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The ultimate guide to product adoption

Helping customers get value from your product is key to converting occasional users into ‘sticky’ power users who stop looking for alternatives and incorporate your solution into their everyday processes.  

Strong product adoption rates are good for business, but many teams struggle to drive adoption for different user personas with a wide range of needs at each stage of the process.

Last updated

6 Dec 2022
Follow this repeatable framework for product teams to implement a product growth strategy for your business.

We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to what product adoption is, why it's important, the six stages of adoption, how to improve it, and which of your teams should be involved. 

Want to know how to help customers realize value sooner?

Hotjar’s product experience insights reveal barriers to product adoption and opportunities for improvement. 

What is product adoption? 

Product adoption is the process that takes place when a potential customer hears about your product or service, tries it out, and (hopefully) becomes a regular user, adopting your tool into their regular workflow. 

For example, think of an ecommerce company selling homewares in need of software to manage its business-to-customer (B2C) email marketing. After researching options, the marketing manager signs up for a free Mailchimp plan and tries it out on a few small campaigns. It’s easy to use and a good fit for their needs and processes, so they upgrade to a paid plan and start using it across the team to streamline their email campaigns—the customer has adopted the product.

More specifically, product adoption happens when new or occasional users realize your product’s value. Known as the ‘aha moment’, this is often when they solve a problem using your product for the first time. 

For our marketing manager, their aha moment came when they realized they could save a ton of time and guesswork by automating their emails based on customer behavior.

#Mailchimp’s website highlights its automated email triggers, which helps potential customers realize how much time and work they can save by adopting the product
Mailchimp’s website highlights its automated email triggers, which helps potential customers realize how much time and work they can save by adopting the product

It’s moments like this that convince your customers to keep coming back again and again, and show them your product is worth the investment.  

When customers integrate your tech or product into their daily lives, it means they’ve truly adopted it.  

Why is product adoption important? 

Product adoption is important because: 

  • It makes for smoother onboarding and an improved customer experience (CX). This helps create customer delight and leads to more satisfied, loyal customers.  

  • It helps customers achieve their aha moment and realize value sooner by using your product for their jobs to be done (JTBD)

  • It helps your company generate predictable revenue from regular users, which leads to growth  

  • It maximizes return on investment (ROI) on customer acquisition 

  • It increases customer lifetime value (CLV) 

  • It allows your company to acquire and retain new users faster than it loses them 

For software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, it’s easier than ever for customers to switch subscriptions, which means you have to work harder to retain customers. 

By understanding your customers’ motivations, needs, and pain points, you can figure out how to help users achieve their aha moment, boosting product adoption and subscriptions. 

#Remember the first time you figured out how to do something cool with a new product? That’s an aha moment
Remember the first time you figured out how to do something cool with a new product? That’s an aha moment

How do users adopt products?  

The product adoption process follows a series of stages, and caters to different adopter profiles. It’s not a linear process, and users can move backward and forward through them. But these are the steps they usually follow: 

The 6 stages of product adoption

The stages of product adoption for individual users are: 

  1. Awareness: potential customers become aware of your product, though they may not yet know how it can solve their problemsthey may also be unaware that they even have a problem at the start of this stage.

  2. Interest: your potential customer researches your product and learns how it can help them. The kind of details they look for will vary depending on their needs and adopter profile (more on this below).

  3. Evaluation: they weigh your product up against the competition and decide whether to sign up for a demo, trial, or freemium account. This stage typically includes reading user reviews and comparison pages and requesting pricing information. 

  4. Trial: they test out your product to see if it fits their needs and processes. 

  5. Activation: they realize value for the first time, which convinces them it’s worth investing in your product.

  6. Adoption: convinced of the value, customers form habits around using your product and it becomes part of their daily life or work. 

The product adoption curve 

Product adoption follows a curve—different user profiles have different attitudes to new products: 

  • First come the innovators, a small group of tech-savvy risk-takers. They enjoy discovering new products and are willing to try them before they have evidence that your solution will solve their problems—perhaps at the awareness or interest stage.  

  • Next are the early adopters. Also tech savvy and risk-taking, these users are slightly more cautious and only willing to try your product once a few innovators have tested the waters 

After the early adopters, there tends to be a ‘chasm’ where little adoption occurs until your product evolves and is bug-free enough to satisfy the next group: 

  • The early majority are more risk-averse and less tech-savvy. These users want hard evidence that your product will solve their problem before they try it. They’re likely to take their time to check it out thoroughly at the interest, evaluation, and trial stages. 

  • The late majority comes next. These users want strong evidence that your product solves their problem, and that others have vetted it. They also tend to have a low tolerance for products that are buggy or still in development and are unlikely to sign up for a trial until you’ve accumulated a significant number of positive reviews. 

  • Finally, skeptical laggards are the last to adopt. They’re highly risk-averse, not tech-savvy, and dislike using new products—so they’ll take some convincing. They often spend a long time in the awareness stage, before their pain becomes so unbearable they’re forced to look for an alternative to the status quo.   

Once you understand these different user groups, you can create and implement product adoption strategies to boost rates for each group across every stage of adoption.

🔥Pro tip: Hotjar’s User Attributes let you discover which profiles users belong to, without manually sifting through your data. 

For example, filter Session Recordings to identify the website visitors who intuitively find their way around your site. By matching them to attributes like ‘early sign-up’ or ‘new product purchase’, you can identify them as innovators who might be open to trying a new feature. 

Or you can pinpoint the late majority that struggles to get up and running. Use Hotjar Surveys and the Feedback widget to find out where you need to improve your onboarding experience and features to boost late majority adoption. 

use User Attributes to filter your data from our Heatmaps and Recordings

Matching User Attributes with Hotjar’s PX insights tells you what content and support you need to provide for each of them 

11 ways to drive product adoption 

As we mentioned above, users adopt your product when it solves their problems and they realize its value and incorporate it into their daily life and habits. And, when the effort of learning to use that product (or switching from a competitor) is outweighed by the value they perceive. 

Why do users adopt a product? 

Several factors influence users to adopt your product or switch from a competitor: 

  • Higher perceived value that solves more of their problems 

  • Better or more advanced product with useful features that solve specific problems  

  • Better user interface (UI) and user experience

  • Better user onboarding

  • Increased customer support 

  • Easier and intuitive to use 

  • More attractive pricing

  • More scalable, so grows with their team

So, how can you use these factors to your advantage to encourage adoption? 

How to drive product adoption 

Here are 11 ways to drive product adoption:

1. Before you design and build your product, go deep into your users’ needs, pain points, and challenges, and map the customer journey. This helps you understand your users and focus the product design process on achieving product market fit

2. Focus on all adopter profiles and stages, and create marketing and help center content to educate your target audience about their pain points and how your product can help. 

For example, to appeal to innovators, create an offer that speaks to their desire to be the first to try your product out. That might mean exclusive access to certain features, or early-bird discounts. You could also create an invitation-only pre-launch to boost the exclusive appeal. 

For the late majority, you’ll need content like case studies, bundles, and social proof like user testimonials to convince them of your product’s value, and that it’s worth switching from your competitors. 

Reluctant laggards at the start of their journey are likely to need more features, walkthroughs, social proof, or reassurance about money-back guarantees or cancellation policies. 

3. Reduce friction by designing a smooth onboarding flow and using product adoption software to provide targeted resources and support at all points of the user journey. For example, product walkthroughs and tours, onboarding checklists, chat support, in-app nudges, and FAQ pages. 

4. Focus on the product experience (PX)—the customer’s journey within your product. In SaaS, this is where most user interaction with your brand happens, and where they onboard, learn about new features, and realize value, so optimizing PX is key. Here's how:

  • Follow web/app design principles to design an intuitive UI. This will help all users—but especially early and late majority users and laggards—find their way around your product without getting frustrated. 

  • Use product experience tools like Hotjar's Heatmaps to tell you whether key information, CTAs, etc. are effectively positioned so users can find them at the right point in their customer journey. This lets you spot barriers that prevent users from signing up for a trial or achieving activation. Then, you can make small changes to improve the experience, like repositioning buttons, or moving important information further up the page.  

#Hotjar Heatmaps show you which parts of your site attract the most user attention, and which ones go unnoticed
Hotjar Heatmaps show you which parts of your site attract the most user attention, and which ones go unnoticed

People will adopt a product or a service only when they’re getting a return on the time, money, and effort that they give to it. They will jump from one stage to another as their needs change. You should always be hungry and make things better than the day before. This way your clients will not outgrow you and not need to be aware of another provider. 

Christiaan Huynen
CEO & Founder, DesignBro

5. Align teams like UX design, UI, product, developers, marketing, and sales. Make product adoption part of your cross-functional strategy from design to launch, and beyond to create an intuitive, user-friendly product that your customers can easily navigate.

6. Tailor your marketing or subscription plans to give different users more of what they want. This might mean offering discounts and free shipping to increase the perceived value of your product. For early adopters, you can offer incentives to share your product with others. 7. Prioritize feature adoption with nudges, tips, and walkthroughs during onboarding and beyond. This helps users realize product value and move from trial to activation to adoption. And remember to keep power users engaged and aware of new features or updates by sending them a newsletter or letting them know with popups.

8. Never stop improving your product with features or updates to make it more useful and better address pain points. 

Frequent updates and new releases will appeal to innovators and early adopters who are willing to give them a try and are tech-savvy enough to learn and troubleshoot beta versions. To convince the early majority, you’ll need to add features to make your product hyper-relevant to their pain points. 

Getting all your features operating bug-free, and improving performance across the board also helps you cross the bridge between early adopters and the early majority. 

9. Improve customer support, whether by installing a chatbot or making it easier for users to contact you. This will be particularly important for early and late majority users and laggards. 

10. Make your product available on all browsers and channels to reduce barriers to use and adoption. This helps convince laggards by overcoming barriers to access, like using older browsers or operating systems. 

11. Measure product adoption metrics, key performance indicators (KPIs), and adoption rates. 

Which product adoption metrics to track: 

  • Number of visits or logins 

  • Conversion rates: from sign-up to your user's first action 

  • Feature adoption: full usage of certain features 

  • Adoption events: the moment users realize the value of your product and perform a key action. For example, an HR department might use a video meeting platform to create and promote an internal event, and then analyze attendance data. 

  • Time-to-value: the time it takes for a user to adopt new features or upgrade to a paid plan

  • Adoption rate: the number of new users divided by the total number of users. When this is high, cost-per-acquisition (CPA) and retention costs tend to be low, while customer retention, marketing ROI, and CLV are higher.

🔥Pro tip: metrics help you understand patterns and spot overall product adoption trends—but to truly understand what’s driving adoption, you also need product experience insights. 

Launch surveys to ask users why they’ve performed certain key actions to get more context on key adoption events.

Product adoption: essential to creating customer delight 

When users realize the value your product offers, they’re more likely to make it part of their daily lives and stop looking for alternatives, giving you more satisfied customers—and a steady stream of revenue.

Help users quickly achieve their 'aha' moment—when they realize exactly how your product can help solve their problems—to boost adoption. This means putting product adoption at the heart of everything you do, from design, to marketing, to customer success. Teams with high product adoption rates never stop looking for ways to improve

Want to know how to help customers realize value sooner?

Hotjar’s product experience insights reveal barriers to product adoption and opportunities for improvement. 

Frequently asked questions about product adoption