In any business, the key to creating loyal customers lies in your ability to empathize with them from the moment they discover your brand until they become paying customers and beyond.
With a SaaS product, empathizing with your product users begins with envisioning their customer journeys.
This article will teach you how to effectively map the SaaS customer journey.
What Is the SaaS Customer Journey?
A SaaS customer journey is a path showing the stages customers go through from when they discover a brand to when they become paid users and brand advocates. SaaS companies rely on customer journey maps to provide a visual representation of:
- Each stage of the entire customer journey;
- The various customer touchpoints at each stage; and
- Any friction that prevents adoption and, ultimately, customer retention.
With these insights, designing the perfect SaaS marketing campaign for your brand becomes so much easier. You’ll know what potential users look for at each stage of the journey. This allows you to create the right content and message for them.
In theory, this is a smooth process that goes from step A to step Z. The reality is more complicated.
This illustration from Gartner about the typical B2B buyers’ journey nicely illustrates my point.
Still, understanding the touchpoints also shows you where to anticipate customer interactions.
You can then refine these touchpoints to deliver a seamless experience.
For example, customer onboarding is a critical touchpoint. Enhancing it can make all the difference, allowing you to easily upgrade more users to premium plans and, more importantly, retain those users long-time.
What Are the Stages of the SaaS Customer Journey
A typical SaaS customer journey consists of five main stages: awareness, consideration, purchase, adoption, and advocacy. You’ve probably seen one of these base sales funnel images.
When you align it with customer touchpoints it might look a little something like this.
That should give you an overview of the SaaS customer journey. Let’s quickly take a closer look at the different stages.
The awareness stage is the first stage of a typical SaaS customer journey. It begins when a potential customer realizes they have a problem that needs to be solved.
The prospect begins their search for solutions to that problem.
Let’s assume a particular prospect owns an ecommerce business and struggles with cart abandonment. Such a prospect will likely search for something like “how to reduce cart abandonment.”
That’s a pretty general query, but it seeks to address a specific problem. During their search, they will likely find a tip suggesting they use email marketing to reduce cart abandonment. As they search this further, they’ll be introduced to saas email marketing tools.
That could bring them to the next stage of their journey: consideration.
During the consideration stage, the potential customer discovers your SaaS product through touchpoints like an online review that points them to your website. They could also discover you through your own blog content.
Depending on the touchpoint, your potential customer may spend time learning about how your SaaS product helps to solve their problem and how it compares to other solutions. Once convinced of its utility, they’ll move on to the next stage of their journey.
At the purchase or acquisition stage, curious users (or decision-makers purchasing for their team) take the plunge and either sign up for a free trial or purchase a subscription tier.
Given that this stage results in a conversion, it also confirms the effectiveness (or otherwise) of your marketing efforts.
The adoption stage is one of the key stages of a customer journey, as it’s the point where a prospect becomes a full-time customer.
Having completed the onboarding process and used your SaaS product for a trial or subscription period, a customer at this stage of their journey renews their subscription repeatedly.
In essence, the adoption stage confirms that your SaaS product has become an indispensable part of a customer’s workflow.
Here’s a tip: your onboarding experience can determine how quickly a customer reaches this stage of their journey (if at all). In other words, the quicker a customer can get up and running with your SaaS product, the higher the likelihood of them adopting it into their workflow.
This is the final stage of the customer journey, and it’s where you want your customers to end up. If your SaaS product delivers customer satisfaction, your happy customers will spread the word for free.
A single customer can convince others to try your product, resulting in more long-term users if it’s good enough. This also lowers your customer acquisition costs and increases the ROI of your marketing budget.
Many companies typically make it easy for their customers to be brand advocates by running referral programs where rewarding referrals with a percentage of the sale is common.
How to Map the Customer Journey
Here’s how to map a SaaS customer journey in six steps:
1. Set Your Goals
When creating a customer journey map, it’s essential you know what you want to achieve.
There are innumerable goals behind creating a user journey map.
For example, you might be trying to improve the onboarding flow by shortening or streamlining the onboarding process. It’s possible you’d like to generate more leads and increase your product’s conversion rates.
Ideally, you should set one North Star goal. This is the overarching target you’re trying to achieve. It’s generally a target linked to revenue. For example: Increase ARR to $500,000.
You can then break down that overarching goal into sub-goals. These are goals that can be assigned to individuals or departments. The graphic above illustrates how this works in practice.
Use a priority matrix to figure out which goals to focus on. Start with the goals that are the easiest to achieve and have the highest likely impact. That ensures you allocate your resources effectively.
Knowing your goal sets the stage for creating more effective customer journey maps.
2. Define Your Target Audience
Defining your target audience is important because it helps you pinpoint who exactly your marketing team will be communicating to.
In other words, without knowing who your target audience is, you could send the right message to the wrong people. Or, you could send a totally wrong message that won’t resonate with the audience. Either way, you’re wasting time and losing prospects.
To illustrate my point, let’s consider the audiences of B2C vs B2B marketing.
In the former business model, your product’s end user and the person making the purchasing decision may be the same.
That’s not always the case in the latter business model. In B2B SaaS, the final decision on whether to invest in your SaaS may lie with a decision-maker who never even uses it. Their team uses the product, but they’re the ones who call the shots on whether to invest in a particular product or not.
Make identifying your audience easier by creating customer personas.
A user persona is a fictional stand-in for your ideal customer. They comprise demographic (age, sex, ethnicity, marital status, etc.) and psychographic (lifestyle, interests, values, personality, etc.) data. This data helps you understand who they are and empathize with them.
As to where to get this data, some good places to look include:
- Ask your existing customers directly
- Analyze your customer database
- Do a competitor analysis to see what their audience looks like
- Dig through publications by research firms (e.g., Statista)
You can think of user personas like story characters: you’d give your character a name, gender, age, occupation, physical traits, foibles, problems, and so on. Creating a user persona works in a similar way.
You can create an overview of your persona. This makes it easier for your team to visualize the audience.
With user personas, it becomes easier to create a data-backed customer journey. Personas can help your team figure out how to boost conversions and deliver an amazing user experience.
3. Identify Customer Touch Points
Think of touchpoints as key conversion events. They’re the moments a prospective customer interacts with your brand. You can either create them yourself or rely on the touchpoints created by others.
As mentioned above, each customer journey stage has distinct touchpoints. However, for the sake of brevity, the stages and their critical touchpoints, which shape customer experiences the most include:
- Consideration Stage: the touchpoints at this stage include blog posts about your SaaS product, testimonials on your website, and reviews on other websites or blogs.
- Purchase Stage: critical purchase stage touchpoints include signing up for a free trial or freemium tier and making or completing a demo request.
- Adoption Stage: adoption stage touchpoints include self-service resources, email, and in-app notifications, tutorials (whether as a series of videos or a webinar), and onboarding emails that speed up product adoption.
Identifying these touchpoints increases your chances of getting your customers to the end of their customer lifecycle. The graphic below provides a nice illustration of common customer touchpoints in the B2B buying process for SaaS companies.
The consideration stage touchpoints draw them in, the purchase stage touchpoints show them your product’s usefulness, and the adoption stage touchpoints make your product an indispensable part of their workflow.
4. Establish the Stages of the Customer Journey
If you haven’t done so already, identify the various stages of your customer’s journey maps. As already mentioned, they include:
With this high-level view of your customer’s thoughts and emotions when they interact with your brand, you can smoothen their journey from prospects to advocates.
5. Define Customer Milestones
Customer milestones help determine whether your customers are progressing along their buyer journeys. Therefore, no customer journey mapping process is complete without this step.
You must define and watch out for the following key customer milestones:
- Bookings for product demos
- Free trial sign-ups
- Account activations
- Onboarding completions
- Subscription renewals
- Upgrades to paid accounts with advanced features
You can use different tools to monitor these milestones. For example, Google Analytics can show how long users interact with your blog posts, how many people sign up for your newsletter or product, etc.
Meanwhile, a CRM will show how many users upgrade to a paid account. Or an action like when one user refers another prospect who converts, and so on. You’ll need to identify these milestones and get the tools that’ll help you track each one of them.
6. Set Your KPIs
Finally, it helps to set key performance indicators for the various stages of a customer’s journey. These SaaS marketing metrics help you measure how effective your touchpoints are in moving customers along their journeys.
KPIs for the awareness stage may include:
- Bounce rate
- Average time on page
For the consideration stage, the KPIs to watch are:
- Click-through rate
- Conversion rate
Purchase stage KPIs include:
- Conversion rate
The KPIs for the adoption stage include:
- Customer satisfaction (through CSAT scores)
- Customer lifetime value
Finally, the KPIs for the advocacy stage are:
- Net Promoter Score (NPS)
You can measure most of the KPIs mentioned above using analytics tools (e.g., Google Analytics, CRMs, etc.).
Critical Customer Journey Touchpoints
While I briefly mentioned some customer journey touchpoints earlier, some critical touchpoints warrant more discussion.
1. Lead Nurture
The consideration stage of the customer journey presents the opportunity to nurture leads and convert them into customers. A critical touchpoint at this juncture may include a call to action on your website;
- That precedes a form submission event (e.g., “Get the Free Trial,” “Sign Up for Our Newsletter”); or
- That results in a prospective customer calling you (e.g., “Get a Quote”).
Another increasingly common touchpoint may be a chatbot your customers interact with when making inquiries on your website. Resources like FAQs, demo videos, and blog posts can also be touchpoints in moving customers to the purchase stage.
Your business model will determine the way you nurture leads when they reach the above touchpoints.
In B2C SaaS, lead nurture may take the form of email confirmations and follow-up emails. By contrast, B2B purchases may need more than that. They’ll have to be more involved and personal. For example, it may require making a follow-up phone call to schedule an appointment after providing a live demo.
2. Trial Conversion
Due to the nature of SaaS marketing, where free trials are standard, the adoption stage of a customer’s journey is your chance to convert prospects into paying customers.
Touchpoints like video tutorials and tooltips that explain the software’s features can help to build proficiency with your SaaS (more below).
However, in-app notifications are among the most critical touch points at this stage, as they constitute upsell mechanisms for converting a free user to a paying customer.
For example, in the image below, Grammarly alerts free users to additional writing issues in their documents.
But the app informs them that solving these issues is only available to premium users. They proceed to display a prominent “Go Premium” call to action button.
3. Onboarding Experience
I can’t stress enough how essential the onboarding experience is to converting and keeping customers. Users will never upgrade or renew their subscriptions unless they see value in your product. The onboarding process presents perhaps the best opportunity to demonstrate this value to users.
Typical SaaS onboarding goals include:
- Teaching prospective customers how to use your SaaS product;
- Revealing the product’s benefits;
- Making the SaaS product stand out against competitor offerings; and
- Providing an excellent user experience that encourages recurrent subscriptions
Your adoption stage touchpoints should help you achieve the above goals.
As already mentioned, tooltips that pop up when a user hovers over a menu button can help demystify what your SaaS product does:
In the above image, a tooltip appears when a user hovers over the move tool in Adobe Photoshop. It teaches the user what the tool does, fulfilling goal one for onboarding.
Emails also play an important role in user onboarding.
Squares shares some of its core features and briefly discusses how each works through emails. They also provide links to additional resources that users can read for more insights.
Create similar email drips to enhance the customer onboarding experience. Ensure the emails also provide contact details in case users want to chat with the customer support team.
4. Preventing Churn
Churn prevention is something you’ll grapple with as a SaaS business owner. If you want your customers to renew their subscriptions, you must streamline key touchpoints like onboarding and customer support.
You’ll also want to invest in re-engagement emails. They remind users who haven’t used your product that it exists and what they’re missing out on. That’s what Asana does with the following re-engagement email.
Providing a responsive customer support team and self-service resources like FAQ and troubleshooting blog content is also critical in preventing churn.
When tracking how users engage with your SaaS, consider emailing customers who have yet to use the product’s core features. Such users tend to reconsider their investment in a product since they can’t draw the value of your core features.
Email them in advance, alerting them of the presence and impact of those features. This can help stop them from ever thinking about churning.
Finally, you can send surveys to customers who unsubscribed to your SaaS to collect feedback on why they left. This feedback will help improve your SaaS product to prevent further customer churn.
SaaS Customer Journey FAQ
The five stages of the SaaS customer journey are awareness, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy. To track the customer journey effectively you need to establish and track customer touchpoints.
The most important phases of the SaaS customer journey are purchase and onboarding. Companies that focus on customer success at the expense of other metrics tend to win in the long term. This guide provides some tricks to help you achieve that goal.
Building a SaaS customer journey map is essential if you want to convert first-time users of your SaaS to recurring subscribers and evangelists. This article took you through the six steps of mapping a SaaS customer journey -from establishing your brand’s goals to defining customer milestones and setting your KPIs. You’ve also learned of the critical touchpoints and how to improve them.
For help and insights with your SaaS marketing efforts, get in touch. We’re experts at content marketing and can help you design effective customer acquisition strategies.
Nico is the founder of Crunch Marketing, a SaaS marketing agency. He works with enterprise SaaS clients like Writer, Right Inbox, and Surfer SEO, helping them scale lead generation globally across EMEA, APAC, and other regions.