Product Marketing
| On
May 1, 2020

The Art Of Contextual Onboarding

By Aggelos Mouzakitis

Why is it important to contextualize onboarding? How can this be successfully implemented into your SaaS product’s onboarding strategy for your target markets? Are product tours still effective? In this article, we are going to explore how you can enhance your UX with a contextual onboarding layer.


Customer acquisition is one thing, but can your SaaS product onboard users in a way that leads to customer retention? Your marketing plan doesn’t stop after a user has signed up for your product. You still need to market your product to them. You must ensure that your users are taking full advantage of your product features.

A contextual (or just-in-time) onboarding approach is an excellent alternative to upfront tutorials and walkthroughs. Product experts who follow this approach try to provide helpful information at the point of user action: the guidance you offer is specific to the user’s point in the journey. At Growth Sandwich we’re big fans of this simple, yet powerful technique.

In a recent interview with Yazan Sehwail, we discussed the importance of contextual onboarding for your target audience and why it’s significantly more effective than walkthroughs. Yazan taught us a step-by-step approach and we’re going to share this with you today. This should be baked into your go-to-market strategy and overall business plan before your product launch.

Yazan was also able to answer many of my burning questions on contextual onboarding, helping us to fully grasp how contextual onboarding might actually change the way SaaS companies onboard users to their new product, after executing a marketing strategy and sales strategy with their customer success teams.

Yazan Sehwail is currently the CEO of Userpilot, a product experience layer that can be used by product teams and customer success teams to run in-app marketing experiments, increase activation and secondary feature adoption. You can trigger in-app product experiences for the right segment, at the right stage of the user journey.

There is a big discussion currently happening around product-led growth and user onboarding. A short while ago, I had a conversation with Yazan Sehwail and he shared with me that product walkthroughs don’t really work. At the time, I thought it was a pretty bold statement. I was keen to hear Yazan’s thoughts on this topic in more detail.

I was also interested in finding out about how decision-makers in product teams and customer success teams should go about devising an action plan or roadmap for user onboarding, addressing the pain points of their target audience with specific product features.

Yazan Sehwail sees product tours as being general, not personal. “[Product tours] don’t talk to the customer at the right stage. For instance, a customer just signed up. Your customer team probably spent a ton of effort to get that user to sign up for the product. The last thing that your sales team wants to see is you just taking through 10 or 15 steps”.

Yazan recognizes that the user journey is long. At the beginning of the journey, Yazan believes that you should start by focusing on key features, known as activation events. “You need to make them take some kind of meaningful action. I think product tours don’t do that. They are very general and they try to push users to learn about things that they aren’t ready to learn about at that moment. They can overwhelm you with too many features, when you just want to see the values”, Yazan explained.

He continued, “If we’re talking about the initial stage of the user journey which is for new sign-ups, where they want to have some kind of meaningful moment where they experience some type of value, contextual onboarding is all about giving users particular hints and pointers when they actually make sense”.

SaaS product users have a very limited attention span. The last thing that you want to do is overwhelm your users. If your new product has way too many features, you may want to show a certain tip or hint based on the page a user is in, custom events or the stage of their user journey. There are lots of different variables that can be taken into account when delivering contextual onboarding that aims to increase the value proposition of your SaaS product.

Automating Your Onboarding Process

You could argue that the simpler your product is, the easier it will be for you to automate the onboarding process. Complex products with incredibly technical features are the ones that would need customer success strategies in place, with initial person-to-person interaction. As Yazan told us, “Even with simple products, there are still actions to be done, there’s still activation events”.

Yazan Sehwail has a major rule when it comes to user onboarding: “No matter how good your user onboarding is, it’s not going to solve all your problems if your native UI and UX sucks. That is probably the first thing to work on. You need to have a superior UX, where most things make sense most of the time. You then need to have that contextual layer to enhance the experience overall.”


The Role Of Customer Success In Contextual User Onboarding

I was curious to hear Yazan’s thoughts on the role of customer success in contextual user onboarding. As Yazan explained to me, “When you’re selling an expensive product, customer success will play a very important role. The human element can really help with more complex products – getting users to understand certain activation events”.

Yazan continued, “I think customer success and contextual user onboarding complement each other. For products where it doesn’t make sense to have a customer success manager, self-service product, onboarding works very well. I think it works whether you’re selling a nine dollar software a month or software that’s $2,000 a month. You still need a superior UI and good onboarding”.


Linear vs. Branched Welcome Flow In User Onboarding

When you speak with a potential customer, most should be able to understand how your new product tool works and what the value proposition behind it is. However, at the same time, some of them will understand the strategy behind setting up a user onboarding flow.

I wondered whether Yazan could give us a step-by-step thought process on how to go from the initial visit to the “Aha” moment with contextual onboarding. This is something that needs to be considered when you outline your GTM strategy for long-term competitive advantage. In fact, this is even more important than a pricing strategy!

“Before you start the process, we need to define your activation event or a series of events. If it is a simple product, you can probably get users to the meaningful actions and activation events really quickly. The second thing you want to think about is buyer personas. Do you have multiple personas or is it just one persona? The product could be used by two different teams for two different use cases”, Yazan explained.

According to Yazan, this is where linear and branched welcome flows come into play. “Not all customers are going to be using your product in the same way. Do you onboard each persona differently? Should you be pushing them towards making different actions? Or do you have one persona, but there are multiple ways of starting to use the product?”, Yazan told us.

You can either take a linear onboarding approach or give your new users so choice on how they begin by taking a branched approach. “That’s very powerful because if you give them choice, they’re more likely to know what they want and they can get value straight away”.


Onboarding Each Screen Separately

Yazan Sehwail believes that you should onboard each screen separately. “Instead of having a boring product tour, that’s just going to revolve around so many different features, just wait. You should wait until they go into that certain feature, tab or view and then onboard that screen separately. You can start with a model of the value proposition for that screen or tab and then follow that up with an action-driven tooltip or some hotspots”.

He continued, “What is the important element of the particular screen that your user is on? You should also use checklists. These help users to know what the next steps are and what the path to activations looks like. It can really help them to stay focused on activation. That’s what I would do in the first run to keep things contextual to have views that are introduced separately and use individual hotspots and tips to offer subtle help as they navigate through key pages and tabs.”

Yazan also sees value in the use of a sticky help widget that can be clicked to guide users through the important things on particular pages. 

Secondary Feature Adoption

You need to be able to nudge users at certain points throughout the user journey. Key milestones should be used to trigger experiences in real-time as they are doing these things. For example, the user may have just invited a team member.

There could then be a pop-up talking about the next steps to boost the value proposition and keep the user progressing through the different features of your product. “You should be introducing features and important announcements, such as updates, tooltips and hotspots. That’s the general idea of how to nail your user onboarding experience”, Yazan said.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article has helped you to consider the potential benefits of contextual onboarding for your SaaS products. We have discussed several different ideas with Yazan Sehwail on how you could potentially implement an onboarding experience that feels personal to the user and their in-app characteristics.

Aggelos Mouzakitis

Aggelos is the founder and Growth Product Manager of Growth Sandwich. He is among the first Customer-led experts in the world, leveraging advanced, Jobs-to-be-done customer research to orchestrate and guide Growth for B2B SaaS companies. A- and B- series SaaS are hiring him to organise, design and execute programs that infuse the whole company with qualitative data, empathy and the necessary knowledge to address any growth dilemma. In the last 4 years, he has worked with more than 100 SaaS companies and trained literally, thousands through my physical and online courses.