6 Product-Led SaaS Onboarding Lessons (With 8 Great Examples)
So you’re sold on product led growth. You’ve already adopted a freemium or trial business model, using your product as the primary vehicle to drive growth, and you’ve nailed 1–3 channels for acquiring new users.
But sadly, all that effort could be pointless if you ignore your product’s user onboarding. Why? Because you’ll be acquiring new signups on one end, and losing them even before you count them as users on the other.
Is this your situation? Well, data shows you’re not alone: 40-60% of people who sign up for a SaaS app only open it once.
And among thousands of SaaS companies acquiring tens of thousands of free users? Only 25% of those users convert into customers.
No doubt, many factors contribute to churn. This post by ProfitWell lists eight primary causes. But get one thing right and you could:
- Increase the likelihood of new trial signups coming back to your product.
- Convert more trial users into customers
- Reduce churn and have longer-term customers—the bread and butter of the SaaS business model
An effective and efficient user onboarding flow for your SaaS product is the one thing you can get right to give new users a welcoming, customer-retaining experience.
To help, I’m going to go over six product-led SaaS onboarding lessons with live examples from Slack, Keap, Calendly and more that you can steal to better onboard, convert and retain new users.
1. Manage expectations
Studies show you only have a few seconds to capture and retain someone’s attention—and you’ll hardly get a second chance to make a first, great impression. First impressions are everything.
With so much competition in the SaaS industry today, what could happen if you fail to manage potential users’ expectations in your onboarding flow?
You may never get a second chance to communicate your product’s value proposition.
And when it comes to managing users’ expectations, it starts earlier than when most SaaS businesses think it does.
For example, if prospects first learn about your product through a Facebook ad, your onboarding starts there. That’s where you should begin to manage users’ expectations, articulate first product impressions and shape how they perceive your value proposition.
Knowing this is critical because there are many loops before a potential product user even gets to click on “Get Started”:
Example #1: Keap manages expectations from ads
Keap, formerly Infusionsoft, does an excellent job starting its onboarding process where most SaaS products take it for granted: Where they capture potential users’ attention.
Take this Facebook Ad that found its way to my feed, for example:
This ad appeared after I visited Neil Patel’s blog several times. It shows Keap takes its targeting seriously. You should do no different, as reaching the right audience—those who will truly get value out of your product—is critical in the onboarding process.
When I went through to the landing page, I found what I expected when I clicked on the “Learn More” button from the ad above:
Keap’s example is a necessary reminder to not stop at targeting the right audience when you’re trying to get them directly into your onboarding flow.
Make sure your landing page aligns with what prospects expect to find after clicking on your ad, referral link, organic search engine listing or whatever channels you’re driving traffic from.
According to Ramli John’s Onboarding Chasm formula, when you do this, it does something profound to your user onboarding. It creates the right setup, giving prospects the confidence to consider taking the first steps towards using your product to reach the new world it promises.
2. Say and collect only what’s needed
After you’ve driven the most qualified traffic to your product’s homepage, the next steps in your onboarding process don’t happen automatically. In short, it depends on two things:
- How valuable prospects perceive what you say about your product and its offer
- And the information you request from potential trial users
To keep things moving in your favor at this stage, say and collect only what’s needed. For this, you need a deeper understanding of your target audience and SaaS homepage copywriting skills.
If you don’t know and understand your potential customers in-depth, you won’t know how to present your product in a way that makes it a solution to their problems. This means you won’t know what to say. And if even you do, most of what you say won’t bite if you don’t have great copywriting skills.
Example #2: Calendly collects only what they need
Calendly, one of OpenView’s portfolio companies, is a classic example of taking this step of the onboarding flow seriously.
Most SaaS companies put up unnecessary form fields in the initial signup process. More often than not, it’s to feed analytics and business intelligence tools at the detriment of potential users’ interest. Sure, these things are necessary, but their necessity is secondary to user experience at this onboarding stage.
So limit the data fields you mandate prospects to fill out to only what’s critical to the onboarding flow.
With their straight-to-the-point copywriting, Calendly helps prospects immediately understand their product’s value proposition and the pain point it solves:
Calendly only asks for what’s needed at this point: an email address. The copy also reassures you don’t need to pay anything or give credit card info to sign up.
After this, they keep the onboarding process moving:
Is there data to back the need to keep the form fields in your user onboarding short? Yep. A report by ConversionXL found that removing one form field in a signup process increased conversion by 27%.
3. Guide new users
Whether you consider your SaaS product self-serve, don’t leave new users to figure things out all on their own. They still need direction.
If a potential product user makes it this far in your onboarding flow, they’ve convinced themself to take your product for a spin. Trial users do this by filling out your form in exchange for more access.
But at this point, keep in mind you haven’t actually acquired a new user just yet. This stage is when people start to learn things about the product and how to get value out of it, and they need guidance.
People—especially SaaS customers—don’t want to learn something new or have to think too much. They just want your product to solve their problem. So if you leave them to crack a bunch of secret codes about your product by themselves, they’ll fall off your onboarding flow.
Keep that from happening by providing guidance.
Example #3: GrowthMentor guides onboarding with a checklist
There are excellent examples of SaaS products using checklists to guide, gamify and reward the onboarding process, and that’s for a reason: It works.
However, this one by GrowthMentor, the mentorship platform, stood out recently when I was onboarded as a mentor on the platform.
When I clicked on the activation link in my email, I saw this:
I loved it. And because I was researching this article at the time, I highlighted five things they did well. Steal some of these cues from GrowthMentor the first time new users get into your product in your onboarding process:
- Welcome new users and tell them what they need to know/do to start getting value out of your product
- Call out the user’s name and tell them where they are
- Show the user the options/things they can do with your product. However, too many options, as GrowthMentor provides here, is too much. Less is more.
- Include a checklist so the user knows what they’ve done and what’s left
- Include a pointer/arrow to help the user in case they’re still lost
Another thing GrowthMentor did well was showing the steps completed as I went through the onboarding process:
Finally, when I finished the main steps, I was redirected to a blank dashboard that guided me to get immediate value from the product by booking a mentor or applying to mentor someone:
4. Have a lean focus and call out core functions
Your product can do many things. And prospective users may be able to achieve many goals with your product in the long run.
But the onboarding process isn’t the time to amaze people with the wonders of your SaaS tool. It’s not also a time to promise new users things you can’t actually deliver. A smooth SaaS onboarding has a lean focus—and this focus is to drive users to get value out of your product as quickly as possible.
SaaS onboarding experts call this the aha moment. This term doesn’t mean you need magic to show the sophistication of your SaaS product—it’s a reminder to focus and prioritize using your onboarding flow to ensure users take meaningful action.
And you do this by using in-app guided steps in your onboarding flow to call out the core functionalities that help a new user experience your product’s value.
Examples #4-6: Appcues, FullStory and Slack
If your product requires new users to perform some external actions before they start using it, keep a lean focus on ensuring they do just that.
Appcues, a user management SaaS platform, can’t function if a user doesn’t install a script. So, the company’s lean focus at this stage of the onboarding flow ensures that’s the first thing new users do. Appcues uses in-app pop-up messaging to call out this core functionality.
I also love the steps FullStory, a SaaS product that records website sessions, does for this. They ask you about your role before you jump into the product, which helps segment and onboard the user accordingly.
For example, the way a marketer would use your product may differ from an engineer or customer support executive. So asking as FullStory does below helps you to prioritize what an aha moment would be for a new user:
And for Slack, the onboarding flow’s focus is on getting new users to start using the product to communicate with team members.
With you already in the product at this point, Slack’s onboarding process focuses on getting you to send messages. They also use in-app popups to call out this function:
5. Show off your product
Wherever possible, use your product to solve the problems you want to help new users solve. So consider showing your product in action to prospective users as part of the onboarding process.
Doing this shows helps people visualize the possibilities with your product.
Example #7: Trello and GrooveHQ show off
Trello, the project management tool I prefer, is an example of a SaaS product that shows off its product as part of the onboarding process. When I first signed ul, Trello showed me how to use the product’s card and list features:
By going through the cards and list Trello used during onboarding, I immediately understood how I would specifically use it. Two years later, I can’t imagine working without Trello.
6. Follow up
Excellent SaaS onboarding doesn’t end when new signups settle in and start using your product. It really never ends—you should aim to retain new users for life.
As I’ve highlighted, your first goal with onboarding is to get a new user to experience a valuable outcome with your product: that aha moment.
But most of what your internal team may define as valuable to the user may differ from what the user thinks. The best way to know what’s most important to them with your product is to ask. Do this with a timely follow-up.
Example #8: GrooveHQ’s onboarding follow-up email
GrooveHQ’s user onboarding is an excellent example of following up with a new user to directly ask them what matters.
Immediately after you’ve jumped in and done a few things in the GrooveHQ product, once you exit, you’ll get this follow-up email from the company’s CEO, Alex:
Doing this necessary follow-up adds more personalization to your onboarding process and a human face to your brand. After all, people ultimately want to do business with people, not companies.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to product onboarding
What works for one SaaS tool won’t necessarily work for yours, but take inspiration from the eight examples above to build an onboarding flow that educates, delights and retains users.