The anatomy of Zapier's e-mail outreach funnel

20 February 2019

Zapier is a pretty amazing success story. You don't grow from 0 to 600,000 users in three years without having done a lot right.

Ryan Berg has already written on Zapier's SEO strategy for reaching $35m in annual recurring revenue, which I don't want to repeat here.

For now, I'll just be looking at a single part of Zapier's acquisition funnel - their e-mail outreach strategy.

The platform

Let's be clear - Zapier is an awesome product that solves a real need for its users. If you've never heard of them, the platform lets you connect your apps together - so you could tell Xero to create an invoice every time a Google Form is completed.

But a lot of good products don't see nearly the same successes as Zapier.

They clearly did a lot right when it came to the other things involved in building a successful business - marketing, finance, recruitment, and so on.

In particular, they've been very successful in optimizing their inbound marketing channels.

Zapier is priced between $20 and $250, which is clearly too low to sustainably recruit customers one by one (though that's exactly what the team did during the early days).

Its investors need the company to grow and scale - meaning they need to reach millions of potential users, and convert a significant proportion to paying customers.

The funnel

I don't work for Zapier, so I can't claim that this is their exact strategy. For illustration purposes (and with some made-up numbers), say their funnel looks like something like this:
  1. Get 100 people aware of your name and your brand.
  2. Of those, get 70 to visit your website
  3. Of those, get 35 to signup as free users.
  4. Of those, convert 15 to paying customers.
  5. Of those, retain 7 for more than 12 months.
  6. Of those, up-sell 2 to premium packages

There's a huge amount of effort that goes into steps 1 through 3 - many of which are covered in the article I outlined earlier.

Specifically, Zapier has a free account (limited to 5 zaps), but starts everybody off on a 14-day trial of their unlimited tier.

A lot could be said about this, but for now, let's focus on their e-mail campaign to convert "free trial" users to paying users within 14 days from signup.

So assume you've arrived at step 3 - you've landed on the Zapier website and clicked their nice bright orange "SIGNUP" button.

Let's take a look at how Zapier tries to ease you through to the next step in the funnel.

Day 1 - the welcome e-mail

Straight away, you get a welcome email. This is important step, as users could drop out immediately after signup for any number of reasons.

Maybe they're interrupted by a phone call, or maybe they they found the interface too confusing.

Either way, reaching out with an immediate e-mail helps remind users that you actually exist. By the time a user has signed up, you've already invested a lot of time (and money!).

You don't want to lose users at that point simply because they forget about you. I've personally signed up for a dozen services that I've completely forgotten about.

Pinging their inbox (mostly) guarantees that they'll at least give you a second thought.

Before looking at the welcome e-mail itself, it's worth stepping back and looking at the Zapier platform, and what types of customers they are recruiting.

The complexity spectrum

Imagine we listed all SaaS apps in order of increasing "complexity".

Gmail would probably fall on the far left. Everyone understands the concept of e-mail, and an average user could probably create an account and send an email in under 60 seconds.

On the other end, you might have something like splunk - it isn't immediately clear what "real-time data analysis" actually means, and users need to play around with the interface before they really get a grip on things.

If I had to place Zapier on this spectrum, I'd probably put them slightly to the left of center.

There's definitely a bit of complexity around both the concept of the platform, and how it actually works on the inside. Users will probably need a little time to figure out what Zapier does and how to use it.

Why is this relevant to Zapier's outreach strategy?

Because any time the user thinks "I don't understand this" or "I can't figure this out", they might drop out of the conversion funnel. The more complex the application, the more effort needs to go into user education.

With that in mind, let's return back to that welcome e-mail. The Zapier marketing team starts by first repeating their core value proposition:

Let's remove some busy work from your day. We think computers should help you do more work, so you can focus on what's important to you.

then by reiterating what it is that Zapier actually does

Zapier integrates with the apps you use and helps them automatically run tasks for you in the background.

Messaging and repetition are key for cutting through the noise and standing out from the crowd. This is doubly important where your users need a bit of education.

The colour scheme

Quick visual test - look at the e-mail again, close your eyes for a few seconds, then open them. What did your eyes fixate on straight away?

I'm guessing it was the blue shaded "Create Google Calendar" box, which really stands out against the white and grey background (as do the red and green boes below).

Not only is this colour contrast important to draw your eyes downwards, but those specific colours are Google's brand colours (though not exactly the same shade).

I already know that the this e-mail is targeted to Google Apps because I signed up with a Google account: "Since you signed up with a Google account, we want to share a few popular ways people integrate Google Apps with Zapier."

I doubt the colour choices are coincidental, though it could just be a natural choice given the icons (Calendar/Sheets/Drive/etc) use the same palette.

Either way, strong colour contrast helps highlight what the Zapier team wants me to click, minimizing the risk that I close their e-mail and exit their funnel.

The explanation

The e-mail continues by educating and informing me about what Zapier does:

"We call the above integrations Zaps. In a nutshell, Zaps are blueprints that say: when this happens in one app, then run a task in another."

Creating a new word - like "Zap" - is great for handling complexity. It allows you to condense a lot of new concepts into a single word, meaning you can communicate neatly and concisely with the user.

The downside, of course, is that users need to first be educated about these new words and concepts.

You can see this in the repetition of the word "Zap" in the welcome e-mail. By using the word in close proximity to "Google Calendar", "Drive", and "1,000+ other apps", it helps reinforce the concept - Zaps are templates to let third party applications talk to each other.

Finally, the welcome e-mail finishes with Zapier's signature orange button. This is understandable - it's call-to-action that really stands out visually, and it's an opportunity for Zapier to log you back in and nudge you through the funnel.

Day 3 - the follow-up

A few days later, Zapier follows up with another outreach email - this time, with a video.

I can't say for certain that the playbook is the same for every user. There's probably a bit of A/B testing going on, so I might not receive the same content on the same schedule as others.

This time around, they go into more detail about building a Zap - filling in fields with data, static text and so on. This is a slight jump up the complexity curve.

Note that they don't overtly explain what a Zap is. The assumption must be that you already read and understood this concept from the first e-mail - by gradually exposing you to more and more complexity, they apply constant pressure to their user education efforts.

The choice of video for the second email is interesting. I can't comment on whether this converts better than written content, but I can comment on the URL of the video link:

I'm being sent to the "Inactive Day One" campaign, a clear indicator that Zapier's outreach content is tailored to your behaviour on signup.

If I had created a Zap on day one, they would have sent me a different e-mail. I hadn't, so they sent me this one.

What they're doing here is segmenting users based on behaviour during the early stages of their lifecycle.

The alternative would be throwing the same content at everybody to see what sticks.

I assume the company has crunched the numbers to figure out that users who complete a Zap during their trial period are more likely to convert than those who don't.

Unfortunately I can't compare against the e-mail that's sent when you do setup a Zap on day one. Maybe I'll set up another account and see what the team sends to me.

Partial completion

In addition to their periodic 3-day outreach, Zapier also send an out-of-cycle e-mail if you start configuring a Zap without finishing.

Clicking through their link, we see they're specifically targeting users who have abandoned a Zap partway through:

It makes sense to reach out to these users - they've presumably been sidetracked, found the process too daunting, or decided that the platform doesn't do what they wanted.

If the users drops out for the first or second reason, it's important to get a second shot at capturing mindshare.

Days Five and Seven

Zapier sends two more periodic follow-ups, on days five and seven:

Follow up e-mail sent on day five

Follow up e-mail sent on day seven

On day five, there's a heavy focus on case studies. Lots of photos of actual people, too - there may be some psychology behind the use of real-life faces, but I don't know whether this is intentional or not.

Surprisingly, day seven content is the most generic of all.

There's no mention of Zapier's own platform (aside from a tiny "Thanks for trying Zapier" at the end) - just links to recommendations for the best apps for note-taking, productivity and a few others.

It's interesting to think about the mechanics at play here.

If you're still inactive on day seven, that means you've received three direct e-mails about Zapier and their platform - none of which worked to bring you back.

By this stage, you may be unreceptive to the "in-your-face" approach, so the team changes tack and presents you with some more general, organic content. The hope might be that this is enough to grab your attention and have you move through the funnel of your own accord.

This is the end

It's amusing to see the change in tone in the last e-mail you receive when your trial ends.

Gone are the thoughtfully designed templates, the bright inspiring colours and the videos.

We're back to plain text, and a curt "Your free 14-day trial of Zapier's premium services ends tomorrow!".

You almost get the feeling that the company decided "You don't deserve the pretty e-mails any more! You're a tight customer and we're not going to waste our time with you".

Conclusion

While I don't know specifically how Zapier's e-mail outreach affects conversion, I can say that a lot of time and effort has been invested into this part of the funnel.

We're launching Sweep with a view to making this process easy for anybody running a SaaS platform, mobile app or even just a landing page.

If you feel it's time to start optimizing your conversion funnel, sign up for early access to Sweep. We'd love to help guide you through the process.

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