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The guide to product adoption and why CSMs need to care

Updated on March 8, 2024 31 minutes read

Summary points:

What makes a SaaS successful? Is it the glorious reviews? The buzz the product created when it first came to market? Or maybe it’s about seeing a surge in revenue graphs? While all these are great to have, they merely scratch the surface of a SaaS success story. And, yes, one could argue there’s no ONE defining metric for sustainable success.

However, there is something key to achieving nearly every business goal. Lower churn rates. Increased revenue. Boosted CLV. You name it. All of them can be significantly improved as long as one key condition is met. What is that, you ask? It’s getting people to use your product. Simple as that.

Show me a thriving SaaS, and I’ll know that the company is one where a product or service isn’t just offered—it’s actively embraced.

So, stick with me because today we’re going to dive deep into the anatomy of SaaS success and dissect the role of Product Adoption.

Understanding product adoption

The what

Let’s get one thing straight right away: product adoption IS NOT to be confused with user acquisition.

Metaphorically speaking, product adoption is the heartbeat that transforms SaaS platforms from one-hit wonders to lasting forces in the industry.

And that’s because product adoption refers to how customers or users start using and integrating a new product or service into their daily lives. You see, the customer journey doesn’t end when he or she makes a purchase. Oh no, it goes way beyond the initial purchase or subscription. In fact, it extends into the ongoing relationship between the customer and the product.

If you think about it, it’s this care and attention with which some companies treat their users that makes the difference between a mere transaction and a flourishing partnership.

Now here’s the thing about product adoption: it may not look the same for every company. For example, here at Custify, we could say that customers who take the time to personalize our platform according to their needs have adopted our software.

Alternatively, we might gauge product adoption by the frequency and depth of engagement with our analytics and reporting features.

See, product adoption can vary from company to company. However, what stays the same is the fact that users need to perform an action within your platform, app, or service for them to be considered ‘adaptors’.

The difference between user and customer adoption

If you ever find yourself reading about product adoption and see the terms ‘user adoption’ and ‘customer adoption’ pop up, you should know there are subtle differences between the two.

So, let’s clear the mist on this topic before we move on to anything else, shall we?

In SaaS jargon, user adoption focuses on the individual users, while customer adoption refers to the adoption at the account level. Drilling this down even more, user adoption refers to individual users. In contrast, customer adoption refers to adoption at the account level – something that multiple users may share (each with unique needs).

Stages of product adoption

Every product adoption process should have a clear strategy behind it. You can’t just wing it when it comes to getting someone totally oblivious about your product to someone who can’t imagine living without it.

The good news is you don’t need to start from nothing when putting this strategy together. The general consensus is that you need to move your prospect through a number of stages. Some say this number is 5, while others say that those using the 5-step process miss out on an essential part of the customer lifetime – product activation.

Us? We kind of agree with this 6-step process, so that’s what we’re going to be addressing here.

Each stage carries its own weight, and there isn’t one more important than the other. So, let’s analyze each of them separately.

#1: The product awareness stage

You know what they say: A journey of 1,000 miles starts with one step. For you, that first step is getting people to become aware of your product’s existence. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of this step. With so many SaaS businesses out there, it’s not hard to see how your product could slip under the radar.

So, how do you raise awareness?

The secret is to find your future users in the right spot and at the right time. For example, Zapier used SEO to spread the news about its app integration and workflow automation software.

In doing so, they created over 25,000 pages to showcase how their product can integrate any two web apps users could ever need.

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#2: The product interest stage

Once a prospect is aware of your product’s existence, the next step is to seek further information about it.

Since different prospects have different needs and jobs to be done with your product, your job is to ensure you’ve got enough information to address all their possible use cases.

Use webinars and demos, engaging content articles, free downloadable guides or templates, and even influencer collaborations.
The folks at Kissmetrics give us a wonderful example of how they use webinars to hit two birds with one stone – grow interest in their product and capture leads.


Kissmetrics focuses on the tangible benefit the user will get from this webinar. They also keep their paragraphs short and sweet and use headlines, subheadlines, and bold text to create a stunningly easy-to-follow visual hierarchy.

#3: The product evaluation stage

At this point, prospects start getting really interested in what you’ve got to offer. As a result, they’ll start comparing you to alternatives, reading reviews, and weighing the pros and cons.

Your job is now to highlight what sets you apart from your competitors. Whether it’s a specific feature, exceptional customer support, or a competitive pricing model, emphasize what sets your product apart.

One other tactic to deploy at this stage is customer success stories. So, don’t be afraid to share real-world examples of how your product has changed your users or their businesses.

Just take a look at how CoSchedule uses well-written customer success stories to persuade those users who are still on the edge to take the plunge.

 

#4: The product trial/sampling stage

Congratulations! You’ve successfully navigated through the first 3 stages of the product adoption process. Your prospect is now ready to give your product a go.

Whether they sign up for a trial, ask for a demo, or even pull the trigger for an initial purchase, they aim to see if your product lives up to their expectations.

So, what can you do here to convince them your product is worth it?

Well, this is where your focus should shift to what happens with your product. Everything from UX and UI and all the way to the onboarding process itself is essential.

To help their goal of providing trial users with the best possible experience, Canva uses UI models on their welcome screen. This helps them understand the goals these users want to achieve as well as the jobs-to-be-done.

Ensuring a positive and seamless experience during this stage will pave the way for lasting customer satisfaction and continued product adoption.

#5: The product activation stage

This is the step some fail to include in the product adoption process. However, we think the gap between testing a product and committing to it long-term is far too great. That’s why this step serves as a bridge between widespread product adoption and the trialing stage.

So, what can you do to close that gap?

Since we know that adoption happens when users have an ‘Aha!’ moment, and they feel the real value of your product, the job of this stage is to help them get to that point.

Offer them educational resources. Segment users based on their needs and offer them personalized support. Reach out to users to check their progress, address any challenges they might face, and provide additional tips on utilizing advanced features. Celebrate key milestones and acknowledge their achievements.

Just get a look at Fitbit’s exceptional way of celebrating its customers’ milestones. By helping users keep track of their progress and offering them celebratory badges, Fitbit increases the likelihood that these people will keep using their product to track their training.

#6: The product adoption stage

This last stage should carry on the momentum built during the product activation. To maintain momentum, consistently reinforce the value proposition of your product. Remind users of the ongoing benefits and demonstrate how your solution continues to meet their evolving needs.

Just get a load of how amazingly awesome this year-in-review from Texture is.

Not only does the user see how he stacks up against all the other readers on the platform, but he’s also made aware of how much money he saved and even the trees he spared by choosing Texture.

Now, that’s just one way of handling the product adoption stage. That doesn’t make it the only one though. For example, you could also offer advanced training opportunities that enable users to deepen their expertise. This could involve specialized workshops, masterclasses, or certification programs.

Another tactic you could use would be to implement robust performance analytics and feedback loops. Make sure to analyze how users leverage your product – you may be surprised by the applications they find for it. And when you do find something surprising, don’t shy away from sharing it within your community. You create a collaborative environment by offering new insights into how users leverage the product. What’s more, always ask for feedback. Feedback on their experience with the product and feedback on how you can improve it.

The product adoption curve

Just like all of us have different wants and needs, we also tend to adopt products at different different paces. Some of us are early birds jumping on any opportunity to try out the latest and greatest. Other brands, such as Apple or PlayStation, have created such a loyal customer base that these early adaptors gather outside their stores days in advance just to be sure they’re first to get their hands on the newest gadget.

Others, however, prefer a more cautious approach. This type of person will observe from the sidelines until they’re convinced of a product’s stability and long-term benefits.

Based on this observed behavior, Everett Rogers, professor of sociology at Ohio State University, introduced the diffusion of innovation theory in 1962. His theory helps us understand how a new product or idea spreads among people. Rogers talks about five different groups of people who adopt new things differently.

Let’s talk about each.

Innovators: These are the risk-takers who love trying new stuff right away. They usually have more money and education and like nothing more than being the first to buy the latest products.

Early adopters: These people are like leaders in their community. People trust their opinions, especially when it comes to new things. They help make a new product popular.

Early majority: Moving on, we meet the careful group. They don’t want to be the first to try something, so they look at what the first two groups are doing. That doesn’t mean they’re not smart or don’t have a good income. They do, but they like to see if others like the new product before committing themselves.

Late majority: These are slow deciders. They only try something new when a lot of others already have. Fancy features are not really their thing – they only want simple things that do the job and that don’t cost too much.

Laggards: Lastly, we have those people who love old things. They’re hardcore traditionalists. By the time they’re willing to add something new to their lives, everyone else has already moved on to the next big thing.

Factors influencing product adoption

Professor Rogers’ theory doesn’t stop at defining the 5 adopter categories mentioned above. He also defined 5 factors that drive product adoption and, ultimately, a product’s degree of success.

So, next time you plan on going to market with a new innovative product, benchmarking its benefits against these 5 factors will help you identify potential adoption barriers and areas for improvement.

Now, let’s list these factors and analyze them one by one. But before that, it’s important to note that research findings have found that the first 3 factors (relative advantage, compatibility, and complexity) outweigh the other two in terms of influence over the innovation adoption process.

Relative advantage

A product or innovation is more likely to be adopted if it holds an advantage over the existing solutions on the market. So, how do you define this advantage? One way would be to add a financial value to it. That means this new product should be cheaper or bring in fewer costs.

Another way to define advantages would be to look at convenience. Does this innovation help users achieve their goals faster or easier?

Finally, the last way to know if you’ve got an advantage or not is to look at the aspect of the product. People will tend to adopt new things based on aspect and the social status that comes with it (I’ll buy this product because it will say something about my type of person).

Compatibility

Compatibility evaluates whether an innovation aligns with the market’s current way of doing things and its beliefs.

Consider a scenario where a company introduces a remote collaboration and project management SaaS solution. Before the pandemic, the prevailing work culture was that office hours were the norm, so the chances for this solution to be adopted would have been thinner.

However, the pandemic shifted the work culture to remote work and flexible schedules. That means the SaaS tool now aligns well with the current beliefs and practices. It becomes a valuable resource for teams adapting to the new normal of remote collaboration, making it more likely for the solution to be embraced and integrated seamlessly into their workflow.

Complexity

The easier it is to use a product, the more chances of it being adopted. So, before launching a new product or feature, ask yourself questions like:

  • Is it too difficult to understand?
  • Is the interface intuitive?
  • Is the learning curve too steep?
  • How long does it take before users can experience the benefits?

Trialability

The trialability of a product aims to remove entry barriers for customers by letting them experience the benefits of a new product with zero risks for them. As you can imagine, you do that by offering limited-time trial periods, money-back guarantees, product demos, and other strategies that allow customers to test the product without a significant commitment.

Observability

This last factor is about how well you can put your product in the limelight. An observable product is a product that stands a far greater chance of being a hit than one that lacks visibility. The key lies in maximizing the exposure and prominence of your product. When a product is easily noticeable, it gains attention and generates its own buzz, significantly increasing its chances of becoming a success.

Measuring and analyzing product adoption

Alright, I’ve covered a lot of what product adoption is; now, let’s discuss the math behind it.

The product adoption measurement formulas

Here’s the thing about measuring product adoption – it’s… controversial. Some say you can’t really calculate it, and you need to track other various metrics. Others use a formula. Still, others use a different formula. It’s a bit of a mess – one I intend to clean up by addressing all these product adoption measuring techniques here.

The first formula says that to calculate your product adoption rate, you need two pieces of data from your product and user analytics:

  1. New active users – the number of people who performed a set number of key actions in a given period.
  2. New users or signups – the number of people who signed up or subscribed to your product in the same period.

Once you have these numbers, the formula for calculating the product adoption rate is:

Ok, that’s one way of figuring out your product adoption rate. Let’s move on to the second formula. This one looks like this:

The problem is that it doesn’t factor in utilization or activation – and that’s basically what adoption is all about.

What’s the benchmark for a good product adoption rate?

As you can imagine, the Product Adoption Rate is one of those metrics where the higher the number, the better.

In 2019, a Mixpanel study that tracked the number of users who got value from a product within the first week found that the numbers differed across both industries and platforms.

So, how can you tell whether you’re pulling the right numbers regarding product adoption or not?

Well, it all starts with setting realistic adoption goals. If you’ve got 1000 new clients coming in every month, is it realistic to have an 85% adoption rate after the first three months? It depends. That’s why it’s best to look at your historical data to see where your baseline is before setting up any unrealistic goals.

Key metrics and KPIs for tracking product adoption

As mentioned earlier, product adoption is also about tracking certain metrics and KPIs. So, let’s list them and see how they relate to your product’s adoption rate.

Time-to-first key action

The time it takes for a user to use an existing feature for the first time tells you a great deal about your product adoption rate.

The longer the period, the more problems you’ve got. And my advice would also be to ignore those super-short time-to-first key action periods as well.

Those outliers may be users who just hit spam ‘Skip’ during your onboarding process and may accidentally click on an action button before they realize the onboarding ended. No good.

Percentage of users who performed a key action for the first time

Since what this metric reveals is hardly a secret, what’s not so obvious is defining that key action.

The rule here would be to select an action that, once performed, will nudge users toward that Aha moment. All that’s left is to see how many users perform that action.

And that’s where Customer Success software such as Custify comes in handy. Its powerful product analytics component does all the work for you and reveals exactly how well your users engage with that key feature.

Usage frequency

Usage frequency is measured only among those users who’ve completed the onboarding process. This metric reveals how many of those users return to use your product. The more, the merrier.

To calculate it, start by finding out your Daily Active Users (DAUs), Weekly Active Users (WAUs), or Monthly Active Users (MAUs). Then, take these numbers and see what percentage they represent of your total number of users.

Product stickiness metric

This is yet another metric that hints at how valuable your product is to your user base. Calculating it reveals your user’s tendency to keep returning to your product.

Support tickets by feature

At times, despite meticulous planning of a feature’s workflow, it may not align with the user’s in-app behavior. As a result, they’re often completely unaware of its existence.

When this happens, users do one of the following two things. Some of them will seek help from your customer support team. Others will get frustrated and eventually churn.

To prevent that from happening, your best action is to track the number of tickets your support team receives and what those tickets are related to.

Awareness of a flaw in your product is the first step toward fixing it. And fixing your product will also drive your product adoption rate up.

Upsell rate

Have you ever bought a product you hated and decided to buy an upgrade after? No? Go figure…

People don’t invest repeatedly in something unless they’re genuinely engaged or find value in it.

That’s why upsell rates are a good indicator of your product adoption rate.

Average session duration

People don’t spend time on a product that doesn’t give them any value.

That’s why the Average Session Duration is like a sneak peek into how much users are into a product in one go. A longer duration? That likely means users are getting the hang of it, exploring features, and finding it useful. But if it’s short, it might be a sign that users are hitting roadblocks or not fully vibing with the product.

However, a long session may not be ideal if your product is built to save time. I recommend setting a session duration for these scenarios to measure success against it.

Customer lifetime value

The amount a user will spend on your SaaS is also a good indicator of your product adoption success.
The more value your users get from your product, the more they’ll stick around and generate more revenue.

Analytical approaches to understand user behavior and adoption patterns

Before you rush into your product analytics, it’s crucial to establish a clear understanding of what product adoption means specifically for your SaaS. Is it about the frequency of use, the exploration of key features, or the integration into daily workflows? There’s no one-size-fits-all here, and how you define your success parameters will set the stage for an effective analysis of your user’s behavior.

Once you’ve decided upon your performance indicators, it’s time to dive into the intricate world of product analytics with a focused approach. The key is to align your chosen metrics with your broader business goals and user expectations.

Let’s say you’ve established that your product adoption success will be measured based on frequency of use. In this case, you’ll need to understand whether it’s becoming an integral part of their routine. Are they logging in daily, weekly, or sporadically? To find out, you’ll need to track how often your users interact with your product.

You see, your product analytics are there to help you unpack the relationship between user actions and product adoption. Follow the data and try to spot the differences in behavior between those users who’ve met your product adoption success criteria and those who haven’t. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Which product features are my best customers using the most?
  • Why do these features drive product adoption?
  • Are there any behavioral patterns that indicate hesitation or resistance to adoption?
  • At which stage of the customer journey do users show increased engagement?
  • Are there differences in adoption patterns among various customer segments?
  • Are there spikes in adoption following the introduction of specific features?

With a Customer Success Software like Custify by your side, finding the answer to those questions and more becomes much easier and faster. Not only will you know what happened and why, but you’ll also be able to segment your audience and deeply explore behavioral data across any chart, persona, or user.

Strategies for enhancing product adoption every CSM should try

If there’s one individual capable of ensuring that customers not only adopt a product but thrive in its usage – that person has to be the Customer Success Manager. However, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. So, how about we look at some of the best ways to boost product adoption?

Make product onboarding a priority

First impressions. They matter. So, as you can imagine, there’s a reason why you keep running into articles and experts preaching about the importance of a well-executed onboarding strategy.

Yet despite its importance and the many resources available, onboarding remains a challenge for many SaaS businesses.

So, let’s take a quick look at some onboarding examples, what they’re doing right, and how you can apply their lessons to your strategy.

Let’s get the ball rolling with Wave. This great example showcases the importance of focusing on benefits instead of features.

When creating an onboarding strategy, always keep in mind one question: “What’s in it for your user?“

The ultimate goal is for you to make the user understand how your product will transform his life. To do so, you need to address his needs and desires. Plus, since you probably haven’t convinced your user of the value of your product yet, it’s also important to calm their anxieties and remind them that your solution is the key to helping them overcome their current problems.

In the example above, Wave App’s copy focuses both on benefits for the user (get paid 3x faster) and on social proof (24 billion invoices sent each year).

Now, let’s switch our attention to HelpScout who use onboarding as an opportunity to minimize the product learning curve.

People at HelpScout leverage the Zeigarnick effect – people’s obsession with finishing uncompleted tasks – to send users down a slippery slope. The goal is to prepare users to familiarize themselves with the product and put them in a position where they’re ready to experience its benefits.

The onboarding checklist serves as a structured guide, ensuring that users navigate through essential features and comprehend the product’s broader functionalities and benefits.

The only thing to be wary of when creating an onboarding checklist is ensuring you’re not overloading the users with tasks.

Yet another onboarding strategy to get behind is beautifully presented to us by Lyft.


Liking is one of Cialdini’s principles of persuasion. And while many factors influence this principle, the ones we’re interested in leveraging here are contact and cooperation.

So, how do we leverage them? You may be surprised, but 85% of people say they’d be more likely to stay with a business that invests in onboarding content that welcomes and educates them after their purchase. Lyft’s welcome email is a perfect example of that.

If you’d like to get even better at onboarding your users, we recommend you also check out our detailed SaaS Customer Onboarding guide.

Build educational content and training materials in the early stages of adoption

Even though SaaS businesses know that their users need guidance for using their product, most leave it last on their list of priorities.

Not good.

If your users don’t know how to make the most of your product, they’ll get frustrated. They’ll start wondering whether your product is worth the money. They’ll start looking at alternatives. They’ll eventually leave you. And you certainly don’t want to let that happen, Which is why educational content is essential.

Once again, you’ve got multiple types of educational content you can make available. Let’s talk about some of them.

In-app guides

What better place for some good ol’ education if not your very own product? After all, users who are there are already immersed in it. Some well-placed sticky in-app messages or interstitials will only encourage them to follow your advice and instructions right then and there.

Check out Insight Timer, letting users know about a new feature. That’s pretty hard to ignore.

Product documentation

Ever found yourself aimlessly wandering around an app interface, trying to figure out how to perform a specific action or access a particular feature? Probably, so did your users.

That’s why you should document everything a user needs to know about using your product successfully.

Think about it – getting familiar with a software doesn’t feel like second nature to most people. That’s why users will get immense value from comprehensive guidance on setup procedures, basic and advanced feature utilization, and effective troubleshooting techniques.

Once you’ve documented everything, organize it in a knowledge base, as most SaaS companies do. The trick is to make the information clear and easy to find. Lyft, for example, does a great job making its KB mobile-friendly and easy to read:

Videos

Videos will never go out of fashion. They’re easier to skim through, more engaging than lengthy manuals, and deliver information dynamically.

As a result, a video library becomes a treasure trove for users seeking knowledge. By categorizing videos based on skill levels, topics, or use cases, you create a comprehensive resource that users can navigate at their convenience. This library evolves as the product matures, ensuring users have a go-to source for continuous learning.

For example, Canva’s YouTube channel is packed with video tutorials and tons of instructional content.

Webinars

Webinars are a great way of helping regular users learn the craft from actual experts.

Users who join webinars benefit from asking questions, seeking clarifications, and interacting with presenters. All this creates a collaborative learning environment and fosters the birth of a community.

The possibilities as far as webinars go are virtually endless.

Webinars are something we love doing at Custify – and not just about our software but also about topics that interest our users.

Drive user interaction with the help of effective engagement strategies

Engagement. Now, that’s a powerful word for any SaaS. Businesses that’ve mastered the art of successful user engagement are businesses that will be here for years to come. The reverse is also true. Businesses that neglect or underestimate the significance of engagement are at a greater risk than ever to lose users to the ever-expanding sea of alternatives.

So, how do you crack the code to that elusive product engagement strategy and keep your users hooked?

Personalize your content

Did you know that by putting in the effort to personalize the user’s buying journey, 44% of those customers are bound to become loyal customers? If that’s not reason enough to start customizing your content, I don’t know what is.

When a SaaS marketing team hears about personalized content, most will assume that adding the user’s first name to future email communications will do the trick. And that’s not a bad starting place. But please-please-please, don’t stop there!

Sometimes, personalization can be as simple as localizing your texts and ensuring you avoid cultural faux pas or offensive terms.

However, you also want to use data to segment your customers and use these segments to create messages tailored to these segment’s specific needs and preferences.

For example, Booking welcomed returning users with a personalized message that offered them a good reason to sign in. Once signed in, Booking collected even more information about their behavior, which, in turn, allowed them to create even more personalized messages.

Leverage live chat

While some users respond better to emails and similar types of communication, others appreciate live communication. Remember, we are living in the age of instant gratification. For a certain type of users, generic FAQs and waiting days on end to get an answer are just not acceptable anymore.


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When your live agents offer personalized guidance and help a user solve his problems on the spot, that interaction builds trust. It strengthens customer relationships. It encourages the user to share his feedback and experience with others.

Use customer feedback to your advantage

Never shy away from asking for feedback from your customers. It’s probably one of the best ways to get them invested in your product or service. Participation turns regular users into legitimate stakeholders. When users feel their opinions matter, they become more invested in the product. Engaged users are more likely to explore new features, advocate for the product within their networks, and contribute to the overall vibrancy of the user community.

One way to go about this is to implement the A.C.A.F. Customer Feedback Loop.

 

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The role of customer success managers in product adoption

At the turn of the century, Dell was a big deal in making computers.

Now, imagine Dell’s busy call centers dealing with tons of calls every day from people around the world who were trying to figure out how to use their new PCs.

One day, a customer called in, upset that the coffee holder that came with their PC wasn’t working. Even though the agent was the most experienced one there, this strange complaint puzzled him. He checked all his lists but couldn’t find any mention of a coffee holder for any PC model.

Instead of giving up, he asked the customer to describe this “coffee holder.” To his surprise, the loyal Dell customer explained a simple and smart contraption built into the PC. It opened and closed when you pressed a button. That’s when the agent realized the customer was talking about the CD Tray being used as a cup holder. The customer even suggested that the hole in the center should be bigger for a better fit.

The strategic importance of CSMs in driving adoption

The story teaches us that when it comes to trying out new things in a product, it’s never a straightforward path. Each company has its own way of introducing and getting people to use new products based on what they think customers want.

But here’s the twist – customers might not use the new feature the way the company thought they would. It’s like everyone is on their own adventure when it comes to trying out new stuff in a product.

Enter the Customer Success Manager. In the landscape of product adoption, the CSM is the essential link between company perceptions and customer realities. The CSM’s understanding of the product intricacies and customer needs positions him as an interpreter of this dynamic relationship. When companies roll out new features, a CSM guides users, ensuring they grasp the intended use and discover personalized ways to leverage these elements.

In the context of our earlier coffee holder tale, a CSM might have recognized the discrepancy between how Dell envisioned the CD Tray and how the customer ingeniously repurposed it. Through proactive engagement, CSMs can gather insights into how customers interact with features, allowing for real-time adjustments and personalized guidance.

A hypothetical example of maximizing product adoption with strategic customer success management

Let’s say this SaaS company is launching a cutting-edge collaboration tool designed to streamline project management for its users. Everyone inside the company is super excited about it. They cannot imagine it not being an absolute hit. The development team is especially confident that their intuitive interface and robust features will revolutionize how teams work together.

To drive awareness, the marketing team worked on a creative campaign to showcase its extraordinary capabilities. However, as users begin to explore the tool, it becomes clear that there’s a discrepancy between how the team expected them to use the product and how they actually do. Some features aren’t being utilized to their full potential, leading to concerns about the product’s overall impact.

This is the Customer Success Manager’s time to shine. A savvy CSM would recognize the need for a strategic intervention. He starts gathering user-feedback and looking into product analytics. He aims to identify potential pain points and areas of confusion that could reveal why users ignore or struggle to adopt specific features.

Using the insights he got, he starts building targeted training materials and personalized guidance to address user challenges. These materials could be instructional videos, live webinars, and even one-on-one sessions for teams facing hurdles. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, he tailors his team’s efforts to meet the diverse needs of different user groups.

But his work doesn’t stop there. He sets up continuous feedback loops, encouraging users to share their experiences and suggestions. He’ll use these suggestions to set the stage for future feature releases and because he knows how important it is to foster a collaborative relationship with users.

As you can see, the success of a product isn’t defined by its shiny new features. Instead, it’s about how easily users embrace them and how obvious the impact is in their daily routines. It’s the daily “aha” moments, the seamless solutions to challenges, and the enhancement of efficiency that truly define success.

Common barriers in product adoption for CSMs and SaaS managers and how to fix them

As we’ve already seen, the path toward product adoption can be twisted and littered with crucial checkpoints and barriers that sift the extraordinary from the ordinary. These challenges – ranging from user resistance to evolving market dynamics – require a keen understanding and proactive approach from Customer Success Managers (CSMs) and SaaS managers.

Naturally, awareness of their existence is the first step to overcoming these obstacles. This article section will focus on dissecting these challenges and unveiling the strategies and insights for rising on top of them.

#1 No one’s heard about you

Consider this for a second: If a stranger approaches you and offers a new product or service, your decision to adopt it likely hinges on trust and credibility. But how can you trust someone you’ve just met?

A study from explodingtopics.com found that 81% of customers need to trust a brand before they even consider buying from it.

For someone who’s just starting out, this is a huge problem. Sure, brand recognition will grow over time, but does that mean you just sit with your arms crossed and do nothing in the meantime? Heck no!

FIX: Get creative with your marketing

Addressing your limited brand recognition is no easy feat. And before you can even address it, you need to ensure you’ve nailed down your brand identity, ideal customers, and value proposition.

You can get the ball rolling on your smart marketing strategies only after you’ve ticked all these off your checklist.

The first strategy we’re going to mention relies on partnerships. One way to improve visibility is by collaborating with vendors, influencers, and thought leaders.

An inspiring example of building awareness comes from Canva. When it first started out, Canva faced the challenge of reaching a niche audience of creatives. Leveraging the expertise of branding and evangelism legend Guy Kawasaki, Canva initiated the Wise Guy series, creating motivational videos across various social platforms.

The partnership immediately boosted Canva’s user base in two months and reached over a million users within eight months. By August 2015, the active user base had soared to 4 million, showcasing the power of strategic partnerships and effective content marketing in driving rapid product adoption.

Another creative example comes from HipChat – a private chat and instant messaging service that provides one-on-one and group chatting, as well as cloud-based file storage, video calling, searchable message histories, and online image viewing.

As an unknown startup attempting to make a name for itself, HipChat decided to run billboard advertising campaigns. However, they knew that their message would need to go against the grain if they were to make themselves known.

That’s how the ad below was born.

Pairing a popular internet meme with their unfamiliar product was a hit for them. The billboard was featured on Twitter, Tumblr, FAIL Blog (under the “Wins” category), and the highly sought-after TechCrunch. This exposure resulted in a 300 percent surge in online searches, a flood of new customers, and a rapid transformation into a thriving SaaS.

#2 Product has no market fit

Let’s assume you’re a well-established brand that needs no introduction. Does that mean you’re off the hook when releasing a new product or feature? It certainly does not. In fact, I’d say I wouldn’t be taking many chances when saying that most product managers never did market research on products or features they release. Talk about a lack of communication…

The secret sauce to a software product’s success? It’s all about meeting a real need out there. Think about it – users are more likely to embrace your product if it genuinely solves a problem they’re facing. Why else would they invest time in learning and integrating it into their daily workflow? So a “product market-fit” is when your app’s value proposition aligns with the target audience’s needs.


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It’s a pretty straightforward idea, but you’d be surprised how many SaaS founders miss this mark. According to CBinsights, lack of market fit is the second most common reason startups fail. They often get so wrapped up in their ‘brilliant’ idea, they forget to ask a crucial question: Does the market really need what they’re offering?

FIX: Embrace the research

Addressing the lack of market fit is crucial for SaaS businesses, and the key lies in continuously monitoring how well your product resonates with your audience. Here’s how to fix this issue effectively:

a. Embrace Both Quantitative and Qualitative Research: To get a comprehensive understanding of your market fit, you need to balance quantitative data with qualitative insights.

– Quantitative Research: Use analytics software to gather data on user behavior. Tools like Paddle, Heap, and Custify can provide insights into how users interact with your software. For instance, Custify reports show that companies using our customer success platform see as much as a 40% reduction in churn. These tools can reveal if users are actively engaging with your app features or lowering their engagement, indicating whether your product meets market needs.

– Qualitative Research: This involves direct feedback from users, offering deeper insights into their desires and needs. Methods include:

  • Customer Surveys: Ask specific questions about user experience and expectations.
  • Social Media Engagement: Monitor conversations and respond to feedback on platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn.
  • Direct Interaction: Use your customer support and success teams to have real conversations with users.
  • Review Site Monitoring: Keep an eye on sites like Trustpilot and Capterra for unbiased user reviews.
  • Suggestion Box: Implement this feature on your website to encourage users to propose desired features or improvements.


b. Adapt and Pivot Based on Insights: Use the data and feedback to continuously refine your product. According to a report by Gartner, businesses that adapt their products based on user feedback see a 20% increase in customer satisfaction.

c. Case Study Example: A notable example is Slack, which initially started as an internal communication tool for a gaming company. However, after many many customer interviews, they realized the broader market need for an efficient team communication tool, they pivoted and now it’s a leading SaaS product in its category.

By combining these approaches, you can ensure that your product not only meets the current market needs but also evolves with your user base, leading to sustained growth and reduced churn.

#3 People fail to grasp your product’s value

This one hits hard. Especially when you know you did your research and all the stars seemed to be aligning for a major success. But then, the cruel reality hits you. It’s not that you’re not getting users to sign up to try your product. It’s that once they do, they fail to understand its value and abandon it.

Believe it or not, most of your users will spend less than 40 seconds deciding whether to keep using it. Less than 40 seconds!

With time against you, you can see why making your value obvious from the get-go is a matter of life and death for any SaaS.

So, what’s the solution here?

FIX: Use the science of behavioral modeling in your favor

BJ Fogg states that behavior is a function of motivation, ability, and triggers.

Motivation represents the user’s willingness or desire to engage in a behavior. Ability refers to the user’s capacity to perform the behavior. Finally, triggers are cues or prompts that initiate the behavior.

According to him, these three elements must simultaneously combine for any behavior to occur.

Now, you may wonder what this has to do with making your product’s value obvious in less than 40 seconds.

Well, it’s about keenly watching how users use your product. Understand your product and its features, noting when users find it most useful or get frustrated and leave. Some handy tools, like user behavior analytics, help you make sense of this data. For example, they might reveal that users want a longer trial period, need more features, or prefer helpful demos and videos during onboarding. So, by keeping an eye on user behavior and using these tools, you can make your product more user-friendly and showcase its value quickly.

#4 Lack of motivation

‘Dogs are loyal, customers aren’t.’ – Philip Graves

The quote above speaks volumes about how you should always be on your toes when it comes to your customers. Unlike the unwavering loyalty of dogs, customers can be influenced by various factors, and may not stick around indefinitely.

Because of this, businesses need to find new ways to earn and maintain customer loyalty. Hence, the fix below.

FIX: Reward, reward, reward.

Blind loyalty may not be a trait we share with our four-legged companions, but our love for rewards is.

So, naturally, loyalty and referral programs are an easy way to counter the dynamic nature of customer loyalty

For example, you could reward those early adopters who leap into uncharted territory with your product. These rewards could be either a personalized discount, free access to your next paid feature releases, entry into exclusive contests, or even gift cards. The end game here is to create a sense of belonging and appreciation.

At the same time, consider implementing referral programs to tap into the power of satisfied customers. Encouraging these users to refer friends, family, or colleagues not only expands your customer base but also leverages the influence of existing customers in attracting new ones.

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#5.Users are reluctant to change

In the SaaS world, just like in life, one of the biggest hurdles to product adoption is the natural resistance to change. This is especially true in the B2B sector, where business leaders often express concerns about the ROI of adopting a new solution and the potential disruption it might cause to their established workflows.

The hesitation to switch to a new software often stems from fears of data loss, workflow disruption, and the learning curve associated with a new tool. A study by McKinsey & Company highlights that 70% of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support. This statistic underscores the importance of addressing these concerns head-on.

The Fix: Provide a Smooth Transition

To alleviate these fears of change, it’s crucial to offer solutions that make the transition to your software as seamless and risk-free as possible. Here are some strategies:

a. Migration Tools:

  • Develop features that facilitate easy migration of data from existing systems to your platform.
  • For instance, Asana’s CSV importer, which simplifies importing project data from other tools, is a great example of how to ease the transition process.

b. Education and Training:

  • Invest in comprehensive educational resources and training programs to help new users get up to speed with your platform quickly.
  • Offer webinars, tutorial videos, and detailed documentation to reduce the learning curve. Take our Resources page as a reference.

c. Trial Periods and Demos:

  • Provide trial periods or interactive demos that allow potential customers to experience the benefits of your product without commitment.
  • This approach can help alleviate fears about ROI and workflow disruption.

d. Customer Success:

  • Have a dedicated customer success team ready to assist new users in navigating the transition.
  • Personalized support can significantly reduce resistance and improve user experience. And if your CSMs have a proper tool to support their activity, you’ll get results in the first few months.

e. Feedback Mechanisms:

  • Implement feedback channels to continuously improve the transition process based on user experiences.
  • Regularly update your product based on this feedback to better meet the needs of your audience.

By addressing these concerns and offering tangible solutions, you can significantly increase the likelihood of successful product adoption. Remember, the key is to understand the specific fears and challenges of your target audience and tailor your approach accordingly.

Tools and technologies supporting product adoption

Getting those product adoption numbers up means making use of the tools and technologies available out there.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Customer Success Software(CSS) platforms play a vital role by centralizing customer data, enabling personalized interactions, and tracking customer journeys.

User analytics tools, such as Mixpanel or Google Analytics, provide valuable insights into user behavior, helping identify pain points and areas for improvement.

Automated onboarding solutions, like Appcues and Userpilot, guide users through the product, ensuring a smooth and informative experience.

And communication tools, including in-app messaging or chatbots, facilitate real-time interactions, addressing queries promptly.

Now, let’s take a look at each of the tools and technologies to better understand their roles in supporting product adoption.

Custify (Customer Success Software)

A CRM is a great resource to have in your product adoption arsenal. However, if you want to unlock next-level insights and maximize customer success, you need to integrate a Customer Success Software such as Custify. We’re not going to get into the details of the differences between a CRM and a CSS here, but if you want to find out more, we highly recommend you check out this detailed comparison.

What’s more, the lines below should make a compelling case for making Customer Success Software the one key tool for improving product adoption. This is because CSS operates across multiple facets of customer engagement and satisfaction.

For example, Custify provides real-time user health monitoring so you can assess the overall well-being of your customers. You can identify at-risk users by evaluating key metrics and behaviors, enabling proactive interventions to address concerns and prevent churn.

Our platform also offers you automated playbooks that guide users through those crucial stages of their journey.

Whether it’s onboarding, feature adoption, or addressing specific user needs, Custify automates communication and interventions to ensure users receive the right guidance at the right time.

Throughout the article, we’ve discussed how each user has unique wants and needs. And guess what? Custify lets you segment your customers based on any criteria you want. This way, reaching out to each segment with targeted campaigns and personalized messages is a doozy.

And the benefits keep piling up because Custify is also the go-to tool for creating those customer feedback loops. Whether they’re NPS surveys or detailed product feedback forms, our tool streamlines the process and helps you transform user feedback into a strategic asset.

And what about analytics? Oh, your analysts are going to love Custify. Our tool captures essential data that gives you a bird’s eye view into user behavior, feature adoption rates, and overall product satisfaction.

You see, it’s this comprehensive approach that sets Custify apart as a crucial ally in driving successful product adoption.

Userpilot (Onboarding Software)

If onboarding is one of the pillars of successful product adoption, then Userpilot is the cement that fortifies it.

At its core, Userpilot empowers businesses to create seamless, personalized onboarding flows that guide users through their products’ key features and functionalities. The platform’s intuitive interface allows for the effortless design of interactive guides, tooltips, and modals, ensuring users understand your product and find value in it from the get-go.

But Userpilot doesn’t stop at the initial onboarding phase. The platform excels in providing in-app messaging solutions, allowing you to communicate updates, announcements, and relevant information directly within your product. This real-time communication keeps users informed, engaged, and connected, fostering a sense of ongoing value that is crucial for sustained product adoption.

Zendesk (Customer Support Tool)

At its core, Zendesk empowers SaaS companies to deliver seamless and exceptional customer experiences.

One of this platform’s standout features for product adoption is its robust ticketing system. By centralizing customer queries, issues, and feedback, Zendesk enables businesses to address user concerns promptly and efficiently. This responsiveness fosters a positive user experience, a key driver for sustained product adoption

What’s more, Zendesk even offers a chat functionality for real-time communication. This way, users no longer have to leave the product interface to seek help. And we’ve already seen how this instant and personalized support promotes trust in your product, which, in turn, enhances adoption.

Integrating customer support tools like Zendesk allows your business to provide efficient customer support, resolve issues swiftly, and continuously gather valuable feedback to improve the user experience.

Summary

  • Product adoption is the heartbeat of every SaaS business.
  • It is your job as a Customer Success Manager to help users achieve that ‘Aha!’ moment when they experience the real value of your product for the first time.
  • The product adoption process is complex, and how we, as individuals, adopt a product our individual preferences, needs, and expectations. From the first encounter with a product, our journey is shaped by how well it aligns with our unique requirements and seamlessly integrates into our daily lives.
  • In Professor Rogers’s theory, five factors significantly influence product adoption: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability. These factors shape the degree of success a product achieves in the market.
  • Paying attention to these considerations, especially the first three—Relative Advantage, Compatibility, and Complexity—can help identify potential adoption barriers and areas for improvement, guiding the successful launch and integration of innovative products.
  • Measuring product adoption involves navigating through various methods, and understanding the math behind it is essential.
  • Before diving into product analytics, it’s crucial to define what product adoption means for your SaaS

Final thoughts

Wow, this has truly been a marathon of an article. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Anything shorter would hardly do justice to a topic as complex as product adoption.

You’ve seen how this is one of those make-or-break aspects for SaaS businesses. What’s more, the story of product adoption is still being written as we speak. The landscape is constantly evolving. Technologies will advance. User behaviors will shift. What remains constant is the need for adaptability, a keen understanding of your users, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

So, here’s to your journey in the ever-changing world of product adoption—may it be as dynamic, rewarding, and enduring as the SaaS products you’re crafting for the world.

Irina Vatafu

Written by Irina Vatafu

Irina Vatafu is the Lead Customer Success Manager at Custify. As an ANC Certified Trainer and a Customer Success Manager, Irina uses her technical background to better understand SaaS businesses and drive them to success.

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