Making a great B2B onboarding experience

B2B user onboarding

Photo by UX Indonesia

B2B SaaS has a reputation for being kinda frustrating. B2B SaaS’s first priority is helping the business achieve its goals. I state the obvious because this means UX unfortunately takes a backseat (most of the time). This article will review how to leverage UX to make B2B onboarding more engaging. Here are some strategies and examples to help convert and retain customers even before the first click.

1. What are your goals?

Each company will have its own goal with its B2B onboarding. BUT each company needs to have two rules to achieve its goals.

  1. The goal itself needs to provide value to the customer
  2. Provide the shortest route to this goal

Let’s illustrate with an example. Hypothetically speaking, you have CRM software that has multiple capabilities. Let’s call this SaaS product WrkerBee. It can track customers’ purchase data, social media account engagement, and more. Essentially it will help you measure user behavior. Based on your research, you find that there are multiple types of potential users/customers trying to understand and use WrkerBee. 

There is user A, who wants to track sales 

There is user B, who wants to track churned users 

And there is user C, who wants to try and forecast user behavior

POP QUIZ!

pop quiz

What is the best way to help these users with multiple objectives? 

  1. Does your onboarding experience show them how to use all of the features? 
  2. Or does your onboarding experience show them the features they need for their goals? 
  3. What’s user onboarding? 

You might have guessed the correct answer was #2.

This has the added benefit of reducing the cognitive load for your users. By making them jump through fewer hoops, there is less fatigue and frustration in the onboarding experience.  This leads to 

  • Happier users 
  • Reduced admin cost 
  • Improved Customer Acquisition Costs
  • Improved user loyalty

What you are doing is guiding users to the AHA moments. These are identified through user research and analytical data. Discovering and utilizing these moments becomes the backbone of your experience.

So how do you act on this information?

If you have a feature-rich product, this will increase the high cognitive load; adjust your UI as needed to support the UX. Create an interface that can speak to your most common goals for users.

For instance, Lumen5 is a content  creation SaaS that is tailored for those that don’t usually make content. Here the screen is asking for clarification of the user’s goals to make the next screen more tailored to their needs. It takes less than five minutes from login to create their first piece of content.

2. Getting your team aligned

No good product is built without great teamwork. Just as multiple parties are involved in the B2B buying process, there are several points of view in building your user onboarding experience. Or at least there should be. 

Remember the AHA moments that we mentioned earlier? This information doesn’t live in a silo. This data needs to be communicated to everyone involved in onboarding the user. 

From the previous example, let’s look at User A. Their goal is trying to track their churned users. A critical AHA moment for this user would be learning how to set up a dashboard to track analytics. The content isn’t enough in educating this user at the moment so the customer success team needs to step in. By knowing about the AHA moments that are needed to set up the user for success and increase the odds of product adoption, the customer success team has a tool to help the user. 

This brings up an important question: do I automate my onboarding or personalize the entire experience? In many cases, a hybrid solution may be more effective. It really depends on the complexity of the product and customer readiness to use the product. In the example just cited, the user was having a hard time and didn’t interact with the product’s core functionality. This lack of action triggered a warning and customer support stepped in to offer help.

This is what SEMrush does. A feature-rich product, they have an entire staff helping their struggling users onboard if they do not engage with the product.

3. Managing Expectations

Have you ever been in a moment where expectations didn’t align? An over-hyped meal? A movie that fell short? A “misaligned” blind date? Now imagine accidentally having that feeling in your user onboarding. Do you think your users would be happy? Probably not. Managing expectations is important because people’s first impressions of your product shape their future interaction with it. 

Imagine if there were some media that gave the impression the WorkerBee app was an HR tool, compared to its primary purpose for user insights. This attracts the wrong clientele, the wrong reputation, and unnecessarily adds to your churn. 

With managing expectations being the beginning of the customer journey, the awareness phase, it’s important to set some rules. 

  • Talk to your users. And when I say “talk” I mean ask as many questions as needed to listen to them. Really explore their concerns and understand their goals and motivations. 
  • Design an experience, in and outside of the product, that builds trust. This is critical in every step of the user experience, not just the initial onboarding. An experience that doesn’t radiate trust and transparency is going to have a hard time moving past the awareness phase. 

4. Making the right kind of content

Educational content embraces the customer’s desire to be taught, not pitched. 

The role of content is to inform and educate, not pester the user. Content is copy, microcopy, and UX writing. This can range from hero section on your landing page to a label. Great content is not just the words. It’s catering to the right user at the right time in the onboarding process. 

Content has two jobs in any onboarding: educating and building trust. This doesn’t mean creating as much content as possible, pruning content can also be useful. Quickbooks looked through it’s content and saw less is more. By deleting half of their content, they doubled their traffic. Remember, more content doesn’t equal more trust. 

“Rather than show customers a wall of content, brands can simplify their onboarding flows by giving new users a specific set of tips and training to follow.”-Josh Crossman, Vice President of Strategy and Client Services at BrightEdge

Videos are a content option as well, they are there for different learning styles, but they are not a universal fix-it tool. They have the inherent drawback of taking users out of the onboarding flow and distracting them. As a general rule of thumb, content that is within the product and supports customers in completeing their tasks should be proritized and content that lives outside of the onboarding flow should be used sparingly and with great intent. 

5. Support the user through their experience

Imagine you are driving to your destination (like your hotel) in a new country (with different driving laws) with no GPS and very little signage. That is how your customers feel when trying to use any enterprise product for the very first time. 

Supporting the user from the very first step is crucial. After all, your customer just wants to get in, complete their task, and move on to the next as efficiently as possible. You can do this in many ways: effective system notifications, managing user expectations through wizards and task flows, utilizing hotspots, tooltips, and pop-overs. The list goes on and on. Below we go over just 3 of these methods.

TASK COMPLETION

Recognizing when a task has been completed creates a few key moments for the users. 

  • It shows them that they’ve taken an important step in the product setup 
  • It builds momentum 
  • It confirms that the action happened
  • It’s a great opportunity to include personalization in the onboarding process (Example: congratulations on sharing x with the company) 

HelpScout is a help desk SaaS. Not every B2B product can use this tone or imagery. Make sure the way you communicate with your customers is in line with brand and voice guidelines. The bare minimum that should be used is microcopy that shows the action has been accomplished. 

EMPTY STATES

What is an empty state you ask? An empty state in a SaaS product is simply where there is nothing to display. But it doesn’t have to be, and it really shouldn’t be. This is an opportunity to communicate to your customers what to expect and in many cases encourage them to take that first action. 

  • This can be a CTA (Call to Action)
  • Instructions on how to “fill” the space.  
  • Depending on the nature of the empty state, just informing them that there’s nothing to find or do. 

Empty states are also a chance to demonstrate a little product personality.

Gusto is a payroll application, one of the few places you might expect this playful banter. The content informs (and celebrates) that there’s nothing to do instead of giving the users more tasks in this instance. Remember, empty states are an opportunity to show your personality, not a must. It needs to be a reflection of your product’s tone and voice.

WIZARDS

wizard
Wizards are special in the SaaS world. They are a design pattern that is used to break down complex tasks within a product. They are not exclusive to user onboarding but they are frequently used when a user encounters a product for the first time. They do need to follow some rules. 
  • Wizards are there for novices. If your users have a bit more expertise, this model will be frustrating for them.
  • Clearly communicate and order the steps. Let users know how many steps they have and what is being accomplished on each screen. 
  • Give users the freedom to navigate between steps. Make sure the labeling is talking about the action or goal within the screen. 
  • Make sure users can pick up where they left off. There are few things more frustrating for a user than losing all of your work. 

Which one seems less daunting? The correct answer is on the right. This before and after is from Turbo Tax. It creates more clicks but it makes the process much more digestible. 

Not every product can use this or needs to do this. If the same job can be completed with a form or fewer steps, do it. The goal here is to provide clarity and guidance while providing the shortest path to value for the user.

6. Bonus: Feature Adoption

Feature adoption is measuring how much a specific product feature has been used. Something like introducing a new feature in our hypothetical WrkrBee application that tracked brand awareness across social media platforms. So why do I bring it up? For two reasons.

  1. It is a type of user onboarding, but on a micro-scale. You are walking users through how to use a new feature or how an existing feature has changed. This type of onboarding never ends and for good reason because…
  2. Adding, subtracting, or refining pre-existing features is vital for a healthy SaaS company, regardless of B2B or B2C since everything around the product evolves as well, (your customers, the market, your competitors, etc.) so your product has to keep up.

Ultimately feature adoption will be a tall mountain to climb if there isn’t a successful process and evidence around why a feature is being added, subtracted, or changed and how it should manifest. With B2B products usually being feature-heavy to begin with, it is critical that features be put through rigorous user testing and be part of a cohesive product strategy and roadmap. Deploying it simply as a response to the market is a half-baked measure and it will continuously weaken your product and user experience.

7. Conclusion

B2B products don’t have to be frustrating. Any B2B organization can 

  • Set product and user goals
  • Get the team aligned
  • Manage expectations 
  • Create the right kind of content
  • Support the user through the product 

These principles can be manifested in a number of ways in the product’s UI. Be it recognizing when a task is completed or designing a wizard, every screen’s task is to shepherd the user to their goals. 

You have already given your product a competitive edge by learning about these UX strategies and tactics. Setting up users for success sooner makes them stay around as customers longer.

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