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Creating A World-Class Onboarding Experience for B2B SaaS with Ramli John

We recently hosted an AMA for the Launch Awesome community with Ramli John, the author of "Product-led Onboarding". It was a fantastic opportunity for our community members to get direct insights from Ramli on his book and learn more about product-led onboarding best practices.

p.s. if you want the opportunity to join AMAs like these, apply to join the community!

You can listen to the full episode now on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

BIG FYI: this post actually goes into much more depth about specific tactics and UI patterns you can use to improve your onboarding that the video doesn't cover -- so I encourage you to read on.

The Crux of the Product-led Growth Strategy

User onboarding is a retention lever, a revenue multiplier, and a means to lower customer acquisition costs (CAC).

So why is onboarding such an after thought for so many companies?

Ramli's book identifies several common reasons companies struggle with onboarding:

  1. It's hard to organize a team around improving onboarding
  2. There's a misaligned definition of user onboarding across teams
  3. There aren't clear quantitative criteria for good onboarding
  4. There's a lack of a strategy to continuously improve onboarding.

The EUREKA Framework

To address these challenges, Ramli introduced the EUREKA framework, which consists of the following steps:

  1. Establish an onboarding team
  2. Understand the user’s desired outcome
  3. Refine onboarding success criteria
  4. Evaluate and optimize the onboarding path
  5. Keep new users engaged
  6. Apply changes and repeat

In this post we get into the how and the why behind each of the 6 steps in Ramli’s EUREKA framework.

1. Establishing an Effective Onboarding Team

In our AMA we talked about how onboarding is a victim of the org chart -- and how most of the work we do is with our functional peers on relatively localized projects.

Onboarding is very different in this regard.

Effective onboarding team considers the entire user journey.

Therefore, onboarding teams must be cross-functional, with representation from:

  1. product
  2. marketing
  3. success
  4. sales

Do you need a "growth" team?

Some teams have dedicated stand-alone squads whose sole objective is around optimizing onboarding and more broadly "the funnel".

You certainly don't have to have a team dedicated to only working on this, but it can make sense for larger companies to organize teams this way.

🎥 Listen to Ramli's take here

Getting executive buy-in

Onboarding is so important that you should be committing serious resources to constantly improving it.

How much exactly? Hard to say but I would personally recommend at least 10-15% of your Product team's time.

So it's extremely important that the leadership team is committed to this endeavor.

2. Understanding Users' Desired Outcomes

Before you do anything, you need to really understand what your users are trying to accomplish.

A helpful way to think about is that users aren’t buying your product, they’re buying an outcome for themselves. They're buying a way for them to make some progress in their lives.

So it's very important that you understand the following things about your customers:

  • What are the circumstances in users' lives that trigger them to start looking for a solution like yours?
  • What is their desired outcome?
  • What does success look like?
  • What’s holding users back from achieving their desired outcome?
  • What else did they consider or try, and why didn’t it work for them?

If customers are hiring your product to do some job, then your onboarding experience is the interview.

My product "does multiple jobs" for customers

This is very common for B2B SaaS products so don't fret.

The solution here is for you to segment and personalize the user onboarding experience for different customers.

Jobs are more than just functional

Humans aren't robots -- we feel things, and we care what other people think about what we're doing. So the job your product does for your customers has more than just a functional dimension.

There are three components to customer jobs:

  1. Functional - does the product actually solve the problem?
  2. Emotional - how does it make the user feel? Can you remove anxiety, frustration, boredom? Can you make them feel confident, or like they're a pro?
  3. Social – we communicate our values when we make a purchase and signal to others how we want to be perceived. How is your product going to make them look to their boss and colleagues?

You need to take all of these things into account when designing your onboarding experience.

3. Refining Onboarding Success Milestones

Once you know what success looks like for your customers, you can start to create a definition and quantify what exactly is the set of actions customers need to do to achieve that success.

There are milestones along the way

Let's define "fully onboarded" (in a B2B SaaS context) as "the company has developed a habit of routinely using your product to solve a problem".

Given this definition, I think it's impossible for new signups to fully onboard themselves in a single day.

There are milestones along the way to fully onboarded.

  1. Champion (the person interested enough to signup) complete the sign-up process
  2. Champion feels sufficiently safe to socialize product to colleagues (hear the discussion on this here)
  3. Company experiences the value of the product for the first time
  4. Company uses the product at a cadence that suggests a new habit exists

Keep these in mind - we'll use these milestones as the basis for our onboarding strategy in a sec.

Product adoption indicators

The final stage mentioned above refers to the idea that the company is using the product at a cadence that suggests a new habit is forming or exists.

You need to figure out within your own product....

  1. Which action? (done ORGANICALLY, not in some fabricated way)
  2. Done how many times?
  3. Within what time box? predictive that the user is building a habit of using your product to solve a problem?

To think about your own, consider these oft-cited examples:

  • Twitter - following 30 accounts
  • Facebook - 7 friends in 10 days
  • Slack - send 2,000 messages

Ultimately, the test of a good product adoption indicator is that it's predictive of that the user is building a habit of using your product to solve a problem.

4. Evaluating and Optimizing the Onboarding Path

The next step is to take a full inventory of what your current onboarding experience is like for users.

You'll want to take a screenshot or create a little post-it notes in Figjam or Miro for:

  • every field they have to fill out
  • every button they have to click
  • every new page they need to go to

Ultimately the experience we want to create for our onboarding is give the user a direct path to a "day-one win". Your day-one should be the furthest meaningful milestone identified in section above that you can reasonably expect to get users to on their first day of using your product:

  • if you have a relatively simple, single-user tool - they can likely get to first legitimate use of your product
  • if you have a more complex tool that involves several stakeholders - this will likely be getting the user comfortable enough to socialize your product with their colleagues

5. Keeping New Users Engaged

Onboarding is ultimately about changing behavior. It's about cultivating within your signups a new habit of using your product to solve their problem.

And no one knows Behavior Change better than Stanford professor Dr. BJ Fogg.

The BJ Fogg Behavior Model, posits that behavior change is a function of

  1. motivation
  2. ability
  3. prompts

The idea that if our combined motivation and ability exceed the "action line", then prompts to do such behavior will be successful.

We do things we're sufficiently able and motivated to do when prompted.

Onboarding is one big prompt to get the user to do something:

  • Let's make it feel easy
  • Let's re-motivate users throughout the process

Make it easy

You need to make onboarding feel as easy as possible.

A common onboarding failure is cognitive overload: bombarding users with pop-ups, in app messages, tooltips, and more.

Here's some ways to do better.

Provide cues to guide them in what they should do next

Instead of point out what every feature is with a tooltip, tell them exactly what they should do and when.

Check out this portion of Hubspot's onboarding.

Notice two things:

  • At a macro level they tell users the set of things they should be doing
  • At a micro level they guide user's on exactly how to get through a single flow

Yes, it should be noted some people don't like this kind of onboarding. Giving people a way to opt out and just explore for themselves is totally fine.

Show a helpful empty states

Pages are designed to have data in them. When they're completely empty, it leaves a user without a clear idea of what they should do next.

Instead emphasize the value of taking action, give helpful contextual video/images about what that thing is, and direct them to do the desired action as well.

Here's how we do empty states at LaunchNotes

One other option here is to add a bunch of dummy data to new signups so that pages are pre-populated with data. I think this can work, and works even better if you implement a way for new signups toggle between their account and a "demo environment".

Provide templates, cheat sheets, other resources

Content is a cheat code to onboarding.

Think about it like this: it’s hard to write a whole story from scratch, but it’s easy and fun to do ad-libs.

Check out how Zapier provides template Zaps that are customized for the user:

Increase motivation

Speak to users desires

Use microcopy throughout the onboarding process to highlight how the users is about to improve their lives.

Ask users at the beginning of onboarding what their primary goal is in signing up for your product. Then you can use that data to:

  1. Tailor which steps you guide them through
  2. Refer back to these benefits throughout your onboarding

Here's how peppers in these values statements into bits of copy.

Show them progress

Progress indicators play at something human - we’re wired to set goals and we inherently feel good when we accomplish them.

Check out how Hubspot hits on this in two ways:

  • The overall onboarding checklist serves as a global progress indicator
  • After each step is completed they congratulate, reinforce the user made some progress, and direct to the next step
The global progress tracker
The celebratory reinforncing after each step is complete

Welcome new users

We say “yes” more readily to people we like and are attracted to. Do a welcome video with a quick intro to the product.

Here's how Appcues does it within their Chrome Extension:

Hot take: founders should also write bespoke intro emails to ICPs that sign up. Unless you have super lower ACV, this is one of those things that "doesn't scale" but I think you can realistically get this done if you spend an hour on it every day.

Use social proof

When people have FUD they look to the behavior of others to determine their own.

There's going to be times when folks aren't sure exactly how they want to configure your app when they're onboarding.

This is an opportunity to show them how others are using your product.

6. Apply changes and repeat

It's a long road, so remember that improving your onboarding is acontinuous process that will have it's ups and downs.

If you don't have a bespoke onboarding or it hasn't been touched in forever, prioritize high-impact changes first. You'll learn more and you only have time to make run so many experiments.

Share learnings with the team as you go. It's a team sport and doing write-ups about what experiments are working and what's not will help everyone get better.

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