Customer onboarding matters a lot to B2B SaaS, possibly more than any other industry. It’s the detailed client experience from the moment of conversion to the first realization of value, and beyond. While this journey differs from one company to the next and between each individual customer, all onboarding for SaaS still has some common fundamental principles.
These best practices help onboarding teams maintain flexibility without losing sight of what’s important. The ultimate goal of onboarding processes should always be to align your customer’s value point with your own. This makes their problems your problems, and your goal their solution.
But what are these goals, and how do you accomplish them? We’ll come to that very shortly. Before we do, here’s a bit of context.
Why Customer Onboarding is Worth Paying Attention To
Good customer onboarding ensures that your clients are getting the most out of your product as soon as possible. This means they’re rapidly reaching their desired outcomes and ultimately making an ROI on their purchase. This is important for any business, but for models relying on subscription renewals, it’s particularly pertinent to your success.
A successful client onboarding process for B2B sets expectations early on and works to boost your customer lifetime value. It’s an adaptable process that aims to reduce churn by focusing on your client needs, turning simple customers into loyal partners and eventually, champions of your service.
Following even the most basic of customer onboarding best practices will ensure this level of success for your clients and help your business with its expansion in the long run. There are two basic goals of onboarding:
- Ensure an early success for your customer
- Showing them the value potential of ongoing use of your product
And these are achieved by paying attention to the entire length of your customer journey, well before onboarding. Because one of the most important factors of onboarding is starting with the right customer. We’ll come to why that is later in the post, but suffice it to say that a bad-fit customer is an onboarding catastrophe before it’s even begun.
This is because onboarding can only reinforce a good relationship between you and your customer. If a hesitant prospect has been coerced into a purchase, it’s unlikely that any amount of flattery and enthusiasm on your part will give them the momentum to renew their subscription in a year’s time. On the other hand, an enthusiastic customer can be energized further with a good onboarding process and positively encouraged to champion your product to their peers in the long run.
If you are to look the terms up, you’ll find results for “client onboarding best practices” and “user onboarding best practices” and various other terminologies in between. These two terms in particular are often used interchangeably, and in many cases – for example, B2C – the client and user are all one and the same. In some other cases, users and customers (or clients) can be different people.
For example, in B2C SaaS, freemium users aren’t customers and might require a different set of approaches in the customer success process than converted customers. In B2B SaaS, customers might be business owners, and users may be their employees, and they also can come with a different set of needs, and thus a different set of requirements for onboarding for either. Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences:
Client Onboarding Best Practices
Client needs revolve around the best way to persuade the customer that their purchase was a good idea. This might be a lengthy process, involving a hands-on approach to onboarding that is focused more on building a relationship and demonstrating the efficacy of the product in relation to the needs of the business.
This process will likely involve user onboarding components, as one of the keys to customer success is the user experience with the product, but the client onboarding best practices will focus primarily on very different value points than the user onboarding practices will.
User Onboarding Best Practices
The people engaging with your product will be the users. These will be the people for whom your product needs to make their jobs easier, and that comes with a certain quality of expectations that differ from those of the person who bought the product in the first place.
User onboarding best practices will focus on how to quickly educate users on things like setting up accounts and passwords, getting the product up and running, and how to find the information they need to get their immediate questions answered as they become familiar with the use of the software.
With both approaches, it’s necessary to focus on the experience of the person involved. Obviously, for something like accounting software, the experience of the buyer and the experience of the user will involve different expectations, and these need to be identified in either case to streamline the onboarding process as a whole.
What’s the Difference?
User onboarding is generally a faster process than customer onboarding, as it deals only with practical value points, and not so much with the emotional value points, or the projected ROI that the buyer is concerned with.
As such, a major difference between client onboarding and user onboarding is in the time-to-value (TTV). While user onboarding TTV is often shorter, it’s not as critical as client TTV. As long as the buyer is emotionally invested in your product, users can have a slower onboarding and you’ll still be left with a loyal customer. On the other hand, focusing on user TTV at the expense of the customer will result in a lower chance of them renewing their subscription.
In summary, customer onboarding should include some elements of user onboarding, but the two approaches will be a little different. Customer onboarding needs to include relationship-building and emotional factors in how it leads the subject to their desired outcome. However, they’re both important, and our best practices are chosen in a way that much of the information here will apply to both.
Our Top Ten Customer Onboarding Best Practices
These principles are generally applicable to every B2B SaaS onboarding, whether user or customer, but the specific details of how to implement them may change depending on the context. We’ve listed them more or less in order from early in the customer journey to later, but they should be considered independent and used as needed.
1. Set Onboarding Goals
The first thing to consider when designing your onboarding process is the accomplishments that matter the most. Remember those two effects of good onboarding we mentioned in the first section?
- Ensure an early success for your customer
- Showing them the value potential of ongoing use of your product
So, setting goals is how you achieve these effects. Here are three that are worth using as customer onboarding best practices
1. Ensure repeated usage early on
2. Ensure habits are formed
3. Ensure there is a reliance on your product
These goals are basically a slightly more informed version of the two ultimate outcomes of onboarding, but they still don’t exactly explain how you go about reaching them, so let’s break it down.
Repeated usage at the very beginning is a significant target to aim for due to a couple of factors. First, the moment after conversion is the moment at which your customer’s engagement with and enthusiasm for your product is at its highest. Riding this momentum takes a lot of the work off you since the energy levels are high and customers are motivated to get involved. Losing this momentum, on the other hand, could be a death sentence for your Customer LTV.
Secondly, it’s the earliest point at which you can begin forming the habits needed to carry your customers through their onboarding journey, which leads us to goal 2.
Set targets for the number of uses you want to see in your customer within the first week and build up this familiarity with your product. From here, establish some patterns by scheduling assistance outreach with your customers and make sure they’re engaging during this critical period. This is how you’ll accomplish the habit part of your goals.
Finally, during this time, you should be working to persuade your customer of the benefits of making your product integral to their processes. This means it’s not just the amount of times they’re using the product that’s important; it’s also the context of its use.
Each of these goals facilitates the next, as repeated use forms habits, and habitual use opens up areas in which your customers will see the value of your product as a business tool. Therefore, working on them all is the most efficient way to accomplish the two effects of good onboarding processes.
2. Align your Teams
There’s a distinct beginning to the onboarding process from the customer perspective, but from the company side, it begins much sooner, and should really be considered as an extension of the sales funnel in some ways.
Being handed ill-fitting customers will render most, if not all of your onboarding resources redundant, and if your sales teams have different expectations from your success team as to the speed and direction of the next steps, this can create unnecessary friction in the onboarding process.
Sales mustn’t be promising something that onboarding can’t fulfill. Customer disappointment, or really any other disorganization in the process is a damaging condition to your customers’ success.
3. Schedule it
This might seem like an obvious one, but there is an art to the timing of the first contact. If you look at the right metric, you can find the optimal time to welcome the customer onboard and schedule this into your teams’ workflows.
It’s important to get this first moment right so that your customer doesn’t feel neglected at a time when they have no emotional connection to your company. Remember also, that returning to your success roadmap with a customer is a lot more difficult than sticking to it in the first place.
4. Ask your Customer
One mistake that onboarding designers typically make, especially if they were heavily involved with the design of the product, is to push a bunch of features that make them excited, without considering what the customer is actually interested in. This is going to risk two issues:
- Bombarding your customer with information
- Disengaging them with irrelevant pointers
To avoid this, simply ask them what they want. Your onboarding approach needs to be flexible enough to respond to the needs of each customer, and if it is, there should be no problem in responding to the answer to “how are you planning to use this product?” at the moment of conversion.
5. Work from the Inside
This is a general rule that will apply to user experience throughout their lifetimes. There’s nothing more frustrating than clicking on an in-app button to be taken to an external page without warning, and if you’re doing this with your questions, or linking your customers and users to guides outside the app, you’re risking the dramatic loss of momentum and a potential frustration factor to boot.
In-app communication is the key here. Keep as much as you can contained in the app, and allow your audience to find what they’re looking for without having to venture from it. If you’re dealing with customers who aren’t going to be using the app as much, you can reach the same effect using whichever platform they will be in contact with you on.
Use hints and tooltips to accomplish this, but don’t go overboard:
6. Spread it out
You don’t have to offer up all the information all at once. If you’ve followed tip 1, you’ll know roughly which information is most relevant to the desires of your customer, but you still don’t need to flood their visual field with tips and links.
The trick to this is overcoming your enthusiasm for the product and, while ensuring all relevant information is accessible, resisting the urge to push it all onto the audience at once. This skill comes with some trial and error, but the best way to accomplish this is to work closely with your customer and allow them to ask questions as they arise.
Multiple-choice surveys are also a good way to define the customer journey at this stage.
7. Choose your Focus
In a similar vein, your customer perspective is the key to your successful onboarding design. This means that considering the product from the developer’s perspective won’t address what’s important to the customer or user. As we discussed, your customer is looking for an ROI, and this is where they will find value in your product.
Design your onboarding to meet these expectations, and should rely a lot less on what your product can do and far more on how it can help make your customer money. For the user/client divide, this is particularly crucial. For user onboarding, the features and how to use them are key elements. For customer onboarding, they may not be relevant at all.
8. Stand Back
This ties into everything in the previous best practices, because again, it’s about helping the customer. If you’re focused on showing off your product, you might be overlooking the needs of the people you’re showing off to.
If you know from your questions what your customer’s opinion of success is for them, you should be in a good position to facilitate their adoption of your product. Remember that this is a lengthy process – far more involved than classic B2C usually is – and let time play a part.
Getting carried away is a great way to ensure your customer loses momentum and becomes disengaged, so once they’re set up, let them find their way. All you have to do is be around to support them where and when they need it.
9. But Stay Close
Your support should gradually progress from a high-touch to a low-touch approach as the training wheels come off your client and they get more involved with your product. By the later stages of onboarding, all you need to do is be accessible.
If they reach out, respond fast. If they don’t, offer them gentle check-in messages to remind them you’re available. This should be easily accomplished with a dedicated CSM, and it must be remembered that here is where your relationship-building comes into play.
If you’ve done all you can to cultivate trust with your client, they won’t hesitate to reach out to you when they need you and communicate with transparency. As long as you’re around, you’ll be in the best position to make the rapid change of direction that’s sometimes necessary for customer success operations.
10. Always Adapt and Be Ready to Grow
And this brings us neatly to the last in our list of customer onboarding best practices. Your onboarding process, as with almost all of your business processes, will need to be an almost organic entity that grows and changes in response to stimuli.
This presents two challenges in relation to the adaptability of your onboarding process:
- Your customer needs will change over time
- Your business needs will change over time
Thankfully, creating a process that’s adaptable and scalable covers both of these bases, and that’s exactly how your onboarding teams need to look at it. As you grow, your onboarding length might change, or you may find that there are new ways for customers to get value out of your product.
What this all comes down to is a strong need for your processes to be able to adapt to these changes. To complicate things further, it’s important that you’re able to repeat onboarding processes with new employees and new customers too. So, how does this work?
Essentially, onboarding needs to remain flexible and versatile, so that while you have set, repeatable templates for various contexts and customer profiles, you also have the lee-way for your teams to make on-the-spot adjustments, and to change the processes themselves in response to new information.
This can be a complex process, especially when it comes to preparing for scale. For expert help, check out Onboard.io. We can help you organize, automate and manage the onboarding process with a single solution, ensuring that every stakeholder is on the same page from start to finish. Our customized launch plans are specifically designed to work at scale and provide each customer with their own task list.
Customer onboarding can, and should, take many forms, but some general practices will apply in almost every case. By following these, you’ll ensure that the customer perspective is first and foremost, that you’re able to support them through their onboarding journey, and that you build the kind of relationship that’s so critical with B2B customers.
You’ll do this by focusing on what value means to them. And when you do, you’ll see immediate improvements to some of the most critical KPIs of your business.