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What’s an onboarding series and when do you need it? It all starts with a problem: You recognize that convincing a lead to purchase your product or sign up for your app is a huge feat—but it doesn’t guarantee victory in the long run. If you think your job is done when new subscribers opt in, you couldn’t be more mistaken. Stopping there will put your lead gen efforts to waste.

In an age of empowered customers, obsessing over the sales funnel is no longer enough. You need to start fostering long-term engagement if you want your business to grow. In fact, companies that actively nurture their leads get 50% more sales-ready leads at 30% lower cost, according to Forrester.

You already got their attention. They handed over their phone number or email address because they actually want to know what you got. All you need is to follow through with an onboarding series.

What does onboarding customers mean?

The idea is to get your customers familiar with your product and your organization, thereby laying the ground for brand engagement and loyalty. For the record, onboarding is not the same as newsletter subscriptions or blast messaging that ask users to read your shares recent news and blog posts.

Onboarding usually starts with a welcome message, followed by a number of related messages meant to inform, educate, and engage. For instance, you can show them how to use your product, discover key features, or find uses to get the most out of your product or service.

While it seems like the obvious thing to do, not many companies think so. Marketing Sherpa’s benchmark report shows 65% of companies have not established a lead nurturing program. And that’s a massive opportunity lost. That a customer gave you permission to interact with them on a deeper level is something you don’t take for granted.

You need to make efforts to make your customers comfortable with your brand. Help them transition from interest to participation with ease. Show them why they want to get involved. Make a good first impression. Because the thing is customers love brands that care about them. They like brands that resonate their personal values and passion.

How do you set up an onboarding series?

In essence, an onboarding series is a drip campaign. And what a drip campaign does is send automated messages to your subscribers via a preferred medium (e.g. SMS, email, etc.). The content of your entire campaign must be tied up to a goal – in this case, it’s warming up new subscribers to your organization.

Onboarding can be done via any medium: email, SMS, voice, print, letters, billboards, or by personal one-on-one contact.

Since you already have your customer’s email or contact number, you now have a more targeted platform to leverage. Email onboarding is widely used, for example with MailChimp or, but the churn rate is around 32%. There’s simply too much competition for inbox space. Next to that is SMS messaging, which shows great potential for engagement.

Between email and SMS, when it comes to open and response rates a SMS Drip campaign performs better. That’s mainly because you don’t need internet connection to view your texts as you do emails. And partly because a text message is often immediately opened by the recipient.

Either way, both platforms make automation possible. As you may well know, automation lets you reach customers at scale. Using a robust drip campaign tool, you can set up an onboarding series in less than an hour. Optimizing it is also easier since you have inbuilt testing and review tools.

How do you know which content your registered leads are interested in the most? Take cues from previous interactions. Did they click on the link in your last message? Alternatively, you leverage behavioral triggers. Set up an activation message if a new user checks out a section in your website, for example. The message should get them interacting with you, e.g. success stories, supplemental readings, case studies, etc.

Nir Eyal’s Hook Model gives more insight to onboarding content:

When does it stop?

New subscribers are most likely to churn and consider competitive offers within the first 90 days of the customer lifecycle. This is why early and frequent interaction matters most.

While the primary goal of onboarding is to welcome new customers to your company, your entire campaign should last through the customer lifecycle.

What makes a good onboarding series?

There is a right and a wrong way to do onboarding. To run a successful one, keep these best practices in mind:

  •         Send a welcome message immediately after a customer signs up. This way, you are banking on mental availability and maintaining engagement. The welcome message usually thanks users for opting in, and reiterate the perks of signing up or expectations for future message content.


  •         Follow up frequently. Send additional messages designed to move the interaction forward. For example, introduce them what your brand offers, drop hints on which features to explore, or invite them to a free trial. Include a link that will direct them to the information you promised.


  •         But don’t overwhelm them. Bombarding a new subscriber with onboarding messages right after sign up is the quickest way to get marked as spam. Give them several nudges, but don’t shove them away.


  •         Focus on educating the subscriber. Make each message count and ensure the entire experience is as meaningful and positive as possible. Leave traces for further interaction, i.e. call-to-action. Keep salesy content to a minimum.


  •         Go straight to the point. You’re lucky if your email gets opened. So be sure the content is worthwhile. Of course, to get your email open, you need an effective subject line.


  •         Ask for feedback.  Your onboarding campaign is actually an opportunity to collect additional customer information. You can better personalize your future messages when you understand their intentions and goals. And your customers will love the fact that their feedback matters.


  •         Test, test, test! For better results and long-term success, running a/b tests is a must.

The customer lifecycle doesn’t end once they pay for your product/service. Keeping them engaged and happy keeps them coming back for more. 


Chenzi May is a freelance web content writer and a blog contributor. She helps blogs and business websites sparkle with well-researched, brand-consistent copy. She writes on any subject but particularly likes writing about food, finance, and business.