It’s never been a more interesting time to be a SaaS Growth Marketer.
We’ve got challenges and uncertainty across the economic climate, which has resulted in VCs being more conservative with funding, fast-growing competition (regardless of the vertical you’re in), fluctuating acquisition paid channels (not to mention 3rd-party cookie sunsetting next year), and now, the new era of generative AI.
To say the least, there’s a lot going on.
However, all of this provides an opportunity for SaaS brands and organizations to really focus on areas they can control.
So, what’s the one thing SaaS companies can focus on to drive and unlock more revenue? Yep, it’s retention.
Now, you’ve probably read lots of guides on the latest retention hacks and strategies. I’d assume you would have anyway if you’re reading this.
There are hundreds of strategies, initiatives, experiments, and tests you can run, but over the next six weeks, I’m going to share six key areas of retention which I’ve seen first-hand make a big impact on bottom lines, and what I know leads to better long-term retention rates - which you can control regardless of the current economic landscape.
To give context on who I am, I’ve been a growth marketer for over 8+ years, built two successful businesses, and consult/advise SaaS companies from Seed to Series A/B and companies that generate millions in revenue.
I’ve seen a lot of retention strategies and experiments that have been tested over the years, and the six I’m sharing with you in my Retention & Revenue Series have made materialistic impacts on various SaaS businesses I’ve worked with, or have seen these areas being adopted by some of the world’s best companies.
The good news is that all of the areas are applicable to organizations from seed level to scale-ups.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the first retention strategy that should be a priority for your SaaS organization.
Goal: Get users to the ‘aha’ moment as quickly as possible whilst creating a frictionless experience
User Cohorts: New users (recent signups - 1 Day - 30 Days)
As most of you would know, onboarding is one of the key focal points when it comes to increasing retention.
Personally, your onboarding experience is something you need to obsess over, and it needs to be one of the top priorities for all marketers and product managers.
The chances are, you already know this. But why is having a great onboarding journey now more important than ever?
Acquisition is expensive (and getting harder) - in fact, it’s 5-25x more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to retain them. I know this from being a performance marketer myself and the ever-changing landscape of paid media. You need to make the most out of every single dollar and signup you acquire.
Competition and luxury of choice - chances are that you have multiple competitors in your category. The reality is any new customer and sign-up is actively doing their research, testing options, or doing demo calls with competing solutions. You’re in a race to provide the best first impression. It can’t be just a subpar experience - it needs to be amazing, even for early-stage companies.
Regardless of whether you have an awesome brand presence with many existing users referring to and advocating for your product, new users can still churn and not see the value, even despite recommendations from other friends and colleagues. There’s a good chance you’ve been that user, too.
As we know, it’s hard to win these types of users back.
So, the ultimate goal for onboarding is helping users reach that ‘aha’ moment as quickly as possible. When the ‘aha’ moment is achieved with new users, that ultimately helps improve the chances of retention in the long term.
How does onboarding help with retention, specifically in the long term? I highly recommend reading this post by ProfitWell on user segment retention benchmarks and watching this presentation by Dan Wolchonok on “Why retention is king”. Both are really good for understanding benchmarks on what to focus on when a user signs up.
So, why are checklists/checkpoints and progress bars so important as part of onboarding, in my opinion?
From doing numerous onboarding activation strategies and tests/experiments over the years across numerous industries/verticals, I’ve seen checklists, checkpoints, and progress bars (at least having one of them implemented) prove time and time again to be a great way to increase the activation of new users and quickly get them to that ‘aha’ moment.
And, as we know, once the ‘aha’ moment is realized, it leads to a better retention rate.
In a world filled with information overload and competitive browsing, you want to reduce the cognitive load of users when testing your product for the first time.
It’s about creating that slick experience that’s as frictionless as possible and doesn’t force the user to think strenuously or have to ‘go searching’ for extra information.
As I mentioned earlier, with any new user that signs up, you have to have the expectation in your mind (and your growth teams’ minds) that these users are browsing similar solutions to yours.
After all, that’s what many of us do when exploring new SaaS solutions for our specific use cases, right?
You need to keep in mind - “How can I help the user see value as quickly as possible?”.
The best way to communicate the instant value of the core features and benefits they provide as part of your product (and how it works) is by pointing it out to them right away.
Don’t let the user ‘guess’.
Why checklists/checkpoints and progress bars work
Great for reducing cognitive load
Caters for all user skill level types (sophisticated users, as well as beginners)
‘Aha’ moment - receive value from the product faster (especially as new users are typically comparing your solution to other solutions before they commit further).
What are some of my favorite onboarding examples that are worth looking into further?
Check out this ultimate guide to SaaS onboarding which includes great examples of checklists, progress bars, and product tours from the likes of Webflow, Evernote, Box, and Headspace.
Mistakes to avoid (and recommendations)
These are some of the mistakes I’ve seen many products make:
Hiding the checklist if users don’t complete the initial onboarding tasks. Make it easy to find it again within the product dashboard, and remind users to complete via email automation and in-app prompts (within reason - you don’t want to be annoying). My recommendation is to remind and prompt users via email automation, as well as have a reminder via an in-app notification.
A basic checklist and progress bar is great for initial signups, but don’t make the tasks ‘too easy’ nor just related to ‘sign up’ related tasks - for example, verifying a user’s email. Otherwise, you’ll get a false sense of users being activated. You need to focus more on ‘feature-adoption’ tasks to truly measure how users interact from the moment they sign up.
On the flip side, also ensure that tasks aren’t ‘too hard’ to achieve. Focus on checklist tasks that rise from easy to tasks that require more user action to ‘officially complete onboarding’. Starting with easier tasks will help motivate users to complete the rest.
Experiments and optimizations to consider trying
Here are a couple of initiatives I’ve seen work effectively that are worth considering for your product:
Incorporate checklist steps as simple gifs in emails.
I can say for sure this works from experience, especially for users who don’t complete tasks within the product after they sign up. Regardless of user behaviors, I recommend incorporating gifs into your initial signup/welcome flows.
Another quick idea, in addition to tutorial video gifs, is programmatically incorporating progress updates via emails as part of the onboarding process, like this great example from Honeybook.
Further consideration: throughout each checklist and interactive prompt, have a link for users to view all video tutorials and/or relevant documentation. I’ll dig into this more in part I of this series, about offering personalized support and training for user types. Keep in mind users who are also looking for specific use cases.
Stay tuned for Part II of the Retention & Revenue Series, where I'll dig into why offering highly personalized support for specific customer/user types pays off.
Dan Siepen is a growth marketer from Sydney with over 8+ years of experience across SaaS and eCommerce/DTC. He’s obsessed with all things SaaS marketing, working with some of Australia’s (and overseas) fastest-growing (and very exciting) startups. Plus, he loves and enjoys mentoring startups/entrepreneurs, as well as knowledge sharing across the ever-changing/fast-moving landscape of growth marketing. Make sure to check out his site for awesome growth marketing resources (they’re really great)."