You’ve heard it all before. Customer Success for SaaS startups is NOT about creating happy customers. Customer Success is about helping them use your product well and derive value from it. You need to be there every step of the way…yada yada yada.
What all these lists don’t tell you is that the value chain for a customer to successfully use your product is long and keeping them engaged is a process filled with a combination of
- highly efficient and effective tools
- implementing proven and experimental strategies
- making your product and services better
- following best practices for success
- research and reading to understand the ‘bigger picture’
- and of course, error
We decided to do something that would make this process easier. We took every step of the Customer Success Lifecycle for SaaS startups as broken down by Lincoln Murphy in his incisive and thorough piece on the Definition of Customer Success and built on it with links to the best strategies by CEOs and award winning bloggers, tips, case studies and the free/paid tools that you will need along the way.
Whether you are bootstrapping or have a budget to spend, think of this as an essential reading list. Here, you will get an idea of the various ingredients involved in creating Customer Success magic for your SaaS startup. The best part? You can dip into and find use for every step of the way. Here goes!
The SaaS Customer Success Lifecycle
- Customer Development
- Customer Acquisition
- Sales Process Engagement
- Billing and Payment
- Customer and User Onboarding
- Initial Engagement (Activation)
- Functional Support
- Technical Support
- Customer Feedback Loop
- Ongoing Engagement
- Customer Driven Growth
- Customer intelligence
- Customer Expansion and Renewal
- Customer Retention
- Post-Churn Follow Up
Before you even have customers, you need to know who your ideal customer is and figure out the best way to reach out to them and get their attention. This doesn’t mean you do customer development only before you launch. When creating a new product or entering a new market segment, finding customers who are enthusiastic about your product is the right start to win at customer success for SaaS startups.
The Expert Tip: Ray Wu’s 3 step guide on how to do Customer Development right. (Spoiler Alert: He says creating the right customer profile might not always be possible)
Strategy: This list by KISSmetrics has over 26 awesome resources to help you start interviewing your customers and building your product.
Strategy: Justin of Customer Dev Labs on How to interview your customers.
Helprace lets you design customer surveys to reach out to potential customers and understand their needs.
Pricing: All plans come with Ticketing support + knowledge base.
Free Forever – 3 Agents | Targeted: $9 agent/mo | All-In: $18 Everything
This is the stage where you need to go all out and target a large portion of your potential audience. From referrals and rewards, cold emails and hiring a digital marketer or growth hacker to phone calls and SEO boosts – you need all the help you can get. Beginning acquiring customers the wrong way could lead to disengaged, uninterested customers who do not see value in your offering. Knowing who the right customer for you is and acquiring more like them is crucial for customer success in the long run.
The Expert Tips: A very in-depth look at the customer acquisition process
Core Metrics: The core metrics you need to track to acquire customers
Food for Thought: Consult the ‘Ultimate SaaS Pricing Guide‘ to improve an important part of your product marketing that directly affects the number of customers you acquire.
- Referral Candy’s Exhaustive list of Customer Acquisition Tools from website add-on bars and email marketing tools to SEO tools that will boost website conversions.
You can also get the word out about your product/service using Beta Testing Services
- Product Hunt
- Beta List
Quickmail.io Lets you follow up on your email outreach.
You can also track open and reply rates, automate mails and follow ups and stop follow ups on reply, A/B test mails
Pricing: Free Trial: 14 days. No credit card required.
Monthly: $49 (mail 200 prospects/day) | $69 (mail 500 prospects/day)
A useful tool to create landing page campaigns, lead capture forms, social referrals and viral campaigns.
Pricing: All plans offer unlimited landing pages, a/b testing and launch templates. Business $104/mo | Premium $48/mo | Starter $27/mo.
Sales Process Engagement
The process of wooing a sales prospect can sometimes be more difficult than wooing a mate. You need to know how to convince someone on a free trial to stay on and how to engage prospects at the right time to show them the kind of demo they want to see. A prospect isn’t going to part with money until they are impressed, and believe in you and your product. Here are some ways to get past this critical stage of the customer lifecycle.
The Expert Tip: Every customer starts out as a prospect that is costing your company money. Pierre LeChelle explains this cost and how to turn it around.
Strategy: Choices, choices. Your prospect usually has plenty. How do you help them choose you? Vida Tamoshunas explains the behavioural and marketing science angle to sales engagement.
Food for Thought: A great visual representation of the Sales Process.
Close.io is an alternative to Salesforce that has a beautiful sales workflow and promises to help you close more deals and get more sales.
Pricing: Free 14 day trial / no credit card required | Basic: $65 (Unlimited Opportunities) | Professional: $110 Basic
Pipedrive: “A sales CRM for small teams with big ambitions” Made by salespeople. I love their simple pricing.
Pricing: Simple pricing for busy people. $12 / user / month No contracts No account limits No hidden fees No charge for support, API key. No credit card required for 30-day trial”
Clearbit helps you narrow down your research on customers, verify leads and gain insights to build a strong customer base. Saves a ton of time for small growth teams. Pricing: Plans start at $99 a month.
Billing and Payment
The billing process is a part of every SaaS customer’s lifecycle. For SaaS startups Customer success is about growing business too. A good billing and payment system removes hurdles at a time when customers or converted visitors need to share sensitive information like credit card details and other official information. But do you charge them monthly or annually? How do you track who has paid and who hasn’t? This is where you could use some tips from the pros.
Expert Tips: A list of tips to keep in mind when planning a billing page. This can help you offer customers an improved and enjoyable recurring billing experience.
Strategy: Neil Patel shares strategies on creating recurring billing.
Billing Orchard is a great tool to create and manage recurring billing and quickbooks.
Pricing: Try their Free 15 Day Trial (No credit card required) Their charged plans are OAK –$19.95/month and ORCHARD – $29.95/month.
Chargebee promises to handle your Billing and Invoicing, Payments and Subscriptions by automating processes that slow you down like dunning and tax compliance checks. They also have a great free plan for small startups for upto $50K revenue.
Pricing: Starts at $99/mo, upto $399/mo.
Chargeback: Recurring billing will undoubtedly lead to chargebacks and SaaS companies must be prepared to manage this often overlooked aspect of doing business. Chargeback provides you with the tools you need to recover revenue lost to Chargeback Fraud.
Pricing: Chargeback Reporting – Free; Automated Chargeback Responses – % of recovered revenue (you don’t pay unless they win)
Customer and User Onboarding
Onboarding is very important, as this short story on onboarding illustrates. If you are offering a trial version, you need to give first-time users a great experience. Similarly, when a customer has paid to use your product, you need to wow them with simple instructions and brilliant usability. You need to understand what your customers needs to learn (and perhaps even unlearn) to help them complete their goals. Not just that, this needs to happen fast. Think of it like getting the chance to go on a date with the person of your dreams. You want to show them the best time so that they keep coming back for more. Here’s how you can help your users get started in the shortest time possible.
The Expert Tip: Beautifully broken down onboarding flows by Samuel Hulick of useronboard.com. Samuel writes in a way that are sure to make you crack up while learning how important every step of onboarding is.
Strategy: Intercom explains why user onboarding is harder than you think it is, and how to master it.
Best Practices: Case Study from Ghost.org on the onboarding metrics they tracked to increase website conversions.
Autosend can be used to reach customers inside and outside your app. There is no free plan. All plans offer Unlimited email and In-App Messages / Email Support.
Pricing: Starter $50 / 500 active users / 500 SMS
Growth $250 10KUsers / 10K SMS. Pro $600 30K users / 30K SMS
Elev.io helps you create in-app guided website experiences. All paid plans offer unlimited modules, with limited page loads.
Pricing: Free: 1 Users / 1 Active Modules
49 LITE $ 49 / mo 1 User. GROWTH $ 79 / mo 5 Team Users
$199 BIG TIME $ 199 / mo 10 Team Users
Initial Engagement (Activation)
Onboarding a user well doesn’t mean you can sit back and relax. The time of initial engagement and activation is when a user first derives value out of using your product. Put yourself in their shoes. They’ve been promised a product that makes their life easier, and if it does anything but that, you are in trouble. Measuring and monitoring initial engagement (and TTFV – Time to First Value) is crucial when handling customer success for SaaS startups because your customers won’t move along the learning path unless you engage and encourage them from the minute they sign up, get onboard and use your key features.
The Expert Tip: The crucial nature of the first 30 days your customer uses your website or app.
Strategy: Ott Nigulis’ detailed guide to understanding data and customer activation.
Strategy: Conrad Wadowski’s guide to customer activation for customer success.
Airbrake helps you track your applications for any errors or roadblocks your customers may hit along the way.
Small $39, 5 Applications Monitored, 10 team members
Pro $89, 15 Apps Monitored, 20 members. Enterprise $199, 40 Apps Monitored, 30 members
User Testing helps you get insights directly from your customer’s mouths.
Pricing: Basic: $49/video & $99/video after first 10 videos
Test across devices. 15 min max video length
Support is all about being able to provide the right kind of information and knowledge when a customer reaches out for help. Functional support involves using the right kind of tools and content to create documentation and visual/textual help that is easy to follow and hassle-free to implement. Here are the tools and strategies to give your customers the help they need, should they ever be stuck. With in-app messages, you can take this one step further and trigger a message everytime they complete or get stuck at an activity.
The Expert Tip: Lincoln Murphy writes about why Customer Success needs to be about making your product functional and useful.
Freshdesk An easy to use knowledge bank, billing and invoice tool.
Pricing: Free Trial, No Credit Card
Sprout ₹0/Month 3 Agents. Blossom ₹999/Agent/Month
Garden ₹1499/Agent/Month Estate ₹2499/Agent/Month (Most Popular) Forest ₹4499/Agent/Month. Billed Annually
Groove HQ: Easy-to-use ticket management, knowledge base and more.
Pricing: Free Plan at $0/user/month. Two Users, 1 Mailbox, Customer Histories.
Groove Plus at $15/user/month Unlimited Mailboxes, Automated Workflows and Email tracking. No credit card required/ Cancel anytime.
Tools for Webinars:
If you are a small business owner, here are 26 webinar tools you could use as part of your marketing and content offerings.
Tools for Infographics and Presentations:
Tools like Prezi and Visme offer the ability to be creative and go beyond text to share how-to instructions, explain features or processes
This is an integral part of achieving customer success and a way to be available and helpful to your users. Technical Support is your last chance at redemption with confused or disgruntled customers. Anytime they reach a roadblock, you need to be available to clarify their questions, concerns and offer solutions as soon as possible. Apart from being available and helpful, another primary aspect of customer success for SaaS startups is to pre-empt and correct issues that users may face within the product that would contribute to churn.
The Expert Tip: Find out why the folks at OnePlus feel the need to have great Support. (Unlike Uber)
Strategy: Read about what makes customer support effort proactive?
Intercom: To acquire, engage and support customers.
(Two thumbs up for their unique pricing, but good luck figuring out what exactly you need.)
Pricing: Acquire, Engage, Learn and Support: Start at $49, add-ons at $4
Olark: Live Chat solution to support customers. Visitor Profiles, Canned responses and more. Tip: bill annually or bi-annually.
Pricing: Bronze $17 Gold $49 Platinum $129 and Ultimate $243 / Month
Customer Feedback Loop
Most of what we’ve spoken about so far has been one way communication and information gathering, but we all know that there is nothing more boring than that one friend who keeps telling you things you aren’t interested in. Don’t be like that friend. Be curious and open to making your product better. Consistently ask your customers for feedback and implement what they need. You can do this by implementing an NPS programme, customer health index and in a smaller organisation, by simply picking up the phone and having a conversation. It is important to monitor what customers have to say from the very beginning to plan better product roadmaps and sales pitches.
The Expert Tip: A great piece on customer feedback that highlights the various avenues you can get customer feedback from.
Promoter.io can help you with all your NPS needs.
Pricing: Free Plan (No credit card required) 1000 surveys/month – 1 campaign. NPS LITE $97 /mo 2,500 surveys /mo / 2 campaigns
NPS COMPLETE $369 /mo 25,000 surveys ENTERPRISE Unlimited Everything.
100 sends per month $25 (plans go upto 50,000 sends per month at $999)
Enterprise (Demo Available) $499/mo. (all billed annually)
Any relationship requires effort. Date nights, spicing things up in the bedroom, gifts…you know what I’m saying. It isn’t very different when you are in SaaS and you want to give your customers the best. You need to nurture the relationship with the same dedication that you nurtured your leads to bring customers onboard. How is your customer using the product 1 week after onboarding? What features are being used the least? How is your customer using the product 3 months after onboarding? Continuous measurement and engagement can give you invaluable insights for creating customer success and to improve your product.
Strategy: Nudgespot’s guide to using in-app messaging and business messengers for Customer Success will help you keep your customers engaged and active.
The Expert Tip: Crazy Egg share 27 customer retention strategies that you should be using.
More Expert Tips: This amazingly written article on customer engagement by David Skok is something to keep coming back to at every step of your growth. I guarantee you, every read will teach you something new, and make you look at things differently:
Food for Thought: What not to do when you are trying to engage customers.
A customer success platform that helps you stay on top of your customer connections and ‘drive recurring value’ to them. Get in touch for pricing.
A customer success platform that helps you track churn risk, NPS score and upsell opportunities. Available on iOS and Android.
Pricing: Plans begin at $8/user and go upto $40/user
Nudgespot is a great tool to onboard, support and engage customers.
Pricing: Acquire + Support: $0 100k Users + Unlimited Team Members. Onboard + Engage: $49/mo Free Plan + Triggered In-App
Retain: $199/mo with Behavioural Targeting. Prime: $399/mo Team Reporting
Let’s say you are shopping online for a product or service. You find a few products that look convincing – but what makes you take the final step? When it comes to shopping on ebay or amazon, for me it is all in the reviews. As you read them, your mind makes some sort of calculated qualitative average and decides whether the product or service is right for you or not. There’s no doubt that this works when you’re trying to sell a SaaS product as well. You need to show that your product solves customer problems and helps them achieve goals with ease. Testimonials, case studies and social proof are great motivators to get potential customers interested in your offering.
Expert Tips: Kristi Hines breaks down the steps to creating a detailed case study for your website and how to position it effectively.
Strategy: The good folks at Unbounce tell you How to use online marketing to perfect your customer testimonials.
Mention is a social monitoring app that lets you track what your competitors are doing, as well as what your customers are saying about you on social media.
Pricing: Tip: Opt for a Yearly Plan, save 2 months. No credit card required. Solo: $29/Mo 2 alerts / 3k mentions Starter: $99/Mo 5k mentions. Custom: Unlimited users, mentions.
Amity is a Customer Success Software that can be used for SaaS customer success. It helps you track and monitor customers on their visual dashboard as well as measure portfolio health and automate messages to customers.
Pricing: Get in touch for a demo/free trial.
Customer Intelligence is all about collecting data on your customer and user behaviours to learn more about how they use your product to enhance its features. This doesn’t sound simple, and it isn’t. You need to find the right metrics to measure, and analyse the value your customer is deriving from your product. Are they exploring options of using a competitor’s service or tool? Have they dropped usage of your tool? Are your competitors offering certain features that you aren’t? All vital questions you need to have the answers to when handling customer success for SaaS startups.
Strategy: See How Hubstaff uses Mixpanel for Customer Intelligence.
Case Study: Understand How Expedia focused on Customer Intelligence to turn Clicks into Dollars.
Kissmetrics is the place to go if you want to start tracking and analyzing the key metrics that you can base changes on to improve conversions and reduce churn.
STARTER / $200 / 500k events. BASIC / $700 / 5 million events. PRO $2,000 / 20 mil events + more
Mixpanel believes in abolishing what they call ‘bullshit metrics‘ and using funnels to track real, relevant customer engagement metrics.
Pricing: Free 25,000 Data Points / $0 / Month
Startup 500,000 Data Points / $150 / Month
(Five more plans. Most expensive is $2000 for 50,000,000 data points)
Piwik is a free and open source data analytics platform that guarantees data privacy. Features include user-centric insights, user privacy protection and customisability.
What’s even better than an engaged, active customer? More engaged, active customers who want to get even more out of your product, of course. Customer Expansion is all about guiding new customers into trying what you have to offer and offering older customers renewed value on various media channels. Without consistent growth in terms of new features and benefits, your customers cannot expand their use and spending on a product. While sales teams bring in customers, the role of the customer success team is to ensure the customer expands his use, knowledge, and (let’s face it) spend on the product over time.
Inspectlet allows you to record user and visitor sessions. All plans come with Playback sessions, heatmaps, mobile support, Seamless AJAX and HTTPS support.
Pricing: Free $ 0 per month 100 Recorded Sessions 1 Website
Plans from $ 39 per month (5,000 Recorded Sessions / 1 Website) to $ 299 per month 125,000 Recorded Sessions 20 Websites
Sprout Social Monitoring lets you track mentions, monitor content and outreach. Because in an era where Twitter is used for support, you can’t monitor your social feeds enough.
Pricing: Deluxe $59 PER USER/MONTH. Plans go upto Team Plan at
$500 / month (3 users) with Advanced reports and team features.
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Make sure you have covered your bases in every part of the customer success life cycle up until it is renewal time, and you will see that renewal can be a breeze. For a customer who hasn’t had the best experience however – now is the time to prove yourself once again. You need to make promises and fix issues so the next round of payment they make to you is worth their money, time and effort.
Strategy: Marketo explains How to take a weak renewal email and turn it into a powerful renewal campaign.
Case Study: WP Rocket discuss How they increased renewal rates by 154%
Best Practices: What to Measure to monitor customer renewal rates for your SaaS / cloud-based business.
More Best Practices: “Fix your conversion funnel to reduce churn” says Gabor Koncz of Automizy.
Planhat is a Customer Success Platform built for small and mid-sized SaaS companies. Key features include churn & up-sell alerts, advanced Success Playbooks and Customizable Health Score. It integrates with SaaS products like Slack, Salesforce, and Zendesk. There is also an open REST API. Pricing: Get in touch for a free trial.
To put it simply: Customer retention happens when a customer does not cancel their account with you. Churn can happen anytime, but where renewal focuses on ensuring churn doesn’t occur when a customer’s subscription expires, retention is a longer, ongoing process. Tools for this purpose are important, but what is more important is your ability to be creative using winning and experimental strategies, creating compelling reasons for your customers to stay on, and upsell to higher plans as they get more value out of it.
The Expert Tip: Evergage’s tips on how to calculate customer retention using Customer Retention Rate (CRR) and Dollar Retention Rate (DRR)
Strategy: Alex McEachern of Hubspot names his ‘tools’ for Customer Retention.
Case Study: Learn how Symantec created a digital experience that reduced churn from Marketing Sherpa.
Heap Analytics provides ‘instant, retroactive analytics’ and lets you track customer actions on your website to better understand their needs and roadblocks. Pricing: All plans come with a 14 day free trial. Free: 5K Sessions / Month Startup $249 / 50K sessions. Premium $599 150K sessions. Enterprise offers Support / SQL Data
Framed.io uses machine learning and predictive analytics to figure out which of your customers are more likely to churn and take precautionary mesaures. You can also use their analytics tool to understand which of your marketing efforts are bringing in customers that stay and become loyal. Framed has now been acquired by Square.
Pricing: Plans start at $99 (Monitor) and go upto $1000.
Ideally you won’t get here. You should use the tips and best practices to ensure churn stays below the degree you feel is acceptable on your website. While there is almost no way to guarantee that churn will ever cease to exist for your product, there are ways you can keep it on the down low. Once a customer churns, it is essential to try and understand why they left and how you could have offered more value to them. Remember, you need to tread with care. This customer may just be exasperated with the service (or lack thereof) and ready to give you a earful about their experience. Keep calm, listen, learn, and improve.
The Expert Tip: Before you fix churn, you need to find out why are you facing churn. Read Conversion XL’ 9 case studies to help you understand why your users churn.
Case Study: See how Baremetrics reduced churn with a clever drip email campaign.
Pushcrew helps you send push notifications on Mobile/Desktop to get feedback from customers.
Pricing: Free Unlimited Notification 500 subscribers
Premium $25 per month for 2k subscribers (prices increase depending on subscriber)
Let’s make this list bigger. Comment and let us know your secret weapons, tools, tips and strategies and we’ll add it to our list to create a resource for anyone in the SaaS Customer Success world.
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