PLG Motions Framework: The 3 Product-Led Motions
Download now!

How to Nail Product Onboarding with Psychology Principles

Usha Vadapalli
September 20, 2023

Effective onboarding is not just about guiding new users through your product; it's about orchestrating a journey that encompasses customers at all levels, from end-users to managers and even top executives. Dave Rigotti, co-founder of, and Thoe Ohene, Founder Growth advisor at Growth Roadmaps explored diverse strategies that can revolutionize your onboarding process and drive tangible results.

You can watch the recording here.

If you’d like to evaluate your current onboarding, check out Inflection’s free SaaS Onboarding Assessment tool.

What is Good Onboarding?

When it comes to creating an effective product onboarding experience, personalization is key. Dave Rigotti stresses the importance of moving from time-based onboarding to product activity-based onboarding, triggered by what users have already done in the product.

For example, instead of automating emails to the user to do steps one, two, and so on in the product separated by 24 hours, send instructions to do step three after the user completes the second one. This ensures that users go through an onboarding experience tailored to their needs and interests.

If you are thinking about upgrading to a product-based onboarding journey like shown here, grab a 1:1 with our expert for a free onboarding consultation.

The first one of several principles that can help you build a good onboarding experience is articulating your product value clearly and quickly. Theo highlights the importance of understanding what users want to achieve to create an onboarding experience that is tailored to their goals and needs. This helps users to form meaningful habits around the value of the product, which is key to improving retention rates.

The more you personalize onboarding messages, the quicker new users see your product’s core value and create meaningful habits. Good onboarding

  • Articulates the value clearly
  • Gets new users to value quickly
  • Helps users create habits around the value

Some of the best SaaS companies keep their time to value (TTV) at 5 minutes. If you are not sure what your TTV is, sign up for your product, go through the onboarding as a user, and see it for yourself. Spec out the changes you need for a better experience. If you are not in the product org, be sure to pass on the feedback to the team.

Hick’s Law for Simplified Decisions

Have you heard of CEOs wearing the same outfit every day to optimize their time in making fewer decisions? It’s a principle called Hicks law and you can leverage it in your products right to get your users to the value as quickly as possible.

What Hick’s law basically says is that more options mean a harder decision. When we are first starting out, we don’t want to confuse the user. You might have seen some products have a super long signup form that could put people off or there are too many questions. We don't want to do that. Have short signup forms, only ask what you need, and categorize in the right way so it's simpler for the user. You can use enrichment to get some of the data that you might have asked the user upfront. So, think about different ways to make it as simple as possible for the users and make them have fewer decisions to make.

Lesser options for quicker decisions

Setting Goals

The next psychological principle Theo talked about is the code of the goal gradient effect.

This principle says that, when people get closer to a reward, they speed up their behavior to get to the goal faster.

Giving clear goals to the user to work towards is how you can leverage this principle in SaaS onboarding. Progress bars and checklists are powerful tools that give a clear indication of where the user is at and how long it is before the finish line. Check out how Grammarly does it.

Checklists for motivation

Endowment Effect for Customizing Experience

When we talk about user onboarding, we often hear about less friction being the best. While we want to increase motivation and reduce the friction in certain places Theo suggests having the ‘right’ friction.

Customize product for a sense of ownership

The endowment effect says that you value something much more if you think you'll own it in some way. This is explained with an example. Adding customization like the user’s brand colors and logo etc., makes them feel like they own a part of your product. Letting users customize their experience is adding the right friction instead of giving them an empty state to work with. But, test it over time to make sure it increases your activation rate if it’s the right friction for your product.

The speakers discussed some great examples of onboarding done right.

Leveraging the Loss Aversion Principle

This email from Loom effectively leverages loss aversion - the psychological principle that says people don't like losing things to get users to act promptly. It's like when you feel more motivated to keep something you have than to get something new.

This email is amazing for more reasons:

  • Clear Expectations: It communicates in a straightforward way, eliminating confusion.
  • Milestone-Centric Onboarding: Focuses on key steps users need to take to become customers.
  • Specificity: Provides a clear date for users to upgrade their plan.
  • Clear Value Proposition: Balances loss aversion with the benefits of upgrading.
  • Effective Call to Action: Prompts users to add payment details for continued service.

Encouraging Multiplayer Collaboration

Notion, being a collaboration tool, gains value when users share it with colleagues, friends, and family members. The email aims to encourage more people to use Notion during onboarding, making it more likely for the user or their company to continue using it. The personalized email targets a specific audience—those who haven't added team members. It emphasizes the benefits of collaboration and suggests that using Notion as a team is more effective.

Overall, this email from Notion effectively promotes team collaboration and offers useful insights to users even with the illustration used.

Remind The Value to Generate Revenue

Both our speakers are big fans of the product activity-based recap emails sent during onboarding or any other stage to the customer. Mainly because they are one of the best performing in terms of revenue they generate. And, they help form habits around value, especially with new users.

Personalized recap emails provide a way to regularly update users on the product's activity and remind them of its value, particularly in cases where users might set and forget a tool like Zapier. Two key areas where these emails excel are personalization and the call to action (CTA).

Recap emails can be highly engaging if these elements are optimized:

  • Personalization: These emails can be personalized to target non-users, including executives. It's like an email-driven Quarterly Business Review (QBR) to inform executives about the product's benefits, ensuring they're informed and engaged, which can be beneficial for renewals and upselling.

At Inflection, we’ve seen our customer StackMoxie succeed with automated QBRs. You can do that at scale too. Contact us for a demo.

  • CTA: The CTAs within these emails can dynamically change based on user behavior and adoption stages. For example, suggesting sharing the QBR with a coworker to enhance collaboration, or promoting additional products or features. Tailoring the CTA to the user's journey is a key success factor here.

Nudges for Activation

Onboarding goes hand in hand with activation. Ensuring users complete all necessary onboarding steps is crucial for product adoption and customer conversion.

User adoption and product success depend on guiding users through the onboarding journey. Dave highlights the example of Fathom, emphasizing the effectiveness of showing reminders to users who haven't completed the necessary actions.

Mapping out the entire onboarding process, tracking user progress, and using reminder emails to keep users engaged is very much recommended to get users over the hump. Drawing a parallel to abandoned cart emails in e-commerce (or even B2B), the speakers highlighted the significant impact such reminders can have on user engagement and revenue. Reminder emails help ensure users complete onboarding and experience long-term benefits in terms of activation and adoption.

Accelerating Adoption

Templates can be a game-changer, especially for products requiring users to start from a blank canvas. Companies like Mural and Canva effectively use templates to fast-track user adoption.

Templates are particularly useful when you're dealing with creative or complex products, or if users are confronted with a daunting "blank slate." They're like a guiding hand, helping users find their way to the product's core value quickly. You can pick the templates useful for the user’s role or industry and send them that personalized email.

What makes templates so effective is their ability to align with the "jobs to be done" framework. By understanding what users want to achieve, companies can provide templates that cater directly to those goals during the onboarding process. This approach not only accelerates user progress but also simplifies complex tasks, making it easier for users to grasp the product's utility. No wonder that many fast-growing companies introduce templates as part of their onboarding strategy to drive product adoption.

Human touch in Onboarding

Surprisingly, some of the best onboarding experiences I heard about offered live support. Fathom’s live Zoom call simulation is a great example of how live support can be used to onboard users quickly and effectively. This human touch can be a game-changer in guiding users through complex or unfamiliar products.

Offering live support creates a sense of trust and personalization. This can be especially important for early-stage companies looking to establish a strong connection with their users. You might have seen emails from the CEO when you signed up for a product.

Live support can help companies reach product-market fit faster. The example of Superhuman, where user interaction was required initially, led to pent-up demand and real-time feedback, ultimately contributing to success.

These interactions can be a rich source of information for product improvements. Sending plain text emails as an early outreach strategy can also yield excellent results. Users are more likely to respond, providing valuable feedback and insights.

User Data to Reach Executives

It's crucial to think beyond just onboarding end-users and consider reaching the executives as well. However, transforming products from single-player to multiplayer is a strategic move.

Not with a generic message of course, but with personalized messages with product data and showcase the value their teams are actively getting. To reach the decision-makers effectively, leveraging product data and user behavior data is essential. Crafting personalized messages tied directly to the value proposition of the product and specific features or dashboards tailored to their team’s needs makes the communication more compelling. Check out Hypercontext’s example.

Engaging executives is not a one-time effort. It's about building a long-term relationship and keeping them involved in product development, executive dashboards, and ongoing conversations to ensure retention and sustained buy-in.

Expanding After Landing

When you break into a large organization, initially, your focus is on driving adoption within a specific team. The challenge arises when you want to expand and onboard the entire organization

An effective strategy is to create non-public case studies by collecting data and insights from the division you've already entered. You can conduct interviews, gather success stories, and compile this information into case studies tailored for internal use within the organization.

By presenting these case studies as confidential resources and emphasizing their value for other teams within the organization, you can maintain exclusivity. This approach helps in building trust and encouraging other divisions to consider your product. This approach extends the perspective of onboarding and adoption beyond the initial sign-up.

Demonstrating the value and impact of your product beyond the initial team adoption ultimately leads to more significant deals and broader organizational adoption.

Wrapping Up

These insights underscore the significance of holistic onboarding that extends beyond the initial sign-up. It's about nurturing relationships, demonstrating value, and securing broader adoption within organizations. By implementing these strategies, you can transform your onboarding process into a powerful tool for growth, turning initial deals into substantial, long-term partnerships. In today's competitive landscape, effective onboarding is not just a necessity—it's a strategic advantage that can elevate your product and company to new heights.

If you are thinking about revamping your product onboarding, grab a 1:1 with our expert for a free onboarding consultation.

Get monthly blog roundup

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.