Onboarding Email Sequence: Time-based vs Action-based
Words by
Jennifer Poblete
Last updated
December 1, 2021
Onboarding Email Sequence: Time-based vs Action-based

The onboarding process is a critical step for any SaaS company that wants to keep its customers and grow.

Sixty-three percent (63%) of customers state that the quality of support they’ll receive after signing up for the product is important to their decision-making.

But what are the best practices so your churn rate decreases and retention rate increases?

Firstly, you might want to decide on the onboarding email sequence to implement. The amount of nurturing your SaaS user receives can be time-based or action-based. 

As an industry, we're still figuring out the best practices. There is no template on this for sure. What is best today can be just good 10 years from now. 

Yet, (for today) concentrate on your first emails. Your onboarding. Rounding up your initial responses, there are a few things worth considering:

- How do you set expectations of what's in store after signing up for your product or service? 

- What to include in the first email after signup?  

- What steps should you take to make sure prospects have all the information they need before they start using your product or service?

Saas founders must clearly define this with their onboarding process. 


What you'll learn:

  • Why is onboarding important?
  • The Two Onboarding Email Sequence
  • What is a time-based onboarding email sequence?
  • What is an action-based onboarding email sequence?
  • When to use each type of onboarding email sequence?
  • Can I use triggered emails with time-based emails?
  • Which one should I use for my company's onboarding process?

Why is onboarding important?

User onboarding is important. Scratch that, it is necessary. Your first emails sent to your users either fire up their already warm desire to know you. However, it can also be detrimental to your app and lead the users to leave it without a second glance :'(

Should you send an email once they’ve signed up? When they log in for the first time? How long should I send emails? How frequent?

Wow! That’s a load of questions! 

Know what? Step one is, you [actually] only need to understand which onboarding email sequence to use: Time-Based or Action-Based Onboarding Email Sequence. The onboarding email sequence can increase your chance of converting new visitors into new paying users.

If you're new to SaaS, you may be wondering what the difference is between time-based onboarding and trigger-based onboarding.

The Two Onboarding Email Sequence

Onboarding is the process when you deliver valuable emails to your freshly signed up users. Users who are guided through the product can cut churn and provide continuous feedback. 

But emails are such an old communication tool! 

Has Email not yet proved itself worthy to your business? 

You may be missing out if you are not using emails. Because email marketing increases overall customer engagement. And by engagement, I mean upgrades from free to paying customers.

Subscribers will engage more with your emails in a well-crafted onboarding sequence. The process includes the ‘thank you’ message you will send upon sign up to a sequence of messages throughout their journey with your product. The onboarding process of your SaaS business can determine if you just welcomed future loyal customers or a one-time trial user.

There are two main sequences for email onboarding— time-based and action-based onboarding sequences.

What is a time-based onboarding email sequence?

A time-based onboarding sequence (or autoresponder series) is the easiest type of onboarding to set up. From the name itself, it sends emails based on ...  time. Regardless of the user’s current activity, the emails fired from this onboarding email sequence get delivered on time. 

SaaS onboarding using a time-based approach deploys according to the end user's sign-up schedule. More likely, services using this type of onboarding sequence are SaaS that offers a free trial. Say for a 14-day trial, a user, no matter what will be halfway or near the end of the trial. 

The advantage of course is getting this onboarding set up is quick on your platform. Only a number of emails is needed to successfully run the sequence.

Here's an example of time-based onboarding from Funnel Flows.

All users are notified about the same message in the same time frame despite the user's current activity. Hence, if a user upgraded on the third email, he will still receive the proceeding emails as scheduled.

Why should you send a timed onboarding email?

EASE. Since time-based onboarding uses fewer emails, setting it on your SaaS is relatively easy. Simply decide in how long your free trial is! You can also reduce the trouble of sending a mistaken identity email because it caters only to those who signed up for a free trial. In other words, your general market.

What is an action-based onboarding email sequence?

An action-based onboarding sequence (or triggered series) is a personalized way of treating customers by providing total engagement. You ‘oversee’ the customer journey when you send messages that are only relevant to their current status. The keyword here is PERSONALIZED.

Simply put, the Action-based SaaS onboarding process is a win-win deal for you and your customers. You provide what your customers need that lets them achieve desired results while you leverage automated services thus reducing manual tasks (and churn rates!). But I must say, that this type is more complex to set up. 

Why should you send an action-based onboarding email?

In case you are still caught with the past, let me remind you that it’s 2021. Some say, that this is the beginning of the SaaS take-off. And they are not totally wrong.  People no longer wait to be informed. Providing your customers with unsatisfying content can lead to their unsubscribes.

Sending out customized messages based on their action is the biggest reason why should you send an action-based email. Unlike timed emails, users receive only emails of their present stage on the product journey. And can even complete an entire campaign less than the scheduled time.

Here's an example of action-based onboarding from Loom.

Users receive value emails based on their behavior. They should be able to find the value of your app in the quickest way possible by customizing your sequence accordingly for each market.

When to use each type of onboarding email sequence?

This is not only a question of when but rather how. The most effective onboarding sequence can convert its new visitors to paying users. But if you work closely, it is how well your service guides and delivers that does. Visitors may NOT YET sign up but your effective emails while they are onboard can retain (and become their future trigger) even after ages. Talking about win back!

Back to the question,  when to use each type of email sequence? 

  • If you have a complex service or tool that offers a free trial, use time-based onboarding. 

  • It is, however, better to use an action-based or event-based email automation if your onboarding process needs to be customized. 

Can I use triggered emails with autoresponder emails?

Even after all this differentiation, perhaps the best onboarding email sequence involves both triggered and time-based emails. For one, there will be a difference in the level of attention needed by subscribers, so you will need to create separate sequences for active and inactive subscribers.

For free trial users, you can set a time-based sequence where all users reach the first day to trial expiration. But a good catch here is to inject an action-based email for those who have already upgraded or fulfilled the set goal along the way. To expedite things up, you can ‘eject’ these converted users and tag along to the sequence for paid subscribers.  

Which one should I use for my company's onboarding process?

Let’s put on the shoes your customers wear. Wouldn’t it be great to have a reliable provider who is focused on user’s success while helping you understand the full-service benefits? If you think otherwise, you just need to send an email. No further discussion required.

And your answer to this ‘almost-obvious question will tell you which to use. 


The onboarding process is crucial — this is where your customer begins to spend time. When you’ve realized that you need proper onboarding, choose which sequence best suits your SaaS. 

Fortunately, CaaSocio can help you create (or improve) the most effective SaaS onboarding email sequence you need may it be Time-Based or Action-Based. We are not only here to help you achieve your goal (MRR) but also to help you support your users attain the satisfying journey of discovering your tool. 

"It's not too late to stop wasting your marketing budget"

Send an email [add some in-app messaging too!] explaining how your customers can make life easier with your service while pointing out its awesome features.

What onboarding email sequence does your business need? Time-based or Action-based?

[Start with the onboarding email sequence you need and convert more users]

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