Onboarding is the new Conversion

with Des Traynor, co-founder of Intercom

“Grow” & “Scale”: these two words may be the little music playing in the background of every entrepreneur’s mind, 24–7 … but what are the challenges along the way? Is it just as simple as acquiring a “hell” bunch of users? What happens next? Going from 0 to 20K customers in just 3 years, there is no better case as Intercom to address this “Grow & Scale” North Star .

Don’t know Intercom yet? It is an extremely effective customer service tool, a B2B SaaS, that allows businesses to communicate directly at scale and personally with their customers. Effective to the tune of $50 million a year in revenue and growing. Co-Founder Des Traynor stopped by STATION F to share with our startups how keeping customers is much more important than just acquiring them. He explained the new funnel model, how to optimize your product and service to satisfy your customers and the importance of eating your own dog food.

What’s better? “1,000,000 signups after 4 days or 100,000,000 active users after 16 months?” — The YO syndrome

Now thanks to Product Hunt, entrepreneurs are able to get recognized quickly. Intercom certainly benefitted from this attention. (Des assured us that their team spends entirely too much time checking out new products on there just like the rest of us.) But this can lead to situations where an app like Yo can get 1,000,007 signups in 4 days then disappear forever. The other side of that coin is a company like Slack, which built on active user growth with great customer engagement. Slack proved that an intuitive chatbot can be much more effective than a generic welcome email, video, or FAQ page.

“Onboarding is the new conversion”

Traffic & signups can both go to 💩: onboarding makes happy customers.

“Onboarding is the difference between someone being interested to try your product versus a customer who is very happy to use it.”

The difficulty is every organization has a different definition of success. Your own company’s definition will likely change over the evolution of your product. Onboarding can mean trying out the product, buying the product, getting set up for success, buying more over time, or staying current with updates. At any point in the funnel, things can go south, even after the customer is happy. Des stressed the importance of continually onboarding your customers, making sure they are getting the most out of your product and staying happy.

How do you onboard your customers? Eat your own dog food!

How do you expect other people to use your product if you don’t use it yourself? Every time you change or update your product, you redefine what it means to use it successfully. You must constantly use the new iterations of your product and work with your customers’ feedback.

A great way to improve onboarding is to contact failed installs. They wanted to use your product but didn’t follow through. If you ask them why, you just might find a solution that supercharges your conversion rate! Intercom started off thinking that the majority of people landing on their page would be engineers and installing Javascript to use the tool would be no trouble for them. They adapted the landing page every so often to try to make the Javascript installation easier, but their conversion rate still hovered around 30%.

In the slides below you can see several versions of the Intercom landing page over the years, each time more optimized to ease the Javascript installation. However the a-ha moment came after receiving many customer service requests about how to upload a CSV file with all the data instead of installing the Javascript. Des and the Intercom team decided to give that option a shot on the landing page, not expecting much of a change. They were shocked to find their conversion rate jumped from 30% to an average of 45%! Maybe most of their customers were not engineers after all.

“The product changed so the onboarding should change.” says Des, C0-founder of Intercom

The context shifted from how to help as many customers as possible install the Javascript correctly to how to help as many customers as possible get their users into Intercom.

No Snacking!

Des and the Intercom team found that all their tasks fell within certain ranges of this productivity quadrant. Some tasks required minimal effort, but also had little overall impact. Many are require a lot of hard work but definitely pay off in the end. This is core to Intercom’s strategy. Des shared that Intercom has a strict no snacking policy. This means their team should avoid tasks that are not terribly time consuming, but low-reward. They can be tempting because they are easily justifiable, but they will kill your productivity. And naturally, no company should spend large amounts of effort on tasks that yield little impact.

Here are Des’ slides from the workshop. Enjoy & don’t hesitate to share :)

Thanks Des for the insights and the Irish charm!

You can see more from Des at the Intercom blog. Check out his interview with Samuel Hulick, co-founder of UserOnboard.com, where they get into more examples of good and bad customer onboarding.

Des’ slides from the presentation are also available on our Slideshare.