I remember building a kid’s play kitchen several years back, working tirelessly through their mediocre instructions for 4 hours and hundreds of screws sunk in to mislabeled pieces. The first section of the instructions took me through 45 minutes of building a support system for the kitchen – which seemed like a necessary component at the time. Towards the end of the instructions, I came across a vital piece of information: IF ATTACHING TO THE WALL FOR SUPPORT, DISCARD THE SUPPORT SYSTEM AND USE THE L-BRACKETS INSTEAD.
That vital piece of information, stuffed 3.5 hours into the instructions, would have saved me 45 minutes had they just included it in the beginning of the instructions. …and it wasn’t only time savings, had this company provided multiple onboarding paths for their customers at the onslaught of the instructions the customer wouldn’t be stuck trying to figure out how to discard an assembled part that now didn’t fit in their dumpster.
While this story is based around physical products, we see SaaS companies fall prey to the same issue every day with their onboarding. Companies offer multiple products, only to send out the same new user email to everyone. They offer the same new user tutorials to customers, regardless of which aspect of the product the new customer needs to use.
So how do we improve SaaS onboarding? How do we prevent our customers from feeling like the company they’re about to shell out money to monthly sees their individual business as valueless?
Enter variable-route onboarding. The premise of variable-route onboarding is simple: Give your customers the relevant information they need, at the time they need it, in order to convert to a happy & productive paying customer. Fast track your user’s path to their first success.
Say we’re a cloud storage provider who offers a full featured product with a 30 day trial. Our customer has spent the last 4 hours researching the best cloud storage provider for their needs. They’ve dove into every product video we offer and has decided that we are to get his business, but only after a successful 30 day trial to ensure our product functions as advertised. We could just send him our consumer how-to guides with some friendly copy attached as part of his onboarding email (because we’re using different sign-up forms for consumer and enterprise, right??), and while this would already be a vast improvement over many onboarding approaches, we can do better. We need to know what this users first success looks like. In other words, what feature of our product needs to perform flawlessly in order for this user to convert to a happy paying customer post trial.
While there are several ways we can gather this data, the easiest and most accurate method is to just ask by adding a checkbox question to your sign-up form asking which of these 3 features they’re most excited to use. While we are firm believers in keeping your sign-ups simple to maximize conversions, we’ve not found any reduction in sign-up conversion by adding this question.
Armed with our new user’s road to first success we are now able to send targeted and highly relevant onboarding emails that focus on helping them install our mobile app and setup automatic photo backups. The user isn’t swimming through content about how to share files with their friends or how to setup their first backup on their laptop – we’ve delivered them the information they need when they need it.
A common gut reaction we get when we pitch this new onboarding approach to clients is, “Aren’t we painting ourselves into a corner by only focusing on this one feature?” The solution to that lives in how we approach our subsequent waves of communication with our new user. This is where a feature based drip campaign seeped in automation becomes our hero. After our 1st email we can start to invite our user to try additional features with a broad high level overview of our platform’s top features. Depending on their activity we can now send them targeted emails based on which features they’ve shown (clicked on) interest in. Do you recognize the trend? We’re now back to sending relevant and timely information based on our end user’s interests – engaging them further into our cloud storage platform to ensure long term loyalty and less churn.
The results have been incredible when moving to a variable-route onboarding approach, with our clients seeing anywhere from a 2-5% reduction in churn rate annually – we’re talking about a 25-60% increase in valuation in 5 years from this simple change!