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A Guide to Product Onboarding That Doesn’t Suck

Usha Vadapalli
July 11, 2023

How about we start this with a fun exercise?

Take a look at your current onboarding email sequence. If you own the onboarding flow at your company, you know where to look, if not, reach out to marketing ops.

For a minority of you, your onboarding communication is an intuitive and delightful process. Kudos, to you and your team!

One of the leading causes of customer churn is poor onboarding. Onboarding is your chance to show off the value of your product and leave a lasting impression on users. Getting onboarding right also establishes trust and credibility, making users feel confident in achieving their goals with your product.

How to not suck at onboarding?

These are some of the common onboarding mistakes I see product-led growth (PLG) companies make.

  1. Viewing PLG as only applicable to self-service:

Don't make the mistake of assuming that PLG strategies are limited to self-service scenarios. Many companies rely on account executives (AEs) or customer success teams to handle communication, including onboarding, for larger accounts.

The problem with this approach is you have to keep throwing bodies at it as you scale. It's also almost always reactive and as big accounts scale a human can't stay on top of all the users, different user roles, etc.

A product-led onboarding approach is scalable and more efficient.

  1. Treating self-service as completely hands-off:

Don’t leave all the onboarding to your product.

The State of PLG 2023 report says that nearly 10% of the respondents rely on the product to guide the users. It’s great to have an intuitive product but it’s even better to guide the user based on what they are trying to achieve with your product.

  1. NOT segmenting users by TAM:

Not taking the total addressable market (TAM) into account hurts your business in the long run.

It’s essential to prioritize and invest in onboarding users from high TAM accounts. By ensuring these users experience significant value, you can leverage their success as mini case studies to attract more users from the same organization. The effort put into these accounts can yield substantial benefits.

While high TAM users deserve focused attention, it's important not to ignore low TAM users entirely. Encourage their progress and provide nudges along the way, as they have the potential to grow into high TAM accounts over time with proper support.

  1. NOT deploying product activity-based communications:

Triggering time-based onboarding guidance (like generic reminder emails on the 3rd, 5th, and 7th day of signing up) doesn’t work and only trains your users to ignore your communication.  

Your onboarding comms lose all contextual relevance if you don’t take the user’s product activity into account to guide them further in the onboarding journey. This is also true for any stage of the customer journey in your product.

Be on the lookout for these onboarding mistakes.

For Successful Onboarding

We’ve covered what not to do. Let’s talk about what to do.  

In-product guides such as product tours, checklists, pop-up messages, and chatbots, are instrumental in familiarizing the user with the product features. They are great for keeping the users engaged at the same time. Timely push notifications grab a distracted user’s attention too. For building an exceptional and comprehensive experience, emails are useful in gently nudging users back to the product.

Onboarding tools are many, but what are those secret ingredients that make an onboarding process truly effective?

Personalized Onboarding

Irrespective of the format of your messaging, the success of onboarding can be catalyzed by personalization!

We see a one-size-fits-all approach during onboarding way too often. The best onboarding processes are always tailored to the user. Personalizing based on the product event data and firmographics gives a well-rounded result for your end user.

However, the million-dollar question is, how?

Onboarding is the process of introducing users to a product, helping them understand how it works, and guiding them to complete the essential steps. So, you may not know much about your user to go on. You can solve this using one or both of these approaches.

  1. Conduct a micro-survey when the user signs up to understand their goal with your product better and guide them through a curated onboarding journey.
  2. Use historical data from similar customer demographics (size of the company, user’s role, etc.) to set them on a more relevant onboarding path.

Either way, you are making the most of product and CRM data, current and historical, to personalize onboarding messaging instead of pushing your users through a generic time-based flow.

Goal-based Onboarding

Use in-product interactive guides, push notifications, and onboarding emails to send reminders. The old way is sending people emails every 24 hours. The new and more effective way is sending them reminders if they haven’t finished a task and moving them to the next step if they have.

To execute goal-based onboarding, connect your product CDP to your email marketing platform, which will help create audiences and personalization using product data. There are many ways to do this, like Amplitude's Marketo connector, and even dedicated marketing automation systems built just for these uses, like Inflection.

When onboarding users to the Inflection platform, our initial goals are to connect our customer’s product data and CRM to our platform.

Users who successfully complete the integration move on to the next step whereas the users who didn’t would receive reminders with helpful resources.

With similar goal-based onboarding, you can guide users through the product with clear objectives that align with their needs and expectations.

If this example piqued your interest, check out the most advanced Journey Builder we just shipped..  

Great Onboarding is Always Evolving

Your onboarding experience has to evolve to be effective. When you are just starting out, design the onboarding experience based on your ideal customer profile (ICP). Keep tabs on the user journey post-onboarding to improve, customize and branch out the customer journey depending on your analysis.

Onboarding doesn’t stop with the free users. As your users convert to paid customers and then eventually expand to higher tiers, they ideally should be on similar personalized and goal-based onboarding relevant to their lifecycle stage.

Inflection helped some of the top PLG businesses design highly effective onboarding flows. If you are a product-led business trying to figure out, migrate, or perfect your existing onboarding flow, you should check out Inflection.

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