SaaS User Onboarding Funnel 101: Map, Analyse, and Improve Your Conversion Rates

Giving users a great first impression is critically important, so defining an effective SaaS onboarding funnel has got to be a priority for any product manager.

In this article, we’re going to dig deep into the world of customer onboarding.

We’ll explore what it is, why it matters, and how to craft a customer onboarding process that engages and delights your users every step of the way.

We’ll also make sure to look at the best tools for the job.

Let’s get started!

TL;DR

  • SaaS onboarding funnels are a repeatable process or series of steps that takes people from entirely new customers to experienced users getting consistent value from your SaaS company.
  • It’s important to map and improve your conversion rate because it’s the primary metric that tells you how successful your onboarding process is.
  • Start with mapping the customer journey. This will help you understand the end-to-end onboarding process, identify areas of friction, work out how to engineer Aha moments, and help drive activation for new customers.
  • Next, you’ll want to analyze how your onboarding funnel is working. That means defining clear goals and measuring progress against them (making sure to consider both hard numbers and customer sentiment).
  • Once you’ve built an understanding of the ‘as-is’, you can take steps to improve your onboarding process and customer retention. Start by targeting areas of the flow with the most friction: can they be completely removed (or at least simplified)?
  • You can also use in-app guidance to help convert users. Make sure you also give users the chance to solve their own problems: offering self-service support is a must in any onboarding process.
  • Finally, you want to pick the right tools for the job. A whiteboarding tool like Miro is great for mapping and understanding your customer journey.
  • Userpilot is second to none for analyzing how your funnels are performing against goals and offering easy-to-deploy ways to improve the onboarding experience.

What is a SaaS onboarding funnel?

A SaaS onboarding funnel is a term used to describe a repeatable process that takes people all the way from:

  • Being complete strangers to your product
  • Signing up for a trial
  • Using your product as an engaged, paying customer

The goal of any funnel is to make sure that process is as smooth and effective as possible.

Why is it important to map and improve your conversion rate across the onboarding process?

Effective onboarding is all about turning potential customers into paying customers. That ratio — your conversion rate — is a critically important metric to understand.

Why? As management expert Peter Drucker famously said “What gets measured, gets managed.”

Unless you have a handle on how your onboarding is working at the moment, how can you build an effective strategy to improve things?

Onboarding KPIs help you to focus your efforts on problem areas, take targeted actions, and ultimately improve retention.

Visual of onboarding KPIs
A range of metrics will help you build an overall view of performance.

How to map your user onboarding funnel

Product journey maps can take many different forms depending on what you’re trying to achieve, but in essence, they are a visual representation of a user journey. Typically they’ll contain:

  • A view of who your users are and what they’re trying to achieve
  • Key touchpoints with your product
  • Background activities and technical integrations
  • Pain points and challenges

All of these form part of a clear visual that helps you understand the end-to-end user onboarding journey.

Define important touchpoints in the customer onboarding journey

Onboarding is a broad term. There are different stages to consider, each with a distinct set of goals:

  1. Primary onboarding. Getting users to the activation point (primarily targeting new customers).
  2. Secondary onboarding. Delivering value to existing users by helping them discover additional features and make the most of your product.
  3. Tertiary onboarding. Increasing user loyalty, turning them into advocates and driving expansion.
Visual of user journey stages
Onboarding is a dynamic, evolving process.

An effective way to target these phases is by creating individual customer journey maps (rather than combining them all into one).

That should give you the level of insight and clarity you need to ensure each onboarding phase is engineered to meet your product goals effectively.

Understanding the Aha moment for your users

What is the Aha moment?

When a user starts understanding the potential value of your product, they’ll typically have a moment of realization where they ‘get it’. That’s the Aha moment. All effective onboarding experiences should aim to deliver them.

How can journey mapping help identify Aha moments?

By setting out the end-to-end journey you’ll better understand a user’s primary needs and pain points. That means you’ll swiftly be able to identify opportunities in your onboarding experience that start delivering value.

Example #1. Mailchimp delivers their Aha moment directly on their landing page with clever copy.

Screenshot of Mailchimp welcome page
A landing page is your ‘gateway’ to a product: use it to demonstrate value.

Example #2. Notion waits until users are in the product itself for the first time, using an empty state checklist to drive instant value.

Screenshot of Notion empty state checklist
People learn through doing.

As the examples above demonstrate, it’s not about delivering one Aha moment. It’s about helping users continuously realize value from your product throughout their onboarding.

Visual of user journey and Aha! moments
Aim for consistent value release.

Understanding the Activation point in the customer journey

What is the activation point?

The Aha moment is where a user first starts to realize the value you and your product offer them. Activation is the process of experiencing that value firsthand: they want to see your SaaS product deliver tangible outcomes.

Screenshot of user journey flow
Activation typically follows an initial Aha moment.

How can journey mapping help define activation points?

By focusing on the core features and capabilities of your product, you’ll be able to figure out whether they’re addressing the user’s pain points. It also helps you plan your activation strategy and sequencing.

Example. We know that as part of the onboarding flow, you have to deliver an Aha moment (at multiple points in the process) and help users reach an activation point.

Let’s explore an example from Userpilot.

Their onboarding sequence considers both of these elements. Users typically experience an Aha moment when previewing a product experience via the Chrome extension. But, they don’t reach the activation point until they’ve installed JavaScript and deployed an experience for real.

Understanding the different levels of friction helps inform the onboarding funnel: focus on delivering an Aha moment as soon as possible to entice users. Don’t leap too quickly into activation (that could put users off if launched too soon).

Check out the video on Driving Saas User Activation below for a more detailed breakdown of tools and tactics.

How to analyze your onboarding funnel

So we’ve covered how journey mapping helps savvy SaaS owners create onboarding funnels.

But once you’ve got your funnel set up, how do you know it’s effective?

Define goals for main touchpoints in your onboarding funnel

“Without a goal, you can’t score.”

The first step is to define specific, measurable, realistic goals. Think about how key touchpoints in the journey translate into objectives that can be tracked: whether that’s clicking a button, visiting a page, or interacting with a specific feature.

You could focus on one specific action (as per the example below), or a sequence.

Screenshot of Userpilot goal setting
Clear visual indicators help you measure performance in Userpilot.

From a technical standpoint, you can track performance using custom events or different in-app engagements. This step is important because it helps define your overall strategy.

Use a tool to track goal completion across the onboarding process

Once you’ve defined your goals, the next step is to pick a tool. There are lots available (including the ubiquitous Google Analytics), but the most important factor here is actually using one.

Many product managers rely on maintaining spreadsheets, which offer very limited insight into what’s really going on. Most tools offer useful visual representations of data, as well as progress against specific goals.

Screenshot of onboarding KPI
Use metrics to help inform your priorities.

In a tool like Userpilot, it’s easy to set up — start with goal tracking.

Screenshot of Userpilot goal setting
Track goals across multiple dimensions to build a rounded view of how your onboarding is working.

You’ll then start to see how many users are advancing through specific milestones. You can also dive deeper into how specific user segments are behaving.

Screenshot of goal metrics
Dive into the detail of specific user segments with Userpilot.

Collect feedback insights from your users when they reach different milestones in the journey

Tracking quantitative data is an excellent step in the right direction.

But it’s only one side of the story: while it might tell you what is happening, it doesn’t tell you why.

That’s where qualitative research comes in. You can use a range of surveys to build an understanding of user behavior and generate ideas for how to improve things.

CSAT survey. Gauge user sentiment and understand a holistic view of user satisfaction.

Screenshot of Miro CSAT survey
How do your users feel?

CES survey. Build insight into perceived effort at specific onboarding phases.

Screenshot of CES survey
Understand where users are struggling.

NPS survey. Use open-ended questions to understand customer loyalty (using both quantitative scores and qualitative insights to build a rounded view).

NPS survey screenshot
Understand ‘what’ and ‘why’ with NPS surveys.

How to improve the customer onboarding process and increase conversions

Now, you know exactly how to dive into the data and see how your funnels are performing. It’s time for action.

Here’s how to optimize your onboarding funnels and drive up your conversion rate.

Identify friction points and drop off points in your onboarding funnel

Once you’ve got analytics in place, it should be a relatively simple exercise to identify key friction areas and points in the journey users drop off.

In the example from Userpilot below, you’re able to view engagement by specific user segments.

Screenshot of Userpilot features
Ask yourself: which features deliver the most value?

To prioritize which you tackle first, you need to consider two key factors: which will bring the most value to your users, and which has the best chance of improving your MRR?

Perhaps account creation is where lots of users abandon the journey. Or it could be the struggle to use a particular feature. There could be an underlying retention problem.

Whatever it is, focusing on eliminating friction will help.

Remove unnecessary steps from your SaaS onboarding funnels

In onboarding, brevity is key. Once you’ve identified areas of friction, you should look to remove any steps that aren’t essential. That starts with mapping out each step in your onboarding flow and deciding whether a step is a must-have.

Do you really need to know a company’s size upfront? In the signup example below, Miro offers the fastest possible route: an SSO option.

Screenshot of Miro SSO
An SSO option reduces signup friction.

Start with the simplest feasible option. You want most users to go down the ‘happy path’, with targeted support available to those who need it.

Visual of Happy Path UX
Funnel most users down the ‘happy path’.

Use in-app guidance to drive new users to convert without the need of a sales team

There are a plethora of options at your disposal when it comes to in-app guidance: modals, checklists, tooltips, and more.

Screenshot of customer onboarding process options
Use all the tools at your disposal to craft an engaging onboarding experience.

No one method is the ‘best’ — the whole point is choosing the right message, in the right format, at the right time.

Segmentation is massively helpful in that arena, helping you to make informed decisions about what specific user groups need.

Screenshot of Userpilot
Userpilot lets you set up and trigger sophisticated sequences for specific user segments.

Before randomly choosing an onboarding UI pattern, think carefully about the result you’re aiming at. What would you like the user to do? There are many different conversion points in an onboarding flow to target:

  • Getting users to activation
  • Converting a user from free / trial to paid
  • Driving feature discovery

The upgrade modal from Slack is a great way of drawing attention to the end of a trial.

Screenshot of Slack modal
A timely message can help users make a fast decision.

Asana has opted for a full-page pop-up to encourage a free trial for a premium feature.

Screenshot of Asana modal
Tempt your users with a free trial.

Or you could use Userpilot to build a short microsurvey to collect insight and prompt action.

Screenshot of Userpilot tooltip
Sometimes, you just need to pose the right question at the right time.

Set up self-service support for on-demand help and guidance

Users will always need a level of help and support. It’s your job to make sure they get the help they need when they need it — without overwhelming your support team.

With that in mind, you should be aiming to encourage self-service wherever possible.

You can use an in-app resource center to quickly create a valuable hub of resources: in-app guides, tutorials, videos, webinars, and more.

Make sure to include any onboarding product tours so your users can revisit them at any stage (remember onboarding is a continuous process).

Airtable actually includes a tour of the Resource Center as part of their onboarding, showing users where to find it and how to make use of it.

Screenshot of Resource Center
Help users help themselves.

Building in-app help can be a challenge — unless you use a tool such as Userpilot, which has a range of functionality enabling savvy product managers to quickly spin up a configurable Resource Center.

Animation of Resource Center popup
Spin up Resource Centers at pace with Userpilot.

Tools to build and improve the user onboarding process

There are many tools out there to help improve the onboarding process: the trick is choosing the right one for the job.

Let’s explore some options.

Miro: for mapping the onboarding funnel

What is it? Miro is a powerful whiteboarding tool with a range of pre-built templates.

Why use it? It’s fantastic for generating ideas, process mapping, and refining onboarding funnels. You can also create multiple boards, and share them with relevant members of your team in a flash.

Screenshot of Miro functionality
Pre-built templates can get you off to a fast start.

Userpilot: for analyzing and tracking the user onboarding process

Userpilot is a powerful multi-functional tool for SaaS owners.

It helps with tracking and understanding progress against goals. It’s fully configurable: you can create goals based on a huge range of criteria, from product usage to NPS score, to custom events and in-app engagement for specific features (and even specific user segments).

Screenshot of Userpilot goals
Full configurability means Userpilot is a powerful tool.

It’s also extremely usable: with feature-tagging, even non-technical team members can get a huge amount of value out of the tool.

Animation of Feature tagging
Enable your whole team to get involved.

Userpilot: for improving user onboarding with in-app guidance

Getting in-app guidance right is a critical part of any onboarding experience.

Userpilot gives you the option to trigger contextual messages, targeted with advanced customer segmentation. You also have a broad range of UI patterns to choose from (which you can easily customize to sync up with your brand).

Visual of UI patterns
Choose the right pattern for the situation.

A/B testing is a fantastic capability for gathering valuable data on which patterns are the most effective. You can tailor your onboarding experience accordingly to help users reach their goals faster.

Screenshot of A/B testing.
Use data to help you decide your best course of action with Userpilot.

Conclusion

Want to craft onboarding funnels that delight, engage, and encourage users to sign up?

In the article, we’ve covered why you need to:

  • Map the process. Use customer journey mapping to identify friction points and understand where to focus your efforts.
  • Analyze performance. Deploy analytics tools to measure how your onboarding funnels are performing against specific goals.
  • Make strategic enhancements. Utilize that insight to make targeted improvements where it will make the most impact.

Follow that simple framework, and before you know it your conversion rate will be through the roof.

Want to build product experiences code-free? Book a demo call with our team and get started! Click the link in the banner below for more information.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store