A Behind The Scene View Of Hubspot’s Product-Led Onboarding (PLO)

Despina Exadaktylou
13 min readJan 3, 2020

This article is an abstract of the A Behind The Scene View Of Hubspot’s Product-Led Onboarding (PLO)” article, first published on ReinventGrowth’s blog on December 22, 2019. The article is a direct outcome of the The State of Product-Led Growth” — The most comprehensive research on Product-Led Growth to date and refers to Product-Led Growth & Product-Led Onboarding practices Hubspot used at the time of our survey. You can claim a free copy of the study here.

Research and authorship: Despina Exadaktylou founder at Product-Led Growth Hub, World’s #1 PLG Academy.


Upon the release of our comprehensive Product-Led Growth research and the introduction of Product-Led onboarding (PLO) as a business framework, the term seems to become all the more popular across the SaaS industry.

So far, we’ve analyzed how PLO affects SaaS organizations PLG levels but we never actually mentioned how our research led us there. Its contents prove that, if nothing else, Product-Led Onboarding becomes the number one PLG denominator in more ways than originally anticipated.

SaaS organizations, need to either deliver a data-driven framework driving customers down the customer lifecycle or be lost in obscurity. This Product-Led Growth study proves that Product-Led Onboarding (PLO) practices are already in effect. As a matter of fact, product-led driven organizations like Hubspot contributed a lot,to the formulation of the PLO term as we know it.

We would like to give special credits to Hubspot’s team members who contributed to this ProductLed Growth, which required the conduction of six unique interviews examining the vendor’s onboarding practices.

What is Product-Led Onboarding?

Product-Led onboarding (PLO) ™ is a set of data-driven product engagements that consider users’ behavioral notions and proficiency. As a strategy, it avoids random feature introduction to users.

Instead, it exploits historic data and considers users’ proficiency levels when exploring a product for the first time. Contextual guidance substitutes its main pillar and enables organizations to double down on product experience and users’ workflow early on. The term was coined by Product-Led Growth Hub in the research publication “The State of Product-Led Growth” in April 2019.


This growth study refers to growth techniques that were in effect during the summer period of 2018. There is a case those tactics are no longer part of Hubspot’s product-led onboarding strategy.

Attribution Guidelines

At ReinventGrowth, we believe research is the best way to provide insights about the fast paced ever-changing SaaS landscape. Feel free to distribute and use this study in your own content and republish any findings with the caveat of providing ReinventGrowth as the source of the original research. If you would like to learn more about Product-Led Growth practices we regularly share more insights, on product management, onboarding, growth and SaaS practices on our blog.

Research & Authorship: Despina Exadaktylou Founder & CEO Product-Led Growth Hub

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Former Onboarding Approach
  3. Product-Led Onboarding Fundamentals
  4. Product-Led Onboarding Best Practices
  5. Product-Led User Experience (UX) Research Breakdown
  6. Creating a Consistent Product-Led User Experience (UX)
  7. Extending the Product-Led Onboarding Framework
  8. Professional Services Onboarding
  9. Mind the Product Roadmap
  10. Retention: The Product-Led Growth Factor


If you are into SaaS even for a minute, you don’t need to be aware of Hubspot‘s product-led growth strategy to understand that it substitutes an innovator for the industry.

Since its establishment by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, Hubspot’s practices have been adopted, analyzed and mentioned in tens of publications. It would be at least inaccurate to claim that Hubspot’s, onboarding practices can be described in a single case study. During our research in Product-Led Growth practices, we thoroughly examined most aspects of the unicorn’s product-led onboarding strategy. Including how its onboarding activations affect its customers, users, and sales partners’ performance.

The Former Onboarding Approach

The formulation of Hubspot’s product-led onboarding strategy entails many experiments and structural changes. Onboarding is anticipated internally as a work in progress and as with any other part of its business strategy, ongoing optimization is a given.

The former onboarding approach was executed by the implementation specialist (IS) team which is now responsible for the professional onboarding services. At the time, the IS team did not use Hubspot to onboard customers but a third-party management tool. The tool was utilized to set customer’s goals, hold them accountable and upload the required educational content.

The strategy was effective but in the long run, customers had to familiarize themselves with two tools instead of one. To deal with that situation Projects, a custom management tool, was created and eventually replaced the third party solution.

The former onboarding was in effect up until a while ago when Hubspot was not executing a product-led growth strategy yet. Back then, the marketing platform was the major selling point. A product with a longer sales cycle, applying to high trajectory customers, who expect to be treated by customer-facing departments.

Fast forward to now, where the CRM constitutes Hubspot’s fundamental solution. This shift happened because the product growth team realized that customers’ were using the marketing platform essentially as a CRM– a place where users can store contacts, create relationships and engage with them over time. A shift that seems to be paying off since the service counts thousands of monthly sign-ups.

Product-Led Onboarding Fundamentals

Being the driver behind user experience, Product-Led Onboarding directly affects product experience along with the delivery of a PLG strategy. Regardless of the industry served or if buyers are managed by customer-facing teams, onboarding can either eliminate time-to-value (TTV) or lead to churn. There is no in-between.

Hubspot is aware of that and as an organization with multiple solutions under its nest, its first rule of thumb is to invest in experimentation and product-led onboarding practices optimization.

The unicorn attracts and retains millions of users annually. Its targeted industry is the mid-market but due to its prevalence, its customer base also includes SMBs and enterprise organizations.

The first characteristic following Hubspot’s product-led onboarding strategy is the countless self-serve resources. Their plethora includes access to Hubspot’s communities on and infinite material in the form of articles or videos.

While live chat, CRM automated flows, tooltips, walkthroughs, product tours, personalized welcome messages, in-app tutorials, Net Promoter Score (NPS) and progress bars, on the other hand, are just some of the exhaustive product-led onboarding tactics used.

User education is synonymous with the unicorn’s product-led onboarding activations. In general and unlike many people’s beliefs there is not a definitive answer, as to when and where in-app tactics should be placed. Simply because users’ behavior per segment differs dramatically. The product growth group runs all kinds of experiments based on feedback that originates from research, support tickets or the customer-facing teams.

So, there is a case that tooltips are used while someone performs a task since they have proved to be useful when users are in the middle of a task and may pause to understand features’ capabilities. The focus behind any pattern is not on the technique used, but to whether or not it follows users’ notions contextually.

Making Product-Led Onboarding an Intentional Effort

Being an innovator in its core, Hubspot anticipates that for a successful product-led onboarding strategy to be delivered it has to become is an intentional effort across an organization. Simply because it spans across multiple departments, including professional services, customer success, marketing, and product.

As within most large organizations the difficulty lies in creating alignment across those departments since it is difficult to find a common growth metric, that will act as a common point of reference. There is a case that one department may be looking at the number of calls or churn and another at retention or adoption. Metrics that are related, but at the end of the day they are not the same.

<img src=”product-led-onboarding-ownership.png” alt=”product-led onboarding ownership”/>

This challenge follows any organization trying to be product-led driven, beyond just involving the product and engineering teams and striving to create alignment by building into the concept of where the product is now versus where it might be in the future.

At the time of the survey, the formulation & culture of the product team includes product groups within which there were many small and autonomous teams. Something that allows task ownership, quick iteration, and decision making.

For example, the product growth group had a team focused on acquisition, onboarding, retention, and monetization. The group included user researchers, product analysts, and marketers that acted as shared resources. At the same time, each of the individual teams was constituted by a triad (product manager, UX designer, tech lead) and software engineers.

The Product-Led Onboarding mission

At the time of the survey, the product growth team’s mission was twofold. The first part entailed enabling users to adopt and configure the CRM. The second included the evaluation of the platform’s service and marketing free offerings that require a different form of adoption.

Honing into the fundamentals of a product-led onboarding strategy, the conceptual understanding of the product is always a matter under consideration. The team’s main focus on the matter is divided into:

  1. The investigation of daily core actions users need to perform day one
  2. Enabling users to figure out how to make sense out of the marketing and service hub by setting triggers in-app.
  3. Involve the tactical tasks’ optimization in order to enable users to evaluate key features and embrace adoption.
  4. The ultimate goal is to combine both the conceptual and tactical tasks based on different user segments while serving them in the best way possible, by considering their role, context of usage and the challenges they encounter.
<img src=”product-led-onboarding-mission.png” alt=”product-led onboarding mission”/>

Marketing Personas vs. User roles

How can product-led onboarding be tailored to follow users’ notions is a rather big discussion. For product teams to get there, they need to first anticipate the differences following each user role. In Hubspot’s instance, the product growth team employs many ways to excel in this task but essentially it tries to acknowledge user behavior in and out of the product. In regards to the CRM, different marketing personas are considered like marketers, business owners, sales reps or team leaders. Regardless of the users’ business role, within their organization, the team assesses the roles in the product itself, along with their responsibilities and goals, to prioritize product-led onboarding tasks and outcomes.

The team complements its knowledge, in regards to personas’ evolution, via infinite user research that helps to eliminate gaps in relation to context of usage. There is the acknowledgment that those personas are both growing and affected by market changes and it is imperative internally to assess those factors, in order to excel product-led onboarding delivery.

<img src=”product-led-onboarding-personas-roles.png” alt=”product-led onboarding personas vs. user roles”/>

For example, what a marketer knew five years ago is not necessarily what is following his job description now. Marketers have become more technical and there are new personas emerging as Hubspot’s products evolve. The Service Hub introduced a while ago, was launched due to the feedback derived from the user research team. This feedback arose from fieldwork and user interviews that were conducted to better understand their needs and concerns.

Personas & User Roles Segmentation

At the end of the day, those personas are prospects entering the platform from many different paths. When it comes to their segmentation there are a lot of ways the marketing and product growth teams deal with that task. One of them is to segment the various landing and sign up pages to discover users’ intent based on which Hubspot solution or specific tool, the advertising content is referring to. In that way the track of volume is estimated and what kind of leverage the marketing team has overall.

<img src=”product-led-onboarding-personas-roles-segmentation.png” alt=”product-led onboarding roles segmentation”/>

The second criterion constitutes the user’s business role and the workflow following him. The scope here is to see if users’ daily tasks can help the product team reach specific conclusions, in regards to the entire product-led onboarding process. While the overall actions taken within the product generally appeal to the individual versus team dynamic.

The JTBD Product-Led Onboarding Framework

In an effort to derive useful insights on users’ intent upon sign-up the product growth team conducted a JTBD research. Users were asked the jobs that need to get done early on setup, and from the results, the product growth team tried to create an estimated path for users to get there.

Although that method seemed to be working for a while, at the end of the day user testing proved that those questions were more confusing than originally anticipated. In the end, users weren’t exactly sure what they should accomplish or thought that each answer would direct them to a different CRM mode.

<img src=”product-led-onboarding-jtbd.png” alt=”product-led onboarding jtbd”/>

Eventually, the product growth team got rid of the question and used the knowledge derived from onboarding itself, putting in that way the “burden” on users to identify what they try to accomplish. Something that in the end highlighted the tasks that users needed to achieve. On the bright side, the research uncovered the product-language fit, eliminated gaps in regards to features’ positioning and helped, in the long run, to increase new users’ proficiency levels.

The JTBD research format

Despite the fact that Hubspot did not share with us the exact research format, the JTBD framework used, incorporated the following characteristics:

Switch interviews

Switch interviews is a technique used to understand why someone realized a purchase. When used to investigate end-users behavior, it examines the milestone events and triggers that impact the journey of switching from an old solution to a new one. While in the long run it is being examined how these milestones affected customers’ decision-making process.

Field studies

Field studies are the most applicable method for collecting data about users’ needs and product requirements via observation and a series of interviews. In those studies data about task flows, inefficiencies, along with users’ organizational and physical environment are collected.

Diary studies

Diary studies is a research method used to collect qualitative data about user behavior, activities, and experiences over time. In a diary study, data is self-reported by participants over an extended period of time, varying from a few days to a month or longer.

Contextual enquiry

Contextual enquiry is a research method used to understand users’ decision-making process when adopting a new product by asking them questions that embraced that decision.

Participatory design

Participatory design is an approach actively involving all stakeholders in the design process to ensure that the result meets their needs.

Timeline to purchase

The timeline to purchase maps users’ progression throughout the buyer journey when switching from an old to a new solution by considering event triggers and milestones in the decision-making process. When using this technique product growth teams can visualize factors keeping users to an existing solution and those forcing them to adopt a new one.

Forces of progress

The forces of progress are tools used to map out contributing factors that will make a user lean towards maintaining the status quo or developing a new behavior.

<img src=”product-led-onboarding-jtbd-format.png” alt=”product-led onboarding jtbd format”/>

Product-Led Onboarding Flows Segmentation

Back to the Product-Led onboarding strategy’s specifics, a question that may resonate at this point is: How many onboarding flows a service encompassing so many personas and user roles entails?

While the word infinite may be the first that comes to mind, the truth is that only a few two segments and onboarding flows are prioritized. Mostly because the team needs to assess if their approach is deriving the expected results at an experimentation level.

One main point of focus is sales representatives and managers, as there’s a lot of volume and they have great potential to grow within the service. Even if users sign up for the free CRM features in the beginning and decide to take another turn, later on, the main onboarding flow will not change.

<img src=”Product-Led-Onboarding-Flows-Segmentation.png” alt=”Product-Led Onboarding Flows Segmentation”/>

The solution’s Product-Led Onboarding strategy is around the product and aims to highlight actions and content that resonate with users. So, while specific base role actions are prioritized, features or functionalities are not hidden in order to allow users to evolve within it. In regards to those actions prioritization, as with any other product-led organization, they are defined by the product itself. If for example, the team wants to assess for which solution the user is a PQL for, it monitors product data. Eg. If the user is writing emails or creating landing pages he would most probably be a fit for the marketing hub.

Qualitative &. Quantitative Feedback Alignment

The team also combines quantitative data with qualitative feedback they receive from the user success coaches or other consultants. Sample feedback entails what questions users ask in terms of setting up or their existing projects along with conversations they are having. Further on, and after both forms of feedback are analyzed the growth team derives various conclusions. One good example might be users creating their first landing page or creating their first contact within the first seven days are being successful and retained well downstream. After the team examines all those factors ends up with a list of core actions that need to be performed in each hub.

The whole process, however, does not come without its challenges. As with many products incorporating multiple value points, the main issue is not to frontload multiple actions upon the first activation. Because it could be a list of twenty items and they would all be correct, but users’ capacity does not entail the execution of so many actions within a limited time frame.

You can read the whole study here

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At ReinventGrowth we are convinced that Product-Led Growth is the future of SaaS. Keen on making the transition to a Product-Led GTM model? Contact us today and let us know how we can help your organization get there.



Despina Exadaktylou

Founder Product-Led Growth Hub | World’s 1st PLG Platform for Product & CX Leaders