For three years, I’ve worked as a customer success manager at a leading SaaS company and this role has made me realize how crucial the first experience is when a user first interacts with our product. This moment significantly impacts their decision-making process.
Having worked as a Customer Success Manager at a leading SaaS company, I’ve experienced the nuances and challenges of SaaS.
Our ultimate aim is to make users aware of the product’s value and powers and turn this first interaction into a long-lasting relationship.
- How can you quickly show new users your product value?
- How can you make it easy for users to look around on their own?
- How can you lead users toward making purchases without (or with low-touch) sales or support teams?
I will be discussing the importance of a good user onboarding. I’ll reference some notable product led companies like Hotjar, UserFlow, Stripe and Duolingo to illustrate effective one.
Before we jump into the deep end, let’s first lay down the groundwork.
What is Product Onboarding?
Product onboarding, in its simplest form, is the process that users go through when they start to learn how to use a new product. It’s the journey from the first interaction with a product to becoming a proficient and regular user.
This process is a critical part of user experience and can significantly influence a user’s perception of a product. It is where users learn the ropes, understand the product’s value proposition, and decide whether the product meets their needs.
Product onboarding is not just about teaching users how to use a product. It’s also about making them realize the value that the product can bring to their lives or their businesses. It’s about helping them reach their goals using the product and ensuring they have a positive experience throughout their journey.
In the context of software products, especially SaaS (Software as a Service), product onboarding often involves a series of steps or stages that guide users through the product’s features and functionalities. These steps can include tutorials, tooltips, walkthroughs, and other forms of guidance.
Successful product onboarding can lead to increased user engagement, retention, and ultimately, revenue. It’s a critical aspect of product-led growth, a business strategy that focuses on using the product itself as the main driver of customer acquisition, conversion, and expansion.
What is Product-led approach?
The product-led approach is a business methodology that prioritizes the product as the main driver of customer acquisition, conversion, and expansion. It’s a way of thinking that puts the product at the core of your business strategy. Instead of focusing on traditional sales and marketing tactics, a product-led approach emphasizes the importance of creating a superior product that speaks for itself.
In the context of onboarding, a product-led approach means creating an onboarding experience that helps new users understand the value of your product as quickly as possible. It’s about guiding users through the product’s features and functionalities, helping them achieve their goals using the product, and ensuring they have a positive experience throughout their journey.
What is Product-led Onboarding?
PLG onboarding is like your best friend’s welcome party online. It urges using all a digital product’s features and services. For pain points of the user while understanding your product, consider it as a guided tour of the product’s interface and value. Instead of a person, the product guides you through its use and navigation.
Pre- and post-sales onboarding used to rely heavily on meetings and emails for most SaaS companies. This method may seem more personal, but it causes problems and costs more as the business grows. This is especially true for trial or freemium companies, where saving human interactions for high-value prospects is more efficient. Digital users expect to try and learn about products without meetings.
This traditional method is reversed by PLG onboarding. If the product is the main introduction, customers can learn about its features and benefits on their own. The goal is to simplify the experience so users can figure out the product’s capabilities. This makes users more loyal and makes their journey easier, making it more interesting. Users can improve their product led growth strategy and product led onboarding experience with clear tips, in-app instructions, and feedback loops.
SaaS companies can optimize their onboarding experience to increase revenue and lower CAC by promoting product-centered onboarding. In summary, this onboarding strategy is the modern, scalable, and effective way to acquire and retain SaaS customers. If there’s a better way to lower the cost of getting new customers while keeping them happy, it hasn’t been found yet.
9 Essential Elements for an Effective Product-led Onboarding Experience
Since every industry has its own unique characteristics, crafting a one-size-fits-all guide is challenging. Nevertheless, there are certain fundamental principles that should be taken into account by everyone when designing their own onboarding experience.
1. Start with Defining your Ideal Customer Profile and Buyer Personas
The first step to effective product led onboarding strategy is to know your ideal customer profile (ICP).
When you know your ICP, you can make onboarding content that is more likely to get their attention, get them to buy, and keep them as a customer. The core of your personalized onboarding strategy is a well-defined ICP.
Understanding your buyer persona is important as it is instrumental in the preparation of personalized onboarding scenarios. The more you know about your buyer persona, the more effectively you can tailor the onboarding experience to meet their specific needs and expectations.
2. Research Best Practices in your Market
Before making your own onboarding plan, it’s a good idea to look at what others have done. By looking at how successful SaaS companies handle onboarding, you can get ideas and learn about what works.
For example, the User Onboarding Academy has dozens of tools, examples, and best practices to give you the inspiration you need for your plan.
3. Identify your Key Features and Usage Patterns
Not every feature in your product will have the same value to your ideal customer profile (ICP). Identify those crucial features that most resonate with your ICP’s needs. These should be the primary focus of your in-product tour, showcasing how they can benefit from these key functionalities.
For example, you can identify usage patterns via heatmaps with Hotjar, or focus on activity and usage through different analytics tools.
4. Offer Simple, Frictionless Sign-up Process
The initial interaction with your product comes via the sign-up process. Make sure it’s not a hassle. It should be swift and straightforward.
By removing obstacles, customers can get started right after they register. The only essential information you need to create a profile and communicate with them is their email address.
Take Notion’s registration process as an example: it’s as simple as submitting your email address. A magic link sent via email sets up the username. The user should be aware of the process they’re using.
Another example could be using social logins like Sign in with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin options.
5. Create a Survey to Customize Onboarding Experience
To make a more user-centered onboarding process, you need to know a lot about your users. In this case, a survey can be very helpful. By asking your users a few preliminary questions, you can make sure the onboarding process fits their needs and makes them feel like it was made just for them.
Optimize experience with surveys
For example, you can ask about:
- Role: The title and team of the user so that you can identify the customer profile and how you can attract them.
- Company/Business: Find out about the company, sector, and what they do in general. This could include things like, “Which business do you work in?”
- Goals and needs: Find out what they want to accomplish with your product. For example, you could ask, “What is your main goal with our product? What kind of problem do you want to solve with our platform?”
Put the survey first in the onboarding process. This is a warm-up step that gives you information you can use to customize the next steps of the onboarding process.
6. Create In-Product Tours and Flows
OK, we have our ideal customer profile, notes on some best practices, key usage patterns, and survey answers. We have enough information to create an onboarding flow.
The next step is to decode that knowledge into actionable onboarding experiences. This is where in-product tours and flows come into play.
Using tools like Intercom can be very helpful for making personalized customer journeys that show users the most important features and functions of your product. With a well-designed onboarding strategy, you can not only get users more involved, but you can also make it easier for them to use your product.
7. Add More Elements to Drive Toward “Aha Moments”
It’s very important to get users to those “Aha!” moments where they really understand the value of your product.
To help people understand this, it’s important to include a variety of elements in the product that guide, teach, and highlight the product’s main benefits. Some important elements to think about are:
- Feature Tips: Brief, contextual clues that spotlight specific functions and explain their relevance.
- Highlights: Visually emphasize essential features to grab the user’s attention.
- Interactive Tutorials: Step-by-step guides that walk users through a specific process or feature set.
- Pop-up Modals: Use these for vital information or to introduce major updates and new functionalities.
- Visual Overlays: Employ these to give a broad overview of the interface, highlighting key areas.
- Checklists: Offer a sequence of actions or tasks for users to complete, providing a sense of accomplishment and progression.
By putting these elements together in a thoughtful way, you can show off the real value of your product and speed up the user’s journey from initial curiosity to real product affinity and understanding of its potential.
8. Have your Product Support Team Ready
Even though this strategy puts a lot of emphasis on self-guided learning and user discovery, it’s important not to forget how important the human touch is.
Even the most simple products may have parts that are hard to understand and require help. In these situations, it’s important to have a responsive support team with the following skills;
- Technical expertise
- Communication skills
- Analytical skills
- Customer service skills
- Project management skills
In PLG, the availability of the support and product team can make the difference between users leaving and adopting the product.
This is similar to how the sales team still plays a key role in guiding potential customers in product-led sales. They can answer questions, explain features in more depth, and even offer customized solutions based on what the user needs.
9. Update Your User Onboarding Periodically
Try to get various insights based on your users’ onboarding process within the product. You can increase your conversion rates by updating your onboarding process periodically. In fact, the feedback you will collect from your onboarding team at this step is very important. Since they will communicate with the users.
The Benefits of a Well-Crafted Product-led Onboarding Experience
Adopting a product-led approach to getting new users started can change everything. This approach has the potential to transform the way businesses operate, particularly in the realm of software and digital services. A well-crafted product-led onboarding experience can enhance user satisfaction, increase product adoption, and ultimately drive business growth.
The benefits of the product-led approach in user onboarding
At its heart, product-led growth is all about putting the product at the center of everything and making it the main driver of growth.
With this approach, all teams, whether they’re in sales, marketing, customer success, or product, work together toward a single goal: giving users a great product experience that they can’t get anywhere else.
So, how does onboarding users fit into the story of product-led growth?
Marketing and sales have always had different goals, but more and more people are starting to see the benefits of building user onboarding processes around the product. Among these benefits are:
It was a game-changer when the onboarding process shifted to focus on the product. It not only increased customer loyalty, but it also had a big effect on sales.
When users have a smooth customer journey and keep finding value through product-focused onboarding, sales go through the roof.
So, companies can reach their ARR or MRR goals, even double it, a lot faster.
I’ve learned that users are more likely to stick with a product if they keep coming back to it. The question is then, how can I make sure they keep using my product?
The answer lies in how things look at first. By making the onboarding experience very focused on the product, I found that users often come back because they remember how good it was the first time.
Generating More with Less Resources
Having a good process for welcoming new users can help you reduce the number of resources you spend acquiring new customers. The main goal of this process is to make sure that customers are happy. If you do it right, you have nothing to worry about it. Your happy customers can even recommend you to their friends and keep coming back for more.
Research shows that the users you retain and the users who become your customers through referrals have much lower costs than the resources you allocate for your marketing and sales efforts to gain new customers.
Focusing on the right steps for product-led onboarding not only improves the user experience, but it also increases engagement rates, makes it easier to keep customers, and, in the end, increases revenue. It finally add value to your overall PLG strategy.
To get these benefits and make sure your business grows in a sustainable way, let’s apply the steps right away for an effective product-led onboarding process.
Further Reading 📚
Product-led Onboarding Book by Ramli John and Wes Bush
User Onboarding Inspirations by User Onboarding Academy