Why You Should Experiment with User Onboarding

(Kevin Dewalt, Founder of All Aboard!, is constantly helping startups 1-to-1. When he’s not angel investing or playing golf, he’s always available to help out someone just getting started with lean startup. So I reached out to him to chat about his approach to user onboarding. You can find him on TwitterLinkedIn, or his blog)

Like Tristan, I’m a big advocate of systematically building a company using Lean Startup techniques. On the surface, they are trivially simple – like interviewing customers before building a product.

But as most Lean Startups quickly discover, identifying customer needs and building a product that satisfies them are just the beginning. You still have to get customers to find your product, understand how it fits into their lives, start using it and … hope hope hope … pay you for the opportunity.

User onboarding leads to more revenue

That is, you have to sell. We’re advocates of a technique that bridges the gap between early Customer Development and traditional sales: concierge onboarding.

Concierge Onboarding Continues Customer Learning

**Concierge onboarding is helping a customer, 1-on-1, so he can get value from being your user.** In simpler terms, getting users on the phone so they’ll actually use your friggin’ product.

Almost every successful B2B SaaS company does some form of concierge onboarding. Here is a typical story:

  • Founder does Customer Development and builds relationships with early customers during the process.
  • Founder builds an MVP that solves early customers’ problems. Customers use it and pay for it.
  • Founder stops talking to customers and spends her time doing everything else to grow the company.
  • New customers sign up and bail before giving the product a chance.

At this point the founder is bewildered. Why are these new customers NOT behaving like the early ones?

After a few months of tinkering with emails and product changes the founder realizes the root cause of her problems: during Customer Development she built trust with the customers she spoke to and helped show them a better way to work.

She starts getting her new trial customers on the phone and business starts growing again.

User onboarding leads to growth

Feels familiar? Here’s what it means for you…

3 reasons you should try concierge onboarding this week

1. It’s time to stop your automated onboarding from hemorrhaging users.

It’s sexy and everybody tells you it’s what you should be doing… But if you’ve already spent months optimizing your sign up process, coding features, and writing lifecycle emails — and it’s still not working — don’t you agree it’s time to try something else?

Doing concierge onboarding will **very quickly** lead to a direct increase in conversion.

How quickly and how directly?

Here’s how it worked for SoHelpful.me. In 2014, we optimized the sign up process, rewrote lifecycle emails, and did everything we “should” to improve onboarding. Nothing (but cancellations) happened. By December, we ran out of ideas, so we decided to get on the phone with every sign up and help them 1-on-1 (we had yet to call it “concierge onboarding”).

This is what happened:

User onboarding before and after concierge onboarding

Of that month’s 16 trial users, 7 are still active *today*, eight months later. By doing concierge onboarding alone, the number of retained customers grew from 1 to 7, a 600% increase. We’ve spoken to hundreds of SaaS founders who report similar results.

Think about it.

  • If you have a $39/month product, that works out to 6 customers * $39 * 8 months…Or $1872, and counting.
  • If you spent half an hour (as we do) concierge onboarding all 16 prospects, that’s 8 hours of work, or $234/hour.

Would you spend 1 hour to make $234? **Shouldn’t you be hiring a $40/hour person to make you $234/hour?** I think you should.

It’s ridiculously easy for users to ignore lifecycle emails and forget to sign in to your app, but they can’t (and won’t) ignore a founder who cares enough to help them on the phone.

Ask any salesperson: Phone = Money. Period.

2. Your real problem isn’t product, design, or copy, it’s a lack of learning.

If you can’t get your sign up process right, you don’t know enough about your buyers’ journey. If you can’t get your lifecycle emails right, you don’t know enough about your users’ objections to taking action.

And the fastest path to learning is a 1-on-1 conversation.

You can redo them all you want… But until you let your customers tell and show you, you’ll never find out why they don’t work. Or how to fix them.

Temporary band aid fix via concierge onboarding

Besides, Patrick McKenzie said it best:

>No startup has ever died because they spent too much time talking to customers.

3. It’s so simple, you can do it right after you read this.

Recently, Tristan wrote One Lean Startup Experiment Per Week. He said most startups don’t experiment enough because they feel, “they have to build really complicated things or their sales cycle is too long.”

Well, with concierge onboarding, there’s nothing to build and results are easy to evaluate: **At the end of a call, you tell a customer to take three actions. Did he take them?**

If you don’t have an experiment lined up for this week, I suggest you try concierge onboarding.

Ready? Awesome.

##A 4- step guide to experimenting with concierge onboarding

Or how to not make onboarding more complicated than it is.

Step 1 – Hypothesize at signup

Take a look at your last ten free trial sign ups:

  • What is the problem she’s trying to solve with your app?
  • Why did/didn’t she take the actions?
  • Why might she decide not to pay or cancel?

Discuss it with your team and document it.

Step 2 – Get the customer on the phone (the hardest part, surprisingly)

Unfortunately … they will probably be reluctant to do this.

User onboarding fail - they won't call back

This is where most SAAS companies blow it. The key is to position the call as an opportunity to teach/help/train the new customer so they want to get on a call. I cover this in detail in our concierge onboarding course but here are some examples:

Subject: SuperCoolApp (I hand-typed this email Tim)

>Hey Tim, I’m Jack, a founder of SuperCoolApp. I also teach our customers’ sales teams how to accelerate revenue using the CoolSeller technique.

>Thanks for signing up – I took a quick look at your company’s website at http://timscompany.com. (I see you’re in Orlando – I go there once/year to teach sales workshops, nice city). Let’s get on a call and talk about your company and goals. I may be able to offer a few easy tips but want to first understand your goals.

>To schedule a call with me …

Step 3 – Lead the call with GROW coaching

Don’t start by asking about your product or signup process. Your goal is to win trust, get insight, and motivate the customer to change behavior – using the product is secondary.

Starting a conversation by letting a customer ask you anything about the product is like letting her drag you around… Concierge onboarding is about doing the opposite and leading the customer.

You do this by asking questions and getting customers to talk about GROW:

  • Goals (What did you want to achieve from signing up?)
  • current Reality (What are you already doing?)
  • Obstacles (What’s missing or wrong that’s keeping you from your goals?) and Options (Most people who’ve gone through this found that doing X, Y, or Z takes care of the problem. What do you think?)

Forcing them to think through their Goals, Reality, and Obstacles steers them to motivation.

User onboarding success

Seal the deal by listing three actions they can take right after the call and watch them get **Willed** to action.

GROW allows you to engage the customer in a casual conversation, learn about them, while leading them to action.

Step 4 – Evaluate with your team

After the call, make a quick summary of the conversation. We post them to Google Docs and drop a snippet into Slack so the whole team can scan them. Then we have a follow-on call to review.

That’s it. Just email your last ten sign ups and invite them on a call.

It is *that* simple. If you take our free SaaS concierge onboarding course, it will help you do it more efficiently and effectively, which will dramatically increase your conversions to paying customers.

But to be honest, if you get 10 users on the phone and genuinely try to help them achieve their goals… it’s almost impossible not to see results, so experiment with it this week.

Got something to say?