Photo from a wattx workshop
Deep Tech and Data Science
User-centered Product Development

7 principles for a perfect B2B software onboarding experience

At our recent hackathon, we explored complex B2B application onboarding, conducted thorough research and built a prototype. Now sharing key insights and six fundamental principles for effective onboarding solutions in this blog.

During our last (in-person) hackathon, one of four wattx groups decided to explore the topic of onboarding for complex B2B applications: They went from in-depth research on best practices as well as Dos and Don'ts, to actually developing a functioning prototype for one of our internal projects. In this blog article, we now want to share our key learnings as well as six basic principles for an impactful onboarding solution.

The Task: When building  a SaaS solution, ideally, users can make full use of the application without any involved training support. In the commonly envisioned best case, they register and directly integrate it in their daily work tasks smoothly, without any additional hassle.

Some applications, however, are too complex for a purely intuitive ramp up to full speed. This is especially true for solutions in the B2B-space. In these cases, users need to be trained first in order to be fully onboarded.

During our day to day work at wattx, we often conduct market as well as competitor research surrounding business solutions. During this, we’ve observed a lot of unsatisfied users of such solutions, so we decided to dedicate a hackathon task to that topic. The reason for this is that 71 % of users are lost in the first weeks of adopting a new app - often because the developers fail to properly onboard them. So, we’ve seen a huge opportunity in taking on this topic.

Status Quo: Investigating what the market provides at the moment, we realised that a lot of companies still offer traditional onboarding with PDF user manuals - which is not handy at all. One of many trendier ways of onboarding, for instance, is to provide an in-app step-by-step guide introducing the user to various features.

The idea of this hackathon was to explore the different solutions from a user experience as well as an implementation perspective.


Onboarding 101
: User onboarding constitutes a continuous process of first introducing users to a new software solution and then connecting them with the right features at the right time.

User onboarding is high-stakes—the average app loses up to 71% of its users in the first 90 days. Focusing on helping users achieve their goals can help identify which in-product actions to build the onboarding around in order to drive users to the core value as efficiently as possible.

illustration of onboarding process with iteration

We suggest a goal-oriented onboarding that should answer the following questions:

  • What’s the core value you’re trying to deliver to your users?
  • What steps do new users need to take to receive that core value?
  • What friction might exist within those steps?
  • What actions do long-lasting users take? How can you encourage new users to take them?
  • How familiar are your new users with similar products?
  • How easy is it to understand your core benefits or functions?

Great User Onboarding: Even the best UX needs onboarding: after much trial and error, people tend to come back to helpful functions time and time again. So creating a knowledge base where the user can recall information including any content (tutorials, videos, articles, podcasts, infographics, etc.) supporting their onboarding process, is just a natural step.

Great user onboarding tools don't just teach users how to use the functionalities, they teach the value through a well designed User Interface (UI).

Popular types of user onboarding UI patterns are:

  • Tooltips - small in-app messages that are great for self-service walkthroughs, contextual product tutorials, and new feature announcements.
  • Modals - large patterns that are positioned on top of the app’s main interface and are perfect for welcoming new users, introducing important features, and delivering key messages.
  • Slideouts - UI patterns that slide out from the side of the user’s screen. Just like modals, they’re used for welcoming users, making in-app announcements, or prompting action.
  • Hotspots - small dots or beacons that direct users’ attention to certain design elements or features, encouraging exploration, creating a more self-service experience, and eventually reducing support burden.
  • Checklists - tools for onboarding and engaging users that are proven to boost activation and retention.
Illustration of UI pattern used for machine type classifications

What not to do:

  • A trap that many onboarding experiences fall into is talking too much. Users don’t care about the features as much as you do. They care about how the product is going to make their life better with as little time investment as possible. That's why the goal of user onboarding should be to demonstrate that value, not shine a spotlight on every detail of the product.
  • Avoid the Tutorial Trap (= any instance in which onboarding UI patterns are applied without clear goals in mind and without an understanding of their effectiveness): Many users just swipe through the tutorial, often without reading any of the copy - which is actually adding friction and risk to the user experience, undermining the product’s value.

7 Basic Principles for a Great User Onboarding Experience: From all the onboarding practices and experiences we examined, we derived the following principles for a successful onboarding software:

1. Make the onboarding experience fun


An organisation that is introducing a new tool usually expects immediate benefits and underestimates the tedious ramp up process. To make onboarding less annoying, make it as easy and - to a certain degree - as fun as possible.
Hence: Try to create positive emotions by encouraging and motivating the user during the onboarding journey.

Example of creating positive emotions during onboarding journey

2. Cater for different “approaches to learning”


The scale of different approaches to learning ranges from reflective learning (“I want to know everything before I start”) to experience-based learning (“I don’t read a single word upfront, I start doing stuff and collect bits and pieces of information on the go”).
Hence:
Necessary information should be available “en bloc” (outside the app) and “on demand” (distributed pieces of information at the relevant spot).

Illustration on how information can be provided for the user to understand task

3. Cater for different levels of expertise


Especially in a B2B-environment users with very different levels of technical knowledge and affinity are using the app or machine, etc.
Hence: Different levels of in-depth information should be offered.

4. Differentiate between must-know knowledge and additional information


Some users want to start as quickly as possible with the minimum information, so decide on a minimum level of functionalities that must be understood in order to successfully start working with the app.
Hence
: Keep tutorials to the core feature set and offer more information on demand or step by step.

5. Make users feel proud - but don't patronize


Users usually feel good when they have achieved something on their own, so try to give the user the impression they’ve explored the app themselves.
Hence: Let the user decide how much help they’d like to have and refrain from patronizing them.

Illustration of guide on how user can publish his tasks to operator

6. Never design a learning journey as a one-way-street


Usually onboarding apps design a chronological learning journey, so once you skip an intro-demo or click on “don't show again”, it’s difficult, sometimes impossible  to get the information or the whole demo back. This is especially hindering for users that first want to experience the app and later understand the more sophisticated functionalities.
Hence: Always sign post the way back to initial sources of information or to earlier steps in the onboarding journey.

7. Never consider a user as onboarded - see onboarding as an ongoing process


In many cases, users only use a fraction of the features available in an app. But surrounding conditions can change, for example, due to changes in production processes, the users’ position or the company offerings. Or, most likely, you as an app provider introduce a new feature in the market. As a consequence, further support is needed in order to make optimal use of the feature set available.
Hence: Always consider further steps that can be learned and make help options easily accessible.

Tl;dr:

  1. There is no one-fits-all solution
  2. Creating an onboarding process is similar to creating a product
  3. Create early aha! moments
  4. it’s a never ending journey
  5. Don’t reinvent the wheel!
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