3 Customer Onboarding Strategies for SaaS Businesses

David Skok, venture capitalist and General Partner at Matrix Partners, pointed out in a recent article that the top two reasons that customers churn is due to either a champion change or a failure to successfully onboard.

Onboarding and driving adoption are critical steps for SaaS businesses before reaching retention, expansion, and advocacy stages. It sets the foundation for your customers and their understanding of your product, and is the opportunity for ensuring they find the business value they’re looking for from day one.

Customer onboarding must be part of a plan which is shared and agreed upon by all relevant teams involved in the customer onboarding process. Otherwise, it is likely that your efforts to drive adoption will be inconsistent and dispersed — creating a confusing experience for your users who may not know what to do when they need help. In particular, you should think carefully about the level of personalization you want to offer and whether to lean toward high-tech vs. high-touch customer onboarding strategies. Or you may instead go for a blended approach, which is ideal for both personalization and scalability. 

Let’s take a look at the three most common customer onboarding strategies and some of the various tactics within each. 

High-touch customer onboarding

On-site customer onboarding

When it comes to delivering a fully personalized customer onboarding experience, visiting users on site to get them up and running is as good it can get. However, this approach is not scalable as it’s costly for you and time-consuming for your customers. It may make sense for your customer success team to go on premises when:

  • Your product is complex or highly strategic to your clients’ business processes
  • Users are senior executives who are busy and require fast-track training

Virtual customer onboarding

You may also offer a similar high-touch onboarding experience virtually via a webinar, phone, or video call. That’s certainly less resource-consuming for your customer success team since there is no need to travel, but it does still require people and bandwidth. Virtual onboarding is particularly well suited for clients who require personalized attention but have their employee base distributed. Another advantage is that recordings can also be made available later to people who could not attend onboarding sessions.

Champion-based customer onboarding

Your efforts might need to only focus on training a particular subset of a client’s users who will then be responsible for cascading down learnings to their respective teams internally. This approach can be cheaper than working with each user individually and often allows you to build strong business relationships with senior employees from a client’s organization.

High-tech customer onboarding

Self-service customer onboarding

This strategy is about creating an intuitive customer onboarding experience with top quality materials and advanced digital touchpoints. Doing so can help you scale faster, but it requires an in-depth understanding of users, and the ability to anticipate most questions or doubts they might have. This model, though, often leaves a lot to chance because dedicated customer success members remain hands off unless they are needed, and that pushes them into a reactive support role rather a proactive success role.

Milestone-based customer onboarding

Especially when direct interactions with your customer success team are infrequent or if your product has many features, users may not know where they stand in the customer onboarding process or what they are currently missing out. You can guide them with milestones to help them keep track of the progress they make and indicate a precise sequence of actions to follow with regular checkpoints, so onboarding seems more manageable to them.

Segment-based customer onboarding

Tiered customer onboarding

You do not necessarily have to offer the same customer onboarding experience to everyone. Instead, you could distinguish between different tiers of buyers — such as enterprises, mid-market, and startups — and tailor your approach to suit their needs. For example, the customers in your enterprise tier might receive more high-touch, “white glove” attention with a dedicated customer success manager whereas lower tiers would predominantly go through more automated or self-service onboarding programs.

Role-based onboarding

Consider creating distinct onboarding paths based on the roles users have inside their organization. For instance, senior managers may require admin rights to add and remove users, get access to integrated stats, as well as manage permissions regarding the use of specific features by different employees. Most of that information, however, would be irrelevant to users working at an operational level and they would undoubtedly benefit more from an in-depth training about your product’s functionality.

In the age of freemium, it is not enough to attract potential buyers and hope that they will adopt your product on their own. You need to guide them taking into consideration how valuable accounts are to you, your customer success resources, and whether to use an high-touch or high-tech customer onboarding strategy or combination.

Would you like to learn more about customer onboarding strategies, processes, and tools you can use? Check out our Complete Introduction to Customer Onboarding.

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