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Onboard new users to the high tech software products

Filip Załęski
March 8, 2019

Many companies in their onboarding strategies use a premium trial. It is a period of time when users can test a premium version of the product for free. That approach makes a lot of sense because you show new users everything your product has to offer and give them a chance to try out your product. And what’s a better way to understand the value of your app or service than by testing it? 

Onboarding is one of those methods that you can use to introduce a product to the audience and make them enjoy using it.

From the following post you will learn:

  • How onboarding differs in low-touch and high-touch products?
  • Opportunities and threats of using a free premium trial.
  • A few different trial strategies and which you should use in your case.

What’s an onboarding process and how to create the onboarding strategy that works

An onboarding process is an activity where the company introduces its product or service to new users. It’s a moment in a buyer's journey where a potential user wants to see something more than your value proposition, marketing pages, or product description. They have put their trust in you and want to spend more time learning what your company has to offer. Probably right now you have a question about what onboarding actually includes.

churn chart

Access to a product

Even if the situation that before getting access to the product, a user has to create an account it’s not a rule, and actually, is not that important. The thing we have to watch over is to develop the whole process to make it as easy and short as possible and get rid of all potential places where the users might churn.

hotjar panel

Teach the interface

When the users finally see your product, their first experience can make them a little bit overwhelmed by the UI, a number of features, and CTAs. It’s always a good idea to keep your design simple and clear, but there are a few other tricks how you can help your users learn your product a little bit faster.

Keep the structure simple

If it’s not necessary, you should use just one menu with the features. On the ‘Home’ view, there should be only modules with your core features. Other features that refer to can be placed inside a module. A great example of a simple UI is the Hotjar app. They created a product that helps understand users' behaviors. The product itself is pretty complicated, but it doesn’t stop them to design a simple interface.

Don’t overwhelm your users

A product is a combination of features. Each of them works differently, need different knowledge and skills and finally give a different value. At the first contact, you shouldn’t try to introduce all of them because you don’t want to bother users with features they are not ready to use yet. At the beginning show the features that your users will start using from the first day and these that give value the fastest.

Have a place where users can go if they have a problem

Create a place where your users will turn to when they have a problem with the product. It might be a knowledge base, a live chat or even a phone number. Use any tool that works better for your users (and doesn’t cost you millions)

You need a user manual for your product. like in real products. The most important tasks of the user manual are to present the product, show how it works, and explain how it can be used (the number of people that read manuals is a different story). Walk-through guides are like an instruction but for virtual products. The last thing you want to do is to bore your new users, that’s why you should always keep your tutorials short. When your tutorials are short and tide, you introduce only the most important features. Manuals are important because it speeds up time to get the first value by your user.

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Show the value (an Aha! moment)

light bulb

If someone asked me about one thing that is the most important in the onboarding process, in a moment I would say to show the first value asap! It’s always better when a user experiences the value of your product, but actually, understands what outcomes can it give is a huge step as well.

In some cases, before users get access to any features and start getting value, they have to spend some time to set up the account. A job of every company is to remove all unnecessary barriers. The crucial ones are technical barriers, most of the teams have limited development forces, and they are hard to make it up when regarding technical knowledge and access to the development environment as well. 

When it’s impossible to remove barriers, a good idea might be to lay aside the account configuration when they achieve the desired outcome or at least experience the Aha! moment. People are more likely to spend time on account configuration when they believe that it makes sense and the chance of payoff is huge.

It’s time to break the wall

berlin wall

One of the most common barriers of software products is the necessity of connecting a new account with other software. And it doesn’t matter if you have to configure DNS for a CMS platform or add a tracking code to let the new app integrate with your website. A non-technical person feels sick when just thinks about it. The goal is to make the process as simple as possible and support it whenever it’s necessary.

Many marketing tools (but not only) have a problem with walking fresh users through the process of creating the first campaign. Platforms for marketing automation, social/ search engine ads, and many more tools can be too overwhelming at first contact, especially for someone who doesn’t have experience in these areas. In that kind of case, besides a guide on how to set up the first campaign, a good job might do contact through live chat in real-time or walk-through training. 

But in my opinion, an idea that has the biggest potential is creating a demo campaign based on the company name, market segment, or other information we have collected in a registration process. For example, Brand24 that is SaaS for social media monitoring might create the first campaign on behalf of the users with a company name.

Why onboarding users to analytical platforms is tricky

There is one more software product category that has a problem showing value in onboarding momentum. I mean products whose value increases in time of use. 

A great example of that kind of product is Google Analytics. Just after the implementation of a Google Analytics tracking code, there are no accessible data. That’s why users have to wait at least one day (but actually, according to statistics, it would be better to wait a week). It happens always when a user adds new events, new goals, or any new piece of data. Google Analytics is a really complicated platform itself, so comparing it with time to aha! moment, the onboarding barrier is huge. At this moment I must say that Google Analytics is a great product, and probably for that reason, people want to learn its interface and features.

14 years after it was created a group of great entrepreneurs decided to create another platform for web analytics named Heap Analytics. They can’t remove all the technical barriers, but they did a good job with most of them. Starting from the moment when the tracking code is added, the application collects every event that takes place on a website, so whenever analysts need any particular information they can build a report and check current and historical data.


An onboarding process is not easy to create and optimize. But from the perspective of growth, it is crucial. Onboarding refers to an activity stage that is one of the five stages of Pirate Metrics (a popular framework describing company growth) created by Dave McClure. Effective onboarding gives more high-quality users who influence your whole company, starts with collecting feedback and feature ideas and finally gives you money for future development.

Frequently asked questions: How to onboard new users in high-tech software products

What is user onboarding? 

User onboarding is the process of helping new users get familiar with and start using the product. A good user onboarding should guide the new users through the features and functions and make it easier for them to use the product effectively.

Why is user onboarding important for high-tech products?

Having an onboarding process is important for all kinds of products but for complex and high-tech ones, it’s essential. The onboarding ensures that new users understand how to use the product to its full potential and helps them see the value and benefits of using it quicker. That way, a user-friendly onboarding can reduce frustration and increase the chance that those users will become long-term users.

What are some best practices for user onboarding?

The most important one is to keep the entire onboarding process simple and easy to understand for the users. A great idea here is to use a progressive onboarding process, starting from the simplest features and then gradually introducing users to more advanced ones as they become more comfortable using it.

How can I measure the effectiveness of user onboarding?

Tracking user engagement, activation rates, and user retention can tell you a lot about how your users feel about the onboarding process so you should keep an eye on those metrics. 

How can I encourage users to complete the onboarding process? 

The onboarding must feel easy and enjoyable for the users. You can use here step-by-step instructions, encouraging messages or interactive walkthroughs. Making the process enjoyable makes it more likely for users to complete it.

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