Feature Adoption 101 – Promotion, Measurement, & Acceleration

Written by Michael Peach  | 

8 min


A Quick Primer for Software Product and Customer Success Teams

Software companies are naturally excited when they go to roll out a major new feature. And in a perfect world, that feature is immediately, and enthusiastically adopted by every customer. In reality, however, that often isn’t the case. In the software industry, feature adoption is often sporadic, and even more alarmingly, a lot of companies don’t really have visibility into how their product is used to truly understand if a feature is being adopted at all.

So, how can companies improve feature adoption? The simple answer is to build better features, but of course reality is more complicated than that. Obviously we all want to develop features that provide value to customers, but doing so requires good customer feedback, appropriate measurements, and an ability to rapidly drive awareness around new updates.

For even more about feature adoption, join Pendo and Trustfuel for a live webinar on July 20th – Adoption 101: How to Measure, Track and Leverage User Behavior.

Why is feature adoption so important?

With the shift to subscription-based software licensing, feature announcements and adoption by current customers has become much more critical. Product and success teams have always focused on improving the customer experience in their products, but post-sale this used to be less critical. Today, however, the ability to deploy new features that add immediate user value is a critical success factor for any software product.

Software is no longer just purchased once. Software products are purchased over and over again – sometimes as frequently as every month – as customers renew their subscriptions. Each and every renewal is contingent on customer’s perceiving and receiving ongoing value from the software – i.e. is it actively making their jobs easier and providing ROI? Each new product feature presents an opportunity for additive value if customers are aware of and actively using them.

Unused features, however, can have a converse effect. This is why customer success teams are often laser-focused on overall product adoption. Every piece of a product that isn’t used represents something a customer is paying for, but not realizing value. This lowers a customer’s perceived value and ultimately their willingness to renew at current service/ price level, or even renew at all.

How do you measure feature adoption?

At the surface this seems simple- are people using the feature or not? While that is definitely a measure of usage, it may not be the best benchmark for adoption. Consider the following scenarios: Software company A releases an update, and publicizes the update broadly to the current user base. As a result, over 40% of users use the feature over the next week. However a week later almost none of them continue to use the feature. Or, software company B also releases and publicizes a new feature. Only a tiny percentage of their users pick up the feature, but they enthusiastically continue to use it.

Both scenarios are examples of feature adoption, but neither would be judged particularly successful. Neither feature provided significant ongoing value to customers. When measuring feature adoption, companies should consider the following dimensions:

  • Breadth of adoption: How widely has a feature been adopted across the user base or targeted user segment. Has the feature been picked up by a majority of the targeted users, or only a small percentage? Looking at the breadth of adoption shows the initial appeal of the new feature
  • Time to adopt: How long does it take for a users to begin using a new feature. When learning about a feature, do users immediately try it out or do they wait several days or weeks before picking it up? Looking at adoption time provides input into motivation. The more quickly a feature is adopted, the more likely it addresses a significant customer pain or usability problem.
  • Duration of adoption: How long do users continue to use a feature after learning about it. Do they try it out a few times, or continue to use it regularly? This is an important measurement as it helps to show whether a feature is providing any real value beyond its initial novelty.

What constitutes successful adoption across these three dimensions is obviously going to vary from use case to use case, but it’s important to consider all three when assessing the outcome of any feature release.

Don’t forget about user feedback

Effective measurement will help product teams understand the extent to which new features are adopted, but it certainly won’t tell them why, or what users really think about a particular feature. The only way to collect this important information is to ask for it. Look for opportunities to collect feedback when users are interacting with a new feature for the first few times. Some companies prefer open-ended feedback while others use a number scale, or yes/no questions to gather a baseline on perceived user value.

WebPT, an electronic medical records platform for the physical therapy industry, has a survey program called ‘First Impressions’ that collects immediate qualitative feedback with every feature announcement. They append every new feature announcement with a yes/no question that asks the user if they think the new feature would be helpful to their practice or not. The responses are analyzed alongside feature adoption metrics to help understand if the feature provides value, and if it is messaged/ described appropriately in the announcement.

Bringing together user feedback and adoption measurements for specific features can help product teams make a clear assessment of every feature. They can see how users perceive value, and how extensively they adopt it. Memberclicks, an association management platform, uses a feedback loop like this to iteratively improve features before rolling them out broadly to a user base. Each iteration is rolled out to a subset of users, tested, and then refined until the adoption and feedback within the sample groups reaches a critical mass.

What is the best way to announce new features?

New software features will never see significant adoption if the user base doesn’t know about them. So, obviously, discoverability and the announcement process itself are an important part of driving adoption. Most companies have several channels for communicating updates- company blog, email, customer success meetings, and others. So which channel is the most effective?

There’s no one right answer for the best way to announce features, but there are a couple considerations that can help to shape the strategy. The first one is relevance. Users are much more likely to respond to announcements that matter to them. Software applications- especially business software applications- have a diverse user bases with different roles, maturity, and technical proficiency. Very few features are deeply relevant to all users. Therefore the announcement approach should be tailored to target the most appropriate user segment. Whether a new feature is relevant to prospective customers in addition to the current user base can also shape the announcement strategy.

The second consideration is desired action. What do you want users to do upon reading the announcement? Do you want them to immediately try it out? Do you want them to read documentation about how to use it? Do you want feedback? The desired next action can also have an impact on the best way to announce a new feature.

The power of in-app feature promotion

In many cases, the product itself can provide a powerful channel for new feature announcements. Delivering feature announcements or promotions in the form of in-app modals or tooltips ensures that the announcement reaches users at a highly relevant time (when they’re using the product). Although a best practice is to segment the announcements for different groups of users for even greater relevancy.

Often the primary next action for users to take is to try the feature itself. If the announcement is served directly in the product there is very little friction for the user to navigate over and try out a feature. Whereas with email or blog announcements the user must either go login to the product to try a feature out, or hopefully remember about the next time he or she goes into the product.

Many companies have seen significantly broader and faster feature adoption through in-app annoucements. SiteCompli, a commercial real estate management platform, was able to drive a 20x increase in usage, by promoting features in their product to targeted groups of users.

Although highly effective, promoting features in-app won’t hit all of the potential user segments. Lapsed users who don’t log in regularly, or prospective customers who may not yet be in the product will be missed by these announcements. Product teams should consider the target audience for every feature launch, and adjust their strategy accordingly.

Improving feature adoption

Increasing feature adoption ultimately comes down to the user value that each feature delivers, but understanding that value requires clear insight. To get a clear handle on adoption, software companies should look to measure the breadth, time, and duration of feature adoption, and pair those metrics with direct user feedback about specific features.

Discoverability also plays an outsized role in feature adoption. By leveraging the right promotion strategy, product and customer success teams can ensure that highly-actionable announcements reach the users to whom they will be the most valuable. With these two pieces in place, companies can much more rapidly understand and improve the customer experience in their products.