Digital Community of SaaS Product Makers


Case study: Optimizing a SAAS business  (Part 2)

This is a multi-part series of reports on a real-life case study helping a SAAS business find its PMF and reduce the friction of user on-boarding to drive up signup-to-use-to-buy metrics.

In the first part of this series, I covered the broad issues and challenges and the areas that we identified for improvement (link). This report focuses on the changes made, their impact and the way forward from here.

Key Outcomes of Business Review

From our deep dive into what existing users were using and finding most useful, the traffic, the search intent led click ratios, the pilots with prospects and some feedback from the community, we could clearly see that there were immediate gaps in their product positioning & communications especially on the website.

One feedback, from a trusted SAAS community member said “the home page title is very vague and I have no idea what this website is about without clicking further. I think the page needs to sell benefits over features”. That indeed was our own conclusion. The website had to be fixed first.

Customer Targeting: Who is the “Customer”? What customer problem do we solve?

This startup has a broad horizontal offering. Its product can be used by all sizes and types of business customers. This is both a strong positive and a huge challenge. Why? Because it’s hard to determine which “customer” will be an early adopter that the business should go after first. Who has the most immediate need for the product? Which function for that user has the most pressing recurring pain which the product can remove?

Since the startup already had customers, we sliced and diced the customer according to size, industry vertical and business tasks that were being accomplished on the platform. We went into usage metrics — who was using the product, what features, what volume to get a sense of how current customers were deriving value from the product.

We looked at all the inquiries, pilots and conversations with prospects over the past one and half years to see if there was a pattern that identifies customers with an adjacent under-served/un-served need. We also looked at global trends, competitors and their strategy to make sure our targeting was on target!

Armed with this research, we identified 3 types of customers and 4 types of business solutions which were most promising to test PMF. However, we agreed that this was also too many targets to handle together given resources and therefore it was further simplified to 2 types of customers and 4 scenarios that we would test in the first sprint.

Key Website Changes Accomplished

  • Re-do the website positioning and communication to focus on selected customers & business pain points and benefits offered.
  • Leverage the awards, testimonials and user statistics to show the credibility of platform upfront.
  • Re-do the graphics to focus on end-user business use-cases
  • Add business-friendly language and targeted search keywords to the web content.
  • Pitch aspiration nature of the product as a promise of growing as your needs grow.

Fixing the New User On-boarding

One key clue that the user on-boarding was not working was the unpleasant statistics of nearly 125 sign-ups but none of the new users had accomplished even one end-to-end task inside the product. It was almost as if users didn’t know what to do after they had signed up. Clearly the first step after sign-up itself was too intimidating to try.

SAAS wisdom recommends that new users be given a taste of the flavors of the product right at the get-go. Pre-installed templates, sample data, workflows, a working mini-app is highly recommended so that the new sign-up can quickly get a sense of how the software would work for him. If the user can enter some data, see how the sample system changes and experiences the impact of the change, that’s gold class.

Our startup’s On-boarding process was unfortunately not following this wisdom. New accounts were essentially presented an empty canvas and a very complex list of “launchers” to choose to begin exploring the product. There was no user documentation on screen (it was hidden under menus), no videos demonstrating what to do (hidden away).

Key On-boarding process introduced

  • Install 4 of the top used solutions as samples into the new trial account with full set of sample data
  • Open a user guide with crisp instructions explaining the screen layout, solution, data and specific steps the new user can take to experience the solution
  • Integrate Hotjar to observe new user signup behavior and further improve /simplify on-boarding till users can accomplish end-to-end task within first few minutes

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Optimizations

With the newly identified target customers, target business use cases and the revised website content in place, the SEM campaigns were revised to align with this new strategy. A set of landing pages were designed to present relevant, contextual value proposition to the visitor from his search to ad to landing page.

The Outcome?

  • Sign-up to New Visitors went up from 3.05% to 8.28% with these changes. That’s a growth of 170%!!
  • Avg session duration went up from 2:00 to 2:24 (20% higher) indicating more relevant content on the website. This inspite of creating single page landing pages (increase bounce rate).
  • Avg cost of click went down from 46.7 to 19.5, improvement of 66%.

Great results at the top of the funnel. We were delighted. But there was a big problem.

While sign-ups had increased significantly, the number of “aborted sign-ups”, ie folks who signed up but exited before the new user account could be set up was inordinately high. We were spending money to bring prospects, getting them to sign-up and losing them. Why? This had to be fixed.

Fixing the “abort before user account creation”

A quick look at Hotjar videos to see why users would abort before the account creation revealed the problem — blank screen with too much wait time. In an age of “impatience” the startup was losing trial users who would be wondering “what’s going on” as the software presented a blank screen for nearly a minute or so. The fixes were simple:

  • Add messaging for the user about the time it would take to setup
  • Build business benefit and customer testimonial presentation during the time it takes to create the new user setup
  • Reduce new user setup time to minimum possible

The New Result?

Fixing the wait time for new account setup and communicating the time estimated cuts “abort” rate by 50% immediately.

So that’s where we are at, at the end of Month #2. The jig for Target User #1 Cohort is in place and being tested. Early data is showing positive trends. Now we have to get these sign-ups deeply into the product experience and use drip mail, rewards, offers and plain sales hustle to drive higher conversion. And start working on Target User #2 Cohort. More on that in our next report.

Can you help us on our journey?

If you have read this far, clearly you are into SAAS and we could use your help. You are welcome to visit the website of our startup, and sign-up for a free trial. Do review the changes described in this article and send us your feedback/ideas on the same. We will share credits with folks who send in great suggestions.

If you are interested in following our case study? Pl share your email in the comment below and I will mail you the PDF as we publish more updates. Pl share work email only. No gmail, please.

About author

Arvind mentors various SAAS startups around product road-map, GTM, brand building, some "angel" funds, and ideas. He writes & talks about mobile tech, digital content monetization, clean politics, innovation. Building SAAS community in NCR.