Review of Product-led Onboarding - by Ramli John with Wes Bush

mapping

TLDR; Ramli and Wes have written a great book that I think will inspire more SaaS businesses to build great product-led onboarding.

I am a big fan of Wes Bush and Ramli John’s work with the Productled.com community and the book Product-led Growth . Thus as a co-founder of Userflow, a company focused on product-led user onboarding I was excited when Ramli John announced he would publish a book on the topic.

Onboarding is one of the most important aspects of a Product-led growth strategy and typically one of the first things that a SaaS company will focus on as they venture into becoming product-led. So writing a book on this topic was a fantastic idea.

I recently completed reading the now published Product-led Onboarding . The first paragraph in the book chapter one where Ramli uses his book as an example of product-led onboarding, asking “Why did you decide to read this book?” inspired me to do an entire review of the experience I had with the book from a product-led onboarding perspective going through the different phases of acquisition, activation, retention, and referral.

Acquisition

Starting onboarding at the first touchpoint

Even before the book arrived, I was reminded about it constantly. Being part of the Product led community and connected to Ramli and Wes, I would receive regular social updates from product-led influencers on Linkedin about the upcoming book. Given the book was about a topic I am very passionate about, I knew I wanted to read it when it came out, and the social reminders made sure I remembered it.

At the beginning of the book, Ramli exactly points to how one of the main onboarding myths is “User onboarding starts after a user signs up for a product”. He shares how many mistakenly only think of onboarding as part of the “Activation” step in the well-known AARRR pirate metrics framework (Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, Referral). Instead, he points out that it should start at the Acquisition step to present the product value from day one and avoid misaligned expectations from how the value is perceived to what is reality.

One of the product-led acquisition tactics that were used for the book itself was to give real excerpts to read and discuss. This is equivalent to showing a real part of your software product in your marketing content instead of just presenting it through marketing buzz-words.

Free trial/Freemium

As a true product-led experience, the book was offered as a freemium through free access to the first chapter of the book online. This first chapter focuses heavily on getting the user to understand how one can think about product-led onboarding and realize the “Aha moments” that would encourage them to read the rest of the book.

I only read this first chapter lightly before purchasing the book. But it was enough to retain my interest. It presented three myths of user onboarding:

  1. The goal of user onboarding is for someone to experience the first “Aha moment”
  2. User onboarding starts after a user signs up for a product
  3. User onboarding ends after a user becomes a paying customer

Myth 1 encourages you to think about multiple Aha moments instead of just one, and the 3rd myth reminds you of onboarding post-purchase. Both are topics that we are always looking to improve at Userflow, and this kept me interested.

Purchase

Immediately when the book came out, it was shared on social media by many product-led influencers (= trust) and I bought a copy. It was, of course, available on the standard channels you would expect, like Amazon.com, which made purchasing a breeze. I also found the price point attractive, and it was shipped fast.

Activation

First impression

As the quote from Scott Belsky, Chief Product Officer, in the first part of the book, chapter 3 says “In the first 15 seconds of an experience people are lazy, vain and selfish” . It’s hard to admit, I was the same way when I first received the book. My first impression was the book had a nice cover, but the images inside looked to be of poor quality and the book, in general, felt like a cheaper copy. Was there even anything I, as somebody who works with product-led onboarding every day, could learn from it?

I am probably always a bit lazy when it comes to books, and it’s easier to watch a movie or Netflix show at night. Thus, I left it on my bed stand for a week before finally forcing myself to pick it up when a flight from San Francisco to Alaska finally gave me an undistracted opportunity.

Onboarding guide to the book

The product-led onboarding book has a good onboarding guide built into it which starts with quotes of famous influencers to create integrity and trust. Then a foreword by Wes (= more trust), and then finally a short introduction by Ramli summarizing the book. The book also has a nice infobox (Who is this book for, how to use this book, and how this book is organized), and each chapter ends with a summary of how you can apply the potential learnings. This, combined with the easily digestible language, makes the book easy to read.

The first key Aha moment

While the free 1st chapter had given me some interest before purchase, I would say I had read it too lightly for it to provide me with a true Aha moment. I was mainly buying the book because it is a topic that is close to my heart and because I loved the other work Wes and Ramli had done with the product-led movement.

But as soon as I started reading the first chapter again, my first Aha moment came and I read the rest of the book in 4 hrs without a pause.

The most important Aha moment for me was the framework with three onboarding milestones in the first chapter

  1. The moment of value perception
  2. The moment of value experience
  3. The moment of value adoption

This framework is very aligned with how I think about onboarding. It is an easy framework to structure your user onboarding improvements around, and it can be applied to virtually any product. As I was reading the first chapter on an airplane, I immediately started thinking about how an airline would apply this.

Value perception: Today, I buy most of my plane tickets based on who offers the cheapest direct flight ticket. Purchasing the ticket is often the moment of value perception. How easy is it to buy the ticket? What does their website look like (UX etc.)? What do they write about their flights? What is the price? What service levels are included? Before all of this is whether they are on the search engine at all, which is equivalent to a SaaS business not being searchable on Google or G2.

Value experience: When you buy the ticket and arrive at the airport for your first flight with the airline, you should experience the value. How easy is it to check-in? Is the flight on time? How easy is boarding? Is the seat comfortable? Is the food good?

If the perceived value is very misaligned from this you are instantly annoyed. E.g. I have always been annoyed when airlines try to attract you with a cheap ticket and they do not clearly state that a carry-on is not included (Cough, cough United). I have often missed this and it leads to a misalignment between perceived value vs. experience when I arrive at the airport.

Value adoption: The moment of value adoption is when I decide to fly again and again with the airline after this first flight. The first experience is crucial to this, but Airlines also have mileage programs to incentivize me further to pick them over the competition. These programs are often presented during or after the first flight. If my first experience is good, I am likely to adopt this and choose this airline over the competition, sometimes even if the ticket is more expensive.

Retention

Now I was hooked on the book after the first chapter. But what made me read the rest and even, more importantly, what makes it something I would share in my company, to truly adopt the value. For me it is really 4 parts:

  1. It includes “The Why”. For example, the 2nd chapter focuses on the benefits of product-led onboarding that you can share with your stakeholders, such as executive management. (The chapter is free for the same reason)
  2. It’s framework-based. Frameworks are much easier to communicate and remember. The Eureka onboarding framework presented in the book is a very tangible tool to implement.
  3. It focuses on the importance of change management. One of the toughest things about building product-led onboarding is the lack of ownership. The book takes this topic very seriously.
  4. It has concrete technical actions to improve user onboarding e.g. the appendix chapter on onboarding emails and prompts is gold.

Referral

Go Buy it.

In case you have not guessed it by now, I highly recommend reading this book. I think it will be a key driver for SaaS businesses to go on the product-led journey that is needed in the new world where end-users are king.

The only change request I have is to add Userflow as one of the onboarding tools listed in the book, but I guess that can happen in the next copy ;)

More from Userflow