Customer Activation

The Dangers of Activation

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Activation when done right can cause your business to skyrocket. However, there is also a dark side to activation. Find out why by watching this talk.

Ben Winter:
Hi, my name's Ben Winter and I lead the growth efforts here at Appcues. Today, we're going to talk about the dangers of activation and what can go right and what can go wrong. Activation is a very hard metric to get right, but really has a cascading impact on your business. Really, activation is about showing the connection between your marketing efforts and your sales efforts and your product experience. It really shows how well you're showing the value in the first few days of someone using your product. You made a promise during your marketing and sales, and this is the moment that your product has delivered on that promise. One of my favorite quotes when thinking about activation is a Warren buffet quote that says, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently."

Ben Winter:
Whenever I think about activation, I really focus on this quote, because this is the first time you're driving a user towards the behavior that is showing the value of your product and what your product can do for them. Of course, some things can always go wrong. There are three major things that can go badly when you have your activation wrong. The first is, you are moving users through the funnel without actually making sure they're a right fit customer. The second is, you can waste a lot of money that you've spend on marketing and sales when users aren't activating. And the third is, you have a leaky bucket where you're acquiring customers and activating them, and then they just churn very soon after. However, if you have a great activation moment, it can really be a rallying cry for your entire team.

Ben Winter:
Everyone understands the goal, everyone understands what they're marching towards, and it can really focus the entire marketing and sales team and even the product team. Great examples of having a strong activation moment are Facebook's first seven days to have 10 friends and Twitter having you follow 10 people when you first sign up for the product. These weren't exact sciences, but they really provided a focused metric for the entire team to focus on and strengthen the efforts towards activation. Who am I? I'm just a guy named Ben. As I mentioned, I lead the growth efforts here at Appcues with a focus on optimizing conversion throughout the entire marketing and product funnel. I received my MSMBA from BU and a BA from Middlebury and I love skiing and I'm an avid Red Sox fan.

Ben Winter:
Let's start off with, what is activation? There are a million definitions of activation out there, but my personal favorite is, "The emotional moment when a user realizes your product's promised value." Say what? How do you capture an emotional moment? There are a few tips that I have to capturing an emotional moment. First off, go in knowing it's one of the toughest things to quantify and be ready to iterate. So don't just try and find a perfect moment that captures activation and only focus on that one moment. Be willing to change that frequently. It's likely not a moment that's captured instantaneously through user and product analytics. There's probably something that happened a week earlier or something that's going to happen soon, but you can find a moment in your product analytics that represents that emotional moment where a user triggers and understands the value of your product.

Ben Winter:
You also want to identify behaviors that are highly correlated with that moment. They're likely proceeding it or follow shortly after, and that way you can find moments that are either a leading indicator or a quickly lagging after indicator of your product activation moment. Everyone always talks about a-ha moments and how they fit into activation. Here's how I think about how a-ha moments fit in. They're little moments of delight. Not each a-ha moment is an activation moment, but they can lead you towards having an activation, towards activating. It also is incredibly hard to track. So a-ha moments are these emotional things that happen in your brain and obviously that doesn't always correlate towards a user behavior or a product analytics moment or an event track. And so you want to try and think of a-ha moments as ways that when you first use a product you experience some moment of emotional delight, and that's how those fit in towards building towards an activation moment.

Ben Winter:
How do you identify activation? As we've talked about, it's very difficult. Personally, I like to map backwards. I like to look at users who are getting lots of value from the product and look at common behavior patterns. I also like to do primary research. Interview users who have recently signed up for your product and recently activated. Ask them what they were thinking about. Really get qualitative data that helps drive insights. Watch users. A quick shout out to FullStory, but FullStory's are a great way of seeing how users are going through your product and understanding how they interact with the interface. Really leverage those tools to understand a user's experience and put yourself in their shoes. And then leverage your team. Talk to your go to market teams, talk to your sales team, talk to your CS team, talk to the teams that are on the front lines with your customers and try and drive back to figure out what's driving user behavior and what's driving activation. So how do you know if the moment is right?

Ben Winter:
There are four key things that I look at. The first is demonstrating commitment. The user has to do more than just put in their email address or sign up for an account. They really have to do something that drives a commitment on their end in terms of using their time to be invested in your product. They also need to realize value. You can't just push them to do some action. They have to understand why they're doing the action and really understand how your product is going to deliver on the promises you've made them. They have to go beyond an initial interest tool they need to show deeper levels of curiosity and not just doing the basic run through that you've taken them on a tour of, but actually poking around the application and showing some deeper levels of interest. And then it has to be close to conversion. Your activation moment does not have to be tied to a credit card being entered or signing a purchase order, but it should be very close to that moment and have a high correlation with converting into a customer.

Ben Winter:
So what are some of the misconceptions of activation? First session or bust is one of my favorites. Activation does not have to happen during the first session. Let users activate on their own terms. Some users sign up for a product and get pulled into a meeting and then need to come back to it later. Everyone knows that there's busy schedules out there and don't just view your first session with a user is the only time where a user can activate. Let them come to the product and use it and realize its value on your own time. Second, let it happen naturally. Forcing a user to take an action does not mean they've activated. You can't force a user to do something and then call it activation. So, for example, if Twitter blocked everyone from getting to twitter.com until they followed 10 people, that's not activating, that's just forcing a behavior and doesn't actually mean that the user understands why they've done the action. The truth is that they really need to understand it on their own terms and come to that moment by themselves.

Ben Winter:
The third is, there are multiple happy paths. Usually, there is one ideal path, but look out for alternatives. This is especially true in B2B where a user may come to your product for one thing and realize the value in a completely different way than they expected to initially. And so watch out for those second and third and fourth paths. It can make up a large percentage of your user base and doesn't mean that there's one ideal path that every user needs to go down to become an activated user. Ruh-roh, what if you have the wrong moment? Optimizing for the wrong moment will negatively impact adoption retention. As we talked about earlier, you can have a leaky bucket problem. You can also have a lack of focus or understanding of what you are directing users towards, which can cause company wide issues around what your product's value is. There can also be a poor connection between your marketing and your product experience, and that can really create mistrust and ruin the user's experience.

Ben Winter:
And lastly, you can sign up the wrong users. You could be driving users towards his activation moment and missing out on the really good fit customers that are going to be your base and drive your business into the future. How can you ensure you have the right moment? You won't know right away, but having accurate product analytics is really, really important towards identifying that moment. It allows you to measure, iterate, and learn as you go through the process of identifying the right moment. Here at Appcues, our activation moment has changed three or four times over the last five years, but it's because we have the data available to us to be able to look back and see what has changed about our users that enables us to continue iterating and honing in on the right activation moment.

Ben Winter:
How do you improve? You continue teaching value. Activation doesn't mean that users don't still need to be convinced of your product's value. You have to continue to nurture them and continue to move them along the user journey. Personalization. Personalizing onboarding experiences can really help. Appcues is a great way of doing that. There are other tools out there as well on the marketing side. Personalization really helps drive positive activation, because the user feels the experience is catered towards them and you really understand their needs. Reduce friction. Provide user guidance to help users where they may get stuck. Everyone likes to hope that their UI is extremely intuitive, but we all know that's not the case, and making sure that you reduce the friction with which a user gets started with your product is really important.

Ben Winter:
And identify drop off points. People always look for the ideal path, but really those drop off points can provide just as much insight into why your activation rate is low or why you haven't moved the needle. See where users are falling off and where those clips are happening, and then really focus on making those clips go away. And remember, activation is just the first step in the user journey. There are many more moments that drive a user towards being a true champion of your product, which is the goal. If you'd like to learn more about activation tips and tricks to help you find the right moment and ways that you can avoid the pitfalls of activation, head to the Appcues blog, where there's a lot of free resources we have available to you. Thanks for your time today.

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Gretchen Duhaime
Ben Winter
Senior Growth Manager at Appcues
Ben Winter currently leads the growth efforts at Appcues where he focuses on improving conversion through different stages of the customer lifecycle via in- and out-of-product engagement strategies.