered.
Like the Blue Apron example, this email offers something valuable: curated templates. Canva knows this particular customer uses their service to show off their photography. So, rather than send a generic email with their most popular templates, Canva specifically highlights different ways to feature photos, like a photo collage or poster.
5. 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, your team probably want to shout it from the rooftops.
This email from Asana does exactly that. They want to show off a new feature to lapsed users and, in the process, highlight how their project management tool is constantly getting better.
The email clearly describes what the new feature is—more importantly, it also explains why lapsed customers should care. It addresses the main benefit (“so you can easily see where work stands and hit your goals”) and includes a GIF directly in the email to visualize the changes in case customers don’t click through to the app.
What’s more, this approach alos works works with older features. You can easily “re-release” existing features to users who don’t actively engage with that aspect of your app due to feature blindness.
6. Remind users you’re still there
HubSpot Product Manager Dan Wolchonok ran a number of experiments to reduce churn for Sidekick, a HubSpot product that has since been rebranded to HubSpot Sales. In doing so, he discovered that many users weren’t actively deciding not to use the service anymore—they had just forgotten about it. More specifically, they’d 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 anytime soon.
Sidekick’s solution was to create a small tooltip to remind people of the feature. Turns out, a lot of those churned users hadn’t actively churned—they’d just forgotten about the product!
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 to run behavioral cohort analysis, which allows you to identify the features that correlate with long-term retention. Those are the features 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.
7. Collect feedback during a guilt-trip-free offboarding
Politely asking customers why they’re leaving can give you valuable feedback to help improve your product and retain future customers. For example, if you learn that customers churn because your app lacks a certain feature, you’ll know that your re-engagement campaigns need to highlight that exact feature once it launches.
Mailchimp does a great job collecting feedback during offboarding. When users decide to permanently delete their account, the cancellation form lets customers select up to 3 reasons why they’re leaving (from a list of 15 possible options) and gives them the option to share what Mailchimp could do to improve with an open-ended question.
This is a strategy that Steli Efti, CEO of the CRM Close, uses as well. He’s a particular fan of open-ended questions such as Mailchimp’s “What could we do to improve?” or his own favorite to ask after a free trial: “What prevented you from choosing our solution?”
"The answers you receive won’t be nearly as easy to quantify as those from a survey form. But they’ll often be answers you don’t expect, and will be more valuable to the success of both your free trial and your product.”
In the end, quality beats quantity
If you’re trying to win back churned users, it’s important to do so at the right time—and to send re-engagement messages to the right people. The average U.S. smartphone user receives 46 push notifications per day and that number is only getting higher. In order for your notifications to be read, they need to feel relevant. Likewise, too many emails can feel spammy.
When it comes to bringing 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 the value to be gained by the user.
Jared leads demand generation for Appcues and is a full-stack digital marketer. When he's not marketing software, he's probably cooking up a new recipe, playing music with friends, or going to a concert somewhere.