September 30, 2019

Product-led onboarding: The importance of personalized UX

For as long as software has existed, buyers had to rely on a salesperson to learn about a product. Until now. Software buyers have officially changed.

The stat you’ve probably heard increasingly often is, “Three out of every four B2B buyers would rather self-educate than learn about a product from a sales representative.” That’s according to Forrester.

And yes, I do wonder who that last B2B buyer is. 

So, we’re seeing that the most successful SaaS businesses in the world are those that are product-led: Slack, Twilio, and even newcomers like Notion. Leading with product means delivering an exceptional user experience, then guiding users toward new features and use cases that act as the product’s primary drivers of business growth.

The problem is that in this new world, the stakes are greater than ever. Product teams are rapidly inheriting commercial goals and user patience is at an all-time low. If your product doesn’t immediately guide users toward value and engage them in hyper-personalized ways, they will churn. 

Today, I want to focus on that second part—engaging them in hyper-personalized ways. Lately, I’ve seen way too many companies that develop highly personalized marketing campaigns, only to drop you into a generic product. Why does it seem personalization stops at marketing?

Those winning product-led companies we spoke about above are creating product experiences that get better as you use them. Experiences that understand what you want to accomplish, not (just) who you are. After all, your product is your customer’s entire experience with your company, especially now that they are talking to sales less often. 

It doesn't have to be a big lift—not bit of the experience has to be personalized. Let’s look at two real world examples of companies doing a bit of in-product personalization right in their onboarding experiences.

1. Freshdesk

Freshdesk is—in their words—an online cloud-based customer service software providing helpdesk support with smart automations to get things done faster.

For their initial sign up experience, we see a big header letting us know we'll have a 21 day free trial. And a 5-field form makes it easy to sign up.

Signing up drops you immediately into the product, where you're greeted with a human face—the founder in fact! Points for brining in human connection even into a self-serve experience.

The video is easily dismissible and you get your first glimpse at Freshdesk—only 2 clicks post signup. It feels nice and zippy. You also get a nice checklist, showing you the progress of activating your account. Smart, because users' brains love checklists. This is the first bit of user-activated personalization. You get to choose where you go next.

We're slightly stopped though, to make sure we used a real deal email address. No biggie—we can just click a link in an email to confirm.

And then, probably because user intent at this point is pretty high, Freshworks asks us for a bit more information about ourselves—most importantly, job title.

Once you confirm your email and give the additional details, a sample dashboard gets you to the “aha” moment of the product faster than if you had to wait for your own data to fill.

A second email arrives—again with a personal touch. You can reply directly with what you're trying to solve with Freshdesk.

2. Zenefits

Zenefits—in their own words—is software as a service including HR, payroll, benefits and wellness for SMBs and insurance brokers.

Clicking on the "GET STARTED" CTA on their marketing site pops up a quick form that gathers important information for their future onboarding experience.

Breaking the form into two increases the conversion rate, as it doesn't overwhelm the new user.

After filling it out, Zenefits shows a transition animation that let's you know that it's personalizing your experience. Or, at least, it gives the successful illusion that it's personalizing for you.

Next stop is a demo center, giving new users even more options for what they want to explore.

If you click the top "Explore the platform" CTA, it drops you into a you a pretty true-to-life sandbox to explore.

See? Just a touch of personalization in each of their new user onboarding experience makes a big difference.

What's the secret sauce for in-product personalization?

You might have thought during these examples, “I wonder where the handoff is between marketing and product experiences?”

My bet is that for these teams, there is none. Onboarding and initial user experience is a shared goal between both teams that are embedded in the project.

And rightly so. That’s one of the most powerful things about product-led growth—it breaks down interdepartmental barriers by providing common goals for teams.

Want to learn more? Lyla Rozelle of Litmus wrote a fantastic guide for how product and marketing can coexist.

Margaret is a marketing advisor for B2B SaaS companies. Prior to founding her consulting practice, Margaret led marketing at OpenView and content at Appcues. Before that, she spent almost 4 years building and scaling content programs for InVision’s design community. She appreciates out-of-the-box creative ideas, practical executions, and Oxford commas.

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