The problem with product adoption (and how PMs can fix it)

Published Oct 6, 2020

In my recent conversations with product pros, no term has come up more than “product adoption”—nearly every team I’ve spoken to this year has a point of view and high level goals around driving adoption of their product. And it makes sense: In a time when companies are rapidly shedding any tools and software subscriptions they don’t need (or don’t use), low adoption is often the calm before the churn.

But what is product adoption, exactly, and how should product managers (PMs) be thinking about it? While adoption is often an important KPI for product teams, having a consistent definition or strategy is less common. We created our new guide, The Path to Product Adoption, to address these foundational questions and give product managers a framework to better understand and improve their product adoption.

Improving product adoption doesn’t mean driving usage of as many features as possible. It’s about driving adoption of the right features-–the ones that create value for your users, contribute to high sentiment, and drive positive customer outcomes. Below, we outline some key ways to get started.

The foundation of product adoption

Many PMs talk about product adoption as the collective sum of individual feature adoption. Others speak in philosophical terms (e.g. product adoption is the difference between a product someone “has to” use, and a product they love to use), but without an actual plan to measure and track changes over time. At its core, product adoption involves five foundational elements:

1. Establishing metrics: What should you measure in order to assess product adoption, what do these metrics represent about users, and what benchmarks can you use for comparison? There are plenty of product metrics to choose from, but we recommend tracking app retention, feature adoption, and stickiness.

2. Collecting usage data: What events and actions do you need to monitor in your application to generate these key metrics, and how can you collect that data? Evaluate the analytics capabilities your team already has, and whether or not you’ll need to bring in a new tool (for which you’ll likely have the choice between instrumented analytics and codeless analytics).

3. Measuring user journeys: How do you make sense of the data and test hypotheses about the most important features and workflows for your customers to discover? Beyond simply collecting data, think about the questions you’re trying to answer with your analysis. These could be related to specific features (e.g. what are our most used features?) or the paths users take as they navigate the product (e.g. what are the workflows of free trial users who convert to paying customers?).

4. In-product messaging: Once you identify the optimal user paths and journeys, how do you raise awareness and encourage better use of the product? Communicating in-app is one of the most effective ways to reach users, whether the ultimate goal is user education, feature awareness, improved onboarding, or otherwise.

5. User sentiment and survey programs: What is the role of qualitative data, and how can you use in-app surveys to measure the product experience and enhance research initiatives? In addition to delivering one-way messages, leverage the product itself to survey users and understand perceptions that can’t be captured in usage data. You can also use surveys to reach certain segments of your user base, for example those with a specific role like admins.

Product adoption isn’t a one-and-done

Although the components of product adoption follow a logical order, it’s important to think of them as an ongoing process, rather than five steps to check off a list. Product managers need to continuously track their product adoption and engagement metrics, re-examine user journeys, and adjust in-app messaging and survey efforts accordingly. This framework is meant to help guide your efforts to manage a product adoption strategy–but the work doesn’t end there.

For more foundational concepts and tactical applications of measuring and improving product adoption, check out our new e-book, The Path to Product Adoption.