7 principles for SaaS onboarding

The right methods for SaaS onboarding can keep you on the right track

Read an in-depth explanation of onboarding in our quick guide to user onboarding article.

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What is SaaS onboarding?

SaaS (Software as a Service) onboarding is a technique for helping new users successfully get started and use cloud-based software. This technique is important for SaaS products, because — done properly — users realize how beneficial the software is. It’s education and implementation after purchasing the product.

SaaS onboarding is not just about introducing new users and guiding them through the features you can offer. It can also refer to how you support existing users in bettering your product.

It’s important to ensure that users fully understand the core value of your product, and how it can help them get their job done. Otherwise, they’re likely to abandon your product and join the 55 percent of users who have decided to return the product because they didn’t fully understand how to use it.

Why having a proper SaaS onboarding is important

User onboarding may be the key driving force for any product when it comes to feature adoption, user activation, and customer retention. It’s essentially the first handshake.

The aim of a user onboarding experience for your SaaS product is to create a frictionless experience. It’s to give users a reason to love your product as quickly as possible and make its use a daily activity. The sooner a user can see your product’s value, the more you can reduce the churn factor.

In 2022, users are used to the best forms of onboarding. This means that not only a negative experience, but also a mediocre experience, during an onboarding can make your users abandon your product. Not having onboarding is no longer an option.

A good user onboarding experience should not only teach a user how to use the provided features. It should make them feel valued, receive a good welcome, and perfectly handle the learning curve.

SaaS onboarding principles

There are no fixed or uncompromising collection of onboarding guidelines. Your user onboarding experience should be unique to your business and product, no matter which stages users may be in.

However, here are 7 onboarding principles that all businesses can keep in mind for a successful onboarding experience.

Clarity: Understanding your user’s pains, drains, and gains

Clarity refers to the understanding you have regarding your product offering.

  1. What makes your product great?
  2. Why should users stick around?
  3. How is your product going to help them?

This is about understanding the value proposition of your product and what the key benefits of it are for your users. When defining what’s in it for the users, you also want to consider their:

  • Pains: Problems your users want to solve with your product
  • Drains: Problems that arise when trying to complete a task
  • Gains: How your product can help with their pains and gains

With a better understanding of these three points, you will be in a better position to create an onboarding flow that identifies and meets your user’s needs.

Consistency:  Stay true to your brand

While consistency in brand, design, development and many other aspects are important for a business, you should consider the brand experience during onboarding. Make sure that all onboarding experiences are true to your brand. This includes new user onboarding and existing user onboarding.

The best way to tackle this? Have a set of guidelines for onboarding, based on a design style guide. A frictionless experience will be enhanced if the flows are consistent and familiar to the users.

Keep in mind that making your brand unique should not mean applying fancy designs or names to well-known features. According to Jakob’s law, users prefer your site to work the same way it does for others, including design and naming conventions. Aim to remain consistent with your industry standards.

Relevancy: Never over do it!

Relevancy is arguably the most important principle of all. Something that is way too common in user onboarding flows is the amount of information presented to the users. While this tends to be more prevalent in first-time users, front-loading information happens in all types of user onboarding.

As we said in our previous article about Bad UX practices, think of a product onboard as a first handshake with someone. You want to give a good impression, and you want to give a brief overview of yourself.

Overloading your onboarding tour with every last piece of product and feature information will overwhelm users and encourage onboarding abandonment. In fact, this report on in-product experiences shows that tours with 3 steps are the most popular with end users. In fact, they have a 72 percent completion rate. When the steps increase to 7, the completion rate drops to 16 percent. You really don’t want to require users to overcome a steep learning curve.

Right information, right time

The right information must be provided to the user at the right time, and we can do that by considering where the users are in their journey with your product.

A first-time user needs to know the basics. For example, they need to know the main features of your product.

For users that are trying out a feature, you can show the main offerings of a specific feature in a tooltip. You can even leverage product checklists to guide a user through.

These methods will allow users to feel engaged, rather than an information dump at the beginning.

User Autonomy: Allow users to control

As a general UX rule, you should allow your users to pause, skip, go back, undo or redo certain actions that they have made. This goes for user onboarding as well.

It’s important to let the users know that they can pause and decide whether to take an onboarding tour or if they want to continue exploring with guidance. They should be able to go back a step, or come back to the tutorial whenever they feel like it.

Accessibility: Equal experience for all

Accessibility is a key UX principle for all aspects of design. And it is the same for an onboarding process.

Creating an accessible onboarding experience empowers and enables all users to make the most of your product. Remember that it’s not just about color contrast – it can be about font sizing, message placement, language options, keyboard navigation, image alt tags, and more. Ensure that your onboarding meets your user’s needs.

Continuity: It’s not one-and-done

Regardless of whether it is a SaaS product or not, onboarding is not something you only do once. Continue to educate and engage your user throughout use of your product.

Onboarding is continuous. It starts when a user signs up and continues with the setup process and guides.

SaaS onboarding should happen at the beginning of every user flow touchpoint and every time there is a feature update or renewal.

Businesses should track user data to identify user pain points and opportunities for improvement. Make sure you gather user feedback regularly.

Stop churn with a SaaS onboarding experience

It’s important to understand how crucial and fundamental onboarding is for your product and for your users. As Gauri at Instrumentl says, onboarding is one of the most important components of a successful SaaS company.

It can set you apart from competitors, and it demonstrates your commitment to customer success. Your business can gain valuable insights into your customer’s needs, behaviors, and expectations through proper and continuous user onboarding.