How to Create an Email Marketing Program that Converts (Step by Step Guide)

by Etienne Garbugli no comments.

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When I joined LANDR Audio as the 33rd employee, only 4 lifecycle emails were being sent, and only one of them was performing. When I left, two years later, the email marketing program had well over 300 emails.

For freemium products like LANDR, email is key. Everyday, users sign up, try the product, and if they don’t become customers right then, they leave. Email is what helps users understand the full value of the product, prompts them to return and gets them to buy.

When done properly, at least.

Getting started with email marketing automation can be daunting – With your email marketing tool connected to your marketing data, you can send emails for just about any behaviour on your website or in your product. With so many possibilities, where do you start?

The best way to kickstart an email marketing program is to start by covering the customer journey from signup to conversion and then expanding from there.

Key emails will be:

  • The Welcome email (High send volume)
  • The Onboarding email series (High send volume, high impact on retention)
  • Your Upsell email (High business value, direct line to revenue)

Here’s our 5-step process to help you get your email marketing program off the ground:

Step 1 – Set a goalpost metric

Start with two metrics: One user acquisition metric at the top of the funnel that measures how many new users are signing up and taking their first action. And then one user engagement metric further down the funnel that measures how often these new users engage with the product over time. – Austin Chang, Google Assistant Product Manager

To create an email marketing program that moves the needle, you first need to understand what metric you’re trying to move.

Conversions? Demos? Activation? Retention? Hint: Your goalpost metric doesn’t need to be a purchase.

For example, at LANDR Audio, an AI mastering tool for musicians, we were optimizing the customer lifetime value. The goalpost metric was a certain number of masterings completed because we had discovered that this action was highly-correlated with long-term customer monetization.

To find a similar metric, you need to understand the full customer journey – the experiences that customers go through when interacting with your company.

Customer journeys can get pretty messy, so a good way to keep things focused is to define the ideal path for your users:


Sign up







What are your users trying to achieve? What actions do you want them to perform?

The ideal path towards your goalpost metric will help simplify (and clarify) your understanding of the customer journey. It will also give you a frame from which to evaluate whether your email marketing program is making progress or not.

Step 2 – Map your Aha moments

Recipients who opened your first email are 64% more likely to respond to subsequent emails. – Keith Carlson

First impressions matter. Chances are, if your users don’t engage with your initial emails, you’ll have a hard time engaging them later on.

Your retention emails won’t perform if you’ve not taken the time to establish credibility and build trust in your emails. That’s the reason why you want to start from the top.

With your goalpost in mind, look backward. What steps lead to users taking this action?

You’ll want to map the Aha moments – moments of realization of value – leading to the goalpost action. And by understand, I mean understand from your users’ perspective, not yours.

To find these moments, you can do Jobs-to-be-Done interviews or try and sell your product, listening to the elements that help users « get it ».

For example, if your product was a smartphone, your Aha moments might be:

  1. Quick setup
  2. Calendar and email sync
  3. Camera quality
  4. Video content suggestions
  5. Easy app management

Write an email for each of the top five Aha moments starting with the most compelling and finishing with the least.

Although the five emails will be completely different, they will share the same goal (move users towards the goalpost).

Step 3 – Setup your email marketing program

For this first email series, you’ll want to maximize coverage, and get as close as possible to 100% of your users receiving the emails. To do this, your best bet is time-based automation, sending emails at fixed-day intervals following the sign up date (e.g. Day 1: first email, Day 3: second email, etc).

A good starting point is to send your first email on Day 1, and then followup every other day.

You’ll need to test and experiment with timing and frequency monitoring closely your unsubscribes. There’s a clear benefit to compressing the timeframe of your email series. Through testing, MeetEdgar learned that they could reduce the timeframe of their onboarding series to roughly one-third of its original length with no negative effects. For them, it meant onboarding users faster.

At LANDR, we found that if users didn’t become active within the first 90 days, fewer than 2-3% ever did.

This meant that we had to be more pushy early on to get users to reach the goalpost.

Once a user reaches your goalpost action (e.g. paid, activated, etc), remove them from the email series, and change the way you communicate with them. You want these users to feel like they’ve made significant progress; they’re no longer newbies!

Step 4 – Optimize

Once the bases of your email marketing program are covered (e.g. all emails are in place), you’ll want to optimize their performance.

Initially, you should optimize until you get open rates between 30 and 50%, and click rates around 1/6th of your open rate.

These ratios will vary according to your industry, your customer segmentation, the quality of your content, the topic, the quality of your subject lines, the ‘From’ name, the sender’s email address, and a lot more factors we’ll look at in a following post.

The best way to get results is to run constant A/B tests (e.g. subject line vs. subject line, ‘From’ name vs. ‘From’ name, call-to-action vs. call-to-action, etc), changing one element of the email at a time.

You may want to pre-test your subject lines using a tool like Subject Line Tester, and stress-test the email templates using one of these tools.

You’ll also want to track performance on your website to figure out if your users actually perform the action you want them to perform (buy, activate, read content, etc) once they click the links in your emails.

You can use Google Analytics with utm codes or Highlights to quickly get that information.

I suggest following a weekly cadence of optimization (2–3 hours per week), and expanding gradually.

Step 5 – Expand your email marketing program

Once the basic path to conversion (or your first goalpost) is covered, you’ll probably want to expand and create new email sequences for:

  • Retention (Newsletters, engagement, etc)
  • Expansion (New features, new products, upsells, etc)
  • Feedback (Surveys, NPS, interviews, etc)
  • Support (Troubleshooting, followups, etc)

We’ll cover these in upcoming posts. Sign up to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss anything!


Interested in building your own email program?

We just launched a SaaS Email Masterclass ? to help increase trial conversions with email.

Etienne Garbugli
Étienne is a three-time startup founder (Flagback, HireVoice and Highlights), and the author of Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want. At Highlights, Étienne is responsible for customer success.

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