In an ideal world, people would flock to your product the moment it’s launched. They would immediately know about it, understand it, and share it with everyone and their mother. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in the real world. It takes cross-functional hard work and dedication to educate people about your product and convince them to become a user, even if it is the perfect solution to their problem.

What is product adoption?

Product adoption is this process of educating people about your product and converting them into users. The initial goal of product adoption is to get more folks to, well, adopt your product, but the process doesn’t stop there. What good is it if you get a bunch of people to start using your product, but then they all log in once and never use it again? You want to make sure your users are successful in your product so that they become long-term users, and hopefully, evangelists. But we’ll get into that later on.

Benefits of Product Adoption

There’s a whole slew of benefits for optimizing and improving your product adoption process. For example, you have a higher chance of reducing churn if you can get your users properly onboarded. Increased adoption rates also often lead to higher customer satisfaction and a reduced cost- per-acquisition rate. At the very least, increased product adoption means, by definition, that more people using your product,  and the more streamlined and optimized your process is, the higher customer success rates you’ll see.

Product Adoption Process

A person doesn’t just become a user in your product overnight. They typically go through five distinct stages: awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption.

1. Awareness

The first stage of the product adoption process is awareness, which is simply a person’s understanding or knowledge of the product. A prospect may not be aware that your product exists, or may not even realize the problem that your product resolves. Educating the prospect about your product or the problem that your product solves is crucial to spreading the word and making your product more recognizable. Investing in smart advertising, particularly digital or social media advertising, and putting together a strong marketing team are both keys to raising awareness around your product.

2. Interest

After a potential user is aware that your product exists, you have to get them interested in your product. This step takes them from just general knowledge of your product to seeing value and viewing your product as a potential solution to whatever problem they’re trying to solve. This is the stage where the potential user may do research on your product or a competitor’s product to gather more information.

This is where having a strong online presence can be super helpful. Having in-depth blog posts, informative videos, and an active social media for your product can all help the potential user learn more about your product as they research potential solutions.

3. Evaluation

Once your potential user has gathered enough information, they’re naturally going to start evaluating your product compared to your competitors. This is where they’re going to decide if you are a suitable solution for them and whether or not they’re going to purchase your product.

Having easy-to-access marketing materials can be really useful at this stage. If you can send along a one-pager outlining features in your product vs. your competitor or customer testimonials, you can help the prospect evaluate your product and they will start to see the value that your product provides.

4. Trial

So the potential user has done their research and evaluated all their options. Hopefully, they’ve now decided that your product is the most suitable solution and will purchase it (or at least select a free trial if that’s an option) to test it out. 

Allowing users to test out your product before they fully purchase it can be a really great tool to really let the potential user see the full value of what you offer. A money-back guarantee, temporary reduced cost, or free short-term trial can all help the user get a feel for your product and fully understand how it could help them out. Strong customer success teams that can nail a successful onboarding process, even for trial users, are crucial for this step to lead to adoption.

5. Adoption/purchase

If the trial stage is successful and the user is happy with the results, then they will move into the final stage of the product adoption process and fully adopt, or purchase, your product.

This process is absolutely critical to taking prospects and converting them to paying customers, however it is really only applicable to non-product teams. Think about it; the majority of this process occurs outside of the product itself and before the user has ever even fully seen your product, and so it relies heavily on marketing, sales, and customer success teams to do most of the work. Plus, most SaaS teams won’t even want users going through this process unless they’re confident that they can keep them engaged after adoption, because the threat of churn is too real.

 So while non-product teams are responsible for increasing the total number of users at the very top of the funnel and guiding them through the product adoption process, it is the responsibility of the product teams to then keep these users engaged and happy once they’ve actually started using the product. 

This second, and arguably more relevant flow for product teams, is the engagement funnel. How do you take a brand new user at the end of the product adoption process and eventually transform them into an evangelist for your product?

Engagement Funnel Stages

1. New User

We’ve all downloaded that one app that we ended up using just once as soon as we downloaded and then never opened it again. This is what a new user is; they have access to your product, they’ve checked it out, but they haven’t truly used it yet. Whether they don’t see the full value of your product yet or they don’t know all the features you offer, it is critical at this stage to provide the user with education and support. Sending along helpful videos, tips and tricks, or tutorials can all help set your user up for success and educate them on all your product has to offer.

2. Active User

If the user takes advantage of these support tools and starts exploring and using your product, they then move from being a new user to an active user. We typically define an “active user” as someone who has some degree of interaction within the product over some specific time window (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) What that activity is and what the time window is totally depends on your specific product. For example, a product like Instagram may look at daily active users, but a product like TurboTax wouldn’t find that metric helpful since it’s users likely aren’t logging in every single day.

Once you’ve defined your temporal metric, then you can differentiate between an active user and the next step, an engaged user.

3. Engaged User

An engaged user can essentially be defined as someone who has hit that next threshold of activity. So, if your “active user” definition was logging in one day a week for three weeks, then an “engaged user” could be logging in one day a week for six weeks. This next barrier shows that this user is committed to your product, using it to some degree of frequency, and finds some kind of value in it.

4. Collaborator

Transforming a user into a collaborator, or evangelist, is one of the most exciting moments for a product team. A collaborator is  someone who doesn’t just use your product to its full potential on a regular basis, but also actively participates in making your product better and telling others about it. Maybe they’re a part of a customer advisory board that gives your product team actionable feedback, or maybe they inform other people about your product and your features.

A collaborator is someone who sees the full value of your product, wants to participate in improving it, and share it with other people.

A lot of people will refer to this engagement funnel as a “flywheel”, but when you actually break it down, it’s clear to see that it’s not really a cycle at all, but a path that a user can move down. There are distinct cliffs that you and your product team should be tracking, and it is the responsibility of the product team to make sure that users are consistently moving through this process.

Tips to improve product adoption

1. Create a strong first impression

As we all know, a strong first impression is key to creating a smooth onboarding process. If a user is immediately turned off from your product because of design, confusion, or agitation, they are unlikely to come back and try to figure it out on their own. Offering up educational materials, and making sure that users have everything they need to succeed the moment they enter your product for the first time is crucial to improving your product adoption process.

2. Empower users to guide their roadmap

Allowing your users to have a say in the direction of your product will not only help you better understand what they want and what is most important to them, but will make your users feel that you care about them and are listening to their needs. Giving your users the ability to request items, or vote on items you’re already planning on working on, will empower them to increase adoption of your product, and will increase their satisfaction since they feel a close connection to the product. Plus, showing your users that you listen to their requests during the onboarding process can help ease any concerns they may have about your product. It’s a win-win!

3. Announce new product updates

As we mentioned above, product adoption is incredibly important, but it only gets you so far. It’s crucial to keep your existing users engaged once they’re inside your product to help keep your churn rates down. One of the best ways to do this is announcing new product updates, specifically directly inside your product. Not only does it get users excited about new features or updates within your product, but it can be particularly useful for user onboarding so that new users see that you’re constantly updating your product and adding new features. Plus, if you’re launching a feature that a specific user requested, it can be exciting for them to see their request in action.

4. Re-engage users with triggered emails

Event-triggered emails and notifications are a great way to keep existing users and new users engaged in your product and increase your adoption rates. For example, say that a new user clicks on a feature within your product that they haven’t explored yet. If you have an event-based notification go off once they click that feature for the first time, it can help smooth out that onboarding process and ensure that your users don’t feel confused or lost within your product.

5. Validate new feature ideas

One of the best ways to better understand your users’ needs and to better engage your user population is to validate new feature ideas with your users. Whether it’s sending a preview of something you’re planning on working on or using a voting system to have your users rank what’s most important to them, engaging new and existing users in that way can make the users feel more involved in the process and have their opinions be heard. Plus, it helps you decide what to work on next. 

Important Measurements

There are several important metrics you should be tracking as your user moves through the product adoption and engagement funnels. They can help you measure the success of a new product and 

1. Adoption rate

The first metric is a basic adoption rate. This is a simple comparison between your total number of users and your total number of new users, and you will get a percentage of how many of your users are new.

  • Formula: Number of New Users / Total Number of Users 
  • Example: 
    • New users = 50 
    • Total users = 300 
    • Adoption rate = 50/300 = 0.1667, or 16.67% 

You can calculate the adoption rate on any temporal window that makes the most sense for your product (daily, weekly, monthly, etc).

2. Time-to-first key action:

This metric shows how long it takes a user to complete an important action within your feature. You can measure the average time of two different scenarios: either how long it takes a new customer to use an existing feature, or how long it takes an existing customer to use a new feature. 

  • Example:
    • The average time it takes a user to first-click a navigation item from the homepage is 5.3 seconds.
    • The average time it takes a customer to complete their first transaction on an eCommerce website from when the account is first opened is 12 days.

3. Engagement funnel measurement

Gathering the percentage of your users at each stage of your funnel is crucial for your product team. You can break down the funnel into each section and then find the percentage of each by taking the number in that funnel section divided by your total users.

  • Example: Say you have 1,000 total users
    • Of these 1,000 users, 900 of them are new users. 900/1,000= 0.9, or 90%
      • 90% of your total users are new users
    • 750 are active users. 750/1,000= 0.75, or 75%
      •  75% of your total users are active users
    • 500 of them are engaged users. 500/1,000= 0.5, or 50% 
      • 50% of your total users are engaged users.
    • 100 of them are collaborators. 100/1,000= 0.1, or 10% 
      • 10% of your total users are collaborators.

If you want a more in-depth look into how we measure and track user engagement, be sure to check out our blog post on user engagement for more information.

At the end of the day, we all just want people successfully using our products and to be satisfied with their experience. But there’s a lot more that goes into that than you may initially believe. You can’t just expect people to magically know about your product and understand fully how it works; it takes a lot of hard work and collaboration between the product and non-product teams to ensure success throughout both the product adoption process and the engagement funnel.