How to Build a Solid SaaS Onboarding Strategy: Step-by-Step Guide

How to Build a Solid SaaS Onboarding Strategy: Step-by-Step Guide cover

Having an effective SaaS onboarding strategy is essential to user success and, by extension, customer retention. If you don’t make your onboarding flow as streamlined as possible, you could struggle to retain customers in the long run.

In this article, we’ll go over why you need a SaaS customer onboarding strategy, the key components of a successful customer onboarding process, and how to create your customer onboarding strategy in 10 steps.

Without further ado, let’s get right into it!


  • SaaS onboarding is the process of getting new users acquainted with your product and teaching them how to get value out of it.
  • A robust onboarding strategy can boost product adoption and lifetime value while reducing churn as well as the number of support tickets your representatives need to deal with.
  • The product, sales, marketing, and CS teams all play a role in the onboarding concerto. When your orchestra works in perfect harmony across all departments, you’ll be better equipped to provide a positive experience to users.
  • Clear goals, excellent UX design, and reliable analytics are the three core ingredients of a successful onboarding strategy.
  • Researching your customers, personalizing your onboarding flows, and split-testing elements will all contribute towards a more positive experience throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

What is SaaS onboarding?

SaaS onboarding is the process of helping potential customers and new users learn how your product works. Throughout the customer onboarding process, users will learn how to get value out of the product and accomplish their specific goals when they signed up.

A product-led onboarding process helps users get set up with the “Software as a Service” through interactive walkthroughs, native flows, and in-app guidance rather than external resources or video tutorials. A product-led onboarding program tends to be a more effective onboarding process compared to linear product tours, leading to faster product adoption.

user journey for SaaS onboarding strategy

Why do you need a SaaS onboarding strategy?

SaaS user onboarding is a crucial step in the customer journey. The onboarding experience will set the tone for the rest of the engagement and impact product adoption, feature discovery, and customer retention moving forward.

Creating a robust customer onboarding strategy is essential so you’re able to plan out and organize your user onboarding efforts ahead of time. Creating an effective customer onboarding journey for new users can help your SaaS business reap benefits like:

Customer lifetime value LTV SaaS

Who is responsible for an onboarding strategy?

Depending on the type of customer onboarding experience your company is aiming for, different departments could be in charge of creating the actual user onboarding flow or walkthrough.

A user onboarding process might be created by your product, sales, support, or customer success teams, depending on which user onboarding approach you take. In most cases, it’s a collaboration with multiple departments contributing to SaaS customer onboarding.

After all, every department can set a good onboarding example:

  • Product. Identifies the stickiest features and tools that help users achieve their goals. Analyzes user feedback and behavior to tweak the product or user onboarding process for better results.
  • Sales. Hosts live product demos, directly interacts with new users during the early customer onboarding stages, and reconnects when it’s time for the user to convert or upgrade their subscription (while gathering data on sales-qualified leads).
  • Support. The customer support team should be there throughout the entire customer onboarding journey to help users with any technical snags, one-on-one training, or product documentation. Monitors support tickets to spot recurring issues.
  • Customer success. The CS team is in charge of nurturing customer relationships, ensuring long-term user success beyond the initial onboarding experience, and tracking retention rates for new users to measure onboarding success.

Key components of a SaaS onboarding strategy

Any effective and well-planned SaaS customer onboarding strategy needs three key components:

  1. Clear goals
  2. Excellent UX
  3. Reliable analytics

Let’s delve deeper into each of these components and see how they impact the SaaS companies that leverage them for customer onboarding strategies.

Clear goal(s)

The goals that you set for your customer onboarding process will depend on your company’s business model, product type/complexity, how big your customer base is, and who your target audience is.

If you’re not sure where to start, the easiest approach is to consider what the end goal is for your SaaS onboarding efforts. Are you trying to increase user activation, reduce churn rates, or drive secondary feature adoption?

Once you have your SaaS onboarding goals narrowed down, you can use a goal-setting framework — such as the OKR framework — to establish actionable milestones that your onboarding program needs to hit.

OKR framework for Saas onboarding strategy

Excellent user experience

The quality of the user experience throughout the full extent of customer onboarding processes will play a decisive role in how many new users you’re able to retain long-term. Specifically, you want to stay away from boilerplate onboarding elements.

Personalized experiences built upon user research and customer segmentation are the key to a more contextual onboarding experience. Other core onboarding factors include thorough in-app guidance and a responsive support team to bolster your customer success programs.

Reliable analytics

Last but not least, SaaS companies need a reliable way to measure relevant metrics. Various KPIs could be used to gauge the efficacy of SaaS onboarding experiences, but the metrics worth tracking will depend on the goals that you’ve set.

Common metrics that SaaS businesses track while onboarding customers include:

  • Activation rate
  • Feature adoption
  • Conversion rate
  • Monthly active users
  • Churn rate
  • Time-to-value

To make tracking these metrics easier for your marketing team or customer success manager, it would be best to adopt product analytics software — which can help you monitor KPIs and adjust your personalized onboarding flows as needed.

In-app analytics dashboard Userpilot
Detailed in-app analytics with Userpilot.

How to create your SaaS onboarding strategy in 10 steps

SaaS companies looking to craft an onboarding strategy for new customers need to follow best practices to get the best chances of success. Here are the 10 steps to help SaaS companies create a reliable onboarding strategy that will onboard and retain new customers.

1. Spend time on research

Thorough research is the first step toward optimizing user onboarding experiences. Analyze competitors or similar products in your industry to see what they’re doing differently (either for better or worse).

Focusing on companies in the same niche could provide valuable insights on how to retain existing customers and implement great user onboarding flows, but you could also study brands in other sectors.

See how they approach onboarding and mitigate customer churn, then test out similar strategies with your own onboarding services. Pay attention to how the timing, messaging, elements, and support options all contribute to the positive onboarding experience.

If you manage to identify any blind spots or areas to improve through your competitor analysis, then be sure to relay these insights to your onboarding team. It could consist of small tweaks to your onboarding model or specific elements like an onboarding checklist.

2. Create your user personas

Onboarding teams need to focus on the customer’s lifecycle goals first and foremost. If you identify the pain points, you’ll be better able to deliver on their needs/expectations and retain customers as a result.

Familiarizing yourself (through customer research) with the underlying job-to-be-done of your users will ensure that you’re able to create a proper onboarding experience and nurture the customer relationship long-term.

Each onboarding period should only focus on a specific primary user need. If you try to solve every problem at once and delve too deep into features for more advanced users, then you’ll end up overwhelming your new customers.

To ensure your onboarding flows are as targeted as possible, you can create user personas for each segment. Afterward, you’ll be able to gather feedback and insights from these segments through in-app user survey responses.

User personas example template
User persona example.

3. Personalize onboarding flows

Now that you have a clearer understanding of user needs, it’s time to use your audience segments to create personalized flows. The entire onboarding process should focus on the user’s JTBD and the main task they’re trying to achieve.

By narrowing your focus, you’ll be able to reduce the time-to-value, which will lead to higher customer satisfaction scores and more users sticking around. You can also look at in-app user behavior, engagement rate, and the level of tech-savviness of your users to personalize onboarding.

User segmentation dashboard Userpilot
Segmenting users in Userpilot to create personalized flows.

4. Build contextual in-app guidance

The best way to make your onboarding process feel more contextual is to leverage UX/UI design elements. You can combine different UX patterns like welcome screens, popups, onboarding checklists, slide-outs, tooltips, and more to create in-app flows that help new users navigate through each stage.

Interactive walkthroughs are more engaging than linear product tours since they engage users instead of overwhelming them with an information dump. You can also use time-based or event-based triggers to make your in-app messages more relevant/timely for users.

As a result, you’ll end up with contextual onboarding that makes the process feel a lot less daunting for users.

Kommunicate in-app guidance flow SaaS onboarding
Kommunicate’s in-app guidance.

5. Progress with customer journey stages

It’s important to remember that the onboarding process doesn’t end when new users are familiarized with your product. Teaching users about features and preventing customer churn are ongoing processes that need to stick around throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

Primary onboarding increase activation rates, but grander goals like account expansion and customer advocacy could require a secondary or even tertiary onboarding flow. Here’s a look at how continuous onboarding can be implemented during different stages:

User journey stages SaaS continuous onboarding

6. Offer a product demo

Whether your product demos are live or pre-recorded, offering them to users can help highlight key features and demonstrate how the product is used in a real-life scenario. In other words, demos are a quick and reliable path to value realization.

Live interactive product demos take more work to set up, but they also build stronger relationships with your customers and give your customer success team the chance to answer specific user questions.

Userpilot live product demo landing page SaaS
Sign up for Userpilot’s live demo!

7. Strengthen your communication

In-app communication is a cornerstone of your onboarding process, but your efforts shouldn’t stop there. Instead, do your best to support other communication channels so you’re able to engage users wherever they go.

Email onboarding flows are a great way to contribute to the ongoing process that starts with in-app flows. Furthermore, putting effort into these email sequences makes customers feel like sales teams actually care about SaaS users beyond just getting them to convert.

Live chat support is another way that your sales team can drive new user activation and nurture a fanbase of loyal customers for your SaaS company. Social media, in-app resource centers, and webinars hosted by your SaaS company also help.

Regardless of which platforms you decide to conquer, make sure that your messaging is consistent across all channels. Failing to do so could make your messaging feel disjointed and awkward. Besides, customers are more likely to trust brands that show consistency in their communication.

The email below is a prime example of how Mailchimp combines its resource centers, onboarding sequences, social media presence, and live support to bolster its brand image while promoting customer education in the process.

Mailchimp onboarding email sequence example

8. Leverage onboarding analytics

No onboarding strategy would be complete if you don’t have the right set of product metrics to measure your successes and failures. Diligently track your KPIs and see how fast (or slow) progress is toward specific goals. The more data you monitor, the easier it will be to optimize your efforts and pivot where needed.

Software solutions like Userpilot help you set pre-defined goals, monitor user behavior, track in-app events, and measure feature usage, all with a single tool. You’ll also receive detailed product growth insights that help you look at your triumphs on a macro level.

Userpilot product analytics dashboard SaaS
Userpilot’s Features and Events dashboard.

9. Ask for feedback

User feedback is another valuable source of data. In-app surveys, online reviews, support ticket ratings, and social media polls are all great ways to gather feedback.

Your fresh sales hires should be given enough sales training to gather insights from users who have had enough time to experience the product. Asking for feedback too soon could paint an inaccurate picture of how activated users feel and may even taint the results of future surveys due to the annoyance factor.

The long and short of it is you need to give your customers a voice, collect and analyze the data, and act on the feedback instead of dismissing it.

NPS survey example SaaS
NPS survey example.

10. Test and improve

Last but not least, constantly testing your onboarding strategy and improving upon the current build is paramount to long-term optimization. The data you manage to collect from the previous two steps will even help you run your product experiments.

Once you start split testing (A/B testing) your onboarding elements, you’ll be surprised how big of an impact small changes can make. Don’t be afraid to run tests more often than your competitors since iterative testing can give you a clearer idea of what really works.

A/B testing dashboard Userpilot
A/B testing in-app flows with Userpilot.

To conclude

As you can see, building up your customized onboarding collateral and investing in omnichannel communication can work wonders for the overall onboarding experience — especially with new users.

The largest difference between a good onboarding flow and a bad onboarding flow is whether or not you’re putting the user first. That translates to researching competitors and customer needs, creating the resources that can streamline onboarding for users, and split-testing important elements to find what works best.

If you’re ready to take your onboarding strategy to the next level, then it’s time to get your free Userpilot demo today!

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