August 20, 2020

The ABCs of high-converting user onboarding experiences

User onboarding is a crucial moment in the customer journey. It’s when new users decide whether they’ll become lifelong customers or quickly leave your product forever.  Unfortunately, for most product-led SaaS products, most new users end up leaving; 40 to 60 percent of users sign up once and leave forever. 

To build a high-converting onboarding experience, you can apply the Progress Making Forces from the Jobs-To-Be-Done framework.

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According to this framework, effective onboarding experiences encourage and promote the two forces directing new users to adopt a new behavior – the push of the current situation and the pull of the new solution. At the same time, it addresses and breaks the two forces that block change – the habit of the present and anxiety of the new solution. 

After putting all of this together and doing several onboarding teardowns of FullStory, Deputy, Userlist, and more, here are the three elements of high-converting user onboarding:

  1. Amplify the need
  2. Break the objection
  3. Commit the change

1. Amplify the need

People make the mistake that as soon as new users sign up for your product, they're bought-in. So they make users jump through hoops and stop communicating the value of their product. 

This is a mistake because most new users are still skeptical. The best user onboarding experience I’ve reviewed reiterates and amplifies the pain of the current situation for the user and the unique selling point of their product.

Wave, a financial software for entrepreneurs, does this brilliantly during their user onboarding. As you upload your logo to set up your invoice, they automatically identify your brand colors and update the invoice template to match your brand.

This amplifies the pain of creating professional invoices from scratch and showcases how easy it is to design and build invoices with Wave. Vivek Balasubramanian, the Director of Growth at Wave, explains the effectiveness of this tactic:

During customer interviews, the customers we talked to that saw what their invoice will look like with Wave said, “Wow! This is great! This looks professional. It’s beautiful.” That gives them a lot of confidence that the product is good. Wave is something that they can trust.

For your product’s user onboarding, think about ways to amplify the need of new users in the copy and visuals. 

2. Break the Objection

Another mark of high-converting user onboarding experiences is anticipating and addressing objections of users before they come up. 

One of the biggest objections that someone might have for signing up for a free trial account is requiring a credit card upfront. Userlist, a behavior-based customer messaging tool for SaaS, requires a credit card to signup for a trial. But, they give new users advance notice that they’ll need to provide their credit card twice before they signup – on the pricing page and the first step of the signup process.
Userlist does an incredible job of breaking objections for two reasons:

Userlist does an incredible job of breaking objections for two reasons:

  1. They let you know ahead that you need to put your credit card to start a trial, so you're not surprised when you get to the third step in the signup process where you enter your credit card details.
  2. They provide a reason why they ask for a credit card for a free trial, to "prevent spam and provide a better onboarding experience." It makes it easier to swallow this bitter pill. 

Often, people leave objection handling in the FAQ. Think about how you can anticipate and break objections and anxieties new users might have in the headline and the signup process.

A great source of objections that new users might have would be in your support tickets. Are there questions and requests that keep coming up over and over again? Address that earlier in the signup and onboarding process.

3. Commit the change

As soon as a new user gets to the first “aha” moment or pay the first invoice, your job is not done. With user onboarding, your primary goal is to get users to break old habits and fall in love with your product so much that they can't imagine their life without it. You have to help users commit new habits.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point, Gladwell defines this as the tipping point. It’s when an idea or product stays in the mind of consumers and influences their future behavior.

In Silicon Valley startups, this moment is often called the "magic number." For Facebook, adding one friend is not enough. Long-term active users tend to add seven friends in ten days.

Slack found a similar magic number. In an interview with First Round Review, Stewart Butterfield, Slack's co-founder, described it:

Based on the experience of which companies stuck with us and which didn't, we decided that any team that has exchanged 2,000 messages, 93% of those customers are still using Slack today.

It’s not enough to just send one message to a colleague. Butterfield and the Slack team found that the tipping point is when a Slack group collective has sent 2,000 messages.

For FullStory, one of the things they encourage new users is to invite the rest of their team. They communicate this in terms of what users truly want: to share insights with the rest of their team so they can improve their product. 

For your onboarding, identify product engagement metrics that indicate users have made a deeper level of commitment to your product. Andrew Chen, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, wrote a guide on how to figure out your product’s tipping point.

The ABCs of High-Converting User Onboarding

Attracting first-time users might be easy, but retaining them for the long-term is a whole other story. By applying the Progress Making Forces of the JTBD framework in your user onboarding, you should:

  1. Amplify the need
  2. Break the objection
  3. Commit the change

These are the ABCs of high-converting user onboarding experience that wow new users and turn them into lifelong customers. For more on this topic, check out this video:

Ramli John is the Content Programming Director at Appcues and founder and host of the Marketing Powerups Show. Having started his career as a full-stack developer and data analyst, Ramli now helps product-led companies convert more free users into lifelong customers.

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