Read These Customer Retention Lessons from Real-Life Onboarding Case Studies

Could a good "teardown" serve as your next big retention strategy?

Ben Jacobson
September 23 2019

Offering “teardowns” and “growth studies” of successful (and sometimes not-so-successful) businesses grew into a popular content genre as marketers realized how helpful and insightful they can be.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, you’ve still likely seen a teardown article. You know those posts taking you step-by-step through a company’s communications? They break down everything from landing pages and emails to in-app messaging, along with commentary and critique on what works and what doesn’t.

If you’ve ever dug into a really great teardown and felt inspired to change your own strategy, you understand the value this content brings.

Teardown blog posts are especially useful for a few reasons.


Firstly, I find it super helpful to have a resource with all of these assets laid out in front of me, to see on one page exactly how a given company goes about handling onboarding. For a company to be popular enough to become the subject of a teardown, they’re usually doing a few things right. Just looking at the existing assets as a set can show you opportunities to improve your own company’s marketing, and if you’re doing this type of research anyway, then it can be a huge time saver if a blogger essentially compiles it all on your behalf.

Next, you have the insight from the expert doing the teardown. For each asset featured in a teardown or growth study, their own comments can unlock a treasure trove of distinctive and highly effective ideas.

Finally, the format takes advantage of the fact that we’re wired for observational learning. By going through the abbreviated motions of a pricing page or onboarding audit alongside the author, you get a better sense of how these experts go about optimizing onboarding flows – what specifics they look for, and what their process is.

You can take this and apply it to improving your own skills as a retention marketer, extrapolating small bits of their advice to larger parts of your strategy.

As onboarding is such a crucial component to increasing retention and decreasing churn, it’s a great point in the customer journey to examine for overall retention inspiration. To prove it, let’s take a look at a few teardowns by experts who know a thing or two about onboarding and retention, and what we can learn from their content.

Zendesk’s Pricing Page Proves Retention Starts Early

Let’s first look at the beginning of the new user journey: pricing and Price Intelligently’s teardown of Zendesk’s pricing page. Zendesk has evolved massively since its inception, making retention an interesting topic of discussion as more products are offered and their brand evolves.


As pricing and retention pros, Price Intelligently’s team was obviously interested enough for CEO Patrick
Campbell to take a look. While pricing pages may be more frequently associated with sales than retention, Price Intelligently shows that Zendesk considers customer retention from the start.

Campbell points out that this page is a good foundation of the user experience, especially for explaining a software that’s evolved from a single tool to a software suite. Yet despite offering multiple different products, it’s clear the focus is on the bundled suite.

While the discount might seem steep, Campbell notes that this is a retention move. “While on the surface, their suite pricing is discounted from what those products would cost bundled together ad hoc,“ he writes, “offering an aggregate price for their customers is a great way to boost retention and will likely result in a higher ARPU. Customers are buying for the long haul.”

And he’s not just guessing at strategy and results – he surveyed over 5,000 current, former, and prospective Zendesk customers before arriving at a conclusion.

What can you take away from this if your own business model is less complex than a multi-product software suite?

First of all, it’s never too early in the buyer’s journey to start thinking about retention and making plays for customer loyalty and boosting lifetime value through cross-sells and upsells. Zendesk’s pricing may not seem as smart from an initial revenue point of view, but it makes sense in the long-term, and that’s what businesses should be focusing on wherever possible.


You might also want to consider how you can reward your own customers for making a bigger commitment. It might cost Zendesk customers less to buy multiple products in one suite, but it’s a bigger long-term investment for the customer to adopt so many tools at once. The discount is a reward for a bigger relationship.


Finally, look at potential expansion opportunities within your pricing plans. Zendesk offers add-ons to increase revenue from customers who don’t need to completely change their plan. How can you offer your customers smaller upgrade items like that as well?

InVision’s Onboarding Shows Good Design Counts

Next, let’s look at the Highlights blog and their teardown of InVision’s onboarding emails. Highlights’s software monitors and analyzes marketing communications and content for their customers, so customer success manager and post author Etienne Garbugli has seen enough data and campaigns from customers to know what works and what doesn’t.

InVision’s collaboration and workflow tool for design teams was founded in 2011, grew fast, and built a strong brand with loyal advocates. This teardown is particularly intriguing because, as Garbugli writes, “InVision’s team is clearly doing a lot of really good things on the product and community side, but how good are they really at email marketing?”


Overall, Garbugli gives InVision an average rating while citing many areas for improvement. InVision does have some strengths at play in its emails, such as design and social proof. He points out how “stunning” the emails are and how it’s in keeping with the brand, something they rely on a lot with their email strategy.

The onboarding drip sequence also makes a strong case using social proof, with the second email focusing on case studies from well-known companies.

According to Garbugli, however, InVision’s onboarding sequence could benefit from personalization and focus.

Where the sequence seemed to lay out all of the user’s options as quickly as possible, it could have provided more strong and focused calls-to-action, spreading out the CTAs over more onboarding emails.

For example, Garbugli breaks down InVision’s fairly short onboarding sequence, jumping to a jumble of nurturing and content emails without covering the product basics. Instead, InVision could have sent emails focused on each feature and case study, presenting the best content at the best time. “On Day 2, I was already overwhelmed with the different things I could try or do,” he notes.

They could have also improved these emails’ impact on customer retention by personalizing their newsletters, which Highlights notes are long-scrollers that feel unfocused. By more carefully selecting which features and content to direct to users, the onboarding can deliver them to their ‘aha moment’ more seamlessly, while more general newsletters can keep people engaged over time.

MixMax Makes It Personal

Finally, let’s look at onboarding expert and email marketer Val Geisler’s teardown of MixMax’s onboarding emails. MixMax is an email tool themselves, so the drive for them to understand how their customers use email is high.

As you can see below, they’re pretty different from InVision’s emails. MixMax’s emails have a more personal feel, which Val believes works in their favor.

Their overall email marketing strategy differs as well. Where InVision’s email onboarding was minimal in message volume, Val received eight onboarding emails from MixMax over two weeks, in addition to newsletter-style emails.

There are two main takeaways from Val’s post that I think are especially poignant. Firstly, note that the onboarding emails are sent from a co-founder.

While sending emails from a person instead of a group or role-based email is great, onboarding emails are an opportunity to start your customer’s relationship with the people who will be helping them on a day-to-day basis, like a customer support hero. Personal emails are good, but personal emails from their main point of contact instead of the co-founder are better.

Secondly, there truly is an art to educating users around your product. In stark contrast to InVision’s email rounding up several features at once, MixMax organizes their onboarding and education into a sequential email course.

The series focuses on educating users around features that will increase their usage and retention long-term. Then each individual email focuses on a single tip for using the software, employing benefit-driven subject lines.

This avoids overwhelming users during their initial user experience and introduces them to features as they’re likely to need them. For example, if you work for software with a monthly reporting feature, introducing that at the end of the month when users are likely to be creating monthly reports and summaries, might be ideal timing.

Tear Down Your Own Experience

After reading the above teardowns, look at your own customer experience and onboarding. Are you planning for and working toward retention early enough? Is your content focused on delivering users to their ‘aha moment’?

Take the lessons from within these posts and conduct your own onboarding audit to make sure your customers are being treated the way you know they should be.

Ben Jacobson

Ben Jacobson is a marketing strategy consultant who specializes in content, social media and influencer marketing for B2B firms. He contributes regularly to publications including MarketingLand, Search Engine Journal and the Orbit Media blog.

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