What SaaS Startups Miss in User Onboarding

Over dinner, a veteran product manager argued most SaaS products’ onboarding practices miss a crucial step: create value for the user in the first session. After that conversation, I signed up for many brand-name SaaS products pretending it was for the first time, and I couldn’t help but agree with him.

Most SaaS products guide a user through three steps. First, collect the requisite data to create an account, like email and password. Second, configure integrations with related services, customize the platform and/or invite other key users. Third, educate users about the product by indicating the most important menus and actions.

The third step has recently become synonymous with onboarding and many product teams have invested there. Clement Vouillon details the five types of on-boarding strategies, with examples, in his post on onboarding: passive tour, the active tour, video on boarding, slide on boarding, and step-by-step walkthrough with fake data.

While this may be the state-of-the-art for most SaaS startups, it’s not enough to optimize the funnel. As the seasoned product manager articulated, the onboarding process must create some value for the user during that sign-up session, in order to keep the user coming back. All the products I tried either stepped me through an explanation of the product or simply left me at the home screen after registration.

I felt like an new employee during my first day at work. I had signed my W-2 tax form, received an email account, been shown the route between my office and the lunchroom, and then told to get to work.

I’m certain there are best-in-class user onboarding flows out there, and if you know of one, please email me, because I’d like to update this post and feature that workflow. Although I don’t have data to support the argument, I believe that achieving that magical moment - solving a part of the user’s within the first session - is essential to great user onboarding.

Published 2015-08-25 in Product 


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