These user onboarding principles could obliterate your churn rates

Lucas Mondora

I’m obsessed with helping software companies build scalable growth engines. Conversion Rate Optimization for SaaS & Tech businesses at lucasmondora.com, Founder of precisepath.co

User onboarding is your first–and only–chance to demonstrate how your SaaS product can help a user reach their goals.

Without it, they'll be left struggling to achieve success with your product, causing them to leave without a second thought.

It’s also one of the quickest ways to generate compounding revenue growth, as it not only affects your user to customer upgrade rate, it also impacts how long you retain each user.

Just a slight increase in your activation rate could yield massive, long-term revenue gains. In fact, if you nail your onboarding strategy, here’s what the future of your business could look like:

Image result for hockeystick growth



Yet, despite it's importance, many companies see onboarding as little more than a mix of tactics like emails, in-app prompts, and other ‘growth hacks’.

The truth is, tactics are nothing more than a means to an end.

Great onboarding is built with the bigger picture in mind: the mental journey a user must take to realize the true value behind the product. Keeping the bigger picture in mind helps you ignore the individual tactics, and focus on what's important -- the principles and strategies that'll help users reach their revelation.

Principle #1 - Know your customers why

“The most common onboarding mistake is a misalignment between what customers want versus what the company promises”

Onboarding starts at setting expectations before someone signs up to your product. You want to align your marketing with why your best customers signed up.

You don’t want the wrong people signing up because they expected one result, and then experiencing something totally different.

That’s only going to drive up your churn rates.

If you want to reduce churn, you’ll need to understand the Who, the What, and the Why:

  • Who your highest LTV customers are
  • What value they see from your product, and —
  • Why they signed up.

A business I worked with – who was experiencing retention problems – strongly believed that customers were signing up so they can make more money.

However, when we interviewed and surveyed their customers, we found that NO ONE was making money on their platform and that many of their customers were hanging around for completely different reasons.

There’s usually a deeper reason behind why people sign up.

This is where the Jobs To Be Done framework comes into play.

Your customers are trying to accomplish something -- that’s the “Job” that needs to be done.

There are 3 types of jobs your product achieves:

Functional Job: the tangible outcome of using your product.
Social Job:
how your customers want to be perceived by using your product.
Emotional Job:
how customers want to feel after getting the job done.

Principle #2 - Hedge your bets: don’t place them all on email marketing

Email is a great onboarding tool. But when 60% of users drop off after their first use, it’s critical to make your product experience as engaging and helpful as possible -- helping the user take meaningful action inside the app.

Many businesses will quickly write up an email onboarding sequence, and not put any effort into other onboarding triggers.

Relying on email won’t always cut it -- at the end of the day, it can only act as a motivational trigger to drive someone into your app and take the next step towards success.

It’s not going to [effectively] show them how to use it.

In-app onboarding is a powerful method to guide users towards success. You can use things like prompts, playthroughs and welcome screens -- but which ones you choose depends on your goal and situation.

Common in-product onboarding patterns are:

  • Message prompts
  • Checklists
  • Interactive Walkthroughs
  • Inline Hints
  • Welcome screens
  • Blank Slates
  • Playthroughs
  • Guided Tours

Principle #3 - Product Qualified Leads are a thing. Use them.

What’s a product qualified lead? A PQL is a user displaying behaviors that may indicate they’ll upgrade to your paid plans, but they haven’t yet.

Like MQLs, it’s a no-touch qualification model. Yet, unlike MQLs which qualifies users based on high-level engagements, PQLs focus on meaningful product behaviors.

Source: Intrinsic Point


Moving from MQLs to PQLs helps align marketing, customer success and sales teams to focus on meaningful usage, so when Sales get in touch with them, it’ll be significantly easier to close as the user already sees the value in the product.

What defines a PQL will vary between businesses, and might require a bit of trial and error, but here are some steps to put you on the right path:

  1. Talk to your customers and uncover the real value they get from your product
  2. Perform a cohort analysis on your users vs. customers
  3. Compare the usage patterns between churned users who didn’t upgrade compared to the patterns of your customers prior to upgrading.

Bringing it all together

Onboarding is a complicated puzzle. Not only is it difficult to set up from a technical standpoint, it requires extensive planning and optimization to get it right.

If you're looking for help with implementing you're own onboarding strategies, feel free to book a strategy session with me.

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