Convert Prospects to Customers with These User Onboarding Best Practices

Last updated on by Yaroslav Stepanenko in Conversion Optimization

It can take a lot of work on content, organic and PPC and promoted social media to get users to signup. So when you start seeing those sign-ups, it can feel like a great victory. As a metric, it’s a great one to have, but unless you are paying close attention to the conversion rate, signups are a vanity figure.

Signups: only half the battle

Converting web traffic into free trial customers is really only half the battle. Whenever low-touch, self-serve SaaS companies have a massive user drop-off after signup or a low conversion rate after the trial, either an incomplete product or a poor onboarding experience is often to blame.

A similar issue occurs at the Enterprise level. Startups that take months to convert a prospect into a lead, but lose them during or after the trial often is having an onboarding issue.

At the end of this process, you need to convert a significant percentage of these new users into paying customers to hit revenue targets. If you don’t achieve this, then everything you’ve done until this point has been a costly waste of energy, work and money.

Once someone has had a bad experience with a new technology product, they’re unlikely to come back. Whereas, if they’ve had a good experience, they will tell others which will start generating an organic network effect, reducing user acquisition costs, and in time, establish a basis for a referral network.

Think about the last time you tried an app. What did you love about it? Was it the user-experience? Or the way the team behind the app engaged you, the customer service, tone of voice, images and social content they used? When a business does both and executes user-experience and marketing with skill, you’ve got a better than average chance of converting free trial users.

5 Steps to User-experience Onboarding Success

As Alexander Aghassipour, Chief Product Officer of Zendesk said:

“Constantly iterate and measure everything. Most users don’t come back after the first session, so it’s critical to ensure you keep investing here to help users find value and have them return.”

#1: Assign ownership

Larger companies usually create a dedicated team for onboarding. That first stage is so critical that it can’t be neglected.

Even in a small team, whether you appoint a designer, marketing, sales or customer success team member responsible, they need to know they can call upon the necessary resources to keep iterating the onboarding user-experience from relevant learnings and actual customer experiences.

Without ownership, that process – from first touch point to conversion – will stumble and fail, buried under competing priorities and short-term projects. At Setapp, we’ve found, from launching dozens of apps over the years, that ownership and accountability are key to the success of user-experience and onboarding related projects.

#2: Understand customer psychology

Customer behaviors are a result of three factors, which needs to play a role in product design and the onboarding user-experience. According to BJ Fogg, a behavioral scientist at Stanford, users need the means to do the following:

#3: What is the shortest path to wow?

New users need to get from “This could be useful” to “This is useful!” through a short yet informative journey. Unless yours is a product people understand instantly, most new users need to walk the route of the product in action to understand the benefits.

Not everyone, especially product designers, understands the “aha” moment straight away. People who are close to a product sometimes lose sight of the value it creates for customers. Understanding this, as a product evolves and, takes time and data.

The more people experience the product, the more data you can collect to understand user behavior – why people stop using, why they convert, and how to modify the product and user experience.

#4: Engage and educate users

Give your users the means and ability to understand the product themselves. FAQs, product tours, and videos are useful ways to educate your customers and help them through a short, sensible journey. Giving potential paying customers access without any self-serve tools or pointers is a quick way to lose them.

Next, you need to make sure they can quickly contact customer support should they need help. Implementing a live chat option has shown to boost retention immensely.

And finally, engage them using emails and in-app messages. Content should be helpful, easy-to-digest, and informative, without spamming them or overloading inactive users.

#5: Make constant iterations

Measure everything. Onboarding isn’t something that gets refreshed once every six or twelve months. It should be a data-intensive part of your iterative cycle.

Every set of learnings and data points from user experiences should flow into marketing, sales, customer service and product updates. With each experience, you will learn more, and your customers will be more likely to keep using your app.

Phases of Marketing Onboarding

Reigan Combs, Lifecycle Marketing Lead of Asana explains:

[“New user onboarding starts before someone even enters your product. It’s collective of all the touchpoints that a user experiences— from the first brand impression to the first web visit, to their signup experience, to product setup and tours, to onboarding emails.”

#1: Plan ahead. Don’t overwhelm new customers

Sending too many emails and engaging new customers on social media once they’ve expressed interest could easily scare them away.

Buffer, the popular social media sharing app, wanted new users to start sharing on social soon as they got signed-up. But that isn’t what new users wanted to do straight away. As Leo Widrich, Buffer Co-Founder discovered:

“The #1 thing I learned is not to overwhelm new customers when you onboard them. . . . Instead of doing that, at Buffer, we focused on taking a step back and think about what the most successful customers did when they first joined Buffer. . . . It was to optimize posting times, set timezones, connect all accounts, check if everything is ok and ready to go. Only then did they feel comfortable to share.”

#2: Send the right content at the right time

Marketing teams used to send drip emails depending on the number of days people were on trials. Now the prevailing view is to send them based on user behaviors. Sending the right content at the right time, (when trial users take actions, or when they go quiet for a while) is more likely to prompt a response than firing them out on a set schedule.

Know who your customers are. Use analytics and tracking software to understand when they open emails, when they respond, when they go on social networks and where they go. Even if they don’t open or unsubscribe after a welcome email, you’ve learned something from that. If you’re analyzing this data properly, you will have a better idea of how you should attract new users and who you want to engage with.

#3: Leverage Remarketing

Once you’ve have an onboarding and user acquisition strategy established, you’re clear on costs and returns, start leveraging this data and knowledge with remarketing.

After a year or more, you should know where potential users are online, whether on Facebook, searching for a similar solution on Google, Twitter, YouTube or other platforms. With analytics data, you can reach out online using advertisements and sponsored posts to encourage them to start a free trial. Don’t send too many of the same advertisements as that will put them off, but repeating your message more than once can benefit from the data your team has been collecting and lead to more conversions.

Go beyond the free trial with these user onboarding best practices

Getting people to sign up for a free trial – or even just to a beta mailing list – is a lot of effort yet and only half the battle. Now you need to win them over. The onboarding process is a journey: You need to take them on the shortest route to “aha!” Once they see and experience the value, they should stay and convert to a paying customer. Make sure you assign ownership of the onboarding process. Without someone responsible, the first mile of the user-experience will get buried under competing needs and operational areas crying out for resources. Your most important customers will get lost in the noise.

Creating an awesome onboarding process means understanding customer needs and designing around this. Educate and engage users. At the same time, keep making improvements from data – especially from data that shows why people leave and why some love the product and want to stay. Reduce the number who leave and increase the percentage who stay. Send the most suitable emails for your target audience – which comes from understanding them – at the right time to maximise the value they get from the experience and increases the chance they will become a paying customer.

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