5 Steps to Develop a Smooth Customer Onboarding Process


Cold email is one of the most effective ways to connect with new prospects, develop working relationships with customers and close new deals. But what happens after you turn an email lead into a new customer?

For most SaaS businesses, the first step in the process of changing a customer from a sales prospect into an active user is the onboarding process.

Onboarding is designed to familiarize users with your product, helping them go from knowing little about how to use it to feeling confident in their skills. By the end of good onboarding, any user should feel comfortable using your product without continual assistance.

Many companies get the sales aspect of customer acquisition perfect, only to stumble when it comes to turning new customers into active users. In this guide, we’ll share five steps you can use to develop a smooth onboarding process that turns new customers into confident users.

Start with a clear, zero-ambiguity onboarding email

The first email you send customers after they purchase your product (or free users, in the case of a free trial) is called an onboarding email.

The goal of an onboarding email is simple: to take customers from having paid for your product (or, in the case of a free trial, signed up to try it) to actively investing their time into using your product.

Onboarding emails need to do several things:

  • Explain how to use your product (or at least direct users towards additional resources that will teach them how to use it)
  • Give users or customers a compelling reason to use your product
  • Make it easy to start using your product

The first goal is simple. If your product requires little instruction, you can cover the main points of its design and UI in your onboarding email. If it requires some teaching, just let customers or free users know that they’ll begin a tutorial before they start using your product.

The second is also simple. In your onboarding email, cover the one to two main benefits of your product so that users feel motivated to take action.

Finally, lead users directly into your product from your onboarding email. The simplest way to do this is to include a bold, obvious call to action link or button. Link users directly into your tutorial, so that they’re put straight into your product’s interface once they click the call to action link.

Sixteen Ventures, which specializes in SaaS growth tactics, recommends linking users directly to a new project within your SaaS product.

Your onboarding email is the first contact trial users and customers will have with your product after they sign up. Get it right and you’ll create a smooth transition from sign-up to active user — get it wrong and you may find yourself dealing with frequent support tickets from new users.

Offer a variety of onboarding and learning formats

Most free trial users and customers will feel comfortable following a tutorial, but some customers will want to learn about your product through text-based content and/or video.

Offering a variety of onboarding formats lets you keep all of your new customers happy, all while creating valuable learning resources. Text guides, video tutorials and other non-interactive help materials are often just as valuable as an interactive onboarding tutorial.

This is particularly important if you offer enterprise or small business software. Since companies may need to familiarize multiple people with your product, a blog post or video tutorial makes it a far easier, more scalable process.

If you offer multiple onboarding methods, mention all of them in your first onboarding email. This gives your customers a variety of options to choose from, all while giving small businesses and enterprise customers the ability to link their entire team to your support resources.

For enterprise customers, you can even schedule a webinar to make onboarding as simple as possible — a tactic recommended by Nate Munger of Intercom.

The more options you provide, the more free trial registrations you’ll turn into active users. Since it cost so little to offer text and video onboarding content, this technique is one of the easiest and most effective ways to strengthen your customer onboarding process.

Remove as many unnecessary steps as possible

Do your customers need to log in again after receiving your onboarding email, or is their session preserved to create a smooth process? Do users need to enter new information before they can use your product, or do you already have their essential data?

Each unnecessary step in your onboarding process, whether it’s a second login or a new form requesting personal information, adds to the complexity of going from free trial registration to active user. This can severely lower your overall conversion rate.

The best onboarding processes are smooth and simple. There’s no need for customers to log in again after creating their account, nor is any extra data requested. Instead, the first onboarding email links directly into the user interface of the product itself.

Your onboarding process should only include as many steps as necessary. Remove any steps that complicate or lengthen the process without providing additional value and you’ll see a large improvement in your registration-to-active-user conversion rate.

When users are inactive, follow up using automated email

Not all people that sign up for your free trial or purchase your SaaS software will become active users right away. In fact, some will forget about it altogether. This seriously hurts your ability to retain paying users for two reasons:

  • When free trial users don’t interact with your product, there’s a significantly lower chance that they’ll eventually turn into paying customers.
  • When paying customers rarely use your product, there’s a greater risk of them cancelling their accounts before the second billing cycle begins.

Luckily, you can “reactivate” inactive users using automated email. Email marketing automation software makes it easy for your business to follow up with users after they first start using your product but quickly become inactive.

If new users only reach a certain step in the onboarding process, there’s a good chance you can reactivate them with a carefully timed email based on their past behavior.

As users move through your onboarding process, group them using tags or custom audiences in your email marketing automation software. This lets you send a customized follow-up email that reinserts new users at the exact point they previously abandoned your product.

Not all users can be recovered using this method, but many can. Carefully planned automated email can help you bring back users that give up on your product halfway through the new user onboarding process, improving your registration-to-active-user conversion rate and increasing the percentage of free trial users that go on to become paying customers.

Follow up with customers to identify weak points

Your onboarding process is the gateway to your product, so it’s important to optimize it for the smoothest possible experience.

After you’ve onboarded a new customer, follow up manually via email to find out what they liked and disliked about the process. Ask for qualitative feedback that you can use to strengthen your onboarding process and make optimizations.

A bad onboarding process can hurt an otherwise excellent product, often to the point that users don’t have the opportunity to discover its true value. The insight you gain from real users helps you identify onboarding weaknesses, making it easier to fix them before they can hurt growth.

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