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How to Create a Successful Customer Onboarding Strategy in SaaS

When customers adopt a new B2B solution, they have a lot to learn.

Very few B2B products are simply “plug and play.” To reach ROI faster and get enduring value from their selection, users will often need to learn the ropes first.

The problem? They often aren’t very motivated to do so. And when they are, many companies don’t offer them a clear and cogent approach to getting it done.

Enter customer onboarding.

Customer onboarding is the whole process of transferring necessary knowledge to customers so they can achieve their goals with your product. It means a gradual approach that allows each user to understand, absorb, and use the information you provide to them.

Many B2B enterprises have adopted some form of customer onboarding out of necessity. Unless you have a documented onboarding strategy, however, you’ll only be reaching customer goals by happenstance. Many questions will go unanswered and needs unfulfilled.

Onboarding is your key to a higher activation rate – tangible engagement with your app that predicts retention. Activation rate has a tremendous effect on whether a customer chooses to subscribe to a product after the trial or maintain an ongoing subscription.

Here’s how to build your customer onboarding strategy.

1. Define an “Onboarded” Customer for Your Enterprise

Onboarding doesn’t end when customers log in for the first time. They may know how to “boot up” your product, but that doesn’t mean they’re anywhere near reaching their objectives.

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Time to first value (or TTFV) is the amount of time it takes your customer to realize quantifiable value from your product. That is, it puts them on the right track to reach ROI from the offering.

Exactly what that “first value” is will vary by product. Regardless of product type or industry, though, a low TTFV is the mark of a successful onboarding process.

When you first start crafting your onboarding approach, go into it with a clear fix on exactly what your product helps your customers achieve. Then, illuminate the steps they need to take – and don’t consider them “onboarded” until data tells you they’re scoring wins with your product.

2. Remember: Onboarding Starts with the Signup Form

Many B2B customers, especially in SaaS, sign up twice: The first time for the free trial and the second time for what will hopefully turn into a long-term subscription.

Your signup form is the customer’s first clue as to whether or not they’ll be able to get their job done using your interfaces. Their objective is very simple: Sign up for your service.

If they feel like it’s hard to give you money, doing more complex tasks will be even worse!

Keep signup forms simple and use built-in field validation to ensure typos don’t lead to rework and manual data entry for customers. Always try to keep forms down to one page. If you use multiple pages, signpost which step users are on so they’re less likely to give up.

Don’t forget, you can start to spice up the customer experience right here in your signup form. For example, some social proof sprinkled throughout your signup will help customers get over those last-minute jitters. Get them psyched up for the terrific experience they’re about to have!

3. Provide a Welcome Email Sequence to Get Started

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Inbound marketers already know that an introductory email sequence is truly indispensable.

For some customers, your email onboarding sequence will be all they need to get off to a running start with your product. This is especially true of tech-savvy professionals who have used similar solutions before and who have a genuine interest in the ins and outs of your offering.

To make your email onboarding sequence shine, however, you’ll need to know what specific tasks users are likely to achieve, how your application’s workflow will influence their outcomes, and what differences, if any, your product presents versus what they might be used to.

A good email onboarding sequence has three traits:

  • It’s concise – a seven-day email onboarding sequence is much better than a 30-day one.
  • It’s targeted – it starts with the most valuable information, not just the most “common.”
  • It’s actionable – it familiarizes users with a process or feature so they can start using it.

Many email onboarding sequences are sabotaged by a focus on day to day tasks, like how to log in to the program itself. While you definitely should build an onboarding strategy that accounts for your less tech-inclined users, those basics are best handled from within the user interface.

4. Offer a Guided Tour During the First Session Login

Once people log in, you have a great opportunity to find out two things about them:

  • How confident they feel with your product (whether they’re “power users” or newbies).
  • Exactly what objective they’re trying to achieve, either this session or “on most days.”

Their answers should then drive a guided tour that will allow them to get acclimated to your solution. Breaking your guided tour into feature-focused chunks will let you make incisive recommendations about what information they should check out next based on their usage.

A guided tour should always be accompanied by two things: Easy access to a full-scale text or video-based explanation of each feature and a live chat function. This way, users can dig through the deep details or call for help depending on their needs at each step in the process.

This phase of onboarding and those that follow rely on making customer education a priority. If you have your features expertly documented, then you won’t have to push your software team to make deep changes in your product every time you want to update your onboarding flow.

5. Make Problems Easy to Solve and Info Easy to Find

Speaking of which, how many steps do your users have to take to get answers to their questions?

Remember, users reach your solution raring to go and eager to get started. Many of them will instinctively skip the guided tour you worked so hard to put together.

When they do, you need to find other ways to put the same information at their fingertips. Yes, you can give them the option to return to a tour, but most will expect more granular approaches.

Just like your website, your solution can benefit from an AI-enabled task assistant that responds effectively to natural language queries. With more coding resources, you also have the option of offering contextual help with individual tasks.

Of course, that takes a deeper and more sophisticated software development organization. We’re talking about customer onboarding here – and you don’t want your “contextual help” to turn into a running gag, like a modern day Clippy. You want to get people the info they need quickly.

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Most of the time, this simply means having a conventional knowledge base that’s easy to access, search, and browse. While technical writers are the experts here, marketers can look at these features with user experience in mind. Always ensure relevant content is cross-linked for ease of use!

6. Use Your In-App Data to Optimize Your Onboarding

With an SaaS solution, you have the opportunity to get truly detailed feedback on how your users interact with each individual screen. While it takes a certain amount of savvy to interpret this data, some of it is self-evident:

For example, a long time spent looking at a screen but not doing anything, or just “clicking around,” typically tells you the user is lost.

Depending on the volume of users you have, it might take a while to recognize a pattern. But when you notice confusion, look back at that person’s history.

Did they go through the guided product tour? How long ago? Have they searched for a solution on your knowledge base? Did they engage with a help file or simply give up? These are all key insights.

People bring their own knowledge, biases, and experiences into every interactive interface. With that in mind, you can’t correct for every mistake or oversight. But you can make your knowledge resources familiar, accessible, and inviting. That way, they work better for everyone.

It might seem obvious, but don’t forget: You should also be reviewing information from your help desk to see what problems people reach out to solve. Targeted revisions to your onboarding can cut out lots of calls on a particular topic, helping you optimize help desk resources.

Plus, it’s a lot less hassle for everyone in the long run.

7. Reach Out to New Customers Personally

Most customers are familiar enough with B2B marketing to know they’ll get some automated emails in the wake of their signup. But what happens after a week or ten days go by, when your initial onboarding email sequence is done?

That’s when it’s time to reach out directly.

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People are much more impressed by personal attention than they are by even the slickest and most informative automated messages. They’re much more likely to respond by giving you solid, actionable intelligence on any problems they’re having.

And, of course, not all customers will have problems to report.

Throughout your customer success and customer service organizations, you should always be looking for opportunities to help customers report their wins. That can come in the form of a testimonial quote or even an entire case study you can feature in your marketing.

Great Customer Onboarding Helps You Keep Customers Energized, Satisfied, and Loyal

The existence of customer onboarding proves that selling your product is only half the job. The customer onboarding phase is when you invest the time and effort to truly deliver on what you promised.

Roll out these seven pillars and you’ll be on your way to a consistent, cohesive, and convenient customer onboarding experience. Not only can you address customer needs, but you can even anticipate them.

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Rob Steffens

Rob Steffens

I am the Director of Sales & Marketing here at Bluleadz. I'm a recent newlywed who enjoys spending time with my wife vegging out and binging our favorite shows or getting some exercise on the Racquetball court.