User Onboarding

Secrets of Great New User Onboarding

product-led-ideas
Get everything you need to build and scale a successful product-led business in our upcoming 6-week live cohort-based program.
Learn More
About
Transcript
Feedback

Brand new users aren’t committed to your product when they first sign up. They’re just trying it out. A great first use experience has to prove to these new and uncertain prospects that your product will actually make their lives better. Too many SaaS products get this wrong, creating a leaky bucket for new user acquisition. Learn how Intercom drove double-digit increases in new customer retention with a value-based approach to new user onboarding.

Takeaways: - Focus to jobs, not features - Onboard everyone - Show (if you can’t do) - Remove non-essential friction

Robbie Allan:
Hey there. My name's Robbie, and what I'd like to talk about to you today, is the secrets of great new user onboarding. I'd love to talk about what we're doing with onboarding and how you can build experiences that are going to be really effective with your customers, that they'll love, and that will drive business results.

Robbie Allan:
So first, a little bit about me. As you can tell from the accent, I'm originally from New Zealand. I came to the U.S. to study at business school. After that, I wound up at Zynga and worked on FarmVille, which at the time was the world's largest Facebook game. From there, I ended up running the mobile team at SurveyMonkey. And I'm currently at Intercom, where I work on a range of growth activities, pricing and packaging, first user experiences, and things like that.

Robbie Allan:
So let's talk just a little bit about Intercom. Intercom is a company that helps businesses talk to their customers to build better relationships and drive faster growth. And it started really easily as a very simple, easy to understand, product. But we've been very successful, with over 30,000 customers and hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue. And what's happened is that a single, simple product has proliferated into a number of skews. And what we've seen, is that our customers start to struggle to understand the product. They don't know where to start. They get in. And as a result, I was struggling with onboarding. And so what we undertook was a process to really understand, what is it that new customers want when they're coming to our product and how can we deliver that to them in a quick and effective way? And it's some of those learnings that I'd like to share today. As a result of this, we were able to double the activation rate for certain segments of customers that were initially struggling with our product.

Robbie Allan:
So what I'd say is that really big changes are possible. If you follow some of the principles that I'm about to share with you. So, first off, I'd like to define what are we talking about? What is a first use experience and what is onboarding? Well, I suggest that the process of onboarding is the process of moving someone who's a brand new user, someone who's just signed up for your product, all the way to a highly engaged power user. It's not just a flip through tutorial or something like that. Onboarding is a process of really taking someone from just signing up for your product, to someone that deeply understands and is getting all the value that they can out of the product. Onboarding is an ongoing kind of process we often forget. And as part of that, the very beginning of onboarding, and it might be the first few clicks, or it may be the first few screens or the first couple of days with the product, right at the start, there is a first use experience.

Robbie Allan:
So who were these first use experiences for? As I sort of talk about this, I'd love to talk about a really foundational idea in sales and marketing. I think came in the 1800s from this guy with a great name, Elmo St. Louis, and was really famously referred to in Glengarry Glen Ross, which if you haven't seen I'd highly recommended it. There's a screenshot here. And in this particular film, Alec Baldwin's character here is condescending to the salespeople. And so he talks about like the simplest sales idea there is, which is A.I.D.A. And this is really the beginning idea of a consideration funnel, where the idea is that people that are thinking about buying your product prospective customers. First, you've got to get their attention. And they've got to be aware that your product exists. Then, you've got to drive interest in that customer. They've got to understand the benefit what's in it for them.

Robbie Allan:
And then they've got to make a decision. They're going to decide to purchase your product. And then finally, they've got to take action. They've got to go and buy it. And this very simple idea is very powerful and is pertinent until today cause it's largely pretty accurate. A.I.D.A., It's how most things are bought. If you purchase an item from a store or even, you know, whether that's online or in the physical world, you were aware of the need for it. You were interested in the benefits of a particular product. You chose to buy it. And then you took action to either click purchase or go into the store and pick it up. That's how most things are bought, but not how software is bought and not how a lot of digital products are bought. It doesn't apply. What actually happens with most products that we work on?

Robbie Allan:
If something's a little flipped, it's what I'm calling A.I.A.D. And what this is, is that you get someone's attention, you build some interest, but then they take action. The whole purpose of most marketing sites, the whole purpose of free trials, the whole purpose of making it easy to get started with consumer products is to drive a customer really quickly to have a product experience. And it's actually the experience of the product that drives them to then make the purchase decision. And the whole point of that is it really flips the funnel. What it means is that people that have signed up for your product, haven't decided to use it. All they've really done is express interest in the product. It's not that they want to get set up and ready to use it. They've made a decision to buy.

Robbie Allan:
What they're doing is they've said that they're interested in learning more and that's a really subtle distinction that's extremely important for how you're going to build a great first use experience. You need to be focused on converting people with interest in your product and the people that have decided, not in just getting people that have already decided to set up. Another way to put this as the way that Scott Belsky puts it. Who's the chief product officer at Adobe. He says that all users are lazy, vain, and selfish in the first 15 seconds. And now I'd never referred a customer's app Intercom that way. But I think what Scott's getting at here is that there's the same idea as we talked about before. It's that customers that have signed up for your product, they're interested, they haven't decided. And so it's really important that you make it easy and effective for that customer to understand how that they're going to get the benefits out of your product.

Robbie Allan:
And so how can we do this? Often in onboarding, we talk about the idea of the shortest path to value, and certainly in consumer products, if you think of something like Facebook, that's pretty accurate. Let's just get someone in there, get them having some friends, seeing newsfeed, you know, maybe they're on Twitter, let's get them seeing and engaging with tweets. But the reality is for a lot of more complex digital products, certainly like Intercom or a lot of B2B software, the shortest part to value just isn't that short. If you're a product like Intercom, the customer needs to install Java script. They need to set up onboarding campaigns. It's a whole lot of work that we require of them before they are actually able to get the value of the product. So the whole idea of shortest path to value just doesn't kind of really work. So we need to think about it slightly differently.

Robbie Allan:
And so, given that, what I want to look at is, what is that makes a great first use experience? I want to suggest to you today is that a great first use experience is one that quickly proves to new users that your product is going to do the job that they want to hire it for. And for the rest of this presentation, what I'd like to do is really to dissect this definition and understand what each of the component parts mean, because a nuanced understanding of this is going to help you build really effective first use experiences. And we'll get some principles out of each of these, how to work with this idea. So the first idea is I want to work from the bottom. What do I mean by does the job that they are hiring it for? That's a strange way to think about this.

Robbie Allan:
Well, what am I referring to here is jobs to be done? And the principal is, focus on the jobs that the customer wants to do, not the features in your product. This is a really common mistake that product managers make with first use experiences. And the idea of jobs to be done is that your customers are hiring your product to do some kind of a job, right? They don't want a drill bit. They want holes that they can hang a picture or something like that. And if you focus on the job that the product is supposed to do, it makes it very easy to understand how to build the product, how to make it better, and also how to onboard customers to it. I want to talk you through that. So at one point in time Intercom, which is, as I mentioned, where I work and it's on a product that a lot of assess businesses use to talk to their customers had this map feature, right?

Robbie Allan:
What is the job that a map does? What is the purpose of the screen? Because if you think of it as just a map, the way they would onboard to it. It goes in one direction. And if you think about the actual job that it's doing, it might be a little different. So what's the job of this map screen. Well, you can see from tweets, the job of the map is to impress people. I want to impress potential investors with how well my business is doing. You can see this tweet here with customers of Intercom's using ETA startup demo day. Also some of our customers want to use the map to impress prospective customers. "Hey, look, we've got, we're a big business. We've got customers all around the world here. So a large map of people using our product." And also, people, some of our customers want to use the map to impress people on Twitter.

Robbie Allan:
And so the whole idea is that the job to be done of the map is to impress people in various kinds of situations. And if we have that understanding the way that we are able to build the product and onboard to it changes a little bit. So a framework for deciding how to build your onboarding is what I call value based onboarding. So you start with a job to be done. You look at the features that help the customer do that job. And then you talk about how your product can deliver on that. And that's what your onboarding looks like. And use the map as an example, so the first step to build great onboarding for our map feature here is to understand the job. And in this case, it's that the customer wants to impress their prospective customers and investors by showing them all the customers that I have.

Robbie Allan:
That's the job that the map does. A great map does that. There's two sorts of benefits, right? The next piece, if you understand the job is what are the benefits? How does that product help to do this job? And in this particular case, it's that the map looks really great. And also that it's really easy to share. So you can pop it up at a trade show. You can easily export it to Twitter. And the way that you convince people of this is, this is the point that we start to get to features. So the features that deliver on the value of looks great are the beautiful UI and the live animated updates. And the features that deliver on the mapping, easy to share the fact that it's easy to tweet. You can hide sensitive information in a full screen mode. Now, this list of features and the benefits that tie to them may not have been super obvious if we'd started from the point that, "Hey, we have a map and this is one more feature of our product."

Robbie Allan:
But by understanding the job that the map does, and also the benefits to the customer, we're able to anchor the features that we talked through and the way that we onboard on our customer and tie it to the benefits. So as a result of this, by going through the onboarding experience and saying, look at this map, it's got a beautiful UI with live animated updates, which makes it look really, really great. It's also super easy to share because we've got this tweet button here. You can hide sensitive information, and there's a full screen mode. That perch, that flow is going to be very compelling as the job that the customer wants is to impress their prospective customers by explaining how big their user base. By contrast, if I had gone through and said, "Hey, there's a map. You can zoom in. You can zoom out. It's got lots of pretty colors." That's not going to be particularly compelling because those aren't the features that deliver the benefits that really speak to the job that the customer does. So the first principle was to really focus on the job to be done.

Robbie Allan:
Another part of our idea of first use experience is to quickly prove to new users that your product does the job that you're hiring for. What do we mean when we say new users? This brings me to my second principle of great user onboarding, which is to onboard everybody. Intercom, again, to use an example of as one of the ways in which our customers use Intercom is for conversational marketing, which is our term for essentially website lead generation. We put a new website to help you get more customers, generate more revenue and do it more quickly. Now, building onboarding for this should be simple, right? We're going to show the customer how they get more revenue more quickly. Well, not so quickly because what you've got to consider is, who's actually buying this product.? And in the case of many products that sell to businesses, you'll see that there are many different buyers.

Robbie Allan:
So in this particular case, one of our buyers is a marketing leader. And the job to be done for the marketing leader is that they want to generate more leads. Marketing leaders really care about lead generation, and they also care about their brand. So they want to generate more leads in an on-brand way. So a great onboarding experience for a marketing leader, it's going to talk about how Intercom helps them to generate more leads and how Intercom and ask them to do that in an on-brand way. Those are the sort of features and benefits we'd be talking about. Now, if we contrast that with a sales leader, because if someone is purchasing Intercom and they want to use it to generate more leads, the sales leaders are likely going to be involved in the process. They might be signing up for the product. Now, sales leaders have a slightly different view of the world and what the sound leader wants is they want to grow their pipeline.

Robbie Allan:
So pipeline is different to leads because it's not just about names and email addresses. What they want is more real opportunities to sell. And they also care about the value of each of those customers. And the other angle that sales leaders have that's unique is that they want to make the team more productive while marketing leaders typically focus on lead volume sales leaders are continually concerned about lead quality. So as you can see, if we were talking about how Intercom helps our customers get more leads in an on-brand way, that wouldn't resonate particularly well for a sales leader. But if we talked about how it's going to help the customer generate more quality leads and all the features that allows their team to be really productive and to work quickly, and to be able to work a lot of high quality leads and continually focus on what's most important, that's going to be a compelling pitch to the sales leader.

Robbie Allan:
And so the onboarding for each of these need to be different. Now, in the case of the sales use of Intercom, there's finally another person in the onboarding process and there's a sales person that's going to be using it. And typically what they care about is that sweet commission. And so rather than larger ideas about leads and brands and pipeline and more productive, what the sales rep wants to know is, where are these customers and what I need to do to sell them really quickly so I can make as much commission as possible. So again, when we're onboarding, those users to Intercom, we've got to think really differently to the marketing leader or the sales leader. And that's why it's really important to involve onboard everybody in the whole process. Now, Box do this really well. Box is a product for file sharing and there's a number of reasons that you might want to use file sharing.

Robbie Allan:
And what you can see here is as part of their free trial experience, they're asking upfront, what is it that you care about? Is it about sinking files? Is it about advanced security or is it about internal and external file sharing? These are clearly different customer segments of the Box. And when the free trial user indicates which of these preferences, they have, the whole onboarding experience changes as a result of that, so that allows them to deliver on principle number two, which is to onboard everybody. All right, we're moving nicely. A great purchase experience quickly proves to new users that your product does the job that they're hiring for. What does it mean to prove to someone something. Principle number three is to show if you can't do, and what do I mean by that? Well, there's a number of ways to prove something to someone. The least compelling on the far side here is a tell. I can tell you Intercom really helps you to grow your business. A more compelling way than that is to show you.

Robbie Allan:
I can demonstrate some action within the product that you see and go, Oh yeah, it really does that thing. And I can see how that would grow my business. The very best way to prove to customers that your product does something, it's just to do it for them. If I can generate a bunch of leads or business, or I can actually increase our customers satisfaction score, and that's going to be a very compelling presentation that "Hey, Intercom can do the job that you're hiring them for." And in most cases, it's really hard to do for complex products. That's certainly the best thing. So if you imagine a Facebook or something like that, basically to explain Facebook is to get someone into the product and really quickly have them interacting with their friends.

Robbie Allan:
That's where that famous term of 10 friends in seven days or seven friends in 10 days, whichever it was comes from, they were really focused on doing. But again, for a lot of complex products and Intercom, certainly one of them where there's a long setup process, it's very hard to do because it involves sort of buying across the whole organization.

Robbie Allan:
And so instead, we've got to focus on showing because that's a better way to convince new users in onboarding that Intercom's the right product for them, rather than just telling them too many times that we can't do. We'll tell what we need to do is focus on showing rather than telling. One way to think about this is the minimum viable Aha! What is the core benefit that your product delivers? And what are the ways, even if we can't do it, that we can show and make real and tangible, there's more easy to sort of touch feel and imagine that the product will we'll do one day. We promise it is. And an example of this, I really, really like is Airbnb. So Airbnb is a marketplace that people that have spaces to lease and people that want to stay somewhere or to hire a space.

Robbie Allan:
And from the host side of Airbnb, the reason that someone would want to host their space as they have a spare space and that they want to make money out of it. The problem though, for Airbnb is it's quite hard to show or to do the money making process because what the host needs to do is they need to take photos of their listing and they need to set up a calendar. They need to have the person in their home. And they're only after that first stay has occurred, can Airbnb truly do what it is that those customers are coming to Airbnb for, which is making more money. But what you can see here is on the very first page of Airbnb hosting, they're doing such a great job of showing because if you go to the Airbnb host page, you'll see here, I've said that I'm in San Francisco and it's for four guests.

Robbie Allan:
And I have an entire home. This is like two clicks because they've guessed that I'm in San Francisco and instantly they're showing me $3,054. Now that's a made up number, but it feels very real. It feels very tangible. And it's much more compelling than the tagline here, which is "earn money as an Airbnb host." They're really showing me how much money I could earn. And you can see it's one of the biggest pieces I'm on the page at the bottom. And it's also right up here beside the CTA $3,054, right beside get started. And this is a really good example of a complex product that involves a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt. You're having strangers into your home. Here, Airbnb, right from the go are showing me the benefit that I could get by using the product. And as I continue through the process, that number persists through the signup process and refines as I make various choices. And they make the benefit really clear to me by showing me all through the process, how that works.

Robbie Allan:
The final piece I'd like to talk about is what does it mean to quickly prove to users that your product does what they're hiring for? Because that isn't immediately obvious either necessarily. And the principle here is to remove all non-essential friction from your first use experience. And obviously this is a little subjective. And so simple tests that I like to use is to ask of every experience that you're giving to new customers, is this quick and easy, and does it help prove that the product does the job that they're hiring for? If that's not the case, you want to try and remove, that is two things you can do. You can either remove the step or you can simplify the step and I'll give you an example of each of them.

Robbie Allan:
So one idea of removing a step is a Typeform. Typeform is an online survey product. And at one point, what they did is when you went to their website and you'd start a trial, they put you straight into the survey offering experience. And so it's really common to have the first screen be name and email and password. And if we apply a little test, does it help prove? And is it quick and simple? It's neither of the two. Passwords are easy to forget. And also they, in no way help you prove that the product's going to work. What Typeform did is that they realized that. And so they removed the setup or the sign-in step. And what they did is had you in the product, interacting with it. And only when you chose to save your account or save your survey, that's when they asked you to create an account.

Robbie Allan:
And at that point, it really seemed to make sense that, "Oh, yes, I do want to say the survey. And of course, I'm going to need to sign up in order to do that." And so by moving that friction later in the process, I would have more customers have the experience of their product, which the whole idea of a free trial is that people have an experience with your product and that's what convinces them to buy. So Typeform is a really good example here of removing steps. Another thing that you can do is simplify, and this is my final Intercom example. We have a product called custom bots, which allows our customers to set up an automated, sort of, conversational experience in the messenger. So if you think of the little chat thing in the bottom right corner when you're online, you can build an experience where it will ask the customer question and give them some options.

Robbie Allan:
And based on the option they choose, it can then take certain followup actions or send through some more content or something like that. Now this is a fairly complex kind of a product to set up. As you might imagine, you've got to build out like a whole logic tree and it kind of looks like this, and this is the necessary sort of process. You use a step and you've got to create content and sort of decide where that goes. It's just a little bit complicated. It doesn't really help a new user to prove that this is going to do the job that they wanted to. And so for the custom bot product, what we did is we, instead of going straight into that building view, what we head up upfront is down the bottom here, two templates. So as opposed to having to build this whole flow, but we did is we pre-populated it for you.

Robbie Allan:
We knew that a lot of our customers would use this for free to paid upgrades, or they would use it for their own user onboarding. And so what they can do is with a single click build out the whole potential bot, and that helps them to understand and see, "Hey, what might this experience like, what is possible with this product?" And so we've gone from having the user needing to understand how our builder works, dream up a bot, and then kind of create that flow. In one click, they're able to put something together, which they could potentially set live and instantly understand how that product works. So we've dramatically simplified that process by just removing non-essential steps from the onboarding process. As a result of this, or we saw as twice as many customers, we're actually able to create one of these bots because it was just one click.

Robbie Allan:
And so that means there's twice as many people that get to see our product and are able to understand how it might potentially work and could be potential customers. So that's the advice, a great first use experience really quickly proves to new users that your product does the job that they're hiring for. In order to achieve this there's full principles that I'd leave with you. Make sure you focus on the jobs that your customers want to do, not just walk through all the features in your product and orient the features that you show. If you're going to show them around the benefits in your product that are related to the job that the customer wants to do, make sure you onboard everyone. Really consider the different personas that may be involved and the different personalities that can be involved in the onboarding process and make sure you tailor to their specific needs.

Robbie Allan:
If you have a complex product, really focus on showing, making as tangible, as possible, as easy and real as you can, what your product does, if you're not able to actually do that thing for them, because that's always best. And then finally really work to remove non-essential friction by asking yourself which each step is it quick and simple, and does this help to prove to the new user that my product does, the job that they're hiring it to do. So follow these tips. And I think you'll find that you're able to create really compelling first use experiences. I'd love to hear how you go. I'd love to hear what questions you have. You can check out more of my writing on the Intercom blog, or please tweet at me @robbiedigi. Thanks so much.

Course Feedback

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Gretchen Duhaime
Robbie Allan
Group Product Manager at Intercom
Lead Product Manager, Intercom