Why building a "perfect product" isn't enough in SaaS
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There’s a common misconception around customer activation—that a perfectly, intuitively designed product is enough to circumvent the need for additional “onboarding”. The perfect product is self-explanatory and people just know how to use it.
The reality is a little more complicated.
Just take the iPhone as an example (commonly referenced as the “perfectly intuitive” experience). “Just look at kids using it!”
True, a kid can pick up on tapping and swiping with ease. Those mechanics feel natural and even fun. But ask a kid how to set up 3-way calling (remember that?) and the first question is probably “why?”. In fact, we don’t need to go as far as an esoteric use case to see onboarding in action. From the first Hello screen to settings, the first 10 minutes of a user's experience with an iPhone is onboarding (initial onboarding).
B2B products require B2B SaaS onboarding
There’s also a fundamental difference between B2B SaaS and consumer products (like iPhones) or apps (like Tiktok). Everyone goes to Tiktok for the same reason: to spend the next 5 minutes lost in a world of hilarious videos. Some people create content, but I digress…
B2B software users have more complex and varied goals. Even if you have the most intuitive product in the world—where task completion is obvious—it doesn’t mean all users have the same path to follow. Getting the right users down the right path means designing for multiple journeys.
The best-designed products can and should make individual mechanical tasks feel intuitive by drawing on familiar, straightforward interactions and clear navigation. However, enabling the individual to accomplish a longer or more complex goal requires more than great mechanics and layouts.
You can’t always build the perfect product right now
The other issue with getting to “perfect” is the reality of resourcing and time. Depending where you start from, redesigning a product can be extraordinarily expensive, time-consuming, and hard to resource / justify.
Elliot Dahl, an advisor at Bento and a Staff Product Designer at Lattice, knows this reality all too well:
"Teams often dream of building the perfect product but the reality is that priorities change quickly and we, as builders, don’t often get to add those final perfect details."
While that can be worthwhile in the long run, you can’t hold existing users hostage in the interim. alongside lobbying for redesigns, customers still need to be able to come in and be successful.
Even when resources are available, it’s tough to solve for every persona and value proposition, let alone trade that off with solving customer-facing problems in the core product.
What SaaS onboarding is and is not
Onboarding is key to ensuring users accomplish their goals with your product—it’s the bridge between sales and actual product activation. But today, most onboarding is overly simplified and disjointed (see Kyle Poyar’s post about self-serve onboarding here).
- Overly reliant on product tours (which most new users immediately dismiss immediately)
- Only offering ephemeral experiences (which, once dismissed, can’t be reviewed)
- Focusing on marketing but not helping users see their “happy path” and keep track of where they are (progress)
One reason onboarding can end up this way is insufficient collaboration. What marketing wants to promote, what product believes is the happy path, and what Customer Success sees as common traps are all different. Not to mention that most product designers are focused on the customer’s problem and designing the core product, not their adoption journey. Without this kind of deep collaboration, the journey(s) would be impossible to design well.
Nor is SaaS onboarding about teaching UI
Great B2B products are easy to use because they draw on structures and interactions users are already familiar with. So the mechanics aren’t the problem—it’s about the goals users come in with.
Too often, product designers focus on explaining navigation or introducing a menu of features when they should be focused more on the value the product offers and why users sign up.
"Get away from the mechanics and focus on the deeper value that software has to provide. Essentially, how will this make their life easer?” - says Dahl.
Many SaaS products are built to change the way people work. By definition, in order to upend traditional processes and innovate on existing workflows users need a level of education to go alongside their actions. And that’s why even the most intuitive SaaS product still needs effective onboarding.
To introduce new workflows, your onboarding needs to follow a path, helping users traverse throughout the product to accomplish what they need. And this varies based on their persona and job to be done.
- Admin user(s) need to understand what, why and how to configure settings and set up integrations.
- New “end-users” (if different) need to understand how their team is using the product and how to get plugged in.
- Individual users might also have different use-cases for your product, whether checking in on reporting, designing a new workflow, or collaborating with a coworker on a particular asset.
Getting to prefect SaaS onboarding requires iteration and personalization
Onboarding users in this way is incredibly valuable for companies in terms of boosting activation, banishing churn and increasing retention, driving product-led growth, and protecting revenue in the long run. You can build personalized journeys in-app before you've "figured it all out".
As Dahl says:
"Working in an agile style encourages us to make quick iterations and rebuilding a hard coded onboarding experience quickly becomes outdated and unmanageable"
That’s why we’ve built Bento to enable an integrated and personalized experience:
- Build branching paths that give users a dynamic onboarding experience based on the persona or features they opt into learning about.
- Give users an embedded experience that feels native and can be returned to throughout their lifecycle.
- Design and iterate collaboratively with an admin UI that makes it easy for customer-facing teams to tailor onboarding content for individual customers and even complete steps on behalf of customers they support
Since the platform integrates with just a single line of code, you can quickly implement your onboarding flows without waiting around for engineering.
If you're done waiting for the next redesign project – or recognize that your users need more than an intuitive interface to understand their "happy path" – we'll be glad to get you set up with a demo or a trial of Bento!
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