10 SaaS Onboarding Best Practices to Ensure Your Customers' Success

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Phil O'Doherty
Phil O'Doherty

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Much of what's written about customer success focuses on structuring and hiring teams, retaining customers, and cross-selling and upselling. While all these areas are important, there's little reference to a critical topic — SaaS onboarding practices for your new customers.

customer success manager using onboarding best practices

Onboarding is a hot topic for low-touch, freemium products as companies realize its huge impact on short- and long-term user retention. This focus shouldn't be any different for higher-touch customer success teams.

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This post will focus on ten ways to set yourself up for onboarding success and why these steps are so important.

During the onboarding process, you want to capture your customers' attention because a successful onboarding can reduce customer churn, improve customer retention, and increase customer loyalty.

To help you create an effective onboarding process, we’ve got a checklist for you to follow as we delve deeper into our SaaS onboarding best practices.

SaaS Onboarding Checklist

SaaS Onboarding Checklist with best practices

1. Align your game plan with sales.

Customer onboarding is thought of as a customer service task, but it really starts before the customer closes the deal with sales — meaning they serve a big part in delivering a great onboarding experience, too.

The expectations set by the sales team about what will happen in the first few days, weeks, or months after purchase can significantly help or hinder onboarding progress and time to prove value for your customers.

Misaligned expectations can be as simple as how quickly the customer will speak to someone after they buy, to something as significant as the time investment required during the onboarding period. A common reason for onboarding going off-course is a disconnect between what is promised, customer expectations, and reality.

Pro Tip: To ensure there is no disconnect here, we advocate working on presale content, speaking to prospects, and regular training and reminding sales teams about what your onboarding and customer success programs look like. It sounds simple but requires consistent time and effort, and it gets much more complex as you grow and scale.

2. Build customer success modules into your sales training.

Your new sales hires should be exposed to your onboarding teams’ work. Training doesn't need to be formalized, but reps should join or shadow meetings and calls with the onboarding team to prevent a poor onboarding experience. They’ll learn to engage and foster a customer relationship that lasts, even if their team isn’t directly in charge of customer success.

Pro Tip: Balance the training with the types of conversations your team has, success stories, and roadblocks and problems you run into early on. If you position your onboarding services as a value-add that sales teams can lean into to help sell, you're much more likely to build their trust.

3. Conduct research on the customer.

When I started working with customers, I received some advice that has stuck with me since: Whatever amount of time you plan to spend with your customer during your first interaction, spend an equal amount of time preparing.

New customers haven't built up trust in your service yet. By researching their business, industry, and team, you can ease any concerns or doubts by speaking their language, showing you understand their business, and relating to the people on their team.

With the rise of professional networks like LinkedIn and company profile sites like Crunchbase, it's easier than ever to quickly get detailed information on the companies and people you're working with:

  • Go through your customer's website in detail
  • Research the team on LinkedIn
  • Scour for CrunchBase pages or similar profiles for their company
  • Google News search their company
  • Use tools like SimilarWeb

Pro Tip: Use the information you find to prepare an "ideal world plan" before the meeting in case things go off-course or you need to be more prescriptive.

4. Speak to prospects before sign up.

Speaking to potential customers before they sign up is an excellent investment of your time. It builds credibility, helps set the right expectations, and gives onboarding teams a greater sense of customers’ concerns and hesitations before they sign up.

But there can also be hesitation from sales to invite customer-facing teams to meetings and calls with prospective customers. There's a sense you might distract from closing conversations or be "too honest."

Pro Tip: Meet with the sales rep beforehand to go over strategies and your approach to positioning onboarding — before the sale closes — to better familiarize yourself with each unique customer.

5. Include ‘New Customer Welcome Time’ into your teams' schedules.

Identify a trend or average time taken to sign up a customer to predict better when your team should formally welcome them. If you do it too late in the onboarding process, they may feel forgotten and less likely to be excited to meet with your team than if handled promptly.

Pro Tip: Where possible, always default to prioritizing new customers. There's zero trust with new customers; if you let them down early, it can take twice as much effort to get them back on track later.

6. Be readily available to the customer.

When a customer makes a purchase, we'd like to think they're happy about that decision. To capitalize on this excitement and keep the momentum going post-sale, you must connect with the customer within the first 24 hours. Otherwise, that motivation can dwindle, and other projects and priorities may come across your customers' desks.

In the worst case, that customer may experience buyer's remorse and question their purchase decision. After all, the top three most important reasons for customers to churn are lack of engagement, poor onboarding, and wrong product fit.

7. Create value quickly.

When we discuss onboarding in the freemium world, we often talk about the "Aha moment" and getting your users there as quickly as possible.

This shouldn't be any different with higher-touch onboarding. It might not be possible to arrive at the whole "Aha moment" when working with more complicated tools or enterprise software. Still, when your customer signs up, you want to look for opportunities to show "micro-value" as quickly as possible.

Pro Tip: More often than not, customer success teams spend their first onboarding sessions simply welcoming the customer, discussing goals, and scheduling the following steps and calls — without getting something tangible done. Those topics are important, but even if you can complete something as simple as turning on one tool or ticking off one basic task, the feeling of making progress can put the customer at ease.

8. Create content for the onboarding process.

A scalable way to set expectations about what your onboarding and customer success services look like is to create web pages, downloads, and tools that explain it.

Companies invest a lot of time and money into content to market their products, and this should be no different for your onboarding process. In fact, over 90% of customers feel that the companies they buy from ‘could do better’ when onboarding new users/customers, so ensure you’re providing them with valuable resources each step.

Pro Tip: If you are creating content, I advise keeping the resources as visual as possible. GANTT charts, timelines, or other visual resources will avoid wrong interpretations from your team or the customer.

9. Automate the process where you can.

Scheduling calendars across your team and your customers' teams can be a time-consuming and unproductive way to spend time early on in your customer's lifecycle.

When a deal closes, an automatic welcome email should be sent to the customer, including the next steps, their points of contact, and information about how to book time with them.

Pro Tip: If your marketing team uses any automation tool, see if you can tap into that and create your own customer onboarding campaigns — or try using HubSpot Meetings.

10. Reinforce goals and stay in touch.

When a customer starts working with a new tool, it can be confusing why they are doing certain things in a particular order. Seeing how everything ties together when you start using new software can be difficult without context.

Customer success managers usually know exactly why they're recommending certain tasks or action plans — because they know what it takes to make a customer successful. With that in mind, every task you assign your customer during onboarding should be backed up with the "why."

Pro Tip: Ensure you understand your customers' short, medium, and long-term goals and priorities. The ability to justify your actions by falling back on those goals helps build trust and reduce anxiety at the beginning of your customer's lifecycle.

Make Your Onboarding Experience Something to Remember

It takes a lot of time, effort, and money to onboard new customers, so the last thing you want to do is turn off those hard-won relationships. Prioritizing your customer during the onboarding process makes you more likely to form long-term relationships based on mutual benefit and possibly to gain customer advocates.

A version of this blog post originally appeared on Keep | Grow.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in April 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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