Customer Onboarding Playbook

5 Steps to defining a perfect Customer Onboarding process for a SaaS Customer

Customer onboarding is the key to increasing LTV and reducing customer churn in SaaS.

The seeds of retention are sown a lot sooner than what most SaaS businesses think.

Maximum churn for SaaS customers happens in the first 90 days after signups. Making the first 90 days the most crucial period in influencing a SaaS company’s Life Time Value (LTV).

It is well proven that when a SaaS customer is onboarded right and achieves early value milestones in the first 90 days, they are likely to stay much longer.
Customer Onboarding Template
Let us look at the 5 key onboarding steps for a SaaS customer.

1. Identify the onboarding goal.

While as basic as it may sound, this is not only the most important but also the most ignored step of customer onboarding. The most common mistake companies or success managers make is assuming that training or enabling customers on every possible feature of the product is the goal.

The goal of customer onboarding should be to take the customers to first (not the ultimate) core value milestone. Ask the customer (or even the sales rep who sold to them) why have they purchased the product in the first place. Then ask what will be an early milestone that will give them the confidence of moving in the right direction.

Many products (if not all), especially B2B SaaS products have a long justification period. CustomerSuccessBox (my company) itself could take anywhere from 90 days to up to a year to measurably prove to be effective in reducing churn and showing sustainable improvements in Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV) .

There could be multiple goals based on the use case.

Identify a measurable goal for the onboarding. You’ll be surprised to find customers have different reasons for buying the same product. Hence a different early value milestone might apply. If that is the case, you can have multiple (two to three) flavors of your onboarding process.

For example, Onboarding Goal of a marketing automation product could be: First lead conversion through a campaign. Know how Onboarding can help in retention.

2. Customer Onboarding journey

Put together a path to the goal. How will this product adoption look like for the customer? Break it down in steps.

Now let us put ourselves in the shoes of the customer. And put together steps of the onboarding journey tightly coupled with the product adoption. But there could be steps that happen outside the product itself.

For example, an onboarding journey for a Marketing campaign automation product will look something like:

  1. Update brand information
  2. Add marketing manager and other stakeholders as users
  3. Update contacts
  4. Decide on the campaign (this could be a brainstorming exercise outside the product)
  5. Create the first campaign
  6. Run the first campaign
  7. Get the first conversion << goal achieved.

Clearly, most of the above steps are very tightly coupled with the actual product adoption itself.

3. Create an Onboarding Playbook ( aka Onboarding process or workflow)

Now let us put together a simple step by step process for the success manager to follow to ensure that every new customer can achieve the onboarding goal.

Again using our marketing campaign product example, the steps may look like:

  1. Internal sales handoff call
  2. Onboarding kick off with the customer
  3. Basic configuration (If it is complex, the success manager can complete it in the background, making it easier for the customer)
  4. Assist the customer to upload contacts, over a remote call or by sending self-serve instructions.
  5. Workshop to define first campaign (optional, if needed)
  6. Assist or train the customer to create and run the campaign.
  7. Monitor and support (if needed) to achieve the first conversion.

It might also help to categorize steps as Automated, Assisted, Self Served, Success team driven

As you can see every step offers multiple options on the level of support success managers can offer to the customers. They can be anywhere from simply pointing them to the instructions, having a joint working session (remotely or onsite) or even taking over some of the tasks entirely, making it super easy for the customers to keep moving forward on the journey. There is no right level of assistance. You’ll need to decide based on your product, quality of services, the complexity of the onboarding process and your price points. Have a look at the Onboarding Framework here.
Customer Journey Template

4. Define timelines for each step and the entire onboarding process

We don’t want the customer to be stuck in onboarding for long. So it will make sense to agree on the timelines for the complete customer onboarding process and also break it down into each step.

Don’t be too hard in defining the timeline. Do keep some (5-10 days) buffer for people going on leave and not being available. As you run the onboarding process, you can fine tune it later. You can have a look at other Onboarding strategies.

Do keep some (5-10 days) buffer

5. Define success for each step, leading to the larger onboarding journey goal. Product adoption milestones or other goals.

So how will we decide if the customer onboarding was successful? This is one of the steps where many teams assume task completion within the defined timelines as the onboarding success criteria.

At every step, you want to monitor the actual product adoption as defined in step 2 to determine  the true impact of the onboarding process.

Have a look at the Onboarding framework .

At every step, you want to monitor the actual product adoption

You can monitor it by logging into the customer product instance or use CustomerSuccessBox to automatically monitor success for each account.

Happy customer onboarding!

Puneet leads CustomerSuccessBox. He is deeply passionate about the three product joys - the joy of producing, the joy of selling, and the joy of ownership. His inspirations come from family, friends, mentors, people he works with and from free thinkers like Eric Ries (The Lean Startup), Tim Brown (Change by Design: Design thinking) and many more.