What many data-driven startups have uncovered is that having one single onboarding experience can ultimately make or break them. This is what I call the Single Onboarding Misconception.
Take Twitter as a prime example of a company that has spent countless resources to perfect their onboarding flow so that it’s unique for every user. Upon signing up, the site asks the new user to select people they are interested in following. Immediately, they can have a rich feed that’s custom tailored to their liking. This is no different for any other B2C or B2B startup.
If you’re just starting up it shouldn’t be a top priority to customize onboarding experiences, but there are multiple low-lift items that can be initially implemented. I’ll walk you through how to think about the type of data needed to make onboarding unique and some examples of how I’ve implemented this myself.
Initial data collected during acquisition through a lead form or during sign-up for a product will help fuel a multi-onboarding experience. Experience has convinced me that without a multi-onboarding experience, startups cannot reach their full potential. Recently, I encountered various fin-tech cryptocurrency exchanges that ask for a customer’s “Experience Level” with cryptocurrency. What I haven’t seen as prominently is a personalized experience based on the answer to this question.
During my time with the growth team at Coinbase, many of our lifecycle email and push campaigns were designed to be triggered based on the user’s behavior. While this wasn’t a fully personalized experience, we made sure to tailor our communications based on the in-app behaviors of the users. If a user was a power trader (ex: X+ volume of trades), we would send emails on ETH staking, liquidity pools, and more advanced cryptocurrency investment actions.
Duolingo does a stellar job of customizing onboarding at the start by having the user answer why they’re looking to learn a new language, take many practice assessments and answer questions on the types of goals they want to set. Is their goal to be fully conversational in a new language or to simply understand it at a more basic level? Based on the responses that are obtained at the beginning, Duolingo takes users through a personalized experience which helps to boost their overall conversion rates.
An oversimplified look at Duolingo’s onboarding flow. Image courtesy of Jonathan Martinez.
When thinking about the type of data necessary to bucket users into a specific journey, ask yourself this essential question:
1. What are my consumer personas?
Based on the response you receive to this question, you’ll be able to determine which questions are needed to help you segment users during their onboardings. Some of the foundational variables to include early on are:
Each startup should have its own unique flavor of questions to ask, but if you’re stuck, select from the list of examples provided above as a start. These will ultimately shed light on the question of which customer persona you’re acquiring.
If you’re acquiring users through a Facebook lead form or a website landing page, you can ask these questions directly. If not, you should ask these questions during the initial flow steps and create pathways that immediately follow the responses. To do this, simply add these questions into your form that seeks to understand what type of persona the acquired user is. This isn’t a set-it-and-forget task, and it requires constant iteration on figuring out if the responses users generate are valuable or if they improve the overall user experience.
Let’s take a healthcare startup with one of their customer personas being weight loss. They could ask what the primary drivers are for wanting to lose weight. It could be that some customers are interested in the inherent health benefits, some in appearance and others in improving their mood. These varied answers will drive the activation stage we’ll cover next.
Once you have obtained the responses needed to personalize onboarding experiences, you’ll want to determine how to make the experiences unique. I recommend you think of all possible consumer touchpoints and then tailor your messaging, features and sales calls (if B2B) from that point. Some of the most common touchpoints to use this data are below:
As the recent co-founder of a startup, I’ve implemented these steps firsthand to increase our conversion and retention rates. When we first started the company, we were in ‘grow at all costs’ mode until we reached $1 million in ARR, which was a turning point. We couldn’t continue growing with this single onboarding experience and needed a more methodical approach to personalizing customer experiences. This is typical for startups, which is why I caution against doing this type of experimentation too early before you have enough user segments carved out.
What I did with my startup, which is a B2B business, was to experiment with, and then implement, questions that I hypothesized could help our sales and onboarding teams create a personalized approach to the potential customer’s experience. A few examples of some of the questions include asking for the current company size, revenue, and industry. Instead of coming into the sales call with a generic pitch, our sales team could now pull up a deck specific for the logistics industry with a size of 50+ employees. Talk about making a great first impression! Beyond that, our marketing efforts with emails and follow-ups were specifically tailored based on the information we had collected early on.
What I did with my B2B startup was to experiment with, and then implement, questions that I hypothesized could help our sales and onboarding teams create a personalized approach to the potential customer’s experience. A few examples of such questions include asking for the current company size, revenue and industry. Instead of coming into a sales call with a generic pitch, our sales team could now pull up a deck specific for the logistics industry with a size of 50+ employees. Talk about making a great first impression! Beyond that, our marketing efforts with emails and follow-ups were specifically tailored based on the information we had collected early on.
Activating your users with the acquisition information you’ve obtained comes down to creating a unique experience based on who each customer is. Put yourself in the shoes of customer persona X versus customer persona Y. What are their pain points and what value can you provide to them separately? To do this correctly, you need to set up AB tests comparing the general experience with the personalized experiences.
Continuing with the healthcare startup example, they could create a first-launch experience that had specific wording tied to the customer’s primary weight loss driver. Imagine an experience that said, “Let’s focus on improving your mood” or “Time to improve your health” rather than generic copy. This speaks to a specific customer’s persona. Additionally, they could have all lifecycle emails focus on the pain points for each customer persona to continue pushing them through the funnel and ultimately retaining them. To make a lifecycle program more personalized, the answers filled out during acquisition will need to be passed through to the Email Service Provider which will help fuel custom journeys for each persona.
You’ve managed to carve out a few user segments and personalize onboarding for each type of user. How do you then figure out if things are working as intended?
Like any other growth experiment, make sure to split the experiences between generic and tailored for each user segment. By doing this you can then measure the conversion rates, user lifetime value, and more.
When measuring performance, keep close attention to each onboarding experience and the following metrics: Conversion Rate (CVR), Retention and Lifetime Value (LTV). These are the three essential metrics that matter when looking to understand how effective personalization is with your multiple onboarding experiences.
You may find that some user segments respond better to a personalized experience than others. This means that some of the current user segments may not be receiving the information and experience that you thought they wanted. Perhaps you need to revise the questions that are being asked to tailor the experience even further? Or you might not be segmenting users correctly?
This all comes down to spending the time necessary to understand the real needs for each of your user segments. Doing so will arm you with the most valuable data needed for creating personalized onboarding experiences. It is true that while you may add some additional friction with questions on your lead form or onboarding flow, this will pay large dividends for the overall experience of your consumers.
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