Does it feel like leads are slipping through the cracks in your business, and you’re not sure what you’re doing wrong?
You’ve read all the blog posts. Followed all the big-wigs on LinkedIn. Devoured the YouTube videos.
Yet, here you are.
Wondering where the holes in your strategy are coming from, the root cause of your leaky roof, and why you can’t get your leads (and customers) to stick around.
Well, you’re in the right place.
Today, you'll learn about the seven stages of the SaaS customer lifecycle, but it’s not your usual generic snooze fest.
After explaining how each phase works, you’ll get tips on optimizing each stage of your sales funnel and foolproof strategies for finding the leaks and patching them up for good.
What is the SaaS customer lifecycle?
The SaaS customer lifecycle is the journey a user takes with your brand. It begins when your potential customer becomes aware of your brand and continues post purchase.
“Most of these journeys begin without the customer even being aware of the journey their on,” explains Stephan Houraghan, Brand Strategist at Iconic Fox.
At each stage, their experience with your product will determine whether the user will click on “sign up” or churn.
It’s especially important for PLG companies. You’re not selling a once-off product. You’re selling a subscription every month or year that users have to choose to renew. If you’re losing leads before a conversion, your company won’t grow. If you’re dropping the ball post-purchase, your retention rates and revenue will drop.
With most SaaS companies spending 92% of their first year’s revenue on customer acquisition, churn is something you want to avoid at all costs to stay profitable.
By mapping out your customer lifecycle, you can pinpoint any friction that’ll cause someone to jump ship, tighten up any leaks in your funnel, and keep your users happy for the long term.
Customer acquisition stages
Stage 1: Awareness
What is the first thing you do when you’re not feeling well?
If you’re like most of the population, you open up Google, type in your symptoms, and within the span of 30-seconds, you have WebMD diagnosing you with at least five fatal diseases.
How your ideal customer finds you follows a similar pattern. Except you want to diagnose their problem with more accurate solutions and a lot less paranoia.
That’s where your content marketing game plan begins.
You need to create content around the common issues your audience is experiencing. Use your blog posts, videos, etc., to provide value first, position your brand as a trustworthy resource, and entice leads to filter further down your conversion funnel.
How do you stop leads from falling through the cracks during the awareness stage?
Not receiving high-quality leads? You have a glitch in your awareness stage.
Put your firmographic data to work with visitor intelligence tools like Clearbit Reveal or Leadfeeder. You’ll get an overview of the companies visiting your website which will help you figure out if you’re attracting the right people who match your ideal customer profile (ICP) criteria.
With a tool like this in your tech stack, you’ll see which actions visitors are taking, the products they care the most about, and how to engage with the potential customers in the right way to kickstart the conversion process.
Stage 2: Qualification
Tinder. Bumble. Hinge.
What do these dating apps have to do with the SaaS customer lifecycle?
Both follow a courtship of qualification (swipe right) and elimination (swipe left).
In the sales cycle, your leads are “dating” you, but instead of potential partners, users are swiping left or right on products to find the best solution for their problem.
Just like dating, the courtship ritual isn’t one-sided.
You’re also “dating” your leads.
After all, not everyone who signs up for your free trial is a good fit for your business. You need to screen your prospects to determine the best leads to pursue.
Enter lead scoring.
Using data points based on actions and behaviors, you can track a lead’s interest and focus on only “dating” quality SQLs with a high probability of converting.
How do you stop leads from falling through the cracks during the qualification stage?
Sure, lead scoring can improve your courting skills, but it can only do so much if you have data silos in your way.
What creates these hurdles?
CRMs that don’t factor in external data can't give you a complete overview of the customer journey.
The great SaaS sales catfish.
Your sales reps focus on leads that look great on paper but aren’t a great match in real life.
Instead, you need a tool that can spot product-qualified leads who match your ICP criteria, pull in your product usage data, and fill out the lead from external sources.
When you approach lead scoring from a holistic perspective, your SDRs will only reach out to prospective customers that meet all your criteria, increasing your chances of a perfect match.
…And the leads that don’t quite meet your standards?
You can automate lead nurturing with email marketing campaigns. When the lead heats up, create a trigger to send the account to your SDRs and set up the first date.
By building signal lists for leads that enter the next stage of the customer journey, you can ensure you’re routing prospects to the right teams and people and not ghosting a potential ICP.
Stage 3: Conversion
You’re converting your leads into paying customers.
The only snag?
Self-service SaaS companies are particularly susceptible to losing the sale at check-out.
If the user is distracted, disappointed, or anything else causes friction, your hot lead will abandon ship, and you’re right back to square one.
That’s not the only thing that needs your attention.
You still need to identify and nurture the right leads most likely to convert.
How do you stop leads from falling through the cracks during the conversion stage?
To increase your conversions and avoid drop-offs at the most crucial stage of the SaaS customer lifecycle, you need a frictionless and fast check-out.
- Reduce your check-out fields: Every additional field is a hurdle your customer needs to overcome. Give the people what they want - access to your service, not a Myer Briggs personality quiz. Keep it relevant to improve your conversions. If you have lead data concerns, consider using data enrichment services like Clearbit and supercharging it with Breyta’s integration to automate your meta information without having to collect it at check-out.
- Consider not forcing users to enter payment details for free trials: It’s a barrier of entry you don’t always need. Get your product in as many hands as possible. Let users experience your product, discover its value, and then ask for the credit card details.
- Reduce the number of clicks: Consider the pros and cons of a single click or multi-click check-out process. Remember, the more steps someone has to follow to complete the sale, the more time the user has to abandon the cart. Test to see which one works best with your target audience.
- Offer multiple payment options: Give your users options. Besides different payment methods like credit card or PayPal, think about your billing cycles. Some users prefer monthly payments while others would rather pay yearly to lessen the accounting hassle.
- Offer multiple currencies and languages: Targeting an international audience? Make sure your users can purchase in their local currency. No one wants to go through a check-out process in a foreign language. Don’t let language barriers stop you from making a sale.
- Review your pricing strategies: What are your price points? Is it accessible to your target audience? Are you going to offer a freemium version or a free trial of your product?
To ensure your sales team is focusing on the leads that’ll make the biggest difference to your bottom line and preventing drop-offs before the check-out phase, you need to look at engagement scores across a company level and individual users.
A high engagement score is a strong indicator a lead is likely to convert, and it can help you identify brand champions to push the sale to closed won internally.
If your reps notice a drop in engagement from a hot lead, it’s a sign to step in and iron out any of the creases before it’s too late to save the sale.
Stage 4: Customer onboarding process
The trick to long-lasting customer relationships lies in the experience.
Your users don’t want to feel like another number on your CRM dashboard. Users want to feel special and see the value in doing business with you.
One of the best ways to create these feel-good emotions is after the initial purchase.
Set your onboarding process up to help users quickly alleviate their pain and see success with your product.
- Comb through your entire onboarding process and weed out any points of friction.
- Create a Knowledge Base and fill it with video tutorials, FAQ blog articles, and useful tips and tricks.
- Take a page out of Hubspot Academy’s book and create a free online course to turn your users into product experts.
- Set up an email sequence that’ll walk a user through how to get the most out of your product.
Not only will these actions improve the experience for customers, but it’ll take the load off your CX team and empower users to solve basic problems.
How do you stop leads from falling through the cracks during the onboarding stage?
You could have a solid onboarding process and a Knowledge Base bursting with information, but that isn’t going to stop a lead from disappearing into the abyss.
The missing ingredient?
You need to be proactive.
You need a system that’ll spot a free trial user who upgrades their subscription and then notifies your CX team.
Stage 5: Engagement
Once you onboard a user, it’s a bit like the honeymoon stage of a relationship.
Everything is new and shiny. It’s exciting. You want to spend as much time as possible together.
…Until you don’t.
You start to see each other less. The romantic gestures fizzle out. You realize the person isn’t as perfect as their online dating profile led you to believe.
Product usage has the same dating pitfalls.
When someone initially signs up, engagement is high but can quickly die down if you’re not delighting the user and providing value.
In fact, 21% of SaaS product users will only log in once before uninstalling or canceling.
How do you stop a lead from falling through the cracks at the engagement stage?
The key to happy customers during the engagement stage is product stickiness. You want to keep your leads infatuated with your product for as long as possible.
What if someone starts to waver under your love spell? It’s time to send in your CX team.
Set up signals within your CRM to monitor product usage and spot customer churn behavior.
For example, suppose you notice an account is logging in less frequently, turned off key features, or sent a negative response to an NPS survey. In that case, you can automatically reroute that account to your CX team and re-engage before someone hits the “unsubscribe” button.
Next, ask questions like:
- What is your abandonment rate?
- How many active users do you have every day?
- What patterns in behavior lead to cancellations?
- Does something specific cause an upgrade or a downgrade?
The answers will help you monitor user experience, identify any bottlenecks and ensure your customers are getting the most out of your product.
Stage 6: Renewals
The renewal stage is a testament to how well stages 1 to 5 of your customer journey work together.
If you’ve done a good job and removed all the friction from your sales process, the renewal stage for your customer will be a no-brainer. You’ll have created champions who will fight on your behalf to keep using your product.
…But if you’ve dropped the ball, you open yourself up to an increase in churn rates.
Let’s say you’re selling a typing assistant that reviews spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The user purchases it, but your software crashes often, and your customer support team is not responsive.
The takeaway for the user?
“A grammar checking tool is useful to me, but I’m going to cancel my subscription and go with a different provider.”
Remember, you need to feel like a benefit and a must-have to convince users to renew your subscription.
How do you stop a lead from falling through the cracks at the renewal stage?
You can’t wait until it's renewal day.
As mentioned earlier, proactiveness is key to a healthy customer lifecycle funnel.
You need to set up your CRM to automate the conversion process of surfacing a lead who is up for renewal. To do this, create signal lists for users close to maxing out their current plan or are near the end of their monthly or yearly subscription.
Once you have the list, send it to your customer success team to reach out and secure the renewal. This is a crucial step if your PLG company uses subscriptions without automatic renewals.
Stage 7: Referrals
“Referrals are the lifeblood of a company.”
It’s a cliche saying, but it rings true.
Referred customers have a 37% higher retention rate, and 84% of users trust recommendations from peers over other forms of marketing. In fact, people rely on positive word-of-mouth 2-10x more than paid media.
How do you get more referrals and customer reviews for your SaaS business?
Well, it starts with a solid strategy for each customer lifecycle stage. Once you know how to attract leads and keep your current customers happy, referrals will naturally happen.
However, you still need to ask.
- Create a referral program for your loyal customer base.
- Reward users for leaving honest customer feedback on sites like G2.
- Use different incentives like cash back, swag, discounts, or a free subscription month.
- Create an ambassador program like Asana’s.
Lastly, don’t forget about the power of social media. Set up alerts for mentions of your company name and re-share customer testimonials.
Like word-of-mouth marketing, it’s powerful social proof because it shows users organically enjoying your product. It isn’t a paid campaign or an influencer shoutout.
It’s real people sharing their experience, which makes it easier for a potential customer to trust your brand.
How do you stop a lead from falling through the cracks at the referral stage?
Head to your CRM and create a signal list for users who reply to an NPS survey with high customer satisfaction levels.
These are your customer advocates.
Send the list to your CS team, reach out and ask for a referral, or to leave a review.
Focus on the user experience
Leaks in your SaaS customer lifecycle always come back to creating a positive user experience. If you’re not giving people a reason to stay, a break-up is only an “unsubscribe” button away.
Like all relationships, it’s easier to retain a customer than to go out, meet someone new, start the courtship ritual, decide if you see long-term potential, and then finally enter a commitment.
That’s where customer experience comes in. It’s more than customer service, satisfaction, or engagement.
It’s the perception of your company, brand, and product based on every user interaction with your messaging, employees, and products. When done correctly, you have the potential to shift and shape the user experience to your benefit and make sure you’re matching and exceeding expectations.
Take the time to create a frictionless customer lifecycle journey, and you’ll set yourself up for a healthy pipeline full of high-quality leads, loyal customers, and a steady stream of referrals.