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8 Best Practices for SaaS Onboarding that Converts Users to Customers

Chances are you’re not happy with your free trial to paid conversion rate. You are probably emailing your users regularly, but the only thing you get back from them is radio silence. You even get worried that you look desperate when you follow up with them. Like the fellow startup founder below:

saas onboarding best practices

We all know how hard it is to get the attention of free users, and even harder to turn them into paying customers.

To help you tackle this challenge, I decided to weigh in with a few practical tips. Follow these 8 best SaaS onboarding practices in your product onboarding strategy, and your trial conversions will skyrocket.

Bonus: implementation of these also tends to cure the desperate vibes in your follow-up emails.

1. Qualify your trial users

Not all trial users are created equal. Apart from the obvious spammers that use temporary emails and gibberish names, there’s a big portion of seemingly good trial users that are simply not a fit for your tool.

As a founder with limited resources and time, you want to spend your efforts where it’s most likely to lead to conversions. Don’t fret over trial leads that are no good for your company in the first place. Instead, filter out the good ones and focus solely on them.

To do that, add an extra step in your signup process and ask 2-5 critical questions that will help you qualify your trial userbase. Use demographic attributes like Hotjar does below, or use-cases — i.e., how the user aims to use your product.

saas onboarding best practices - signup qualification

This will add some additional onboarding friction for your users but will help you tremendously in building a more effective trial strategy.

You want to qualify your trials to:

Understand the quality of your acquisition efforts.

Are the trials any good in the first place? How many are good/bad fit trials? Do we have a trial conversion problem or a TOFU (top of the funnel) acquisition problem?

Understand how trial users intend to use your product.

What’s their desired outcome. E.g., do they want to track live sessions to solve bugs or use surveys to understand their audience better?

Provide a relevant onboarding experience and reduce the time to value based on their desired outcome.

2. Understand your users desired outcome

SaaS onboarding best practice #2:

Before you move on to implementing any of the other rules/tips in this post, you need to have a clear understanding of what your people want to gain by using your product. This is essentially knowing the main problem of your users and the result they want to achieve.

There’s no easy way to figuring this out apart from talking to your current customers, potential customers, leads, and trials. It’s super hard if you’re just starting out and have a limited set of data to learn from, but once you have a clearer picture of the desired outcomes of your free users, everything else in this guide gets 1000x easier.

3. Help your trial users conquer the learning curve

One of the biggest challenges for every SaaS business is that new trial users have no clue how to use your tool when they first log into your app. Not only that but usually, products get users to start with a blank slate.

Imagine you enter an airplane cockpit for the first time, and there are no labels on the panel buttons in front of you. You’ll most likely give up learning flying…unless you have someone behind your shoulder to show you around.

With your SaaS, you don’t have the luxury of being in the same room as your trial users, so you better ensure your buttons are clearly labeled!

Use your dashboard

Your empty product’s dashboard screen is the most valuable piece of real estate in your entire product. What you want to avoid is having an empty dashboard with little to no info on what the user needs to do when they are in your product for the first time.

The example below is from a business dashboarding solution. They’re asking us to add data to start building our first dashboard — the next mission-critical step that we need to do to get value out of the product.

saas onboarding best practices - empty states

Provide demo data

Give your users something to start with: templates, example campaigns, sandbox projects. This will help your users cross the value gap by visualizing how your app works in practice and jumpstarting their own projects.

Screenshot 2020 05 20 at 4.11.05 PM

Implement an in-app onboarding

Build a simple in-app onboarding that focuses on the 3-5 most critical steps that your users need to do in your app. Eliminate any other distractions that get in the way.

Screen Recording 2020 05 20 at 04.35 PM

4. Reduce the time to value

Time to value is understanding how long it takes for someone to really see the value of your product. Once you know the user’s desired outcome with your product, it’s your paramount goal to reduce the time to value as much as possible.

Take out any unnecessary steps in your signup and onboarding process. Take out any distractions or anything that doesn’t help the user in getting one step closer to what they want to accomplish. And, yes, that means removing that useless confirmation step:

Screenshot 2020 05 20 at 3.07.17 PM

5. Proactively reach out if users miss doing a critical activity in your app

Instapage uses a nudge email to proactively reach out to people who have created a landing page but stopped before publishing it live. This is the type of guidance you want to provide to your trial users to get them back on track and in your app, completing the next critical activity in their user journey.

instapage behavioral email

6. Figure out what’s the most common objection for your trial users

Our last SaaS onboarding best practice: if everything fails learn why people are not converting.

Do you know why your users are not converting? Use in-app surveys and email surveys to figure this out.

Below’s another example from Instapage that asks me why I haven’t upgraded.

You want to send this email a few days after the user trial has expired. Once you gather some responses, you should start to see patterns. Use this data to handle the most common objections for your users.

  • People using a competitive solution — make sure you mention your USPs and compare your tool to alternatives.
  • Too expensive — offer discounts to your most engaged users.
  • Too difficult to learn — ensure you have a good knowledge base and offer personalized help. And so on.
DraggedImage 11

7. Make them act on your CTAs by demonstrating value

Don’t want to sound desperate in your follow-up emails? Then, demonstrate value.

Ensure that you show how your product is relevant, and how it can help your users reach their goals. Users might not have experienced value with your product, yet, but you want to solidify the perceived value with your product to match their desired outcome. Otherwise, you’re just spamming people with irrelevant emails.

Getting users to take actions = getting users to risk (in the form of time or money spent on their end.)

When you send trial follow-up emails, make sure to state why people need to go back to your app, activate that feature, upgrade, etc. In other words, why should they take the risk (think about their desired outcome)?

The email below does a good job of showing me how to upgrade but completely neglects to demonstrate why I need to upgrade.

Screenshot 2020 05 20 at 5.55.17 PM

Instead, they should mention:

  • How Buglife has helped more than 300 development teams save hundreds of hours on bug fixing
  • How Buglife has prevented Instacart’s website from going down and losing tens of thousands of dollars, and so on.

This would surely make me interested in learning more about their premium plans!

8. Follow up 30, 60 and 90 days after the trial has expired

Half of SaaS trial conversions happen after the trial window. That’s why you must go after post-trial sales and follow-up users even after they churn through your trial.

If a user has signed up for your tool, it means that they have shown some interest in what you have to offer. Still, life happens, and good timing often becomes bad. The goal of your 30/60/90-day follow-up emails is not to sell, but to find out if the user still has the same problem.

Here’s a quick conversation starter that can help with that:

Hey [Name],

Some time ago, you signed up for [Product].

[Product] helps people [solve #1 problem].

I wanted to check if this problem is still relevant to you or you have already found a solution?

Let me know? 🙂


SaaS Onboarding Best Practices —Conclusion

Getting people to convert is hard, but what’s easy in SaaS anyways? As you can see, there are no growth hacks and 5-minute quick fixes here. However, if you follow these rules, you are setting up your onboarding foundation for success in the long term.

At Encharge, we have helped dozens of SaaS companies increase their trial conversion rates with behavior-driven emails. If you need some personal help with your trial conversion, book a quick call with us now.

More resources on product onboarding

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“Encharge helped us visually redesign our onboarding flow resulting in a 10% increase in our trial activation rate."

Camille Richon
Founder Payfacile
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