In simple terms, product adoption is the process in which a potential customer, who’s hearing about your product for the first time, becomes a regular user of your product.
This might sound very straightforward, but the process actually contains no less than six stages during which your customer develops their purchasing decision and slowly integrates your software into their routine.
In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the six stages of product adoption and discussing some good practices for improving each one.
Let’s start with awareness, the foundation on which product adoption is built.
In order for a potential user to commit to your product, they first have to be aware that it exists in the first place.
And in an exceedingly crowded software market, getting the word out can be something of a challenge.
In addition, awareness for the sake of awareness isn’t a valid goal because you don’t want to invest resources in capturing the attention of the wrong audience.
So a second challenge is finding a way to communicate with people who are likely to eventually adopt your product.
The solution to both problems might be a well-thought-out marketing campaign targeting the audience segment that contains your ideal customers.
There are many marketing strategies to choose from, but the one that seems to fit SaaS business best is content marketing.
We know this because almost every SaaS company has a form of content strategy.
For example, 98% of them have blogs, and 89% regularly create other types of content, such as case studies, podcasts, webinars, etc.
Content marketing is an excellent strategy for raising product awareness because it draws in potential customers who are experiencing the pain points your software product promises to solve.
In other words, customers aren’t looking for your product but rather a solution to their problem.
Your content offers expert advice on the subject and mentions the product as a possible solution.
And that’s how the right customer (someone likely to adopt your product) first hears about your software.
Here’s an example of how that might work with a company blog.
Let’s say you’re a construction manager who needs a better way to track construction costs.
You go online, google your problem, and start reading some blogs to find expert tips on the matter.
Like this one:
Among other advice, the blog post suggests using equipment tracking software for more accurate cost tracking and includes a plug for the company’s product that does precisely that.
The reader thus becomes aware of a product that can help with their problem and becomes curious about it. Product awareness is successfully achieved.
Raising awareness is all about bringing your product to the attention of the people who might find a use for it and eventually decide to invest.
Quality marketing, specifically content marketing for SaaS companies, can help you do that.
Once you’ve attracted the attention of the right potential customer, they might take a more active interest in your product. By “active”, we mean that they’ll take steps to discover more about it.
This is especially true in the SaaS industry, where customers do extensive research before they form a final purchasing decision.
Research into buyer behavior confirms this. Here are the results of an interesting study that asked B2B software buyers how they spent their time when forming a purchasing decision.
As you can see, almost half of the time was devoted to doing research, particularly online research, to become familiar with the product’s uses, features, benefits, and pricing.
So how can you help your customer navigate through this stage and retain their interest?
Simply by providing them with enough honest, quality product knowledge for them to make an informed decision about your product.
For example, you can provide access to customer reviews on your website to convince visitors that your product is a tried and true solution to the pain points they’re experiencing.
Here’s a review of Hubspot’s CRM provided by the marketing director of Zoom, published on Hubspot’s website.
This is an example of a review that carries a lot of weight and can heavily influence a buyer’s decision to subscribe.
Another way to provide your potential buyer with information about the product is to maintain an online knowledge base where you explain every aspect of the product.
This resource can tell potential buyers what the product is used for, how difficult it is to navigate, and which goals can be attained with it.
Here’s a knowledge base built with Archbee’s documentation software, a powerful tool that enables SaaS companies to create, publish, and manage product knowledge bases online in their own domain.
So, in a nutshell, in this research-heavy stage, the more high-quality, objective information you can provide for the interested customer, the higher your chances of transporting them to the next phase of the process.
At this stage, the customer has decided that they want to invest in a software solution, and yours is one of the options.
However, before deciding to buy, the customer will explore what else the market offers.
The evaluation stage is when the customer is sizing your product up against the competition, so the smart move here is to give them reasons why they should pick your product over all the others in your space.
You'll first have to perform a competitor analysis if you want to do a good job here.
As a professional in your industry, you should have no problem enumerating who your competitors are.
Then, you should provide an honest overview of their products and where their advantages and faults lie.
You can do that in spreadsheet format:
Once you have all the information you need, you can again create helpful content for your website.
This time, you’ll focus on your competitors and provide customers with objective comparisons of product features, support channels, pricing, and other aspects of your software that interested parties want to know about.
Here’s how we did that at Archbee. We offered comparisons of our product with the most popular tools in the documentation space.
Comparing our product to Gitbook, for example, we emphasized the number of features Archbee offers to make developer and product documentation easier and more comfortable to do.
Just like with product reviews, your competitor analysis needs to be honest and objective.
Potential customers are looking for unembellished information to facilitate their decision and won’t tolerate sales-y content that makes unrealistic promises for your product while belittling others in your industry.
Congratulations, your customer is now actually interacting with your product. They’ve decided that it fits their needs best out of all of the other software tools in the same space.
But don’t crack the champagne yet because this is still a research phase, albeit a more hands-on one, and your customer might still change their mind if your software doesn’t live up to their expectations.
The feature of your SaaS product that makes this stage possible is the free trial or freemium plan.
That’s what allows the user to test out the product without committing to it, which greatly facilitates their decision to test the product and see how it works for them.
This explains why most SaaS companies offer these models, even though they require investments without an immediate return.
For example, Canva’s freemium option offers limited access to this graphic design software.
But the company has ascertained that they are enough for the user to realize the value the tool has to offer and form a habit of using it.
If all goes well, the customer will soon want to expand their use of the software to include features they don’t have access to currently. That’s the point when they upgrade to a paid plan.
However, it’s not enough to just provide access and leave the user to their own devices.
Since the user is new to the interface and doesn’t yet know how to operate it, it’s definitely a good idea to support their initial interactions with a product tour.
Canva does pretty well in that department too. By using pop-up messages and quick tips, the user is introduced to the main features and shown how to complete tasks using the software.
Remember, if you’re confident your software is good enough and can do a good job satisfying the users’ needs, give your potential customers access to a limited version of it.
Once they test it out and see that it can help them, they’ll be lining up to subscribe to the full version.
This is a crucial point in the adoption process, and the moment you can confidently say you’ve won your customer over.
The stage of activation is when the customer finally connects to the product and realizes the value it can bring to their work/life.
The chaos and confusion of learning how to use the product are replaced with purpose and comfort, which makes it very likely the customer will keep using the product regularly (or adopt it, in other words.)
In UX terms, the activation stage is often referred to as the Aha! moment. This is what it might look like in visual terms.
As you can see, after the Aha! moment, the usage of the product stabilizes into a steady rhythm, which is all you really want to see from a happy user.
Can you already see the big challenge at this stage?
The challenge is how to define the Aha! moment using terms relevant to your product. At what point do users make up their minds and decide they want to keep using the software?
To find out, you’ll have to closely monitor user behavior within the software and find the moment after which they are very unlikely to turn away from the product.
For the communication app Slack, that magic moment comes after a client team exchanges 2,000 messages, according to Slack’s founder and CEO, Daniel Stewart Butterfield:
For a team of around 50 people that means about 10 hours’ worth of messages. For a typical team of 10 people, that’s maybe a week’s worth of messages. But it hit us that, regardless of any other factor, after 2,000 messages, 93% of those customers are still using Slack today.
Pinpointing this moment of activation is important because once you know what it is, you can influence users to help them reach it faster and therefore speed up adoption.
That’s the reason why, for example, LinkedIn pushes users to make as many connections as possible the moment they join the social network.
It’s because LinkedIn’s moment of activation is making a certain number of connections in a certain number of days.
Once you know the user has had their Aha! moment, it’s smooth sailing from there on out.
Adoption isn’t so much a stage in the process, but rather its successful outcome.
This is the point after product activation when your customer starts making a habit of using the product and integrates it into their daily life.
Complete product adoption is the goal in the SaaS industry because it secures user loyalty and makes it very likely you’ll retain the user in the long term, meaning you can count on a steady stream of revenue.
However, that doesn’t mean your duty to your customer ends here.
Since SaaS business is subscription based, you’ll need to make sure that the customer keeps finding value in the product and expanding their use.
Otherwise, you might lose them to a company that offers more features or better support.
This is where quality content comes back into play.
Top-performing SaaS companies offer educational resources so their customers can learn how to do more with the product and use it to advance their careers.
Ahrefs, the all-in-one SEO tool, is a good case in point.
This SaaS company offers an entire SEO academy so that users can learn everything there is to know about this field and become an SEO expert who can take on any task with that software.
This practically makes it certain that the adoption will stick because the user’s success will depend on using the tool.
So, keep in mind that product adoption is always conditional.
Customers can always change their minds about your product, but that’s not likely to happen if you keep providing value for them and showing them new ways to achieve success.
We hope we were able to paint a clear picture of how much hard work it takes to transport a customer from product awareness to complete adoption.
You’ll need to invest a lot of resources into creating quality content, implementing features that foster learning, and meticulously tracking the entire process.
However, all of your efforts will be worth it once you have a stable, happy customer base of users who can’t imagine life without your software.