What is User Adoption?

User adoption is the process of ensuring each user is successful in using your product to achieve their business goals, which is critical for SaaS (software-as-a-service) businesses relying on recurring revenue. If managed effectively, it leads to higher retention rates and unlocks new revenue growth opportunities for your business.

Creating your user adoption strategy

The customer journey starts and ends with successful product adoption — or the lack thereof. If a user never finds value in your SaaS product, whether they'll churn is less of an "if" situation and more of "when." 

So, how can you build a customer success strategy that pushes users over that first obstacle and fosters a long-lasting and revenue-driven relationship? Don’t have the answer just yet? That’s OK — that’s what we’re here for.

Although there's no shortcut or hack — believe us, we wish there were — with the right data and proactive strategy on your side, you can turn adoption into a sure-fire win.

Defining the user adoption process

If you’re not quite sure about the strategic value of strong user adoption just yet, consider this: Better adoption is the path to lower churn and higher retention. And as a customer success expert, you already know that higher retention equals higher profits.

Venture capitalist Tomasz Tunguz illustrates how a business with a -5% monthly customer churn rate can add an additional 73% in revenue annually compared to one with a 5% monthly customer churn rate. That’s huge! With that in mind, it’s hardly a surprise that 95% of customer success leaders have ranked increasing user adoption as important, very important or extremely important to their organization. 

Basically, all of that is our long-winded way of saying, yes, adoption is critical to the health of your SaaS business. 

So, what’s key to unlocking this additional revenue? 

It all lies in creating your user adoption strategy.

Ask yourself: As of today, is your current approach to adoption driving long-term success or short-term usage? Don’t get us wrong — it’s great if first-time users are excited to click around and explore your software. However, getting them to stick around requires more than just that initial excitement.

The Customer Journey Starts with User Adoption

During the adoption phase, your customers are looking for proof that they made the right investment. Often, this comes in the form of achieving a short-term goal that was (hopefully) uncovered during onboarding. 

Whether you’re building your adoption strategy from the ground up or are developing ways tooptimize your current strategy, there are five questions we encourage you to consider:

  1. What are the most important features that help my customers find value?
  2. Are my customers adopting these features as of today?
  3. Do I have enough data to incorporate into a meaningful customer health score?
  4. If product usage is low, do I have the tools to drive user behavior toward my desired outcome?
  5. Do I have the means to conduct a comprehensive voice of customer program?

If you’re not thrilled with your answers, don’t stress. We've found that 74% of SaaS teams are spending up to half their week focused on adoption efforts, yet very few are seeing returns on the investments they're making.

Your first step to successful retention will be building out a segmented approach to adoption that delivers on customers’ unique needs.

Creating profiles for new and existing customers

One of the best ways to get behind the "why" of user adoption is to figure out who your customers really are. And no, it won't take a game of 20 questions to get to that answer. 

Instead, all you need are some customer profiles.

Customer profiling is the process of describing your customers based on demographics, user behaviors and any key factors relevant to your product. For example, the size of their organization and the stage of digital maturity they’re in are often two that come up for SaaS teams.

Every organization’s specific customer profiles may look a little different, but one tip we have is to look toward your early adopters. These are customers who quickly reached their first time to value and understand your product’s relevance to their strategy. 

If you’re not sure how to identify these customers just yet, we’ll get into that in just a second.

Once you know who your most valuable customers are, you can start to identify the “WOW” moments that got them there. Invented by David Skok, a WOW moment refers to that all-important realization where your user suddenly sees the benefit they get from using your product and says to themself, “WOW.” 

OK, we know it’s a little cheesy, but stick with us here.

A WOW moment is the ultimate goal in adoption. It’s here that your customer sees the value in your product and moves toward retention, and hopefully, advocacy. 

So what are your WOW moments? What are the top reasons that people come to you and use your application? What value and business outcoming are you providing?

The usefulness of each of your features and their ability to generate WOW moments is what matters. Users want reasons why they should adopt your product. They need to see the bigger payoff. So start asking yourself: Why is your application part of your customers’ tech stack? 

What is motivating them to stay subscribed month after month?


Looking out for your Moments of Truth

Your WOW moments — or the lack thereof — play a major role in shaping both online and offline behaviors that can drive what we like to call “Moments of Truth.” Moments of Truth are interactions that have a disproportionate impact on your customer’s long-term mindset about your brand. 

Let’s talk about a few key offline moments you should be aware of:

Change in relationship: If an account is showing signs of weak user engagement right after they sign on or immediately after onboarding, something isn’t right. Some questions to consider include:

  • Do they have a strategy? If not, it won’t be clear to them how your product fits into their needs. The assigned CSM should reach out to develop a strategy that aligns with their long-term goals.
  • Do they lack resources or capacity? They may need to assign an internal team member to be responsible for using your product so they can actually drive value from it. Offer additional onboarding materials and support resources. 
  • Has something in the organization changed? Organizational changes are something that you truly can’t plan for. However, by staying in touch with your primary contact and keeping a pulse on the account, you should be able to adjust accordingly.

Crisis: If a new customer shows tons of early WOW moments and engagement but then suddenly goes dark, don’t panic. Instead, ask yourself:

  • Did your champion leave the company? If your main point of contact left the company, it’s crucial to develop a relationship with their replacement or an adjacent team member.
  • Is there a bigger strategic issue or priority? Consider this an “it’s not you, it’s me” type of an issue. For example, if your customer got acquired, your product might just have been put on the backburner. Stay in touch so that you’re front of mind once things settle down.
  • Is there a user issue present? Keep a close eye on any support tickets this user sends. If the loop isn’t being closed, they’ll be left frustrated and are likely to churn. 

Unexpected Delight: Sometimes, a user may do something positive that you didn’t expect. It’s important to take the time and recognize these moments! Acknowledgments to consider include:

  • Send badges, gift cards or other swag.
  • Deliver a “high-five” via email or in-app.
  • Invite them to write a blog post or speak at an event to discuss their success and advice to other users who most share similar goals. Your brand advocates are your biggest asset — don’t forget to use them when you can!

While it’s important to segment and track user behavior that you can influence, knowing how to respond to those you can’t control is just as critical.


Measuring user adoption metrics

Remember those valuable early adopters we talked about? 

Qualitative demographic data such as industry, organization size and digital maturity are all key to building a comprehensive customer profile. However, there’s one more ingredient you’ll need to complete your secret sauce for customer success: Adoption metrics.

These quantitative data points tell the true story of your user’s adoption journey. As you work to uncover the most important moments along the way, the following metrics will help you get an objective understanding of what it will take to retain more customers:

Time to first value

TTFV records the time it took users to open your product and reach their very first WOW moment. The faster your customers reach that moment, the more likely they are to stay with your company.

To find that sticky feature, look toward your longest customer relationships. If you don’t have data from when they first joined, feel free to ask them what feature or moment made them think “Hey, I made the right call here.” 

Once you have that moment down to a science, try and figure out how you can guide users to it even faster. It may come down to a more intuitive interface or a direct call-out during product onboarding.


Average login frequency

How often do you expect customers to use your product? By segmenting your users by value, you can start to uncover the behaviors you’ll want to see during adoption.

If a new customer’s frequency isn’t looking great, reach out. Send personalized outreach emails that highlight the features most relevant to them and how they can benefit from signing on. And, worst comes to worst, a gentle nudge from their assigned CSM never hurts.

Feature usage

Now this one will vary depending on your customers. After you first onboard a customer, think about their long-term goals and the features you recommended to get them there. 

As you track their product usage, you’ll start to see which tools they’re using in the app. Noticed they haven’t opened the ones they’ll most likely benefit from? Calling attention to them in email is a great way to subtly re-engage the customer. 

If you realize it’s a recurring problem across accounts, it may be worth tweaking your onboarding strategy to ensure your CSMs are clearly pointing it out.

Keep in mind that these are just some of the adoption metrics you can use to track your users' movement through their journey toward renewal and expansion. As you continue to build out your user profiles, you may find other indicators of success that are unique to your product. 

Making an organizational change

You’ve created your adoption strategy. You built out some data-driven customer profiles that outline users’ unique goals and your long-term strategy to get them there.

Now, it’s time to get the entire organization on board.

Although customer success teams are often directly responsible for fostering relationships with existing users, the road to adoption begins long before a CSM even meets with a new customer. Adoption needs to be a top-down, cross-functional initiative: If everyone isn’t on the same page, you won’t have the visibility you need to drive desired customer outcomes.

As you work to create an adoption strategy that spans your entire organization, we recommend the following steps:

  • Build a cross-functional adoption team: Together with marketing and sales, develop a shared and agreed-upon best customer profile. It’s important to map out their journey from the first asset they come in contact with to the moment sales hands off the account.
  • Identify clear use cases: Sales should be equipped with proven use cases for your product that are directly tied to business value. Otherwise, you may notice retention dips because you’re simply attracting the wrong customers.


  • Success-to-development feedback loop: Success teams are on the frontlines when it comes to hearing what is and, maybe more importantly, isn’t working. If you’re consistently hearing complaints about the user interface or issues in the app, you’ll want to sit down with the product team and develop a solution together.

Just remember: Adoption is the key to retention. Your customers’ earliest wins will be the key to your long-lasting success. 


Optimizing user adoption

The road to a successful user adoption strategy starts with gaining visibility across the entire organization. Once you’re able to build customer profiles that illustrate the end-to-end user experience, you’ll be well on your way to fostering those all-important WOW moments. 

In need of some extra support? Learn how UserIQ can empower your team to deliver on customer needs at every moment, starting with adoption.