ProductCamp Portland was a wonderful gathering of local product people looking to learn from each other. I was lucky enough to run a workshop this year, and this article distills some of the ideas we discussed.
Getting people to sign up for your product is hard enough, but how many of them know what they’re doing once they’re “users”? If you’re a SaaS company, there is typically a window of 14-30 days (depending on the trial you offer) between when someone has enough interest to enter an email address and actually plunk down a credit card. What can you do to help new users be more awesome and signups turn into customers?
When a person uses your product, who is the awesomer version of themselves that they’ll be? What new powers will they have and why are those important to them?
Samuel Hulick, creator of the super useful resource UserOnboard.com (disclaimer: also a friend and collaborator) describes this as the “Super Mario Powers” your user acquires by being active in your product. For SaaS, if you don’t have a clear idea of who the “better version” of your new users is, convincing them to keep using your product will be an uphill battle.
If you are a new company or the way you are helping your user become awesome is unconventional, the focus on your customer’s success state is even more important. Users will be way more likely to go on a journey with you when they understand how fantastic the destination will be.
Many companies try to “solve a problem” that no one really knows they have, or doesn’t really prevent them from achieving their goal. In some cases, the need is there but people didn’t know it. For example, a previously-unknown need for a quick, easy method to share information on a team has made Slack a runaway success. Frequently, products are developed from pain points felt by their creators but not necessarily validated by the market.
The rise of Lean as a methodology has led to the adoption of the MVP as a way to test ideas with customers. Find a way to not only test your solution to the problem, but if people are actively looking for a solution. For example, test keywords or google autocomplete to see if anyone is searching in your problem space, and create landing pages to test if there is demand for the superpowers you’re supplying.
The very best “first-touch” experiences go farther than just promising to make users better. They help the user understand how to set things up, why they need to give you the information you request, and how they will use the product on an ongoing basis. A great onboarding experience can help the user immediately see the results they’re looking for.
For example, Trello includes a “Welcome Board” that shows the user what their Kanban board will look like when it’s populated with cards, and uses the cards themselves to point to different setup actions.
Slack has a bot to help you get started with messaging and includes a walk-through as an optional step so you can learn the basic functionality and feel confident in your first communications.
Collect marketing information after users already see your value.
For most products, getting users in the door is the best way to start building a better relationship. Unless you are specifically trying to weed out all but the most pre-qualified users, keeping signup simple is the best route to getting new customers.
Zendesk makes signup simple with a maximum of two formfills.
Try a signup form with just a name, email and password, or even just an email and password. You can ask customers for more information once they’re delving into your setup experience. Make it clear why you need the information you’re asking for and avoid gathering information until it’s required.
For example, if you have a “no-credit card” trial period, there’s no reason to ask for an address until they are entering billing information. If you’re looking for demographic information for marketing purposes, make sure giving you the information gives the customer a better, more customized experience, and make it clear to the customer that they’ll get value from providing you with the data.
Give users a sense of the progress they’re making towards their more awesome selves by showing them their progress. Make sure the progress aligns to their goals, not just your app set-up. For example, LinkedIn has a sticky way of getting users to enter in their work histories and other professional data with suggestions of how their profile could be more complete.
These progress indicators can lose value if they suggest actions with less ROI for the user. Make sure you understand how a user benefits from the suggestions you’re making and be clear in communicating the value.
You have many sources of data to tell you where you need to help new customers the most.
See Activation data in Notion
While some data, like app usage, can expose issues with particular customers immediately, you’ll also find it valuable to track cohorts of customers over time to see what behaviours have the most impact on conversion-to-trial and ultimately customer churn. A customer who immediately understands the value of your product and how to get started is much more likely to keep using the product over time, increasing CLTV.
If you have a complex product or one that shows value over time rather than right away, your best bet to keep your new customers is to answer any questions they may have immediately. A good combination of product documentation in a searchable knowledge base combined with direct connection in the form of Intercom or live chat is a great start.
Good product design plays the most important role, so don’t skimp on time to make your product experience intuitive, familiar and easy to navigate. The key isn’t to provide more information, it’s to offer the right information and reduce the cognitive load needed to find it.
Thanks to all the ProductCamp organizers, especially Dave Nash and Olaf Kowalik for their encouragement. ProductCamp brings together product people from all kinds of backgrounds to learn from each other. I’m definitely planning to return next year!
Laure Parsons is a Senior Product Manager at Notion, the analytics layer for data-driven teams. She’s always interested in hearing about your user onboarding experiences. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @laurex.