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“Whatever you do, you must engineer and design the process to take them from sign-up to first in-app experience to engaged user to invested user to paying customer – the entire process, not just part of it – if you want to succeed at scale.” – Lincoln Murphy

As well as bringing you analysis, insight, commentary, and bad jokes right from the heart of the SaaS community, we here at SaaScribe, as you might expect, are also day-to-day, not particularly technical SaaS users. If there’s something we need to do and there’s a great SaaS application for it, we’re probably using it. So, recently when I was in need of a new accounting software, I went straight to the website of a company that had been recommended to me by a friend. In order to protect the identity of this accounting SaaS provider, let’s call them company X. Let me also tell you that company X wasted zero time in winning me over. Too obvious? Really though, the customer journey from initial interest to paying customer was excellent and one that I’m sure we can all stand to learn something from.

The Power of Referral


There is another reason why I’m keeping the name of the provider somewhat of a secret, and that’s the fact that I am still too early in the customer life-cycle to go on the record as recommending the service. ‘So far so good’ isn’t quite good enough for a referral, particularly in the B2B market where reputation is a very valuable commodity, and this is an important point to note when implementing your own referral scheme. The user who recommended to me had been using the product for some time, aided by the customer success efforts of this particular provider and had no qualms about recommending. Asking your customer for a referral at this point and not earlier is an important lesson in B2B SaaS marketing. This is also a fine example Tomasz Tunguz’s theory of the impact of customer success on referrals and, by extension, Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC). It cost company X very little to acquire me – no outbound call, no demo, no nothing – just great work in maximizing its NPS (see more wisdom from Lincoln Murphy here on supercharging your invite or referral system).

Make it easy to sign up (but not too easy)


The temptation in designing the sign-up process for your SaaS free trial (97% of SaaS companies do so in case you feel I’m being presumptuous) is to make it as easy as possible for the customer to sign up and get using your product. With as little friction as possible, you are bound to get more sign-ups. There is also the school of thought that more friction in the process will qualify out some of the tyre kickers and time wasters and leave you with more genuinely interested, higher potential customers. There is a balance here, and company X hit the nail on the head, at least for me. I was asked for my name, email address, and company name, and had to pop over to my email account to verify, but I wasn’t asked for a credit card or any other more onerous detail. So, I guess you could say I’m in the low friction camp in this argument but it does depend on the vertical too. This was accounting after all and a certain level of friction in sign-up denotes a level of security and trust which I like to see in an accounting provider but may not be too worried about in a messaging provider, for example. The real key is to know your audience, a/b test different processes, and find out what works for your particular product.

Conversion: get me invested


The real trick, of course is not to get as many free trial sign-ups as possible, but to convert as many of these free trial sign-ups as possible into paying customers. As Tommy Walker of ConversionXL puts it:

“If you just assume that once people sign up, they’ll start using your software, you’re wrong. You have to work for it as hard, or even harder, than you did to get the sign up.”

Whether a user converts or bounces often comes down to how quickly and easily they see the value in your solution. In the case of company X, the user interface was extremely slick and easy to navigate, and they did a stellar job in app of hand-holding me through the various ways in which I could gain value from their software. I was encouraged to link the app to my company bank account, which I did with ease and saw transactions begin to flow through immediately. My attention was then drawn to the invoicing functionality, and I was prompted to create my first invoice, my first bill, my first expense claim, etc. It was uncluttered, straightforward, and conveyed left me in no doubt as to the value of the solution.

Also, crucially, it got me invested in the software. I had linked it to my bank account, I had entered all of the relevant details required to send a very nice, professional-looking, branded invoice to my clients. I had let it know my company details, tax details, and line of business, and all within a matter of minutes. The trust required to do so most likely came from the original referral but the simplicity was also key. It was also crucial that the software met my expectations in terms of the value I needed it to deliver. This may be easier to do with something as concrete as accounting where the customer requirements and pain points are more easily identifiable and tangible but, nonetheless, to package the solutions to my requirements in such a way that leaves in me in no doubt about converting to a paying customer is a skill.

Shut up and take my money!


The shut up and take my money moment comes when your enthusiasm for a product is such that you are more than willing to part with your hard-earned cash to pay for it. This moment came with Company X when, having completed the steps outlined above, I received a phone call from a very helpful lady named Leanne who wanted to find out a not more about my business and what she could do for me to help in the process. The tone of the call was helpful, not pushy, and the subject matter was consultative. I got the genuine feeling that Leanne understood my business and the accounting requirements of my kind of business. I had no problems or objections to throw at the pleasant Small Business Specialist (if I had known I was going to write a post about my experience, I might have been a more difficult customer) so all went smoothly. Then came the incentive to convert from impressed free trial user to paying customer – “if you sign up now, I can offer you half price for the first six months.” I didn’t tell the nice lady to shut up, but she did take my money.

NB: This is not a sponsored post, nor do I have any affiliation with company X. This is simply an account of a well-designed customer journey from referral to paying customer that left a positive impression, and a high likelihood of stickiness and solid LTV at a minimal cost of acquisition.

by Michael Cullen @michaelcullen87

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  1. Rob

    Great stuff but dammit I’m itching to throw money at Company X as well now! 😉

    That follow up phone call is no doubt a killer sales tactic but the tricky part for the company is how to get you, the new user, to hand over a phone number (or find it somehow) soon enough so that they can call you at that time when your interest is at its peak.

  2. Kate H

    Great information! If you’re looking for a deeper dive into other ways SaaS companies can improve free trial conversions, we just published a blog you might get a lot out of: “Top 5 Ways to Increase Free Trial Conversions & Revenue”

    If you have a chance to read it, would love to hear your thoughts!

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