SaaS Onboarding Essentials

People, Process, and Planning

Software as a Service onboarding is essential for every SaaS business. Onboarding provides new customers with documentation, tutorials, or other helpful resources to get started quickly. Some SaaS providers offer a no-touch approach, with self-guided onboarding. Some use a high-touch approach, with Customer Success Managers (CSMs) leading personal instruction. Others use a hybrid of the two. No matter the technique used, it’s essential for SaaS providers to invest in development of a smooth onboarding process. Failure to do so almost guarantees low adoption rates and high customer turnover.

Why Does SaaS Need Onboarding?

If customers don’t experience value from your SaaS product quickly, your chances of retaining them rapidly decrease. A great onboarding experience bolsters a SaaS customer’s lifetime value. Leading customers to find the value of the SaaS solution can convert new customers into loyal users and reduce churn.

What Are the Onboarding Basics?

The key objective of SaaS onboarding is to guide the user to value quickly, showing them the fastest route to achieving their goals. Since you want to measure what matters, you’ll need to plan out your onboarding process.

Identify Critical Initial Touchpoints

We love a good visual representation of the customer journey. Start by identifying initial touchpoints.


What do you want to say to a customer (or potential customer) during and immediately after signup? You want them to get started, so what ensures they will sign in for the first time? And are there any initial hurdles (e.g., downloads, configuration, permissions) you need to get past? Remove any obstacles or friction ahead of time.


Many successful SaaS products get this part done right by personalizing the experience. A welcome video from the CEO, for example, raises the bar from a bland welcome email (but it may not always make sense).

First Sign In

Aside from a friendly welcome message, the user experience of the first sign-in leaves a lasting impression. Password challenges are perhaps the most annoying (email confirmation went to spam folder…). Assuming the user gets in, the goal should be getting them invested in the product. More on that metric soon…

Walk Thru

Obviously tutorials make a big difference. We almost always build a repository of HOW DO I questions and answers as we’re developing and testing software.


If you have a way to track sign-in activity, you can monitor for unused accounts. Adoption hinges on usage, so if an account is unused, you should nudge the user to try the system (or try it again).


Getting feedback on your onboarding or on your product is valuable. You don’t want to ask too few nor too many questions. Keep it simple, but leave the door open for asking additional questions (especially for negative responses).

Outline Onboarding Materials

The less friction your users encounter in their onboarding process, the better. You’ll want to choose the best options for onboarding materials to reduce the friction at your touchpoints, A diagram, video, step-by-step guide can solve a critical issue and get the user to the next step.

Develop Checklists

Your touchpoints drive your plan. Consider what the best supporting materials could be for each one. In some cases, you may need text, diagrams, AND video. For others, you may simply need a how-to article to link up.

Build Supporting Documents

In the end, you may wind up with an extensive knowledge base. Start with the basics and build simple supporting materials for your checklist. We’ll discuss refinement later. A few well-constructed materials beats a plethora of poorly-constructed ones.

Focus on Delivering Value

Further to the point of keeping things simple, you want to ensure your user reaches their destination. As we all know, no one reads a user manual, but they will look over a quick article or watch a short video. Quality > Quantity. Brief > Exhaustive. Simple > Complex.

Develop a Customer Welcome Message Sequence (In-App & Email)

Once you have the journey and materials, you need to match them up for delivery. Most likely you have two main paths: email or in-app. Email can get users into the SaaS product, and in-app help can be quite effective. If in-app help is challenging, email can still be the vehicle. A combination is most effective. Consider the sequence, perhaps even experimenting with the order, to maximize engagement and efficacy.

Measure & Iterate

We’re an agile team, which means we don’t expect the first version to be the last. Launch, listen, measure, iterate. Get the onboarding process started, check in with customers, watch reports for trends, and adapt as needed. We mentioned experimenting with sequence, but you could also experiment with media, depth, and messaging.

Key SaaS Onboarding Metrics

First Sign In Rate

The waiting is the hardest part… You don’t want to wait, so get your customers to sign in. Think about apps you’ve downloaded to your phone and never used. If you never start, you eventually delete them.

Onboarding Completion Rate

You can define milestones and tasks to mark progress and determine whether customers made it from start to finish. Onboarding completion rate reflects the percentage of customers who complete your onboarding workflow. Ideally this translates to higher adoption and retention.

Onboarding Completion Time

Adjacent to onboarding completion rate is the time it requires (or takes users to “mentally” do). Does your process take a few minutes or a few days? You’ll want to maximize the effectiveness of the time to improve the completion rate.

Time to Value (TTV)

Time to Value is the amount of time it takes for a customer to realize value from your SaaS product. Although the value criteria is a speculative concept, the customer needs to feel like your product delivered some kind of value.

Free to Paid Conversions

Free-to-paid conversions measures the number of customers that converted from freemium or free trials to paid plans. “Try before you buy” makes a great marketing play, but you want a high conversion rate from onboarding success.

Daily Active Users (DAU)

Daily active users measures the number of users that sign in and engage with your SaaS product each day.

Monthly Churn Rate

Not all of your customers are going to stick around forever. Churn, the number of customers or subscribers who stop using your service, is one of the most important SaaS metrics to monitor. You may measure churn by month (typical) or year. It’s the inverse of retention…

SaaS Onboarding Essentials: People, Process, and Planning

If you’ve followed Webapper’s story, you know we’re obsessed with process. If you plan, design good process, and show your people how it all works together, SaaS onboarding becomes a powerful tool for customer experience and retention. As consumers of many SaaS products ourselves, we’ve seen some outstanding examples. We become not only well-informed users, but advocates of these products. Undoubtedly these SaaS vendors used a similar process, mapping out touchpoints, designing content that mitigates or eliminates friction, measuring customer onboarding success, and tuning process & content as needed. We strongly recommend investment in development of a smooth onboarding process to maximize adoption rates and minimize customer turnover.

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