SaaS Customer Onboarding

Everything you need to know about SaaS customer onboarding.

What is SaaS customer onboarding?

A customer onboarding process in SaaS consists of the activities and resources that introduce someone to your software. The goal is to get users to their “aha!” moment as rapidly as possible (or the point in which they see the value of your service).  

Compared to other industries, good onboarding is crucial in SaaS because a new user typically travels along the customer journey without interacting with anyone from your company. This characteristic makes it hard – and often impossible – to jump in and course-correct when someone gets stuck, frustrated, or both. Instead, the onboarding process’s intuitiveness, speed, and relevance determine the answer to a SaaS user’s existential question, “To churn, or not to churn?”

What are the phases of the SaaS onboarding process?

The advantage of SaaS customer journeys, and onboarding, in particular, is that the process is more predictable than in other product categories. Potential users can find out about your app in many ways. But, once they do, the journey stages for a SaaS business are relatively linear compared to other industries.

There’s no mandate from a SaaS industry association stating where an app’s onboarding begins and ends. In some software, onboarding lasts one session. The process can span days or even weeks in more complex products. These three stages are often included:

  1. Awareness and evaluation: A new customer becomes aware of your product for the first time through ads, referrals, search results, or word of mouth. They might research alternatives, read reviews about your product, and explore your website and blog.

  2. Acquisition: The user decides to try out your product. Usually, in SaaS, they’re not yet purchasing anything but enter a free subscription tier (freemium), trial, or demo. You have turned them from a prospect into a user, just not a paying one yet.

  3. Adoption: Adoption lays the foundation for a long-lasting relationship with your customer. You introduce them to more advanced features and use cases of your product, helping them build a habit around usage. You achieve this through blog content, notifications, emails, video tutorials, and other nudges.

Because users often go through all these stages without yet paying you anything, getting the onboarding flow right is vital to retain users and convince them to take or renew a subscription later in their journey. By the time they finish onboarding, they’ll need to understand how your SaaS product works and the value it brings them in the short and long run.

👩🏾‍🎓 Check out SaaS Customer Journey Mapping for a complete overview of all stages of the SaaS customer lifecycle.

SaaS customer onboarding best practices

The following best practices are essential for getting client onboarding right in SaaS.

Segment customers by subscriber stage and persona

“Customer segmentation is the process of organizing customers into specific groups based on shared characteristics, behaviors, or preferences, with the aim of delivering more relevant experiences.” —Segment Growth Center

Most apps have more than one type of customer, each with unique goals they hope to achieve with your product. Customize the onboarding process for each persona. You don’t want to push every available explanation, feature, or resource to all users at once – that will overwhelm and scare them off.

To achieve this segmentation, organize the onboarding process into different phases and use cases, revealing features as customers progress on their journey. You might, for example, check someone’s current knowledge about a topic that’s essential for understanding your app. Let them bypass an initial step in the journey that’s for beginners if they rate themselves as intermediate or advanced.

Personalize onboarding features to make the customer feel welcome

Once you’ve applied segmentation to your onboarding process, it’s relatively easy to personalize the customer experience further.

Use your customer data to adapt the content of auto-triggered app messages for each user. Say you have two user personas for a productivity product: an engineer and a designer. To the engineer, you highlight the benefits of feature X for software development projects during the product tour. For the designer, you focus on its usefulness in User Experience (UX) design endeavors.

Create an interactive and autonomous user onboarding experience

Make your onboarding process interactive by prompting users with a question, mini-survey, or an opportunity to rate a part of their experience. Such elements keep the customer engaged and allow them to communicate with you. At the same time, you collect valuable data and feedback about what leads to customer success. Make sure that these prompts are optional, non-intrusive, and dismissible to avoid friction or frustration.

SaaS customer onboarding also has to be autonomous – nudge instead of force. Let users discover and explore your resources at their own pace instead of forcing them to follow a particular onboarding journey.

A/B test along the way all the time

Create different variations of each element of your onboarding process and test which version performs best – so-called A/B testing. You can only run a small number of such tests at a time, so start to optimize where you expect the most impact on your critical metrics like retention or churn rate.

Typical A/B tests in SaaS involve trying out different propositions on your subscription purchase page and asking for varying amounts of information during registration, like leaving out an email confirmation step.

Evolve onboarding as your product changes

Developing an effective onboarding process is not a one-off, set-it-and-forget-it project. SaaS products should evolve – that’s why customers pay a recurring subscription fee. You constantly need to check in on how changes and new features in the product might affect existing elements of your onboarding and other resources like your knowledge base.

Elena Verna, former SVP of Growth at SurveyMonkey, revealed during a Reforge Program on multi-channel marketing that she would go through their onboarding at the start of every day. That might seem a bit much, but it’s better to practice such a daily ritual than having product teams that hardly ever experience their onboarding process.

“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” — Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project

How Segment can help with your SaaS customer onboarding process

A segmented and personalized path to your app’s aha! moment is only possible by leveraging customer data. A customer data platform (CDP) like Twilio Segment collects information that helps tailor the user experience from the first moment someone discovers your app.

The clicks they make on your landing page, the features they use in your product, and the sections they browse in a knowledge base – you can use all of these data points to improve the onboarding process of your software.

A CDP like Twilio Segment makes this straightforward. Our platform captures this information and synthesizes it in centralized profiles with Personas. You can then use this data to personalize your app experience and send it to other marketing and analytics tools to orchestrate marketing campaigns and analyze user behavior – all driven by automation in real time.

You can also use the new Journeys feature to design your onboarding process and the overall customer journey for your app.


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