GuidesCustomer researchA guide to mastering the SaaS customer journey

A guide to mastering the SaaS customer journey

Last updated

29 February 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Hugh Good

SaaS companies compete on a global stage for the attention of potential customers. Even if you gain your target audience’s attention, the churn risk is incredibly high at any point in the customer journey. This is because there are so many options. Customers can switch to the competition in a couple of clicks, leaving you scrambling to make up the numbers.

High churn rates don’t have to be the norm for your SaaS business. You can start lowering churn rates and increasing customer retention by better understanding the customer journey. The key to this is a SaaS customer journey map.

A customer journey map visually represents how potential customers become loyal users and brand advocates. Visualizing the process can help you enhance the customer’s experience, removing roadblocks and reducing friction to keep customers engaged with your SaaS brand. Creating exceptional customer experiences enables you to retain more customers in your sales funnel, lowering the acquisition cost and boosting your bottom line.

But how do you create and use a SaaS customer journey map?

This guide will show you how to master the SaaS customer journey. You’ll learn how to create a visual representation of the customer journey, identify opportunities and friction points, and use your map to create incredible customer experiences.

What is SaaS customer journey mapping?

Customer journey mapping visualizes the path your customers take, from learning about your product to becoming loyal advocates. The map charts their experience with your company, including every interaction they have with your brand.

Brand owners in any industry can utilize a customer journey map. However, the process is pretty unique for the SaaS industry.

The most significant difference is that the customer journey in the SaaS industry is relatively predictable. Most customers take a fairly linear journey with your brand, making it easy to predict their pathways and easier to control their experiences. This means that the changes you make to the customer journey should impact most of the customers on it—good news if you’re trying to reduce churn and enhance the customer experience.

The SaaS customer journey also primarily occurs within your ecosystem. Unlike other industries, your customers will most likely interact with your brand on channels you control, such as your website or app, making their journey much easier to track. The data you get from these interactions can help you make every interaction more impactful.

The SaaS customer journey map will also focus on user adoption. You’ll want to identify conversion points and any barriers preventing potential customers from becoming avid users.

Why is customer journey mapping important for SaaS companies?

Customer journey mapping can be tremendously valuable for SaaS companies, especially in such a competitive industry.

Here’s an overview of the value it provides:

  • Identifies friction points. Friction points are things that make it difficult for the customer to adopt your product. Being aware of friction points allows you to take proactive steps to ease or remove that friction, reducing churn and boosting retention rates.

  • Strengthens customer relationships. Mapping the customer journey can help you understand what your customers need and what motivates them at every stage. With that understanding, you can tailor your messaging and give them more specific support to make their journey with your brand more engaging and personal.

  • Uncovers onboarding roadblocks. Onboarding is a big part of the SaaS customer journey, and mapping can show you where customers struggle to use your product effectively. You can help remove those roadblocks with better support, clearer documentation, and improved user interfaces.

  • Increases engagement. Are you missing key opportunities to engage with your customers? Are there touchpoints that you could strengthen or better utilize? By analyzing their SaaS journey, you can ensure customers stay engaged with your product and get value from their subscriptions.

  • Improves customer lifetime value. Customer renewals are a critical factor in the success of a SaaS service. Mapping can help you identify why customers do (or don’t) renew their subscriptions and help you implement strategies to keep them returning for more. This is a key factor in increasing customer lifetime value and your overall success.

6 stages of SaaS customer journey maps

When you create a SaaS customer journey map, you’ll want to categorize touchpoints within the six customer journey stages. Understanding these stages can help you build a better customer journey and foster more loyalty among users.

1. Awareness

Awareness is the first stage of the customer journey, laying the foundation for everything that will come next.

During the awareness stage, customers acknowledge a problem or need that your product can solve. They might be actively searching for a solution or browsing industry content like articles and webinars. Or, they could simply stumble upon your brand through social media engagement.

The goal at this stage is to build awareness and position your product or service as the natural answer to the customer’s question or problem. You’ll want to craft targeted messaging addressing their pain points and highlighting how you can help.

Touchpoints

  • Blog posts

  • Social media posts

  • Online searches

  • Industry reports

  • Competitor comparisons

  • Referrals

2. Acquisition and onboarding

At this stage, customers move from awareness to consideration. They explore your product and consider what it offers, comparing it to any alternatives that may be available to them.

In the SaaS industry, this stage often focuses on touchpoints like free trials and demonstrations, allowing customers to experience the product first-hand.

This stage in the customer journey also includes onboarding, which is fairly unique to the SaaS industry and crucial for converting customers into paying users. Good onboarding is essential to reducing churn and converting new users into long-term happy customers.

More than just introducing the customer to the product, good onboarding needs to deliver value to the user as quickly as possible. You need to help them understand how to use your SaaS product, find and use the features they need, and see the value you offer.

Touchpoints

  • Landing pages

  • Product demonstrations

  • Free trials

  • Freemium features (basic features of a product or service at no cost)

  • Marketing emails

  • Sales calls

  • Onboarding tutorials

  • Welcome emails

  • Knowledge-based articles

3. Adoption

You can pause to celebrate in the adoption stage because you’ve acquired a new customer! But don’t pause for long because their journey doesn’t end here.

This stage focuses on helping customers use your SaaS product effectively and get maximum value from it.

You’ll want to ensure they know and can use all the features. They should also be able to navigate the user interface efficiently and access the benefits of your product as quickly as possible. It will be your job to give new users plenty of guidance and support as they move through the adoption stage.

Touchpoints

  • In-app guides

  • Product tours

  • Feature updates

  • Personalized recommendations

  • Webinars

  • User communities

  • Customer support interactions

4. Renewal

The renewal stage is critical for a SaaS product’s long-term, sustainable growth. This is the stage where existing customers decide whether or not to renew their subscriptions. They will base this decision on their experiences and how much value they think they are getting from your product.

This stage is your opportunity to highlight how your product solved their problem, show off any new features you have added, and address their concerns about continuing to pay for your SaaS. Your aim is to prove they are getting value and encourage them to renew.

Touchpoints

  • Reminder emails

  • Renewal offers

  • Exclusive renewal benefits

  • Customer satisfaction surveys

  • Churn prevention campaigns

5. Expansion

Customers who are happy with your product may expand their usage. That’s good news for your business. Expansion might look like upgrading their plan, purchasing additional features, or adding more users.

You’ll want to spend time in this stage encouraging expansion by giving them incentives or personalized recommendations. Social proof about the benefits of expansion can be helpful, too.

For some SaaS products, expansion can be the make-or-break of long-term business growth. If a small department loves your product and recommends it for company-wide usage, you could move from a few dozen new users to hundreds or even thousands.

Touchpoints

  • Personalized upsell offers

  • Targeted product recommendations

  • Case studies

  • Webinars

  • Limited-time upgrade offers

6. Advocacy

When customers love your SaaS product, they will recommend it to others. This is the sweet spot for sustainable growth because the cost of acquisition plummets when recommendations come from real users.

Use this stage to create more brand loyalty, organic growth, and social proof. You should recognize and reward your brand advocates and use their love for your product to build a thriving community of fans.

Good advocacy can lead to significant organic growth, which is great for your marketing budget and even better for your long-term financial goals.

Touchpoints

  • Customer loyalty programs

  • Referral programs

  • Social media engagement

  • Community forums

  • Customer success stories

10 steps for creating a SaaS customer journey map

Ready to create your own SaaS customer journey map? This step-by-step guide will help you make one that delivers helpful insight into the customer experience.

Step 1: Define your goals

Before you start creating your SaaS customer journey map, you need to think about the goals you are trying to achieve. Do you want to reduce churn? Increase adoption? Boost specific touchpoints?

You can have multiple maps for multiple goals, but start with your most significant objective. Having a clear target can help you focus your map and get more actionable insights from it.

Step 2: Determine your customer personas

Your customers might have a lot in common, but no two are identical. Customers from various demographics and job titles will have different goals and pain points.

Create different customer personas for each customer segment. Each persona will have a unique path through your SaaS ecosystem, and understanding those differences can help you craft better messaging to target them.

Step 3: Identify customer touchpoints

Touchpoints—which include website visits, ad views, trial sign-ups, and more—are all the interactions the customer has with your brand, from when they learn about your brand or product to when they become an advocate for it.

Take time to map all these touchpoints. Understanding them and how they relate to the customer journey is key to enhancing their experience.

Step 4: Map the journey

Put your touchpoints into the six stages of the customer journey:

  1. Awareness

  2. Acquisition

  3. Adoption

  4. Renewal

  5. Expansion

  6. Advocacy

Step 5: Add emotion

Much of the customer journey hinges on emotions, and gaining insight into those emotions can be game-changing for your marketing efforts.

Think about how your customers feel during every touchpoint, then add emotions, thoughts, and pain points that go with that touchpoint.

You should gather real-life data for this from customer feedback forms and interviews. That will help you capture authentic emotions instead of relying on guesswork. You might be surprised about what your customers reveal.

Step 6: Determine how the touchpoints occur

The customer journey doesn’t always happen in a straight line, and you will want to know more about the path your customers take. What channels are customers using to come across a touchpoint? Are they on your website, communicating with you via email, or using your app? Are they on their desktop or mobile device?

Knowing how and when these interactions happen can help you tailor your messaging and how you approach the customer.

Step 7: Identify roadblocks and friction points

For each touchpoint, consider what’s preventing the customer from moving forward. Does the onboarding process need to be more straightforward? Does it take too long to get a quote from your sales team? Use real-world data and customer interviews to uncover these pain points.

Step 8: Make a plan for improvements

How can you remove roadblocks? How can you make the customer journey more frictionless?

Make actionable plans to enhance the customer experience, starting with areas with the most impact. Your goal is to make the customer journey as easy and enjoyable as possible.

Step 9: Monitor your metrics

Keep an eye on your customer data to see how your improvement plans are paying off. Look at metrics like churn, adoption, and renewal. How are your improvements impacting your key performance indicators (KPIs)?

Compare your KPIs to historical data to get a clear picture of how things are changing and where your efforts are paying off.

Step 10: Keep updating your map

The customer journey is dynamic. Your goals, roadblocks, and friction points will change over time.

Continuously review your SaaS customer journey map and update it frequently. Doing so will ensure it continues to be a valuable tool for your brand.

Types of SaaS customer journey maps

The steps above will help you create a basic current state map of the customer journey. It captures the “as-is” experience of your customers. These maps are excellent for uncovering pain points and identifying areas requiring improvement. However, there are other maps available to you, like the following:

  • Future state maps. These customer journey maps create a visual representation of the ideal customer journey. Creating one alongside your current state journey can clarify where you need to improve the customer journey and indicate how you might accomplish your goals.

  • Persona-specific maps. Creating different customer journey maps for different buyer personas can be incredibly useful. People with other demographics, job titles, and budgets will have different journeys with your brand. This map can help you understand your customer segments and tailor your messaging to their journey more accurately.

  • Specific stage maps. If your customers struggle at a particular stage in their journey, creating a more detailed map of that stage can be helpful. For example, deep diving into their onboarding experience can help you uncover pain points and deliver a more impactful experience.

You can combine different SaaS customer journey maps based on your goals. Trying different maps can produce new and exciting insights into the customer journey and how you might improve the experience.

How to track customer journeys for SaaS products

Your company in the SaaS industry has a unique advantage when tracking customer journeys: most of the journey takes place on channels you control.

Customers are most likely to come to you through your website, social media channels, and app. This means you’ll have direct access to customer data that informs your journey map and helps you enhance the customer experience. Leverage the data to track key metrics like: 

  • Conversion rates

  • Feature usage

  • User engagement

  • Churn rate

  • Renewal rate

  • Customer lifetime value

  • Social media mentions

  • Referral rates

  • Net promoter scores

Track how these key metrics change over time as you refine the customer journey experience. They are good indicators of how your efforts are (or aren’t) working and can help you determine the best strategies to use with your customer base.

Get feedback directly from your customers to complement your quantitative data. Surveys, in-app feedback tools, and customer interviews can give you qualitative data about the customer journey. You’ll learn more about the emotions fueling their decisions, along with motivations, challenges, and expectations for the customer journey. All of this data can inform how you shape the customer journey in the future.

The customer journey is constantly changing, so your data should change along with it. Continuously gather data from your analytics tools and customer feedback so you can adapt the customer journey as needed. Doing this can foster better data-driven decision-making and help you continuously improve the customer experience. You’ll deliver more value to your SaaS customers and create long-lasting relationships.

FAQs

What is the customer journey lifecycle?

The customer journey lifecycle is a framework for understanding different phases of the customer journey. The customer journey includes all the experiences a customer has with a brand, from awareness to post-purchase interactions, and includes all the touchpoints they have on all the brand’s channels.

The customer journey lifecycle is part of that and refers to the stages a customer goes through, including awareness, acquisition, renewal, and advocacy.

What is CX vs CRM?

CX stands for customer experience, while CRM stands for customer relationship management.

CX is the customer’s perception of their interactions with your brand. It focuses on the customer’s emotions, feelings, and satisfaction.

CRM is a way to manage customer interactions along with the data that comes from them. It can be used to track interactions and improve customer service efficiency.

Using quantitative data from CRM and qualitative data from CX can be an excellent way to inform how you deliver better customer service.

What is customer onboarding in SaaS?

Customer onboarding in SaaS is helping new users start utilizing your product and achieve a desired outcome as quickly as possible.

Successful onboarding can turn new users into loyal returning subscribers and, ultimately, into brand champions. Effective onboarding involves personalized guidance and helps the user achieve early wins, showing them your SaaS product has value and can help them solve a problem they are experiencing.

Good onboarding can also help reduce churn, boost engagement, and be the key to long-term sustainable growth.

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