SaaS Onboarding Process: How to Create One (+ Examples)

Sagar Joshi
min read
November 22, 2023

SaaS onboarding’s sole purpose is to help customers understand and navigate your product without friction. Your customers should know how to leverage every feature for benefits and drive value.

The more they understand the product, the better will be its stickiness. It shall reflect on your retention rates and lifetime value later. 

A personalized customer onboarding system will help since the use cases of every customer and their needs can differ. Initially, you can offer personalization one 1:1s. However, when you scale, automation with interactive demo platforms can drive personalization. 

Let’s explore what SaaS onboarding means and how to maximize this valuable touchpoint. 

What is SaaS onboarding?

SaaS onboarding is the process of introducing new customers to your product in a way that encourages them to adopt the product into their work more easily. The goal of onboarding is to show how users can leverage the product’s most important features to see success from daily use. 

In other businesses, after-sales support can diverge from a customer’s expectations. This isn’t due to irresponsibility but an intrinsic challenge. The sales team passes the account to support post-sales. Support executives are best trained to resolve customer issues but might shy away from providing an experience as refined as your sales team. 

However, in SaaS, you sell to the same customer every month and year. So, you cannot let them down. This is where the customer success team and their onboarding flow come in. 

Onboarding, the first touchpoint after sales, proves to customers you’re invested in helping them make the most of your product. It helps you start your relationship on a positive note. You help them know the features, best practices, and tricks of working with your software. This education builds trust.

Most Essential Elements of a SaaS onboarding process

Goals, UX delivery, and analytics are critical for any SaaS customer onboarding strategy. Set your goals based on your company’s business model and what you want to achieve with the customer onboarding process. It depends on the breadth of your customer base and your target audience. 

Goals and analytics

You can set goals to activate users, drive secondary feature adoption, or reduce churn rates. Or leverage the goal-setting framework, such as the objectives and key results (OKR) framework. It helps you track the right KPIs to get there.  Bree Pecci, Customer Success Enablement Manager at ChurnZero, says,

“It’s important to track customer’s progress as opposed to just your internal process.” 

Professionals often keep track of how many hours they spend on onboarding or how we’re able to deliver as per the statement of work (SoW). However, these are internal and may not suggest how efficient the onboarding process is for the customer. 

Therefore, you should track: 

  • Commitment. How much time do customers spend on the app exploring its breadth? 
  • Engagement with the team. Comprises how customers use support and resources, including high-touch customer success engagement.
  • Impact on business. Measure the time to value and when the first value was delivered. 

Analytics help you get insights into the state of your present process. Track retention rate to understand how your optimizations are performing. Kay-Kay Clapp from Appcues says,

“The end goal of your onboarding process isn’t to take users to an aha moment; it’s habit formations.” 

Retention rate is critical to measuring how well a product can build habits. Next, you should look at the free trial conversion rate. This shows how many users become paid after their free trial ends. If it’s below your expectations, you can adjust the trial period, improve in-app messaging, and add flows to increase product adoption.

Look into how many people completed the onboarding flow, measure time to value through jobs-to-be-done frameworks, and evaluate feature adoption and activation rates to get more clarity on your onboarding process and how you can improve.

Leverage analytics platforms like Mixpanel, Amplitude, or Glassbox to analyze users’ interaction with the product.

User experience

A personalized experience based on user research and segmentation develops a contextual onboarding process.  It builds the customer’s perception of your product. The better the perception is, the lower the chances of churn. 

Your UX should help customers navigate the product without much assistance needed. Ita Babayan, and Armie Manukyan, speakers at AWWWards, suggest,

“A good UX and onboarding flow delivers personalized product guides and tours designed based on users’ FAQs.”

Phases of SaaS onboarding

Onboarding happens in three phases. 

First, the primary onboarding takes place from sign-up to activation. Customers should realize the product’s value in this phase as soon as possible. 

Then comes secondary onboarding. This is where you make the product sticky for customers. Show customers features that they’re not using yet. You can use software like Metabase to track how customers interact with your product. Look for features that they use the most. Talk to them about the best ways they can leverage these features. Next, find features that they haven’t touched. If it relates to their use case, help them discover such features. Let them know what they can do differently.

Tertiary onboarding keeps existing users engaged. When you roll out new features, keep your customers in the loop. Onboard them on new functionalities and let them experience them. This phase also involves collecting feedback to ensure your product satisfies customers' needs. 

Product marketers write blogs, and leverage emails, demos, and videos to bring customers on board with new updates. Modern product marketing uses interactive demos to let users interact and experience the new features. 

Storylane can help you quickly create interactive demos for your product.

Best Practices to Create a SaaS Onboarding Process

The SaaS onboarding process requires cross-functional effort. Teams like customer success, product, engineering, marketing, and even legal play their parts. Here we won’t cover the obvious. For example, for high-touch onboarding, you need scheduling software to let users pick the most suitable time. Or, send a welcome email whenever a new user signs up. 

Instead, we’ll look at what processes you can create to cater to the three phases of an onboarding workflow. 

For Primary Onboarding 

Here you want to take users from initial signup to activating persona-relevant features. You need to give users a personalized tour of the product. 

Below are a few things you can do to activate a new user.

  • User survey. Gamify your onboarding process with a user survey to capture their expectations from the product. Software like Appcues helps you create such surveys.
  • Segment user. Customer onboarding tools divide users into different segments based on their use case, industry, and other responses in the survey.
  • Create personalized demos. Based on user segments, you should create a personalized onboarding flow for each persona. These demos will help users activate features relevant to their use case. With Storylane, you can create such demos, helping new users realize the value of your product for their specific use case. You can even use them to capture sign-up leads, as prospects can realize and, most importantly, experience the product value.
  • Deliver in-product messaging. Users might not be on your product all the time. When there,  make the most of this opportunity to convey how they can leverage the product’s full potential.
  • Create email sequences. When users aren’t using the product, engage them with emails. Create an email onboarding flow to help them understand a new feature daily based on their use case. The notion has an 8-day email onboarding flow where the application educates about features and encourages adoption.

This is an initial onboarding flow and a low-touch model. Once the users are activated, you can help them with high-touch onboarding like 1:1s or training programs.

Upmetrics views Storylane’s interactive demo as a strong and subtle way of converting casual viewers into paying customers. They converted 22% of viewers into sign-ups and 12% into paying customers.

For Secondary Onboarding

You want to make the product sticky. Simply put, you want to make your product a habit for the user. Analyze what route the user takes to reach the aha moment. This is when they realize the product’s value.

Your goal is to make this route shorter, repeatable, scalable, and memorable. 

Below are a few things you can do to get there.

  • Create a product tour. Pick the shortest route to reach the aha moment for a specific use case and lay it down in the product guide. You can even convey it inside the in-product explainer video or embedded personalized demos. Use software like Storylane to create in-product tours.
  • Use push notifications to engage. If a user reaches aha moments for 3-days in a row, remind them about their streak with engaging visuals. You can use push notifications on mobile or web applications to convey this message. Email works, too, if you still don’t see any activity. Leverage push notification software like Fomo to send compelling messages based on user segments. You can also use Fomo’s social proof to help users not miss those aha moments.
  • Create messaging based on segments. Every user uses a product differently. For example, a content marketer would use SEO software for keyword research. At the same time, a content promotion specialist would use the same software for researching link profiles. The aha moments for both are different. Use the user survey responses in primary onboarding to deliver messaging, tours, demos, and guides accordingly.

The key here is to analyze how users actually use the product. Let them know about any undiscovered features they can benefit from. This will help make your product stick with users’ everyday workflow. 

For Tertiary Onboarding

You aim to increase new feature adoption here and keep existing users engaged. Whenever you roll out a new feature, announce it. 

Some companies also use blogs to describe the new features in detail and promote them in their newsletter and through email marketing. G2 writes blogs where they interview their product manager to discuss the new feature in detail and how it can be of value to the users. 

Companies like Zendesk uses webinar to announce new features. There are various other ways you can keep customers in the loop with your latest updates. 

  • Social media posts. Existing users likely follow your social media handles. Or, if you have an engaged community of users, it’s much better. Make announcements on social media to update existing users and leverage the reach to attract new ones.
  • Keep a running list of updates on a landing page. If you consistently roll out new features, you can update them on a landing page, making it easier for users to find and access.
  • Update users in the app. In-app announcements help you deliver the updates when users are experiencing the product. Venmo often updates their users like this.

These practices will help you create processes and manage technology for all three phases of SaaS onboarding. 

Examples of SaaS onboarding

These examples help you put the best practices shared above into action. Use these to inspire your own SaaS onboarding workflow. 

Here are the 5 SaaS onboarding examples: 

1. User Surveys: Grammarly

Grammarly’s user survey takes information about who the users are, and what they’re using the software for. The flow encourages the users to tell where they write frequently. These data points help the company to segregate uses into the right segments. 

A screenshot of Grammarly’s user survey
Source: Grammarly

2. Personalized Demo: LawLytics

LawLytics, a website platform for small law firms, uses Storylane’s interactive demo while capturing leads through the website. While onboarding users, LawLytics shares micro demos with customers that they can easily consume at their own pace. 

It also helps LawLytics users to go back to understand any features that they might have missed during the high-touch onboarding. Discover how LawLytics benefited from personalized interactive demos from Storylane. 

A screenshot of LawLytics’s demo sign-up page
Source: LawLytics

3. In-Product Messaging and Making The Product Sticky: Cooby

Reaching inbox zero is an aha moment in Cooby, a WhatsApp productivity solution. The application helps users achieve inbox zero and guides them on the best way to reach there. Cooby displays this message with a compelling visual whenever a user hits inbox zero. 

When everybody's inboxes are filled with a bajillion chats, the feeling one gets when their inbox is zero, the feeling is euphoric. Cooby aims to bank on this feeling with a simple congratulatory message that incentivizes people to continue to use it.

Cooby. co sends a simple congratulatory message when users achieve inbox zero.

4. Email Sequences: Notion

Notion, a project management and collaboration software, has an 8-day email onboarding flow. Whenever a new user signs up, the company sends out eight different emails to help the user with the features and functionalities of the software. In the last email, Notion promotes product adoption, where it asks the user to download a desktop application. 

Notion sends out eight different emails to help the new user with the features and functionalities of the software.
Source: Notion

5. Product Tour: Asana

Whenever a new user comes in, Asana encourages them to answer a few questions in their user survey. Based on these answers, the application gives a personalized product tour by letting the user set up their first project.

This product tour helps users experience Asana’s relevant features and explore the software to best suit their use case.

A glimpse of Asana’s product tour
Source: Asana

Is SaaS Onboarding The Same as Implementation?

Although onboarding and implementation mean the same thing, there’s a slight contextual difference. Onboarding is a preferred terminology in startups and SMEs. Enterprises stick with implementation as it happens at a larger scale with many moving parts and stakeholders. It refers to rolling out new systems. 

Smaller companies have fewer resources to allocate to the onboarding process. You would need to onboard only a few users here. In contrast, when you implement software in an enterprise,  you usually work with several users from different teams who might have different needs from the software. 

Be it a startup or enterprise, the best practices of SaaS onboarding new users help companies alike. 

Parting Notes and FAQs

Take inspiration and create your own SaaS onboarding strategy today! 

Q1. What is a typical SaaS onboarding completion rate?

According to reports, 40-60% for B2B companies is a reasonable onboarding rate. For B2C, it’s 30-50%.

Q2. What are the three phases of onboarding?

The three phases of onboarding are primary, secondary, and tertiary onboarding. Learn more about them in the sections above.

Q3. How important is onboarding in SaaS?

A proper onboarding makes a customer’s life easier. It helps them understand features and processes that build their trust in your brands. It’s critical since it sets the tone for your overall relationship. 

"Previously, there was scope for error and we’ve gone from a process that could be time consuming and painful to a process that’s super quick."
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