Any good SaaS product needs a good user onboarding process.
And it’s not just me who thinks so:
97% of companies say good user onboarding is necessary for a product’s growth.
And enterprises are no different:
82% of enterprise organizations rate their onboarding approach as a key driver of value.
And yet there are too many SaaS products with horrible onboarding processes (looking at half of your favorite SaaS products 👀)
So today, we are diving deep into some important user and customer onboarding process topics in SaaS like:
Let’s start by clarifying what SaaS Onboarding actually refers to:
What Is SaaS Onboarding?
SaaS onboarding is a term that refers to the onboarding of users, customers, and in some cases, employees in the context of SaaS, or software as a service. This means that SaaS onboarding deals with product adoption, customer onboarding journeys, and user onboarding experiences, and overall has a goal of offering an effective onboarding process to all, often digitally. So, in essence, SaaS onboarding is the effort to get user activation in a period of time, and in the long term, user retention by creating the best user and customer journey for a SaaS product.
But let me make it clearer for you:
👉 The best SaaS product is the one that makes its benefits as clear as day the moment a user acquires it, maybe even before.
👉 And the best onboarding practice is one that leads the users to value and positive experiences through the shortest path.
But even with a wide range of product features, a perfect user experience, and seamless email marketing campaigns, customer churn can be looking up and customer retention rates down.
And, by the way, let me make it clear:
The goal is not to reduce churn; it’s a result.
You cannot go far without a good user/customer onboarding experience for your SaaS product.
Good SaaS user onboarding flows make complex products easier to navigate; they make knowledge bases a reference point, not a support element, and they let customer support teams take a breather.
All while showing your value proposition with aha! moments.
That’s what SaaS onboarding is all about.
It includes obvious channels of guidance and support, such as videos, documentation, tutorials, and customer service, but it goes beyond that.
👉 It means designing a clean, intuitive, and easy-to-use interface.
👉 It means providing a progress bar so that the user knows how far along with the setup or installation process they’ve gone.
👉 It means providing the option to exit or save and resume setup or come back to paused tasks later.
👉 It also means, in the long term, using customer feedback tools for valuable insights and feedback from customers for a consistent, positive experience and satisfied customers.
Collectively, everything you do to facilitate the onboarding of your users will help them use your product or service, and the sooner and more easily they can use it to achieve a desired goal or outcome, the better it is for them, and for you.
“Proper onboarding isn’t done to prevent churn; it’s done to ensure the customer achieves their desired outcome. Retention comes from that.”~ Lincoln Murphy
An important question, though… ⬇️
When is Onboarding Necessary in SaaS?
Do you have a product that is so self-explanatory and simple that users would instantly adopt it?
If your answer is no, then you need to think about onboarding.
If your answer is yes, then you still can start adopting onboarding elements and personalized experiences while enhancing customer interactions for a better user/customer experience.
Customer signs in, you’ve assumed your product design is simple enough, and they can’t even figure out how to use the core features.
Trust me; you don’t ever want your product adoption curve to be steep, and there is no room for assuming your product adoption rates.
When things look like that…
A more structured approach to onboarding can help more than you would expect 🤷
Let’s take a look at ⬇️
Why is Onboarding in SaaS important?
The biggest functional market globally for cloud applications is Customer Relationship Management (31.6%), followed by Human Capital Management (14.7%) and ERP Services and Operations Management (8.4%)
The quote above highlights the significance of customer relationship management when it comes to SaaS products.
But let me point out the 4 main benefits of a good SaaS onboarding sequence:
1- Will Instill Confidence
A well-established fact about web browsing is that even a few milliseconds of delay can lead to higher visitor drop-off rates.
Would YOU like to wait longer than you have to in order to reach your desired outcome?
Your customers, either.
What they want is to win, and there is no denying that winning is a need.
And in everything from games and products to software services:
The frustration of not being able to ‘win’ (in the case of a SaaS product, this translates to achieving a goal) can send your users elsewhere.
Confidence in using software or an application is an important driver that will keep a user engaged with your service and willing to continue using it or willing to learn to use it.
2- Users will Adopt the Product Faster
Apart from financial objectives, an important end goal of most SaaS products is one thing:
👉 Becoming indispensable to the user by solving problems or removing pain points.
If your service can do everything that your users want or need it to do, and they know how to use it to achieve those results, they will rely more and more on it.
👉 Meaning, they will be more likely to integrate it into their everyday routines.
And a good user onboarding process is a good place to start.
3- Less Reliance on Customer Support
When you effectively guide and educate customers on what to do and how to do it via a seamless onboarding flow, your support team won’t stop thanking you.
As your customers become experts on your product, they will resort less to support for help.
This frees up valuable resources and enables saving on administrative and troubleshooting overheads.
Less reliance on customer support = time & money saved, customer satisfaction 📈
4. Lower Churn
As we discussed above, if you get your onboarding right, lower churn rates will be a welcome outcome that you did not even have to actively pursue.
“Unlike many other industries, if a software company grows at only 20%, it has a 92% chance of ceasing to exist within a few years.“~ McKinsey
That’s one scary fact, isn’t it?
Now that we know why you should put more emphasis on onboarding in your SaaS business…
Let’s see how you can do it:
How to Onboard in SaaS for Success 🚀
There are lots of ways you can onboard your users.
The dose makes the poison.
If you put all known onboarding elements in one user onboarding flow and expect your SaaS product to score numbers, you’re merely lost.
So, you have to pick and choose which onboarding tools and channels are right for you.
Here are the main elements of a user onboarding you should focus on:
Signing up for something can be a big, big decision.
Especially if you offer no freemium or free trial, the odds are already against you.
One simple approach to designing signup processes:
Keep it as simple as you can.
I lost count of the platforms I quit before even starting when I saw the 12-page signup form.
It doesn’t even have to be 12 pages; if it feels so, they leave.
So, then, how to make sure it doesn’t feel like torture?
👉 Only ask for information that is absolutely necessary for a user to sign up for your service.
This will lower the complexity of the signup process and shorten the steps between the user’s first engagement with you and achieving the desired outcome.
You can always add more questions or fields later, as needed.
👉 Build-in form field validation to save the user’s time, and sprinkle a tasteful dose of positive reinforcement along the way.
This can take the form of social proof such as positive reviews that are displayed as the user progresses through signup…
…or notifications that they’ve done a great job and are almost done.
Like so ⬇️
👉 Social signup buttons are a good idea to have as well.
They have been shown to improve signup rates, and they are easy to use and familiar to most users.
In fact, whenever I see a product that doesn’t let me Google signup to it I just wonder if the developers are lazy.
2- The First Welcome Email
First off, avoid all BS here.
This needs to be a simple email that pushes users further in their journey.
Canva does it well:
Canva is famous for its simple product and that it doesn’t require design experience, and they don’t hold back from pointing that out.
Then they call users to action.
But I believe a bit more could be included in this email.
For example, resources to help users through their first use can be a great addition to a CTA.
Although email onboarding is important, your primary focus is getting users into the product, so stick to that.
You can read our guide to email onboarding here for more guidelines 👈
3- First Login Screen
First impressions are not important…
…they are vital.
So never present a user with an empty screen.
This can throw them off, especially since they may have no idea what to do next.
The best practice is to present your users with a “Welcome” message that leads to your product walkthrough as Ninox, a cloud-based data management tool does:
Another point to emphasize on is the “LATER” button.
You can’t force your users to go through with the walkthrough as they might have used your product before.
Also, freedom rocks, doesn’t it?
4- Product Walkthroughs
This is where things get serious.
This is where you have your users learn about the product and understand the value it offers.
This is where you convert newcomers into loyal customers of your business.
When it comes to walkthroughs, you have 3 options to choose from:
- Online manuals
- Walkthrough videos
- Interactive guides
Well, my dollar is on the third option.
👉 93% of marketers say that interactive content is an effective way to educate users, so let’s put a big cross on the first 2 methods.
They are simply outdated for a SaaS product 🤷
And there is one thing to say about interactive product tours:
Keep it simple.
Only go over the essentials that your users need to learn to get value from your product.
And nothing more.
Here’s Ninox again, where they walk the user through their main dashboard in just 5 steps:
Then, give them a task that will help them understand your value proposition. Ninox yet again, doing exactly that:
Another essential part of user onboarding is the onboarding checklist.
Its benefits are numerous; gamify the experience, give users a sense of progression, and guide them in learning the product as Ninox does.
👉 Make sure you check out our in-depth guide to User Onboarding Checklists.
Guiding users through a clear path to their Aha! moments is the aim of a product walkthrough, don’t forget that.
Need more information?
👉 Check out our guide to product walkthroughs where we also include more great examples!
5- In-App Messaging
Just because the product walkthrough is over doesn’t mean that onboarding is too.
In fact, onboarding never ends.
In SaaS, you have to onboard users, again and again, keep them up to date with the changes you make, and engage with the product.
This is where in-app messages come in handy.
I don’t want to go into too much detail as our recent article on in-app messaging covers everything there is to know plus great examples…
But there are 5 reasons to use an in-app message:
✅ In user onboarding to maximize efficiency,
✅ To keep users engaged,
✅ To introduce new and unused features,
✅ To upsell, and
✅ To gather feedback
Now, if we are clear on the why and how, let’s jump into…
SaaS Onboarding Metrics and KPIs
“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it. “~ Peter Drucker
Many SaaS products start off as trial versions of what is otherwise a paid product.
Your goal is to become so easy to use and so beneficial that you become indispensable to the user.
And if you can get there, in the long run, to get them to pay (more.)
You can only do this if you know what’s working well, what isn’t, what users are doing, what you can improve with your service, and how.
Important onboarding metrics you should measure include:
👉 The frequency of user logins
👉 Time per session
👉 The features they use (and those they don’t)
Using some of these data points, you can dive deeper into:
1- Completion Rate
How many users complete their onboarding process?
A low number may indicate an unnecessarily complex signup process.
Once you know the problem, you can work on a solution.
2- Completion Time
If this is high, it might explain a low completion rate.
But if it is lower than you have anticipated, you might still wanna look into it.
It’s best used paired up with other metrics like:
3- Usage Time
Once they have been onboarded, how long do your users use your application?
Do they use it more and more with each successive login or less and less?
Lower usage times may indicate that users do not feel they are deriving benefits from your service.
A check-in email or an in-app notification might help get them back on track.
An even more proactive approach is of course:
Asking for continuous feedback 💬
4- Daily Active Users
This number should be growing, otherwise, you may need to re-energize your marketing efforts.
This can of course depend on your product as well.
For example, Grammarly doesn’t expect its users to use its product every day since most users get things done using the Chrome extension.
So make sure you track the right data.
5- Churn Rate
Customers who do not use your product frequently may have decided they it isn’t for them or that it is not worth their time and money.
Churn happens for many reasons, but an additional exploration of usage metrics might help you determine whether or not poor onboarding is one reason for it.
6- Time to Value
This is tightly linked to the completion rate and completion time.
How long (in terms of steps, clicks, or time) does it take for the user to get from your service what they installed it or logged into it for?
Shorter and more effective onboarding can help users achieve this value sooner and without being overwhelmed with information that they don’t immediately need.
So, try to get this metric to be as short as possible.
SaaS Onboarding Checklist
Now you know what SaaS onboarding is, how to do it, and how to measure it.
But where do you start?
Let’s go over a SaaS onboarding checklist specifically made to reach success from no onboarding to good onboarding step by step ⬇️
Note that “good” here is relative, and certain metrics and items will be more relevant in one setting or for one application than in others.
However, this checklist will help give you a sense of where things are going and whether you need to tweak or change anything.
So, let’s go!
1- Quick, Simple, and Intuitive Processes ✅
When teaching something you know very well, it is easy to forget that not everyone has the same point of view, knowledge, or experience.
And certainly not the same familiarity with your topic as you.
Make sure your onboarding is simple and quick enough for someone with zero prior knowledge to set up and use.
👉 Is the aha! moment simple and easy enough to reach?
👉 Is my narrative easy enough to follow?
👉 Can I make it easier & simpler?
👉 Have I tested enough?
Then move on to ⬇️
2- Completion Bars – Checklists ✅
Use completion bars or checklists to give users a sense of progression and let them know how much of the setup lies ahead.
When they reach milestones, congratulate them and make it clear what more is ahead.
Don’t let your users get lost in complex tasks, or any onboarding tasks.
👉 Do I have a short and concise checklist anyone can follow?
👉 Do I deliver to aha! moments quickly enough?
👉 Do I celebrate milestones?
👉 Do users complete my onboarding checklists?
3- Supporting Documents ✅
I might have said that online manuals are outdated, but only as a primary source of educating users.
An interactive product walkthrough is short and simple, yes.
But sometimes users might need something long and comprehensive to fully understand a function.
So, provide them with it.
Having in-depth documentation for users in need will harm no one.
Not having them, however, might put a heavy burden on your support team and customer success managers. Sometimes even on sales teams and product teams!
So, ask yourself:
👉 Do I have further documentation to back up my SaaS onboarding?
👉 Have I made use of FAQs, knowledge bases, help centers, and resource centers?
👉 Can I use a chatbot for easier access?
👉 Can I go full-on self-serve to take the weight off my customer support team’s shoulders?
Then, move onto:
4- Achievable Tasks ✅
Don’t overwhelm your users.
And I know it is easier said than done, but some points are decisive in the line between overwhelming and not overwhelming users.
👉 Is my SaaS onboarding process focused on milestones and aha! moments?
👉 Are the services, features, and steps required for achieving specific goals broken down into bite-sized chunks?
👉 How can I make it even easier and smoother for my users?
👉 Do users feel they have found value by the end?
Start with simple tasks, perhaps those that demonstrate key features or functions, and build up from there.
5- Exiting ✅
One thing that is often overlooked while designing onboarding processes is:
The flexibility of SaaS onboarding.
And perhaps the most important question to ask is:
👉 Can users exit whenever they want and save their work to pick up later from where they left off?
This, and making sure users know it’s an option, can change the whole trajectory of the rest of their user experience with your SaaS product.
And lastly ⬇️
6- Support ✅
Take the presh off your support team.
But not completely.
If all else fails, users should be able to reach out to someone for help and guidance.
Be sure to put in easy-to-access support and help links within your app and on relevant pages, screens, or interfaces.
👉 What is the available window for asking for support?
👉 How can I structure my user experience to create a hierarchy of solutions, where support is the last resort?
👉 How can I make sure it doesn’t come down to getting in touch with the customer support team?
Once you handle all this, you know your SaaS onboarding is ready to see the light of the day ☀️
But hey, did you know you could make the process even easier?
Let’s take a look at:
3 Best SaaS Onboarding Software (Free, Affordable & Paid)
Creating an onboarding for a SaaS product can be difficult, burdensome, demanding, torturing…
You name it.
Having worked in many web products, I can ensure you that creating an onboarding in-source is not a wise choice.
I’ll go over 3 powerful tools to onboard users efficiently:
1- Intercom – Email Onboarding
Onboarding emails, chatbots, help centers, AI. You name it.
Intercom does it.
Intercom, being one of the most preferred customer support and experience tools, is a great option for creating a low-touch onboarding process that can make a huge difference in converting potential customers as well.
Though the price plans for the software are – well, pretty pricey, and its main onboarding solution is offered separately, Intercom Product Tours Software, it is a great option for enterprise-level businesses.
2- UserGuiding – All-in-one In-Product Onboarding, without coding
Remember when I told you that creating an onboarding for a SaaS product can be torturing?
We’ve created UserGuiding to take the torture out of this whole process.
And make it fun too 🤩
Without the help of a developer or a single line of code, you can create:
✅ Interactive guides, product tours, walkthroughs,
✅ Onboarding checklists,
✅ Hotspots, tooltips, in-app messages,
✅ In-app surveys – NPS, customer feedback surveys, customer effort score, etc.,
✅ Resource centers, and…
Much more with segmentation and targeting, powerful analytics, full customization, localization, and more!
👉 Here’s our article where we explain why UserGuiding is the best software for SaaS Onboarding.
Join 10,000+ teams creating better experiences
14-Day Free Trial, with an extra 30-Day Money Back Guarantee!
3- Shepherd.js – Open-source Product Walkthroughs
No budget for onboarding?
Or just prefer going in-house with as much help for your developers as possible?
Shepherd.js is what you need.
It is an especially simple solution for your early-stage SaaS startup, as well as any other company with the developer(s) who know their way around an open-source library.
⚠️ But a tiny warning:
It will not be sufficient if you want to perfect your onboarding, as its features are limited to product tours and it doesn’t have segmentation or analytics.
Just the tip of the iceberg…
These 3 tools are essential to creating an onboarding.
But just the essentials.
To achieve the best user onboarding, you must also utilize tools in different categories, such as user behavior, analytics, live chat, product feedback, and video onboarding.
Access the complete list of User Onboarding Tools here. (20+ tools)
And let’s move on to practice ⬇️
Top 3 SaaS Onboarding Examples
Kudos to you for reading this far into the article; you’ve probably mastered every aspect of SaaS onboarding (if you’ve skipped to this part, ignore this 😅)
Everything we have mentioned so far was in theory.
Now it’s time to look at how different SaaS products practice them.
I’ll go over 3 good examples to give you a sense of what a great onboarding experience in SaaS should look like.
I’m pretty sure you know what Mailchimp does.
A small to mid-sized company can survive in terms of marketing just by using Mailchimp.
That’s why they call the product “All-In-One Integrated Marketing Platform” after all.
First, I just want to say I love their visuals.
I have been using the product for a long time and they constantly push new visuals and I love them all.
But that’s not why I mentioned Mailchimp here, I’ll examine its onboarding today.
Starting with the signup page:
Remember when we said to keep the essentials?
That’s what’s happening here; email, username, and password are the only requirements to create an account ⬇️
Then you get the welcome/email verification email.
Some companies usually send 2 separate emails for these functions, but not Mailchimp.
After all, what’s the point?
They also regularly include humor in their content, which is always a plus.
After confirming your email, you have to set up your account in a few steps.
Then you are directed to your homepage where during the onboarding process, a checklist is available.
Now what I love about this checklist is that it is completely focused on getting you to a point where you start getting value from Mailchimp.
You connect your store, learn the basics of designing emails, add your contacts, and send your email.
Now you’ve used it for sending an actual email to your real users, so you’ve basically adopted it.
Let’s see how they walk you through their email editor, first you select a template:
Then start designing your first email by adding blocks:
And editing those blocks:
When your email is ready, you go ahead and preview it.
What’s great about Mailchimp’s onboarding is that it is simple and designed to get you straight to value.
Your Aha! moment, first and foremost.
After you reach there, however, they will not stop educating you on the countless features they offer. You’ll constantly come across tips and in-app messages that lead you to different features as you can see below:
Mailchimp didn’t create a comprehensive onboarding with many elements.
Instead, they focused on a clear path to value.
And that, I suggest to anyone with a SaaS product with not-too-complex UX and UI.
Evernote is a great product for managing notes we often mention in our blog.
Simply because we are fans of their onboarding 🤷
Let’s just examine their onboarding together and you’ll see why.
Starting with the register screen:
I’ve told you that Google signup is a must-have; Evernote uses it as a primary signup method.
Just one click…
The other signup method is by email and password, and that’s it.
Nothing else is needed, you are just in.
Even though I believe that their welcome email needs a “Hey, Welcome, we’re glad you’ve signed up” part, I can’t consider it a bad one.
Since Evernote is a multi-platform product, they push you to install it on your mobile devices.
Yes, I know that this isn’t a part of the onboarding process, but installing a product on multiple devices will increase the adoption of your product.
Here we are at the Welcome screen of the browser version of Evernote.
It’s a simple welcome note that leads to some personalization, with a progress bar above.
Personalizing the product for your users and offering tailored experiences will increase user engagement, which is what Evernote does.
The product has 3 main features which are notes, to-dos- and planners.
Since you signed up to Evernote regarding one of these, it will ask you which one it is and start your product walkthrough from there.
That’s one tailored experience in my opinion.
Then starts the walkthrough of the product, educating you on to-do lists and using the editor.
The steps in this part include gifs that show you various things you can do which I believe is really creative.
Also, remember when we mentioned checklists and how they must be utilized to create a sense of progression?
Here’s how Evernote uses a checklist to guide users through their onboarding:
Each task on the checklist is going to walk you through a feature of Evernote.
Product walkthroughs shouldn’t be long, so you can create different walkthroughs for different features and split the onboarding into little pieces to ease digesting it.
After you have completed/skipped every task on the checklist, you come across a congratulations message.
Your onboarding journey is done and you are ready to use the product!
But, what will you do if you need further help?
Evernote let’s you know that help, is always available. This in-app message on the bottom left corner ensures it:
Although I could make a few changes to Evernote’s onboarding to improve it, I wouldn’t.
It does the job perfectly.
And lastly, Slack, the go-to business messenger for B2B businesses and SaaS products.
Slack’s onboarding, similar to Mailchimp, follows a frictionless onboarding framework with no unnecessary steps.
We start off with a 3-step signup process:
Like Evernote, there is not many “Welcome!” messages flying around.
Instead, Slack loses no time delivering users to value with this tooltip about how projects and channels work:
Apart from that, Slack makes great use of in-app messages and empty states to onboard users contextually:
Of course, the initial user journey doesn’t end here.
Slack’s very own Slackbot is an active player in onboarding and informing users throughout the process:
Later on, Slack uses super cool tooltips and other SaaS onboarding elements to onboard users further:
Overall, Slack trusts its simple UI and UX but makes the call when it requires a better method to onboard to important and new functions.
But hey, that’s my opinion.
Check out our onboarding and UX breakdown of Slack here 👈
To Wrap Up…
A well-thought onboarding is your best friend to grow your SaaS business; Mailchimp, Evernote, Slack, and various other products we mention on our blog know that.
It is time for you to act and use our guide to create/update/track your onboarding and see results.
Frequently Asked Questions
⛵️ What metrics are key in SaaS Onboarding?
Guide completion rate, completion time, and churn rate are the most important metrics for SaaS Onboarding.
❓ Why is SaaS Onboarding important?
Most customers churn during the first few days of their journey with your SaaS product, onboarding is the only certain way to prevent it.
🚀 How can I improve Onboarding for SaaS?
Making sure that the onboarding process is designed based on the experiences of real users can improve your onboarding significantly in SaaS.