User onboarding is one of the topics that any SaaS entrepreneur will inevitably spend a lot of time on. If your SaaS product comes with a free trial, chances are that a large number of your signups come and go - they’re eager to just to get a glimpse of what it is about - and then move on. Your time is precious so you don’t want to spend too much time on those passers by, but you still want to provide each new signup a great experience. That’s when automation comes handy.
Here’s some tips for automating your signup workflow so that you can spend more time improving your product and less time on doing manual tasks.
All the tools we used are free (at least for a small team like us).
The basics of user onboarding
When a visitor signs up to our free trial, there’s a list of things we need to do, including:
- Send the new signee a welcome email with instructions
- Add a new record our CRM
- Add user to our email list so that we can keep in touch later
- Track how this user is using our product during trial so that we can provide assistance when needed
This could quickly become tedious and the manual work involved is only going to increase the more signups you have. That became clear for us early on with our first signups. We quickly found ourselves in a position of trying to juggle with too many balls. The more signups you have, the more things there is to keep track of.
We realised that we needed a process and tools. Here’s what we did to automate some of the most tedious work involved.
The tools we use
We use Slack as our internal communication channel and all our discussion is there - we do not use email internally at all. We also needed a tool to keep track of our signups - something a bit more capable than a spreadsheet. Yes, a CRM. There’s a tons of options but we wanted something that is simple yet provides enough customisation options so that we could tailor it to meet our needs. Our first pick was Insightly, and while it’s not perfectly suited for managing a subscription business like ours, it seemed to fit our needs for the time being. It’s been a time saver for us.
Once a visitor signs up through our online form, an automated email is triggered to notify us about it. The message is copied to Slack so that the rest of the team can pick it up and proceed with setting up the trial (manual step 1). After that we add new email address to our signups-list in Mailchimp (manual step 2). We also create a record to Insightly and place the prospect to the start of our funnel (manual step 3).
Here’s what our free trial process looks like
- Customer signs up for a free trial
- Customer enables access to the the task tracking tool that the team is using
- Customer uses our product
- Customer either leaves or signs up for a paid plan
We have a 30 day free trial and during that time we want customers to find out whether the product is for them. We also want to keep them informed about the state of the trial and provide assistance. For that purpose, we send the following emails:
- Welcome email
- Mid-trial contacting
- Trial is about to end
- Trial has ended
We want to send these email manually even though they could be automated. Why is that? It forces us to think whether the content and timing makes sense, before we hit the send button. That helps us to improve. But it also means that we need to keep track on what has been already sent and what should be sent next (manual step 4).
How to make it all play together?
So we have a variety tools that we use, each performing one part of the whole. But how to make them to play together, rather than them becoming isolated islands? That’s where Zapier comes to rescue. What they say on their website is
“Zapier makes it easy to automate tasks between web apps"
Essentially, it enables you to perform some simple integrations where you take some input from one tool and send it to an API of another tool. That sounded like what we needed so we decided to give it a try. Once you've signed up, you are given tools to integrate the products that you are using. In the language of Zapier, such integrations are called zaps. With a small effort, we had three of them configured:
Here’s what they do (from top to down)
- The first one informs our team about new signups in a dedicated channel in Slack.
- Once a new message comes there, it’s picked up by our customer support person who creates a new record to Insightly. This new record triggers another zap, which adds the newly created user into our Mailchimp list.
- We get an email notification when a trial customer has provided us access to their task tracking tool. This notification is routed to our Slack using yet another zap.
Nice! Setting up a zap is straightforward and it took only few minutes to get these three up and running. It has a growing library of integrations and supports variety of tools for any given purpose. Highly recommended!
Another challenge we had was with managing the process of sending lifecycle emails. There’s always some level of hand-helding you have to do in order to get this user to see the value of your product. You can’t really expect customer to proactively investigate your product to figure out how it might be useful. What you need is automated emails that are triggered from pre-defined events such as calendar dates or based on activities that the user has done with your product so far. But how to make sure all emails are sent timely. As said, for the time being, we want to send them manually.
Fortunately, Insightly provides a feature called Activity sets. It allows you to schedule tasks based on certain calendar events and send them as reminders to selected team members. To start with, we defined three
When a new signup is added to Insightly, it’s associated with a record set to generate a set of tasks that we want to be performed timely. When a task is due, we get the following notification emailed to us.
While we haven’t battle-tested our new process and toolchain with large number of signups, it certainly improved our onboarding process and that will serve us for now. We have our tools playing together so that we there's less tedious data entry work to do. The more we can automate our work, the more time we can spend on creating value for our customers. Automation, like anything else we do, will be an iterative process.