Why Product-Led Onboarding™️ is a Team Sport

This is an excerpt of a new book I’ve written with Wes Bush called Product-Led Onboarding™: How to Turn New Users into Lifelong Customers. You can buy it now!  


“Bond. James Bond.”

From the first time I saw a James Bond movie, I’ve been a big fan. One weekend, I binge-watched all 24 films, starting with the first 1962 film Dr. No with Sean Connery, to the most recent 2015 one starring Daniel Craig in Spectre.

What’s fascinating about James Bond is how invincible he is. No matter how many villains, bullets, and grenades are thrown at him, he escapes every seemingly impossible situation – all without a drop of sweat on his forehead or a speck of dust on his perfectly pressed suit. He’s a one-person killing machine taking on multiple criminals alone.

It’s too good to be true, isn’t it?

A hero looks great in the movies. But in real life, it rarely works out.

The reason I bring this up is to warn you of the number one pitfall I see companies make when trying to improve their user onboarding. Instead of working across multiple functions, there is usually one person or department (typically the product team) who works in a silo from the rest of the company to do it. 

  • Marketing works on a few onboarding and product marketing emails.
  • Product focuses on UI tweaks in the signup process and first-use workflow.
  • The sales team touches base with users once in a while, trying to convince them they need an upgrade.
  • Support waits until a user needs help. 

Every team is contributing to the user onboarding experience, but they’re all doing it in isolation. 

Much like a James Bond movie, it looks great on the surface level. But in reality, it’s a recipe for disaster.

User onboarding should not be a solo mission but rather a team sport.

You can’t approach it as James Bond does. It’s important to build a team like Marvel’s Avengers or DC’s Justice League by bringing together the “superpowers” of different departments or functions.

This is what an onboarding team should look like. 😊

This way, you’re taking a holistic approach, which allows you to deliver an effective, immersive, and seamless onboarding experience for new users.

The process to improve user onboarding works best when it’s a team effort, ideally from across different functions within a company. Each team involved in the user onboarding experience holds a piece of the puzzle and can bring a unique perspective on how to best onboard new users. 

In this blog post, I’ll share with you the four key roles in an onboarding team. I’ll also share who should own user onboarding.

The 4 Key Roles in an Onboarding Team

The process to improve user onboarding works best when it’s a team effort, ideally from across different functions within a company.

Each team involved in the user onboarding experience holds a piece of the puzzle and can bring a unique perspective on how to best onboard new users. Ideally, teams need to be engaged from the get-go: from Acquisition to Revenue in the Pirate Metrics Framework.

The specific makeup of an onboarding team varies from company to company and also from product to product. The size of the team will also vary widely, as does how narrow or broad-ranging the scope of their work is. At this stage, it’s important to identify which teams contribute to the success of new users. 

This could include the following roles:

Product Managers

Product managers typically orchestrate the in-app user onboarding experience with designers and engineers: from the signup to the first-use workflow. They oversee implementing any triggers inside your product. This includes (but is not limited to) progress bars, product tours, and checklists that help guide new users to their desired outcomes. 

The role of an in-app user onboarding experience is critical because all new users are lazy, vain, and selfish in the first 15 seconds. They don’t have the patience to read directions, especially if the learning curve is high. They also only care about their own desires and needs. A product manager’s job is to minimize the time it takes for new users to experience the value of a product as quickly as possible.

In most product-led companies, product managers are well suited to lead the onboarding team. In large part, this is because most product managers already work cross-functionally with the marketing, user research, engineering, and design teams. For a small startup, it could be one of the founders who owns the onboarding process.

Marketers

Marketers communicate the value of a product. They use tools, resources, and content to educate new users to become effective, regular users. This could include crafting and managing lifecycle email campaigns, templates, case studies, and helpful tips – each designed to draw the user’s attention to the core actions of a product.

Marketers are critical in the user onboarding process because no matter how good the in-app user onboarding experience is, 40% to 60% of users will sign up once and never come back. By using external triggers such as onboarding emails, browser notifications, SMS messages, direct mailers, or retargeting ads (normally the job of a marketer), you can remind users how the product improves their lives.

Furthermore, great marketing builds trust and creates a personal, emotional connection. This hits every touchpoint: from ads, blog posts, and landing pages all the way to onboarding copy, in-app messages, and emails. A marketing team needs to create a cohesive and consistent content strategy that amplifies the need for a product. Or, it needs to reach the pain of their situation to help them overcome their anxieties and objections. 

Customer Success

Those responsible for customer success and happiness should lend a huge hand in the onboarding process. Understanding a user’s wants and needs is crucial during onboarding. Customer success teams are usually equipped with the empathy and product know-how necessary to show users immediate value. 

When users stumble during the user onboarding process, it's up to customer success to reach out and measure how they feel as they progress. Since they’re the first point of contact for issues and problems new users face, they can provide invaluable user feedback for the business. Every support question and survey response should be recorded and relayed to where it's needed to enhance the user onboarding experience.

Sales

With hybrid or sales-assisted onboarding, it’s the sales team who reaches out to potential customers to ensure they're receiving a ton of value from a product. Salespeople tend to take special care of individual users while laying out expectations for further features of the product to motivate them to build a deeper, more frequent habit with a service, such as premium features or subscription benefits.

Sales teams often use demos to provide customized walk-throughs of the product. Armed with engagement data from the product and marketing teams, they can pick out relevant details to individual users to give highly-targeted demos. This is how two teams can work hand-in-hand: the sales team can build on the relationships first initiated by the marketing team.

The Onboarding “A” Team

It’s important here to emphasize that who should be included on the onboarding team depends on what exactly is involved in the early stages of the new user’s journey. For example, someone from the marketing team may be involved in the onboarding because of the way a company’s CRM tools are interconnected. 

For an internal product that’s used only by employees within a company, the onboarding team might just be a few product managers and a marketer. But for products sold to small and medium-sized businesses or enterprise companies, the onboarding team could comprise of many teams: marketing, sales, product, design, and customer success.

Here’s a summary of the roles that could be in an onboarding team.

If you’re wondering who should be in your onboarding team, ask yourself which team or person is responsible right now for:

  • Defining your product’s positioning and messaging
  • Running acquisition campaigns
  • Creating and maintaining onboarding communication such as emails, in-app messages, external notifications, or direct mail
  • Designing and implementing the user experience for the signup and first use workflows
  • Converting the free users to paying customers
  • Supporting new users if they get stuck during the user onboarding process

Who Owns Onboarding?

This is the one question I’m always asked: who should “own” onboarding? 

My response is this: it’s not about owning but more about championing user onboarding within an organization. It depends on which team has the best ability to pull in people from different departments to focus on delivering an immersive and seamless experience for new users:

  • At Drift, it’s the product team that champions user onboarding
  • At Jungle Scout, it’s the customer success team. 
  • At Sprout Social, it’s the customer marketing team. 
  • At Facebook, it’s the growth team. 

The key is that whoever owns user onboarding needs to ensure it’s a cross-functional effort, where each person only has a small, fractured view of the bigger picture.


This is an excerpt of a new book I’ve written with Wes Bush called Product-Led Onboarding™: How to Turn New Users into Lifelong Customers. You can buy it now!  

Ramli John
Ramli John
Ramli John is the Managing Director at ProductLed, where he works with companies to accelerate their growth using PLG strategies. He is the author of the upcoming book EUREKA: How to Onboard New Users and Turn Them Into Lifelong Customers.
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