3 step process to easy and effective SaaS Customer Onboarding

40% - 60% of users who sign up for your product’s trial will use it only once and never come back. who sign up for your product’s trial will use it only once and never come back. And it is your onboarding process that is likely at fault. If so it's time to rethink your SaaS customer onboarding process.

On the other hand, it’s not that surprising.

 Let’s be honest, getting started with a new SaaS product is not a small feat.

To want to continue using it, your new user needs to quickly “get your product,” learn all its various features and understand the value it provides.

And what’s more, all this must happen fast.

As you already know, about half of your trial users will give you just one session, no more.  

And so, getting people to sign up for your trial is crucial. But getting them to keep using it beyond the first login is even more important.

But how do you convince first time users to come back and use your product again?

The answer is simple - by properly onboarding them.

And in this post, we’ll walk you through the typical SaaS customer onboarding process.

Plus, we’ll show you a couple of ways to help your trial users get the most out of your product.

Interested? Let’s dive right in.


Why is SaaS Customer Onboarding So Important?

Look, it’s true. We really didn’t make it up:

About half of your trial users will not give your product a second chance to prove its value.

Improving the saas onboarding process

(image source - Intercom)

They’ll log in, toy with it for a while, and unless they immediately understand how they can benefit from using it, they’ll go.

And you’ll never see them again.

Pleading, appealing to their emotions or bribing won’t bring them back either.

Because you see, those users failed to realise the value of your app.

We always like to take a deep breath when we think of it. It’s one hell of a scary thought.

But at the same time, it highlights the most important task you must accomplish with anyone signing up to your product for the first time:

Getting them to continue using it beyond that first login.

And, briefly, that’s also the goal of customer onboarding.

As Samuel Hulick from useronboard.com points:

“User Onboarding is the process of increasing the likelihood that new users become successful when adopting your product.”

But specifically, what does user onboarding help to achieve?

Well, for one, it helps to overcome the most common reasons why trial users abandon your product:

  • Failing to understand how to use your app
  • Having wrong ideas about what your product could help them with
  • Lack of help when getting started with the product
  • Failing to understand its value

On top of that, user onboarding helps to:

  • Explain how your product works, and introduces the most key features
  • Gets a user past the activation point (more on this in a second)
  • Helps them to start seeing data/results quickly, instead of staring at the blank interface

With the definition out of the way, let’s look at the journey your typical user takes from signup to becoming a paying customer (which is the goal of your onboarding process).

And, how you can accompany while they’re getting started with your product.

How Users Get Started with a SaaS Product (and How You Can Onboard Them to Do It)


Step #1. Signup

The journey begins when a person signs up for your trial, and in doing so, indicate their interest in your product.

The trick is, though, that although they’ve decided to test your app, they most likely don’t fully understand your product yet.

That’s why you send them a welcome email to explain the core value of your SaaS product and point them towards resources to help them get started.

Recently, we installed Drift’s live chat on our website, and here’s the email we received right after signing up.

Note the two elements: a) question that helps the company learn more about us and discover our expectations for their product, and b), a link to their getting started guide.

welcome email as part of the customer onboarding process


Step #2. First Login

At the next step, a user will login to the product. This is both an exciting and a little frightening aspect of the process.

First of all, they might be welcomed by an empty interface.

Everything they need to make the most of the product hasn’t been setup yet.

And as a result, they need to discover the product for themselves.

But to do so, many of your trial users will follow a process known as satisficingthey’ll just skim the interface, and pick the most reasonable option to start using the product.

Unfortunately, that might not be the functionality they should begin with. 

And your job, therefore, is to help them identify that most critical functionality, and guide them through activating the product.

These actions typically include configuring the account, installing any necessary codes or other elements, and linking to any 3rd party services that are needed for the product to deliver the value.   

Here are a couple of tools to help you activate users during the first session:

In-App Notification

app notification for saas customers

Installation Guide (for which you can also use an onscreen message or a popup)

tutorials for easy saas customer onboarding

Product Tutorial


(image source)

Welcome Mat with Links to Help and Other Important Information a User Might Need

welcome mat assists with smooth saas onboarding

(image source)

Onscreen Instructions for Every Major Feature Included in the Interface

on screen instructions improve saas onboarding


(Hotjar includes animated gifs showing how to use each feature of the product)


Step #3. Performing First Actions and Reaching (or Missing) the Activation Point

We’ve already touched on the idea of satisficing.

It’s an important notion to understand.

You see, it’s easy to assume that users will research the product and identify the most important functionality they should use first.

Unfortunately, that’s now how we work.

As Shahram Heshmat, Ph. D. points:

“A key assumption in economics is the notion that individuals are mostly rational and armed with complete information about their choices. […]

Behavioral economists, however, have shown the limits of this maximizing behavior. […]

More than half a century ago, Herbert Simon (1957) argued that the goal of utility maximization, as formulated by rational choice theory, is nearly impossible to achieve in real life.

He proposed that decision makers should be viewed as bounded rational and offered a model in which utility maximization was replaced by satisficing. Satisficing are individuals who are pleased to settle for a good enough option, not necessarily the very best outcome in all respects.”

To convert this theory into SaaS – users won’t spend any time investigating your product.

Instead, they’ll pick the first option that catches their attention and just go with it.

And if by chance, they hit gold and go past the activation point, they’ll continue using the product.

Otherwise, they’ll just abandon it.

And do you know why that’s so scary?

Because it suggests that your customer success has a lot to do with chance.

And so, if you don’t want to leave your user growth to chance, you need to help users get past that activation point.

Sean Work defines the activation point as:

“The first point where you deliver the value that you promised.”

In other words, it’s the point where they experience first-hand that your product could really deliver what they’ve been seeking.

It doesn’t mean that they need to get actual RESULTS.

But it means that they’ll understand what your app can provide them with.

Let me illustrate this with a couple of examples:

Dropbox understands that for a user to see the value of their product, they need to install their desktop app first. And so, when you sign up for the service, the company prompts you to do just that.

dropbox customer onboarding

Twitter knows that for someone to see the value of the social network, they need to follow at least ten people. And again, they’ve made this a part of the setup process.

pre filled data is great for the onboarding process

(image source)

Depending on the nature of your product, you have a couple of ways to help users past the activation point:

Pre-fill the interface with dummy data. This way you can quickly demonstrate to your users the initial value of the product (plus help point them towards the first steps to set it up).

HubSpot CRM, for example, includes dummy data on a dashboard to show new users what a lead profile looks like.

hubspot for startups customer onboarding

(HubSpot CRM’s default data. Note the tool tip helping a user to learn more about the app’s functionality)

Include tool tips or a product tutorial a user could complete before they start using the product. This way you can ensure they understand, and most likely pass the activation point.

hubspot for startups - saas customer onboarding

(image source)

Two things to remember when using a tutorial:

  • You should make it skippable. Some users might already have experience using your product and might find having to complete the tutorial irritating.
  • Make it possible for a user to go back to the tutorial. Users who’ve skipped the tutorial might find they actually need to go through it. And so, make it possible for them to go back and re-activate it.

Read How the Top Companies Chase and Close SaaS Sales Leads

Is that it?

No, of course not. User onboarding is a complex and lengthy process. The above, however, is a great starting point to understanding the customer onboarding journey.

And once you’ve familiarized yourself with the basics, here are a couple of articles you could read next:




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