How to Create a User-driven PLG Onboarding Experience? - Steps and Best Practices

PLG User Onboarding - Steps, Do’s, Don’ts, and Best Practices -

 min. read
November 30, 2023
Table of Contents

Do you value your users’ time? 

Sounds like an odd question, right? 

Customer service leads will think, “are you kidding me? We have people working day and night to create a seamless onboarding experience. Why on earth will you even ask this question?!” 🙄

While your getting angry at this question is valid, we still feel you should hear me out. 

Did you know that 66% of users prefer a brand that values their time when creating an online user experience

While I have come across brands with awesome onboarding flows, I have also witnessed brands that still rely on manual emails when it comes to customer onboarding.

That’s exactly why I am proposing the concept of PLG onboarding or “product-led onboarding” in this article. 

Keep reading to discover what PLG user onboarding is, why it matters for SaaS brands, and the best practices to master it. 

What is PLG Onboarding in B2B SaaS?

Product-led onboarding (PLO) is a data-driven approach to user onboarding that focuses on understanding users' behaviors, proficiency levels, and needs. It introduces new users to a product's features and functionalities based on their position in the customer journey. The goal is to empower users to achieve their desired outcomes and derive value from the product as quickly as possible.

Unlike traditional onboarding methods relying on human intervention and external channels, PLG onboarding leverages the product as the primary enablement channel. By providing contextual information within the product, companies accelerate time-to-value and reduce the lag time often associated with scheduling human-led onboarding sessions. 

Note this PLG Onboarding email from the collaborative tool Figma:

Figma onboarding email

It includes everything that a new user might possibly ask for: 

  • Best practices to use the tool 
  • Tutorials for first-time users 
  • Link to ready-made templates to expedite 
  • Link to support center in case you are stuck anywhere 
  • And some bonus resources 

PLG onboarding offers several benefits for customers and users. 

  • It provides a personalized experience by delivering targeted tracks or flows tailored to individual user segments. It ensures that users receive the information most relevant to their specific needs, improving their onboarding experience. 
  • PLG onboarding is immersive, allowing users to stay focused on their learning without the distractions of context-switching between various channels, applications or even devices. 
  • Product-led onboarding also empowers users to self-serve their onboarding experience while still having the option to engage with a human if necessary. By offering a variety of formats, such as videos, step-by-step walkthroughs, and in-app resources, PLG onboarding caters to different learning styles and preferences. 

By implementing a user-driven PLG onboarding approach, SaaS companies can improve user activation, adoption, and retention rates. 

The Impact of PLG Onboarding: Before and After

Back to the same question, isn’t PLG user onboarding an age-old concept? 

Well, it is, but it wasn’t structured the right way earlier. That’s why users would feel lost and often overwhelmed after receiving the first welcome email. 

They would feel something like this 👇

Lost customer

Traditional methods, such as email, PDFs, or webinar-style training sessions, were time-consuming, resource-intensive, and did not scale well. Customer success managers (CSMs) often find themselves burned out with managing multiple customer relationships and juggling various responsibilities. On the other hand, customers had to familiarize themselves with numerous tools, leading to potential confusion and inefficiency. 

But it didn’t have to be that way. 

And that’s when the concept of PLG onboarding came into the picture. 

Many SaaS companies have witnessed a significant shift in user engagement and overall business outcomes after embracing it. 

By leveraging the product as an enablement channel, PLG onboarding enables companies to deliver immediate and contextual value to their customers. It allows for tailored onboarding flows for different user segments, ensuring personalized enablement at scale. 

This approach frees up CSM time and resources by moving lower-value, human-led efforts inside the product, such as basic account setup or feature walkthroughs. Additionally, PLG onboarding helps build trust with customers from day one, allowing them to experience the product's value firsthand and influencing their perception of the company's integrity and level of service.

Steps of Product-led Growth Onboarding

Creating a user-driven PLG onboarding experience requires careful planning and execution. 

Let's break down the steps involved in implementing an effective PLG onboarding strategy:

Step 1: Understand user behavior, roles and proficiency levels

The first step in creating a user-driven PLG onboarding experience is to gain a deep understanding of your target users' behavior and proficiency levels. Conduct user research, analyze data, and gather insights to identify pain points, goals, and challenges. This information will help you tailor your onboarding process to meet their needs and expectations.

PLG onboarding step 1

Step 2: Define key onboarding goals and outcomes

Once you clearly understand your users, define the key goals and outcomes you want to achieve through your onboarding process. These goals should align with your overall PLG marketing strategy and focus on driving user adoption, engagement, and retention. By setting clear goals, you can measure the effectiveness of your onboarding efforts and make data-driven improvements.

Step 3: Develop a user-centric onboarding Flow

Design a user-centric onboarding flow that guides users through the product's features and workflow. Break down the onboarding process into clear and digestible steps, providing users with contextual guidance and support. Consider users' proficiency levels and offer personalized recommendations to help them get the most out of the product. 

One of the best ways to approach it is by creating an interactive product demo. An interactive product demo is the compilation of a series of product screenshots stitched together to tell your product’s story. The best part is you structure it in the flow you want, add images, charts, and other aspects to personalize it, and empower your users to explore your product’s top benefits. 

You can create personalized interactive product demos with tools like Rivia, which typically looks like this 👇

Step 4: Develop educational resources

User education is a crucial component of PLG onboarding. Organizations should develop various educational resources catering to different learning styles and preferences. These resources can include in-app tutorials, tooltips, walkthroughs, product tours, personalized welcome messages, and access to communities, articles, and videos

Step 5: Monitor, iterate and optimize

PLG onboarding is an ongoing process that requires continuous monitoring and iteration. Organizations should track key metrics such as activation rates, user engagement, and retention to assess the effectiveness of their onboarding efforts. 

Based on these metrics, organizations can identify areas for improvement and iterate on their onboarding strategies. Regularly test and experiment with different approaches to find the best for your target audience. 

Interactive product demo platforms have a comprehensive dashboard to track all your demo metrics and plan your next steps.

Rivia analytics

Breakdown of Hotjar's PLG Onboarding: A Case Study

To provide a concrete example of successful PLG onboarding, let's examine Hotjar’s approach. Hotjar, a leading provider of website performance monitoring, has embraced a product-led strategy that puts the user at the center of its onboarding process. 

Hotjar's onboarding experience is designed to guide users through their journey, ensuring they understand the product's core features and can derive value from it.

Hotjar’s PLG onboarding can be divided into several stages:

  • Welcome and Account Setup: You can sign up directly to Hotjar or ask someone from your team to invite you (like I did 👇) if your team already has an account. Setting up your account is pretty easy. Just click on the “Join Hotjar CTA,” and you are up for a good start.
Hotjar onboarding
  • Education and Training: Hotjar provides various educational resources, including video tutorials, courses, step-by-step guides, and in-app tooltips, to help users familiarize themselves with the platform's features and functionalities. This approach allows users to learn independently and revisit resources whenever needed.
Hotjar tutorials
  • Ongoing Support and Engagement: Hotjar maintains a strong support system, offering live chat assistance, community forums, and regular updates and enhancements to the platform. This ensures users can access the resources and support they need to succeed. 

To read more such use cases from leading SaaS companies, read our latest blog on PLG examples

3 Best Practices for PLG Onboarding

To optimize your PLG onboarding strategy, following best practices that align with user expectations and industry standards is essential. Here are some key guidelines to consider:

Keep it simple and concise 

Avoid overwhelming users with too much information, or complex onboarding flows. Keep the onboarding process simple and concise, focusing on the essential features and actions that users need to get started. 

Prioritize user education and provide self-serve resources to empower users. For easy access, offer a knowledge base, video tutorials, and interactive guides within the product interface. Ensure these resources are comprehensive, up-to-date, and tailored to user roles and proficiency levels.

Personalize the onboarding experience

Tailor the onboarding experience to each user's context and goals. Use data-driven insights to deliver personalized recommendations and guidance. Leverage in-app tactics such as tooltips, walkthroughs, and product tours to introduce users to key features and functionalities.

Here’s an example of Airtable that impressed us:

Airtable tutorial

Airtable added this short tutorial video within the welcome email to give the essence of the product to first-time users.

Airtable video

3. Use interactive product demos

To take your PLG strategy to the next level, create interactive product demos. Interactive demo creation platforms like Rivia let you create separate product demos for each use case. That way, you can send these demos to your customers or add them to the apps so they can watch them and use your product without needing handholding at each step. 

Do's and Don'ts of PLG Onboarding

While implementing PLG onboarding, it's important to remember certain do's and don'ts to ensure a successful and seamless user experience. 

Here are some key considerations:

The Do's:

✅ Do personalize the onboarding experience based on user preferences and goals.

✅ Do provide clear and concise instructions to guide users through the onboarding process.

✅ Do leverage in-app resources to deliver contextual information and support.

✅ Do gather user feedback to continuously improve the onboarding experience.

✅ Do monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the effectiveness of your onboarding strategy.

✅ Align cross-functional teams to create a cohesive onboarding strategy and deliver a seamless user experience.

The Don'ts:

❌ Don't overwhelm users with excessive information or complex onboarding flows.

❌ Don't rely solely on human-led onboarding methods; leverage the product as an enablement channel.

❌ Don't neglect ongoing support and engagement after the initial onboarding process.

❌ Don't ignore user feedback; actively listen to your users and iterate on your onboarding flows based on their input.

❌ Don't neglect measuring and analyzing the success of your onboarding efforts; use data to drive continuous improvement.

❌ Don't assume one size fits all: Tailor your onboarding experience to different user segments and their specific needs. One size does not fit all in PLG onboarding.

Final Thoughts 

Product-Led Growth (PLG) onboarding is a user-driven approach to product adoption that empowers users to explore and derive value from a product right from the start. By leveraging the product as an enablement channel, companies can deliver personalized and immersive onboarding experiences, accelerating time-to-value and improving user engagement. 

Successful PLG onboarding involves assembling a dedicated onboarding team, creating a simple signup process, understanding users' desired outcomes, driving users to the "aha!" moment, and continuously optimizing the onboarding experience based on user feedback and analytics. 

By following best practices and avoiding common pitfalls, companies can unlock the full potential of PLG onboarding and drive sustainable growth in the B2B SaaS landscape.