In-product Onboarding Strategies to Convert Trial Users into Paying Customers

People visit your website. They sign up for a free trial. By the end of the trial period, all of those trial users become paying customers. How wonderful!

100% conversion is what every business dreams of.

But ask any SaaS company and they will tell you that getting up to 20% of their trial users* to convert is the achievable goal to have. And yet, most SaaS companies struggle to convert more than 5% of their users. I can think of a few reasons for this low conversion rate.

  • the product does not provide value to the user
  • the product is complex

Luckily for you, user onboarding can solve both these problems.

User Onboarding — An Overview

Onboarding is a process that allows you to nurture new users, helps them get acquainted with the product, and enables them to discover moments of wow at every step of their journey. There are two ways in which you can onboard new users.

In-product onboarding: Give step-by-step instructions on how to use the product through text, video, or interactive UX.

With the help of an onboarding team: Provide product implementation based on customer requirements and user training through on-site presentations with the help of a team. You can use this kind of onboarding when you make a deal with a large organization.

This is a two-part series on user onboarding best practices. In this article, I discuss in detail, the different ways in which you can build your in-product onboarding strategy.

How to Create a Great In-product Onboarding

1. Make it Visual

Nothing can overwhelm a user more than a text-heavy onboarding. You need to give them a visual break at regular intervals to keep them engaged. To make it more interesting, break down the onboarding into smaller sections. Gamify the experience by showing users a progress bar.


Similarly, don’t start the onboarding with advanced features assuming that users will get used to it. Identify the top features that users navigate to when they first start using the product. Based on this information you can create an onboarding plan.

“When onboarding gets too complicated, people start skipping it altogether. The idea is to show the user what they need, not what you want them to use.”

– Akshara Sruthi, Product Marketer at Freshworks

Welcome Video

When a user signs up for a trial, most brands aim to convert them into customers that they forget the appreciation part. As part of your onboarding, mention how thankful you are that they chose your product.

For example, Freshdesk onboarding begins with our CEO, Girish Mathrubootham, welcoming the user and congratulating them on choosing Freshdesk.

A warm welcome video or note of appreciation not only makes a good impression but also increases the user’s tolerance towards your product.

2. Be Adaptive

“A lot of people assume that onboarding is a do-it-once-and-forget activity, which is completely wrong. I think it’s something that you have to work on and keep iterating over and over again. This is because onboarding can make or break your business especially in competitive spaces.”

– Ramesh Ganapathy, Lead Product Manager at Freshworks

Once you implement the user onboarding, observe what works and what doesn’t. Experiment with new strategies, update the onboarding as and when new features are added and get regular customer feedback. Only then, you will be able to design an onboarding that keeps the users engaged.

For example, in our previous version of Freshdesk onboarding, we had placed the progress bar on the right side and videos on the left.

old onboarding

But, when we checked user engagement, we found that the progress bar on the right side got good engagement compared to the videos. Also, the secondary CTAs on the page weren’t getting noticed and people did not see anything other than the first video.

So, when we revamped our onboarding recently, we interchanged the places of progress bar and videos for better engagement.

new onboarding

In addition, we made sure to give clear CTAs that improved discoverability and nudged the customers to try out the features.

new explore cta

3. Keep the Users Inside Your Product

It takes more than an in-product onboarding to turn a trial user into customer. Most users don’t complete the onboarding in one go and need nudging to explore the product further. Here’s where onboarding emails are a great way to bring them back to your product.

When we prepared our first set of onboarding emails, we included in-product tour links instead of solution article links. This way, the user could explore the product in real-time rather than having to rely on written resources. Plus, we were able to identify potential leads when they responded back to onboarding emails.

Apart from this, when users are trialing a product, they might not understand certain features. Here’s where you can take help from your sales and support teams if required. At the same time, make it easier for users to contact you right from within the product. This will show that they can access you anytime without having to go to the support page.

user onboarding

4. Personalized Onboarding – a Double-edged Sword

When users sign up, the usual routine is to show them everything and let them choose what’s best for them. Personalized onboarding, on the other hand, offers the features that would most likely fit a user’s needs.

“But, that’s a hard game to play because you generally want users to discover more features. Whereas personalized onboarding means you need to consciously not show too many features. Yet, the other side of the coin is users find the product too complex when bombarded with every single feature.”

– Ramesh Ganapathy, Lead Product Manager at Freshworks

While personalization can lower your feature adoption rates, look at the brighter side. There’s a higher chance that the user will stick with your product. Though there’s a lot of work involved in building a personalized in-product onboarding, it will help increase the conversion rate.

More Data to You

Be it Netflix recommendations or Instagram newsfeeds, it’s the data that helps with personalization. Similarly, in order to make your in-product onboarding personalized, observe the sectors your existing customers have come from. Take a look at where they are dropping off from the current onboarding using analytics software. With this data, create a set of user personas and design a different onboarding for each. This way, when a user’s actions falls into one of the buckets, they will be shown the onboarding that fits their use case.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways

User onboarding is an important factor in deciding your trial-to-paid conversion rate. Be it through in-product onboarding or an onboarding team, you need to make sure the users gain maximum value out of your product.

In the case of in-product onboarding, keep in mind the following.

  • While solution articles and extensive step-by-step instructions are great, add pictures and videos to make your onboarding more engaging.
  • If a section is getting poor engagement, don’t hesitate to change your strategy. Customer feedback and data analytics can help.
  • Use onboarding emails to bring back users into your product. Allow the users to contact the sales or support team instantly.
  • Personalize your onboarding based on customer requirements.

These steps will not only help convert more trial users into paying customers but also improve overall product engagement.

While this works for in-product onboarding, you require a different strategy for your onboarding team to win customers. That’s what I will be covering in part two of this series. Meanwhile, if you have ideas that worked for you, share them as comments here.

*Refers to opt-in free trials where the user can access the product without having to provide any payment information upfront.

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One thought on “In-product Onboarding Strategies to Convert Trial Users into Paying Customers

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