Customer Lifecycle Marketing Guide: How SaaS Companies Can Optimize for Each Stage
For SaaS companies, keeping customers onboarded and engaged is the name of the game.
On the most basic level, it just makes sense: The longer your customers stay onboard, the more revenue they create for your business and the more you can spend on acquiring new customers. What’s more, your users’ level of engagement will typically increase as they become more acclimated with your services.
This leads your long-term “power-users” to provide additional value to your brand in various forms, such as:
- Subscription to your higher-tier services
- Suggestions and feedback based on first-hand experience
- Low- or no-cost referrals to others within their network
Of course, keeping your customers onboard for a long period of time requires that you continually provide for their fluctuating and evolving needs over said time period. Your goal here is to consistently deliver exactly what your users need at any given time, so that they may continue moving forward in their journey with your brand.
This is where lifecycle marketing comes in.
What is Lifecycle Marketing?
Lifecycle marketing involves tailoring your approach to your individual users based on where they currently are in their overall customer journey.
The premise of the “customer lifecycle” is based on the idea that the SaaS customer journey should be unending and ever-evolving. Lifecycle marketing, then, ensures teams are always ready to provide additional value of some kind to the individual customer, based on their specific needs at that specific moment. In turn, the consumer has every reason to continue doing business with the brand in question.
Of course, there’s no “one size fits all” approach to lifecycle marketing.
For one thing, you’ll want to engage with your users for a number of different reasons at various points along their customer journey. While the ultimate goal of lifecycle marketing is always to get your users to take the “next step” with your brand, what this “next step” is depends on their experience thus far with your services.
You’ll also be engaging with your users in a number of different ways throughout their lifecycle. This means you’ll need to create a variety of content and marketing messages, to be delivered in a variety of formats, on a variety of channels. In turn, you’ll increase the chances that your message will be well-received, and that it will spur your user to take action as intended.
With this in mind, we’re going to take a closer look at each stage of the SaaS customer lifecycle (as defined by Hubspot) and discuss:
- The general circumstances revolving around each stage
- Your customers’ typical needs at each stage
- Potential solutions to provide at each stage
Let’s start at the beginning of the customer lifecycle.
SaaS Customer Lifecycle Marketing at the Awareness Stage
At this initial stage of the SaaS customer lifecycle, the consumer has become aware of two key things.
First, they’ve become aware of a problem, challenge, or issue in their business or life that needs to be solved. This could be as simple as realizing they need to drink more water on a daily basis, or it could be more complex, such as the need for a more advanced accounting software for their growing business.
Secondly, your prospective customers will have become aware that solutions for their problem exist—but they aren’t aware of specific services (such as yours) just yet.
These preliminary “a-ha” moments will lead the individual to seek out additional information about their problem, and about the potential solutions at their disposal.
In focusing on learning more about their problem—and perhaps experience their first “quick win” in aiming to overcome it—consumers will search for easily-accessible (but still valuable) content, such as blog posts, infographics, and short videos.
In the example above, accounting software provider InvoiceBerry explains exactly what their readers have to gain by using a service such as the one offered by the company. Note that this content isn’t selling the user on the brand per se; rather, it simply serves to clarify certain information in the reader’s mind—which, in turn, prepares them to become more active in their search for a premium solution to their current issue.
Once the prospect becomes more active in their search, you’ll want to take advantage by increasing their exposure to your brand as best you can.
There are a number of ways to do this.
For example, a robust collection of in-depth content can allow your brand to gain more organic visibility via Google and other search engines. Those actively searching for terms related to their problem will, in turn, continually be exposed to your content—and will likely begin to see your site as a “go-to” resource for the topics your content covers.
You can also deliver this preliminary content to your prospects even when they aren’t actively seeking it out. Through platforms such as Google Ads and Facebook Ads, you can deliver content to individuals who fit certain criteria—whether they’ve already engaged with your brand or not.
Basically, your goal is for your prospects to say, “Hey, I keep seeing (your brand) all over the place, and they always have some valuable advice to give. I bet I can get some use out of what else they have to offer!”
Needless to say, if you can get them to this point, they’ll almost certainly take the next step toward becoming a paying customer.
SaaS Customer Lifecycle Marketing at the Conversion Stage
The conversion stage of the SaaS customer lifecycle refers to the point at which the user is preparing to take or has taken their first “official” steps toward engaging with your brand.
This “official step” can be one of many things, depending on your approach to engaging new prospects.
For example, this first step might entail your customer:
- Registers for your mailing list
- Downloads gated content
- Watches a video demonstrating your services in action
In each of these scenarios, the individual is at least somewhat interested in your services—but will likely need some assistance and prompting to engage any further.
Now, those who have yet to take this “official step” will need to be fully prepared to do so.
In helping them prepare, you’ll want to ensure they have a clear idea of the value of your services in relation to their specific needs. You also want them to understand the negative implications of not taking advantage of the solution you offer.
The keys to communicating this information:
Facts, data, and social proof.
Here, FreshBooks explains three different ways in which the software will provide value to the customer—and backs up their claims with data regarding the company’s customer satisfaction levels.
You’ll also want to continue reaching out to your prospects via multiple channels, as well. Again, here’s FreshBooks’ approach to engaging prospects via Facebook Ads:
Note that, in contrast to the above ad from Marketo, this one specifically prompts audience members to sign up for FreshBooks’ service (likely on a freemium or demo basis for the time being).
For those of you who offer the free or demo version of your apps, your focus should shift toward delivering an immersive omnichannel onboarding experience. Here, the goal is to help your new user experience almost immediate growth while using your service—increasing their likelihood of becoming paying customers in the near future.
To supplement your onboarding experience, you should also continue delivering highly relevant, high-quality content and offers to your new users. This can allow them to get more use out of your initial services, and can increase the level of trust they place in your brand as a whole.
Groove’s initial onboarding email accomplishes three main tasks:
- Requests further information regarding the customer’s problem—allowing the team to tailor the onboarding experience to their needs
- Prepares the user for delivery of additional content in the weeks to come
- Provides the first “main” piece of onboarding content (i.e., The Complete Groove Tour) to the new user
Enhancing your onboarding experience also involves actively engaging with your new users at the optimal time and place. This means reaching out to your users with specific messages and content once they (or don’t take) take a specific action or reach a certain milestone in their onboarding journey. Moreover, it means doing so on the optimal channel based on the circumstances at hand.
Often, the right time and place to engage with new users is directly within your software or app. By utilizing in-app messaging throughout the onboarding experience, you’ll be able to immediately nudge your users in the direction that will lead them to success.
You can then trigger emails to be sent alongside certain in-app messages in order to:
- Provide additional information
- Deliver more specific instructions
- Allow the user to choose from multiple pathways for onboarding
Take a look at the following example of how to use email to engage users during onboarding:
Additional information (with an offer for further reading)? Check.
Further instructions? Check.
Multiple options for proceeding? Check.
And—to make this clear—that certainly doesn’t just go for their audience.
Your website can also be a resource for new users looking for onboarding assistance, or simply to engage further with your brand. For example, an audience-facing knowledge base can allow users to quickly find answers to a variety of frequently asked questions, and can also facilitate further learning on a broad spectrum of topics related to your services.
(Caption: SMS StoreTraffic used HelpJuice to create a library of content for its new and experienced users alike. Source)
You can ensure your users have a direct path to the content and info they’re looking for by integrating Live Chat or chatbot technology into your website, as Coredna does here:
(Note: While your users will likely use these resources throughout their journey with your brand moving forward, it’s essential that you introduce them during these initial stages in order to fully engage your newest prospects.)
On another note, you can leverage analytics tools like HotJar to help analyze your user’s experience in real-time. This data can then be used to optimize your onboarding process.
In addition to providing value to your new users as you onboard them, it’s also important to keep nudging them toward your premium services, as well. This can be done after a user completes certain tasks or reaches certain milestones, or it can be time-based, such as in the following example:
Ideally, the goal is to have provided enough value throughout these initial stages that your trial users have very few reasons not to take this step toward becoming a paying customer. At this point, it will only be a matter of delivering a quick prompt to get them to take action.
SaaS Customer Lifecycle Marketing at the Purchase and Activation Stages
For our purposes, the Purchase and Activation stages of the customer lifecycle tie closely together.
At the Purchase stage, your users will have upgraded to one of your premium services, and will have begun to get more acclimated with your software. They’re considered to be in the Activation stage once they become more accustomed to using your software and start using it more habitually.
Above all else, optimizing your user’s experience at these stages means ramping up your onboarding efforts.
Diving deep into your individual customer’s needs and goals:
…Allowing more open and exploratory use of your software—while still maintaining a certain structure for onboarding purposes:
…And providing regular prompts to keep your new customers engaged and working productively from the get-go:
You can take this even a step further by personalizing your onboarding experience for your individual users.
On a broad scale, you might create completely separate onboarding workflows for each of your personas, as the team behind School Time does here:
Or, you might develop a more dynamic user onboarding experience in which prompts, instructions, and information are given based on the user’s previous actions (along with their specific needs).
By analyzing how your users currently make their way through your onboarding experience, you can identify pivotal moments in which adding a layer of personalization might keep them engaged and pressing forward.
Regardless of how you onboard your now-premium users, their experience must be as seamless as possible.
- Creating an intuitive user interface
- Providing clear and concise instructions and clearly-defined outcomes
- Removing redundancies, inefficiencies, and other such “hang-ups” throughout the onboarding workflow
For one thing, it just makes it easier for your new users to, well…use your app. If they can do what they need to do in your app without much effort or frustration, they’ll be that much more likely to continue relying on your app in the future.
What’s more, in removing points of friction throughout your onboarding experience, you’ll also allow your new users to stay immersed in your app for longer periods of time. To be sure, getting your users to engage with your app more often and for longer periods of time is what activation is all about.
As the user begins experiencing success and understanding the value of your software, you can keep them engaged and motivated by calling attention to their progress.
This includes celebrating quick wins directly within your user interface, or acknowledging milestones via email (or similar channel):
Note that, in the above example, Evernote doesn’t just celebrate the user’s recent accomplishment—the email also prompts further engagement from the user, as well. This opens the door for further exploration for the user, which allows them to uncover even more value to be squeezed from the software in due time.
As newly-activated users finish up their onboarding experience, you’ll want to get a feel for how their experience has been so far. HubSpot gets an early start, delivering a feedback survey at the halfway point of the onboarding experience:
And, as we touched on earlier, be sure not to cease communications just because a newcomer has been onboarded. Rather, keep delivering relevant and valuable content to your newest “official” users to keep them engaged and pushing further toward true success.
Which leads us to the next stage…
SaaS Customer Lifecycle Marketing at the Adoption Stage
The Adoption stage of the SaaS customer lifecycle is where your users will really start to ramp up their usage of your service.
At this point, your customers will:
- Use your service frequently and habitually, considering it their “go-to” solution
- Be fluent in power-use of your service, always accomplishing what they set out to when using it
- Be more than happy to be a paying customer, as your service has already exceeded the value they paid for it
Your goal, of course, is to get as many of your users as you can up to this level of engagement and satisfaction. Not only are you more likely to retain those who have fully-adopted your software, but you’re also more likely to generate referrals from them as well.
There are a number of ways you can nudge your activated users toward full-blown adoption of your service:
First and foremost, you want to always provide opportunities for self-selected and self-directed training and learning.
In some cases, this may mean providing an extension of your onboarding experience. For example, Airtable allows users, at any time, to jump into multiple onboarding workflows for a variety of tasks:
Note that this option for further learning isn’t required to begin using Airtable—and it certainly doesn’t distract users from doing so. However, for those looking to dig a bit deeper into all the tool has to offer, the opportunity is always on the table.
In aiming to keep your power-users fully engaged, it’s also vital to continue making improvements to your services. These improvements, of course, should be made based on your customers’ feedback and evolving needs, as well as observation and analysis of how they utilize your services.
In addition to making these improvements, though, you also need to effectively communicate said changes to your audience. This means creating clear and concise product release notes, and delivering them to your various users through the optimal channel in order to reach them.
Finally, your power-users need to know that your team is there to support them whenever the need arises. In addition to continuous delivery of valuable tips and advice (both in-app and on separate channels), you should also provide reactive customer support, as well.
Perhaps the most in-vogue means of providing such support today are chatbot and live chat services. Whether in-app, on-site, or via third-party channel (such as Facebook Messenger), you can use these tools to provide quick answers to your users’ basic questions—or offer further assistance for their more deep-seated issues.
In providing top-notch customer service to your users, you accomplish two key tasks:
First, you allow your users to overcome the issue at hand, and get back to using your service effectively and efficiently. This alone will lead to increased engagement amongst those who you were successfully able to help.
What’s more, it will increase the level of trust your users put in your brand as a whole. Simply put, if you’re always able to help them when they’re in need, they’ll have every reason to continue using your app and engaging with your team.
The idea behind getting your users to the Adoption stage is to get them to integrate your services into their daily course of action. To some degree, you want your users to be dependent on your services in order to complete certain tasks—and you always want to be able to help them do so.
If you can get your users to this level of adoption and integration, you’ll have no trouble keeping them on board for a long time to come.
SaaS Customer Lifecycle Marketing at the Renewal Stage
You’ve gotten a new user to become a paying customer.
You’ve onboarded them and gotten them up to speed with your software.
They’ve begun using your software on a regular basis, and have experienced ongoing success and growth in doing so.
As a SaaS provider, your next goal is simple:
Retain your customers; get them to renew.
As simple as this goal is, there are many ways to approach it—depending on a number of variables.
A few examples:
- For users with low levels of engagement, you might send renewal reminders coupled with discounts for those who act quickly
- For your “status quo” users, you might offer longer terms of service in exchange for a per-period discount
- For your power-users, you’d want to provide offers revolving around higher-tier services, or supplementary services that address their more tangential needs
(Note: By “status quo users,” we mean those who show little interest in your services outside of that which they already pay for. Since upselling or cross-selling them may be a fruitless venture, simply offering “more of the same” might actually be the most effective approach to take.)
Note that, in each of these examples, the focus is on providing the user with a reason to continue using the service, as well as to continue engaging with the brand as a whole. In providing a tailored renewal offer, coupled with benefit-focused copy, you’ll increase the chances of your users signing up for yet another round of your services.
Another way to approach the renewal process is to focus on your users’ individual accomplishments and progress with your software.
While these emails can be huge for engagement in general (similar to milestone celebrations), they can be just as impactful during the renewal process. Reason being, they can act as a reminder of all the value your software has brought your user—and all that they’ve been able to accomplish through using it.
(Needless to say, this can absolutely influence their decision to renew their subscription with your company.)
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that if a user decides not to renew, you’ll at least want to gain a better understanding of why they’ve chosen to churn—and see if there’s any last-ditch way you can keep them onboard.
This doesn’t have to be a major exit survey or anything. As this case study from Groove shows, your best bet is to ask one quick question, and let the user respond as they may:
For one thing, this allows you to generate feedback from your experienced users—enabling you to make improvements to your services as necessary. If you’re going to lose this customer, you at least want to hold onto others that may have the same complaints.
Secondly, exit surveys provide an opportunity to “keep the door open,” so to speak, with your churned customers. Here, you can request permission to send emails or notifications to your former users announcing changes or improvements to your service that they might be interested in. Ideally, this will lead at least some of your defectors to come back on board at a later point in time.
But, enough about your churned users.
Let’s stay focused on your most valuable customers as we move into the final section of this guide.
SaaS Customer Lifecycle Marketing at the Referral Stage
The Referral stage is the last stage of the SaaS customer lifecycle to discuss—but it’s not the “final” stage of it.
(Again, the cyclical nature of the SaaS customer lifecycle is such that your satisfied users will continue discovering additional value from your services as they become more—and more deeply—engaged with your brand.)
At this point, your users will have become well-versed in the many uses of your services, and have first-hand experience with the value your brand brings to the table. For these individuals, it’s all but guaranteed they’ll continue renewing their subscription or membership with your company for a long time to come.
While this nearly-guaranteed revenue is certainly a major win for your business, you can squeeze even more value out of your power-users by getting them to help you attract new users to your brand.
Your first option is to solicit direct referrals from your current user base.
Here, the idea is for your users to suggest your services specifically to others in their network who fit your target customer profiles.
To do this, you can develop a customer loyalty program of some kind to incentivize user recommendations. Here, you can offer incentives to users who successfully invite a certain amount of new customers:
Or, if it’s profitable to do so, you can offer discounts, rebates, and even straight-up cash to successful referrers:
A quick caveat worth mentioning:
While providing some type of incentive to referring users is all well and good, you don’t want your users making dishonest or non-targeted referrals just to receive the reward. Rather, your incentive should be just valuable enough to act as a “thank you” to those who would have referred your services regardless.
Soliciting User-Generated Content and Reviews
In addition to soliciting direct referrals, you can also enlist your power-user’s help in spreading the word about your brand through the use of user-generated content and reviews.
For example, Airtable dedicates an entire section of its website to showcasing projects created by the software’s various users.
Not only does this enhance the on-site experience for new and experienced Airtable users, but it also allows those who have created the projects in question to share their work on their own online profiles. In turn, those in the user’s network will be exposed to Airtable’s services—and may potentially come aboard in the future.
Finally, you’ll want to solicit in-depth feedback from your power-users for the specific purpose of showcasing it as social proof.
Here, you’ll be using your satisfied customers’ feedback to attract others who fit the same or similar persona. That being the case, you’ll want to develop more long-form surveys, complete with space for open-ended answers, that will allow your users to truly describe their experiences with your brand.
You can then display said social proof on your website and/or social media hubs:
Or, you can direct your users to submit feedback on third-party channels, such as review sites:
Ideally, your most experienced and satisfied customers will also be those most likely to share their feedback and overall story with your team. From there, it’s simply a matter of delivering this social proof to your potential users in the most efficient way possible.
As a SaaS provider, the last thing you want to do is go completely incommunicado with your users once you’ve converted and onboarded them.
Instead, you should constantly be looking for ways to enhance your user’s experience throughout their customer journey with your brand. Whether this means introducing new services and features, delivering high-value content, or creating exclusive promotional events, the goal is to always be engaging with and providing value to your customers.
Keep the value coming, and your users will keep coming back. The longer they keep coming back, the better off your business will be.
About the Author
Josh Brown is a digital marketing consultant and has more than 5 years of SaaS Content Marketing & SEO experience. Josh is currently leading content marketing at Helpjuice. Helpjuice helps companies save millions in customer support with their powerful knowledge base tool.