If your product needs a User Manual, you are going to have a tough time getting users to adopt your product — specially if you cater to the self-serve market.
Smart products are intuitive, easy to use, and quick to deliver value to their customers. The sooner the customer reaches the “Aha” moment, the more likely they are to stay with your product.
That is what user onboarding is all about. Getting customers to reach that Aha moment quick and easy. It is not about simply helping your customers understand the different things they can do with your product, or making them navigate your product. It is about guiding them on a pre-defined, very specific, very value-oriented, and preferably extremely short path to receiving value from your product.
A good example of this would be your popular mobile games, or even SaaS products that don’t even need you to create an account to get a glimpse of what the product can do for them.
Take this platform itself. Medium does not force you to create an account to start reading the stories. Even the metered content. You can start reading stories — for free — without even creating an account.
(I believe a non-user can read 2 metered stories.)
And once the user has started engaging with the platform — in this case, reading the stories, Medium dangles its first carrot in front of them. Create a free account and read an additional premium story (paywall/metered) — for free.
It is not always possible for SaaS businesses to follow this same methodology (letting users experience their product without even creating an account), but the point of giving users — a/ a low friction experience from starting to use the product to receiving value from it, and b/ keeping the time to value as low as possible.
If you do that well, you are doing user onboarding right. If not, get back to the drawing board.