Lesson 1
6 mins

Why do we need user onboarding?

In our first lesson, you’ll learn all about the business impact of new user onboarding and why even the most intuitive products still need it. You can take these talking points straight to your boss or team, if they need a little convincing.

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Why do we need user onboarding?

First off, welcome! We’re so glad that you’re excited about user onboarding, cause we sure are. 

Lyla Rozelle very excited about onboarding

In Lesson 1, we’ll talk about the importance of user onboarding. Why is it such a big deal, anyway? 

Well, for starters, SaaS has a massive short-term retention problem. New users expect intuitive, self-serve products that show and deliver value almost immediately. If you miss the mark, they're gone... just like that. Poof. Here’s Eric Keating—VP of Marketing at Appcues—to explain this phenomenon. 

In short, your new user onboarding experience can make or break your business. No pressure. 😉

If you’re already completely sold on the idea of onboarding, you can think of this lesson as a summary of talking points to champion the project internally. And if you’ve got no higher-ups or teammates to convince, then congrats—you’ve already cleared the first hurdle. Look at you go.

The business impact of user onboarding

Way back in 2007 (the year the iPhone was born 😮), Dave McClure coined the term “Pirate Metrics” to explain 5 metrics that contribute to a product’s success. The Pirate Metrics include acquisition, activation, retention, referral, and revenue—or, as a pirate would say—AARRR. Over time, the order of these metrics has been disputed and shuffled around, but let’s go with the following for now.

Image showing the Pirate Metrics - Acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, referral

Out of all the Pirate Metrics, activation is the most important for both retention and revenue. Because it turns out that even a small increase in your activation rate can lead to an outsized return. And who doesn’t want to increase their revenue (in a scalable, measurable way)? 

It also turns out that improving (or creating!) user onboarding is your best bet at increasing your activation rate. 

Just listen to Wes Bush, founder and CEO of ProductLed. He could go on and on about the link between user onboarding and retention (we told him not to go past 2 minutes).

“You must help your users experience the value of the product as soon as possible.”

The bottom line is: If done well, onboarding is not just a parade of tooltips inside your product—it’s an impactful tool that delivers real business value. 

And if you really need some concise and convincing talking points, just tuck these data-backed findings in your back pocket:

But does a brilliantly-designed product really need user onboarding?

Ever heard someone say that products with great user experiences shouldn’t need user onboarding?  “Just make your product more intuitive,” they say, “simplify it.” Ahh… if only it were that easy.

If you’re finding yourself in conversations like these, we’ve got your back. 

Here are 3 compelling reasons why even the most intuitive products need user onboarding.

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Your users have different needs
One fixed user interface might not cut it for users with different roles, domain knowledge, and goals. Adapting to users’ specific needs with personalized onboarding flows will help both of you succeed.

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Learning is different than using
When you add an experience layer with tooltips, modals, etc. to your product, it forces a context switch out of the mode of using, into the mode of learning. This helps new users bridge knowledge gaps faster and more effectively.

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Onboarding needs to adapt to frequent change
If you’re a growing software company, you’ll be pushing updates regularly (hopefully). But you also need to consider the impact these changes will have on new and long-term users alike (yikes). Adaptable onboarding to the rescue.

Say it with us: User onboarding is a powerful lever for increasing your activation rate and revenue. So with that in mind, let’s dive into what the heck it is!