Article first published January 2017, updated July 2019
A frequent mistake many businesses make is focusing solely on the sales funnel. As soon as the deal is closed, they move on to the next target. This model does not foster business growth. For your business to experience expansion, you need to work on your customer retention. One of the best ways to retain your customers is by having a good customer onboarding strategy in place.
Expecting your customers to know what to do after they sign up is a sure recipe for disaster. This is why a customer onboarding email sequence is so important.
What is customer onboarding, and why do you need an email sequence for it? Read on to find out.
What does onboarding customers mean?
Customer onboarding is a term that is thrown around loosely in marketing circles. But what does it really mean?
Customer onboarding is the entire process users go through from expressing interest in your product or services to the time they become a customer. It encompasses a variety of interactions and engagements with your brand, typically starting with a customer onboarding email. Onboarding customers takes them on a deeper customer journey with your brand, building more loyalty as you go until they make a purchase.
This process is important as it helps to ease the transition for your customers. The easier you help them move from interest to participation, the more likely they are to become loyal customers. In fact, designing a customer onboarding email sequence is an essential element of creating a pleasurable customer journey.
How can the customer onboarding process be improved?
The customer onboarding process is one of the most important factors in determining whether a customer will remain with you or not. Therefore, making sure that it’s optimized is very important. Here are three ways you can make sure your onboarding process will entice your new subscribers to turn into customers:
1. Make your customer feel at home
The first step to an effective onboarding process is to make sure your customers feel at home with you. You can easily achieve this by sending a well-crafted welcome email. When used well, a welcome email is probably the best customer onboarding email in your marketing toolbox.
Source: Really Good Emails
Wynd does a great job of onboarding their customers in their welcome email. Not only do they welcome their customers with a warm tone, but they also tell customers what to expect.
2. Share a case study
One of the main goals of customer onboarding is to gain your prospect’s trust. An easy way to do this is by sharing a case study that highlights what your product or service has achieved for others who have used it.
The beauty of case studies is the fact they actually allow your prospect to “experience” your product. As much as demos may do a good job of showcasing what your product can do, a case study proves that your product actually delivers. The end result? Your prospect will feel comfortable enough to take the relationship further and become a loyal customer.
3. Encourage customer feedback
Customers don’t want to be treated like an order number or a mere email address. They want to know they’re valuable and that you care about their experience. By regularly asking for feedback, you not only show initiative that you’re invested in their journey, but it’s also a great way to gather valuable data that can help you improve your product and onboarding process.
Source: Really Good Emails
Tips for successfully onboarding customers at scale
Read on to learn how you can develop a SaaS customer onboarding strategy that can scale and evolve as your business does. And the keyword here is “evolve.” Regardless of whether you’re just getting started, or have a detailed behavior-based strategy in place, we hope that you’ll come away from this post with practical ideas for improvements, too.
Must-do #1: Understand your customers’ intentions and goals
If you ask two or three people in a SaaS business what a “successful” customer looks like, you’ll probably get a range of responses. For example:
Marketing: A successful customer is one that adopts our latest feature and makes a purchase
Finance: A successful customer is one that chooses a plan and spends a certain amount each year
Customer Success: A successful customer is one who has worked through our checklist of account setup tasks.
The fact is, when you’re caught up in what would make your business successful, you can easily lose track of what customers really want.
It’s not to say that you shouldn’t just have a prominent “Buy Now” button in your app (to make Finance happy), but chances are, your customers have needs and desires that should be acknowledged and addressed, both before and after a purchase is made.
By understanding your customers’ intentions and goals—through interviews, surveys, Customer Support interactions and more—you can develop resources that address buying objections, deflect Support inquiries, reduce 90-day churn and allow your customers to find their definition of value from your service.
Must-do #2: Deliver content that’s relevant to the customer’s experience
A gentle nudge can go a long way. At Campaign Monitor, our Marketing team has looked into customer behavior—and particularly, where prospects have gotten stuck—then delivered messaging via email to help them progress.
For example, it’s possible that a prospect could create an email campaign, add email content, and then become distracted and never add recipients. That’s when a gentle nudge can come in handy. Here’s the animated email that both deep links the user back into the app and also provides an animated “how to” as to how it’s done:
Paired with an understanding of the prospect’s intention and goals, marketing automation can be used to trigger emails on based on behaviors to deliver very relevant messaging that not only addresses obstacles, buying objections and doubts, but also links them directly to the tools, resources and support they need to succeed.
Must-do #3: Educate and inspire at scale
The helpful messaging doesn’t end after someone converts into a paying customer—in fact, now that the customer knows that “must-have” features exist, it’s a great opportunity to educate them on best practices, provide tips, and yes, link back to the app, so they can seamlessly put what they’ve learned into practice.
We use the Campaign Monitor journey builder to send and measure a 3-week series of educational and inspirational emails. These emails link to free guides, a training video, and our very popular Top 100 Email Marketing Campaigns:
The main advantage to using email and online resources to help educate and inform customers is that it scales effortlessly as our customer base grows. Second to that, we can also track the results, too—including who viewed the video, clicked through to a guide, and more.
25% of paying customers are now accessing on-demand video training, with 44% of all training video traffic is driven by these post-purchase onboarding emails.
There are other benefits, too—for example, our prompts to subscribe to our monthly newsletter and blog updates consistently add thousands of new subscribers to these lists each month. And through incremental improvements to our content, we’ve experienced a 112% increase in our click rates, since we began these emails just a few years ago.
Of course, these changes haven’t come without challenges. The biggest pain point for us has been in identifying and syncing the customer events we need, from our app to our email list. Thankfully, we’ve been able to use our API to sync the most essential data, but once you go down the “events tracking” rabbit hole, you’ll likely find yourself requesting more data from your developers than you initially assumed you needed.
As we continue to expand our Customer Success-led onboarding program, we’re looking to integrate more in-app messaging at key moments in the customer experience, as well as inform our Product team about needed features and improvements that help our customers achieve their goals.
Must-do #4: Research, measure, and improve
As mentioned earlier, research, measurement, and providing recommendations to our internal teams is a large part of Customer Success’ strategy. We do this through efforts such as our Voice of the Customer Program, that aims to set baselines, collect customer feedback, and convene with our Product team on a scheduled basis.
Through Voice of the Customer, we’ve been able to monitor trends in our Net Promoter Score, as well as collect more qualitative feedback around what improvements we can make—not just as it relates to key features, but also within the evaluation and onboarding process.
Linking through from email and in-app messages, we use GetFeedback for our surveys, which in turn we sync with Salesforce, in order to provide team visibility of customer feedback.
Finally, an important note to be made is in regards to closing the feedback loop. Using the Campaign Monitor for Salesforce connector, we use transactional email to ensure every completed survey receives an immediate thank you email. Also, we distribute responses from people who give us low scores to our regional Customer Success managers, so they can follow up personally with an email or even a phone call.
The most evident challenge has been using our learnings to reshape an established, 10-plus-year product to better onboard customers, based on the customer insights that we’re receiving. As in any business, every team has existing priorities—and we hope to give onboarding more of a presence on these priority lists, by collecting more data and bringing functional teams closer to our customers.
In all, we want to create a great experience for customers, regardless of whether they’ve been using Campaign Monitor for eight days or eight years. The cornerstone to that is staying on the pulse of what our customers are feeling and thinking, through formalized research and measurement.
So, you might be wondering, what high-level wins have we had by putting these essentials into practice? For the Customer Success team, one of our most visible business goals is 90-day churn—and this is particularly relevant to the customer onboarding process.
Through building a richer picture of our prospects and customers, delivering relevant content, providing education, delivering recommendations and finally, actively monitoring the outcomes, we’ve seen a progressive reduction in 90-day churn. And that means not just a happy team, but happy customers to match. By successfully onboarding your customers at scale, you’re not only setting them up for months—if not years—of success with your app, but ensuring that your business continues to reach its goals, growth and otherwise.