How to Go to Market With a Frictionless User Onboarding

By Aggelos Mouzakitis

What makes a frictionless user onboarding? What are the essentials of helping new users reach the first meaningful outcome in a timely manner which is considered the epitome of a successful go-to-market strategy? These are questions that every product professional should ask in 2020.

Unfortunately, even though most SaaS businesses understand the importance of user onboarding, they find it difficult to improve it. In fact, more than 80% of SaaS leaders without a free offering admit that their “in-product user onboarding product experience is lacking.”

I wanted to learn more about user onboarding with someone who knows the in’s and out’s of building experiences that matter. That’s why we interviewed Shiv Patel, one of the first people who joined FunnelGuard as a growth product manager.

Having worked as a growth manager in companies like Autopilot and WeWork, Shiv is a person who understands the importance of building meaningful experiences as part of an effective go-to-market strategy (GTM Strategy). On top of that, he knows exactly what it takes to create a frictionless user onboarding that makes users and potential customers stick with the product.

Are you ready for some practical tips on how to deliver a User Onboarding your target markets will love? Keep reading.

How to Develop a Frictionless User Onboarding

One of the most challenging problems for SaaS companies of all sizes and across different verticals is finding and removing friction points within their funnel. Shiv helps companies do just that: “To find friction points within their funnel and reduce the time to value a user gets to see within their free trial or freemium product.”

As Shiv told us, “There is never a one size fits all solution when it comes to creating a frictionless user onboarding.” However, throughout his experiences working with different companies in product growth roles, he’s managed to develop his own framework for helping SaaS and tech companies achieve that.

Trying to explain what friction is, Shiv told us: “When a user feels like they’re either blocked, either what they want to do doesn’t exist, or they’re not even able to find something.” This situation is—according to Shiv—called “the experience of frustration.

Another fundamental concept is time to value. According to Shiv, “Time to value is a point when a user receives a value that they came for, and they find your revelation.” Think of the time to value like the Aha! moment.

Unfortunately, when it comes to SaaS companies, it’s pretty common to see an experience of frustration, a moment when the user is “really stressed out, as they start using something that they didn’t expect or see something that they didn’t expect to see.”

On the other hand, it’s rare to see the Aha! Moment (time to value) we just described. Identifying both of these situations for a B2B SaaS new product and trying to improve the experience for the user is critical.

As Shiv explained, “When users signup for a B2B SaaS product, they evaluate two things: a) if that solution will fit their particular situation and address their pain point and b) if it is worth it actually to make an effort to switch and migrate.”

As Shiv told us, by focusing on these two things, “It’s pretty easy actually to find friction and regardless if you are an enterprise company, mid-market, a startup or even in the minimum viable product (MVP) side, as long as you have users engaging with your product, you have enough to find friction.”

The question is: How can you discover find friction points? According to Shiv, “You can ask people in the front lines—those are your sales teams, your support people, your success people, even your marketing teams.” It is no secret that those people are closer to your target audiences, and thus know precisely what the problems they are facing are.

And Shiv continued saying that “you can ask them what type of content they’re sharing the most across marketing channels. What type of responses and questions they are getting the most and what are the points in their onboarding that require the customer and the sales rep to jump on an actual call to help explain something or do a specific action such as an integration, building a workflow, testing of the product.”

As Shiv shared with me, “You can find drop-off points directly in the setup using tools like FullStory, Amplitude or heat. A great way to identify and visualize those points is by creating a user journey map.” Once you have your user journey map in place, you can start optimizing things.

Thus, as it is evident, the way to discover friction points in your user onboarding, is a mix of gathering feedback from your sales and customer support teams, together with mapping your user journey. Let’s dive a bit deeper into how you can use your user journey map to enhance the experience for the user.

Examples of Friction Points

For a typical B2B SaaS company, one of the first touchpoints is when someone signs up for a 14 or 30-day trial. This action indicates interest by the user to test the product and see if it could be a good fit.

Then, according to Shiv, “you determine the intent of that user internally.” And based on the segment that user belongs to, “they might be getting Emails from the sales team to do a demo, an online webinar, or a tutorial.” These are all touchpoints that should exist in your user journey map.

Next, the user might visit the product to “set up her or his account, to add users and finally, the product.” As Shiv told us, “I believe that the friction point here is that the users come in to test or trialists come in to test the product as if they were trial users. They just want to see value as fast as they can.”

It is in fact that users nowadays are not patient and they have no time to waste—they want to experience value as soon as possible. The problem, according to Shiv is that “most marketers treat these free trial users as customers, and they’re asking them to set up the entire account, set up their entire team to have access to it, and then finally get to test it.”

Even though this should be one of the final steps of the process, it creates friction nonetheless. You simply can’t ask someone to set up the whole account and invite their colleagues in the platform, without having tested the product themselves first.

Let’s look at another common friction point, this time in the signup process.

Signup

One of the first steps a user takes when visiting a new product is to fill in a signup form. Most SaaS companies ask for way too many fields—most of them can be found easily with third party-tools. For example, the country field—that many sign-up forms have—“can easily be found via reverse IP or country of origin.”

This means that a) companies are asking for way too much information than they need and b) that most of this information can be found easily using third-party tools. In the same vein, some companies ask for things like a phone number from users signing up for a free trial.

But, is this something you really need to convert this user from free to paid? As Shiv explained, “You can ask for the user’s phone number as long as you know you can convert more leads with the phone than without and the leads are at a higher Average Selling Price than without.”

Asking for more information is practically useless and can harm your user experience. Sometimes, all you need is the user’s Email and nothing else. According to Shiv, “Intercom is a fantastic example for this—their signup is literally that, just an email address and it’s a multistep form.”

Verification

Moving forward, Shiv shared with us his thoughts on the verification process, which is a critical step for many SaaS companies. He told us that, “Verification is a pretty sensitive topic for me because I think it’s more harm than good done, even though I completely understand it’s there for security purposes and validation makes sense.”

However, as Shiv explained, “verification can be a huge roadblock, and again, it can be a big friction point because the expectations are not aligned with the user and the marketer.”

As Shiv told us, “The marketer wants you to verify your account to make sure that you are a legit user.” However, users who are on a free trial, “just want to check out the product.” The fact that there is a verification process gets in their way, and this doesn’t make a good user experience.

Some companies try to make the verification process as simple as possible. According to Shiv, Asana is a fantastic example, since they give you a deep link into your Gmail or your Yahoo—so it’s not really a roadblock, it’s an extension.”

According to Shiv, a new user has to “read and understand new languages, new user onboarding workflows or new ways to use the tool and new terminology.” And he continued showing us a slide of the first thing that you see after you signup for a particular product:

As Shiv explained, “This product has over 23 different call-to-actions you can take on it with no education on what is for what. Now unless you’re coming from a competitor product, you might know some of these terms. But if you’re a first time user of this tool, you’ll be way too confused.

Align goals and expectations within an organization

One of the most difficult things to do when developing your user onboarding is to align everyone’s goals and expectations within your organization. It’s better to have a reactive rather than a proactive approach when it comes to educating your users on how to use your product.

This means that you have to reach out to the users when and if they want. Instead of sending all these Emails that say things like “Hey, this is just a follow-up. Do you want to set up a demo?” SaaS companies should let the users decide if they need help themselves.

As Shiv explained, “nowadays people prefer self-serve, and it’s not just SMBs. It’s enterprises even preferred to go self-serve.” According to Shiv, a good approach here is to ask: “Tell us, do you need help getting started? If not, we’ll let you go at it on their own, and we’ll send you the educational material. But if you do, we’ll set you up with a Webinar or demo.”

This way, you don’t interrupt the user experience. On the contrary—you are present only when needed. As Shiv told us, “a fantastic example is Amplitude, which offers a demo feature that allows you to explore the product before actually use it.”

In addition, this is how to demonstrate the value of your product. As Shiv explained, “you can actually create reports, play around with their settings, add your specific context and play with the product before you get to use it with sample data—all helping eliminate friction down the line.”

Thus, as you can understand, there are many ways to educate users on how to use your product, without having to hold their hands throughout the process. And even though most SaaS companies add all sorts of roadblocks in their user onboarding process, is really up to you to understand what your customers need and offer them exactly that.

Eliminating these friction points can be a huge opportunity for SaaS companies. As Shiv told us, “Verification alone is a drop off point, usually around 20%. That means 20% of people who did step one, signup for your form and they don’t verify their account. They don’t even get to the bottom of the funnel.”

But, what if you could have “20% more people using your product or at least testing it?” This should be your goal, and the way to do it, according to Shiv is “by creating a user journey workflow.

Let’s move on to the next section.

Focus on Your Customers

Something critical when it comes to user onboarding is how to decide which steps are essential and which ones could be avoided or skipped. According to Shiv, the best way to go here is by “starting backwards.

To quote Shiv: “I think it doesn’t make sense to do customer acquisition if you can’t retain them. This is pure math here, but if your churn rate is 5% and if you can get that to net positive churn, so like good to negative 5% you’ve increased your revenue and your LTV by 75% going down.”

As Shiv explained, it’s important to “start focusing on the customers that you already have, figure out why they’re churning, figure out who the champions are, and bucket those two categories separately. Your marketing plan, your sales strategy, your product strategy, even your pricing strategy are different sides of the same coin and need to be treated holistically as a concrete go-to-market plan”

In other words, you have to focus on your own customers instead of just trying to acquire new ones. Thus, retention is the first thing you have to focus on if you want to discover which steps are essential and which ones are not.

The second thing you need to pay attention to, as Shiv told us, is monetization. The question you should ask yourself is: “How can we get the freemium users we do have using the product, pay at least something?”

As Shiv explained, this is exactly what they are trying to do with FunnelGuard: “Helping users uncover lost budget that they’re spending on funnels that are broken.” The tool essentially allows users to “stop any bleeding from their funnels, by getting a notification via Email or via Slack, the moment a funnel breaks.”

Shiv told us that “we just want to make sure our pilot customers are really satisfied with us.” You have to give users exactly what you promised so that they get the value proposition of your product. Then, you just have to “find more people like them and then help them onboard.”

The Relationship Between Marketing, Product & Engineering

A major problem nowadays is that the level of digital sophistication is not the same in every country. Also, unfortunately, most of the times, the decisions on what to improve when it comes to user onboarding is based on simple observations by the CTO and maybe a UI designer. They treat this exercise like it’s part of their own roadmap.

This means that the decisions made are mostly based on what “feels right” rather than on what is right based on customer feedback and behavioural data. This makes it difficult for people joining the team later (i.e. marketers) to suggest edits and iterate on the action plan.

As Shiv shared with us, this is one of the biggest roadblocks that most companies and early companies facing,” and he continued saying that “we’re solving that at FunnelGuard at the moment since we’re pretty early is ownership.”

The truth is, according to Shiv, “the CTO is really not in charge of onboarding.” And he continued saying that, “of course he or she may help out in the early stages of it, but he or she doesn’t have the ownership of experimenting with the onboarding, Email content, product content, onboarding workflows and the product lifecycle in general.”

Since the CTO can’t be the owner in the above operations, there has to be someone else who is taking the ownership. According to Shiv, this is why roles like “growth product manager or growth operation manager are growing at the moment.“

And Shiv continued saying that “probably like seven years ago, we used just to have marketing managers. Now we have digital marketing managers, growth operations managers, PPC managers, and more.” Each of these roles is supposed to have ownership over certain activities across buyer personas.

As Shiv explained, “my ownership is to get a user from activation to retention. All the experimentation in the middle. I’ll work with our design team, our product team, our engineering team to make sure we’re constantly iterating on the sales process.”

Constant optimization of the user onboarding is essential when it comes to product marketing. To quote Shiv, “once we put out a new onboarding workflow that our CTO did on day one—that might’ve worked for our first five users—but now six months later, we have enterprise users, mid-market users, SMB users and few more new markets and target customers. We certainly don’t want to bucket them and treat them the same.”

Thus, you understand that regardless of who designed the user onboarding in the first place, you always have to experiment and try to improve the user and customer experience. That’s the best marketing strategy of 2020. To achieve that, you have to work hand-in-hand with other teams and be focused on a common goal or objective, to create your product’s competitive advantage.

Aggelos Mouzakitis

I have over 8 years experience in Digital and Growth marketing. Currently, running Growth Sandwich, a London based Product Growth Lab. Before turning in Growth Marketing and Product Growth, I had the chance to pass by head marketing and head digital positions in Athens and London, work with numerous tech startups but also build and run companies. In my spare time, I am consulting ambitious startups about their Growth and Business strategy.