Over the long term, customer onboarding can make or break the success of your SaaS business.

According to research by SaaS Capital, a 1% difference in churn rate has a 12% impact on company valuation in 5 years. And most of the time, that churn is the result of poor onboarding. Without a well-designed process to get them up and running, many customers will fail to get the full value out of your solution, and have no good reason to renew their subscriptions.

In other words, if you want your customers to stick around, you have to design a strong onboarding program that supports them every step of the way. In this article, we’ll look at three powerful ways to maximize your onboarding success.

 

1. Research Your Customers

The primary goal of onboarding is to help your customers achieve their goals, and it’s impossible to do that without knowing what those goals are. That’s why the first step to improving your onboarding is to get a clear picture of your customers’ desired outcomes.

Specifically, you need to find out:

  • How your customer defines success
  • What metrics they would use to measure that success
  • What metrics their boss uses to evaluate them
  • How they plan to use your software to achieve a successful outcome

Start by interviewing your existing customers about their onboarding experience. Often, long-time customers will be more than happy to tell you what has worked for them, and what they think could be improved. The best part is that these people are clearly already getting significant value from your solution, and are thus ideal examples of customer success in action.

In many cases, long-time customers will give you direct insights you can immediately use to improve your results – as when Wistia increased conversions by 350% by incorporating their customers’ own words in their onboarding sequence.

Of course, while existing customers can be a great source of information, they can also have “blind spots” when recounting their own learning journey. For this reason, you should also speak to some potential customers before they even sign up for a free trial.

While your sales reps might initially be reluctant to let you tag along to customer meetings, the results of this exercise can be well worth it. By chatting with pre-sale prospects, you’ll be able to get a glimpse of the onboarding process through the eyes of a completely new user, and discover ideas for making the process less daunting.

 

2. Start Onboarding Before The Sale

Gathering intelligence is not the only reason to interact with pre-sale prospects. A great onboarding process starts building credibility and shaping customer expectations from way before the actual sale.

It’s an unfortunate fact that 40-60% of SaaS trial users only use the software once and never come back. The main reason for that is misaligned expectations during the sales and marketing process. When customers sign on for a free trial and discover a disconnect between what they’ve been promised and the reality of your solution, few will stick around and try to make things work.

To avoid this disconnect, it’s essential to sustain a congruent story about your solution throughout the customer journey. This starts at the very top of your marketing funnel, with educational content that clearly and honestly explains your solution and how it will help solve the customer’s problems. While it’s obviously important to sell the value of your solution, you should make sure not to over-promise on things you can’t deliver. You should also tailor your content to speak specifically to your ideal customers, so that the prospects you do attract will actually be a good fit for your solution.

At the same time, you should ensure that your sales and onboarding teams are aligned on the message they are delivering to customers. A good practice is to have your sales reps sit in on meetings and calls with your onboarding team. This will give them a better appreciation of the challenges that onboarding reps can face, and help them establish more realistic pre-sale customer expectations.

 

3. Implement Variable-Route Onboarding

Customers vary widely in their specific goals, challenges and learning styles. This is the reason why marketing teams use detailed buyer personas to customize content for different customer groups.

If there’s so much value in segmenting content for prospects who have not even heard about your solution, shouldn’t it be even more important to do so for leads who have already signed up for a free trial?

That’s the simple logic behind variable-route onboarding. By offering multiple onboarding pathways, SaaS companies can maximize the chances of trial users reaching their own personal “aha moment”, and seeing enough value to upgrade to a paid subscription.

For instance, let’s say your company offers a cloud storage solution for consumers. Some of your customers might be more interested in your robust mobile backup features, while others might just need a convenient way to share files with friends and family. Why not lead with the use case they’re most interested in? You can do this by including a simple checkbox in your signup form asking them which features they’d like to learn about first:

 
Simple checkboxes on a form
Source: activatorstudios.com

 

By prioritizing these features in your onboarding sequence, you’ll be able to engage users from the very first email, and get them off to a great start with your software. It will also make them much more receptive to future onboarding emails, thus giving you the opportunity to introduce other valuable software features.

This approach can have a significant impact on retention. According to digital advertising agency Activator Studios, companies that employ variable-route onboarding have seen a whopping 2-5% reduction in annual churn rate, or a 25-60% increase in 5-year valuation!

 

Better Onboarding = Higher Conversions, Lower Churn

Improving your onboarding process is one of the most powerful things you can do for your SaaS business. By implementing the ideas in this article, you’ll be able to build a great new user experience that will maximize customer success, increase conversions and reduce your long-term churn rate.