How To Build An Effective B2B SaaS Client Onboarding Process

Tom Shelly
August 10, 2021

Your client onboarding process is one of the most important areas of the B2B SaaS customer lifecycle.

Your onboarding can impact your customer satisfaction, churn, and ultimately your sales. Industry-wide, 63% of customers report that onboarding is an important consideration in whether they buy in the first place. (Because who wants to buy a product with terrible onboarding?)

In this post, we will detail how to create an extraordinary customer onboarding process for your SaaS.


What is customer onboarding, anyway?


Ultimately, customer onboarding is helping your users incorporate your SaaS product into their day-to-day routine. In addition to getting started with the product, onboarding is a continuous process that keeps your users engaged throughout their entire lifecycle.


Just like your product, your client onboarding process flow will evolve with new feature updates, customer feedback, and market changes. 


The specific elements in your onboarding can take different forms, but will always involve the journey from complete beginner to enthusiastic power user.


Here at EverAfter (Client Onboarding Software), we make sure that our onboarding follows “the three E’s”:


  • Empathy
  • Education
  • Engagement
Source: ChartMogul)


How long should client onboarding last?


There is no one answer to the perfect onboarding length. 


Whether your onboarding takes a day or a year, your users need to reach what famed growth architect and author Lincoln Murphy calls the moment of First Value. First Value occurs when your customer has had an “a ha!” moment with your software. 


Measuring and optimizing TTTV (Time To First Value) is key for maximizing your onboarding success. 



Let’s take a look at the factors that will influence this metric:


Complexity of product


Obviously, the complexity of your product will have a huge impact on your onboarding length. A simple app might achieve First Value in a few minutes. An enterprise product with significant customization, on the other hand, might require an intensive, white-glove onboarding process. 


But even with the most complicated SaaS products, your focus should still be on providing a win quickly. 


Scale of deployment


How many users are onboarding onto your SaaS? Is it a single champion or will it be a company-wide rollout?


Each scenario has its own challenges. For early-stage startups, onboarding a new user may involve significant back-and-forth, as both the product and help resources are still underground massive changes. 


Onboarding thousands of users for an enterprise offering, on the other hand, will require looking at a variety of use-cases, job roles, and dependencies on other technologies used by the company.

 

Integrations


Speaking of technological dependencies, what integrations does your product offer? Some video tutorials and helpdesk articles will probably be sufficient for simple Zapier automation. 


Multiple direct integrations with complex data workflows will necessitate onboarding for multiple departments and possibly with outside vendors.


Development work


When implementing your software, what kind of development is involved? In addition to your own team, you may need to coordinate launches with your customer’s developers for a seamless onboarding.


In addition to dev time, you’ll also need to lay out the project scope, deliverables, and testing protocols before going live.


Self-taught vs. CSM training


Will your onboarding process be entirely? Will you have a dedicated Customer Success Manager training each user? A combination of both?


The option you choose will depend upon its:


  • Profitability
  • Bandwidth
  • Impact on sales and customer success


While it may seem that only enterprise SaaS products would offer bespoke onboarding, it simply isn’t the case. Providing a meaningful experience for customers can improve retention and build a much stronger client relationship. 


In recent years, high-touch onboarding has become a major selling point during the sales cycle for mid-market and SMB offerings. Your engagement model may even offer a combination of a high-touch onboarding with a low-touch post-onboarding process.




(Source: The Ultimate Guide To Customer Onboarding, Hubspot)


Key customer onboarding process milestones


From the moment the contract has been signed, the free trial has been started, or the credit card has been charged, your onboarding has begun. 


Being transparent with your customers is key for building trust and having a solid relationship. Timelines need to be realistic and clearly communicated during every stage of the process.


The exact mapping of your milestones will depend on your product and customer goals. Let’s take a look at the most labor-intensive calls that your customer success team will have:



Kickoff Call


Your kickoff call is by far the most important call in the onboarding process. This is where you will set expectations for your customer and establish the tone for your working relationship.


This is also the period where your sales, product, and success teams gather the necessary information from your new users. In particular, you want to know:


  • The customer’s current challenges
  • Tech stack
  • Deployment priorities
  • Goals with your product


Main product training call


Now that you have the necessary information about the customer, it’s time to translate those needs into a great product training.


Rather than giving a paint-by-numbers tour, your success team will rely on the kickoff information to highlight the relevant features and necessary actions to achieve the first big win for the user.


With more sophisticated products, this training will also require thought leadership and an understanding of organizational change. The technology itself is only a piece of the puzzle with a successful product training.



The OBR


Your Onboarding Business Review (OBR) is key milestone, right after your customer has been onboarded. This review is similar to a Quarterly Business Review, with the added focus on the onboarding process itself. 


During the OBR, you will have the opportunity to get crucial feedback from different stakeholders. In particular, you want to know:


  • What went well
  • What was missing or needs improvement
  • Customer expectations
  • Targets for the next business cycle.


This information will not only help future interactions with the customer, but also shape new onboarding training and product updates.


Tailoring onboarding by customer segments


In a perfect world, every user would have completely customized 1-on-1 training with unlimited time for Q&A. But since we live in reality, we have to rely on the next best thing: customer segmentation. Segmentation allows us to create relevant, transformative onboarding experiences for key customer cohorts.


Let’s take a look at the various ways we can slice the customer pie:

Account Tier


Breaking out your onboarding by account tier is a great to maximize your customer success ROI. For example—freemium accountants might only have a self-service knowledge base and in-app onboarding, while enterprise accounts will need a dedicated customer success manager and ongoing training.


Industry


Different industries will naturally have different use-cases for your SaaS. Presenting these differences can be as simple as adjusting the order and content of your training materials or as complex as building a completely new workflow for each industry.


Hoylu, for example, is an online whiteboard tool for a number of industries, including education, engineering, and construction. In the case of construction, they actually built several additional features based on Pull Planning to appeal to their project manager demographic:


(Source: Hoylu)


User Type


Matching your end user to the correct training is another great way to ensure that your onboarding content is relevant and impactful.


For example, here is how Wrike greets new users on their first login:



(Source: Wrike)


After selecting the template, a specific training on that workflow pops up, making the process seamless for the user. 


Final Thoughts

Effective customer onboarding is one of the most effective ways to sustainably grow a SaaS business. By thoroughly understanding your customers, creating a relevant and impactful onboarding journey, and keeping track of your key onboarding metrics, you can create an onboarding experience that will delight your customers for years to come.



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