Product-Led Onboarding: Convert and Retain More Customers

by | Mar 10, 2022 | Marketing

This week we have teamed up with Esben Friis-Jensen, Co-founder of Userflow and

Product-led growth was one of the big SaaS trends in 2021, and 2022 seems to be no different. I therefore recently wrote an article on Product-led Growth and why you need it. A key component to a product-led growth strategy is how you do user onboarding, especially to ensure conversion for free trials/freemiums by driving the user to the famous Aha moment(s).

In my role as Co-founder of Userflow, I have experienced firsthand the power of product-led onboarding. In this article, I will highlight what it is and some key components to think about when building it out.

What is Product-led Onboarding

Similar to how product-led growth is about thinking product-first in everything you do as a SaaS business and using the product as the main vehicle for growth. Product-led onboarding is about using your product as the primary vehicle for customer onboarding to ensure conversion and retention.

To this day, many pre -and post-sale onboarding for SaaS businesses has been and continues to be done via human interaction such as meetings or emails. But this kind of onboarding is complex and expensive to scale. Especially if you have a trial or freemium with many users signing up, you want to make sure that the human interaction is only used for the most high-value trials.  Additionally, the modern buyer and user expect to trial and learn about products without having to do meetings. 

As Ramli John and Wes Bush write in their amazing book Product-led Onboarding – How to turn your users into lifelong customers, product-led onboarding is about using your product to have your users experience a series of value realizations known as “Aha moments”, so they buy and stay around. 

Product-led onboarding is basically a need-to-have for modern SaaS businesses that want to do PLG. 

How to Build Onboarding That Converts and Retains

But how do you go about building a product-led onboarding setup? Below I have given some things to think about and real-life examples from my company Userflow and others.

Set a Goal

Before you embark on the journey of building your product-led onboarding experience, it’s essential to know what the end goal is. Examples of goals could be:

  • Reduce Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and Customer Service cost for our SMB customer segment from xx to yy
  • Increase conversion rates on free trials from xx to yy
  • Increase Net Dollar Retention (NDR) or LifeTime Value (LTV) from xx to yy for our enterprise customer segment
  • Increase % of customers buying the Pro package 
  • Increase NPS for SMB customer segment
  • Reduce # of support tickets from the enterprise customer segment

Knowing your goal will help ensure you stay focused and aligned on the right things when building your onboarding.

Avoid Analysis Paralysis, Move Forward, Iterate, and Learn

As I also wrote in my article on product-led growth, you mustn’t over-analyze as you start the process of building product-led onboarding.

Building product-led onboarding can be a massive alignment challenge between product, marketing, sales, and customer success. Getting all of these teams aligned is a difficult process and changing management processes requires strong project management. The key thing is to avoid analysis paralysis, and instead move forward, iterate, and learn. 

Show Your Product in your Marketing

Onboarding starts with the first impression, and for most users, the first impression is your public marketing content and website.

While great marketing, of course, should have a key focus on outcomes, then in a product-led growth world, the “how” (= the product) is also important. Things like product features and UX are important to communicate openly in your marketing or via your public-facing website. It’s not enough to write high-level values or outcomes; users expect to see screenshots or video demos of your product. 

Furthermore, it is important that this product marketing is aligned with the actual product, to avoid misaligned expectations as the users actually start working with your actual product. 

Give Free Access to Your Product

If you want to build product-led onboarding for your pre-sale process, you should give free access to your product. The best way to do this is to do a free trial or a freemium, where you allow customers to access the actual product.

Alternatively, baby steps can be taken, e.g., by making a limited public demo version of your product available on your website using tools like Reprise or Navattic. But this can, in my view, not entirely give the “real” experience, and therefore, a full free trial, or “freemium” is a better long-term way to truly convert and onboard via your product. Using your actual product for a trial will allow your customers to use their actual real-life data and thereby make it personal, which is critical for great onboarding.

Look at What Others are Doing

There is no need to re-invent the plate. Hundreds of SaaS businesses have fantastic product-led onboarding. So seek inspiration. A great place to start is on, where you can see teardowns of the onboarding for popular SaaS businesses.

But other than that, I recommend signing up for ten popular SaaS trials and seeing how they do onboarding and learn from the best.

Drive Towards the Aha Moments

Whether you are doing onboarding as part of a free trial or post-purchase, an important aspect is to drive towards Aha moments,an Aha moment is a value realization for the user. 

Showing off all your product’s features won’t drive users to reach their goals. It may just annoy them. But with action-driven onboarding focused on key ”Aha” moments, you will drive conversion and retention.

Examples of “Aha Moments” Could Be:

  • A customer touches feature x and finds out that it is 10x better than what they have seen before.
  • A customer creates an integration successfully in 2 min. And finds out the tool is easy
  • A customer x creates a piece of content and finds out they can do it in a way that perfectly fits their needs.

Some of Userflow’s key features are the usability of our in-app onboarding flow builder as well as some of our advanced customizations. Therefore two of our key onboarding items to achieve our goal of trial conversion are to get the user to create a flow as quickly as possible and to show our ability to align with your company’s theme.

Remove Unnecessary Friction

While removing all friction from your onboarding is not necessarily a good thing, as you then risk the user not realizing the value themselves, then removing unnecessary friction is.

At Userflow, we technically require our customer’s developers to install a javascript snippet to load the in-app onboarding. To remove this friction in the trial, we have created a chrome extension that allows non-developers such as customer success managers or product managers to build and preview the product tours without involving developers at first. In that way, they can experience the Aha moment of ease of use faster and easier.

Another example of unnecessary friction can be found in the signup process. For most SaaS tools, security typically requires email validation. A smart way to simplify this is by using one-click signup mechanisms such as “Sign up with Google” or similar. 

Never Stop Onboarding

Just as onboarding starts with the first impression of your marketing, onboarding never ends. It is key that you don’t forget about onboarding post-purchase. Customers will have new users that need onboarding, and you will introduce new features that you need to onboard users on to drive adoption and retention.

A great example of recurring onboarding is the periodic emails one receives from the email provider Superhuman’s CEO. He shares proactive tips on how you can get the most value from Superhuman. These emails drive attention to users and ensure they discover the value they might not know about.

Don’t Forget About Support

No onboarding flow will ever be perfect, thus having some form of supportive website chat, a support email, or documentation is a great way to allow the customers to ask questions after they have been onboarded. Despite being product-led, I think it is key that support done via chat and email is done by real humans to show integrity and trust.

What Tools to Use for Onboarding?

There are numerous tools you can use for onboarding. Below is a list of ideas that we have used at Userflow: 

  • Welcome email(s)
  • Trial/Onboarding follow up emails with tips and tricks like Superhuman
  • An in-app onboarding checklist that structures the onboarding process
  • In-app Guides/flows that guide the user through each task in the onboarding checklist
  • In-app Feature highlights that guide users to look at certain features in a non-intrusive way.
  • Documentation/Help center
  • Support Chat

How to Measure Your Success?

When you start implementing your product-led onboarding, it’s key to keep tracking towards the original goal that you set.

An important reason for having a clear goal and related KPIs is to show your management and company in general how the improved onboarding is supporting the end goal or, if it is not, what the potential challenges might be. Therefore besides tracking these numbers yourself, you need to have them clearly shown as part of mgmt and company reporting.

Furthermore, as previously mentioned building your onboarding is an iterative, ongoing process. By tracking the KPIs and goals, you can continuously try to improve your onboarding flow and easier track what leads to improvements.

A great way to get the data needed to track this is to either use a 3rd party onboarding provider which provides it and/or use product analytics tools such as Logrocket and Amplitude.

What Are Some Great Tools and Resources for Implementing Product-led Onboarding

Below are some great tools and resources to support your product-led journey. 

Product-led Onboarding Tools

Product-led Onboarding Resources

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