The SaaS market is becoming increasingly crowded every year, in fact it has tripled in size the last 5 years, with the industry expecting to reach $171 billion by 2022.
We are now entering an era where thousands of SaaS companies, both new and old, are creating solutions to address every conceivable business need, from providing recurring billing solutions to keeping teams on track. The SaaS space is so competitive, even in sectors, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, that seem to present higher barriers to entry.
To win the SaaS race in this day and age, it’s absolutely critical to align your solution with the requirements of today’s demanding customer to create a smooth customer experience. The best place to start is by gaining a thorough understanding of how your SaaS customers will act, what challenges they’re facing, and what their needs are. This is where customer journey mapping will come in handy.
In this blog, we’ll start with the foundations of SaaS customer journeys, before building out the stages and, finally, taking a look at five must-have customer journeys that every SaaS company should implement.
What is the SaaS customer journey?
Think of it like a map that highlights every action and interaction your leads and customers have to take with your company to fulfill the customer lifecycle. Similar to your stock standard customer journey, the SaaS version includes stages from awareness all the way through to advocacy.
The stages of a SaaS customer journey
Knowing the different stages of your SaaS company’s customer journey will help you focus on what you want achieved by the customer in each step or stage. It’s time to step back and think about your current journey, the customers you're attracting, and those you want to retain.
The awareness stage is the first stage in most customer journeys. This is where your customer has a problem, and starts to search for solutions, or they come across your product for the first time, perhaps through word of mouth or online reviews, and want to explore it further.
Here you want to make sure your content is enticing, personalized, and outlines how the product can solve the issues. Cast a wide net by using activities like advertising, SEO, events, social media or a referral program.
Here the customer is looking a little more closely at the product or platform, to see if the range of services or features available will be able to solve their problem. It’s important to note this stage can have a longer time frame associated with it, as it can take some time for the customer to evaluate all the options.
Having an extensive content hub of blogs, webinars, white papers, case studies and newsletters will help in explaining how your SaaS company can make the life of the customer easier, and solve their problem.
Your customer is almost over the line. They may have two leading platforms to choose from and want to spend time within each product to play around and experience the functionality themselves.
As a SaaS company, this is where embracing a product-led strategy will work in your favor. The customer is able to hop on a free trial for a certain period of time or use a freemium setup to really explore your product.
If you have the time and resources, other options like providing live demos of the product or your sales team reaching out can also help nudge your almost customer into conversion.
They have taken the next step and chosen your product. The payment has been processed and they are officially a customer now.
Don’t get too comfortable though, this is only the beginning when it comes to the SaaS customer journey.
This is where your SaaS company wants to have a seamless onboarding process. We are talking about offering a great sign-up experience, sending a flawless welcome email and providing the best first login experience. These will all help the adoption of your product happen much more smoothly.
Now you have their business, it’s time to step it up a notch and ensure the customer has all the tools, information and extra support needed to reinforce the fact that they made the best decision in picking your company.
A great way to measure the success of this adoption phase is tracking a few key metrics:
Email - Are they opening the emails? Engaging with the content?
Support resolution time - If your new customer has needed extra assistance with the product or has had issues, it’s integral to have your customer success team be on top of it.
Product actions - Ortto allows SaaS companies to measure custom actions, meaning your business can identify product-qualifying actions and actually track towards them. Actions speak louder than words.
Now your customer has been able to use your product, it’s become fully integrated and second nature in their life. But most importantly, it has solved their initial problem.
This stage is all about taking your customer’s experience to the next level with your product. How would we go about increasing the MRR? Let’s look at introducing them to more features, or creating a customizable product plan, where they can choose features suited to their needs. If their team is growing, what does your payment plan look like depending on the number of users?
The options are endless, but it’s important to keep in mind whatever your strategy here is, the customer should feel that any expansion will be worth the additional cost.
If your customers love the product, continue to use it, and engage with the company, then they are officially deemed a loyalist. Turning them into an advocate requires them to recommend the product to their colleagues or participate in a referral program or spread the good word on social media.
Nothing quite beats the recommendation from a customer to a potential customer. Nurturing and retaining your advocates need to remain a priority.
Improve your SaaS customer experience using customer journey mapping
A customer journey is a visual representation of the experience your customer has when interacting with your brand. They are useful because they allow you to get a sense of your customers’ motivations, forcing you to think about how your customers interact with your brand versus how you think they do.
Building a winning SaaS strategy involves the ability to personalize the customer journey for each user — and the level of customization and personalization you offer to your customers and your product’s ability to solve their pain points will be a decisive factor in your success. Each SaaS business is different, so your set of customer journeys will be different from that of another SaaS business.
Nevertheless, there are some core customer journeys that you should be familiar with as they aim to address pain points that are common to many SaaS companies:
Lead nurture - turning leads into trials
Trial conversion - converting trials to paying customers
Onboarding - making sure customers are successful in the first 30 days
Trial abandonment and preventing churn - recovering trials that didn’t buy after 30 days
Customer retention - continuously communicating value to the customer and driving referrals
1. Lead nurture
Not all leads are created equal. We’re not saying that leads fall into good or bad categories per se, but some leads will take higher priority than others.
For instance, a lead who is ready to hand over their credit card details to your business in a heartbeat would be considered a higher priority lead than one who isn’t even in the market to buy. But even though the second lead might not be seen as particularly valuable right this minute, that doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.
Having a lead nurture process in place that includes lead qualification criteria enables you to create a lead hierarchy, so you can figure out what leads to focus on first — they’re the ones that will be routed to your sales team through your preferred CRM so they can work their magic.
This approach enables your marketing team to focus on routing qualified leads, allowing your sales team to prioritize their efforts and increase their ability to convert hot leads into opportunities — much more efficient than sending every single lead to sales.
For example, in a lead nurture customer journey, leads can be automatically qualified once they fill out an inquiry form on your website — after all, a person who fills out a form is highly likely to be a lead who is engaged and therefore, more likely to convert than someone who has come across your website, spent a few minutes on it, and then left.
Once completed, these highly engaged (and, therefore, qualified) leads can be routed to the sales team according to their location via a CRM. If you are using Ortto, when creating your leads qualification journey, Pipedrive or Salesforce can work well.
If the lead doesn’t fill out an inquiry form, they can then be taken on another journey. They may not be ready to purchase just yet, so targeting them with relevant ad messaging, or sending further content in email may help get them to a point of conversion.
2. Trial conversion
For SaaS businesses with a free trial or freemium account option, the drive to convert these users into paying customers is always of utmost importance.
The sustainability of your business depends on converting these into paying customers, so they may need some reminding and gentle nudging in the right direction.
Reminding your customer that their trial period is coming to a close and adding a bit of urgency is a sure fire way to increase conversion. Setting up an automated customer journey will make this even easier.
Say your SaaS company has a 30-day trial period. Once your customer has gone through their onboarding journey successfully, you should be focusing on sending a mix of relevant product features and offering exclusive events or webinars to show off what can be expected as a paying customer.
As they start to interact with the product features or extra content, you will be able to create in-app prompts or follow up emails, encouraging them to upgrade now. Whatever channel your customer is interacting with, a clear call-to-action should be present and, ideally, tracked with a UTM so you can see which prompts are driving the most conversions.
If the trial period is coming to an end but the customer has still not converted, try setting up an email journey focusing on the customer’s achievements during the trial period, then experimenting with more urgent language alerting them that the trial is about to end.
If they have yet to engage, this could set up a trigger, like a Slack message or email alert, to have a member of the sales team reach out.
As soon as your customer has made the commitment to sign up for your product, the race is on to get them set up and using your product so they reach their ‘aha moment’ ASAP.
This customer journey will revolve around making sure the customer is taking the appropriate steps to set up their account properly, so they are successful in the first 30 days and can experience the true value of the product.
Every customer is different, some may need a touch more hand-holding with their onboarding process but if you have the combination of an informative yet fun automated email flow, along with access to an extensive resources hub, this will make their experience run smoothly.
There are four main tactics that will make the onboarding customer experience better:
The sign-up: It’s a fine line between making the simplest sign-up possible and gathering all the customer data needed to segment them into the right onboarding flow. Start looking at some best in class examples, and work on what info you need from customers.
Welcome email: In this day and age, your welcome email is simply an automated process once your customer signs up. During the development process of your welcome email consider segmenting your audience depending on the sign-up entry point, and personalize for this experience.
First login experience: A product tour is a really helpful tool to use in guiding first time users to the main product features. Ideally, aim for 3-5 steps in the tour, although every SaaS company will be different. Another tool to use is the checklist. Customers start learning by doing, plus there is nothing as satisfying than ticking off a completed task.
Ongoing support: The first login experience has gone well, and now comes the support needed to nudge the customer into reaching their ‘aha moment’. If your new user hasn’t completed their onboard checklist, it’s time to reach out to them. And even think about showing off some of the more out-of-the-box features that aren’t covered in the product tour.
Customers are your number one priority. Communicating the value of the product, keeping customers inspired, and having a quick resolution time if things go wrong, are all key ingredients in your customer retention recipe.
A customer retention journey can be as simple as sending a weekly newsletter, sharing customer stories or use cases, and asking them for feedback.
Hearing first hand of your customers' experience with your product is worth its weight in gold. You can learn about pain points and bugs that need to be fixed, or find out about features your customers can’t get enough of and features or capabilities you might be missing.
A customer feedback journey could start with a simple website pop-up on their account page asking how their experience is going.
Your customer will be sent on a specific journey depending on the sentiment provided. In this example, let’s say the customer responded at the lower end of the spectrum.
You can then segment the customer by their MRR, and send them on an appropriate journey. If they are considered a high value customer, then an agent could reach out to them personally. If they have a lower MRR, it can trigger an email response, asking for more detail.
While this example focuses on the negative reaction, it’s just as important to engage with the customers who are enjoying their experience. You could reach out to them to say thank you and offer some help or an exclusive look at a new feature, or ask them to leave you a review in exchange for some swag.
5. Trial abandonment and preventing churn
Let’s face it: it hurts when a trial user doesn’t want to convert or when an existing customer decides they no longer wish to continue using your SaaS product. Churn is one of our least favorite words.
Unfortunately, churn is a normal part of any SaaS business and while it’s impossible to eliminate churn completely, it is possible to reduce it.
So how can you predict if your customers are about to churn? By identifying your “at-risk” customers.
If your customers are in the process of churning (consciously or unconsciously), chances are they’re not using your product as much as they were in the past. It’s important that you try to re-engage these customers.
Re-engaging at-risk customers is easy when using an automated platform like Ortto — and you can do so when changes in a customers’ behavior occur. This would trigger the journey when a drop in product usage occurs. For example, freemium or lower MRR customers can be sent on an automated email flow to re-engage them. Say they don’t click on any email, it then automates aSlack or email alert to ensure your team takes swift action to re-engage with these at-risk customers.
Maybe it could be that there's an automated email flow for some of the freemium or lower MRR customers with the rest being directed straight to the sales team via slack or email?
You can also ask them why they’ve been inactive (it could just be that they haven’t had time to use your product) or ask them for feedback via an NPS survey — regardless of whether they end up churning or not, their feedback is key for identifying areas in need of improvement.
The final word
Understanding your customer is crucial if you want to make your SaaS company sustainable. Spend time outlining your customer journey and the interactions or activities needed to not only convert but turn them into advocates.
Start with the low hanging fruit, and implement your own versions of the five SaaS must-have customer journeys we’ve shared today. It will solve the above problems — and improve their customer experience at the same time.