Lead TO your product – not WITH your product

Whew! What a month it has been.

More than 500 SaaS founders & customer success teams have taken our concierge onboarding course. After reviewing hundreds of emails, landing pages, and data I’m starting to see patterns between SaaS products that are growing that those that are not.

In this post I’ll explain why your product positioning strategy is the first step in customer onboarding.

Great onboarding starts with great positioning

Do a Google search on “onboarding” and you’ll find thousands of articles about marketing automation, product optimization, and metrics. This stuff will help optimize your onboarding by nudging customers in the right direction – but it only helps if your customers are motivated to take action.

Why? Because you’re not building the next Tinder or Snapchat – you’re building a business solution. Unless customers are willing to upload their data … change their work routine … ask developers to install that ‘1-line of javascript’ … they can’t get value from your solution.

Great at onboarding starts by motivating customers to take action – and that starts with positioning.

Weak positioning: “thing-builders” lead WITH their product

Most SaaS companies lead by talking about their product. Beautiful copy and pictures describe …

feature -> benefit …
feature -> benefit …
feature -> benefit … and on … and on.

I call them “thing-builders” because they lead with the “thing” – their product.

Sure they link to an educational blog and a free course. But they lead WITH their product and all conversations flow from it.

Problems resulting from leading WITH your product

  1. Customers lack motivation. Most SaaS companies assumes too much knowledge on behalf of customers. Customers are clueless, and by talking about ‘benefits’ we’re often asking them to infer their problems from it. Many just don’t know.
  2. You sound like everyone else. Take a few moments and check out the landing pages for email marketing automation products. Unless you’re an expert it all sounds the same.
  3. Customers are more likely to defect. You need to re-sell your solution every billing cycle and your competitors are 1 week away from copying your core feature. If your customers only think of you as the “thing-builder” you’re easy to replace with a cheaper competitor.

The result? Leading WITH the product doesn’t set the stage for creating motivated customers. It doesn’t get them excited about picking you, sticking with you, and changing their behavior to get the most from your product.

So they sign up … do nothing … and they bail.

Strong positioning: “challengers” lead TO their product

Some SaaS companies lead by teaching customers about their problems and showing them how life could be so much better. I call these “challengers” based on The Challenger Sale strategies developed by Matthew Dixon.

Challengers lead customers TO their products. They start conversations by showing customers how they could make more money … save more time … retain more customers if they just worked a bit differently.

When do they talk about features? At the moment when customers become aware of obstacles between their current reality and the wonderful, better future.

Benefits of leading TO your solution

  1. Customers are motivated. Customers who understand why they are signing up are motivated to try harder: to read your onboarding emails, upload their data, or ask questions when they don’t understand.
  2. Better feedback. Challengers create expectations – and products can’t always deliver them. Customers who know why they signed up will give more specific feedback on ways to improve.
  3. Customers will stick with you. When you lead by teaching customers you position yourself as a strategic partner – someone they want on their team when times are tough. This prevents defection.

Example: Sorry™

Sorry provides hosted status pages for companies like ours. I’m using Sorry as an example because most founders assume you can only use teaching in sales when your solution is complex.

Sorry’s landing page shows that that you can lead customers to a solution as conceptually simple as a status page.

Take a look at Sorry’s guide to weathering the storm – it is embedded in their landing page and provides a quick read on ways to mitigate service problems. The guide contains good advice that leads you to their product features. For instance,


This advice begs the reader to ponder … How do I write once and post everywhere – that seems like a lot of work. The answer, of course, is that Sorry has features that make this easier.

This is a great example of how simple it can be to lead a customer TO a feature. Imagine instead if their landing page simply said “automatically post updates to social media” – leading WITH this feature forces the potential to figure out why this matters.

Want to strengthen your positioning? Ask … WHY?

It isn’t hard to strengthen your positioning. Simply look at your landing page or marketing copy and ask “Why…why…why” about every feature or promise.

“Why do they need this feature? Why does that matter? Why do they need to achieve that goal?” Then be sure you give them answers.

Photo credit: Kat Netzler

One Comment

  1. Kate H February 19, 2016 at 2:39 pm #

    Great post, Kevin! This is a mistake we see repeated time & time again in the SaaS industry. Maybe part of it is that when you work within your own SaaS product for the large amount of time we all do, I think we assume customers want to know the features first and that they’ll immediately know the benefits from the features. I also really like your point about challengers “starting conversations” with customers.

    I mentioned this on an allaboard blog post, but in case you didn’t get a chance to see it… I’m thinking of compiling expertise from SaaS industry leaders who excel at user onboarding. Would you be willing to provide a tip related to how SaaS companies can improve onboarding for the post? I think it would be a great resource 🙂

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