Everywhere else on the internet, you’ll find marketers talking about ideas (drip emails, etc.) that drive conversions for entire products. Here, I’m going to lay out specific tactics you can use to increase feature adoption in your SaaS product.
When you ship something useful in a SaaS product, the work is barely over – it’s just getting started. In the months and weeks that follow, you need to learn what’s working, unlearn your assumptions, and find repeatable methods to consistently increase the adoption for the feature you just built. In this post, I’ll talk about how we used our product and website to drive user adoption for the help widget, something we recently worked on.
You can take these methods and replicate them for anything you’re building in your SaaS product to get your users to adopt them (assuming what you’ve built is useful.)
1. Leverage social proof in your user community to increase feature adoption
If you have a vibrant community of users like we do, you can probably start off with an announcement there to seed feature adoption. Sure – product update emails and notifications get attention, but what’s better than social proof and discussion around what your team just built to increase feature adoption?
This thread around the help widget in Freshdesk forums is quite popular, and people have been dropping by and discussing ideas for close to a year. I think the fact that our users came by to drop their feedback encouraged even more people to try the help widget during the beta phase – way before we had launched it for everyone.
So, if you have a community of users – on your website forum or on Twitter, give them some special attention and provide them with early access to what you’re going to launch, to help boost adoption for your SaaS feature.
When some of your users see others talking about something that’s working well for them, they’d want to test drive it too. Over time, you’ll get hundreds if not thousands of users who are not just regular users of what you built, but also fierce evangelists that help you improve your product feature in ways you haven’t thought of before.
2. Create memorable nudges instead of annoying popups to drive adoption
I belong to a small subsection of people in the world who send emails to themselves to remember something. Once I’m done with a task, I move the respective email to trash (sounds weird, I know! but we’re real!)
Remember Inbox by Gmail? The app had reminders built-in. The first time I used Inbox to send an email to myself, Inbox suggested that I add a reminder instead. That was cool – I’m sure it drove adoption for that feature by millions over a year!
I wouldn’t have used Inbox’s reminders had they told me about it as part of the initial app onboarding. I’d have probably just swiped through the onboarding steps and forgotten about reminders forever.
But because they used the right moment (when I was emailing myself) to show this nudge, they got me hooked to using reminders (“oh, a better way to track todos inside email, neat!”).
This applies to SaaS too: there’s no point in shoving everything down the initial onboarding. As your users continue to use your product, nudge them to try out relevant features at the right moments to improve progressive discovery and increase feature adoption.
When you fully place yourself in the user’s shoes and offer them something that makes their lives better at the right moment, your users will feel like you read their minds. Naturally, they’ll be willing to try the feature you’re nudging them about (we’ve seen 70% conversion on such moments we’ve introduced in our product.)
3. Optimize for long-tail feature discovery with in-product ads
SaaS products have anywhere between a dozen to hundreds of pages that users navigate every day. There’s a place for your feature adoption billboard somewhere in there.
For close to a decade, businesses using Freshdesk were able to set up a portal (a mini website, like support.yourbusiness.com) and show helpful articles to their users before they reach out for support. The help widget, in some ways, is an alternative to the portal. When someone goes to setting up the portal, we’re going to have a neat non-intrusive link in the sidebar, asking them to check out the help widget.
When someone visits Freshdesk settings, for instance, we introduce the help widget to them because they’re in the mood of reconfiguring something in their account and probably have the time and space to check out new features. Thousands of Freshdesk users have discovered the widget this way when they visit the settings section in the product.
These aren’t nudges that drive thousands of users to adopt the feature every day, but they’re strategically placed subtle messages and links that as many users discover in the long run.
4. Promote the shit out of your webinar to increase feature adoption
Every Freshworks webinar is attended by hundreds of users. I think doing webinars is a no-brainer when it comes to driving feature adoption. However, people typically miss out on two things:
- ensuring that the webinar reaches as many users as possible, and
- making the best use of webinar recordings.
When we did our first webinar for the help widget, we promoted the webinar in all these ways:
- via our product newsletters (where we usually share product updates),
- in an email campaign our customer success teams sent to the customers they engage with,
- personalized emails to users who were using similar or slightly-related features – if they weren’t already in the lists above,
- in the email signatures of our customer success team members,
- in our support portal (the last place where many people think a webinar should be promoted, but a link here drove us quite a large number of registrants),
- in our own product (we replaced a footer link that got about 600 clicks every month with the link to the webinar),
- and in our blog
Every SaaS product already has all of these assets – they just need to be leveraged to get the word out on your webinar, to boost adoption for your SaaS feature. By getting these done three to four weeks ahead of the webinar, you can ensure many users get to attend it.
Karthik also made sure that the recording links were sent whenever users reached out to us with specific questions about the widget, so we ended up getting close to 1,000 views (and growing) on just the recording. This also helps users understand what we built better, driving adoption down the line.
5. Offer help mid-way when help is needed for an uptick in feature adoption
Things in SaaS – especially what an administrator needs to configure – take more than a single click (workflows, configuration changes, etc.). New features in these areas might be daunting for users – so you’ll often see people drop off midway even as they try them out.
Using Heap Analytics or a similar tool, start looking at when people drop off as they use what you built. To find out why, build a system to automatically reach out to these users. Here’s the email someone gets when they started checking out the help widget, but dropped off before implementing it on their website:
The earlier in the funnel you reach out to people and ask them why they were stuck, the more the number of people you might be able to convert to adopting your feature. Sometimes, email journeys work. Some times, you can use in-app chat to provide real-time support in these situations.
Either way, reaching out automatically to users who are stuck helps you find out everything that the interface isn’t screaming out clearly – which you can go back and optimize. In the long run, this leads to further adoption.
6. Do things that don’t scale
Beyond this, we did a bunch of other things that took lots of time and effort, but helped us get feature adoption up in the last year.
- Every time someone requested beta access to the feature, we responded via email telling them they can come back to us for help if they’re stuck. We linked to help articles in these emails so that our users can get their basic questions answered faster.
- We informed users in the community every time we made updates to the help widget based on their feedback. This drove participation from both existing and new people landing on the community – leading to a cycle of more people discovering the help widget.
- Linking our documentation in-product and wherever possible when we reach out to users also turned to be a great move. Our documentation has reached more than 15k views and I’m sure it really helped increase adoption for the feature even when we were away and sleeping.
- We set up alerts that tell us when tickets about the feature gets raised with our customer-facing teams, so we can jump in and help. People who reached out to our teams were already mid-way through setting up what we built, so offering assistance ensured they got across the finish line.
7. Empower your sales and support teams
I’ve written about this in detail in another recent blog post. If you have a team of 50 people running five demos on average in a day, that’s about nearly 250 chances for your users to discover your feature and use it.
By training everyone in customer-facing teams, you can ensure that a good chunk of those 250 demos have at least a short pitch about what you built so that your users can go back and check it out at their own pace.
I’ll update this post as we discover more ideas to get the help widget closer to our users. If you’ve got any ideas to share, let me know on Twitter.
(All credits to Karthik Kumar who worked on the ideas. I just compiled them together.)