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Product Onboarding Ultimate Guide: Steps, Examples & Tips

Done right, product onboarding can do wonders for your SaaS company.

It helps:

  • Improve user activation and retention
  • Reduce customer acquisition costs
  • Prevent user disengagement
  • Improve customer loyalty
  • Reduce customer abandonment and burnout

We’re just scratching the surface, of course.

If you want a product onboarding experience that gets new users hooked to your software, then scoot in and put your learning cap on.

Table of Contents

What Is Product Onboarding?

From a 30,000 ft. view, product onboarding is about introducing a product to users or customers.

It isn’t to be mistaken as a one-time product tour for new users.

Product onboarding is a continuous process since it aims to educate users on how to use the product to achieve their goals or address their challenges.

Since users have varying needs, it pays to make your product onboarding process interactive so users can get nothing but relevant information.

Understanding the product onboarding process

TL;DR: A product onboarding process allows new users to accomplish their goals as soon as possible. It is a focused experience that guides users to accomplish their objectives.

An effective onboarding process shows new customers where to start, how to get started, and what to do next. It fast-tracks learning and product adoption by helping users complete objectives within the platform.

This often pertains to initial setup tasks, like changing the settings or creating a project; it depends on what the users want to accomplish with the product.

For example, customers eager to send email blasts might sign up for email automation tools.

With that goal in mind, the onboarding experience should walk users through the process of creating a campaign, choosing a list segment, and creating and sending their first email blast, therefore, accomplishing their goal.

To avoid any disconnect, features that aren't necessary for sending email blasts, such as generating email reports, creating landing pages, etc., shouldn’t be included in the onboarding flow.

Those features can be mentioned in other product onboarding flows where users need help with email reporting or setting up landing pages.

5 Tips To Creating A Product Onboarding Process

Here are five crucial tips to create an effective product onboarding process:

1. Create a frictionless opt-in process

Many brands consider the registration process as the first phase of an onboarding strategy.

They use the registration to request information about the user's goals, pain points, and company size, among other pertinent details.

If you need several pieces of information, build a multi-step registration process to reduce friction.

Companies like HubSpot use this approach in their sign-up process:

hubspot signup process screenshot
HubSpot uses the registration process to obtain key details about their users. Image Source: HubSpot.com

To incorporate learning, use screenshots with feature descriptions. A simple bulleted list can also work to make the registration process more seamless.

Twilio also made registration a part of the customer onboarding experience by sharing the goals users can accomplish.

twilio registration process screenshot
Start onboarding from the registration process by sharing tips, goals, and other basic information. Image Source: Twilio.com

2. Identify basic user goal(s)

What are your customers' goals for signing up?

Create a list of these goals and build the product onboarding experience around them. 

Underline the essential features, map out the steps, and plan the best way to communicate them.

Most goals can be completed via a product tour that highlights the essential elements with tooltips.

Others may require a more elaborate explanation, which requires a short-form explainer video embedded within the user onboarding process.

3. Send a welcome email

Send welcome emails to give new users the right expectations about your product. In your email, also include links to valuable resources to help users settle.

Include links to beginner guides, product release notes, FAQs, or tutorial videos to give them a glimpse of what's ahead.

Help them spring into action with a CTA button that takes them back to the product interface.

google analytics welcome email screenshot
Show users how to move forward with links to a knowledge base, product start page, forums, or FAQs. Image Source: Analytics.Google.com

Don't forget to express your gratitude for their time and trust. Keep it short but meaningful.

Use product marketing platforms like Omnisend or Mailchimp to create automated welcome emails. They have ready-to-use automation templates for onboarding, customer retention, reactivation, and data-based marketing.

mailchimp automate welcome email screenshot
Automate welcome emails for the onboarding process with pre-built automation templates. Image Source: Mailchimp.com

4. Put together an onboarding team

Build a team of product experts to design a successful onboarding experience.

Start with key people from your product management department.

Who knows the product's features the most? Who is the mastermind behind your customer success strategy?

Don't forget to bring in marketing experts who are familiar with the target users' behavior.

Marketers should also be able to create content in a language and format that resonate with the users.

What are the customer's content preferences? What are the different ways to communicate the onboarding steps?

Use the collective wisdom of your product experts to create a streamlined onboarding journey toward real use cases.

5. Pick the right tools

Choose the right tools for the various areas of your product onboarding flow.

Consider the tools below.

For in-app product tours:

  1. Whatfix
  2. Userpilot
  3. WalkMe
  4. Appcues
  5. Intercom

For onboarding emails:

  1. Omnisend
  2. Sendinblue
  3. Mailchimp
  4. SendPulse
  5. MailerLite

For knowledge bases:

  1. Help Scout
  2. Zendesk
  3. Document360
  4. Insided
  5. Guru

Additional Onboarding Process Tips To Remember

  • Use a product onboarding checklist. Create a checklist of priorities for your onboarding team. Include the product features that must be covered in the onboarding experience.
  • Optimize your forms. A/B test your registration and setup pages to make the experiences as frictionless as possible. To expedite the registration process, enable new users to sign up using their social media accounts.
  • Ask users what they want. Kick off the onboarding experience with a quick survey. Use customer feedback to determine features that matter most to them.
  • Make your onboarding process interactive. Don’t overwhelm your new users by sending product information they don’t need. Keep your onboarding targeted and specific by serving new users pieces of information that are highly relevant to them. Accomplish this by making your onboarding process interactive. 
  • Value your trial users. Offer trial users enough time to explore and use your platform to the fullest. Once the trial is over, re-engage users who didn't convert into full customers through ads and emails, among other retargeting methods.
  • Give users the option to skip the onboarding. Accept the fact that not all users want an in-app guided experience. Offer a "Skip Tour" option and let them self-learn your platform.

SaaS Product Onboarding Examples

Are you ready to build your first product onboarding experience?

Before you get started, learn from these great onboarding examples:

1. Ahrefs

ahrefs screenshot
Show FAQs, contact forms, and product features to help users get a running start with your product. Image Source: Ahrefs.com

Ahrefs registration page is loaded with valuable resources to make users more confident in their purchase decision.

Ahrefs highlighted each plan's key features, compiled a comprehensive list of FAQs, and included a link to their contact form.

2. GetResponse

getresponse.com screenshot
Help new users focus on in-app guided tours by blurring or greying out unnecessary information. Image Source: GetResponse.com

To keep new users engaged, GetResponse created a distraction-free onboarding process that blurs unnecessary elements.

This approach can be observed from the initial setup to all the product tours for major features.

getresponse screenshot
Highlight important parts of the onboarding experience to help users get progress quickly. Image Source: GetResponse.com

3. TikTok

tiktok screenshot
When using single sign-on, convert more users by supporting the apps they use. Image Source: TikTok.com

Enabling "single sign-on" is a proven way to make the user registrations run smoothly.

TikTok exemplified this by supporting not one, not two, but five third-party apps.

4. Toggl

toggl screenshot
Focus on one goal at a time to keep the onboarding experience engaging. Image Source: Toggl.com

Toggl implements a staggered customer onboarding process that explores the user journey, one goal at a time. After completing a goal, the app asks users if they'd like to resume onboarding for another feature.

5. CoSchedule

coschedule screenshot
Make the onboarding process more rewarding by sharing milestones and tracking the user’s progress. Image Source: CoSchedule.com

You can make the onboarding process more rewarding by helping users track their progress. CoSchedule nailed this by giving new users target "milestones" with a clear progress indicator.

3 Top User Onboarding Software

Now that you have a better grasp on how to create a product onboarding process, it’s time to pick the tools that will make them a reality. 

Take a look at the best user onboarding software for businesses:

1. In-app tours: Whatfix

in app tour whatfix screenshot
Image Source: Whatfix.com

Whatfix is an all-in-one Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) for building guided product tours. The platform can also help you collect customer feedback, use in-app messaging, track product analytics, and more.

2. Email onboarding: Omnisend

omnisend screenshot
Image Source: Omnisend.com

Omnisend provides automation templates for welcome emails, thank you messages, and customer support follow-up emails. The platform also supports push notifications and SMS--perfect if your audience wants an omnichannel onboarding experience.

3. Knowledge base: Help Scout

helpscout screenshot
Image Source: HelpScout.com

Use Help Scout to build a knowledge base for users who prefer a self-paced onboarding experience. The platform also helps with customer management, live messaging, real-time reporting, and integrations for robust product management and customer service.

Product Onboarding FAQs

Conclusion

Creating an effective product onboarding experience is essential to keep new users engaged, prevent abandonment, and accelerate product adoption.

It's not easy, but it's achievable with the right strategies.

Use the tips above to create effective product onboarding processes.

Build guided experiences that address your audience’s goals and content preferences. Focus on customer success to maximize brand loyalty and customer lifetime value.

To learn more about product onboarding and tried and tested strategies to build top-notch products, subscribe to our newsletter.

By Sarah Tolle

I'm a digital content strategist, writer, and actor. I started working as a freelance writer on content projects, marketing campaigns, and websites before growing into SEO and content growth strategy roles. No matter what I'm doing, I strive to tell honest, well-developed stories that have a positive impact on people's lives.

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