Learn / Guides / Product adoption guide
How to guide users through the 6 stages of product adoption
Too many companies launch a great product only to focus on isolated stages of product adoption—like encouraging users to sign up for a trial, or onboarding them to their app. And then they’re surprised when users drop off or don’t convert.
You need to look at the big picture and understand what each stage of the adoption process involves to get users to realize your product's value and adopt it.
This is your official guide to the different stages of product adoption—from users first hearing about your product to shouting its name from the rooftops—and the strategies you can use to optimize the experience for your customers at every step of their adoption journey.
6 stages to get users to adopt your product
There are six product adoption stages—awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, activation, and adoption. Product adoption isn’t always a linear process—users can jump between stages.
There are also five adopter profiles—innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. You need to understand these profiles as they have different needs and move through product adoption stages at different rates.
For example, a tech-savvy early adopter might be quick to download a software product trial after minimal research. A more risk-averse late adopter, however, might move back and forth between different stages as they learn about your product and how it can solve their problems.
So you need to optimize your content, support, onboarding, and product adoption strategies accordingly.
Companies often face the challenge of getting their users to adopt new products. To increase the chances of success, it’s important to understand the different stages of adoption and what strategies, tools, and processes can be used to move users through each stage.
First, focus on really understanding your users and their pain points. Implement a solid user research process, develop ideal customer profiles, and map the customer journey using product experience (PX) insights tools like Hotjar. All this lets you align your product with user needs and create customer delight.
Then, use the strategies below to guide your users through each step in the product adoption process.
Users become aware of your product and its potential benefits during the awareness stage. They may not yet know how it can solve their problems—or even that they have a problem.
Key factors that influence users at this stage include:
Their pain points, or dissatisfaction with their current way of doing things, which drives them to search for a solution to their problem
Brand credibility: if your users already trust you, they’ll be more open to trying your product
The novelty of your solution, which works in your favor with innovators and early adopters, but means others take more convincing
How to engage users at the awareness stage of product adoption
Create top-of-the-funnel marketing content (blogs, white papers, etc.) to educate readers about their pain points and how your product helps. This raises awareness and builds brand credibility, authority, and trust. Use Google Analytics and SEO research tools to discover what people search for online.
Remember to create content that speaks to the different concerns of each adopter. For example, a laggard HR manager who’s still using spreadsheets to run payroll will need to understand the hidden costs of clinging to outdated manual processes.
Make sure your content reflects the experience of your sales and customer-facing teams: they know best what customers struggle with
Distribute content via omnichannel marketing campaigns: social media, your blog, webinars, etc. Use marketing and social media tools like Mailchimp and Hootsuite to automate and track campaign performance.
Track product adoption metrics like website page views, bounce rate, and attribution channels to see how your content performs
During the interest stage, potential customers develop a more active interest in your product. They start gathering information and digging deeper into how it can help them achieve their goals.
Key influencing factors include:
Whether your product can solve users' jobs to be done (JTBD) and fits their use cases
Whether your users find the right information at the right time for their adopter profile, role, and needs. For example, an early adopter in marketing might sign up for a webinar about AI writing assistants if they see it in a professional peer group—before reading about it in the news.
How to engage users at the interest stage of product adoption
Create marketing content that addresses the concerns of different user profiles and educates them about your product, its benefits, and how it helps achieve their goals
Be active on social media and in community forums to build brand authority and trust. Generating a buzz around your product appeals to the desire of innovators and early adopters to be the first to try it. And word of mouth also helps reassure the late majority that the community approves of it.
Make it easy for people to get the answers they need. For example, by installing a chatbot on your site to answer simple questions—or an interactive help center tool like Stonly—you can save users wading through one-size-fits-all help center articles.
Tempt them with free trials, demos, and early access programs, which will particularly appeal to innovators and early adopters
Pro tip: use Surveys and Feedback tools to discover why potential customers land on your website. Then, tweak your marketing strategies and website content to provide more of what they need and make it easier to find. For example, you can create lead magnets or tweak CTA copy to boost downloads.
The Hotjar question bank helps you create drag-and-drop product adoption surveys
Keep tracking website metrics, online mentions of your product (using Google Alerts), and chatbot and help center interactions
At the evaluation stage, users assess whether your product meets their needs. They’ll also weigh it up against the competition and decide whether to sign up for a demo, trial, or freemium account.
Key factors that influence users during the evaluation stage of product adoption include:
How your product stacks up against the competition
Other people’s opinion of it (particularly important for later adopters)
Pricing and incentives
How to engage users at the evaluation stage of product adoption
Include detailed pricing and product information on your site
Create middle-of-the-funnel marketing content like product comparison pages and case studies
Focus on the benefits of your product rather than just listing its features. This helps users visualize how it can solve their problems. Contrast its benefits against other solutions rather than trashing the competition. This establishes trust, taps into users’ desire for change, and helps convince them it’s worth the effort to switch.
Make it clear in your copy which types of business and end users your product is best suited for, so they can self-qualify/disqualify
Offer users free, no-obligation demos and trials, which help reassure later adopters, or a freemium version of your product
Offer discounts, promotions, or free support to increase perceived value
Track sales metrics like calls booked, demos requested, etc., as well as content performance
Generate social proof like customer testimonials and user reviews on comparison pages and link to them from your website
During the trial stage, users test out your product to see if it fits their needs and processes.
Key influencing factors include:
If your product fits user needs (i.e. you’ve achieved product market fit) and the skill level of end-users, and that it integrates with their tech stack
If your marketing convinces users to try it out
If it helps users achieve their objectives and delivers on its value proposition
If it’s easy to use and intuitive, so users are convinced that the effort of onboarding and learning will be outweighed by the perceived value
How to engage users at the trial stage of product adoption
Use product adoption software like Appcues or Userpilot to reduce friction during onboarding with tailored user onboarding flows, guidance, and resources for each adopter profile
Offer a money-back guarantee to help reassure the hesitant late majority and laggards
Focus on the product experience—the part of the SaaS customer journey that takes place within your application. Here’s where users onboard, learn about new features, and realize value. It’s also where most of their interaction with your brand takes place, so it’s essential to optimize onboarding to boost engagement.
Build product adoption into your product design process by implementing web/app design principles, creating an intuitive user interface (UI) and UX, and making it easy for customers to solve roadblocks
🔥Pro tip: use Heatmaps and Session Recordings—to see which parts of your UI frustrate users or where they drop off. Then, combine your findings with qualitative feedback to learn what users love or hate about your product.
If you’re using Hotjar, you can also use filters to understand how the user experience varies by device. This lets you make small changes to improve their experience and drive conversions—like tweaking button copy.
Hotjar Session Recordings let you visualize how users navigate your website and digital product
During activation, users realize value for the first time—usually when they perform a key action or complete a task. This convinces them it’s worth investing in your product.
You usually have a short window to convince users to adopt your product, so it’s important they realize value quickly.
Key influencing factors include:
Whether they can quickly find and learn the most useful features to achieve their role-based goals
For example, a rep onboarding with a sales platform might prioritize customizable email templates and one-click meeting booking. By contrast, an admin needs to know how to configure access permissions and connect to the company’s database.
How to engage users at the activation stage of product adoption
Define what counts as activation for your users, and how you can guide different user profiles to achieve their ‘aha moment’—when they first realize value. If your product has multiple aha moments, consider how to guide each user to theirs fastest.
Provide demo templates and ‘empty states’ (example elements with no content). These help users visualize how to perform key tasks
Use product adoption software to streamline and boost feature discovery with contextual in-app messages (nudges), product walkthroughs, hotspots, tooltips, multimedia tutorials, etc. These streamline the key actions that deliver value for each user. Ensure onboarding helps them realize value and isn’t just a tour of your product’s features.
Provide positive reinforcement to spotlight aha moments, like a pop-up message congratulating them on hitting a milestone, or a personalized onboarding checklist of tasks to complete. You can also offer incentives like a free trial extension if they complete onboarding within a certain time.
Use in-app support tools like Zendesk or chatbots so users can get answers quickly without leaving your app—particularly important for more tech-savvy users who can learn and troubleshoot independently
Track metrics like time-to-first-value, key events—users downloading your app, performing key tasks—and product activation rate (% of users reaching activation)
Last comes adoption, when, convinced of your solution's value, customers convert from occasional to regular users and make your product part of their daily life and work.
Remember when you switched from email to WhatsApp to keep in touch with people? That’s when you adopted it.
Key influencing factors include:
Users realizing your product has applications beyond solving their original pain point
The effort of fully onboarding, learning more features, or switching from your competitor is outweighed by the perceived value
Pricing—it’s worth upgrading from a free or starter version to access more functionality
How to engage users at the product adoption stage
Use in-app nudges and contextual walkthroughs to make users aware of additional features that can help them solve even more problems
Run email campaigns with helpful tips, offers, or loyalty programs to prompt users to keep returning to your product
Drive ongoing adoption by keeping power users and innovators up to date with new releases
Make your product available on all channels and browsers to limit the barriers to usage and adoption
Incentivize teams to adopt with discounts, gift cards, or by unlocking additional features once the whole team has onboarded
Never stop gathering PX insights or improving your product. Use surveys to let users suggest new features, gather feedback, and run A/B tests to see which version of your site users like best.
Offer world-class customer support—Hotjar’s Slack integration lets you share PX insights with your customer-facing teams so they can improve the customer experience. Or push survey data to Hubspot CRM so your sales team can access actionable insights.
Make it easy for customers to share their success via testimonials, reviews, and referrals—social proof like this helps convince the late majority
A strong product adoption process: your key to creating customer delight
The best product adoption processes are user-centric. When you define what activation and adoption mean for different user profiles, you can guide each customer to realize value sooner and convert from occasional to regular users. Make product adoption a shared goal for all your teams and never stop gathering insights to inform your product design, marketing, and customer success strategies.
Understanding your different user needs, profiles, and pain points helps you create content, onboarding processes, and support—so users can get the answers they need, when they need them. This lets you guide users through the stages of adoption and help them achieve their goals.