Product tours are an essential way to onboard users in your app.
Yet, all too often, SaaS businesses see their customers not completing the product tour, or even churning during the onboarding stage.
To reduce the odds of this happening, we’ve created this definitive guide to product tours, which contains all the best practices that we’ve learned from working with hundreds of SaaS businesses.
Let’s get into it.
- Product tours are a way of showing users the product features they need to learn in order to activate.
- They’re an essential tool for SaaS businesses because of how much their usage correlates with financially important metrics like activation, retention, and feature usage.
- We generally advise against linear, top-down product tours. Instead, you should opt for an interactive walkthrough type of product tour.
- Product tours generally include a welcome screen, a survey to segment users, a checklist, and experience flows for each of the key activation points.
- It’s very challenging to build a product tour from scratch. Using product tour software is a better decision.
- The best product tour software on the market is Userpilot. Other tools include Appcues and Userguiding.
What are SaaS product tours?
A product tour is a short, interactive guide that shows a new user how to get the most out of using your product, thereby driving product adoption.
Classically, it consists of these components in the following order:
- A welcome screen
- A microsurvey to segment the user base
- A checklist giving the user 1-3 key tasks which will set them on the path to activation
- Automated experience flows for each of those tasks
The end goal of a product tour should always be activation.
By “activation,” I mean getting the user to experience the value of your product in a first-hand, visceral way.
Activation follows the “Aha Moment,” which is when a user first understands how your product might be valuable to them.
Since value is subjective, you’ll need the user to experience whatever their particular customer segment deems to be the value of your product.
And by allowing the user to proceed through the checklist you’ve given them, task by task, you’ll ensure that your customer is an active part of the process.
But how exactly do product tours affect your business?
What are product tours used for in SaaS?
Product tours are a useful tool for SaaS companies in 3 main areas:
New user onboarding
Most SaaS teams create product tours in order to show their new users around their product.
Product marketers often find that a good product tour ensures that more new users activate.
And because they’ve experienced the value of your product, those users will generally stick around for a long time.
Too many SaaS teams forget that onboarding is a never-ending process, just like learning is in the rest of life.
That means that you can use a product tour as a way of showing off new features to a user who’s been with you for 6 months.
If it benefits their product experience, and if the product tour follows the best practices contained in this article, they’ll likely thank you for it.
If you work in a customer-facing role like customer success or customer support, it’s a bit difficult to do your job properly if you don’t understand the product you’re representing.
For this reason, SaaS companies often use product tours to get their new hires up to speed at understanding their own tool.
In departments like sales, where understanding tools like Salesforce and Hubspot is critical to professional success, I’ve also seen SaaS companies use 3rd party product tours to train (or re-train) staff.
If you’re thinking that this sounds like a hassle to set up and want to click away, bear with me just one moment while I show you why this subject matters so much.
Benefits of product tours for SaaS
Great product tours have a positive effect on just about every important SaaS metric that you can possibly imagine.
When new users sign up to your app, your product tour will help them reach product activation before they lose interest.
Once activated, it’s likely you’ll retain those users for a long time, since they’ve understood the value your product brings them.
This is doubly true if you keep using product tours to drive new feature adoption during secondary onboarding.
And the inverse is also the case: if you don’t build product tours, your churn rate will eventually skyrocket because your users won’t know how to get the most out of your product.
Naturally, all of these metrics have financial implications for your business.
But the financial impact of product tours on SaaS companies is not limited to metrics alone.
Consider also how product tours can be used to push for upsells during the later stages of the customer journey.
These upsells add revenue, all for a lower cost of sale than acquiring a new customer. Studies have actually shown that it’s 4x cheaper to upsell to existing users than it is to acquire new ones.
Or, on the cost side of your business, imagine how much time that automated product tours that address customer queries will save your support team.
The fewer support conversations they need to have, the lower your support costs will be in the long run.
So as you can see, setting up great product tours can be quite cost-effective!
But you have to do them right…
What is the difference between product tours and interactive walkthroughs?
When the average product manager thinks about setting up a product tour, they imagine a top-down, linear experience where each customer is shown the same product features in exactly the same way.
This type of linear tour will turn off your users in a matter of minutes.
Just look at the comments we received when we asked people if they like product tours:
And it’s no wonder. By dumping tons of feature information on your customer at once, you’re not really engaging them at all.
There’s actually a good chance that the customer won’t retain any information from the product tour whatsoever.
From a user perspective, being the recipient of an information dump is really confusing.
Check out this product tour from an email marketing tool:
Now, you would think that you’d need to add your email list before looking at the feature to create and send a newsletter, right?
But the product tour is desperate for me to see all these features at once, and ends up asking me to create my first newsletter before uploading my email list.
This is not a very smart approach, and one that lacks any real interactivity.
Unsurprisingly, users on the receiving end of linear product tours just get frustrated that you didn’t focus on helping them achieve their goals in the shortest time possible, and end up churning.
So what’s the solution?
Enter the interactive walkthrough
The best product tours are interactive and non-linear.
They show users only those specific features they need in order to activate, and then get the user to learn those features by interacting with them in real-time.
Since the features needed for activation vary between audience segments, it would be pointless to give everyone the same linear walkthrough. Instead, each customer cohort receives a slightly different product tour.
In a really great product tour, each new step is triggered by the user completing the previous step. There’s no arbitrary dumping of information on the user before they need it.
From the user’s perspective, this feels less like a lecture and more like a friendly, one-on-one onboarding chat.
Given that so many SaaS teams think that product tours are necessarily linear information dumps, the term “product tour” has become somewhat tainted.
To avoid confusion, we therefore often refer to effective product tours as “interactive product walkthroughs.”
If you want to build better, non-linear product walkthroughs for your SaaS, read on!
How to build better product tours for your SaaS
Here are our top 4 tips for building great product tours:
1. Make it interactive
The most effective way to learn to use a SaaS product is to learn by doing.
Imagine if I wanted you to use a task list feature on my project management tool, and I gave you the following instructions:
- Open the tool
- Go to “Boards”
- Click on “Create List”
- Enter the title of the list
- Click “Create new task”
- …. see how you’re bored already?
How much more effective would it be if you instead clicked through these steps in your own time, and each new step were triggered by your previous action?
I guarantee that you would remember more from an interactive product tour than from a dry list of tasks.
That brings me on to my next tip:
2. Make the experience event-triggered, not time-triggered
Using the same example, imagine that you’re going through the different tooltips in this rather basic product tour for project management software.
Imagine your horror when you’re shown the tooltip to “Create List” before you’ve managed to locate the “Boards” option in the previous step!
Such a situation would only arise if the product tour had been set up to trigger each new event after a pre-arranged number of seconds.
Instead, give your users all the time they need to figure out your software. Why rush them when you want to keep them inside your app?
New tasks in the product tour should only trigger when the user has completed the previous task.
For the more tech-savvy product marketers out there, you can signal the task completion to your onboarding software by creating a custom event called “Task XYZ is complete.”
The best onboarding software these days will be able to automatically serve the user with the next experience in the sequence after the custom event is complete.
For more on using custom events, check out this post.
3. Make it personalized
In my eyes, this is the most important of these four tips.
If you try to make a basic product tour that will appeal to all your users, you’ll end up appealing to none of them.
That’s one of the biggest problems with linear product tours, in fact.
Instead, you should segment users by their “jobs to be done” and create separate product tours that take different user cohorts to their respective goals as quickly as possible.
In our project management software example, one might imagine that there are lots of different types of users, each with its own separate use case:
- Project managers want to ensure that tasks are sorted neatly and assigned to the right team members.
- Employees on the operational level only want to see their own tasks.
- Accountants are only interested in the financial implications of each task.
- And the CEO wants to look at the big picture to make sure that the entire business is running in accordance with their vision.
Each of these audience segments would need its own product tour.
4. A/B test your product tour
Here’s the honest truth: no SaaS company creates quality interactive product tours at the first attempt.
More likely, they first created a basic product tour and then tested it repeatedly until they got the results that they wanted.
Using onboarding software with advanced analytics capabilities is key here.
You should run product experiments that track the performance data of your product tours and see which one is best at getting users to activate.
Keep iterating on your most promising results, and you’ll eventually find the best product tour for your business.
UI patterns in a typical SaaS product tour
Having analyzed product walkthroughs from hundreds of SaaS companies, here are the most common UX elements that we’ve encountered.
Welcome screen with a microsurvey
This is the first thing that new sign-ups see after joining your app.
As the name suggests, a welcome screen is a place to greet new customers.
It’s a dedicated UI pattern, meaning that it takes up the whole screen in order to seize the customer’s attention.
Frequently, we see SaaS companies using welcome screens to:
- Greet the user by name
- Charm the customer with smiley photo of one of their team members
- Explain what the next steps will be
Here’s an example of a welcome screen from social media scheduling app Kontentino:
For more examples of successful welcome screens, we invite you to check out this post.
Too many companies forget that the welcome screen is not just a place to be all warm and fuzzy. If that’s all it is, your customers will probably end up seeing it as a source of friction.
The welcome screen has commercial value as a user segmentation tool. Let me show you what I mean.
Welcome screens often contain another UX element called a microsurvey. This is a short survey that seeks to ascertain who the user is and why they want to use your product.
Again, the example of Kontentino is instructive here. Look at their microsurvey:
As a social media scheduling tool, Kontentino has two main groups of potential customers:
- Brands who only post on one set of social media accounts.
- Digital agencies who post on behalf of multiple brands.
Since these use cases are so different, Kontentino has clearly decided that user segmentation at this stage of the onboarding process is essential.
Kontentino’s next move will be to build product tours for each segment individually, complete with customization options that reflect the unique needs of that particular segment.
Having segmented your customers, the next stage of a product tour is to serve them with a checklist that contains the small set of tasks they need to accomplish in order to activate.
Here’s an example of what such a checklist looks like, this time from Postfity, one of Kontentino’s competitors:
Note that the checklist is rather short: only 4 items long.
Any longer than that, and you risk having the user give up before they reach the point of activation.
And note also that Postfity gives the user credit for signing up, which was something they did before the welcome screen, let alone seeing the checklist.
From the user’s perspective, this is a quick win, leaving them with a feeling of accomplishment.
The rest of the checklist draws on a psychological phenomenon called the “Zeigarnik effect.” This relates to the observation that people are more likely to remember incomplete tasks than completed ones.
In other words, by using this checklist, Postfity is effectively ensuring that the activation tasks they’ve given their users will remain top of mind.
Tooltips pointing to each key activation point
To make activation into a foregone conclusion, many SaaS teams use tooltips to highlight the UX elements that they want their users to learn during the product tour.
Let’s use the example of Kontentino again.
For Kontentino’s users, activation is achieved in two main steps:
- Connecting their social media account
- Scheduling their first post
For both steps, Kontentino uses subtle tooltips to show users what to do.
Here’s the tooltip showing how to connect a social media account:
And here’s the tooltip showing how to schedule a post:
Super simple. There’s no need to show off any additional features, as that’s all the customer needed to activate!
It’s important to note that these tooltips are triggered by the completion of custom events.
Once the customer has completed the custom event called “connect social media account,” Kontentino’s product tour software automatically triggers the next tooltip in the sequence.
Let’s put all this together to give you the tools to build product tours for your own SaaS business.
How to build your product tour step by step
While every SaaS company is different, here’s a good general process to follow for creating product tours as part of your user onboarding:
1. Start from the welcome screen
Create a welcome screen that greets your users by name in a friendly way.
Attach a microsurvey that aims to assign each user to a pre-defined segment.
The questions you’ll need to ask in your microsurvey will vary from business to business, but if you want a good overview of what should be in an onboarding survey, I recommend checking out this article.
2. Pick 2-3 key activation points for each segment
You probably have an intuitive sense of what your product’s core value proposition is.
The features that allow your users to experience that value proposition are the activation points you’ll need to highlight in your product walkthroughs.
If you’re in any doubt as to which features you’ll need to highlight, look at your product analytics.
Compare the behavior of your most active users against that of users who churned within a few days.
By tracking features used by the active users and those not used by the customers who left you, you’ll discover what your users believe to be the most valuable part of your app.
You might also read in-app messages that you received from your customers giving you direct feedback on which features they liked the most.
In all likelihood, those are the features that ensure a customer becomes activated.
3. Use an onboarding checklist
Next, make a checklist that highlights those 2-3 activation points to your user.
Remember to keep it as short as possible.
4. Create tooltips pointing to each key activation task
One by one, point your user to the tasks they need to accomplish in order to activate.
Remember that each new task should be triggered by a custom event.
If you’re a web developer with significant coding knowledge, you now have enough knowledge to go away and build a product tour for your own business!
But if you want a shortcut that’s less technically demanding, read on…
Why is product tour software important for SaaS?
In 2023, you shouldn’t have to build your own product tours from scratch anymore.
This is an arduous process that will just drain time and energy from your development team.
To give you an example of how tedious coding can be, here’s a pretty basic tooltip:
Now imagine that you needed about 70 lines of code to build that.
By contrast, using product tour software would allow you to build product tours for your SaaS company code-free!
This is a much more agile approach, because you don’t need to bug your devs every time you want to make a change to your experience flows.
For non-technical product managers, this is a huge win. It frees up time to run product experiments and conduct A/B tests, which is what really drives the quality of your product tour.
Ultimately, using product tour software is just a more scalable approach than doing everything yourself.
The million-dollar question is: with so many tools on the market, which product tour software should you choose, and why?
Best tools to build your own product tour in 2023
It’s very simple to build a product tour with Userpilot, with no code required.
Userpilot offers numerous ways to segment your customer base, including:
- By user attribute (such as plan type)
- By custom event
- By NPS score
- By location
- By feature tags
- By language
You could even combine several of these features at once to create some truly unique segments:
Here’s an example of what a welcome screen microsurvey created with Userpilot might look like:
For step-by-step instructions on how to build a microsurvey in Userpilot, click here.
Once you’ve segmented your users, you can also make an activation checklist on Userpilot very easily:
Where Userpilot really earns its title as the best product tour software is through the outstanding personalization options it gives you when it comes to your product tours.
Whatever UX element you want to build as part of your user onboarding, whether it’s a tooltip, a modal, a slider, a hotspot, or anything else, Userpilot will let you do it.
And the best part is: there’s not much of a learning curve required to pick up how to use the software. All you need is a few clicks.
Here’s what building a hotspot looks like in Userpilot:
If you want to customize the look and feel of your product tour to your brand, Userpilot will let you do that too. No code required.
Looking at these numbers, it will be simple for you to see where your users are dropping off during your product tour, allowing you to step in and make the changes you need to.
Following this process repeatedly means that user activation is all but certain.
Userpilot starts at $249 per month for up to 2500 MAUs. Unlike the other product tour software options on this list, all product features are available on all plan levels.
The launch of Appcues in 2013 completely transformed the product tour software landscape.
Previously, it had been all but impossible for non-technical product marketers to build even basic product tours.
8 years later, it’s still great software.
I especially like Appcues’ data visualizations, which are really quite elegant, and make it easy to segment users and track feature adoption.
The age of Appcues’ software sometimes shows itself, notably in the range of UI elements that are available code-free.
Any styling that’s more complicated than height or color requires custom CSS.
On the face of things, Appcues’ pricing is identical to Userpilot’s, starting at $249 per month for 2,500 MAUs.
But looks can be deceiving.
Companies with more than 5 segments will need to upgrade to Appcues’ Growth Plan, which starts at $879 per month.
In practical terms, this means that you’d get used to one tool for a bit, and then as soon as you hit 6 user segments you’d need to either get an add-on, pay $600+ extra, or switch to a different software such as Userpilot.
For a more detailed review of Appcues, check out this article.
Every SaaS startup has to begin somewhere. And in those early days, budgets are often tight.
For businesses that are in this position but still want to invest in creating an onboarding process, Userguiding is a great solution.
Their UI is very intuitive to pick up, with features including:
Although there is quite a range of UI features, it’s worth noting that using them is a significantly more buggy experience than either Userpilot or Appcues, both of which employ more mature technology.
But the biggest problem I see with Userguiding is that it doesn’t offer branched interactive walkthroughs.
That limits you to the kind of linear product tour that we advised you against earlier in this article.
That being said, one might make the argument that any onboarding is better than no onboarding at all.
So if you can’t afford anything else, or want to hack together your own onboarding software with Userguiding and an add-on or two, this might be the option for you.
Pricing starts from $82 per month for 2500 MAUs.
Let me leave you with a few outstanding product tours from other businesses to inspire you.
Top 3 Product Tours for Inspiration
Demio is a webinar hosting service. And they have one of my all-time favorite product tours!
As part of Demio’s product tour, you’re asked to join a “fake webinar.” Top marks for creativity here.
The “webinar” is initially hosted by a Demio employee, who explains that this is the sort of webinar you can expect to produce and share with your audience.
Then, to ensure that the experience is interactive for you as the customer, she hands over the reins to you, so that you’re now the host!
This allows you to share your webcam and slides.
Before you worry, there are no real guests attending, so Demio allows you to test out their product in a safe environment.
But, much to my amusement, there are some fake guests in attendance.
You can see some of their dialogue in the next screenshot:
There’s no checklist here, but Demio nevertheless manages to capture the essence of a successful product tour by letting you experience what using their tool is like, and inviting you to test some of their features in front of a fake audience.
Tallyfy is a tool for documenting and automating business processes.
Their product tour is unique in that it presents the key activation steps in the format of project management tasks, which is what Tallyfy is known for.
Here’s what that looks like:
You may recall from earlier that we suggested that you give your customers an easy win with your first checklist item.
Tallyfy does this well. All you have to do is click on “Open.”
Simultaneously, this subtly communicates that using Tallyfy for task management is easy and intuitive.
The second task looks like this:
This part is notable for its interactivity and light humor, which act together to give this product tour its unique character.
The user is asked what they see on a beach: sand, bacon, or cheese. (Cheese sounds great right now!)
After that, all that remains is for you to create a task of your own:
Now you’re self-sufficient, and understand how to both create and complete tasks.
This means that you’ve activated, all in a matter of minutes.
Our last example comes from Rocketbots, a messaging tool that connects all of your inboxes on one platform.
Rocketbots’ product tour begins with a welcome screen:
Rocketbots keep this brief in an attempt to reduce Time To Value.
After the welcome screen, you come across the following checklist:
The fact that you’re already given credit for “creating a space” gives you a sense of achievement, making you more likely to want to finish the rest of the checklist.
To become activated, users of Rocketbots need to both create a space and connect a channel, so it’s no coincidence that these two activities are both mentioned on the checklist.
Including a task on the checklist for inviting a collaborator adds an element of virality, which is smart.
The product tour ends with a neat example of a tooltip to help you add one of your inboxes:
Having made it to the end of this ultimate guide to product tours, you should now be able to:
- Understand what a product tour does and why it’s so important for SaaS businesses.
- Distinguish between a top-down, linear product tour and an interactive walkthrough.
- Recognize the key UI components that are used in most product tours.
- Understand why building a product tour without the right software is an exercise in futility.
- Emulate the best practices from other SaaS companies’ product tours.
- And choose product tour software from the leading options on the market.
We hope that you’ll choose Userpilot! It offers an incredibly diverse range of onboarding features at a very competitive price.
Click on the banner below to get started today.