How to create a killer onboarding and why it is a work in progress- Part One

Imagine yourself moving into a new city. You get a mix of feelings inside your stomach. Most probably you feel enthusiasm, excitement and nervousness at the same time.

You know nothing. You get to start over from scratch. I am not only talking about learning your way around the city, new habits or where the closest supermarket to buy food would be. I am talking about anything that may include your daily reality. From the simplest to the most complicated task.

So, what do you do in order to find all that valuable info you desperately need? You google it, you ask your colleagues and acquaintances about it and perhaps you start to explore and learn the city you live in bit by bit.

After a while you start to feel more confident. Chances are you have- nearly -found your comfort zone again. You are more experienced on the issue and you know which shortcuts you have to take to avoid any pitfalls. You may even feel confident enough to give some hints to other newcomers in the future or to spread the word around and encourage other people to at least try and visit it.

Does this story sound familiar? Can you relate somewhat to this situation in other instances of your life? Let me be more specific. As a product owner does it happen to have daily requests — from new and existing users- as to how your product actually works? Do you constantly feel that they need guidance even for the most simple tasks?

If only there was someone to take their hand on their first steps, so that they would feel like at home, right? Without the anxiety of having to discover everything by themselves and feel lost in the woods while they are trying to figure it out.

You don’t actually need anyone to tell you here, that it would be irrational to expect from your users to discover a whole new “city” by themselves. Especially, if the reason is that you don’t know how to do the hard work and guide them along the way.

No matter in what stage your product may be right now, a significant amount of your users never convert to paid. Yes, I am talking about those trial users that browse around your product without actually doing something of the essence. Most of them won’t even complete a single task, let alone understanding your product’s value.

So gradually you start having the following effects:

👉Frustration for not reaching your targeted MRR

👉 Overthinking possible scenarios as to why this is happening

👉 Revisiting your marketing agenda — it’s always something wrong with your marketing approach after all right? #not

👉 Monitor any google-metric possible

👉 Think to launch a feature or two — or even redesign the whole product perhaps

While, the only thing you actually need is to take a step back and consider how to create a killer onboarding.

Onboarding this stranger….

Being a SaaS owner its hectic, chaotic and demanding. Every time you think an issue was resolved successfully, ten more emerge out of nowhere.

Daily, you have thousands of details to go through in order to create the best product for your industry niche. On the other hand, developing it is not enough. You need to find users to adopt it too. Even more, users that you will be able to retain as future customers.

The only feasible solution to achieve that is to come up with a strategy that will be effective and agile to your users’ needs. A strategy that will guide your prospective customer step by step to showcase your product’s value. Simply put it is time for you to design your onboarding strategy.

In case you are not familiar with the term, onboarding is defined as the set of top of the funnel activities you use to guide, nurture and convert your personas from visitors to trial users and finally to customers.

The actions that should be included in your strategy are many and the “one size fits all” does not apply here.They actually vary a lot as you cannot possibly apply the same onboarding strategy to two similar products. Even if they have common touchpoints the differences will be more.

Some products for instance may need a more personalized approach than others who can completely rely on automation techniques.

The golden nugget here is to ALWAYS think as your customer.

Overall, onboarding is more than critical as it determines the kind of the relationship your users will have with your product — aka whether they will love it or just add it to the pile of useless tools as they do with so many other SaaS.

The strategy behind it…

As mentioned above there is no “one size fits all” rule here. So, before you start thinking the point where your strategy begins, let’s first establish that it doesn’t really stop somewhere. The whole thing is an ongoing progress and it goes far beyond showcasing your product to new users. Even if you, at some point, create THE perfect onboarding, that doesn’t mean that you will not need to refine it in the future.

Back to your starting point though. As the saying has it, the first step is always a doozy, you need to gather all the necessary user feedback.

Yes, we live in a world full of information. There is just not enough info Google won’t give to you. In the specific case however your users remain the most qualified source of information you will ever have. After all you need to know them perfectly to get them on board.There is only one possible way to make this happen.

You need to manually onboard each lead by using yourself or your team.😱😱😱😱

You must be willing to do a one-on-one with each user. Guide every single one of them through your features in order to see what experience they actually have and where your bottleneck(s) — if any- lie.

So, for starters you can use a basic strategy. You don’t need complex funnels and to take into consideration a million different alternatives of user behaviour at this point. You just need to figure out how they interact with your product and if it gives them the thrill it is supposed to.

A high-level initial onboarding procedure could consist of the following steps:

  1. Outreach (cold emails, cold calling) : You can use tools like Prospect.iohere to find emails of your prospects and then sent them a personalized campaign directly from your email MixMax — bonus points if you take advantage of its templates too.
  2. Inbound Marketing activities : By taking advantage of Quora, Reddit and Linkedin — which is literally a goldmine if used right.
  3. Contact form: For the user to request a live demo
  4. 1st call: To showcase your product
  5. Follow up material: That will emphasize again on your product’s benefits- a sales demo of your product would be just fine.
  6. 2nd call: In case the user was convinced to try out your service this would be the moment to give access to a free trial and guide him on as to how to take advantage of it.
  7. 3rd — and final- call or email after a few days: to see how the experience with the product had been so far and if the user is ready to commit
  8. Guide the user through payment procedures.

Sounds hectic? Overwhelming? Frustrating? Well, yes you are absolutely right it is. You should also add a non scalable tactic for the long run, as a point somewhere inside your list.

It’s upside effect? Tons of valuable feedback and of course the foundation of building a fully automated onboarding strategy, with many different touch points, afterwards.
It’s downside effect? Losing a lot of manpower to achieve the desired feedback.

In fear of repeating myself I should highlight again here that in order to get the most out of this stage you need to involve all the team members that engage with customers — from sales people to customers success executives. This is only how you will identify the root causes of your users’ defection.

Further down the process and when you have experimented enough to gather all the necessary customer feedback, you will need to start automating steps either partially or totally. The objective of doing that? I mean, besides encouraging your users to learn your product better, faster and cheaper. You will be able to scale your service to more users and get bigger overtime.

First things first, in order not to feel swamped with the work you have to do, you need to get your process well defined. Start by mapping out all the steps you executed manually and see if they are able to be automated or not.

Bear in mind, that you may have more than one personas to target — which may also require a totally different kind of engagement as users. For example if your prospective customers are divided into enterprise ones and SMBs like those Zendesk has, you may create an awesome onboarding for the later and have dedicated account managers at the same time that will cover the demands of an enterprise account.

Also,you should consider to segment your audience. Simple because some users may be more advanced than others and may feel the urge to complete a number of tasks when adopting your product. It would be pointless to send to these users how to’s when they have already completed specific milestones wouldn’t it?

3. How to create a killer onboarding!

There are a handful of practices, tips and how to’s on the internet when it comes to user onboarding. Some of them are used inside your website and/or platform, while others use other mediums too like push notifications and email campaigns. The more you dig, the more advanced techniques you will discover.

So be cautious! Don’t make your strategy too complex. It must remain simple and to the point. Otherwise, you will risk losing users due to the hassle the process will cause to them. Remember, it’s not necessary to apply all of them, it’s critical however to give the necessary attention to those practices that will constitute the backbone of your onboarding.

The onboarding checklist:

(a) Sign up form

The oldest trick in the playbook. A sign-up form is the number one lead generation technique used by almost any online service. Whether you ask for just an email address or you dive into more details, your form should be simple, short and with clear CTA’s.

👉 Bonus Tip: Although it may be the simplest technique to practice, the design of a sign up form should be taken seriously into consideration. The fields you will require from your users to fill in constitute the criteria you will have in order to segment them and personalise your onboarding. Additionally, you should be extra careful regarding the information you ask from your leads. Be sure not to request information that you are not going to use or that might put people off, as this may lower your form’s completion rates.

(b) First login

Finally it’s your time to shine. You have your user exactly where you wanted. He had willingly requested to be part of your product’s magic.

Half the job is done. Right? Well, not quite. This is where you should reintroduce your product and prove why it is superior from the competitions.

The first login is considered to be the most crucial point of engagement with your user. This is where your walkthrough begins. Where the magic happens. Useful tools to do that would be Tutorialize, Appcues and Tourmyapp

Preferably, you would want to give an introduction of your main features which your users will use for at least 70–80% of their time they spend for using your product.

Before you show them game, it would be wise to sell them again in a very simple way what your product is about. Use pop-up messages that will have as a common element a very simple and playful way to refer to your service’s values and competitive advantages.

Yes, the user is aware of those before a subscription takes place. But have in mind that any free trial user will convert to paid smoothly if you gently highlight your product’s awesomeness before, during and after the conversion in question takes place. Beware though, above all you must give emphasis to the to the fact that at the end of the day your product exists to give add value to the user.

You can also embrace your user’s experience with some step-by-step tips. A word of caution here, no matter the way you will use to show your tips in your product they need to be consistent with it’s UI.Never forget that onboarding should be just another yet seamless experience for the user. So, never use colours that are not part of your brand’s palette just because they may look nice.

Last but not least. You should definitely encourage your users to complete basic tasks and milestones during their first login. The usual hassle here is that the user may feel misguided by a not so concrete onboarding, browse around for a second or two and then exit the platform and forget what its purpose was all about. So, use your experience so far and try to find a balanced way to trigger the user’s interest so that he will exploit the trial until the very end of it.

👉 Bonus tip: Consider to add a function that will enable your user to repeat the onboarding sequence for him like Salesforce does below. This will significantly reduce customer service requests and will enable your customers to actually get the most out of the experience you provide to them.

( c ) Onboarding email sequence

The best next step to consider is your onboarding email sequence. Its goal is to deliver all your product’s value step by step to every single user.

A good email sequence could follow this structure:

👉 One welcome email

👉 Two to three “How to’s” that will include how to use the product better

👉 Two follow up emails — in case the user has not been converted to a paid yet or its trial is coming to an end

The welcome email anatomy

You should think this one as the 1st time you introduce yourself to someone. You are typical, you smile at him and try to pass on as much positive information as you possibly can. You don’t want to let all your character traits- either good or bad- out in the open however, in fear of overwhelming your new acquaintance.

The exact situation you will come to face with every new user who will experiment with your product. As much as you want to educate your user, you won’t be able to do it from the 1st email. The scope of it is to welcome them, highlight your product’s value, redirect them to it and point out any useful resource.

In the following example Buffer does just that. Furthermore it embraces its customer service by passing over to the user the reassurance that it will be there to help no matter what.

The how-to email’s anatomy

The second touch would indicate how your users should use — if they haven’t already — your main features.

As you can see on Salesflare’s email below no more than two CTAs are included, in order not to confuse the user and to slightly suggest to him to take it one step further by using the mobile app. Simple, straight and to the point.

The follow up email anatomy:

We finally arrived at the juiciest part of your email campaign. Where the ball is rolling. Your users are at the stage where they have completely exhausted their free-trial and you get to finally ask them whether the situation between you two is a fling or a serious affair.

Don’t be hesitant. Chances are that if they got that far, they had seen this coming. So be bold and put all the options on the table.

Be extra thoughtful with your copy on this one. Your wording must motivate your users. Show them they have something to lose if they move on without your product.

Consider explaining what shall happen- like in the example below- if they turn to paid users and what they are going to miss if they don’t. Yes, you got it right! Soft-sell your WOW factor until the earth stops going round.

👉Bonus tip: It would be more than wise to — when applicable- explain what will happen to your users’ data if they decide they don’t want to take this further. It’s a common question arising by the user’s side and it only adds credibility to your service when you are being transparent about it

(d) Automate Import

THE usual hassle for any user who wants to adopt a new solution is that he will have to import data into it.

Data import, as minor as a feature it may sounds, is critical for the onboarding experience you provide, as the user will be able to discover your product’s value only after he has inserted any necessary data.

Now, whether this data are simple contacts or something more complicated than that, is not really the point here. The point is that the user should have this pain over within a matter of minutes.

👉Bonus tip: One of the golden rules that apply here- without exception- is that any provided solution should not consume the user’s time more than the problem itself does.

(e) Content about it

Content is king. One that never gets to lose its throne. There are so many expressions of it that we could discuss its impact for a day and then more.

It only adds value to anything that it is being referred to. Your organic results get better, your audience gets to know your brand and you have more chances to spread the word across the internet. It only makes sense that your onboarding wouldn’t be an exception to that rule.

If however, you have already created your content strategy so far you will need to make some readjustments. For example if you have a very important innovative feature to launch, or you just created some very cool integrations, you wouldn’t want your audience to miss out on these news.

Your blog is the number one source for lead generation. So, even if a technical article wouldn’t be the ideal content to post there, an explanatory post of explaining why you came up with that solution and what it is supposed to solve would be a perfect fit.

👉 Bonus tip: Create a “resources” section on your blog and fill it with easy-to-read product tutorials. Ideally you should use them as lead magnets in your blog posts, promote them on social media or via your email marketing campaigns.

Furthermore, If you haven’t yet created a knowledge base now is the time to do it. You cannot consider your users educated if there is no point of reference regarding your product’s functions inside your website.

A knowledge base would most probably be the place where you would redirect your users via your onboarding email sequence mentioned above or via any other medium at all.

Ideally, its structure should be divided into:

  • Support articles
  • A video library
  • Evergreen webinars

Bear in mind that a search feature which will enable each visitor to easily navigate over it is pretty much obligatory here.

Overall, your knowledge base should look simple, without hidden buttons and concrete at to what value each section ads to the user. You can use tools like Zendesk to create a knowledge page that is easy to use like Moosend does below, or to consider Intercom if you already use it as your go-to onboarding tool

A/B test it until you best it.

Last but not least you should test any approach again, again and again. The simplest thing to do is to create different variations of landing pages or email flows that you will send to different user segments. Then measure its results, refine it and test it again.

Yes, it is going to be a bit frustrating as a task — to say the least. No, it won’t be a waste of time, as at some point you will become aware of what needs to be refined without having to test everything.

As the saying has it “Rome was not built in a day” and the same goes for any successful strategy no matter the scope of its existence.

Wrapping it up

All in all there is not a golden rule when it comes to your onboarding strategy. The first part of this post series analyzed just that.

You must create one that needs to cover every possible aspect of interaction your user may have with your product. For that to happen you need time, patience, to engage personally with your users, tons of feedback and experimentation.

It sounds and it is a lot to take in. But it would be wise not to leave something out due to time or manpower limitations. As a chain that breaks if a piece is broken, the same way will your strategy if you deliberately leave a critical step out of it.

👉 Stay tuned as the second part of this series will show you why onboarding is a work on progress. One that doesn’t stop just because your user decided to purchase a plan. Your ultimate goal should be to create a worthy clientele base that will bring more revenue via retention afterwards.

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