14 minutes, 37 seconds, actually.
Because after 9,824 hours of practice, 15 minutes is all it takes for me to decide whether your email campaign is helping or hurting your trial-to-paid conversion rate.
Yes, I realize I sound like a used car salesman.
But here’s the reality. Your trial user probably spent 21 seconds reading your first onboarding email.
Email is your only shot to show them how much pain they’ll be in if they don’t choose your product…and you’ve only got a little less than 3 minutes to prove it to them.
And it all starts with a framework that I borrowed from the user experience world.
How to Apply the Design Life Cycle to Email
My 15-minute email campaign review is simply the start of a conversation with a prospect who’s considering rewriting their emails to reduce their churn rate.
No matter how many persuasion tricks I whip out…
Or however many glowing testimonials I produce…
You still want to know how I solve your problems. Not someone else’s.
By reviewing your emails in 15 minutes, I’m giving you a sample of what I would fix, based on mistakes I’ve seen made by other SaaS companies.
My 15-minute email campaign review became a standby for how I won projects and delivered work to clients. And it’s based on the concept of needfinding.
So What Exactly is Needfinding?
In my consulting firm, we define needfinding as:
Discovering what the problem space of the project, who the users will be, and what requirements they would like to see in the end project.
In human speak, needfinding is finding the right scope of work.
And needfinding is just 1 of the 4 steps in what Georgia Tech’s User Experience Design course calls the design life cycle.
In Other Words, Needfinding is a Fancy Term for Research
If you’re rewriting a homepage, a landing page, or some emails, you know better than to start without doing any research.
To begin, you might consider…
- Interviewing customers
- Observing users interacting with your product
- Designing a survey
But even if you’re well-funded, there’s nothing worse than hiring someone to get a task off your to-do list and then they spend weeks talking to customers…and not producing a damn thing.
The only organization that lets you get away with that is your local university.
If you are going to pay a premium for a consultant, you want them to get up to speed fast…and the outcome to be good.
Why Good Research Methods can be Fast & Cheap
So I collected some of the needfinding / research methods I knew about, and then ranked them by a number of categories.
For any given project, you can choose a handful of those.
But if you look closely, there’s one that happens to be cheap, robust, flexible, convincing, AND easy to learn…
It’s called a Think Aloud.
Here’s what the Guru of Web Page Usability Says about Think Alouds
Think Alouds are Jakob Nielsen’s tool of choice when working on projects for the world-renowned Nielson Norman group:
“Thinking aloud may be the single most valuable usability engineering method.” I wrote this in my 1993 book, Usability Engineering, and I stand by this assessment today. The fact that the same method has remained #1 for 19 years is a good indication of the longevity of usability methods.
To do a Think Aloud, you simply ask your users to use your system “while continuously thinking out loud — that is, simply verbalizing their thoughts as they move through the user interface.
It’s more or less the premise behind UserTesting.com & and UsabilityHub.com. Here’s why a think aloud so effective to a product owner:
“[Think Alouds serve] as a window on the soul, letting you discover what users really think about your design. In particular, you hear their misconceptions, which usually turn into actionable redesign recommendations…even better, you usually learn why users guess wrong about some parts of the UI and why they find others easy to use.”
So now we know: If you use Think Alouds to review your email campaigns, you start to understand what your users really think about your messaging…and whether it’s worth it to go for “the click.”
Here are 2 reasons a think aloud will help you see what’s going on with your email campaign.
1. Your workflow isn’t working the way you expect it to
The best way to review an email campaign is not in a Google Doc…
And a workflow diagram never helps.
So I do the next best thing: I opt into the campaign myself. And I make sure to record my screen while reading through the emails.
For more about CrankWheel, keep scrolling to find my sample review of their emails.
By reviewing emails this way, I’ve found edge cases that my client didn’t even know about. (Like figuring out some of their users were getting subject lines A & B.)
There’s tons of tools you can use to record your screen — I won’t elaborate on all of the different ones — but I prefer UseLoom because it’s free, embeds nicely in Gmail and Chrome, and I can send a link directly to the client afterwards.
So now we know: A video screen recorder is the best way to see what’s happening after a prospect opts into your email campaign.
Yet, there’s another reason the think aloud is so effective when reviewing emails…
2. You probably didn’t read your emails out loud
I’ve found the strangest things when reading emails out loud. Typos. Missing words. Cliches & phrases that don’t make any sense to Native English speakers.
99% of the time, I don’t care about that stuff. That’s easily fixed.
Instead, I turn on my microphone to have a conversation with myself, using 2 personas.
The first persona is a trial user who signed up for the first time.
The second persona is an email consultant.
You may think I’m crazy (literally), but it’s actually an 83-year-old therapy technique they call “dialogue chairs.” According to Leslie S. Greenberg, dialogue chairs is defined as:
“Encouraging a client to dialogue between two aspects of the self, one aspect expressed while sitting in one chair and the other expressed while sitting in the other chair, switching as needed from one chair to the other.”
You don’t actually have to switch chairs to utilize the methods, but the idea is to acknowledge the two personalities inside your head.
Here’s How I Apply Dialogue Chairs to Email
So my trial user persona might say,
“Hmm. That subject line intrigues me. I’m going to open this email.”
In contrast, my email consultant persona might say,
“This subject line utilizes curiosity to prompt the user to open it. It works initially, but loses effectiveness when it’s used throughout a 7-part onboarding sequence.”
See the difference?
What Actually Happens During a 15-minute Email Campaign Review
To demonstrate how this works, I did a 15-minute review for CrankWheel, after their founder, Jói Sigurdsson included one of my articles in his newsletter.
After the end of the review, I made the following recommendations to Jói which came down to 3 things:
1. Edit the cadence of their transactional emails vs. onboarding emails, if possible
2. Be very specific about who is the ideal customer of CrankWheel. In this case, it’s teams with a dedicated customer experience team during normal business hours.
3. Figure out the 1 step a trial user needs to get the most ROI out of the tool…and spend your time trying to get them to do that.
Here’s the 15-minute review
Keep in mind – I do not edit these videos. So it’s just me, clicking on emails and thinking aloud – ums & ahs, included.
Want a Quick Recap on Using Think Alouds for Email?
So if you’re scratching your head and trying to figure out how to move the needle on your trial-to-paid conversion rate and want to fix it fast…try doing a think aloud on your onboarding email campaign.
To start off:
1. Opt into your email campaign through your website
2. Record your screen as you sort through your emails (I like UseLoom)
3. Read your emails out loud, alternating between your customer & yourself
And let me know if you can actually do it in less than 15 minutes.
P.S. Interested in doing this with your email campaigns, but too lazy or busy to DIY? I have just the solution for you.