The software onboarding process and why one size doesn’t fit all

Start as you mean to go on.

Put your best foot forward.

First impressions count.

Numerous sayings emphasise the importance of starting something in the best way possible. And these maxims also apply to your software onboarding process.

The phase between the customer choosing your solution and being a fully set-up user is the start of your relationship. Here, then, you need to make sure that you put your best foot forward.

As such, you might lean towards so-called ‘best practice’ tips when designing your software onboarding process. But that’s not necessarily the best idea.

What are ‘best practice’ tips?

To understand why one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to your software onboarding process, it’s worth thinking about what best practice tips are. ‘Best practice’ comes from what works best for successful businesses. It’s looking at what others have done and using those processes in the hopes of replicating their success.

At face value, that makes sense. And, in some cases, (such as with simple, overarching concepts), best practice tips work. They can echo common sense and set a widely-used standard practice.

But what best practice tips ignore is why these processes work for these companies. Similar companies might find success with similar processes. But if the advice doesn’t suit the software, then it’s not going to be as effective.

This is why you can often find conflicting best practice guides — one size doesn’t fit all. The successful processes are those tailored to the business, the software, and the customer.

Many levels to the onboarding process

Any software onboarding process is a multifaceted beast. There are several steps in the phase between a customer deciding to try your software and them using it in a way that gives them value. And each of these steps are changeable. They’re dependant on your software offering, your culture, the customer, and your other processes.

Onboarding, in some cases, means finding the pricing option that works for the customer. It can mean selecting features or add-ons. It can include demos and free trials, or it could be a case of download and go. Some customers will need training, some won’t. And it all depends on your unique offering.

In short, there are different onboarding needs for different products and different customers. So, you need to tailor your software onboarding process to reflect its complexity and your customer base.

Finding your own ‘best practice’

There are many factors to consider when carving out the right onboarding process for your business.

•       Your pricing strategy and purchase cycle

Part of the software onboarding process is agreeing on payment terms with your new customer. So, your pricing strategy (which your features and plans will impact) impact your onboarding.

For example, software with a single download option or a shorter purchase cycle will likely suit a fixed, easily displayed price. Meanwhile, more complex offerings or longer purchase cycles will make your pricing vary based on customer needs. So, your onboarding process should include that conversation with the new user.

•       Feature options

Your software onboarding process will also need to adapt to how you manage your features. Some products have a range of extra features to choose from, and others are download and go.

If most of your features are available out-of-the-box, then you’ll likely find a faster, instant trial effective. But, this isn’t the case for software with features available as requestable add-ons. In these cases, a slower onboarding process helps you ensure the user has everything they want/need. 

Along a similar vein is how easy the product is to customise or fine-tune. (If, that is, your software offers such functionality.) If it’s quick and easy, your onboarding process will require less attention on these features than if it involves several steps. 

•       How much the value proposition flexes when used by different teams or industries

If your product caters to a variety of industries, teams or users, then the type of customer you’re onboarding will impact the value of your features. In cases where your software is not simple to set up and use — or will have different use paths based on the customer, a demo can help your new user get started.

Simply put, some software is complex enough that a demo adds value to the onboarding process. It helps users see how the product answers their primary needs.

•       The conversion rate of unassisted trials

A common best practice tip is to offer a free trial. Free trials are a great way to let your users explore your software and find the value it can provide them.

But trials don’t work for everyone. If you need training to use the product, an unassisted trial isn’t going to demonstrate the value you’re offering. Rather, users could end up getting stuck and bouncing to your competitors. (In such cases, a demo could prove more beneficial.)

If trials have a low conversion rate, they’re not the best practice for your business.

•       The need for training

This brings us to the need for training. Training is another key part of the software onboarding process, but not every software program requires training to use.

So, consider whether your onboarding process needs to include training, and how best you can offer it.

No shortcut

People aren’t one size fits all. Businesses aren’t one size fits all. So, why should your software onboarding process be? The ‘best practice’ in the case of your software onboarding process is to find, analyse, review and implement what works for your business.

Shoehorning best practice rules into your process and hoping it works is the equivalent of trying to take a shortcut in an unfamiliar land. You might be lucky enough for it to work. But you’re more likely to get lost.

Useful links

The tech market and why the winner takes it all

SaaS pricing models explained

The fallacy of not selling features