How to Drive User Adoption and Retention with Advanced Product Marketing

Maximize your customer lifetime value by implementing enterprise-class best practices

ServiceNow began as a one-man shop in 2003, with Fred Luddy working off a single laptop in his home office as he raced against time to found the company before his fiftieth birthday. Two decades later, the company has grown its business to ~7,700 global enterprise customers and annual subscription revenues in excess of $6.8 billion.

It got to where it is today by not just having a great product and support but also ensuring that customers can easily adopt its products. The company is expert at helping its customers build their own internal teams of ServiceNow experts. Its offerings include everything from interactive training modules to executive briefing decks, success maps and best practices by solution and value stage.

With a name like ServiceNow, it’s no surprise that providing top service to customers would be a primary focus. But you don’t have to have “service” in your company’s name to replicate the company’s results. ServiceNow is a classic example of how marketing strategy and activities specifically focused on user adoption and retention can drive growth. Viewing business strategy through this lens has become every bit as much a necessity as the more conventional marketing activities in a mature corporate marketing organization.

Increasingly, many startups and tech companies are all hands on deck in their focus on retaining and expanding existing customers. With the cost of capital increasing significantly and a looming recession, companies are pivoting to prioritize profit over growth. They’re leveraging resources in a way that aligns more closely with the current state of the economy while maintaining and satisfying existing customers.

The key to ensuring user satisfaction lies in dedicating marketing resources to the entire promise of the solution or product. This in turn drives product onboarding, support and supplemental resources (e.g., knowledge bases and videos) as well as services like in-house consulting wings or alliances with a solutions partner like a VAR, SI or MSP. It requires thinking through your customer’s problems—and solutions—in their entirety, including the core product, additional software and hardware, installation, training and support, and more.

How Advanced Product Marketing Can Help You Hook (and Keep) Users

By shifting resources to prioritize user adoption and retention over customer acquisition, companies can realize a wide range of benefits. A few key steps can help you acquire customers more quickly (and cheaply) and increase customer lifetime value, among other benefits.

Map the optimal user adoption journey.

Identify hinge points of adoption at the organizational and individual level. You’ll want to isolate the factors that are key to driving adoption of your product or service by end users. This could include understanding how to use the product, changing their behavior to make using the product part of their typical routine, or being motivated to adopt the product. You can then adapt marketing materials and messaging accordingly.

You also need to consider coordination avenues and obstacles when rolling out a product. Ensure that you understand how your users’ organizations work and what is feasible as a set of rollout activities. For example, are they a remote team, in multiple locations, working shifts at odd hours? Do they hold virtual all-hands meetings or communicate largely via email? Is the org structure hierarchical or flat? Consider partnering with the teams inside your customers’ organization that are charged with driving adoption of new products and technologies.

Frame marketing through the lens of the customer’s jobs to be done.

Think about what job the user wants to get done, not the features or functionality they might need to do it. The jobs-to-be-done framework will ensure that user adoption activities are always aligned with the users’ needs. Consider the example of a company that offers performance management software targeted to contact centers. If a contact center’s leaders perceive the main value of the tool to be coaching underperforming agents, the software provider should develop educational material that guides managers through the process. This will allow them to easily achieve their desired job to be done.

This is particularly important with new products. “Potential customers will always struggle to articulate their unmet needs for a product that does not yet exist, but when you ask them about their job to be done, they can usually state with precision their needs associated with getting the job done,” Steve Blank wrote in Harvard Business Review.

Brand your user adoption campaign with the customer.

In some cases, your customer may not have internal resources to evangelize adoption. If so, they may welcome having you serve as an adjunct marketing arm. Consider the case of a company that offers a document signing application and that has just closed a deal with an insurance company that wants to roll the software out to its agents. The software company should consider developing a branded initiative that includes templates, internal emailers, and even posters, gamification tools and giveaways. Each resource should reinforce a common theme to promote usage within the organization. The sky’s the limit when it comes to creative initiatives, like gamification or certification programs.

Equip your sales team to support your user adoption and retention strategy.

Educate your sales team about the strategy, tools and resources that support user adoption and customer success. In early-stage meetings, they can emphasize the end user resources and support available. This shows your commitment to helping users realize the full value of the product. It also educates the prospect about the availability of such support, laying the groundwork for a product rollout with high user adoption. After the sale is closed, your sales team can help answer questions and collaborate with the customer success team to provide insight into the customer’s priorities.

ServiceNow has become the gold standard in the range and quality of its user adoption and retention programs, and the company has clearly reaped the benefits. But while executing this kind of a strategy requires creativity as well as advanced product marketing expertise, it’s not an all-or-nothing undertaking. If your goal is end user education, you can start with a low-budget how-to video using Loom before moving on to a more in-depth video series with higher production values. If your goal is to promote product usage, you can start by offering gift cards to reward people who download an app, then later graduate to user testimonials.

Learn more about how you can leverage a marketing strategy focused on user adoption and retention over acquisition to maintain and expand your existing customer base.


About the Author

Adam Aftergut

Adam Aftergut is the principal of West97 Marketing, which provides on-demand product marketing and sales enablement for industry-leading B2B SaaS enterprises and startups that market and sell their products to Citibank, Disney, General Motors, Kaiser Permanente and many other market leaders. Adam’s unique approach brings together value-based messaging and consultative sales methodologies with high-impact, enterprise-class deliverables tailored for each client’s needs, goals and strategic context.

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