7 Steps to Perfect Customer Onboarding Strategy in SaaS (with examples)

Here’s an interesting user onboarding stat for you:

74% of companies report that they have dedicated customer success teams for onboarding customers.

But a more interesting stat is definitely this one:

Almost 60% of companies say that they are not satisfied with their current onboarding processes.

What exactly do these two stats in tandem tell us?

I don’t know what it might signify for you, but it sure does scream, “people don’t know how to come up with an onboarding strategy” to me.

Now, I am not saying I’ll take care of that problem, but the least we can do today is to look at:

Let’s dive right in.

What Is a Customer Onboarding Strategy?

A customer onboarding strategy is any, and every onboarding plan, method, idea, and procedure that is ideated to achieve certain business goals such as customer satisfaction, high retention and conversion rates, lower churn rates, and more through onboarding flows designed custom for the specific onboarding goals and materials of a product. A customer onboarding strategy of a business might change depending on the customer base, product features, onboarding content at hand, and many other details.

Though many teams might be working on customer onboarding strategies, from the marketing team to the customer support team or even to the product team, the number one stakeholder is often the customer success team in many companies.

This is because of the fact that often it is the customer success team that deals with user onboarding experiences and the onboarding success gained from different onboarding models.

Still, there is another question that might need to be addressed: 

Why Customer Onboarding is a Key Point in the Customer Journey

When I say customer journey, there is probably a simple customer journey map you can imagine with the main concepts, awareness, consideration, decision, onboarding, and adoption.

It looks a little something like this:

Now, besides onboarding being a standalone step in customer onboarding, there are three other reasons why it matters.

Let’s take a look.

1- The longest process of the map

Though we are inclined to think that onboarding only takes one simple step in the customer journey, what we miss is the fact that the onboarding step refers more to a traditional user onboarding stage.

Meaning, that it refers to a white glove, hand-held user training onboarding, while in reality, customer onboarding starts from the very moment the customer interacts with your brand, and combined with progressive onboarding, it goes on as long as your product updates keep coming.

So the customer onboarding process of a specific product, in fact, encompasses the entire customer journey and beyond.

2- The real value proposition

As you might know by now, a proper way of defining onboarding goes beyond training or educating users or familiarizing them with a certain UI.

Instead, customer and user onboarding have everything to do with value.

Your onboarding process is where you get to show users and customers aha! moments, product milestones, use cases, and in general, the value of working with your product.

Does this mean your sales and marketing efforts are unnecessary?

Absolutely not.

But it is the fully-encompassing customer onboarding process that canalizes all these efforts into one big goal: showing your customers your real value.

3- Defines the rest of the customer relationship

Now that you have shown how valuable your product is, the ball is in their court to make a decision.

And believe me when I say: customer onboarding is the one variable defining your entire relationship and whether you’ll have an ongoing relationship with your customers.

As the customer onboarding process spreads across the customer journey, at every point, the step into the next stage is up to whether you have successfully delivered the onboarding experience.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a stat:

63% of customers consider the onboarding period when making the decision to purchase a product or subscribe to a service.

And the number’s growing rapidly. It’s your chance to make a difference, and start thinking about how YOU can come up with a successful onboarding strategy and make your customer onboarding journey a sticky one.

Here’s how I would do it.

7 Steps to Creating the Perfect Customer Onboarding Strategy in SaaS

Here’s the disclaimer, no onboarding strategy is perfect or one-fits-all.

Every product is unique, especially if it’s the SaaS industry we are talking about. So, each onboarding model is equally unique for each product.

But this doesn’t mean there is no basic outline we can consider for any product.

Here are 7 steps into what I would consider a well-established customer onboarding strategy in the SaaS industry.

1- Know your product and client base

As I said above, each tool is unique and has its own challenges of effective onboarding. 

The definition of a positive onboarding experience alters even at the division of B2B and B2C products, let alone the differences in UI, the brand image, the user persona, etc.

For example, the onboarding process for a relatively complex product like HubSpot and a B2C product like Spotify probably have no chance of looking similar.

While HubSpot utilizes product tours and contextual guides, Spotify uses modals to introduce its key features or new updates.

spotify perfect onboarding strategy for saas
perfect saas onboarding strategy hubspot

It is equally important to know your audience since your brand voice can change a great deal accordingly.

For example, Cuepath is a medication monitoring solution for a user persona of 65+ of age users. Naturally, their onboarding needs to be simple, easy to navigate, and maybe a little more attention-grabbing.

Here’s a look at their onboarding UX elements.

perfect saas onboarding cuepath example
Welcome modal created with UserGuiding
cuepath perfect saas onboarding strategy
Hotspot created with UserGuiding

With simply written modals and flashy hotspots, Cuepath makes sure the onboarding process is digestible for their ideal customers.

Check out the rest of the success story of how they support calls by 72% with UserGuiding here๐Ÿ‘ˆ

2- Integrate onboarding into every part of the customer journey

Remember how I said the customer onboarding journey is spread across the entire customer journey?

That is exactly why you should be treating every step of the customer journey as an opportunity to start onboarding customers. Take it from me, with proper onboarding, your potential customers might become fans even before making a purchase.

Genially is a great example of this.

perfect saas onboarding strategy genially

With a demo setting on their website landing page, Genially shows users just some of the cool things they can do inside the platform.

Read the rest of our Genially UX breakdown here ๐Ÿ‘ˆ

While this onboarding integration is merely at the awareness-consideration stage, it is possible to put onboarding elements in ads, sales calls, and retention stages traditionally coming after the onboarding process.

3- Consider product-led onboarding

Whether it is for the sake of an onboarding strategy or an overall business strategy, going product-led is a revolution.

Though there is a need for change in certain practices like dependence on sales demos or hand-held onboarding processes, the product-led approach is not too hard to switch to, and the benefits are bountiful.

A product-led onboarding guarantees three things:

๐Ÿ‘‰ That your users will get to experience your product as trial users before making a purchase thus, churn rates naturally going down unless there is something really wrong with your product,

๐Ÿ‘‰ That you will switch to a more progressive onboarding method since you don’t want to infodump on first-time users and will naturally have a more structured onboarding process,

๐Ÿ‘‰ That since you cannot hand-hold every trial user, you will give users more self-service options, which is essentially something 67% of customers prefer over talking to a representative.

Not convinced?

Take a look at how Grammarly’s product-led onboarding looks:

grammarly example saas onboarding strategy

4- Use the right software

The success of your onboarding process might eventually boil down to the software you use.

Customer onboarding entails the need for a wide range of software at any company’s disposal, be it small or enterprise-level.

For example, email marketing software like MailChimp for email campaigns and follow-up emails, customer support software for helping users through complex products and creating a knowledge base, and a other tools for the users’ signup process, measuring critical metrics, and other business processes might be required.

But most important of all, for a successful customer onboarding process, an advanced user onboarding solution is a must.

Here’s where UserGuiding comes into play.

UserGuiding: the simplest option for a sophisticated onboarding strategy ๐ŸŒŸ

I used to play volleyball in high school.

I wasn’t in a really important position, and being the designated fat kid on the team, I was often benched.

But being at the bench all the time had its advantages; I was always there to listen every time our coach came up with an elaborate plan to score on a row.

What’s funny was that they would never work.

customer onboarding saas strategy
Actual footage of me trying to calm the coach down:

What worked was our team captain’s quick thinking and tricking the other team into thinking we had this grand, elaborate plan. She would then get us to score with a simple block or spike.

Now, this isn’t the best allegory, I know.

But the solution you are looking for might just be the simplest at hand, and the simplest and most affordable solution for your onboarding strategy is UserGuiding.

UserGuiding is a no-code user onboarding tool that helps create progressive onboarding flows, self-service experiences, and happy customers.

perfect saas onboarding strategy userguiding

Among UserGuiding’s top features are:

โœ… Interactive walkthroughs, guides, product tours,

โœ… Hotspots, tooltips, in-app messaging,

โœ… User/customer onboarding checklists,

โœ… Resource centers,

โœ… NPS surveys and more

All powered with powerful analytics, user segmentation and targeting, and high customization.

๐Ÿ‘‰ Try UserGuiding for FREE ๐Ÿ‘ˆ

5- Create a friendly user experience

Creating a positive experience for users isn’t always easy, especially for onboarding.

But there are a few things that do help.

๐Ÿ‘‰ Properly welcoming users

Greeting first-time users is always a good practice, yet it is too often forgotten or taken outside of the app and done via emails.

Let’s remember one thing: the emails you send fall into the trash bin, and your welcome message is received optimistically in a span of a week.

To avoid this, using welcome modals is the way to go.

Look how Grove HR does it:

saas onboarding strategy grove hr

Check out how Grove HR onboards users 24/7 with UserGuiding’s automated onboarding here ๐Ÿ‘ˆ

๐Ÿ‘‰ Using the right onboarding UX patterns

Your job isn’t finished after welcoming the users.

In fact, this is where it all starts.

Designing a complex series of steps into exploring your product and keeping it contextual at the same time are the two crucial steps of progressive onboarding.

To successfully do this, a customer onboarding checklist is a perfect tool. Here’s how Keyhole does it with a list of interactive guides in their checklist:

keyhole onboardingstrategy for saas example

Read on how Keyhole saw a 550% increase in the number of trial-to-paid-user conversions after publishing their UserGuiding onboarding checklist here ๐Ÿ‘ˆ

๐Ÿ‘‰ Offering self-service in app

One exceptional detail you can use that many SaaS product overlook is in-app self-service.

No, I’m not talking about live chat or chatbots; I mean a widget where users can access the self-service options like your knowledge base or your onboarding guides directly.

Here’s how CitizenShipper uses UserGuiding’s resource center feature on their platform:

citizenshipper example perfect onboarding example

 Read on how CitizenShipper achieved a 25% increase in activation rates with UserGuiding ๐Ÿ‘ˆ

๐Ÿ‘‰ Keeping it fun and aligned with the brand image

As much as using a variety of onboarding UX patterns can help engage users, it is also important to keep it entertaining for your specific user persona and in line with your brand image.ย 

For example, Ghostwriter.ai being a fun and colorful platform with relatively younger and more relaxed users due to the use case of the tool; there is enough space for creativity for them to use fun little gifs and colorful buttons:

ghostwriter ai onboarding strategy for saas

Read on how Ghostwriter.ai created onboarding materials in 62% less time while also increasing completion rates here ๐Ÿ‘ˆ

6- Measure success with the right metrics

Once you’ve figured out how you want to onboard your customers, prepared an onboarding program with emailing, advertising, and more, and created an onboarding flow using the user onboarding software of your pick, it is time to sit and wait for the results.

And when data arrives, what you need is the right metrics to assess the success of your customer onboarding process.

Depending on the customer onboarding methods you are using, email open rates, product walkthrough completion rates, sign-up process completion rates, and other customer success metrics might be important to consider.

And, of course, the most crucial metrics to look out for are retention, acquisition, and customer churn rates.

Take a look at the most important user onboarding metrics you need to monitor in 2022 here ๐Ÿ‘ˆ

7- Test and iterate

Whatever you associate onboarding with, a proper onboarding process is always an ongoing process. That’s how you get loyal customers.

Once everything is ready and laid out, it is time to test the efficiency of the process you built.

As you conduct A/B testing and update the product accordingly, it is important to check how the changes made a change in a frequent manner.

Whatever you do, always make sure to revisit your customer onboarding processes and optimize them if necessary.

To Wrap Up…

Coming up with any strategy is a tough challenge, and when it is onboarding we are talking about, the reference points are even scarcer.

But taking inspiration from different tools and best practices of customer onboarding we come across every day, we just might find a way to adapt them to our unique products.

In this article, I tried to give you a general look at how you can start with your onboarding strategy.

But let me remind you, it’s just an outline of what you can start to do. How you decide to grow your onboarding strategy is up to you.

Best of luck!

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do I start with creating a customer onboarding strategy?

The best place to start when creating a customer onboarding strategy is to check how well you know your product and your customer base. Otherwise, even if you manage to come up with the best onboarding flow, it might not align with your brand image and your customers’ needs.

What’s the top reason I should create a customer onboarding strategy for my SaaS?

The number one reason why every SaaS company needs a dedicated customer onboarding strategy is the fact that customer onboarding, along with user onboarding, encompasses the entirety of the customer journey map and, thus, is the longest process in acquiring and retaining a customer.

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Serra Alban

Serra Alban

When I realized I wonโ€™t be the next Greta Gerwig I found myself as a creative content writer at UserGuiding. Iโ€™ve been obsessed with UX design, customer success, and digital adoption ever since. If you could stare at good UX for hours like me donโ€™t hesitate to hit me up on LinkedIn. I might end up dropping too much movie trivia but hey, old habits die hard.