How Product-Led Onboarding Will Change Your Business - And How To Do It Right 

September 29, 2021
Fred Melanson
5 min
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Ramli John is a legend in the product-led growth marketing world.

When he speaks, I listen - and so should you.

He’s the managing director of ProductLed, and in conjunction with founder Wes Bush, Ramli has published a new book that should be compulsory reading for anyone in SaaS who wants to keep more customers for longer.

Ramli John product-led onboarding book

It’s called “Product-Led Onboarding” and it spells out and explains the strategy that Ramli has put to spectacular effect with major clients like MixPanel, Ubisoft and Outsystems.

You can listen to Ramli’s talk about his six-step “Eureka!” framework at Product Drive Virtual summit. Book a free ticket here.

And if you can't wait until October 4th, check out this teaser interview Ramli gave to Userpilot (Product Drive organizer).

It covers some really important points that I want to share and add my two cents to as well.

So here goes!

1.Product-Led Onboarding is more important than ever

2.Onboarding is not ‘A Product Tour’

3.How to onboard users in a way that is sensitive to user journey

4.Data-driven versus data-disciplined

Product-Led Onboarding is more important than ever

There’s no SaaS product that doesn’t do some kind of onboarding - no matter what some people on social media may claim.

“You can’t remove onboarding. It’s part of the customer journey,” Ramli says - and he’s absolutely right.

Every product goes through a moment where it meets the user for the first time. That's when new users are effectively “interviewing” it for the job they need to get done.

If your product doesn’t show how it can deliver that value, users just won’t come back after the first attempt.

And that’s what happens to most SaaS free trials out there.

High-ticket products might be able to support one-on-one concierge onboarding, but for most SaaS apps, cost and scalability mean that the bulk of it needs to be self-serve, built using user onboarding tools.

And in today’s stupendously competitive market, that makes high quality product-led onboarding essential to any kind of success.

People who claim to have “got rid” of their tools’ onboarding without damaging results are probably mistaking “onboarding” as a whole for specific types of onboarding.

Onboarding is not ‘A Product Tour’

The biggest mistake that SaaS companies keep on making is pushing a long and boring product tour to new users and thinking that does the trick.

Too many users are being confronted with workflows that try to show them everything the tool has to offer in one go, regardless of their needs.

''The product tour is often like an airplane host asking sleeping passengers if they want a drink, getting no response and then waking them up to ask the question again.'' -Nir Eyal

Sure: people on airplanes tend to want drinks.

But when they’re thirsty, not when they’re asleep!

Likewise, new users want to understand the basics and get started doing what they signed up to do, not sit through a long list of advanced features they can’t hope to master yet.

The old-style product tour is not effective for product-led onboarding in 2021 for two fundamental reasons:

  1. They’re a one-size-fits-all tactic in a world that expects personalization. Product tours don’t take account of where individual users are on the user journey.
  2. By dumping all the product information on users at once, they don’t take note of the need to minimize Time To First Value (TTFV). This is the critical point of Activation, when a user receives the initial benefit they were looking for.

Smart onboarding presents users with - in Ramli’s words - “the minimum number of things they need to know” to get a benefit, at the time they’re looking for it.

For example: when users install Calendly, they have to connect their calendars to the app before they can get any value.

There’s no point showing everything else off before they’ve done that.

It just slows down TTFV!

All this means that successful product-led onboarding is an ongoing, non-linear, carefully-planned and calibrated process, not a one-and-done activity:

👉 It should be personalized: that can be as simple as including a welcome screen with a new user’s name on and asking a few qualifying questions to figure out their priority use case.

👉 It should be interactive: people learn best by doing. Plus, if you can get users carrying out the necessary tasks to get started while you’re showing them how, you’re chipping away at TTFV.

👉 It should be contextual: you and your users should always be aware of what steps still need to be carried out before the task they’re working on is complete. Checklists are great for this. And new flows should be triggered, not by time, but by events and actions. That way, users will be able to make progress at their own pace.

How to onboard users in a way that is sensitive to user journey

Ramli’s book sets out a six-step process for getting onboarding right, and step number two is the key one here.

Understand your new users.

Trying to onboard users without understanding what success means to them, is like setting off on a road trip without a destination in mind.

Without clear definitions of success for different users and their use cases, you can’t possibly work out the “minimum number of things they need to know” to get there.

So how do you go about mapping that user journey and providing relevant help when and where it’s needed?

  1. Set a goal for your mapping: whether this is an end-to-end comprehensive user journey or simply aimed at removing friction points from one particular stage, you need to define a start point and an end-point.
  2. Identify and list every in-product step that needs to be taken to get from the start point to the end.
  3. Group steps that are complementary or dependent on one another together to generate “milestones”. When a user reaches a milestone, you’ll know they’ve made measurable progress.
  4. Where your data shows gaps or delays in getting to milestones, add extra touchpoints in-app to remind or nudge users on the next things they need to do (eg tooltips, hotspots, modals etc)

That’s how you map the ideal path.

But what about where all your users actually are?

Data-driven versus data-disciplined

Most SaaS companies aren’t short of data about their users.

In fact, most have far more than they can use, thanks to analytics platforms like Heap, Amplitude etc.

And that can be as big a problem as having no data.

The “let’s measure everything” mentality is leading many product managers struggling with “data vomit”: vast quantities of information that says nothing relevant to where the user is in the journey, concealing and drawing attention away from the good stuff.

In this state, “data-driven” becomes a problematic concept.

The data could drive you in any number of different directions, and so SaaS companies try to cover all the bases’ve guessed...a one-size-fits-all product tour.

You should use those actions, milestones and touchpoints you’ve identified in building out your user journey and using event-based analytics to track only these “key moments” - rather than everything.

This is your “main course” - everything else is a side dish!

That practice of measuring what matters and ignoring everything else is how a business becomes “data disciplined” as opposed to “data driven”.

This really resonates with me, because that’s precisely what Bliinx aims to do for our customers: by identifying and alerting them to sales funnel blindspots - those events that matter - we help sales reps close and retain more revenue.

Get started for free with Bliinx and help your sales teams turn who, when and what into revenue for your business.

EUREKA: How to turn users into lifelong customers

Listening to the teaser interview has really whetted my appetite for Ramli’s ProductDrive presentation.

Product drive banner

It’s going to explain how to:

(Virtually) see you there on October 4 at 4.30 BST!