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How to guide users through the 6 stages of the product adoption process

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 the app.  

And then they’re surprised when they drop off or don’t convert.

Last updated

5 Sep 2022

To really drive product adoption, you need to look at the bigger picture. In order to guide users to realizing value and adopting your product, you must understand what each stage of the product adoption process involves.  

We’ve put together some strategies you can apply at each product adoption stage—from them first hearing about your product to shouting its name from the rooftops.

Want to help each and every user realize value with your product?

Hotjar’s product experience insights tell you how to improve the product experience to drive adoption.   

There are six product adoption stages—Awareness, Interest, Evaluation, Trial, Activation, and Adoption. We’ll look at these more closely in the next section. But, for now, it’s worth remembering that product adoption isn’t always a linear process—users can jump between stages. 

There are also 5 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 forward 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.

#Understanding the different profiles along the product adoption curve will help you create a product that appeals to all of them
Understanding the different profiles along the product adoption curve will help you create a product that appeals to all of them

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. 

Lisa Dietrich
Co-Founder, RemoteCanteen

Before development, focus on really understanding your users and their pain and journeys. 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 their needs and create customer delight.  

Then, use these strategies to guide your users through each step in the product adoption process. 

1. Awareness 

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, though—or even that they have a problem.    

Key factors that influence users at this stage include: 

  • Their pain point, or the unworkability of their current way of doing things, which drives the search for a solution 

  • Brand credibility: if they already trust you, they’ll be more open to trying your new 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-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.

#Hotjar Trends show you the most important website metrics and let you identify user behavior trends
Hotjar Trends show you the most important website metrics and let you identify user behavior trends

2. Interest 

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 their jobs to be done (JTBD) goals and fit their use cases 

  • Whether they 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; the latter 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, you can 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.

#Hotjar’s question bank lets you create drag-and-drop product adoption surveys

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

3. Evaluation 

At the evaluation stage, users assess whether your product meets their needs. They’ll likely 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 include: 

  • Whether your product fits their needs and use cases

  • How it 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-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 to, so they can self-qualify/disqualify. (Trust us, they’ll appreciate not waiting till the sales call to find this out.)  

  • Offer free, no-obligation product demos, and trials (which helps reassure later adopters) or a freemium version. 

  • 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. 

#Positive but unbiased user reviews are the best way to convince later adopters that your product is worth a try
Positive but unbiased user reviews are the best way to convince later adopters that your product is worth a try

 4. Trial 

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 their 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 them to try it out 

  • If it helps them achieve their objectives and delivers on its value proposition. 

  • If it’s easy to use and intuitive, so they’re convinced 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 onboarding flows, guidance, and resources for each profile.  

  • Offer a money-back guarantee to help reassure the hesitant late majority and laggards

  • Focus on the product experience (PX)—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 it to boost engagement. 

Build product adoption into your product design process by following standard UX and web/app design principles, having an intuitive UX, and making it easy for users 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 can help you spot bugs in a new version of your product.

Source: Hotjar

Hotjar Session Recordings let you visualize how users navigate your website and digital product 

5. Activation 

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 them, 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 to 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 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 them 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 (downloading your app, performing key tasks, etc), and product activation rate (% of users reaching activation).

Your tool doesn't get used by people after they sign up for it. It is my belief that people sign up after they learn how to use your tools.

Hammad Afzal
Growth Marketing Manager, Softception

6. Adoption 

Last comes adoption, when, convinced of the value, customers convert from occasional to regular users and make your product part of their daily life/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 realize 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 the 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 use and adoption.

  • Incentivize teams to drive adoption 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 versions 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. Or push survey data to Hubspot CRM so your sales team can access actionable insights.

#Hotjar integrations make it easy to keep all your teams in the loop in real time
Hotjar integrations make it easy to keep all your teams in the loop in real time
  • Make it easy for customers to share their success via testimonials, reviews, and referrals—social proof like this helps convince the late majority. 

Advocacy and ownership are the most advanced stages in the product adoption process. A rite of passage between you and your users, where they gain ownership over your product and win along with you… This is the best way to implement an influencer strategy. To get people to fall in love with your brand and product and make it a part of their narrative and portfolio.

JD Rico
Editor & Venture Partner, Digitalist Hub
  • Track metrics like net promoter scores (NPSs), customer satisfaction, product-qualified leads, and feature adoption rates.

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 users’ varied needs, profiles, and pain points lets you create content, onboarding processes, and support—so users can get the answers they need when they need them. This lets you guide them through the stages of adoption and help them achieve their goals.

Want to help each and every user realize value with your product?

Hotjar’s product experience insights tell you how to improve the product experience to drive adoption.   

Frequently asked questions about the product adoption process