Customer Success

Top User Adoption & Onboarding Trends for 2018 [Report]

September 4, 2018

I don’t need to convince anyone that, for SaaS companies, recurring revenue is a make or break, or that keeping customers for the long-haul and achieving negative churn is the new measure of a company’s ability to grow and thrive. But what you may not know is that none of that is possible without successful user adoption.

User adoption is the process of ensuring each of your users is successful in using your product to achieve their business goals. When managed effectively, it leads to higher retention rates and drives new growth opportunities for your business.

Now you know that user adoption is the foundation to driving long-term revenue, and successful onboarding is an essential part of that journey. What is unclear, however, is how well companies are executing on their onboarding and user adoption initiatives. How well are companies prioritizing adoption, measuring it, and improving on these efforts?

To find out, we conducted a survey and developed the 2018 User Adoption & Customer Onboarding Benchmarking Report. In it, we uncovered three key trends that illustrate notable disparities between the perceived importance of user adoption and how companies are currently executing and measuring their efforts. The majority of our respondents came from Customer Success (65%) roles in the B2B market (72%).

The most shocking finding from this research was that 74% of people we surveyed spent half of their week dealing with user adoption challenges, but almost half of all respondents say they have no user adoption strategy in place. This finding reveals that SaaS professionals in customer success, product, and even sales and marketing, are spending a tremendous amount of time on user adoption, but they’re doing it without a strategy driving the execution.


Here are three specific trends we uncovered as well as a few recommendations for companies on how to close the gaps in their analytics and strategies that will result in user adoption excellence.

Trend 1: Companies want onboarding at scale.

The onboarding phase is where first impressions and quick time-to-value, critical to true user adoption, occur. Often people make the mistake of having onboarding be product-focused, when it should be customer-focused. Onboarding is the place where and time when product owners help users discover their best features as fast as possible with the ultimate goal of having those features drive business value for the customer. It is the “inflection point” for user adoption.

With these concerns in mind, 70% say that improving onboarding is a top priority this year, and 26% indicate that they are specifically looking to develop a more self-service/high-tech onboarding model.

This makes sense as 72% of onboarding teams consist of 1-10 people. Teams are relatively small and can easily become too overloaded to maintain a white glove approach for long.

For companies that want to better scale their onboarding, start with automating just a few areas, then learn and grow from there about what works best for your users. Many teams that rely on a high-touch strategy today often fear automation because they worry about “replacing” the personal touch today with “robots” or automated responses that won’t land well or miss the mark with their audience. My suggestion is to start with tech touch not as a replacement, but as a supplement or reinforcement to what you are doing within your high-touch strategy.  Remember, people often need to hear things multiple times for new habits to stick. Think of tech touches as helping to reinforce these new habits.

Trend 2: Companies struggle to measure user adoption.

Measuring the degree to which users are successful in using your product to achieve their goals, i.e., how quick a customer gets to their WOW moment, and the payoff with your product, is as essential as it is challenging.

User adoption requires a holistic approach to measurement. It means thinking of your onboarding strategy as not just getting folks to use more of your product, but to ensure that they are getting business value. To that end, your measurement must align with your customer’s expectations and thinking.

Tracking the success of onboarding efforts, time-to-value (TTV), and ongoing user sentiment must all be considered. But, companies find it hard to measure user adoption because they aren’t tracking these metrics or don’t know where to look to find it.

Only 33% of respondents said they have visibility into their users’ onboarding progress. This is not surprising considering 18% said they are not evaluating their onboarding process at all, and 48% rely solely on informal calls with customers. This is a missed opportunity for companies to ensure they are delivering value on their customers’ expected business outcomes.

Many respondents indicated a lack of “visibility,” “data,” “VoC,” and “user analytics” as their biggest challenge in improving user adoption. Without the proper data or a way to disseminate that data to the right contact within the organization, companies will struggle to understand their benchmarks or areas for improvement.

Since almost three-fourths of respondents indicated that improving adoption is a high priority this year, focusing on establishing a proper metrics methodology and addressing gaps in data is a great place to start. Start by making sure that you are aligning your customer’s usage to business value. The expectations they set for the relationship with your business may become your KPIs for success.

Trend 3: Companies have little focus on and accountability to user adoption.

One notable problem appears to be a lack of accountability. Only 19% of respondents said they have a dedicated onboarding team.

This means most companies are without anyone truly accountable for ensuring their customers are adopting their product successfully. Respondents cited issues like “workflow confusion,” no “concise user engagement program,” difficulty securing “internal resources,” “management support,” and “funding” as reasons.

Thus, it’s not surprising that many struggle with prioritizing and gaining visibility into user adoption patterns.

Companies are unable to align the why (the reason the user bought) with the what (those things the user does inside the product) to provide that “aha” moment ROI to justify renewal.

It’s clear that companies do care about improving their user adoption and onboarding efforts. Yet they are overlooking significant gaps in their analytics and strategies, resulting in processes that are not scalable, data-driven, and unified. To correct this, here are a few recommendations for how companies can get started:

Ensure adoption is a top-down, cross-functional initiative.

If your user adoption strategy is not being directed by leadership, it likely has no formal processes in place, and is not a top priority at your organization. Since successfully driving user adoption needs to come with a range of KPI’s and the ability to track users’ performance across a range of functions, it should be an organizational effort, with a cross-functional adoption team leading the way. Start by getting key stakeholders from all functions (like customer success, product, sales, marketing, and operations) together to document the user journey so you can begin to identify gaps.

Institute dedicated training and implementation resources.

Onboarding is a significant milestone on the journey to adoption, so it is best to have a leader, plan, and team focused on doing it right. While 19% of respondents have dedicated onboarding teams, many more lack a dedicated adoption plan and leadership. Understand the onboarding investment and timeline across each customer segment and ensure those individuals responsible for onboarding have sufficient resources to effectively perform the necessary activities required.

Introduce a high-tech approach where possible.

We know high-tech models are more scalable and proactive than high-touch approaches. Look for opportunities to replace current high-touch workflows with tech-touch engagements. The right technologies can help you keep an objective, data-driven view of your clients so you can better assess users and develop strong user adoption strategies based on their needs. Not to mention that proactively creating these automated engagements also frees up precious time and gives customer success managers more time and ability to act as a strategic partner to their customers. 

Keep an eye on more applicable KPIs.

Sign-ups and usage alone as KPIs are not enough to know whether you’re delivering value and driving successful adoption. Not knowing the full picture can often lead to false positives or a false sense of security. Ensure you’re being holistic with your measurement efforts by also tracking time-to-value (TTV), desired outcome achievement, customer sentiment, and a smooth customer experience.

The above benchmarking analysis gives insight into how others are (or are not) addressing user adoption effectively. To understand where you fall in comparison, ask yourself – are you driving long-term user adoption or merely short-term usage?

To read more about our findings, download the full report here.

Rachel Orston


Rachel Orston is CEO of UserIQ. She is a customer success pioneer who understands the hard work that begins after the initial sale ends. After years of leading customer success at one of the world's leading marketing automation platforms (and later scaling best practices across IBM's global SaaS portfolio), she is excited to lead a new movement focused on deepening customer engagement. UserIQ is fast-becoming the User Adoption Platform that enables SaaS companies to improve end-user adoption and onboarding to accelerate time-to-value.