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SaaS Customer Retention Strategy: The art of onboarding

Rachel McBryde
May 21, 2020

You've spent time creating marketing content nurturing your leads, they've moved down your marketing funnel and raised their hands to signify interest in your software. You've allocated resources of time, energy, and money to acquire your clients. So what should B2B SaaS companies do next? 

Acquiring your customers is just the first step to a fruitful partnership. And it's not just about growing fast anymore. Some articles have noted a shift to customer retention as a cost-effective strategy for establishing continuous growth for B2B SaaS companies. However, if there is a shift of resources into customer retention, what form of strategy could a B2B SaaS company adopt?

Out of 15 examples of customer retention strategies, Hubspot noted an onboarding program as a means to mitigate churn. Similarly, in an article written in 2019, Lucy Literado approached 7 experts on what they considered to be the best method of churn reduction. Each expert noted 3 approaches, and low and behold, onboarding was seen as one of the themes that were mentioned repeatedly amongst them. So how can you successfully retain customers? Continue to attract, engage, and delight your clients through a value-adding program—onboarding. 

What is onboarding?

Onboarding is the initial embrace you give your new clients after they've signed up for your software. Whether it be a free month trial period or a locked-in annual subscription, the first week is crucial to setting yourself up for success. But why is it so important? What can B2B SaaS companies gain from onboarding as a customer retention strategy? Here are some of the overall benefits of an engaging onboarding experience:

  1. Reduces customer churn - customers are heavily invested in your product, mitigating the risk of looking elsewhere.
  2. Decreases support inquiries - customers will only reach out for critical issues as they have been thoroughly trained in the software.
  3. Promotes internal training  - as your team develops training methods for your product, they become product "champions", progressing them to become trainers for not just your customers but the rest of the company too. 
  4. Increased customer engagement - your customers will likely refer your product to others and become a potential evangelist for your company. 

So how does a B2B SaaS company create an engaging and value-adding onboarding experience for their customers? It's all about research. 

Remember, first impressions are everything. Just like any first date, this is where you can let your software shine and capture the hearts of your customers. If you adopt an onboarding process that doesn't suit your customers' needs and isn't successfully showing value to your product, your customers will most likely question their decision. Further highlighted in this article as one of the 4 most common causes for customer churn:

"...customers abandon your product because they get lost, don't understand something, don't get value from the product, or simply lose interest." - Len Markiden

At the end of the day, there are no weak onboarding approaches, just inadequate customer research. However, if your approach to onboarding secures your customers' interest, you can guarantee a successful long-term partnership. Merely creating an onboarding process without strategically asking why you're doing it, can hurt your company's chances of providing an engaging experience for your customers. So how do you figure out what works best for your customers?

The art of onboarding B2B SaaS customers

The art to a successful onboarding process comes in all shapes and sizes. Re-align your strategy and see what resources you can allocate to this onboarding program. Do you have a sizable team where you can conduct 1 on 1 onboarding session over the phone or through zoom? Is this method of onboarding scalable and sustainable in the long-run? 

These are just some of the more straightforward questions to consider when you start creating that mind map to your onboarding program. But as an excellent place to start, it's crucial that B2B SaaS companies consistently provide an onboarding program that caters to their customer personas. It's about creating a customer-centric experience—not product-centric—that thinks about their customers' pain-points. As you conceptualize your customer personas, the user/advocate, the supervisor, and the executive—B2B SaaS companies can integrate their pain points to the overall onboarding experience. 

Take Grammarly, for example, a tool growing in popularity as it provides users with a "personal writing assistant" that checks documents for grammatical errors, provides synonyms and helps with the documents' overall delivery.


Grammarly personalization

Step 1: Cater the process to their level of experience

When users first sign-up to the tool, they’re asked to highlight where the document will be used and their current writing abilities.

grammarly feature walk through

Step 2: Feature walk through by a series of animated windows

Users are then prompted to use a series of animated windows to walk them through key features available with the tool.

Grammarly Product demo

Step 3: Product demo.

Finally, they're then asked to use a demo document that showcases the features in action. And the best part? Users learn as they go along, a "learning by doing" onboarding process. It keeps customers on their toes, engaged, and curious. So what can B2B SaaS companies take away from this? 

It's all about showing value, simplicity, and let's face it—seamless flow. The tool had a significant step by step process that started with goal setting and an assessment of the user's level of writing experience. It provided visual learners with visible guidance for the detection of errors and educates users through explanations of writing issues. Grammarly successfully provided an ultimate solution for their customer's pains and created a customer-centric onboarding program. Spend some time mapping out your customer journey, and research what processes would suit your customers’ needs best.

Take a leaf out of Grammarly’s book and explore your ideal customer personas preferred way of consuming content, and look into the different approaches to learning. When analyzing your customer personas' favorite mode of consuming content, you'll ideally look to highlight their preferred medium for onboarding. What are the demographics of your customer basis? Are they baby boomers, or are they gen x, y, or z? Do they prefer to learn by reading, or would a video tutorial be more engaging? Better yet, will an In-app tutorial create a one size fits all solution? 

With so many questions to consider, where does a B2B SaaS company start? Firstly, you need to reach out to your most successful clients. Start with the simple: how did you learn how to use our software successfully, and what processes would you have liked to have seen when you started. Secondly, as you go along this process, it's essential to map out what your customer journey will look like from start to finish. This will enable you to evaluate the resources required to cater to your customers' onboarding experience. 

Above all, set your goals to provide a bigger picture of your customer's journey. Remember, it's not about putting an onboarding process together without thought, it's about delivering the most engaging and value-adding experience for your customers. As a little thought to take away: 

"People tend to confuse the goal of onboarding; they think the goal is to 'get the user set up', when it is actually to 'convert users to power users'."  - UX Planet

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