User Adoption Expedition – San Francisco: A Recap

And just like that, our User Adoption Expedition has come to a close! What an amazing journey it’s been taking the user adoption conversation to four amazing cities across the country. We’re so grateful to have to met such enthusiastic and passionate SaaS leaders in customer success and product. It’s comforting knowing these user adoption challenges are a learning curve for all of us. And even more, it’s humbling to see these discussions take shape into an encouraging, unified community.

We went out with a bang, hosting our last expedition in the heart of tech itself, San Francisco. After releasing our 2018 User Adoption and Onboarding Benchmarking Survey earlier this year, we discovered a few disconnects with it comes to awareness and action in user adoption and onboarding initiatives. These stats had us stirring, and we were determined to connect the dots. With the data in mind, we centered this discussion around how to build, measure and execute a strong user adoption strategy and ultimately understand how top SaaS companies are tackling user adoption and onboarding challenges today.

The panel discussion was led by our own Rachel Orston (CEO at UserIQ) and joined by Ryan DeForest (Head of User Success at, Jamie Domenici (Global Senior Vice President Customer Adoption, Marketing and Business Development at Salesforce), Brian Kaminski (CCO at Conversica) and Subha Shetty (VP of Product & User Experience at Zenfolio). Before diving into the questions, we wanted to learn more about what user adoption means to each panelist, and how it relates to their role.  

Panel Discussion:

Q1. What does user adoption mean to you, and how does it relate to your role?

For Subha, user adoption is a constant challenge with her very diverse set of customers. But it’s a challenge she loves taking on, telling us she is “customer obsessed.” It’s a continual trial and error process, and will most likely continue to be. As her team at Zenfolio grows and learns more about their customer base, user adoption initiatives will only get better!

Ryan has a unique role, with the title of Head of User Success, and we were curious to see how his role might vary from the other panelists, and from other SaaS leaders in customer success. Ryan said that through the growth has experienced, they’ve been able to refine his role to focus solely on user adoption initiatives, allowing him to take more granular approaches and make sure his team (and the company as a whole) are successful from day one.  

Working for a company of such large scale, we were curious to learn how Jamie’s role and the user adoption challenges Salesforce face might differ from someone working at a smaller SaaS company. As Jamie began explaining her role and how her team functions, we sensed a little relief from the audience, knowing that even big companies like Salesforce are faced with the same user adoption challenges. Jamie mentions that it can be difficult to evolve with such a fast growing company, but the excitement of innovation is worth the ride.

Brian explained that Conversica is often met with a “double adoption problem.” The first hurdle is convincing their customers to adapt to AI, and the second hurdle is actually having them adopt the product. Brian understands that adoption can mean something different for each customer and can take on various forms. By working with all shapes and sizes of customers and understanding their individual needs, he has a better idea and understanding of how his customers will be successful.

Q2. In UserIQ’s 2018 User Adoption and Onboarding Benchmarking Survey, we found that 75% of respondents ranked user adoption as very or extremely important, and 74% are spending up to half their week focused on user adoption initiatives. However, 40% say they have no formal strategy in place. A clear disconnect! So we raised this question to our panelists: At what moment did your company realize user adoption needed to become a bigger priority?

For Jamie, bridging that gap was a struggle as Salesforce grew at such a rapid rate. It started becoming difficult to provide customer success at scale. There are a lot of touch points when it comes to customer success, and providing that 1:1 support was something they couldn’t facilitate anymore. At that moment, Jamie knew team alignment was key. Interlocking customer success and product and working to build roadmaps together was what led Salesforce to the growth they’ve achieved today.

As Head of User Success, Ryan understands that user adoption needs to go one level deeper than a holistic approach. Being proactive and really digging into adoption issues is what has led to onboard thousands of customers a day with only 5 employees!

Brian brought up an interesting point. He explains that at Conversica, they focus on making sure that no employee’s job gets too wide. By doing so, this ensures internal team success, ultimately leading to their users’ success. With this approach, they have the ability to look at customers from all angles and catch nuances before the rupture. He also mentions it’s important to remember that each customer’s experience is different, and sometimes they don’t even want a person-to-person approach. To make sure their customers are having the best experience possible, they work hard to make sure the CSM’s specific talents and skillsets align with the needs of the customer.

Subha explained that the heart of what Zenfolio does is create the ultimate customer experience. The customer’s experience should feel like an extension of their personal passions—ultimately helping their photography business get up and running. She highly values having those personal phone conversations because interactions like this can go a long way in relationship building.

Q3. What are a few user adoption KPIs your company measures?

The team at Salesforce uses what’s called an EWS (early warning signs) system. In a nutshell, various indicators will make up a composite score, which allows them to provide proactive support in specific areas. For Jamie, engagement is the biggest indicator. At the end of the day, users are more likely to adopt if they have high engagement.

Brian spoke to trajectory curves and segmentation, noting that it’s important for CSM’s to stay proactive in gauging their customer needs so the customer won’t fall off their curve. He explained that this can be a difficult KPI, as some customers might fall into multiple curves. It doesn’t mean they’re having a bad experience; their organization is simply different, and that’s ok.

With Zenfolio being both B2B and B2C and month-to-month subscription-based, their mission has become less about upgrading customers and more about finding out what package is right for them. After a long period of trying out pricing promotions and exclusive features, they came to the conclusion that some customers simply aren’t looking to upgrade. Photographers are hesitant; they’re still looking for their identity and want a plan to match that identity. If you create a stellar experience without the rush, upgrades will come naturally.

Q4. As SaaS leaders, we all understand the necessity for NPS. But beyond NPS, how do you capture VOC (voice of the customer), and how have you been creative in doing so?

Jamie lists an assortment of metrics, including surveys, EWS as discussed earlier, and a customer happiness score (it’s in the works). She makes sure to mention that although metrics are important, try not to get lost in them. It’s all too easy to get focused on the data, but it’s important to think holistically. What’s working and what’s not? How is the customer feeling? Sentiment is just as important as data.

Ryan explains something tested a while back called “Operation Feedback.” This operation was full of forms, NPS, surveys, and other tools. While they gathered some good data, they quickly realized phone calls were even more valuable. There are often discrepancies in what the customer types out and what they say on the phone. By recording calls and analyzing different cohorts, the team is able to better develop patterns in VOC.

Brian agrees that NPS is great, but it’s unfortunately tied only to specific interactions, where free-form data and text allow you to take a more granular approach. It’s difficult to scale, but it’s impactful.

After the panel discussion, we transitioned into Q&A. Here are a few questions we had from the audience:


Q1. How do you measure use case adoption?

Subhta stresses the importance of face-to-face interactions and anecdotal phone calls. She explains that data can only tell one story. A click of a button doesn’t always mean intent, and you’ll often find more value in understanding a user’s habits with live interactions than with data.

Q2. Do you have any advice or frameworks you apply at your company that could help out the CSM’s, at least until everyone else is on deck to support the bigger mission of user adoption?

We loved Jamie’s analogy of a race track. She asked us to imagine each team in the company lining up at the starting line. The mindset with this is that each team shows up with the intent to run individually when, in reality, they should be running a relay race. It’s important to recognize when to hand the baton off, and how to divide and conquer.

So what’s next?

While we’ve completed our User Adoption Expedition, the conversation doesn’t stop here! Connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter to continue the conversation, and sign up for our newsletter to get updates on our next adventure.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.