As the 2010s warned, product adoption has become one of the trickiest problems in software. Why? Software overflow. Today, professionals use dozens of tools, more than they are practically able to learn and adopt. In fact, many businesses utilize over one hundred software subscriptions. And, simply put, more software means poorer usage per tool.
Today, we’re going to explore how your product team should approach crafting a product adoption playbook to achieve an evergreen product adoption rate.
Product adoption is the process through which you convert new users into regulars, who derive 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 many years of use, many users have developed onboarding tour fatigue. Half of all users skip onboarding tours. Many abhor them.
So, we need to consider new methods. And to decide which methods to use, we need to answer the following first-principles questions:
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 LTV / CAC as lower customer acquisitions 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.
And fourthly, 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. If your product adoption strategy is to send a support agent to the home of all your users to help them use your software, you can disregard this benefit :)
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!).
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.
Earlier, we talked about how user onboarding tours were one component of Product Adoption. 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.
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 was different (we do this by enabling an arbitrary number of synonyms to be associated with in-product commands, manually or automatically).
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 particularly high-value path or if you’re particularly confident they would benefit from the nudge.
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.
Figure out your activation metric. Then, install the necessary 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.
Once you understand your median user, you can shape your product adoption strategy to work for them.
Depending on your earlier metrics, different tools may be instrumental in shaping a good product adoption flow. Adding these tools to your tech stack can massively impact your success—if chosen correctly. Let’s comprehensively dive into each class.
Designing a strong product adoption playbook is difficult. Only by involving key stakeholders on your team, determining key metrics, and invoking a hybrid approach of tooling will you accomplish strong adoption and low retention. As the 2020s progress, product adoption will only continue to serve as a defining marker of good products. This isn’t the first article on the matter and surely won’t be the last. If you are interested in learning more, check out these user onboarding examples.