Product Marketing
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July 26, 2019

The Essential Guide to User Onboarding (for 2019)

By Aggelos Mouzakitis

For any SaaS company, user onboarding is one of the top priorities.

And yet, most of them often fail to create a process that really ‘wows’ the users.

But before we head there, let’s first understand the goal user onboarding helps achieve.

User onboarding isn’t about helping your users become better at using your product. It’s actually about helping them use your product for what they want, in the most hassle-free manner possible.

Users love products that are simple and don’t take up too much of their time.

And if you have an onboarding process that feels more like a code that needs to be cracked, no matter how great your product is, you are going to end up losing them.

Let’s take a look at some of the problems your onboarding process may have:

  • Overwhelming your users by throwing all the product features at them all at once. People sign up for a product because they expect it to solve a problem for them, not because the product has a multitude of features.
    Similarly, having multiple pop-ups on the screen nudging the user to sign up for the newsletter or receive offers and updates, etc. is something which puts off the user (trust us, we have seen it several times).
  • Similarly, the other extreme of being intrusive is not being proactive at all. Something as simple as not collecting feedback from users from time to time, and waiting for them to complain.
  • Designing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ user onboarding process which can often make your users feel like they are trying to make their way through a maze.

Avoiding these mistakes is the first step to acknowledge this rule of thumb – customers use a product for solving their problemsthat’s all! What they need is not an elaborate onboarding process (which feels like a labyrinth of features), but an effective one that helps them achieve their goals!

Building An Effective Onboarding Process

Given the growing competition in the SaaS market, the need to set up an effective onboarding process, one that’s faster and better, is critical than ever.

For SaaS startups who are at the stage of setting up the onboarding process, it is not as important to focus on how you measure success, or the features you want them to use.

It is more important to understand why the user has signed up for the solution, and what is their idea of success. What are they using the product for – to save time, to save money? 

To win over a user, your onboarding process should essentially bear the ‘wow’ factor and increase product adoption.

To provide this ultimate user experience, you need to focus on the features they tend to use in the first few weeks of signing up for the product. Those are features most important to them. 

For instance, consider something like an inventory management application that takes users from maintaining bulky, complicated excel files to a simple drag and drop solution.

This is what the user wants – anything that saves his/her time and makes his/her experience seamless.

Essentially, it’s about delighting them in a way they weren’t even expecting.

Here are a few companies that we believe have cracked the user onboarding code:

1) Etsy

Etsy establishes the entire onboarding flow a user will need to follow right at the beginning, by way of a progress bar. The user can see herself crossing each stage – a psychological trick that motivates her to go right till the end.

2) Trello

Trello is a visual project management tool where users create tasks in the form of cards – the good ‘ol kanban-stye. It uses the same cards to show users how the product works. 

3) Xero

Xero uses an animated video to simplify the onboarding process when you signup for its accounting software.

4) Dropbox

Dropbox’s onboarding process uses the ‘fun’ element to initiate new users. They use fun illustrations to lighten the mood.

5) LinkedIn

LinkedIn’s onboarding flow is more about personalizing the experience. For instance, once the first time users fill out the sign up forms, it prompts them to tell where their interests lie.

Or, take the example of a mobile app. It is believed that more than 20% of the users who download it don’t use it beyond one time.

In such a case, it is essential to design an effective onboarding process that keep the user from abandoning it.

Here are a couple of examples of effective onboarding flows that different companies have adopted for their mobile apps.

1) Evernote

Evernote’s onboarding flow focuses on how the app works – it helps new users understand why they need to use it.

2) Tumblr

Tumblr has an onboarding flow that gets users to actually use the app during the onboarding process. For instance, when a user signs up, Tumblr encourages the user to start using the platform by asking them to ‘Find blogs. Follow five.’

These are definitely worth taking inspiration from! Here are some other ways to keep your onboarding process relevant to the user’s requirements:

1. Marketing Communication

To establish a connection with the product, SaaS companies are now required to focus on self-service activities that enable users to start using the product without any help from user support.

One effective way to achieve this is through marketing communications

For instance, as soon as a new user signs up for the product, she starts receiving information on what she needs to do next to get started, how to use the product to meet a certain objective or use cases on how people are using the product. It keeps your user continuously engaged with the product.

2. Webinars

Marketers often debate about webinars being dead. But, that’s hardly true. It’s the content that becomes outdated, not the medium used to convey it.

It’s all about building an effective webinar by moving away from the content that is already done to death.

For instance, conduct a 25 minutes webinar wherein you start with typical problem users intend to solve with your product and walk the attendees through an outcome-driven demo on how you just solved that problem in less than 25 minutes.

If done right, webinars can be used to engage far more users at the same time than the usual channels of communication.  

3. Building A Community

Thirdly, there’s the persuasive power of a community. Building a community is probably the best way to keep users continuously engaged with the product.

So, if you are a Saas startup, and you want to start a community, the first thing to determine is the goal – is it meant for customer service, act as a forum for your user queries, let your users help each other and build a camaraderie around your product, or simply a fun way to keep users engaged?

The way to go about it is to identify the power users – these are the people who are using your product extensively and innovatively and know it inside out.

Appoint them as your ambassadors, and let them help your team answer questions on the forum. Begin the show with these guys, and then slowly expand the base to include the other users too. 

Of course, it goes without staying that for a community to remain relevant and active, you’ve got to ensure that there’s always new content – either related to your product, use cases or the category you belong to.

This peer-to-peer network pretty much runs itself, therefore ensuring a continuous connect with all your users.

However, building a community is just one part of the project – you will need someone to manage it too. Hire a community manager to keep things from going south.

After all, a community is a public forum, and if it’s not managed well, the whole thing could potentially backfire. So, before you decide to start a community, make sure you have the skills and the resources at your disposal to manage it. 

4. Gamification

Gamification of the onboarding process makes it a little more exciting and interactive. For instance, you could have users talk about how they are using your product through a video, and choose the one you find most innovative and offer some incentives as a reward.

Or, they could promote the product internally (in their respective companies) or externally (amongst their peers) and earn status rewards related to authority. Or you could simply unlock an additional feature that the user could benefit from.

So, we’ve spoken about what can be done to entice the user to stay. But, we also need to focus on the other end of the spectrum – the team actually handling the entire onboarding process

Who should be working on optimizing the user onboarding process?

With SaaS startups, there’s usually one team doing everything in the beginning, since the goal then is not just to get users, but do so as optimally as possible – lowering CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost), reducing churn rate, etc.

Eventually, the user base increases, and correspondingly your business expands.

It is only then that you can really focus on specialization – have one team handle the first 90 days of client onboarding which needs a separate set of skills and then another for keeping the account going. 

Another way to look at it is the size of the deal being cracked, and to what extent has it been cracked. If it is closed (yay!), then the team involved would be more focused on relationship management. If the deal is still halfway there, then it would be a job for a team with selling skills.

Another important aspect is feedback. For the teams to perform effectively, they need to know what’s working and what isn’t. The communities we spoke about earlier can be incredible platforms to glean feedback from the users, about features that aren’t doing what they are supposed to. Here are a few examples of companies that are doing it really well:

The first one is Airtable:

Image Source: Airtable

And, the second is bubble:

Image Source: bubble

And considering it’s an open platform, the relevant teams can access it directly, analyze it, and take the necessary steps. There’s no scope for miscommunication because it’s right there for all to see.

A Peek Into The Future

As far as the future is concerned, it’s pretty obvious that users are no longer naive.

They are well versed with technology and want things to be easy.

They want products that can save them time.

So, while on the one hand, you must have an incredible product that meets these requirements, on the other, you’ve got to have a user onboarding process that’s seamless and enjoyable.

That is the first step of user experience, and if you don’t get that right, you will lose a user. 

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

  1. Top 40 User Onboarding Tools for SaaS Businesses
  2. 33 Tools for SaaS Startups to Do Product-led Growth
  3. 5 Winner Product Marketing Strategies to Replicate
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.