Three metrics for customer onboarding

Why success looks different for each SaaS company

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Jonathan Anderson
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We’ve talked about how product enablement teams can boost user activation. We’ve explored ways to define what “user activation” actually is. But how do we know when an entire customer account has been successfully onboarded, as opposed to a single user? What does a customer onboarding victory look like?

Powerful SaaS products are awash in features, not all of which are right for all users. Products are constantly changing thanks to today’s agile release cycles, and users’ differing learning styles mean there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to getting users on board. Onboarding requires a careful, hands-on approach that can be hard to scale and even harder to measure.

Measurement is key to understanding and improving the customer onboarding experience, but how do we define success? Is it when the first user is onboarded? Multiple users at an account? Is it about repeat use from a core set of power users, or is it about broad adoption?

When it comes to measuring the success of your customer onboarding, there are three solid options. Which one is right for you depends on your business model. Here, we’ll help you identify which one you should be working with.

1. Account Penetration: Focusing on the Numbers

Account penetration refers to the number of active users at a single account or the percentage of active users to seats sold. Depending on your business model, each SaaS product will have different goals in mind here.

A piece of HR software, for example, is intended to be used by a small segment of a company, meaning that you should be focusing on a core group of superusers. A chat app, on the other hand, is only valuable if everyone in an organization is using it, so your goal should be to onboard as many individuals as possible as quickly as possible.

Therefore, the question you should be asking yourself here is what percentage of an account is using your software that should be using it. The key is to understand the account’s health, the speed of adoption, and whether those numbers are trending upwards or downwards.

2. Depth of Usage: Quality over Quantity

Whereas account penetration focuses on the numbers, depth of usage is a measurement of how well your product is being used, rather than by how many. You may have just a small group of core users (representing a low account penetration rate), but if the users you do have continue to log in over and over again, using all of the features that help them get their work done well, then the depth of your software adoption is excellent.

Data for the individual user — as opposed to the entire account — is often stored in your product or data warehouse and may not be aggregated cleanly at the account level, so the numbers for account penetration and depth of usage may live in different spots and at different levels. But, if you’re providing a niche product (like that HR software we mentioned above), the behavior of individual users will be more important to you than broad adoption, and depth of usage is your success metric!

3. Platform Score: The Best of Both Worlds

Think of a platform score as a weighted average of different user behaviors across all users of an account.

Your platform score balances depth and breadth, giving credence both to the power of superusers and to the power of the crowd.

Focusing on your platform score makes sense when qualitative and quantitative factors are weighted appropriately, but that takes a deep understanding of how your application creates value. Therefore, this metric is best battle-tested cross-functionally, leveraging the data from your product and on-the-ground knowledge of what your customer-facing teams hear from the people using your products.

Once set up, a platform score can be a great communication tool throughout your organization, as well as to help drive decisions about what levers you need to pull in order to improve renewal rates.

Differing Definitions of Success

No matter which metric you choose, it’s important to dig into the data at the individual account level to understand the underlying user behavior and provide support in the right places. If the lion’s share of an account’s health depends on one user, then make sure that the individual gets your full attention. If it’s a set of users, you’ll need a one-to-many approach to ensure everyone is getting on board.

Ultimately, defining success in onboarding will (and should!) be a little different for each SaaS company, but it should be done collaboratively, taking into account how your product creates value for individual users and customers. When done correctly, this approach can give you valuable insights from day one, allowing you to help users learn and grow so they stay happy customers for the long haul.


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