30 minute read · Published July 6, 2023

What is product adoption? How to understand, measure, and increase your product adoption rate

Latest Update June 28, 2024

If you've got an exercise bike turned clothing rack, a blog you last published on in 2011 or an ice cream machine you used exactly once, you know how your users feel:

It's hard for anything to become an integral part of our life or work—even if we have every intention of doing so. The same is true for people who sign up to your product. They believe they'll get value out of what you're offering—but something gets in the way.

The process from signup to "I can't live without it" is called product adoption. In this article, we'll explore what product adoption is and how you can ensure users adopt your product at higher rates.

Plateau in the user growth chart isn’t a mirage; it’s a signal pointing to the realm of Product Adoption.

Realistically, adoption should be your focus for a longggggg time!

Product Adoption is not just about user sign-ups; it’s about ensuring that they actively engage with your product, transforming it into an integral part of their daily workflow. In this article, we’re zeroing in on Product Adoption in B2B SaaS, equipping you with the insights and tools necessary to elevate your product’s market presence.

Here’s what we’re going to cover:

  • What is product adoption?
  • Where product adoption fits into product-led growth
  • What do we talk about when we talk about friction?
  • Product adoption tools and UX hacks
  • Types of product adoption strategies
  • Metrics to guide your product adoption playbook
  • How CommandBar streamlines your product adoption process

What is product adoption?

Product adoption is the process through which you convert new users into regulars, who get substantial value from your product over a long period of time.

The first thing to realize is that product adoption is distinct from a product’s value proposition—a product may provide real value, but the cost of transitioning from existing procedures may sabotage actual adoption.

In other words: old habits die hard.

So, fostering product adoption is a design challenge. You may equate product adoption with onboarding tours. That’s only partially true. Onboarding flows are a well-utilized tool in the toolkit of a strong product adoption strategy. But, arguably, a minor component. After years of use, many users have developed onboarding tour fatigue. Half of all users skip onboarding tours. Many abhor them.

We need to consider new methods.

Why should you care about product adoption?

Unquestionably, strong product adoption reaps benefits for a business. But why specifically?

It’s easiest to understand by looking at the business equation of software companies, often captured in Lifetime Value (LTV) / Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC).

A customer’s lifetime value consists of the sum of revenue they pay to your company over their lifetime, less costs to serve them (think, hosting, and support).

Firstly, a stellar adoption strategy means higher conversion. This flows through into the LTV / CAC ratio as lower customer acquisition cost: you’re amortizing the same in marketing and sales dollars to convert more users.

Second, improvements in adoption increase LTV by improving upsell and retention rates. After all, an engaged user with great feature adoption is more likely to stick around and buy extra modules or expand their seat count. This growth is often captured as Net Revenue Retention or NRR.

Thirdly, strong adoption means more product evangelists—people who will sing your product’s praises on Twitter, over the coffee table, and on review forums. This is free marketing! And in LTV / CAC terms, it means lower CAC; more customers for the same sales and marketing spend.

Fourth, a scalable product adoption strategy drives down the cost of supporting your users. The more users can learn about your product in the product itself, the less they need to lean on support agents.

Where product adoption fits into product-led growth

Product-led growth (PLG) is a go-to-market strategy that relies on product features, functionality, and user experience to drive customer acquisition, expansion, and retention.

It essentially places the product at the core of your business model. And if you’re only hearing about it for the first time now then you have some catching up to do. It has been one of the biggest metanarratives in SaaS since maybe 2018 - Wes Bush’s book came out in 2019. Somewhere pre-pandemic, anyway.

Basically, if you can build a product that grows on its own, you’re going to win. That’s the core thesis.

And within the product-led framework, product adoption emerges as a pivotal aspect that directly influences the success of the PLG strategy. Growth can’t happen without adoption.

High product adoption rates indicate that your product is meeting user expectations and providing value, which in turn drives user retention, satisfaction, and advocacy - all key aspects of a successful PLG strategy.

In a PLG model, product adoption begins right from the onboarding stage. Here, users are guided to understand the product's core functionality and value proposition. The goal is to help them reach their first 'aha moment' as quickly as possible. This moment of realization, where they see firsthand the value your product can provide, is the first significant step towards successful product adoption.

The path of product adoption extends beyond initial onboarding. It's a continuous journey of discovering new features, understanding their relevance, and deriving value. The PLG model facilitates this by continually improving the product based on user feedback and behavior, promoting user engagement, and fostering a community around the product.

Product adoption fuels product-led growth.

The more users adopt and find value in your product, the more they become promoters who can drive new user acquisition through word-of-mouth referrals, positive reviews, and case studies. This organic growth driven by user satisfaction and advocacy is at the heart of a successful PLG strategy.

What do we talk about when we talk about friction?

Product adoption is a constant fight against human nature. Humans don’t like to change. We’re stuck in our ways because they are familiar and don’t take mental energy (even if they’re expensive or inefficient!).

That’s why we need to talk a little about theory. We’ll look at:

  • User friction
  • User intent
  • The feature adoption funnel
  • The role of power users
  • The product adoption curve
  • The product adoption process
  • And, the Aha moment

The two orders of user friction holding you back

There are two orders of UX friction that you need to consider in relation to product adoption.

First is usage friction. If your product is hard to use—or confusing to understand—then your adoption rate will suffer. Personally, I can count dozens of products I have churned from because I simply couldn’t get it.

The second is perceived friction. Sometimes, learning a new product is easy peasy. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough. We need to recognize a user’s implicit fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) surrounding the very idea of onboarding. Your user doesn’t know how easy your product may be to use. Given how ubiquitous poorly-designed software is, it’s fair for your user to presume your product is tough to learn, even if you tout that a new user can “get started in 10 minutes, guaranteed!”

Tackling both usage friction and perceived friction is necessary for your product team to achieve a strong product adoption strategy and work towards frictionless UX.

To reduce friction, consider the following guidelines:

  1. Break complexity into manageable parts.
  2. Simplify your product to minimize user thinking.
  3. Acknowledge user interactions.
  4. Guide users through multi-step flows.
  5. Optimize performance for a snappy experience.
  6. Use established UI patterns.
  7. Provide clear labels, icons, and tooltips.
  8. Maintain consistency across your app.
  9. Choose default settings carefully.
  10. Use informative error messages.

Understand user intent or lose it

There exist two kinds of user objectives - the overarching user intent and its subset, search intent.

User intent refers to the ultimate goals users have with your product. In the context of a SaaS application, this intent splits into search intent (a specific task-to-accomplish) and browse intent (surveying potential options). Recognizing user intent is instrumental in boosting activation, augmenting conversion rates, and facilitating feature adoption.

To understand user intent, you can adopt various strategies such as enabling search functions, directly questioning users about their objectives, proactively prompting them, observing user sessions, initiating email communication, and scrutinizing their origin points. This understanding assists in tackling challenges like low activation rates, elevated churn, and stagnant sign-ups.

Through search tools like CommandBar, search logs can unveil user intent, aiding in the discovery of absent features and clarifying user confusion. Users are going to search anyway, but if you don’t provide them with the features to easily search, then you won’t be able to see them searching.

With CommandBar, one of the key UX additions to your product is a smart search bar that allows you to see the search queries users have been entering. As well as that, our AI-assisted HelpHub means you have a further place for user search intent to be revealed and mined.

The explain-like-I’m-five here is: CommandBar allows users to engage with your product and ask it questions. Then you can see the questions and use this feedback to improve your product. Your ability to work with greater feedback than your competition gives you an advantage in the market. That’s the CommandBar search intent thesis.

The feature adoption funnel you have to map against

Consider your dedicated, habitual users - those who consistently log in to your product, engage in some activity, then log out. Some are power users, capitalizing on every feature, while others get by with the bare essentials.

This doesn't mean they're making full use of their subscription, however, and the culprit is often their habits. This presents a feature adoption challenge: how do we effectively promote, educate, and motivate users to make the most of your product's features?

A firm grasp of the feature adoption funnel is key - but feature adoption is distinct from product adoption.

The former involves customers repetitively using a particular feature, while the latter involves a user simply using your product for something, anything. Take GitHub as an example - feature adoption might involve motivating users to use GitHub Hooks or GitHub Co-Pilot, while product adoption merely involves getting users to set up their first repository. If you're struggling to secure regular users, focus on user onboarding before worrying about feature adoption.

So, for those with a solid user base, why bother about feature adoption? Primarily, it positively impacts the business when your best features are being used by reducing churn to competitors, encouraging users to advocate for your product, guiding go-to-market pricing strategies, and prompting upgrades or expansions. It also ensures your engineering team's hard work is recognized and utilized.

The Feature Adoption Funnel, introduced by Justin Butlion, outlines the process of feature adoption: Exposure, Activation, Initial Use, and Repeat Use.

However, there can be hurdles at each stage - lack of exposure or understanding, activation difficulties, and dissatisfaction can all deter users from adopting a feature.

To increase feature adoption, consider strategies such as enhancing awareness through social or email channels, improving accessibility and understandability of features, offering training through webinars or help centers, employing gamification, or refining the feature for easier use. Announcing new features prominently and consistently across multiple platforms is also crucial.

To track and boost feature adoption, you can employ various tools. Product analytics tools like Posthog or Mixpanel, onboarding tools, marketing automation software, session replay tools, testing and experimentation tools, and help desk tools can all aid in this process.

CommandBar makes it easy to provide in-product awareness of new features. You could use tooltips or pack the help hub with feature-specific content. You could set up a questlist to run through an example use case that uses the new feature and display it to users when they use a related feature. Bringing a level of personalization into how you promote these features can be a really effective way of increasing adoption - CommandBar makes these complex tasks easy.

The role of power users in understanding your product

The essence of harnessing the energy of power users lies in understanding their needs and motivations.

In the world of software, three types of power users might be spoken about: those who fit a certain demographic, heavy users of the software, and passionate advocates for the software. We’ll focus on the second type, those users who make frequent use of your app, and how to best serve them to enhance product adoption.

It’s crucial to pin down what "use a lot" means when discussing this group.

Usage can vary greatly depending on the application. Some measures include engagement, typically marked by daily activity, or the frequency of critical actions within the app.

Do you remember the Facebook app, Circle of Friends? It initially struggled with low engagement from its 10 million users. Digging into the user data, they discovered a demographic — mothers — that showed significantly higher engagement. Recognizing this, they pivoted to Circle of Moms, showcasing how understanding and nurturing power users can shift product adoption.

Identifying and listening to power users can be intoxicating as they provide a huge amount of information and feedback. They could reveal flaws or new use cases, validate features, or even inspire fresh ideas.

Yet, it's important to not solely cater to this group. Can these power users be scaled? Will their needs align with future growth? Listen to customers always, yes. But listen critically.

Power users can serve numerous roles beyond being consistent users of your software; converting them into advocates, or using them for research. If you offer access to early-stage features or updates, you gain valuable feedback and foster a sense of exclusivity and loyalty, encouraging product adoption among them.

At the end of the day, lots of people want to be an insider. One of the cool kids.

Power users can be transformed into advocates for your product by delighting them with simple quick-win features like keyboard shortcuts or creating a referral program they get rewards out of. When you provide them with opportunities to share the product easily they become champions of your software and bring new users onboard.

It’s a lesson you can learn from B2C companies that acquire users at massive scale: in almost all situations, word-of-mouth growth is the best kind of growth you can get.

The product adoption curve and what you can learn from it

Finding the perfect framework to tackle problems can supercharge our abilities. One instrumental framework is the Product Adoption Curve, illustrating the lifecycle of technology adoption.

It can be visualized as a bell curve, encompassing five major groups: Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards.

Created by social scientist Everett M. Rogers, the Product Adoption Curve can provide insights into the explosive growth of technology platforms like TikTok. Understanding where your product stands on this curve and fine-tuning your strategy accordingly can accelerate product adoption.

Innovators, forming 2.5% of the population, are risk-takers and technology enthusiasts seeking novelty. They were the initial users of Musical.ly (now TikTok), using the app primarily for creating lip-syncing videos. While several breakthrough products falter at this stage, understanding user intent can push your product to the next phase – the Early Adopters.

Early Adopters, making up 13.5% of the population, are more purpose-driven than innovators. They perceive the new product as a solution to a problem. Loren Gray, with 40 million Musical.ly followers, stands as an iconic example of an Early Adopter. At this stage, your product's value proposition can vary significantly. TikTok's initial value proposition was its innovative lip-sync editor for Innovators, while for Early Adopters, it was the potential to cultivate a following.

Transitioning to the Early Majority phase signifies crossing the "chasm," a concept from Geoffrey Moore's book. It's a precarious part of the product lifecycle, demarcating significant from less significant players.

Here, your product needs to prove that it solves problems better than existing alternatives. This can involve refining your product, enhancing user experience, or introducing novel features to make it more appealing to a broader user base. TikTok's successful crossing involved introducing comprehensive video editing tools to appeal to content creators.

The Late Majority stage, though somewhat more resistant to change, still presents a substantial growth opportunity. Currently, TikTok sits at this phase in the US market, with 150 million American users. However, these individuals might require more convincing due to various factors like concerns over data privacy or a preference for other established platforms.

Lastly, Laggards, typically resistant to new technology, present the final frontier. These individuals might have privacy concerns or a lack of interest in social media. Despite being the last segment, it's worth considering if your product needs to adjust its value proposition to cater to this group, or if it's more viable to identify a new market and restart the journey.

So, what do we learn from the product adoption curve?

  • You don’t have to be all things to all people
  • Your value proposition changes over time
  • You need to align your value with your stage of the curve to grow
  • The first version of your product just needs to be enough for innovators

The product adoption process: end to end

The product adoption process encapsulates the journey from an individual's unawareness of a product or service to becoming a fully invested user. In the sphere of both physical products and digital SaaS offerings, this journey involves numerous stages, each with its own unique characteristics and opportunities for optimization.

The first stage, awareness, forms the bedrock of the product adoption process.

It involves reaching out to potential users and ensuring your product is at the front of their minds. For this stage, top-of-funnel things like impressions stand as a key metric, shedding light on the number of potential users who have had the chance to become aware of your brand. Optimizing the awareness stage involves utilizing creative marketing techniques that highlight the acute problems your audience faces and positioning your product as the solution.

From awareness, we transition to interest, the stage where the problem your product resolves aligns with the potential customer's desire to solve it. This might be measured in terms of marketing qualified leads (MQLs), and it's best practice at this point to dig deep into your numbers to see what’s performing best and optimize around it.

Unlike TOFU, where awareness is your goal, the middle of the funnel (MOFU) is where you want to be able to see ROI and be more surgical with how you allocate budget. It’s a big ask to achieve data clarity entirely, but you can get pretty close - and that’s good enough.

The evaluation stage follows, where potential users actively scrutinize your product. Digital tools like Clearbit can be beneficial in determining which leads are in the evaluation phase - and who they are - while customer queries and sales demos all help point to the super-interested. To optimize the evaluation stage, consider producing digestible content pieces that aid the customer's understanding and appraisal of your product, aligning the messaging with the customer segment you are targeting.

  • Buyers’ guides
  • Compettitor comparison pieces
  • Pricing one-pagers
  • Direct addressing of typical sales objections
  • Short how-to videos of valuable use cases

Next comes the trial phase.

Here the customer gets their hands on the product. Feedback during this stage is crucial, and implementing ways to gather it effectively is really important. Tools like CommandBar, as a digital adoption platform, can assist with this by providing the option to customers to search for things or follow questlists.

All this activity can be seen then in the backend and aggregated to give an accurate picture of user behavior, while still giving you that granular user-by-user data for deep dives.

The adoption stage signifies a user's shift from considering your product to becoming an active user, often marked by a financial commitment such as a paid subscription.

However, the process doesn't stop here. Guiding users to the final stage, love, can translate into the creation of power users who derive immense value from your product and can potentially act as advocates, bringing in new users for free.

Measuring this stage often includes monitoring user engagement levels and feature adoption rates. The discussion on who should own these metrics tends to vary, with customer support teams or dedicated onboarding teams being potential candidates.

It's vital to remember that the product adoption process typically functions as a loop, not a straight line. As new features are launched, the cycle repeats with the task of driving feature adoption, thereby accentuating the need for a strong, cooperative effort among customer success, product teams, and customer support.

Keeping a nuanced understanding of each stage and their interrelation is key to maximizing product adoption and catalyzing overall business growth.

The product adoption process is so multi-stepped and cross-functional while being absolutely crucial, that I’d personally advocate for it having either its own business unit aiming for coherence or granting end-to-end ownership of it over to someone up on C-level as a kind of strategic goal for them. How you leverage this in your business and create a coherent journey depends on loads of factors, with headcount probably being the biggest.

But don’t forget that someone should be checking up on this process end-to-end to make sure it’s healthy. You’ll pay the price if not!

Moment–a ha!–savior of the adoption process

The "aha" moment refers to the point where a user comprehends and appreciates the central value proposition of your product.

In his renowned book Hacking Growth, Sean Ellis eloquently describes this moment as the juncture where the product's usefulness truly resonates with users. They grasp the fundamental purpose of the product, understand why it's necessary for them, and recognize the benefits they reap from its use.

This elusive "aha" moment is the apex of effective onboarding, marking the point where users finally comprehend how your software will facilitate them in achieving their objectives, prompting them to commit to it.

Nonetheless, many products mistake this revelation for other less vital milestones in the user's journey.

Recognizing the true "aha" moments requires understanding that just being acquainted with your product or its proclaimed value isn't enough. Users need to encounter this value themselves. Completing your onboarding process isn't a surefire indication of an "aha" moment. Metrics like retention rates and upselling data can hint at whether users have indeed experienced their “aha” moment, but it remains challenging to measure with certainty.

Consider Twitter's user onboarding as an example, where the "aha" moment typically surfaces when users follow 30 accounts. This action spurs user interaction with their feed, prompting them to discern the app's value, which consequently fuels user retention. This differs from simply registering an account or following a handful of accounts, actions which, while necessary, do not constitute pivotal moments in the user's journey.

The sooner a user arrives at the “aha” moment, the more effective the onboarding process is, and the higher the chances of them attaining user success and promoting your product. If you're not seeing impressive day-30 retention (D30) figures, it likely indicates the need to expedite the “aha” moment.

An efficient user onboarding experience will either foster the “aha” moment or establish the conditions necessary for the user to arrive at it independently.

Product adoption tools and UX hacks

We’ve covered the theory. Let’s get our hands dirty with some more practical work.

In this section, we’re going to work through the different tools you have at your disposal to make the users’ product adoption the best it can possibly be.

Unlocking product adoption with tooltips

Tooltips, a seemingly trivial but remarkably impactful UI/UX feature, serve as a direct line of communication between your product and its users. As brief messages that pop up when users interact with specific elements within your product, tooltips function as handy guides that instantly relay important contextual information, making them invaluable in the product adoption journey.

They have the ability to turn a frustrating user experience into a learning opportunity. Instead of letting users stumble upon functionalities and risk them bouncing off, tooltips provide timely guidance, helping users realize the full potential of your product.

Tooltips serve as a gradual learning tool, enhancing the user's understanding of the product over time and strengthening the product adoption curve.

But with power comes responsibility. It can be a challenge to discern which features need tooltips to enhance the user experience without being intrusive. That's where a data-driven approach comes into play. By analyzing areas in your product that cause drop-offs or incite user frustration, you can identify the perfect spots to add tooltips to optimize product adoption.

Tooltips should embody three key characteristics: brevity, clarity, and understandability.

They can also take a variety of forms, such as hover tooltips, ever-present banners, lightboxes, or nudges. Implementing them can either be through custom code or plug-and-play solutions like CommandBar. CommandBar is probably right for you if you’re a product team that aims for rapid iterations, scalability, and a diverse set of product adoption strategies.

Leveraging in-app messaging for product adoption

In-app messaging, in contrast to the quiet elegance of tooltips, operates at a whole other level.

In the scope of product adoption, in-app messaging uses explicit communication in various forms to guide users on their journey with your product. It's an active strategy to engage users, offering them direct guidance about how to navigate your product and derive maximum value from it.

However, in-app messaging can be a double-edged sword. While it can be powerful in leading users to embrace your product, it can also come off as intrusive or even annoying if not handled tactfully. A screen cluttered with in-app messages can be overwhelming and may deter users from fully adopting the product.

This is where a thoughtful, user-centric approach is critical. Using AI advancements, in-app messaging can now provide highly personalized, nearly instantaneous assistance, almost like having a human agent on standby. This can be a game-changer in enhancing user experience and driving product adoption.

To optimize in-app messaging, consider customizing the content to align with user preferences such as language, region, and customer type. Additionally, setting up triggers to send relevant messages at specific milestones in the user journey can contribute to an improved adoption process. Lastly, if AI integration is part of your strategy, make sure the technology is more than a deflection mechanism; it should add genuine value to the user experience.

The underrated efficacy of checklists in product adoption

Checklists, despite their simplicity, can serve as a formidable tool for driving product adoption.

They provide users with a clear, digestible list of tasks to complete, letting them focus their cognitive energy on understanding and interacting with your product, rather than on remembering which steps to take next.

For product adoption, checklists are more than just task lists; they're navigation tools that guide users through their journey with your product. By offering a structured path, checklists reduce cognitive overload and confusion, thereby easing the adoption process.

However, the effectiveness of checklists depends heavily on their design. Generic, overly complicated checklists can daunt users and ultimately prove counterproductive. Instead, each checklist should be tailored to the user's persona, and designed to guide the user towards successful product adoption.

By including diverse tasks, engaging calls-to-action (CTAs), and giving users the autonomy to start the checklist whenever they feel comfortable, you can enhance user satisfaction and expedite product adoption. Moreover, checklists act as memory externalization tools, minimizing the cognitive strain on users and allowing them to focus more on the product itself.

In CommandBar, checklists are called questlists and you can roll them out incredibly easily to your users.

In-app guidance: An umbrella for enhanced product adoption

In-app guidance, as an umbrella term, encapsulates all the aforementioned strategies and more, providing a cohesive approach to promoting product adoption.

In-app guidance techniques can include tooltips, product tours, onboarding checklists, interactive walkthroughs, hotspots, and in-app help, each with its unique strengths. For example, product tours gradually familiarize users with a product's features, and interactive walkthroughs provide a hands-on approach to user learning.

Hotspots direct attention to specific functionalities, while in-app help ensures uninterrupted user experience by providing access to help documentation within the product. The collective effect of these techniques fosters a supportive ecosystem that expedites time-to-value, helping users quickly realize the full potential of your product.

Properly implemented in-app guidance leverages the user's aha moment—the point at which the user appreciates the solution your product offers, thereby increasing their chances of becoming loyal users. All these components, working in concert, create a seamless and intuitive user experience, ultimately catalyzing product adoption.

Changelogs foster trusting long-term product adoption

Changelogs, originating in the software development realm as document recording alterations, have evolved into a critical tool for product adoption, especially within SaaS businesses. They transitioned from informal notes to vital communication tools, enabling companies to efficiently inform customers about product changes, updates, and improvements.

Changelogs have undergone a creative revolution, becoming marketing channels for certain companies.

They infuse their brand voice into these logs, making them captivating, humorous, and a true reflection of their identity. However, achieving a well-received changelog requires a balance of amusement and value addition. The focus should be on the benefits that changes bring to users, and the logs should be organized by their importance, ensuring that significant changes take precedence.

The use of visuals, like screenshots or GIFs, can bring more clarity to the features or updates being explained. Additionally, it's vital to keep changelogs concise and direct. Extensive marketing fluff is best left out, focusing instead on leaving users more informed and excited about the product. There should be clear instructions for what users should do after reading the updates, and links to additional, detailed information where necessary.

Maintaining consistency in updating changelogs encourages long-term user engagement and fosters a strong community. Services like Headway or Beamer are worth considering for more effective changelog distribution.

Now, improving your changelogs is unlikely to improve new user onboarding. Where it really hits into product adoption is the medium and long term commitments, and the upsell opportunities. It shows you’re communicating directly with the users and keeping them up to date in real-time, not just after the fact or for marketing purposes.

Command palettes: the overlooked UX is coming back

Command palettes are gaining traction in the tech industry, illustrating the cyclical nature of design trends. These user-centric tools, inspired by command-line interfaces of the past, are making a comeback in modern software, playing a significant role in product adoption.

In the past, command lines were the interface for computing, reserved for the tech-savvy. The advent of graphical user interfaces (GUIs) made computing accessible to the masses. As software complexity increased, the limitations of GUIs were exposed, and command palettes emerged as a solution. They blend the power of command lines with the intuitive nature of GUIs, striking a balance that offers users speed, discoverability, and flexibility.

Command palettes are commonplace in productivity and developer tools. Their emergence isn't merely nostalgic but responds to a genuine need for efficiency in software navigation. It speeds up the user experience, aids discoverability, and declutters the product interface, making software more accessible and attractive to users.

The modern command palette, as seen in Sublime Text and Superhuman, has set the stage for user expectations, influencing product adoption rates. Successful command palette implementations share common traits: they're fast, offer powerful search capabilities, allow customization, and provide intelligent recommendations.

Looking ahead, the evolution of command palettes is likely to involve voice interfaces and artificial intelligence. Paired with Natural Language Processing (NLP), AI assistants could make command palettes even more user-friendly, influencing product adoption further.

Collaboration in product adoption? When SaaS adoption goes multi-player

Historically, collaboration has been a pain point for SaaS customers, resulting in lost work and decreased productivity. However, the emergence of cloud computing revolutionized the industry by enabling seamless integration of software and data. Figma leveraged this trend, creating a collaborative environment that facilitates efficient teamwork and boosts adoption rates.

Google's suite of productivity tools, including Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, also played a significant role in paving the way for multiplayer software. Startups like Pitch and whiteboard tools such as Miro and Mural further embraced collaboration features, enhancing adoption rates and user satisfaction.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of remote work have amplified the demand for multiplayer functionality. Seamless integration between apps and communication channels has become essential for effective collaboration in distributed teams.

This drives adoption and also improves productivity and user experience.

Building a multiplayer SaaS product presents challenges, such as technical complexities and accommodating diverse user behaviors. However, dedicated services like Cord, Liveblocks, and Snippyly offer solutions to these challenges, making it easier for SaaS companies to incorporate multiplayer functionality into their products.

To maximize adoption rates, core elements like comments, annotations, live presence, integrations, and notifications should be prioritized. These features create an engaging collaborative environment that fosters user engagement and accelerates adoption. Additional features like audio huddles, offline support, and chatboxes can further enhance the user experience and drive higher adoption rates.

Types of product adoption strategies

Earlier, we talked about how user onboarding tours were one component of product adoption and we’ve looked at the other kinds of tools available. Now, let’s delve into what types of strategies can increase product adoption.

Push strategies

Onboarding tours, automated informational emails, and in-app usage checklists are all forms of in-app guidance and are examples of push strategies. The philosophy of push strategies is to interrupt the user’s default behavior with alerts to try to course-correct them onto an ideal behavior.

  • Pros: Push strategies always fire, are easy to measure engagement with, and may surface features a user would’ve never discovered.
  • Cons: Users have historically hated heavy-handed push strategies. Part of this is that push strategies when overused, infantilize the user. Users don’t like being told what to do. The key to push strategies is to refrain from desensitizing the user to them; they should be used sparingly in high-impact scenarios. For example, if you know that users have a high likelihood of upgrading after checking out a particular part of your product, that is a good time to show a nudge encouraging the user to upgrade. If the user sees push messages whenever they try out a new feature, they will develop muscle memory to close them immediately.

Pull strategies

User pull involves directing a user to a recommended action after a user indicates intent. An example of this is a CommandBar surfacing a feature that matches a user’s query, even if their preferred vocabulary is different (we do this by enabling an arbitrary number of synonyms to be associated with in-product commands, manually or automatically).

  • Pros: Pull strategies don’t fight with the user, instead guiding them based on their vocalized interests. Pull strategies also encourage users to explore the app by aggregating the product’s pages in one-searchable place.
  • Cons: Pull strategies require the user to care enough to search for something. If a search bar is buried or hidden, pull strategies will rarely fire. For some apps, pull strategies may be successful but limited and must be launched alongside push strategies.

In your strategy, you’ll want to employ both. Reserving push strategies for situations in which you either have an opportunity to nudge a user down a high-value path or if you’re particularly confident they would benefit from the nudge.

User onboarding examples to inform your product adoption strategy

If you want to go through a whole bunch of onboarding examples, check out this CommandBar post here: 10 Examples of Actually Useful User Onboarding Experiences

Here are two examples of two of my favorite products - Slack and Figma:

Slack – user onboarding across the entire user journey + intelligent use of "user friction"

Instead of taking their ubiquity and dominant market share for granted, Slack has some of the most thoughtful and impressive onboarding processes out there.

When creating a new workspace, Slack uses the signup form to perfection. Slack knows that the key to stickiness and retention is getting more coworkers in the workspace. As such, they make it as easy as possible to invite others. You can invite one teammate, you can add another (and another and another), or you can simply copy a shareable link and mass share it via an existing distribution list.

Slack does not even let you skip the above step without another click! The term "user friction" has many negative connotations, but this is "user friction" at its absolute best.

Once into a new workspace, Slack uses a massive modal to encourage users to add more channels.

Slack also understands that user onboarding doesn't end after the first visit. They sprinkle subtle and timely ways to help educate users and solicit feedback. For example, when a user's search doesn't yield the results they'd expect, they are presented with the options to (a) provide feedback; or (b) learn about how Slack's search works. The UX design here is great -- the CTA's are unobtrusive when search is working as expected, yet within reach if a user is confused.

Why Slack's user onboarding stands out:

  • While Slack pre-populates a few channels, a blank room in a new workspace is designed to feel "ugly". This encourages users to add channels, messages, and teammates, driving product adoption.
  • Slack adds friction at critical junctures to help users get value out of the product, like when a user tries to skip the "invite teammate" step. Introducing user friction should be done sparingly, but this is a golden example of good user onboarding.
  • Slack does not treat onboarding as a "one and done" task -- they continuously find ways to educate, empower, and engage users.

Figma – focusing the signup flow, innovating new user templates, and upskilling new users to power users

Figma is a collaborative design app. While Figma's signup process is pretty basic, they emphasize the importance of adding teammates. As a collaborative product, Figma's customer success goes hand in hand with their ability to drive adoption within a company or team. In addition to the standard "Invite via email" option, Figma offers "Invite link" functionality. The copy and image asset are also very carefully thought through -- the combination of (a) calling teammates "collaborators"; (b) showing three invite slots; and (c) displaying a background image with three cursor-user pairs helps the new user imagine what it is like to use the Figma product with teammates.

Figma points new users toward a community page, Figma Community, where they can help draw inspiration to get started faster. Going beyond static templates, Figma Community essentially empowers and mobilizes their entire user base to help onboard users. And the genius of this mechanism is that they've built a sort of onboarding-engagement flywheel where (a) existing users are incentivized to contribute by the prospect of earning upvotes and receiving positive feedback from other Figma users; (b) new users are able to derive value more quickly through community contributions that are higher quality than static templates could ever be.

Another thing Figma does really well is enable novice users to become power users. One example of this is how they have gamified keyboard shortcut adoption and education. Whenever a new keyboard shortcut is used, it is marked complete.

The small dopamine hit encourages users to explore other keyboard shortcuts. All the while, keyboard shortcut mastery helps users achieve more in Figma in less time, making their Figma experience more enjoyable and expediting their product adoption timeline.

Why Figma's user onboarding stands out:

  • Figma makes the most important part of their signup flow (the "invite collaborator" step) engaging and educational.
  • Figma Community allows new users to get value faster while also encouraging existing users to contribute high-quality files. Such a mechanism that has symbiotic drivers on both sides is special.
  • New and casual users are guided to become power users via well-designed interfaces, such as their keyboard shortcut modal.

Metrics to guide your product adoption playbook

Your product adoption process must make use of metrics. Metrics help inform us when our product adoption strategy is and isn’t working. While every product will have unique parameters, here are some initial metrics that you should define within whatever metric framework you adopt.

For more product adoption metrics, check out: 10 Meaningful Product Adoption Metrics

Work out your activation rate

What defines a successfully activated user? A number—perhaps their ticket or posts count? An event—maybe a call with your customer success team? A qualifier— someone that reaches daily active user status? For Facebook, it was 7 friend requests made in the first 10 days. For us, it’s a company launching their CommandBar to users within 7 days of account creation.

Figure out your activation metric. Then, install the necessary usage data tools to accurately measure when a user reaches it — Posthog, Amplitude, Heap, Mixpanel, etc. Finally, focus on making that metric your average user story, not your outliers.

Define your median user

While you likely have various customer segments, determine who your median user is. For young companies, your early adopters may be more proactive about learning your product. For businesses selling multi-seat contracts to enterprises, your median user is likely far, far away from the administrative decision to purchase your product and is, therefore, uninvested in transitioning over.

Once you understand your median user, you can shape your product adoption strategy to work for them.

Understand time-to-value (TTV)

Determine how long it takes for your user to perform an action that actually creates value. For some products, this may be the first and only possible action. For others, the value may come with a more long-term horizon, so giving users quick wins, easy things to credit as valuable, is critical.

Unshipping: how to act when your product adoption has gone wrong

Once you have your analytics in place to be able to assess when your product adoption efforts are going well, you’ll also discover when they’re going badly…

In a culture of shipping new things fast, you’re going to occasionally push out some stuff that doesn’t work. These features might not align with your users’ needs, they might confuse the user, or they might diminish the value proposition of another part of the product.

We call these features lemons. In The Art of Unshipping, our CEO James Evans outlines the two types of lemons:

  • Bruised lemons: these were features with some fatal flaw that prevented them from being adopted. That flaw could be a result of engineering (the feature could have had a bad bug), design (it was hard to use or find), or marketing (didn’t make sense to users). Or a combination. The key principle defining this category is that there is some well-defined reason you can point to that explains why it didn’t work. Think Juicero. A $400, Wi-Fi-enabled juice press that was no more effective at making juice than squeezing the pre-packaged fruit with your hands.
  • Sour lemons: features that don’t resonate. They probably didn’t address a real customer pain or were so hard to use that the effort to do so didn’t match up with the magnitude of the pain it was intended to solve. Take Google Video, for example. Before Google acquired YouTube, it built its own competitor, Google Video. It focused on “TV quality” content with superior video streaming, but that wasn’t what people wanted. YouTube won by making it quicker and simpler to record and upload videos.

And when you have lemons, you need to unship. Here’s a quick process:

  1. Identify the lemons
  2. Categorize your lemons
  3. Find reasons they didn’t work
  4. Unship the sour lemons
  5. Rank the bruised lemons by ease to unship
  6. Communicate to users who use the bruised lemons that you’re deprecating that feature
  7. Unship the bruised lemons

It sounds tough to do but if you’re regularly auditing your features for lemons, then you’re just unshipping one item at a time, and that makes it easier.

How CommandBar streamlines your product adoption process

CommandBar is the easiest way to implement the full suite of product adoption tools for your users to gain value from. From universal search to nudges and questlists, it has all the UX options your users want to use and more.

You can take core user onboarding principles and deploy them anywhere in the lifecycle of your user, to help even the most early adopter discover the features you shipped this week.

Where CommandBar really shines is in how smart it makes you and your product.

You can leverage AI in your product to make your users’ lives easier - allowing users to talk with your documentation through our Help Hub feature to discover how to overcome obstacles. Or making you smarter by surfacing user intent through the search bar queries.

CommandBar is the tool for serious product teams that want to do more than a simple product tour or onboarding sequence. It is above and beyond what you’re going to be able to build in-house. Come talk to us and find out more.

Book a demo with sales to learn more, or sign up for a free trial here.

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