The Ultimate Guide To Creating A Product Adoption Strategy – PART 1

How to Create Your First Product Adoption Strategy PART 1

Say ‘Product Roadmap’ and every product person knows what you mean. But Product Adoption Roadmap (or Product Adoption Strategy) and you get people scratching their heads.

The poll I ran in our Product Marketing & Growth group speaks volumes:

Product Adoption Strategy Userpilot

This illustrates well what a Product Growth and Retention expert and a Product Marketer at Varicent, Aditi Gupta said to me recently in a private conversation:

Product Adoption” is a huge black hole that a lot of companies don’t think about or have no “Adoption Roadmap”.”

Now, I get it: limited resources and all.

But why spend all this time and effort building your product, and adding new amazing features – if you don’t have any consistent strategy how you’ll get your users to adopt them?

This is exactly what I wanted to tackle in today’s post: how to build an effective product adoption strategy for your SaaS.

TL;DR? It won’t replace the playbook, but you can also listen to why this matters in my video:

The importance of a Product Adoption Strategy

Usually, your pre-sign up marketing funnel is very well defined.

Marketing Funnel


You know how you’re doing to push your leads down the buyer’s journey.

You have a clear strategy on how to do it (e.g. SEO content > relevant lead magnet > nurturing email workflow > demo call) and tactics to execute it.

As you monitor your lead’s progression from awareness through consideration, to evaluation and purchase, you know where there are leaks in your funnel, and you adjust your process to fix them.

But with post-sign-up product adoption flow?

Are you actually tracking your user journey (for different personas and segments), measuring when the ‘AHA moments’ happen for them and where the users stumble or even drop out?

Activation AHA Adoption

Source: Userpilot

And then try to fix the drop-out points with in-app experiences, that will ‘catch your users before they fall’ – on these stumbling blocks?

This is what a Product Adoption Strategy is actually about – mapping your user journey, preparing a set of experiences along the user journey that will help them – and you – achieve different growth goals.

Let’s dive straight into what those goals are!

The Goals of A Product Adoption Strategy

I know that if you are an A-type – you like diving into action head-first. But hear me out: without a clear plan, you will be bleeding a lot of users (and money) along your user journey.

As with every good plan we need to start with a why – what exactly you want to achieve with your Product Adoption Strategy:

aha moment

Source: Userpilot

  1. Increase New User Activation (reaching the ‘AHA! moment’, adopting the primary features) through New User Onboarding
  2. Increase Secondary Feature Engagement & Adoption through Secondary & Tertiary Onboarding
  3. Increase new feature adoption over time
  4. Push more users down their user journey by getting them to adopt more and more features (as well as more and more advanced ones)
  5. Boost Product Stickiness by promoting regular use of the sticky features
  6. Increasing user retention through personalizing the product adoption flows – and helping your users to keep achieving success with your product
  7. Prevent churn by helping your users develop habits that set them up for success: fostering good patterns of usage, and correcting bad user habits (using NPS and behavioral data to see what sets the happy and unhappy users apart)
  8. Achieve expansion revenue with upgrades

The implementation of your Product Adoption Strategy will create a flywheel effect. A flywheel is any mechanism that allows you to achieve greater efficiency over time.

So thanks to your Product Adoption Strategy Flywheel, you will have fewer dropouts, higher adoption, and retention with each iteration of your in-app experience flow:

user adoption flywheel

Source: Userpilot

Now, with these clear goals in mind, we can start creating your first Product Adoption Strategy!

Creating A Product Adoption Strategy step-by-step – Mapping the user journey from Aha! to activation to complete adoption

How to create your first Product Adoption Strategy?

It’s a long process, but I guarantee it will pay you off well.

Here’s an overview of the critical steps you need to take before you start building experiences that will help you achieve each goal:

  1. Understand your persona(s) and their goals, segment your users

It may sound almost like a marketing cliche, but from my experience: a huge proportion of SaaS businesses don’t really understand whom they are targeting.

Without knowing who your users are and what they want to achieve in your product (aka their ‘goals’) – how can you help them get value out of it?

So – first of all:

  1. Analyze your ideal user persona(s): their role, demographic characteristics, company type and size, industry, main pain point, use case, etc.
  2. Map the goals that your persona(s) want to achieve with your product
  3. Define which features of your products can help the ideal users achieve their goals
  4. Segment your users accordingly

2. Understand what successful & happy customers do with your product

  1. You can make some assumptions/hypotheses about how your ideal customer persona should use your product…
  2. …but then, test them: Look at the data of successful & happy customers, look at your cohort analysis for specific features, talk to your ideal customer persona about the features they absolutely can’t do without and their user journey (which features they started using in which order).
  3. Do this for each segment you created in step 1.
  4. Create a profile of the ‘ideal use pattern’ for your product

3. Define the key activation points (e.g. actions your users need to perform, features your users need to adopt) your users need to reach to get the value of your product (get to the ‘AHA! moment’)cohort analysis

1. Look at your cohort analysis (a sample one ‘above’). Look at what actions the people who stay beyond the first-month mark do, and those that churn – don’t.

Define which actions are the absolute ‘must-haves‘ to understand the major benefit of your product – reach the ‘AHA! moment’ – aka the ‘key activation points’.

E.g. for Twitter – it’s following 30 accounts. For Skype – it’s making your first phone call within 7 days of installing the app. For Facebook – it’s adding 10 friends.

For Userpilot – it’s installing the javascript code and publishing your first experience.

For a social media scheduler – it’s adding your social profiles and scheduling your first post.

2. Understand your users’ ‘the path to value’ – what it takes to experience the AHA! moment:

path to value

TikTok’s Path To Value. Source: AHrefs

3. Define which features are not – and will count as ‘secondary features’.

4. Map the times when your users should discover each feature against their user journey (for different personas and use cases) – and compare that to the behavioral data from your most successful/ happy users and the conversations with them. Take into account your entire user journey – not just the new user onboarding stage!

The user journey may be vastly different depending on the persona and use case:

For example, with email marketing tools:

signup flow

Source: AHrefs

As you can see: there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to product adoption. You need to segment to make your adoption experiences relevant – and thus, effective.

OK, now we’re done with the theory – let’s do some practice!

5. Understand your user’s motivation to solve problems – with your app.

In other words – does your users’ lives depend on it?

If so, they will be unlikely to leave 😉 This is a good place to be.

Also – they will be more forgiving about the lack of proper onboarding, your interface looking a tad 90s, or your customer support not being that prompt with replies.

Now that we looked at some theories – it’s time to look at how you can actually implement this!

Implementing Your Product Adoption Strategy

Once you’ve decided who your users are, how you’re going to segment them, and which milestones they need to hit at every stage of their user journey – you need to implement the right in-app experiences to achieve each of your Product Adoption Strategy goals.

Now, we’ll show you the main UI patterns that you can use to build those experiences.

We’ll sort them by the goals, of course. I’ll base the remaining part of this post on the OKR framework – so you know exactly what to do at each step, why, and what are the

DISCLAIMER: While I’m trying to make this post as actionable as possible, let me say that again, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to Product Adoption Strategy. What has worked for one product, may not work for you. Below, we’re presenting the most common, generalized ‘best practices’.

👉 If after reading this post you still feel you need more help or struggle to see how you can implement the best practices below, book a FREE call with one of our Onboarding Specialists so we can show you how to implement a Product Adoption Strategy inside your app!

Increasing New User Activation

In any Product Adoption Strategy, this is one of the key goals. Obviously, if you fail to activate and keep your new users, your CAC/LTV ratio is abysmal and there’s nothing else you can do.

As Julian Shapiro of Demand Curve said though – new user onboarding “ is usually the most half-baked aspect of SaaS products. You get spammed with tooltips and then dumped into a boring dashboard.

Why? Because there’s often no individual on a tech or marketing team who’s responsible for it. Either there are marketers acquiring users or product managers developing features. No one is sitting in between to onboard those users.

If you’ve been in that position – now is the time for you to gain an edge.

Here are a handful of tactics that can help you hit the goal of increased new user activation:

STEP 1: Segment to Personalize

Objective: segment your users by different personas and use cases in order to personalize their onboarding flow and make their product experience more relevant to their user journey.

UI Pattern: Welcome screen with a microsurvey:

convertkit welcome screen

Source: ConvertKit

Key result: Ability to create personalized, more relevant in-app experiences that will help you increase adoption, engagement, and retention throughout the user journey.

As I mentioned before, unless you’re selling a hammer, different segments of your audience may be using your tool for very different reasons.

Hence, your primary (new user) onboarding will only be effective if it’s relevant to their use case.

See how Convertkit uses it to customize its flow:

Depending on what you’ve chosen on the welcome screen (1 – moving from another tool; follow up: which one? Mailchimp; 2 – I’m new to email marketing) ConvertKit will give you different kinds of onboarding checklists:

convertkit onboarding checklist
convertkit microsurvey

This brings me exactly to my next point…

STEP 2: Don’t Show Too Much & Get Them to the ‘AHA!’ Moment Faster

#Pun unintended.

AHA moment activation points in user journey

Objective: Get your users to the ‘AHA! Moment’ as fast as possible

UI Pattern: Checklist with 2-3 items + interactive walkthrough

Results: New user activation; the user reaches the 2-3 key activation points and adopts the features that are absolutely essential for activation. They realize the core value of your product and move to the next stage of their user journey: activated user.

adoption journey map

Now, of course, it’s tempting to show your users all the amazing features ASAP.

But hey, don’t.

It won’t work.

It will just overwhelm them.

The key to new user activation is getting them to experience the initial value of your product as soon as possible.

And what that value is – you learned in step 1!

See – let’s look at that graphic from AHrefs again:

reasons why people sign up for email marketing software

What steps to value would someone need to take when they want to:

  1. create an email list (=collect subscribers)
  2. create a drip-feed email sequence
  3. set up segmentation and trigger automation sequences?

Different, right?

Let’s say I want to collect subscribers.

The key activation points for me would be:

  • creating a signup form (or pop-up)
  • embedding the signup form (or pop-up) on my blog

Now, my ‘AHA!’ moment would happen when someone signs up from my new signup form/popup to my email list.

Hence, the only thing that I need to know is to get to the AHA! moment is these two critical steps.

Now, let’s see what UI patterns are going to get me there.

I’m going to create an onboarding checklist, with two experiences showing my new users how to create a signup form and then how to embed it.

An onboarding checklist looks like this:

onboarding checklist

First, I’m going to create* some experiences: (* you can create an experience on any website with Userpilot without coding. As easy as that. But of course, you need to install the javascript on the site for it to actually go to production and be visible to the users. Talk to our expert to learn more.)

You can add more steps to your experience – to actually get your users to perform the actions you want them to do:

Then, I’m going to add these experiences to the checklist, which will trigger them on-demand:

That’s it.

Only once they’ve experienced the ‘AHA! moment’ and collected some subscribers will I show the secondary features to them – e.g. how to write their first broadcast or email sequence.

Now, of course – these features won’t be secondary to someone who comes to my tool with an email list already and wants to start building workflows straight away.

Got it?

That’s exactly why A) planning your user journey by segment/ use case and then B) Actually segmenting your users with the help of a welcome screen – are so important.

Now, let’s move on to what happens once your new users have become activated.

Increasing Secondary Feature Engagement & Adoption

secondary onboarding - onboarding stages

Objective: Get your users to adopt secondary & advanced features.

UI Pattern: native tooltips, tooltips, hotspots

Results: Your users adopt secondary features and get more value out of your product.

Now – the most common mistake I see in SaaS doing in terms of product adoption is that…

…they do nothing beyond the new user onboarding.

This is exactly like inviting someone for a three-course dinner and not serving anything after the appetizer.

Now, ‘onboarding’ is a bit of a misnomer. It implies you want to get someone on board, which in turn suggests it applies only to new user onboarding.

Hence – we don’t like this term very much here.

As a SaaS business – you need to keep onboarding your users throughout their user journey. There will be always some features you need to onboard your users. And then – when you build the experience flow (by analogy to the primary onboarding flows) – there will always be room for improvement.

Repeat after me: If you’re ever ‘done’ with your onboarding, you’re doing it wrong.

Let’s have a look at some examples of secondary onboarding flows (you can read more about them here).

STEP 1: Understand your users’ journey post-activation

user adoption journey map userpilot

Now that you have onboarded your users on basic features: go back to your User Journey Map for the different personas, and understand what next steps each of your segments need to take to make the most out of your product, keep achieving success with it, and become a long term, loyal customer.

The best way to do that is to watch session recordings from segmented and successful users (judging by their NPS scores – any above 8) from Full Story and Hotjar.

What features are they adopting in which order? How are they interacting with your tool? Where are they getting stuck?

Document all these touchpoints and verify your hypotheses about your user journey.

Then, try to list all your main and secondary features and see how they fit into this journey.

Now, think what is the best logical order for introducing secondary features.

When and how should they be introduced, exactly?

There’s no one-size-fits-all here of course, but as a rule of thumb: don’t take it for granted that your user will discover and adopt the less-obvious, ‘hidden’ features if you don’t point them out.

Also – if you leave your users to figure out the complex, difficult features themselves – such as e.g. how to build email workflows – they may give up on using this feature and experience less success.

Which over time – will lead to lower satisfaction levels and higher churn.

Just look at this email workflow dashboard in MailerLite: if you’ve never used email marketing tools before, wouldn’t it look daunting to you?

workflow mailerllite

Of course: it’s a different story if you’re a pro user who has used other email marketing tools before and comes to your tool with a large email list.

That’s why segmentation matters so much -even for secondary onboarding. You need to bear in mind not only your user’s journey ahead – but also their history and past experience.

One thing that is universal though is that the more proficient and confident in using your product your users are, the happier they are to explore your product on your own.

So while you can still continue with the UI patterns you used in new user onboarding – and create a checklist that will help them adopt the secondary features – some users may find it distracting and patronizing.

Hence – you can point out the more subtle features with hotspots and native tooltips – pulsating spots triggering an experience or a tooltip that shows only when your user hovers over it:

A hotspot:


A native tooltip:

native tooltip

Now, let’s imagine the following scenario:

Take a social media scheduler used to schedule posts to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

The tool has also some more advanced features you may want to use too: for example Social Tips Calendar and Post Ideas:

Since they are not critical for using the tool but drive more value (provide post inspiration) they will be relevant only to activated users.

But if your user is doing just fine writing posts on their own, will they appreciate a huge modal interrupting them at work to say you have some post inspiration for them?

Of course not.

Now it’s a good time to introduce the concept of reactive onboarding.

Reactive onboarding is when – instead of preempting your users’ actions and showing them something top-down: you actually react to what your users are doing in-app.

So if you see that your user is struggling to write a post – and is taking a long time to schedule each – it may mean they need some help coming up with ideas.

And that’s exactly the right time to show them a tooltip ‘Short of content ideas? Try our Social Post Calendar!’

Reactive onboarding is best for more advanced users, further down their user journey.

Of course – secondary onboarding is a fine art. Don’t expect to do everything at once, and in fact – don’t expect to ever be done. If your budget and team size allow you, hire a Product Marketing Manager to execute your Product Adoption Strategy, iterate and optimize your in-app experiences, and measure their effectiveness against the different metrics you’re tracking (user activation, feature adoption, and engagement, retention, etc. – you can set goals for each experience and measure it in Userpilot).

Increasing new feature adoption over time

Objective: Get your existing and future users to adopt new features – even when they stop being new.

UI Pattern: native tooltips, tooltips, hotspots

Results: Your new feature adoption rate doesn’t decline dramatically when your feature announcement is not live anymore.

Now that you’ve mapped all your features into your users’ journey – you may think about what happens with new features that come to your product later?

As a rule of thumb – your users don’t care about your new features. They only care about WIIFMs (What’s In It For Me).

While we wrote about feature announcements at length in this post, here’s the thing: new feature announcements are not going to do the job for continuous feature adoption.


Simply because new features are not going to be new features forever. What about the new users that come to your product after you’ve stopped the feature announcement?

That’s why you need to add each of your new features into your evergreen onboarding flow as soon as it’s live.

That means – going to points 1 & 2, and deciding how this new feature fits into your user’s adoption journey (for different user segments), and when and how you’re going to show it.

To be continued…

Now – since this post is getting terribly long and quite frankly – we could probably write a book about it – we decided to break it down into two parts.

In PART II, you will learn all about:

  • Pushing more users down their user journey by getting them to adopt more and more features (as well as more and more advanced ones)
  • Boosting Product Stickiness through promoting the use of the sticky features
  • Increasing user retention through personalizing the product adoption flows – and helping your users to keep achieving success with your product
  • Preventing churn by helping your users develop habits that set them up for success: fostering good patterns of usage, and correcting bad user habits (using NPS and behavioral data to see what sets the happy and unhappy users apart)
  • Achieving expansion revenue with upgrades

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