New User Onboarding SaaS: How to Onboard New Users And Drive Adoption

Is your new user onboarding process actually helping new users engage with your product and get value from it?

You can bring in all the new users you want, but it won’t count for much unless they understand how to derive value from your product and actually stick around.

And in an industry in which Day One churn rates frequently exceed 70%, there’s a very good chance that your user onboarding experience could stand to be improved.

This article covers everything you need to know about building the best user onboarding experiences for new users.

Let’s begin.


What is new user onboarding?

New user onboarding is about guiding users through their first-time in-product experience using different onboarding flows and UI patterns focusing on what’s the shortest path to value for each new user.

When we talk about “user onboarding,” we’re not talking about how to train new staff.

Instead, we mean the process of educating new users on how best to derive value from your product.

What is user onboarding process?

So although the phrase “user onboarding” is most commonly associated with the education of new users, it’s also possible to conceive of ways to help existing users derive value from your product.

Just as education, in general, is a life-long process, so it is that onboarding should take place at all stages of the customer journey.

user journey stages

If new users’ onboarding focuses on helping new users interact with your product for the first time and experience value, the user onboarding process refers to the onboarding experience as a whole- from new trial signup to account cancelation.

That being said, the main focus of this article will be on onboarding new users, which is sometimes referred to as “primary onboarding.”

What is the goal of user onboarding?

The ultimate goal of new user onboarding is getting users to experience the value your product offers and deciding to stick around (aka convert from free trial to paying users).

But there are two milestones that a typical SaaS will want their customers to reach in a successful onboarding process.

  1. The Aha Moment
  2. Activation

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

1. Get new users to The Aha Moment: emotional understanding of your product’s value

Also called the “Wow Moment,” this occurs when customers understand the value of your product for the first time. You could think of it as a type of Eureka, where your user finally intuits how your app is going to help them.

Also called the “Wow Moment,” this occurs when customers understand the value of your product for the first time. You could think of it as a type of Eureka, where your user finally intuits how your app is going to help them.

For simple products, the Aha Moment might even occur before signup. More likely, however, is that you’ll have to lead your customer towards it with great user onboarding.

Say your product is project management software. In this case, an Aha Moment might be when it suddenly hits the customer emotionally that using the software is going to keep their projects much more organized.

2. Get new users to the Activation point: personal experience of your product’s value

A user becomes activated at the point that they have experienced the value of your product first-hand.

There’s a very subtle difference between activation and the Aha Moment. Where the Aha Moment is emotional and hypothetical, activation is visceral and requires action.

To continue the example about project management software, a user would have to set up a project management board and create tasks in order to activate.

That’s quite a bit harder than just a hypothetical understanding that the software will help keep you organized.

Putting these concepts together, we can say that the purpose of onboarding is to move users towards the Aha Moment and subsequent activation. Both milestones demonstrate a certain level of customer education and user engagement.

But why would you want to go through the hassle of coaxing your new users towards these milestones?

Why is new user onboarding important?

There’s a simple reason why you should spend more time thinking about user onboarding flows. If done right, new user onboarding will increase your activation rates, which leads to you retaining customers for longer.

And the longer the customers are with you, the higher the LTV and account expansion opportunities.

User onboarding is intimately connected to just about every SaaS financial metric you can possibly imagine!

New user onboarding increases your activation rate

Let’s start combining some of the concepts you’ve learned in this article so far.

We said that activation is when your customer personally experiences the value of your product to them.

So activation rate is the percentage of your new users who experience your product’s value.

What do you think is going to happen if you create amazing systems that show your customer how to make the most out of your product?

That’s right! You’ll have a higher proportion of active users.

A great user onboarding experience will increase retention and LTV

And if more of your users experience the value of your product, it stands to reason that more of them will stick around.

Think about it: if a product solves the exact problem that you came to it for, would you pack up and leave?

Of course not!

And the great thing about the SaaS business model is: the higher your user retention rate, the greater the number of monthly subscription payments you will receive in the long run.

This translates into higher customer lifetime value (LTV).

New user onboarding experience increases feature adoption

Do you have a feature that you just know that your users would love… if only they would adopt it?

And it takes multiple interactions with a feature before it gets adopted. For this to happen, introducing users to relevant features during new user onboarding is the first step towards feature and product adoption.

A good user onboarding experience ought to do the trick. Try creating a tooltip and point it at the feature in question.


Then watch as your feature adoption rates skyrocket.

If you still don’t get the results you want, look at your product analytics and run A/B tests until you do.

A good new user onboarding flow will lower your support costs

Many SaaS companies require a large team of salaried support agents to answer their customers’ questions.

Users expect someone to be there to help them when they’re stuck, so the reasoning goes, making these costs a necessary sacrifice.

But what if you could educate your customers to the point that they can solve their own problems self-sufficiently?

Adding a help center widget to your product will let users look up answers to their own questions.

Build your in-app resource center without having to code. Get a Userpilot Demo and see how.

This means that fewer queries will reach your support team, reducing the number of support salaries you need to pay each month.

What makes a user onboarding good?

To create good user onboarding experiences for your new users the user onboarding flows you design must help the new user:

  • discover and engage with key features of your product that help them get their job done
  • get to experience the value of your product fast (short time to value)
  • use your product without encountering friction

When focusing on the three points above you’re on the right track to creating successful user onboarding experiences.

Which UI patterns are used in a typical new user onboarding flow?

Here is a summary of the most common onboarding patterns and flows that are seen in a typical user onboarding process.

  1. Signup flows
  2. Welcome screens
  3. Onboarding checklists
  4. Interactive walkthroughs (product tours)

1. Use a signup flow to gather relevant user data

Your signup form is the very first thing your new users will see at the start of the customer lifecycle, so it’s important to get it right.

For most SaaS businesses, you’ll want to encourage users to sign up and start engaging with your product as quickly as possible.

Airtable signup new user onboarding

We sometimes refer to this as “frictionless onboarding,” simply because you’re removing any friction that might slow down the signup process.

Typical features of frictionless onboarding include:

  • Allowing users to sign up to your product via a third party, such as Gmail or Outlook
  • Having forms autocomplete after you type in a few letters
  • Keeping the number of features on your signup page to an absolute minimum
  • Gathering any non-essential user data after signup, wherever possible

In rare cases, SaaS businesses will deliberately induce friction into their signup process. For instance:

  • If activation requires a long, complex technical integration
  • If your product is literally a matter of life or death to new users
  • Your industry is highly regulated, such as legal or banking apps

Note, however, that this is the exception, rather than the rule.

2. Greet users with a welcome screen and collect data for user segmentation

It’s common for SaaS businesses to greet new users after they’ve signed up.

To that end, we often see products using a welcome page, which is a large modal that takes up most of the user’s screen.

Here’s an example of a welcome screen that social media app Kontentino built with Userpilot:

welcome screen new user onboarding

Kontentino followed a number of best practices for welcome screen design:

  • They added a picture of a smiley employee to associate their brand with friendliness
  • The welcome screen restates the core value of their product
  • It’s clear what the next steps are, and oh-so-tempting to click that CTA button

Do you want to build a welcome screen for your SaaS without having the hassle of code? Sign up for a Userpilot demo here, and we’ll show you how it’s done.

Welcome screens are also commonly used to segment new users so that initial onboarding is as personalized as possible.

In this example, Postfity actually built a segmentation question into their welcome screen:

Postfity segmentation new user onboarding
Build welcome screen using Userpilot

3. Drive users to complete onboarding tasks using checklists

Remember how we defined activation as having experienced the value of your product?

If you summarize the core functionality of your product into a few checklist items, completing that checklist is bound to lead to activation!

A good checklist is short. 3-4 bullet points is more than enough for your customer to experience your product’s key features.

new user onboarding checklist

Keep the copywriting on your checklist concise and action-orientated. You want to make it as easy as possible for your customer to take action here.

A progress bar can be a nice way to show your customer how many checklist items they have left to complete.

Progress bars are motivational, and they also draw on something called the Zeigarnik effect, which is the psychological observation that humans are more likely to remember incomplete tasks than completed ones.

Putting this together, you can see how a checklist will keep key activation tasks at the top of your user’s mind.

4. Replace product tours with interactive walkthroughs and shorten the time to value

Good old-fashioned product tours are those series of tooltips or modals that greet you when you first login into an app.

And what happens next? You click ‘Next’or ‘Skip’ and go on with your business.

If your new user onboarding experience looks like this, users will probably not engage and you’re not actually helping them.

Instead, focus on offering a more contextual and personalized onboarding experience and offer guidance when the user needs it.

Instead of using product tours, try building interactive walkthroughs to guide users through engaging with specific parts of your product, when they need it.

An interactive walkthrough is a user onboarding flow experience built using a series of tooltips and driven actions, that trigger sequentially once the user engages with them and takes action inside the product.

You can trigger them when a new user interacts with a task in your checklist or directly when they engage with a specific feature of the product.

Here’s an example of how Rocketbots uses an interactive walkthrough during their onboarding flow to guide users through setting up their first chatbot.

Interactive walkthrough built with Userpilot

What are some best practices for a great new user onboarding experience?

By creating the above UI patterns, you will already have exceeded a typical user’s expectations. Now it’s time to take things to the next level.

Segment your users and make your in-app messaging relevant

Different user groups perceive value in different ways. For example, if you were using an SEO tool like Ahrefs:

  • The CEO would care about the bigger picture of the business
  • The SEO manager would use the content planning and keyword research tools
  • Junior employees would only care about their personal performance
Start segmenting your customers with Userpilot. Get a demo today!

So if you were to create a generic product tour that attempted to condense the value of your product into a few tooltips highlighting what you think are your key features, you would inevitably end up alienating any other users who didn’t care about those particular features.

The solution is to divide your users into distinct segments, each of which has its own distinct needs.

We’ve found that most SaaS companies perform segmentation during the signup process, sometimes via a survey that’s part of the welcome screen.

Welcome screen built with Userpilot

If your goal is to create engaged users, it’s common practice to deliver a separate interactive walkthrough for each individual segment that’s tailored to their needs.

Using a tool like Userpilot to segment your customers and serve each cohort with its own product tour will make for a better onboarding experience than trying to do everything from scratch.

And it’s a lot less work for you, too!

Communicate with your users in-app, rather than by email

Let’s be honest here: most people’s inboxes are full of distractions. A typical inbox will contain everything from work emails to cat videos!

That’s not where you want your users’ attention to be just after signing up for your product.

So rather than sending them tons of onboarding emails, it’s smarter to communicate with them inside your app itself wherever possible.

Don’t get me wrong, you should be sending onboarding emails to bring users back to the app if they become inactive.

But as a new user onboarding best practice focus on your in-app guidance and messaging and use email as a secondary channel.

Use onboarding gamification experiences to increase engagement

Gamification is a great way to add a bit of character to an otherwise lifeless onboarding process.

By gamification strategy, I mean the addition of game-like elements to something that is not inherently playful.

So many companies have dreary onboarding, so this could be a fantastic means of standing out from the crowd.

Examples of gamification include:

  • Points
  • Badges
  • Leaderboards
  • Progress bars
  • Celebration modals

Just look at this example of gamified a checklist.

Adding a progress bar and dummy tasks (already completed tasks) makes the users want to take action. We all tend to finish tasks that we already made progress on.


Use A/B testing to improve your new user onboarding experiences

Here’s a message for all of the perfectionists out there: your onboarding system won’t be perfect the first time that you create it.

So you’ll want to track the results of your onboarding and continue to tweak your system until it gets you what you want.

There are two main things you’ll need to be able to do this:

  1. A system for analyzing your user behavior
  2. A/B testing software so that you can measure the effect of one product experiment against another
Build and A/B test user onboarding experiences with Userpilot

If you’re wondering which user onboarding metrics you should analyze, then read on: the next section is for you!

How do you measure the success of your new user onboarding?

If you use onboarding software like Pendo, you’ll encounter so many data points that it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees.

A wiser perspective is to focus your attention on the minority of metrics that show whether your onboarding is working or not.

For instance:

1. Keep your activation rate as high as possible

If you recall from earlier, we defined activation as the moment when a customer experiences the value of your product first-hand.

It’s possible to use software like Userpilot to track goals completion. A goal is a set of user attributes and custom events that you equate with the activation of your SaaS. These will be different for each product.

Goal tracking in Userpilot

It follows that activation rate can be calculated as the percentage of new users that end up activating, as shown in this formula:

activation rate

For instance, for the social media app Kontentino, activation is achieved after a user has added a social media account and made their first post.

The more users that make their first post, the better Kontentino’s activation rate, and the better their user onboarding process is working.

2. Aim to retain your customers for the long-term

If your user onboarding is functioning as it should, large numbers of your customers should be finding value in using it.

Since we generally don’t churn from products that we find value in, it follows that there is a correlation between the quality of your onboarding and how many customers you retain.

My favorite way of measuring retention is by analyzing the retention rate, which can be measured as follows:

retention rate

The higher this percentage is, the better your onboarding flow is performing.

3. Keep your Time to Value to a minimum

In an era where customers’ attention spans are notoriously low, SaaS companies are incentivized to bring their users to the point of experiencing value as quickly as possible.

Failure to do this could mean that your customers end up churning, or even looking for a competitor.

But if your user onboarding is on point, your users will zoom through your signup form and power through your onboarding flow in a matter of minutes.

The less time this takes, the better!

Hence we can define Time to Value as follows:

time to value

Next, let’s put all this together and see how you might combine some of the best practices and onboarding UI patterns that we just discussed.

How do you create a new user onboarding process?

Here’s a big-picture summary of what the overall onboarding process might look like for your business.

  1. Segment your users into distinct cohorts.
  2. Determine what each user cohort requires in order to activate.
  3. Build a frictionless signup flow.
  4. Create a welcome screen for your new users that both greets and segments them in equal measure.
  5. Create an interactive walkthrough for each user segment out of a mixture of checklists, modals, tooltips and other UI patterns.
  6. Ensure that each walkthrough leads each segment towards their particular activation point, as you identified it in step 2.
  7. A/B test and iterate your onboarding system until your onboarding metrics are where you want them to be.

Since this is still a bit abstract, let’s look at the onboarding processes set up by other businesses.

New user onboarding examples from other SaaS companies

We hope that these user onboarding examples inspire you to create similarly impressive onboarding systems for your own business.

New user onboarding example #1: Box

Box provides content management and workflow software to businesses.

Their user onboarding starts with a textbook example of a frictionless signup page:

Box new user onboarding

Note the lack of UI elements here: Box wants to be as minimalist as possible so that Time to Value is kept to an absolute minimum.

Beyond some simple pricing information, the only thing that Box has decided is worth its time to include is a brief summary of the value that you’re going to receive. This hints at an Aha Moment, and subsequent activation.

Once you’re done with signup, you’re shown the following onboarding checklist:

Box new user onboarding

Note that there are very few tasks here. Box is just giving you the minimum that you need in order to understand the core value of their product and activate.

But there’s a clever element of gamification here as well that is worth mentioning.

Observe how every completed activation task rewards you with an extension of your free trial. That’s likely to be something that you’ll place value on.

And if you get stuck with walking through the activation tasks, Box’s tooltips will point you in the right direction, so that activation is assured.

Box new user onboarding

New user onboarding example #2: Rocketbots

Rocketbots aims to save its users time by putting all their inboxes on one app.

After signing up to Rocketbots, you’re shown this welcome screen:

Rocketbots new user onboarding

There’s a little bit of personalization here in terms of your “space name” and language, but the more important thing here from an activation point of view is that the user is prompted to set up a space in the first place.

A space is where all your inboxes will be stored, so Rocketbots won’t be able to provide you with any value before you’ve set that up. This is why setting up a space is positioned right at the start of the product tour.

Next up is the dashboard, where you’re given an activation checklist:

Rocketbots new user onboarding

There’s a short video tutorial, which is great for easing users into understanding the value of Rocketbots’ platform.

The tutorial itself has an element of playfulness, in that it uses demo data based on characters from The Office.

If the first action needed for activation is creating a space, the second action is adding a messaging channel to that space, so it’s no surprise that Rocketbots leads you towards doing this in its walkthrough as well.

Rocketbots new user onboarding

In this case, a simple interactive tooltip does the trick nicely.

New user onboarding example #3: Calendly

Our final example comes from Calendly, which is known for its meeting scheduling software.

Of all the examples we looked at, Calendly has arguably the signup flow with the least friction. Just look at how simple this form is after you give them your email address:

Calendly new user onboarding

Note that I gave Calendly an Outlook email address when I signed up. Calendly noticed this and suggesting signing up via Outlook as a way of saving time and communicating a sense of familiarity.

Once you’ve confirmed your email, Calendly takes you straight to the meat of their product: setting up a personal Calendly URL.

Calendly new user onboarding

The creation of this is essential, since without this URL, you won’t be able to book any meetings, and Calendly’s software will have no value to you.

Next, Calendly prompts you to connect your calendar…

Calendly new user onboarding

… as well as choosing when you’re free to take meetings.

Calendly new user onboarding

Once you’re all set up, Calendly will ask you to set up your first meeting with yourself.

Calendly new user onboarding

This is a smart move from an onboarding perspective, as it removes the friction of potential embarrassment if you were to schedule an important work meeting at the wrong time due to unfamiliarity with the software.

Tools for building new user onboarding experiences in-app

If you want to start building modals, tooltips, and product tours you can either custom code them or use a tool to do it.

It can be tempting to want to code your own onboarding in-house, especially if you perceive the onboarding challenges your company faces as unique.

But using a tool gives you more flexibility and saves you time, so let’s look at some of the best user onboarding tools out there.

Userpilot- New user onboarding tool with the best value for money

Userpilot is a phenomenally versatile onboarding tool.

Build new user onboarding flows with Userpilot

Not only can you build UI patterns without having to code, but you can also analyze the impact of your onboarding process and iterate repeatedly until you get the success that you deserve.

All of that is available starting at $249 per month for up to 2,500 monthly active users.

Who is Userpilot best for:

✅ New user onboarding for mid-market SaaS companies with a product team: easily build product tours, modals, checklists, micro surveys, NPS as well as an in-app resource center for customer support and more.

✅ New user onboarding for SaaS Enterprises –being SOC 2 Type II certified and offering SSO and multi-user accounts, as well as offering bespoke Service Level Agreements, Userpilot is also suitable for enterprise clients. However – if you’re looking for some enterprise-level integrations, e.g. with Salesforce and Hubspot – you may want to wait or go for one of the Userpilot alternatives.


After having finished reading this article, you should now be in a position to understand:

  • What new user onboarding is
  • Why it’s such an important subject for SaaS businesses
  • What patterns a typical onboarding process consists of
  • How to maximize the odds of your onboarding process being a success
  • How to measure the effectiveness of your onboarding process

Want to start building new user onboarding experiences that drive product adoption? Sign up for a Userpilot demo here to get started!

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