A Definitive Guide to SaaS Onboarding – Examples, Checklist, Metrics

What do you think makes onboarding the most crucial part of a user’s journey in SaaS?

No matter how good the product and service you offer is, if you don’t make it easy for your users to benefit from it, you’ll lose them.

And this doesn’t only mean adjusting your product itself to make it simpler; you could always try to make it easy for your users to understand.

You probably even know a product or two that would be groundbreaking if it was designed according to customer’s needs.

So I appreciate you reading my complete guide on Onboarding in SaaS. Here’s what this article includes:

Let’s start by clarifying what SaaS Onboarding actually refers to:

What Is SaaS Onboarding?

The best product is the one that makes its benefits as clear as day the moment a user acquires it, maybe even before.

In fact, a hallmark of effective marketing is selling your value proposition even before your user purchases what you are offering!

However, even if you have effective marketing, great product design, and a killer feature set, you cannot expect your users to know how to use your product or service right away. You need to familiarize them with it, not just so that they can use it, but to help them maximize the benefit they get from using it and become loyal to you.

Let’s make this clear, the goal is not to reduce churn, it’s a result.

A result of helping users achieve their desired outcomes and objectives as soon as possible without pain points. If you aim to do that and succeed, your customers will keep coming back for more.

That’s what SaaS onboarding is all about. It is essentially everything you do to help your customers get up and running with your product or service and make the most out of it. 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.

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

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.

You might be/have been doing OK without one, but your SaaS business can grow increasingly more with one. You must ensure each user that signs up to your product is guided to the point where they achieved value from your product, so your onboarding must start from the signup screen.

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%)

~ Apps Run The World

The quote above highlights the significance of customer relationship management when it comes to SaaS products. Here, I would like to point out 4 benefits of a good SaaS onboarding.

benefits of SaaS onboarding

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 in order to reach your desired outcome?

Your customers don’t want to too.

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 with 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 to become 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 and will be more likely to integrate it into their everyday routines.

3. Less Need for 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 and less to support for help. This frees up valuable resources and enables saving on administrative and troubleshooting overheads.

4. It will Lower Churn

As mentioned 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:

what is saas onboarding

How to Onboard in SaaS for Success

There are lots of ways you can onboard your users.

But too much of something can actually work against you, 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:

Signup

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 felt like that).

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.

Make sure to 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.

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 are 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.

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:

saas onboarding welcome

Canva is famous with its simple product that could be utilized by someone who doesn’t have any design experience, and they don’t hold back from pointing that out.

And then they call them to action. Simple.

But I believe a bit more could be included in this email. For example resources to help the fresh users get through their first hours can be a great addition to a CTA.

Although email onboarding is important, your primary focus is getting users in the product so stick to that.

You can read our guide to email onboarding here for more guidelines.

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:

saas onboarding login

Another point to put emphasis 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?

Product Walkthroughs

This is where things get serious.

This is where you have your users learn 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:

  1. Online Manuals
  2. Walkthrough Videos
  3. Interactive Product Tours

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).

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.

saas onboarding product tour 1

Then, give them a task that will help them understand your value proposition. Ninox yet again, doing exactly that:

saas onboarding product tour 2

Another essential part of a user onboarding is the onboarding checklist. Its benefits are numerous; gamify the experience, give users a sense of progression, 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 3 great examples!

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 engaged with the product. This is where in-app messages are 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.

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 goals are to become so easy to use and so beneficial that you become indispensable to the user and to encourage the user to upgrade or just keep paying.

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 the following.

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.

Completion Time

If this is high, it might explain a low completion rate.

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 benefit from your service. A check-in email or message or an in-app notification might help get them back on track.

Daily Active Users

This number should be growing, otherwise, you may need to re energize your marketing efforts.

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.

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.

saas onboarding checklist

SaaS Onboarding Checklist

Now you know what SaaS onboarding is, how to do it, and how to measure it.

What you need is a checklist you can use to develop a “good” process that works for your product or industry.

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.

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 – like you.

Make sure your onboarding is simple and quick enough for someone with zero prior knowledge to set up and use.

2- Completion BarsChecklists

Use completion bars or checklist to give users a sense of progression and let them know how much of the setup lies ahead.

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 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.

4- Achievable Tasks

Don’t overwhelm your users. Just don’t…

Are the services, features, and steps required for achieving specific goals broken down into bite-sized chunks? Start with simple tasks, perhaps those that demonstrate key features or functions, and build up from there.

5- Exiting

Can users exit whenever they want and save their work to pick up later from where they left off?

6- Support

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.

SaaS Onboarding Software

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 tools to onboard users efficiently:

1- Intercom – Email Onboarding

Don’t underestimate the power of email onboarding. If done correctly, it can convert your free-trial users who would churn.

After you set a goal(e.g conversion to a paid user), you can scheme a journey that leads users to this point and create an email campaign according to this journey.

Intercom is one of the best tools to onboard users via email. Not just in onboarding, Intercom can be used to communicate with users throughout their journey with your product.

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 a fun ride.

Without the help of a developer or a single line of code, you can create interactive product walkthroughs, onboarding checklists, in-app messages, and much more using UserGuiding.

You can track the performance of your guides with analytics and segment and target custom user groups.

And it all starts from $99/month.

Here’s our article where we explain why UserGuiding is the best software for SaaS Onboarding.

Join 2,000+ teams creating better experiences.

14-Day Free Trial, with an extra 30-Day Money Back Guarantee!

3- Shepherd.js – Open-source Product Walkthroughs

You don’t have any budget for onboarding and your developers are happy to spend weeks creating an onboarding?

Shepherd.js is what you need. It provides you with a JavaScript library for building in-house product tours for free. It can be a simple solution for your early-stage SaaS startup.

But 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 the essential ones to create 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, feedback, and video onboarding.

Access the complete list of User Onboarding Tools here. (20+ tools)

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 how various companies practice them.

I’ll go over 2 examples and to give you a sense of what a great onboarding experience in SaaS should look like.

Starting with:

Mailchimp

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 each one of them.

But that’s not why I mentioned Mailchimp here, I’ll examine its onboarding today.

Starting with the signup page, remember when we said keep the essentials? That’s what’s happening here; email, username, and password are the only requirements to create an account.

saas onboarding examples mailchimp 1

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.

saas onboarding examples mailchimp 2

After confirming your email, you have to set up your account in a few steps.

saas onboarding examples mailchimp 3

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. You’ve used it for sending an actual email to your real users, so you’ve basically adopted it.

saas onboarding examples mailchimp 4

Let’s see how they walk you through their email editor, first you select a template:

saas onboarding examples mailchimp 5

Then start designing your first email by adding blocks:

saas onboarding examples mailchimp 6

And editing those blocks:

saas onboarding examples mailchimp 7

When your email is ready, you go ahead and preview it.

saas onboarding examples mailchimp 8

What’s great about Mailchimp’s onboarding is that it is simple and designed to get you straight to value, your Aha! moment.

After you reach there, however, they will not stop educating you on 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:

saas onboarding examples mailchimp 9

Mailchimp didn’t create a comprehensive onboarding that has many elements, instead they focused on a clear path to value which I suggest you do too.

Evernote

Evernote is a great product for managing notes that we mention a lot 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.

saas onboarding examples evernote 1

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.

saas onboarding examples evernote 2

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.

saas onboarding examples evernote 3

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.

saas onboarding examples evernote 4

Then starts the walkthrough of the product, educating you on creating 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.

saas onboarding examples evernote 5

Also, remember when we have 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:

saas onboarding examples evernote 6

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.

saas onboarding examples evernote 7

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:

saas onboarding examples evernote 8

Although I could make a few changes to Evernote’s onboarding to improve it, I wouldn’t.

It does the job perfectly.

Conclusion

A well-thought onboarding is your best friend to grow your SaaS business; Mailchimp, Evernote, 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.

Here’s how GhostwriterAI, a SaaS business, effectively onboards customers and improves metrics using UserGuiding.


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.

saas onboarding

Selman Gokce

Selman Gokce is the Senior Inbound Marketer of UserGuiding. He is highly invested in user onboarding and digital adoption, especially for SaaS, and he writes on these topics for the UserGuiding blog. When he's not writing, you can find him either listening to LOTR soundtracks while cooking or getting angry because he lost in a video game.

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