Five User Onboarding Challenges That Can Impede Your Product Growth

In my mastermind group of four SaaS founders, nobody had anticipated that onboarding challenges would have so much negative impact on their growth. And these weren’t our first products!

We should all do better.

As you look to build a scalable product, you need to include four ingredients. If one of them is missing, your product can still be successful — but it will be hard to gain traction. The four ingredients are:

  1. Audience. You need reliable access to an audience that can afford to pay for your product. This is the top of your future sales funnel.

  2. Value. You need to clearly communicate what your product does, and how it helps your target audience. Can you explain the hat value of your product in a few words? Is your elevator pitch clear to people?

  3. Ease of adoption. You need to make it easy for your audience to adopt your product. Any friction in user onboarding, and you’ll have trouble converting trials to paying customers.

  4. High retention. You need to make your product business-critical (or “sticky”) that your users stay on board.

User onboarding — your effort to improve adoption — is, sadly, a second thought for many SaaS founders. As a result, they encounter a series of onboarding challenges after the launch. While ideally these problems should be uncovered at the idea stage.

Today we’ll dissect common onboarding challenges, and help you include them in your idea evaluation process.

1. The product requires behavior change

Some products are effortless to set up and easy to use — but they require behavior change. Whether using a product for business or personal reasons, all customers are creatures of habit who subconsciously resist that behavior change.

This is common with products in the health and fitness space. They often require users to log information — like weight, food eaten, when fasting windows have opened or closed, exercise sessions, etc. When users log their information daily, the product delivers value. But getting users to change their behavior and log that information day after day is challenging.

You can solve this by providing inspiring examples and employing different accountability methods — calls, coaching programs, peer groups, etc.

2. The product is hard to set up

Many products are easy to use once the user completes the setup process — but the setup process is complicated. We often see this with analytics tools.

When your product is easy to use but difficult to set up, try concierge setup offerings and onboarding calls!

Yes, it’s more expensive to provide this level of support to users. But these products are often on the higher end of the pricing spectrum, and the additional onboarding expenses can be baked in.

3. The product is hard to use

While many products are easy to set up, not all are easy to use. It’s not uncommon for new trialing users to get into the application and think: “So what now?”

We see this a lot with project management tools. You can get started in five minutes, but the path to mastery is long. Each project management tool has its own “flavor” and methodology behind them.

Address this challenge by creating rich knowledge bases that anticipate user questions and issues. You can also deliver the same content via email during the trial period.

4. The product is hard to set up and hard to use

In some cases, it’s a double whammy of being both hard to set up and hard to use. In all honesty, this is the situation we’ve found ourselves in at Userlist — we didn’t anticipate this when starting out in 2017.

In this situation, you’ll have to juggle all the instruments above.

The key is to provide incredible value. If your product is difficult to set up and use, the product’s value needs to be significant enough that retention is high and churn is low.

High retention at Userlist lessens the impact of these onboarding challenges — but we’re always seeking new ideas for addressing them head-on.

5. The product requires training for secondary users

The success of some products relies on the experience of secondary users.

This is common in the education space, where administrative departments may choose to invest in a tool and then ask teachers and professors to use it in classroom settings. The same is true of many enterprise-level tools.

In these cases, training is essential to long-term success.

And we mean training at scale!

Many products that fall into this category will partner with their customers to provide hands-on training and ongoing support to secondary users.

Conclusion: Think about user onboarding from day one

The best way to prevent this is to think about your onboarding upfront. Treat it as a part of your product, not as an add-on. Here are some of the questions to answer:

  • What support volume will you be managing?
  • Do you prefer low-touch or high-touch interactions with your users?
  • Do you enjoy training users?
  • How much educational infrastructure will you need to build?
  • Will you be doing this yourself, or will you hire dedicated customer success managers?
  • Is the retention and LTV good enough to justify onboarding costs?
  • How will you distribute the onboarding resources across your pricing tiers, especially with freemium?

As always, there are more questions than answers. But thinking about this upfront will save you sweat and tears down the road.

At Userlist, we’ve helped hundreds of founders overcome these challenges and learned a lot along the way. If you have any questions, we’d love to answer them on Twitter at @userlist.

About the author

Jane Portman is the co-founder of Userlist, an email automation tool for SaaS companies. Since 2017, they’ve been helping founders with user onboarding and engagement. A seasoned podcaster, Jane also runs two shows, UI Breakfast Podcast and Better Done Than Perfect.