SaaS Customer Onboarding in Six Simple Steps
September 21, 2021
If you’re operating a complex piece of software, it’s only natural to assume that your new customers will need time and training to grasp your product and make a habit of using it.
To allow for your software to naturally and seamlessly integrate into your customers’ lives, you should design a comprehensive yet easy-to-complete onboarding process.
This article will guide you through the six essential steps of customer onboarding and provide you with outstanding examples and pro tips on completing each step successfully.
Let’s dive right in with the first step!
Table of Contents
Design an Easy Sign-up Process
Good customer onboarding actually starts with the sign-up page. Unfortunately, this is where many companies see the first instance of customers turning away from their product.
In other words, a part of your interested prospects fails to convert into full customers because they never complete the sign-up. In fact, a Heap survey of 79 SaaS companies discovered that the average conversion rate for the sign-up process is only 36.2%!
If you look at the survey results, you will see that only three companies had sign-up conversion rates higher than 70%.
That’s usually because the sign-up process isn’t user-friendly enough and asks for too much information up front.
It would be a shame to lose valuable customers just because of a bothersome sign-up process, so it’s a good idea to optimize it for an easy and frictionless user experience.
Here are a couple of tips to make signing up for your product a breeze.
First and foremost, think about how the sign-up page is designed. The page should be simple and without distractions so that the customer’s attention is not drawn away from the sign-up form.
However, we’d recommend adding a call to action or a subtle reminder of the value your customer will receive after they sign up.
Take a look at HubSpot’s sign-up page.
The page is crisp and allows the customer to focus on the sign-up form immediately. Then, should the customer have any second thoughts, a handy note is present to remind the customer that the service is free, forever.
Your next priority should be to make the signing-up process as short as possible. That means asking for as little information as possible in the initial sign-up window.
For instance, check out Trello’s sign-up page below.
Trello only asks for your email address, which is an excellent practice because any interested prospect would be willing to give out that information.
Moreover, it’s a good idea to include social autofill to get more completed signups.
This relieves the user from having to type in any information by hand. Instead, autofill completes the signup process using information that your email provider or social media profiles already have.
Internet users love this feature, and it may be enough to boost your sign-up conversions by as much as 189%.
But sometimes, to successfully onboard your customer, you might need more information than that. In that case, a good practice is to divide the sign-up process into multiple steps.
Once your customer gives out their basic information and arrives at the next window, they’ll find giving more details much more agreeable.
Netflix, for example, collects all of the relevant information in three steps.
Once your customers complete the sign-up process, they’re more committed to your product, which makes the rest of your onboarding process much easier.
So, make sure you’re not losing customers this early in the process.
Greet the Customer With a Welcome Email
After your customers finish signing up, they should be greeted with a welcome email. This is your chance to offer a warm welcome, provide some tips for getting started and send the customers to the product so they can start extracting value.
This is your time to shine because welcome emails have one of the highest open and click rates out of any other promotional email you’ll ever send to your customers.
There’s an art to crafting welcome emails, so let’s go over some practical tips to make your new customers feel right at home.
First of all, bear in mind that 76% of users expect to be greeted by you immediately after signing up. Do your best to meet that expectation and send the welcome email as soon as you can.
Moving on, your subject line is the first thing the customer will see, so it should spark interest and make the recipient feel important.
A good way to achieve that is by including the customer’s name and a call to action that’s directly tied to the value the customer expects to gain from using your product.
The above example comes from Pipefy, a software product for workflow management. We can see they are personalizing their welcome emails.
To send great quantities of personalized emails that trigger upon sign-up, you can use email automation software, such as Drip.
The body of your email is, of course, equally important. You will need good copywriting and impressive visuals to set the tone for a great customer relationship.
Your tone should reflect your brand. You can be quirky, informative, or serious, so align your words with the kind of product you offer.
Remember, your welcome email is a way for you to introduce yourself and begin a fruitful relationship with your customer. That’s why it’s important to set the right tone and motivate the customer to start using your product then and there.
Engage the Customer at Their First Log-In
Now it’s time for your customer to experience your product for the first time as a full user. With all of the introductions and exchange of information out of the way, this is where the learning process really begins.
As with any new experience, your customer might feel lost arriving in a new environment, so the most important thing you can do for her is not to let her wander aimlessly.
Instead, greet her with a pop-up window or a set-up wizard that will provide direction so the customer can start getting value.
Below is an example of how Remote, an HR SaaS, greets and setups its new users:
By the way, remember how we said you shouldn’t bother the customer with too many questions at sign-up? Well, this is the perfect opportunity to gather some more information.
Canva, the design and picture editing tool, is also great at this.
They provide an excellent, user-friendly tool that can be used by almost anyone. So, upon first log-in, Canva triggers a window to ask the visitor how exactly they plan on using the product.
By having the new user answer this question, they can adapt their product tour and onboard the user for the features they will find most useful.
In addition, they now have an important piece of information that will help them segment the user and adapt their future marketing and sales strategies.
Another good practice to implement here is to start the customer off with a quick win. This will plant the seed of the idea that your product can help the user achieve success.
As Lincoln Murphy, a renowned expert on customer success, puts it:
“The need for Quick Wins is predicated on the idea that you need to get your (prospective) customer to realize value from your SaaS as quickly as possible.”
Giving your customer that first win can be as simple as congratulating them on completing the product tour or connecting with a colleague who also uses the software.
Have a look at a good example of this from Stripo below.
Having provided enough content and guidance during the first log-in, you’ve made your new customer feel engaged and successful.
That first step may set the tone for her entire relationship with the product, so make sure you devote enough attention to it.
Drive Success with a Product Walkthrough
As you’ve already learned from this article, user onboarding encompasses much more than a product walkthrough. However, product walkthroughs are definitely the most crucial step of onboarding because that’s where your new user learns how to get practical value from your product.
If you’re not effective at providing a useful walkthrough, you may be risking higher levels of churn because users are quick to abandon software they find difficult to use.
In fact, a Wyzowl study discovered that 55% of customers abandon products because they find themselves unable to fully understand how to use them.
Your product walkthrough is all about taking the new user to their Aha! moment as quickly as possible. That’s the point where your customer starts to see what kind of value your product can provide and starts to integrate it into her daily life.
From that point on, the customer has a great chance of becoming a successful user, as you can see above.
Therefore, your first step toward designing the perfect walkthrough or tour is to determine the Aha! moment of your product.
To do that, you’ll need to take a deep dive into your analytics and find common patterns between your most successful users. A good product analytics tool, such as Mixpanel, can help you with that.
For example, Facebook discovered that users who added seven friends within the first ten days of use were more likely to become long-term users.
In other words, users who took that specific action were much easier to retain. Therefore, to capitalize on that, Facebook concentrates on adding friends in their product walkthrough.
After you’ve figured out your value metric (the Aha! moment), you can begin designing a walkthrough that efficiently and quickly brings the user to value.
Keep in mind that your product walkthrough needs to be:
- Clear: It needs to explain in simple terms how your product’s features work and where to find them.
- Short: No product tour should be too long because users expect to learn how to use the software successfully in the shortest time possible. If the product tour takes too long, your users may churn because they find the product too complicated to use.
- Engaging: The best practice is to show how your product is used, instead of just telling the user where everything is. To accomplish this, have the user complete key tasks for an interactive and highly engaging experience.
- Skippable: Keep in mind there will always be new customers who are already familiar with your product. To accommodate them, add a skip button to your product tour.
Zoho does a good job with this. It allows users to skip the entire tour but continues to make it accessible for users who decide they need one after all.
There are many excellent tour-designing tools out there to help you with this aspect of onboarding.
Offer Help With Integrations, Invitations, and Data Imports
To provide maximum value, many software products require integrations, data imports, and connections between users.
These are an integral part of onboarding, but they’re also one of its most complex and difficult aspects, as they can be somewhat time-consuming and complex to get through.
You can help your customer get through this step in a couple of ways.
First and foremost, see what you can do to automate the process.
For instance, say you’re running an email automation SaaS product. Your product might be a brilliant solution, but it’s next to useless without the customer’s list of contacts. To find value in your software, your customer needs a way to import her contacts.
MailChimp solves this by adding a set-up wizard to their onboarding process that helps users import their contacts in just a few clicks.
The user just needs to upload a file containing all contacts or copy and paste them from a file and, hey presto, the contacts are now available within MailChimp.
Another good practice is to devote extra support to customers at sensitive points such as data imports, integrations, and contact invitations.
To achieve that, let your customer success reps engage the customer in this stage of onboarding so they can complete imports, integrations, and invitations together over email, calls, or video conferencing.
Lusha, a lead generation SaaS company, guides users through product setup via email. It prompts them to add a Chrome extension necessary for using the product to the fullest.
You can also provide support in the form of helpful guides, how-to articles, and tutorial videos, as a part of a library of resources customers can access at all times. This will make dealing with these high-friction points as easy as possible.
Finally, this is another aspect of onboarding that should not be mandatory. So, if possible, add the option to skip integrations, imports, and invitations.
And if you consider this step to be crucial for your product’s functioning, keep in mind that you can't really know how your users interact with your software. Therefore, you shouldn’t force them to complete this part of the process right away.
Follow Up Regularly
We’re coming full circle with this last step of the onboarding process. You value your customer so it makes sense to conclude the onboarding process by saying thank you and making yourself available for future questions and support.
But the story doesn’t end there. The secret is to make checking in on your customers a habit, for as long as they use your service.
Here are a few ideas on how both you and your customer can extract additional value from a good follow-up procedure.
For one, follow-ups are an excellent way to ensure your customer stays engaged after onboarding.
Have a look at Hubspot’s onboarding flow.
Even after the basic onboarding is completed, they recommend checking in with the customer to offer additional resources and celebrate milestones.
You can send anything from articles in your knowledge base, notifications about new features and updates, and even share your company’s important milestones.
As long as you also offer valuable news, resources, and tips, your customers will always love receiving your emails.
Secondly, following up opens up upselling and cross-selling opportunities. This is vital because, in the SaaS business model, your revenue continues after the initial sale, even long after the onboarding process is finished.
Take a look at the graph above to see how upselling and cross-selling can impact your recurring revenue.
For instance, Grammarly is very good at upselling through follow-up emails. They nurture their onboarded customers and follow up with them to suggest upgrading to premium features once the users become proficient.
Finally, following up is also a great opportunity to get some feedback from your customers. Quality feedback can help you develop your onboarding process further and make your product even more user-friendly.
When you’re operating a SaaS company, remember that your users are the ones who should be driving your product development and direction.
A handy tool you can use here is a short survey like the one Unstack uses in their feedback collection after the onboarding process is complete.
To sum up, even though the onboarding process is just about completed at this point, following up creates ample opportunity to provide and receive additional value. Just remember to do it regularly and check in with useful items every time.
This article has argued for a broader, more comprehensive view of customer onboarding. Instead of just giving new users a quick tour of your features, your onboarding responsibilities should include everything from the sign-up process to regular follow-ups with the customer.
That way, you’re giving your new customers very little reason and opportunity to churn, and showing them your product is exactly what they need to make their lives easier.
The lesson here is to be attentive to your customers’ needs and stay with them until they become successful, habitual users of your software who achieve success every day.