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The onboarding metrics that determine SaaS success

12th Jun 2021
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You’ve successfully hit go-live for your SaaS product. Now what? 

In crunch mode, the focus is on planning, implementing, and putting out fires – and understandably, after a hectic process, you may be tempted to celebrate and move on to the next project. However, your success depends on taking time to analyze the process and ensure you’re achieving your goals and meeting your customers’ expectations. Reflecting on the customer journey and, more importantly, how the customer feels about the onboarding process will determine whether you have a lifelong supporter or a disillusioned subscriber and a looming churn issue. 

Losing customers will cost you in more ways than one: aside from the lost revenue and the wasted Customer Acquisition Cost (92% of first-year revenue for the median startup), a high churn rate can lead to lower valuations, less investor interest, and serious financial implications for your company’s future. That’s why it is vital that you ensure your activation and retention processes are effective.

“During onboarding, our Success team tries to understand the business objectives of the customer and customize their experience to yield benefits at the earliest opportunity,” says Khadim Batti, the CEO and Co-Founder of Whatfix. “Such a process allows us to optimize our relationship with the customer and 1) help them find the ROI within the first year, 2) fine-tune their experience and conduct experiments for further use cases, 3) clearly understand their feedback on value delivered/efficacy, and most importantly, 4) build credibility and trust that in turn creates a success story with the customer and potential for expanding our relationship further.”

Activation and customer retention are deeply rooted in the onboarding process. The only way for you to improve and hone your customer journey is by benchmarking, assessing, and evaluating the process and experience at each stage to see how your team can do more and do better -- every time. 

In this article, we look at the key onboarding metrics for assessing engagement, adoption, and progress throughout the onboarding phase.

Key SaaS customer onboarding metrics 

Before we dive into the specific customer success metrics, we need to distinguish between metrics and KPIs. Metrics refer to quantitative data collected to measure and track statuses of various business processes or their outcomes. KPIs, on the other hand, are the specific measurements that relate to performance, targets, and objectives of a company or team. 

Another caveat: The relevance of onboarding metrics will vary across organizations, teams, and project phases. Customers will buy the same product for different reasons. Both your onboarding framework and the metrics require adaptability. 

The following metrics offer important insights into the health of an organization and its onboarding process. The ones your organization chooses to use will depend on the specific needs of your product and team.  

Product and project metrics 

  1. Go-live time: If you’re an early-stage team or are at an early phase of onboarding, you’ll want to measure the time required to go live. This metric works best if your product has limited features or has a homogeneous set of users. This also works well when customers cannot start observing and deriving value from your service immediately. If customers will not immediately see a return, you may want to implement a simple, faster onboarding process so that customers can move further along their adoption journey. 
  2. Completion percentage at go-live: For enterprise customer onboarding, you can also look at the completion percentage of the project at go-live. Sometimes, you may have to sacrifice a lot of the initial scope to ensure an on-time launch. So be aware of what percentage of agreed-upon scope is delivered at go-live. 
  3. ROI / Value Delivery: Capturing value delivered at go-live or soon after (30, 60, 90 days) is difficult but is among the most important metrics for your team to measure. As scope changes happen during implementation, it is critical to keep tabs on how that has influenced your value delivery. Too little ROI delivered at the promised time may reduce retention and usage. 
  4. Onboarding CSAT or NPS: The CSAT or Net Promoter Score (NPS) gauges customer sentiment towards your product. It is a measure of their overall satisfaction and can vary across teams, organizations, or products depending on which onboarding pathway works best. Here, timing is everything. The more accurately-timed your survey is, the more reliable and accurate the result.
  5. Time to First Value (TTFV): This is probably the most important determinant of success with your customer. TTFV is the time from sale to the moment that your customer starts to see value from your product. For example, it could be the first moment you hit a certain percentage cost or time saved for the customer, or when you are able to demonstrate increase in employee / customer satisfaction through your solution. In mature companies, go-live times are replaced by Time-To-First-Value (TTFV). To win customers over from the start, show them an early value without forcing them to learn all about your product features during the onboarding process. 
  6. Product adoption / usage metrics: This is a great indicator of both the success of your onboarding and future retention.  Product adoption/usage rate allows you to measure the level of engagement your customer has with your product, based on how often they use it and for how long. A simple metric to use here could be Daily Active Users (DAU) and Monthly Active Users (MAU) to calculate how many users are active on your platform on a daily or monthly basis.

Additional metrics

While customers primarily care about the metrics that directly impact them (and their ROI), mature onboarding teams will also gather performance-based metrics, such as utilization rate, time spent by tasks/phases, and CSAT per phase (to establish benchmarks). These reflect your team’s efficiency and experience delivered and can reveal valuable insights about what processes work well and where disaster looms. 

Weighing your options

In all of these metrics, there’s a fine balance between time-to-value and your team’s resource utilization. An excessive focus on speed could lead to overworked onboarding teams, reduced scope, or customer confusion -- and therefore, decreased customer satisfaction. Focus too much on resource utilization rate or efficiency, and you risk a longer time-to-value. 

Your approach depends on your stage of the journey and your maturity as an organization. That being said, certain principles apply across the board. Keeping the focus on ROI and value realization will help you stay on the right track. The sooner your customers start seeing and realizing value, the sooner they will become loyal supporters of your team and your business.

Ultimately, whatever metrics you use should give your organization concrete information about how well your onboarding process works for both the customer and your team. Evaluating your performance and implementing better practices are essential for creating repeatable and scalable success. Armed with the right information, you can ensure that you deliver an exceptional onboarding experience time and time again.

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