15 Key Elements For Successful SaaS Customer Onboarding

15 Key Elements For Successful SaaS Customer Onboarding

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Customer onboarding is a crucial process for SaaS entrepreneurs.

Why? If done right the customer onboarding process will lead to more conversions and referrals.

If you are currently designing your customer onboarding process, you may not know where to begin or how to measure customer success. So, how can you develop an effective onboarding process?

Of course, there are no simple answers. In fact, there is a multitude of complex solutions. And many solutions are based on a number of variables among your users.

You may be thinking that the hard part is getting a user to the first login. You just need to get enough users through the onboarding process in order to begin measuring success, right?

But here’s the kicker:

The customer onboarding process does not end with the first login or even the first 90 days. It’s a continual process that you may need to reinitiate over a longer period of time. It might even take years as you develop more products and update others.

Additionally, your customer onboarding strategy will need to be constantly reviewed and revised.

In this post, I plan to share customer onboarding best practices. There are 15 key elements you will need to consider as part of developing an effective onboarding process. I will also talk about tools to get your onboarding process up and running.

Additionally, you will need to be aware of testing methods for unclogging your onboarding process flow and attracting new customers.

But before we can get to that, you must first understand what draws your users to your product or service. That is what is known as the “Aha” moment.

What is the “Aha” Moment?

I’ve talked about the “Aha” moment before, so let’s review: Also known as the “WOW” or “Magic” moment, the “Aha” moment is the point during which a user knows how your product or service can help them. It’s not necessarily a feature that wows them, but what the feature does to make a task easier for them.

Additionally, this can be the point at which you convert a trial user to a paying customer. So, it’s imperative that your users achieve their “Aha” moments as early in the onboarding process as possible.

But it doesn’t stop with the first few moments of onboarding. There may be more than one “Aha” moment for the user as they continually use your product or service.

Let’s look at a few networking websites for examples.

Facebook and LinkedIn are often cited as being two of the best companies at onboarding new users.

It’s clear that Facebook is there to allow people to reconnect with family members (in different geographical locations), classmates, old friends, and co-workers. There are also options to create and follow groups.

An outgrowth of this accessibility is that users are informed of news stories and vice versa. These are all “Aha” moments.

LinkedIn is a professional networking website and it uses its onboarding process to quickly introduce new users to basic features and the website’s inherent value. Users are there to find jobs or offer them and to build a reputation that draws interested users toward them. Users can also view updates from their contacts.

Additional features include: The call for users to improve their profiles, make posts, and create and join groups. Also, profiles are ranked according to one’s network. This is geared to entice users to act and become more active on LinkedIn in order to raise their visibility.

As shown above, Users on LinkedIn can join groups and know if their contacts joined beforehand.

Compare both LinkedIn and Facebook to Google+. YouTube users are often signed up to the networking site automatically.

Since users don’t normally choose to use Google+, and the other social media sites are more data-centric, most of the users rarely find the value in using Google+.

Again, users need to find the inherent value in your product or service. Once you realize what the “Aha” Moment is, use this information to formulate your customer onboarding strategy.

Next, create your onboarding checklist. You will need to decide on a series of steps new users must follow, as well as steps you need to take during the customer lifecycle.

15 Customer Onboarding Elements: What You Need To Do Include?

The following list contains important factors you need to consider as part of your customer onboarding strategy

 1. Your Signup Form

What should your signup form looks like? This is entirely up to you, but you need to consider a few things first.

The signup form serves as the first official interaction between users and your product.

Your Signup form should only include all the necessary fields. It might be tempting to include as many as possible, but asking users for too much information can slow the process down and turn many of them away.

Many users want to move through the signup process as soon as possible. If they must include some personal information, make sure you leave some quick messages that inform them of your reasoning. Microcopy can help, as well as normal copy informing the user about the length of a free trial.

Xero has a “Getting Started” page that informs visitors about the types of information the company collects and why.

Social media buttons can come in handy. They can be added to signup forms to give users a quick way to sign up, they can be used alongside a standard password registration, or they can be used in lieu of a password. You can also give your users the option of including a password later.

Also make sure to add a call to action. Get the use excited to move onto the next step.

Canva takes it a step further and adds a number (10 million people) and two short convincing testimonials.

2. Terms of Service

Should you include the terms of use or service? This is a tricky thing to ask.

You might require users to check off a message saying that they’ve read the TOS. However, most users simply won’t read the TOS or Privacy Policy statements. The TOS also serves as a friction point for users that at least skim them over.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include these somewhere on your site. But keep in mind that your users will want to move through the onboarding process as quickly as possible.

The image above shows the check box in the bottom with a link to the terms of service. So, the users interested in it can easily go to the link and read.

3. Payment Options

Your users do need to know about the length of a trial (if offered) and pricing plans. The latter could be found via a separate page or serve as the gateway for a signup. Otherwise, this is a cause of friction that could decrease signups.

Some SaaS vendors believe that requiring users to include credit card information will lead to more conversions. However, they are turning many other users away and increasing churn rates. Many users may want to try the product or service before they pay and others may cancel their subscriptions or ask for refunds upon being billed the first time.

In the above example, TrainerRoad, a company that sells a bicyclist-training phone app, requires payment information during signup. While there is flexibility with PayPal, there is still no real trial period beyond a refund period that only lasts 30 days.

Customers may want to try out the app to see how well it works for them. The absence of a true trial period likely increases churn rates.

Now, the experts agree: Retention is of utmost importance. Retention rates are often more important than conversion rates. And most of your revenue will come from repeat customers.

You will thus need to find a way to generate more leads.

You also need to find a way to entice paying customers with an onboarding process that has less friction.

4. The Welcome Email

No matter how you do it, the welcome email is critical. It often serves as the first direct communication you will have with a new user.

Here’s the deal:

Many companies may use the welcome email as a way to get the new user to confirm their email address and login for the first time. However, this approach can serve as another friction point in the customer onboarding process.

A good way to use the welcome email would be to encourage users to start a greater conversation. Groove does this and the company’s CEO, Alex Turnbull, tells new users what to expect.

5. Setup Wizard

You have the option of including a setup wizard as part of the new client onboarding process. The setup wizard can be mandatory early on or you can allow the user to go to it later. Depending on your software, integrations and data import might be necessary during the new client onboarding process.

MecWise has a setup wizard that makes it easy for users to create payrolls.

Do your best to make this process as quick and painless as possible. Users don’t want to wait a day or hours for this to be completed.

6. Product Tour

A product tour can really help new users become quickly familiar with your service. However, there are many users who want the chance to solve problems themselves. Allow your customers to skip this process if they want to explore a website or app on their own.

LinkedIn includes tours for various features of the site. Here’s an example from the Groups page:

The first message can be closed if the user prefers not to have a tour.

7. Navigation

At some point during the onboarding process, users want to explore your website or application by themselves and figure out how things work on their own. Complex navigation can lead to an overall negative first experience.

Is the design intuitive? Can anyone find their way to the features or FAQ’s? Think about what users need to find and how they can find it without being prompted.

As you can see from this snapshot of the brochure-making process, Canva has a simple navigation system. The design actions are featured on a left-hand-side menu. Other actions, including help items, or nested at the top.

8. Customization

While users are playing around with the navigation, they can be allowed to customize their profiles. User settings may even allow them to manipulate the navigation for a more intuitive experience with your website or application.

Tumblr has multiple layers of customization, but they’re all optional for new users.

Anyone can choose a free or priced theme:

Users could also tweak the theme they’ve chosen with fonts and colors:


Advanced users can also create their own themes via coding.

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9. Progress Meter

The importance of a progress meter should not be understated. As many experts will tell you, it helps a user to know which steps they must take during the onboarding process and how far they are into it.

Completing a task serves to give the user a sense of accomplishment. Furthermore, this can serve as an opportunity for you to congratulate users for completed tasks. This creates an emotional incentive for the user to continue using the product.

10. Required Actions

This is where you need to balance the “Aha” moment with what you ultimately want your users to do. What is the main function of your product or service? Find a way to entice your users to take that action in order to advance in the onboarding process.

Twitter requires that new users immediately follow a minimum of 10 people before they can move onto the next step in its onboarding process. But first, the user has to pick some interests in order for Twitter to generate some suggestions among other users.

11. Notifications

A notification system is yet another touch point with your users. It also serves as a reminder for users to complete certain actions. LinkedIn utilizes its notification system to inform its users of comments, recommendations, and the importance of building a profile.

Make sure to only give your users the information they need or want via notifications. These notifications can also be controlled by user settings.

12. Tutorials

Full tutorials are optional, but they should be offered for users that need an in-depth understanding of how to use software. The best tutorials may be in video form. Leave links for users to visit at their leisure.

Xero offers a tutorial on a separate page from the signup page, and it can be viewed before signup.

13. Bonuses

Want to add another level to entice new users? Bonuses can include discounts for timely signups as well as incentives to invite other users to try the product.

The latter works because it utilizes word of mouth. Since people trust recommendations from people they know, they will be more likely to try the product.

And if they have a great first experience with the product, they can be converted to paying customers. The cycle can then be repeated.

Dropbox has used the referral program to perfection. They offer both the referrer and the new customer extra space.

Not only did Dropbox save on advertising, but the company increased its customer base by 60%!

14. Follow-Up (All Subsequent Communications)

Every now and then, you will have to reach out to your users.

As you know, the customer onboarding process could not begin without user outreach. People need to be made aware of your product, and that can happen in a variety of ways, including advertisements and social media engagement.

First of all, you should have reached out to likely customers and followed up once your product was available for consumption. These were the people who had a need or a series of needs you planned to address. Their early feedback should have helped in the development of your product and initial marketing strategy.

Likewise, you need to keep in touch with current customers and touch base with former users. One user may have low activity within a 90-day period, another may not have converted to a paying customer, and yet another may have left after the first login. Otherwise, a regular user may need to know about updates or how to use your software more efficiently.

Groove has experimented with their email cycle. After reaching out to new users in the welcome email, they reach out to low-activity users outside of the 14-day trial period and converted customers after 90 days.

Each of the emails Groove sends is personalized and targeted to speak to the user’s experience and activity level with Groove. Through experimenting and testing, Groove was able to increase conversion rates and win back customers. Likewise, your emails have to be personalized to deal with each specific situation.

15. Customer Feedback

Take the time to listen to your customers. Allow them to talk about the features of your offering.

Groove’s case also serves an as excellent example of getting user feedback. Gently ask users for more answers. Personalized emails will work for those inclined to respond.

Another way to get direct answers from customers is a survey:

Beyond these methods, you can do some hands-on research. Look at social connections and user engagement to determine the chance of referrals. And take the time to talk to users who may have left; you can learn from them in order to improve your product (and onboarding process).

Here’s the bottom line:

Your product and consumer base might determine what you need to include immediately. But you should address users at various stages of the customer cycle.

Additionally … take note of the various tools out there to help you include the above elements in your onboarding process flow.

For instance, Tutorialize offers user onboarding software that allows you to create a product tour for your site.

And there are companies like Appcues that take care of the entire process with no need for SaaS vendors to use code. Services offered by Appcues include A/B testing.

Which User Metrics Should You Be Using?

Now, let’s come back to the “Aha” Moment once again. This is the point where you need to start thinking about the customer acquisition funnel.

What exactly is the funnel?

Think about a real funnel. How is it shaped and how does it work?

The funnel basically describes your onboarding process flow. It’s the process by which a user is converted into a paying customer.

The fact is you will lose 40-60% of all users during the onboarding process. Much of that is out of your control.

What you can control are elements of the first user experience with your product. You must improve the usability of your service and offer excellent customer service. This effects how your users determine the inherent value of what you offer.


Watch your users and see which parts of the onboarding process lead to the greatest amount of success. Are some steps easier to complete than others? Are some users stuck on the signup form?

Work to analyze your onboarding process flow. Which steps could be revised and what can you do to remove obstacles for your users?

You can use a service like Kissmetrics in order to look at a user funnel from specific time periods. Input the events and actions you want users to go through/take and see how many users go over each step:

Testing & Troubleshooting: What do you need to look for?

You will need to do some A/B testing before you submit your onboarding process and whenever you want to refine it. Allow some clients to try out new features and put their input into which practices work best for them.

Also, as mentioned above, you need to test the functionality of your website and apps. While procedural aspects of your user onboarding process can inhibit some users, structural problems with your website and software can inhibit all users.


The SaaS user customer onboarding process begins with the signup process but can continue during the entire customer life cycle.

Formulate your user onboarding checklist. Then decide which parts of your onboarding process will lead to more user engagement and conversions.

Be sure to test your process beforehand. Keep in mind that you will have to refine it every time its required, especially as you improve your SaaS product and add new services.

(Note: Join my Free Newsletter to get my weekly tips on Business Growth, Marketing, Technology and overcoming the challenges faced by me and other fellow entrepreneurs…Join Free Newsletter Now.)


8 Responses

  • Caroline July 25, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    Hi Hammad, great blog post! There is an amazing tool in the market that can help in the implementation of customer onboarding elements. It’s called Pipz http://pipz.com/

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  • Daniel Martinez April 20, 2018 at 7:56 pm

    These are all great points. However, I think it’s also important to know where you’re going wrong with user onboarding and what’s causing a poor experience.

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