Why great User Onboarding can increase Conversions 300%

We increased conversions by exactly 367% in just 12 weeks. I'm not talking about signups. I'm talking cold hard cash. I'm talking conversion of Trial Users to become Paying Customers on a monthly subscription inside 30 days. And that's money in the bank, this month, next month, every month. Wanna know how we managed that? Read on..

TL;DR (in a hurry?)

Change your thinking. Help people become successful in their job, help make it easy for them, and if you can do that - then they'll become your customer as a natural consequence. Even better, you'll have customers that you've invested time in and you'll build lasting relationships.

Our (Failed) User Onboarding Master Plan

In retrospect it seems simple - as all things do in retrospect. Like riding a bike or driving a car. And the most interesting thing is that what we changed wasn't a new channel, and it wasn't a new feature, it was ...a NEW way of thinking.

For context, let's take a quick peek at our product - an inexpensive SaaS product that exists to enable marketers to leverage marketing analytics tools without depending on developers, with a starting price under $50/mo. So, low cost highly automated software - maybe you'll see why we thought a "low touch, self-service online automated user onboarding and sales process" was appropriate. (How wrong we were..)

So, here was our master plan (based on some flawed assumptions)..

  • STEP 1: New customers would discover us via our marketing channel and Sign up for a 30 Day unlimited Free Trial.

  • STEP 2: Clearly with our product being so awesome, we wouldn't need us to work hard at user-onboarding - it would be a simple case of after 30 days trial new users would willingly pay for the privilege of having our awesome software. (Or so we thought...)

This was a process that had "appeared" to serve us well as we exited private beta and took $$$ hundreds in revenue in our first month.

We weren't actively helping our customers succeed.

Gradually, after exiting beta, we noticed this process stopped working and trial-to-paid conversion rates were dropping. It happened gradually as our Beta cohorts passed through and new cohorts came through. (If that doesn't make sense, ask me in the comments below and I'll expand.)

Even though our product was getting better and better every single day, we went through this incredibly frustrating phase of user trials that didn't convert so well. Our trial-to-paid conversion rate just wasn't cutting it - and worse we just couldn't understand why.

we just needed to change our thinking about our user onboarding process.

Different channels didn't seem to help. Frankly, we felt stuck, frustrated, confused. It made no sense! Every week our product got better, but our conversions weren't improving, it felt like they were going backwards. What on earth was going on???

When you're Ready, the (Onboarding) Messenger Arrives :)

In our case the messenger arrived on a Saturday morning, in the form of a facebook message from my girlfriend that contained a link to an awesome video, full of amazing insights on sales bySteli Efti on Growthacker.TV.

Awesome interview of Steli Efti on Growthhacker.tv

Steli Efti has helped many companies (like Foursquare and General Assembly) scale their business via sales efforts. And in that video, Steli really emphasised how effective and essential sales is to growth. I must have watched it 20 times or more.

So, we had a big team talk the following week and we got really inspired and excited about "selling" and how we'd start driving new customers via inside sales. Heck yeah! Hoo-ahh!!

BUT... as we talked more about how we would start a new sales channel, about the new processes and tests we'd need to incorporate, the new tools to track and manage leads (p.s if you ARE looking to a tool, Steli's company Close.io as well as PipeDrive are worth a look), we began to worry that this would require precious limited resources from other work we were doing - and we REALLY didn't want to take resources away form other work. (In a startup - you rarely have unlimited resources. So you have to steal resources from one area to apply in another area. Something else always suffers.)

Customer Onboarding starts with a New Thinking

BOOM it hit us: "Sales wasn't a new channel. Sales was a new behavior!" We didn't need to change channels, we just needed to change our thinking about our user onboarding process.

The key element of Steli's message wasn't just about "sales" - it was about reaching out and working 1-on-1 with leads/early users to really help them be successful with your product. THAT was the lesson. THAT was what we had forgotten to do.

THAT was the lesson. THAT was what we had forgotten to do.

Sales isn't a new channel. Sales is a new behavior!

We realised that we already had all these users taking a free trial every week and we were collecting a bunch of leads per week just from our online demo version. These were red hot leads!! - self-selecting potential customers who - by their very action (of trying our demo or starting a free trial) were expressing a clear desire to improve their marketing analytics stack without depending on developers - a problem that we happen to solve incredibly well. We didn't need to go create new customers to sell to, we didn't need a new channel - we had a steady stream - but we needed a new way of thinking - a new way of thinking that leads to a new way of acting!

Sales isn't a new channel. Sales is a new behavior

So we said "let's work with each and every one of these users and help them become successful in achieving their goals by using our product". And so we began...

In retrospect, its obvious now that this was EXACTLY what we had been doing with our earlier customers during Private Beta. Hand-holding, getting personal, deep 1-on-1s, tweaking code, feeding useful info, spending hours on Skype - whatever it took. At that time our conversation was oriented around ensuring a great product customer fit. That was the reason we had exited Private Beta so strongly and taken $$$'s in our first month.

"let's help each and every user become successful in achieving their goals by using our product"

So, inspired by the advice of Steli Efti, we figured if we could help new users be successful, if we could show them how to use the product best, if we could teach them how to build a great marketing analytics stack, if we could talk them through how to set up a funnel in Woopra or Mixpanel orKissmetrics, or how to send behaviour driven automated messages to individual users from Customer.io or Intercom.io, if we could show them how to use Google Analytics event based goals to know which channels drove more Signups or Revenue, if they got real value, not just access to a tool, then we would build strong customers.

Sales isn't a channel, sales is a behaviour.

Sales isn't a channel, sales is a behaviour. It's a way of personally helping your customer get real value. And that starts with your user onboarding process.

I followed up with Janet Choi (Marketing Manager at Customer.io) an she added that "like all good human relationships — you don't just stop making an effort after saying hello. You have to keep in touch and just as engaged in [new users] to build trust."

Janet Choi Quote: User Onboarding at Customer.io. You have to keep in touch and just as engaged in new users to build trust.

Here's a great article from Customer.io on how a change to their onboarding process doubled their conversion rate.

In summary, if there's one key lesson I wanted to share, its this:

Build your customer onboarding process with the single goal of helping users become successful in their job, help make it easy for them, and if you can do that - then they'll become your customer as a natural consequence. Even better, you'll have customers that you've invested time in and started building a trusting relationship that should last a long time - as both yours and their business grows.

So, how to improve your onboarding process ?

Well, you can start by looking at your lifecycle emails.

Lifecycle emails are essential for great Customer Onboarding, and done well can have a huge impact on Engagement and Retention.

So, how do you setup up your initial lifecycle emails?

Here's five emails to get you started. (Obviously you can build more emails, but think of these as a minimum set to get started.)

Day 1: A Warm Welcome Email

This is a behaviour triggered email, on signup. Your goal is to give your new user one thing to do right now to get them to their WOW moment. Keep this email simple and to the point. An email as simple as this should work:

Hey [[Customer first_name]],

I want to personally thank your for checking out CoolToDoList!

Since you've already signed up, the only thing left to do is to create your first to-do list.

To create your first list just click here and in less than 2 minutes, you're done!

Seriously, just click here and BOOM - your first to-do list!

Day 3: How to use Product

TIMED ACTION: 3 Days after People Signup

This is just one of the many emails you can send during the trial to teach users' how to use your app. Try to keep things simple here. Your customers are already overwhelmed by using a new tool. One new tip at a time should do.

Hey [[Customer first_name]],

How are things so far?

I noticed you've been getting a lot done using CoolToDoList and wanted to suggest a quick tip!

Did you know that pressing "Shift + C" copies your last list and creates a new one?

Our users typically save 10 minutes a week with this tip alone.

Go ahead and try it - let me know what you think.

Hope it helps!

Day 14 (of 30 day trial): Halfway through a Trial - need help?

Use this opportunity to be a helping hand. More likely than not, this user isn't even using your product anymore or didn't think to ask for help. Be a helping hand and remind them you exist.

Hey [[Customer first_name]],

It's already been 14 days and you've done so much with CoolToDoList.

But I'm curious to know if there's anything I can do to help you get more out of CoolToDoList?

Just email me with any particular questions. I'm also available to instant chat if need be. Just let me know, I'm here to help.

Day 30: Trial Expiring - upgrade/deal

Use this email to remind your users of the value they've gotten from your app. And offer an enticing enough deal to take give them every reason to advantage of your upgrade offer right now. Remember, you may not get this user to open this email or to your website to upgrade ever again. Don't blow it!

Hey [[Customer first_name]],

It's time to take things to the next level.

You've been getting so much out of CoolToDoList these past 30 days, I wanted to remind you to upgrade to keep things going.

Since CoolToDoList has helped you finished 253 tasks in 30 days, I want to offer you a 30% discount for the next year if you upgrade today.

I've already added this to your to do list, BUT if you upgrade in the next hour, I'll bump the discount up to 40%.

I don't want you to miss this deal and go back to not having access to CoolToDoList. If you need help, I can walk you through the upgrade process right now or you can click here to upgrade yourself.

Day 45: Didn't convert why?

The purpose of this email is to get feedback. You don't want to send this email to soon because people often convert many days after their trial expires.

Hey [[Customer first_name]],

I noticed you didn't upgrade your CoolToDoList plan.

I'd love to know what happened to make you not want to upgrade to CoolToDoList Pro.

Did you forget to use it? Was it too hard to use? Do you hate that we didn't have a to-do list to help you conquer Mars?

Please let me know what it was, I'd love to get your feedback to make CoolToDoList better for you.

Clearly if you have a 14-day trial, its better to send your emails at a different cadence - before your users' trial is over.

So what other specific steps can you take today with your onboarding process to start help your customers become more successful? That's a great question, and one I'll answer in one of my next posts, so make sure you signup for the mailing list so you don't miss out!

And if you're setting up your own marketing analytics stack (be it setting up your automated emails in Customer.io or Intercom.io or tracking a conversion funnel in Mixpanel or Woopra we can help you without depending on developers.

Was this post helpful? Leave me a message in the comments below. I'd love to hear how you onboard your customers.

p.s. How good is your Marketing Analytics Stack? Or your competition? Find out with our FREE online Marketing Analytics Stack Grader tool.

p.s. Hat tip to https://mytips.co for the image!