When you've defined your product value and built a product that truly gets results for users, the next step is to scale your user base and your profits. But you can't do that without a successful user adoption strategy.
User adoption is when users reach a milestone your product team has set. That might be creating and sending a proposal, booking a flight, or adding a widget to their website.
In this ultimate guide, we're covering all the best user adoption resources in one place:
What user adoption is
Types of user adoption
Why user adoption matters
Top user adoption metrics
User adoption strategies that work
Excellent user adoption examples
Popular user adoption tools
What is user adoption?
User adoption refers to when a user has been activated—or satisfies your company's criteria for an engaged user. You can have different levels of user adoption, for example an engaged free user versus an engaged paid user.
Why user adoption matters
User adoption is essential for a successful B2B SaaS company, consumer tech, or other digital experience company. With healthy user adoption rates, you'll experience higher initial revenue and long-term revenue as well as less churn.
How to define user adoption for your product
Your user adoption criteria will change as you iterate on your product and validate it with the most ideal user segments. For example, let's say your product is an accounting program. There are many different features. Initially, you might define product adoption as when a user integrates their bank account with your platform.
After doing experiments to raise the adoption rate of your bank account integration feature, you might find that revenue isn't positively impacted. This would then lead to realize that while integrating a bank account is an important step, it doesn't denote an activated user. Perhaps you then add an additional criterion of generating a report. You then improve your onboarding to guide users to integrate their bank account and to generate a report 7 days later (after data has been pulled in). If this experiment positively impacts revenue, then you know that you have a better definition of user adoption.
Types of user adoption
As we mentioned above, each company has their own criteria for product adoption.
In addition to that existing complexity, there are also different types, levels, and phases of user adoption.
Levels of company involvement
Self-serve user adoption: For many products, self-serve adoption is the goal. This means that the customer is able to acclimate to the software and achieve their desired outcomes all on their own. They might need to reach out to customer support occasionally, but they should be able to learn how to use the software without human help. Instead, they'll utilize onboarding prompts and guidance.
White-glove user adoption: With a white-glove approach, the customer success manager or account manager will assist with data onboarding and user training so that the user doesn't have to go it alone.
Combination of self-serve and white-glove: For some products, there will be a combination of self-serve and white-glove. For example, new
Complete roll-out: With some products, the goal is to deploy the software for the entire organization in one go.
Phased roll-out: A phased rollout is common with enterprise products, where users adopt the product in batches in order to iron out any implementation challenges before scaling.
Parallel implementation: And then there are products that are intended to be used in parallel with related tools.
Regular ongoing use: For some products, user adoption will be defined by a period of use, for example using a product three times in the first week of usage.
Occasional task completion: For other products, user adoption will look like the full user journey. For example, an online JPG to PNG converter that makes its revenue through display ads will consider user adoption to be the completion of the file conversion task.
You might also have different adoption criteria for different subsets of users, such as a CFO versus a bookkeeper, for example.
Top user adoption metrics
These are the best metrics for keeping track of engaged users and spotting opportunities to improve your product and its onboarding.
Product adoption rate: New fully engaged users divided by total signups
Time to activation: How long it takes users to adopt your product on average
Funnel completion rates: What percentage of users complete various steps or stages on the path to activation
Daily active users: How many total users engage with the product every day
Monthly active users: How many total users engage with the product every month
Percentage of daily active users: What percentage of users engage with the product every day
Percentage of monthly active users: What percentage of users engage with the product every month
Feature adoption rate: What percentage of users engage with a specific feature on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis (depending on the ideal frequency for that feature)
Average time spent on a feature: How much time the average user spends on a certain feature per session or per time period
Net Promoter Score (NPS): A survey or pop-up measuring how likely users are to recommend the product to a friend on a scale of 1 to 10
Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT): A survey or pop-up measuring how satisfied the customer is with their recent experience on a scale of 1 to 10
Customer Lifetime Value (CLV): The average amount of money a customer spends with your company throughout their relationship lifetime (usually measured across 5 years)
Churn rate: The number of users who churn within a given time period (usually measured at various internals, including 7 days, 30 days, 90 days, etc.)
User adoption strategies that work
To get users to adopt your product, you need to take a proactive approach. All of these strategies will help you reduce the amount of hand-holding that your customer success and customer support teams have to do.
1. Email onboarding sequences and behavior-based emails
Whether it's a welcome email, a long drip onboarding sequence, or a behavior-based email triggered by specific user interaction with the product, it's clear that email plays a major part in adoption and onboarding.
Any SaaS go-to-market strategy should include at least a simple product activation sequence.
Here's an example email from SEO tool WriterZen with links to various onboarding resources:
2. Tooltips and text explainers
Google Docs recent released some new functionality. Users can now create pageless docs so there are no breaks between pages. This is great for website copy and other pageless projects.
When you go to Page Setup, you see a gif and a text explanation of the feature with the option to click through to a help desk article and learn more.
For simple features, explanations or tooltips (where you hover over a question mark or other icon to see short UX copy) work great. There's no need to create complicated explanations for every feature.
3. In-app training videos
For more complex platforms, video tutorials are super helpful. Whenever users have to choose many different selections or follow many different steps, a video is a great idea.
You can embed videos directly into your app.
Real estate intelligence platform PropertyRadar has a pop-up with various tutorials.
4. Onboarding progress trackers
Onboarding progress trackers are another smart strategy to guide users towards adoption. In this example from Proposify, we see that the suggested steps are to watch a "Getting Started" video, update the account's branding, check profile information for accuracy, and add teammates.
You can easily build a progress tracker in your app by using an onboarding tool like Pendo, Chameleon, or Userpilot. We discuss these and other popular user adoption software at the end of this article.
5. Self-selection for different use cases or user types
Have you ever noticed that many apps require to select an option as soon as you sign up for the first time?
Some apps ask you to select what type of user you are (accountant, small business owner, or CFO for example), or they ask you to select what you plan on using the app for (designing posters versus design social media ads, for example).
Social media scheduler Buffer takes a different approach. As part of their user adoption strategy, they ask what the user would like to start with first (Publishing, Analytics, Engagement, or Start Page), and then they direct each user to the area of the product that coincides with that goal.
6. Guided walkthroughs
Guided product walkthroughs, also called product tours, are a very common method for improving user adoption. These tours usually have 1-8 steps in them, and they guide users through various actions or features.
This example from Canva prompts new users to begin with a design template:
Some walkthroughs actually require that a user complete a step before moving on, while others simply ask a user to hit the "Next" button.
If your product is more challenging to learn, you should require users to complete steps in the tour so that they remember how to do it. This is also something that you can test (completing steps versus hitting the "Next" button) in order to discover the best approach for your specific product.
7. In-app live chat and chatbots
In-app chat is an important user adoption channel because that little chat icon on the bottom right screen is often where users first turn when they are confused and unsure of how to proceed.
A chatbot can help answer user's questions faster than human support while also reducing the number of live chat representatives that you need to staff at any given time.
8. Help documentation
This help desk example from Hotjar is great because it's so user-friendly. Users can see a selection of helpful articles in the Getting Started section:
How to Install Your Hotjar Tracking Code
Hot to Use Highlights
Collaborating with Your Team
Using Google Tag Manager with Hotjar
5 Quick Tips to Get Started with Hotjar
How Can I Find Drop-Offs from a User Flow?
Users can then keep scrolling to find additional articles on other topics or submit a request if needed.
Make sure that you continually update your help desk documentation as your product changes so that it is still accurate. Many users prefer to setup their account on their own and expect to be able to find accurate tutorials so that they don't have to contact support for help.
9. Onboarding experiments
Testing is a crucial part of increasing adoption.
Lucid Group Product Manager Allen Liao describes this strategy perfectly:
“I had to do a lot of qualitative and quantitative research to figure out what good engagement looks like for our product, and start to reverse engineer the long term engagement to the onboarding journey, and how to bring users to understand the core value proposition of our product and then expand on that."
"We find the opportunities, prioritize them, start with qualitative research, do quick experiment iterations, then blend those iterations into longer A/B tests with bigger volumes that we can expand to more critical segments of our user base.”
Make sure that you're testing not only different activation strategies but also adoption segments and criteria as well.
10. Collecting user feedback and sharing your roadmap publicly
Lastly, make sure that you're collecting feedback on your product. User feedback tool Frill uses their own idea board to collect ideas from users and publicly display their product roadmap:
This offers a variety of benefits:
Helps you build features that users want
Allows you to discover problem areas of your software
Communicates to users what features are coming up next so they don't churn
3 excellent examples of combined user adoption strategies in action
Most successful companies combine different user adoption strategies in order to onboard, engage, and retain users.
Here are 3 examples of a more holistic view of user activation.
DesignFiles uses a progress tracker for onboarding new interior designers to its design and business management platform:
They also utilize a unique strategy. Next to the user's first project in the dashboard homepage, they include a call-to-action to join their Facebook community, which offers networking, helpful content, and feature tutorials.
Design tool Canva uses the self-select strategy for all new users. This is brilliant because Canva is used by so many different types of people.
Canva then presents different screens based on the use case they've selected.
For example, a Small Business user is directed to "Create a team" and invite their team members, while a student is directed to simply start designing.
Canva has a really great welcome screen for all new users.
In the "What will you design?" section, users can search for various templates and types of designs, or they can click on the icons to find templates and file sizes.
There's also the "Play with Canva" option which opens up a blank square, instead of beginning with a template, in order to show new users what it's like to design something with Canva from scratch.
Popular grammar- and spell-checking tool Grammarly takes a simple approach to helping Premium users adopt all of the paid features they have access to.
Upon upgrading to Premium, users get an email detailing the advanced features:
Writing Style Settings
Word Choice Suggestions
This is a smart move because it reminds users why they signed up for Premium so they'll be less likely to churn.
And to improve adoption of all of the different ways to use Grammarly, the email also tells Premium users about their desktop app, browser extensions, and Microsoft Office integration.
As for the dashboard, Grammarly shows an existing document called "Welcome to Grammarly Premium!"
When users click on this, they are taken to an empty document.
"Nothing to check yet. Start writing or upload a document to see Grammarly's feedback."
This way, users know exactly what to do to start using Grammarly's advanced features.
5 popular user adoption tools
In order to create great user adoption experiences, you need the right software.
Check out these popular platforms.
Chameleon is a software for adding product tours, tooltips, widgets, and surveys to your app. Some of their top customers include Directly, Flexport, The Motley Fool, Airship, Segment, and Moz. It's an easy-to-use platform that is designed for self-service user onboarding.
Userpilot is also a user onboarding tool. You can create customized user onboarding experiences, manage product marketing campaigns, unlock insights into which accounts are ready to upgrade, run UX experiments, and measure product adoption.
One of the most popular product analytics platforms, Mixpanel is the top choice amongst SaaS companies, but is also used by ecommerce sites and consumer apps as well. Try Mixpanel for analyzing user flow drop-offs, experimenting on user conversion funnels, and discovering what drives retention.
FullStory is similar to Mixpanel, except that it is more popular with B2C companies. Digital experience managers use it for product analytics, drop-off discovery, and retention and revenue experiments.
With Pendo, you can manage user onboarding, product engagement, in-app support, feedback collection, and revenue growth experiments. For employee-facing software, you can also manage employee productivity and software personalization.
Keep experimenting with user adoption, and you'll activate and retain more and more users.