You get people to sign up for your free SaaS trial – great! Trouble is, a significant percentage of users sign up for the trial, log in once, and never come back. You might as well have burned the money it took to acquire them.

The reality is, you’ll never retain all of your customers & some of those reasons you can’t control:

  • Not the right fit for their needs features or price wise
  • Customer goes bankrupt
  • CMO wants to switch technology
  • Customer wants features that were never intended to be a part of the platform

But there are plenty of reasons customers churn that are completely in your control:

  • Customer doesn’t understand how to use the product
  • They have a false impression of what the product actually does
  • Customer isn’t brought into the product quickly or frequently enough
  • They don’t understand the value

Part of the problem could be that you just dropped them into the SaaS app, and hoped they’d figure it out for themselves. Or, maybe you did do some onboarding, but failed to deliver the “Wow” experience that your marketing sold them on.

Much of this can be solved by creating a solid customer onboarding flow & a compelling first run experience.

What is Customer Onboarding?

Customer Onboarding is a process that starts from the very first welcome email & first run experience, and can span over several months (depending on the product) to keep the customer continue using your SaaS app and receiving value from it.

You’ve seen it before, it’s that guided tour the SaaS app brings you through the first time you actually use the product. Here’s an example from BaseCamp.

[slideshare id=28237323]

The main two questions you’re asking with funnel analysis are:

  • What is the primary action(s) we want our user to take within the app?
  • What steps does the user need to take in order to reach that goal?

The drop-offs in between steps are where the opportunities lie.

Determine Your Friction Points With User Testing

If you’re looking at your funnel analytics & noticing significant drop-offs during the vital pieces of your own onboarding experince, conduct a usability test, where users walk through the signup flow & first use of the product. & YouEye are a couple of the services you can use to gather this kind of feedback from several qualified users.

Matthew Niederberger of Actual Insights gives you an idea of what kind of feedback you could get from a User Testing experience by walking through an older version of AirBnB.

Once you have both the quanitative & qualitative feedback, you can create tests to “unclog” your onboarding process.

For example, when Patrick Mckenize (mentioned earlier) noticed that only 82% of visitors were taking one of the most crucial steps in his onboarding process, he made the progress indicator clearer.

As a result, 90% of visitors ended up moving through to the next step – a 12% improvement!

Out of curiosity, what would a 12% improvement in your conversions from trial to subscriptions look like for your bottom line?

Identifying Your Red Flag Metrics

Looking at what’s going on in the immediate signup flow is a good start to improving the onboarding process, but if you really want to improve things, you’ll need to look at things through a longer lens.

When a person doesn’t end up converting from Trial to Paid, what did their activity look like during the trial period?

GrooveHQ had this exact question when they noticed that their churn was hovering around 4.5%. Using KISSmetrics, they discovered a huge chasm between how their churning & non-churning customers used their product.

Groove HQ

It turned out that the users who were churning were barely logging in & spent very little time in the app.

They also knew the average time it would take a user to complete certain tasks within the app, so when those tasks ended up taking longer to complete. To keep things simple, they started testing series of behavior based emails to encourage the user to log back in & help the user get unstuck.

Going beyond the trial period, GrooveHQ also tries to learn from those who didn’t sign up to see if there were any key features they’re missing, or weren’t made apparent during the trial.


Alex informed me recently they’ve been conducting some tests to their onboarding process, which I’m guessing incorporates a lot of feedback they’ve collected into the app and builds it into the app itself.

I don’t know what previous iterations of their onboarding process looked like, but I am seriously impressed by how they use a “sandbox mode” to let you experience the app before connecting your personal accounts.

Groove Support   All New   Open

There’s a damn good reason they’ve been able to grow their monthly revenue from 30k to nearly 90k in the last nine months. These guys are masters of creating feedback loops to get into their customer’s head & conducting tests based on what they find.

Identify The Actions For Your User To Reach The”A-Ha” Moment

The flip side to Red Flag Metrics is identifying the “A-Ha” Moment where your core customer falls in love with your SaaS app and stays loyal forever, and the actions they need to take in order to get there.

Again, this requires that you take a longer view of your retention metrics, but once you understand it, you can work it into your onboarding process to try and get users to take those “core” actions sooner.

Sean Ellis of Qualaroo shared in his presentation at CTA Conf, this example where Twitter discovered that “once a user follows 30 people, they’re more or less active forever.” cta conf Sean_Ellis_CTAConf2014.pdf

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that when Twitter onboards new users, the process is primarily focused on suggesting users based on your interests & having you import your contacts so they can get you to follow 30 people as quickly as possible.

Follow 38 people

Mattan Griffell shares a few other customer’s “A-Ha” moments in this article, in case you need some more inspiration.


If you just assume that once people sign up, they’ll start using your software, you’re wrong. You have to work for it as hard or even harder than you did to get the sign up.

Take the time to understand of both a quanitative & qualitative levels where they’re getting stuck, what makes them leave & what makes them successful. Then do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.