August 25, 2021

Onboarding: A Crucial Piece of the PLG Puzzle

Why a Good Onboarding Process Matters…Especially for PLG Companies

Esben Friis-Jensen
Co-founder & Chief Growth Officer of Userflow

Successful product-led companies boast that they achieve success by following a few simple steps: release a really good product, allow users to sign-up and engage for free, and let the product sell itself by delivering value immediately.

But, there is a crucial step missing from this self-serve flywheel: onboarding. 

In PLG companies, robust onboarding plays a critical role guiding users through the product journey so they can experience value within the product as fast as possible, and for as long as possible through new features and functionalities. Onboarding supercharges the user adoption process by helping self-serve users reach their “aha! moment” much faster.

To explore this important topic in more detail, Pocus sat down with Esben Friis-Jensen, the co-founder / Chief Growth Officer of Userflow. Userflow is a platform that enables product-led companies to create a great onboarding experience (think: customized in-app tours, checklists and surveys) without needing to know code. With Userflow, PLG companies can successfully onboard more customers, thus increasing conversion. As Esben explains,

“Companies with a PLG motion benefit from the product initially selling itself without any hand-holding. But, this is often easier said than done, especially with complex SaaS B2B applications. You need a great automated onboarding experience so that users can discover the ‘aha! moment’ painlessly, and adopt your product to a greater extent.”

Now that we know the importance of onboarding for product-led companies, let’s discuss when onboarding begins.

Onboarding Begins At the First Touchpoint

Whether that touchpoint is a Google Ad, your company’s landing page, or word-of-mouth from a co-worker, this is the company’s only chance to make the right first impression. So, PLG companies must be intentional in setting the right expectation for the user, even before these users sign up and start using your product. When this intention first manifests in a user who comes across your product, the onboarding process kicks in.  

“If your public marketing is misaligned with your actual product, you will attract the wrong type of users; if your landing page promises something but your product delivers something else, users will have misaligned expectations when they try your product for the first time. If your current self-serve users don’t understand the value proposition of your product and describe it to others erroneously…you get it: you won’t attract the right customers. Onboarding starts the moment a potential user first thinks about your products.” – Esben

Because of this, marketing must be aligned with your product to attract the right type of users and set the user up for success when they first try your product. This helps PLG companies attract the right type of pipeline of self-serve users.

You may now be wondering: if good onboarding is crucial for success, and that process starts as soon as your potential user is introduced to your product…then why don’t more product-led companies get it right? Let’s explore this further.  

Obstacles to a Good Onboarding Experience

From the first instance a user discovers your product, to the moment the user signs up, there’s a lot that needs to go right for the user to convert to a self-serve user.

“The biggest challenge users face is not understanding the product the first time they log in. They look for something, but cannot easily find it. And, since most users are – by default – “lazy” when it comes to exploring new products, making it easy for them to discover the value of your product in that first experience is paramount.” – Esben

As you may already be realizing, this reality presents a bit of a pickle for product-led companies: historically many SaaS B2B products have been built in a way which expects onboarding to be facilitated by a human representative; but, the whole premise of a PLG company is that it needs to make its product good enough to motivate a user to sign-up for it without needing any hand holding. How does a product-led company address this apparent conundrum?

Well, by making the onboarding a self-serve process as well!

Incorporating the onboarding inside your product helps drive this self-service path. To do this well, you need to be careful not to add unnecessary friction (like asking the user to fill out a ton of information or install something difficult) before the user can experience the value of your product. Instead, the onboarding process embedded in your self-serve product / free trial  should be part of what drives to the “aha! moment” itself to avoid churn before conversion.

“When you use Userflow to create an onboarding process, technically you need to install a small piece of javascript code to make it work for end users. But, since this download represents a friction, we have built a Google Chrome extension that allows trial users to build and preview onboarding before they do this. In this way, the user can experience the value of Userflow seamlessly.” – Esben

What else, you may wonder, makes a good onboarding experience great?

The Inspiration Behind Userflow: What a Great Onboarding Experience Looks Like

Userflow was inspired by an understanding that the onboarding process is an essential piece of product-led growth and self-serve models. Building great onboarding requires a lot of iterations, but it often gets deprioritized by developers who are working on new features for the core product. Userflow was born out of a desire to make it easy for non-developers to build and iterate on onboarding experiences, feature announcements, and product tours. By offering a no-code builder, Userflow empowers non-developers, like growth teams, customer success teams, product designers, and product managers to build, segment and iterate on the onboarding experiences themselves.

So, what does a great onboarding experience look like, from the perspective of the user being onboarded, but also from the company managing the onboarding itself?

Simple Ingredients for a Great PLG Onboarding Recipe

Great onboarding should drive users towards the “aha! moment” and explain more advanced use cases that drive retention. Onboarding should be as automated as possible with the ability to improve flows and develop customizations based on use cases.

In a nutshell though, an example of the most basic onboarding set-up could flow as follows:

  1. User goes to your website and reads about your product. Ideally there are pictures of your product and its features, with text explaining how the value can be derived. Potentially, there is also a video demo or a clickthrough demo of your product.
  2. The user signs up for a free trial / free plan. Your product probes the user to answer a few short questions about their needs. Your product takes in this information to generate an onboarding experience customized to the user's specific use case and guide to the specific “aha! moment”. 
  3. The user watches a tour of the key use case and discovers the key “aha! moment(s)” of your product.
  4. The user ends the tour and an on-demand checklist appears with 3-4 additional key use cases that could help drive the user to additional “aha! moment(s)”. Each checklist item has an associated tour.

Now that we’ve discussed why onboarding is important for a PLG company, what a great onboarding experience can look like, and how a tool like Userflow can help you, let’s consider five things you can do to optimize your onboarding flow.

Top 5 Things to Do to Optimize Your Onboarding Flow

The most important thing is to not overwhelm yourself trying to build the perfect onboarding from the get-go. Instead start simple and iterate. Complement this approach with the following pointers

  1. If you are not already doing it, then give users access to your product without hand-holding to see how they react / use your product. 
  2. Build action-driven onboarding that drives towards the “aha! moment”. Don’t make boring intro tours that present every single feature. No one has that long of an attention span.
  3. Add an in-app onboarding checklist for top 5 key actions you want the user to take (again focused on driving them to the “aha! moment”).
  4. Build on-demand online documentation for the additional sophisticated use cases and troubleshooting. 
  5. Use Userflow to make it easy ;)
Let’s Recap: How Does a Great Onboarding Help Sales Teams at PLG Companies

At the end of the day, what does every sales team desire? To have happy customers that keep the business alive. 

In the case of PLG companies, as we’ve said before, keeping self-serve users happy is inexorably linked with the concept of “ease.” Was it easy for them to find your product? Was it easy for them to sign-up? Was it easy for them to onboard themselves and experience value? Was it easy for them to upgrade onto new features and larger enterprise contracts? Is it easy for them to keep using your product? For PLG companies, the answer to all these questions should be an absolute “yes.”

But, it’s oftentimes simpler said than done. That’s why tools like Pocus and Userflow exist. Pocus helps you provide your users with a frictionless and personalized sales experience, while a platform like Userflow allows you to create a seamless onboarding. The goal of both? To make your life - and that of your users - easy

So, what are you waiting for? Get on-board with making your PLG company great at onboarding and thank us later! 

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