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Customer Success, Product Management, SaaS

How Top SaaS Companies Create Customer-Centric Onboarding by @ShaylaPrice

Here’s a major SaaS growth challenge: How do teams ensure customer success from the onset?

With the goal to quickly convert new customers into loyal advocates, it’s easy for SaaS teams to forget what’s important. In this case, it’s onboarding.

Seen as just another to-do, teams neglect how crucial onboarding benefits the customer. Yes, they activated their accounts. But can you get customers to their desired outcomes?

Too often, SaaS companies marvel in their own products, from an eye-appealing user interface to near-perfect functionality. That’s only part of the equation.

Onboarding leads you from acquisition to retention. So it’s time to shift your focus to where it belongs—the customer.

Follow these five steps to achieve a customer-centric onboarding flow.

1. Score the Aha! Moment (Early)

Life is all about precious moments. People like remembering their first awkward kiss, the time they visited Disneyland with friends, and when their first-born kid peed on the floor.

Whether it’s embarrassing, sad, or joyful, certain moments define our lives and stay etched in our memory bank. The same principle applies to customer success.

Customers will recall their first interactions with your brand. Therefore, you should make that moment special. And the best way to do that is to help the user achieve value, or the Aha! Moment, as soon as possible.

“The customers need to understand your uniqueness, the costs, and benefits of the product…If the customer sees the core value of your product immediately, if they understand how it’s going to help them, they are far more likely to continue using it,” writes Gabriela Tanuri, a content analyst at Pipz.

Every company defines an engaged user differently. Maybe your users must complete three tasks in one week, or invite five friends to your app within 15 days. For instance, Dropbox considers users reaching the Aha! Moment when they put at least one file in one folder on one device.

Work with your team to unlock product value during the onboarding process. Users want to succeed—make it happen promptly.

2. Bake Success Into Your Messaging

SaaS businesses do an effective job at gaining potential customers’ attention. Teams spend lots of time designing creative display ads, developing witty copy for their homepages, and writing hilarious emails. The branding is dynamic and worth sharing on social.

Yet, once customers enter the onboarding stage, the brand personality wanes. Customers get dull messages with technical jargon.

On top of that, the messaging only informs the customer about a feature or provides access to an upcoming how-to guide.

When learning something new, customers seek validation that they’re doing things the right way. They need that recognition to move forward.

So treat onboarding like a celebration. When customers achieve a milestone, let them know and award them with personalized messages.

Mailchimp knows how to celebrate customer success. Right before customers send a campaign, they see an image that builds the anticipation, even the copy screams excitement —“This is your moment of glory.” Then, once the user sends the campaign, Mailchimp gives the user a virtual high five.

Image Source

If customer milestones aren’t acknowledged, users may feel like they’re failing. They start second-guessing their actions and the value of your tool. Keep them on the right track with messages that praise their activity.

3. Identify & Remedy User Gaps

It’s impossible to see all the gaps in your onboarding process before launching. And if you focused on finding every imperfection, you would never ship the product.

To identify gaps, start by monitoring user behavior over time. Are there increases in new user inactivity? Do customers stop opening onboarding emails after the third message? Is there an influx of similar support issues?

The next step is to fix the problem. Let’s say new user activity drops by 25% on the fifth day after signing up. You may want to lure customers back to your app with a nurturing email on the third or fourth day.

“Users should never wonder what to do next. Often this is best achieved by holding the customer’s hand and walking them straight to whatever they consider success. This can be done with popups, tooltips, or a guided tutorial that only shows the user what they need to see,” states Dennis Hammer, a content strategist at Audience Ops.

Slack is well-known for its guided tutorials in the onboarding process. Customers get short descriptions about each feature. There’s even an opt out link if users feel comfortable moving forward without guidance. These tutorials ensure users attain success.

Image Source

Don’t freak out about onboarding gaps. Instead, take action to fix the mishaps and get back to delivering value to your customers.

4. Be Available for Questions

Building a worthwhile product is important for your SaaS. If your application sucked, no one would bother purchasing it. However, it’s not the only thing that matters.

Teams sometimes forget that no matter what your SaaS product does, you’re still in the service business. Your primary objective is to build amazing customer experiences. And one of the tenets to achieve that goal is offer superior customer support before, during, and after onboarding.

Of course, you’re nice to customers and respond to their concerns. But another key ingredient is accessibility.

What annoys customers the most is signing up for a product and not having multiple channels and times to access your team members. Either customer support is only accessible by email, or you only respond to questions from Monday morning to Friday afternoon. It’s frustrating to the user who wants a solution now.

So what should you? Make yourself available on several channels. For your SaaS, that may include investing in live chat software to answer customer inquiries. Or you may need to expand your phone support times by three extra hours on the weekends.

You can streamline the support system for the customer, too. For example, Trello customers who are signed into their accounts can send a help message with their names and email addresses already pre-filled.

Onboarding is a critical stage. If customers feel helpless, they may decide to churn. Gather the right tools to make the experience convenient for them.

5. Evaluate Customer Milestones

It’s a completely normal process: Set a goal. Take action. Measure the progress. Adjust and repeat.

Whether it’s fear of failure or a forgotten step, SaaS teams skip over measuring their customers’ progress. It’s the only way to know if the customer is reaching their desired outcome and is fully buying into your brand promise.

So revisit those customer milestones. Are users accomplishing them? How often? What can your team do to make the process easier?

Understanding where users fall on the milestone spectrum gives your team insight on how to drive them toward becoming a power user or brand advocate.

“Keeping this ‘success milestone’ way of thinking after they become a customer—or are otherwise past the customer onboarding process – will allow you to surface upsell/cross-sell offers, as well as advocacy requests, at the perfect time so you’re more likely to get a positive result,” says Lincoln Murphy.

Experimentation is vital as well. Try breaking your onboarding into separate workflows, or customizing onboarding based on specific user segments. You may learn that certain customers need concierge onboarding.

The Customer Takes Center Stage

While these insights don’t reach the level of rocket science, SaaS teams often undervalue and overlook them. You possess the power to get customers to their desired solution. So start giving the customer your undivided attention in the onboarding process.

Case Studies, Content Marketing, SaaS, Testimonials

[Case Study]: Autopilot (@autopilotus) + Rocket Fuel

How Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré helped Autopilot attract relevant influencers, improve engagement metrics, and improve conversions with the Rocket Fuel Package.

“In 2017, I hired Nichole to help promote Autopilot’s content. Not only did she get our content in front of the right people, but she also saved us time and money along the way.” – Jes Kirkwood, SaaS marketer & growth strategist

The Challenge

SaaS marketer and growth strategist Jes Kirkwood was tasked with helping Autopilot improve their content following, but not just by boosting page views and engagement metrics. Autopilot, a marketing automation software company, needed to reach their target audience of SaaS marketers – specifically.

Kirkwood signed up for Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré’s Rocket Fuel package in July, 2017.

The Rocket Fuel Package is designed for this precise purpose: To help companies gain brand recognition among their ideal audiences by sharing their high quality, original content on Nichole’s personal social media accounts, as well as Growth Hackers, Inbound.org, SaaS.Community and additional distribution to specialized outlets like Zest.is.

Over the course of two months, Nichole promoted 36 pieces of content. The results?

“In just 2 months, her influence drove 359 new users to our blog, attracted the attention of relevant influencers, and landed our content in an industry newsletter with over 135K subscribers. Better yet, she sparked meaningful conversations with our target audience. If you want to reach and engage SaaS marketers, I highly recommend partnering with Nichole.” – Jes Kirkwood, SaaS marketer & growth strategist

The Numbers

Cost: $1,000 for 50 days (tracking wasn’t set up properly the first ten days, a mistake made by Nichole)

Results:

  • 857 website sessions (average time on site: 0:43 seconds + average 1.33 pages per visit)
  • 359 new users (website visitors)

Top three channels:

  • Twitter (most sessions)
  • Quuu (most new users, i.e., website visitors)
  • LinkedIn (highest quality traffic)

Other benefits:

  • Time savings (approx. 5 hours) syndicating each article to GrowthHackers.com and Inbound
  • Started a meaningful conversation in the Inbound community (attracting influencer attention): (23 upvotes, 29 comments)
  • Landed Autopilot in the Growth Hackers newsletter for Flight School lesson (135K+ subscribers, 3.9K views, 20 upvotes)

In the client’s words:

“Nikki’s content promotion efforts helped drive brand awareness for Autopilot to a highly qualified audience across relevant social media channels and active online communities. Not only did she attract traffic that spent 38% more time on our site compared to our average visitor, she went the extra mile to start meaningful conversations with our target audience.” – Anne Fleshman, Director of Marketing at Autopilot

 

Customer Experience, Customer Success, Emotion, Products, SaaS, Startups

A Completely Different way to Look at Customer Fit for SaaS Startups ft. @LincolnMurphy

There are so many ways businesses segment customers, and many of them are useless: demographics, location, purchasing histories, size of company, how much the customer pays, and so many more.

But there’s one method of segmentation that tends to be overlooked. And overlooking it will lead, invariably, to churn.

It’s called Appropriate Experience (AX). And I guarantee it’s not what you think.

What is Appropriate Experience?

Appropriate Experience is an extremely customer-centric idea, because it’s all about them. The customers. Their experience. But this isn’t “customer experience.” Forget CX and customer satisfaction. No, no. This is completely different.

Appropriate Experience is about how the customer needs to be treated and supported by you so they can reach their desired outcome.

But what is it really – in practice?

For SaaS, a good example of Appropriate Experience might be customers who need high-touch customer support vs. low-touch. Maybe the customer’s Appropriate Experience is self-service, because they have the expertise and technical abilities to figure out most things for themselves. Or maybe the customer’s Appropriate Experience requires some hand-holding, a designated customer-success manager and 24-7 help desk.

Lincoln Murphy, who championed AX, explains it this way:

You see, a customer has a required outcome. A thing that they need to achieve… And they have a way that they need to achieve that Appropriate Experience. That Appropriate Experience – AX as I call it – goes across the entire customer lifecycle.

He mentions Appropriate Experience within the context of the checklist he recommends using to see whether a customer has “success potential.”

Here’s that checklist (view full descriptions on his article about success potential.)

  • Technical fit
  • Functional fit
  • Cultural fit
  • Competence fit
  • Experience fit
  • Resource fit

In many ways, Appropriate Experience (aka. Experience fit) is the flip-side of Resource fit. Resource fit asks the customer if they can spare the resources to put in the time/money/manpower to succeed with the product. Experience fit asks you – the SaaS company – the same question.

The question you need to ask yourself is…

Do you have the resources to ensure that this customer has the experience they need to reach their ideal outcome?

What experience are you able and willing to provide?

You may not have the resources to serve customers who need the high-touch approach.

And that means that you can’t give that particular customer segment their Appropriate Experience, and they won’t be successful with you.

You can’t afford not to identify your customer segments by the experience they require.

Yes, that also means you can’t afford to keep customer segments to whom you can’t deliver an Appropriate Experience. Even if they’re paying you.

It sounds crazy to turn away good money, I know.

But these are people who will never be satisfied with what you offer. They won’t refer you business. They’re highly likely to leave lackluster reviews. And they will churn – after wasting a tremendous amount of your time and resources trying to make them happy when that was never gonna happen.

What happens when you segment your customers and find that a lot of them could use a different experience? Well, then it’s…

Problem-solving time

When you use Appropriate Experience as a factor in customer segmentation, you may find that a large part of your customers demand a type of experience you’re not currently providing.

Uh oh.

You have a few options.

You might consider expanding your services and scaling to meet that need.

If this is a possibility, you’ll want to first survey that segment and ask them what experience would most help them achieve their desired outcomes. But when you do, keep Lincoln Murphy’s checklist in mind. Are these customers who have success potential, if only they had a slightly different experience?

Also keep in mind that Appropriate Experience isn’t limited to how much help a customer gets. It’s not just a high-touch/low-touch issue. If my desired outcome is to go out to dinner with my significant other for a romantic evening, there is a very specific experience I need to achieve that, and Burger King isn’t going to do the job. Think holistically.

Another option, of course, is to not scale or change the experience you provide. You could decide to focus on the customer segment whose Appropriate Experience matches what you’re prepared to offer.

Both are actually good options.

The only bad option is accepting the business of someone you can’t really serve.


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Experience, Customer Success, Customer Support, SaaS

The Loyalty Metric: A Brief History of Net Promoter Score and How to Use it in Practice Today ft. @Wootric

More than two-thirds of the Fortune 1000 list currently use Net Promoter Score, a customer loyalty metric introduced by Fred Reichheld in a 2003 Harvard Business Review article, “The One Number You Need to Grow.”

One number. And to get to that one number, you only have to ask one question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this [product/brand/company/service]?”

Anyone who scores 0-6 is considered a Detractor. Passives rate 7 and 8. Promoters are those who score 9s and 10s – extremely likely to recommend.

The Net Promoter Score is calculated by subtracting Detractors from Promoters. Scores can range anywhere from -100 to 100. It couldn’t be simpler, or more powerful.

Since 2003, the popularity of that one number has grown exponentially, spawning specialty apps to track it and spurring researchers to study it. The most recent study by Temkin Group of 10,000 U.S. consumers showed a direct connection between NPS and customer loyalty across 20 industries. In 291 companies, NPS was highly correlated to the likelihood of repeat purchases from existing customers. In fact, promoters across those 20 industries were 92% more likely to make more purchases than detractors (not surprising), were 9 times more likely to try new offerings, and 5 times more likely to repurchase. Promoters were also 7 times more likely than Detractors to forgive companies if they made a mistake.

Loyalty is lucrative.

The ability to measure and improve it is imperative. And that’s where NPS comes into play.

Read More on Wootric


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, Quora Answers, SaaS

“Is it a good idea to switch the monthly plans with quarterly to reduce the churn rate in an SaaS business?” Answer by @NikkiElizDemere

Churn isn’t caused by sending the bill, or having a quarterly or monthly plan. You could ask subscribers “Are you still in? Want out? You sure?” every single day and if they are making real, tangible progress towards achieving their desired outcomes with your product, they’ll say “Dude, don’t be so insecure. I freakin’ love you.”

Or something to that effect.

Thing is, they’ll stay with you for one reason, and one reason only: If your product is helping them achieve their goals (and doing it better/faster than your competitors).

Now, it would be lovely if churn was as simple as that. It almost is, but there’s another component to the issue.

Do the customers who are churning have the potential to succeed in the first place?

Think of churn as a symptom, not the disease, and it’s usually caused by customers who either don’t have Success Potential or aren’t reaching their Desired Outcomes.So instead of A/B testing your plan cycle, focus on checking whether customers who are churning have success potential in the first place (Lincoln Murphy has a very handy checklist in the second article), and if they don’t, it means your marketing may be attracting the wrong people and/or your sales team may be selling to the wrong people.

If the churning customers do seem to have success potential, then you’re going to have to dig deep (ie. voice of customer data, surveys, interviews) to find out what these “ideal” customers aren’t getting from you that they need.

I originally answered this question on Quora.

Read Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré's answer to Is it a good idea to switch the monthly plans with quarterly to reduce the churn rate in an SaaS business? on Quora


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Quora Answers, SaaS

“How do I acquire SaaS customers?” Answer by @NikkiElizDemere

As with any customer acquisition, you first have to make sure you’ve got a solid foundation before you get into marketing efforts.

You have to understand your ideal customers and develop a compelling value proposition. Who are they? Where do they hang out? What are their desired outcomes? What words do they use to describe their problems and desired outcomes? What do they expect to get from you? What do they hope to get?

Don’t know? Don’t guess. Ask them.

Based on the qualitative data you gather and your product, the next challenge is to come up with a unique value proposition that establishes product-market fit – in the language with which your target market will identify. (Sometimes I refer to this as language-market fit.)

We’re doing some high-level English major work here. We’re talking diction: Word choice. And we’re using it to power your marketing so when a customer for your SaaS startup (or otherwise) hits on your value proposition, they’ll immediately know you are for them.


Image source: Image created by Yasmine Sedky (
@yazsedky) for Nichole.

A value proposition accomplishes four tasks:

  1. Defines who your ideal customer is
  2. States what your product does
  3. Establishes why you’re unique
  4. Shows the end benefit

Value propositions are complicated, but when you distill it down, the idea is really simple: To get customers, you have to tell them why they should work with you based on what you uniquely offer that is also important to them.

Now, once you have that foundation, the challenge becomes getting your product in front of your ideal customers.

Perhaps even more than other markets, SaaSpreneurs are looking for thought leaders to tell them how to do things just a bit better. So they’re here, on Quora. They’re on Medium. They’re on blogs like SEOMoz, and sites like Hacker News, ProductHunt, Growth Hackers, Reddit, and LinkedIn.

They’re everywhere.

Which isn’t to say you’ll get equal ROI from each of these outlets. You won’t. And you’ll spread yourself way too thin if you try to hit all of them.

Traction & Growth Channels

This is where “traction channels” come into play, and a very useful tool called the “Bullseye Framework.”

Image source: Strategize, Test, Measure: The Bullseye Framework by Brian Balfour (@bbalfour)

Traction channels are marketing and distribution channels that focus on customer acquisition.

They’re where you strategically choose to place your content to attract leads.

The secret to traction channels is that most startups use only a few – and there are hundreds (if not thousands).

Most businesses flood just a handful of channels and ignore the rest. They choose the ones they’re most familiar with, but you really can’t know what channel will work best for your product or service, and your audience, until you test.

That’s where the Bullseye Framework comes in – introduced in Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares’ e-book, Traction.

Weinberg and Mares identified 19 different traction channels in their e-book, Traction, including traditional media, social media and various types of marketing.

Here are a few channels from the e-book just to give you an idea:

  • Viral marketing – encouraging users to refer other users
  • Traditional media outlets & offline ads (tv, radio, print ads)
  • SEO / Inbound Marketing
  • Engineering as marketing – developing free tools, micro-sites and widgets to drive leads
  • Strategic partnerships with other companies
  • Existing platforms – i.e. using Facebook or Apple’s App Store, or even Medium to grow your audience
  • Speaking engagements
  • Community building

The Bullseye Framework is designed to whittle down the list into a few that have the best chance of maximizing your ROI. Because creating really great thought-leadery content requires a significant investment of time, if not money.

Bullseye in a Nutshell, According to Traction

Step 1: Brainstorm at least one idea for how you could use each type of traction channel.

Step 2: Rank your ideas according to which seem most promising, which could possibly work, and which seem unlikely. It might be helpful to give yourself a measurable goal, like which channels are most likely to yield 100,000 users in the first six months after launch (that, incidentally, was Mint’s lofty goal).

Step 3: Prioritize – Choose three channels that seem most promising.

Step 4: Test your three channels with the aim of finding out Cost to Acquire for each channel, how many customers are available through each channel, and whether the customers you are getting through each channel fit into your ideal customer profile.

[I’d watch out for Step 4 though, because some very important channels yield long-lasting, sustainable results, but don’t deliver quick wins. Yes, I’m talking about inbound marketing, content and SEO, as well as some others that can fly well under the radar.]

Step 5: Focus on the most promising channel. Weinberg and Mare recommend focusing on one traction channel at a time, the idea being “At any stage in a startup’s lifecycle, one traction channel dominates in terms of customer acquisition.” But again, they seem to ignore the long-term benefits of building solid content.

I would argue that startups should focus on one traction channel for quick wins, and another for long-term gains.

Here’s my list of traction and growth channels for the SaaS market to test, divided into quick wins and long-term gains.

These channels should be based on the customer.

Quick-win channels:

  • BetaList – Submit your startup on BetaList to find early adopters for your product and get valuable feedback.
  • Contests, giveaways – try Wishpond
  • Events – Launch parties, festivals, conferences – 32 examples of marketing using events
  • JustReachOut is a tool that was created specifically for startups to pitch journalists (though it is a paid resource)
  • Introduce your product on Medium – Examples: Welcome to Glitchand Introducing Yo Stories.
  • Paid Campaigns
  • Press / PR campaigns
    • For media coverage, you can use a website like Help A Reporter (HARO) to connect with journalists and bloggers needing sources for future articles. The daily HARO newsletters break down the source requests into categories, so scanning to see if your expertise is a fit is easy (plus, it is free!).
    • Mailroom Month teaches you how to get journalists to write about your business, product, startup or idea. They send a reporter to your e-mail with expert advice on how to pitch them — every day for a month.
  • Product Hunt – Is your product available (i.e. not just in test mode)? Launch it on Product Hunt, a community where product enthusiasts can easily discover new products.
  • Social media – Social media buzz is one of those things that is often more easily said than done. But, companies like InVision have used the simple tactic of giving away free company t-shirts to drive impressive customer acquisition. And even early stage SaaS companies can afford a few t-shirts. (This tip is from Kate Harvey, Content & Search Marketing Manager at Chargify.)
  • Zest.isA new-tab feed of content suggested by marketers, for marketers

Long-term gains, channels usually based on creating high quality, relevant content:

I’d recommend using the Bullseye Framework to narrow down this list and find a channel or two that work best for you for both the short and long-term. And try new channels when you’re initial channel stops working.

Ultimately, acquiring SaaS customers requires the same research and strategies as acquiring any other type of customer. The difference lies mostly in where to find them. The SaaS community is an especially active one on forums and online communities like Product Hunt, Growth Hackers, Medium, Quora, and private groups on Slack, Facebook and LinkedIn.

That’s good news, because knowing where to find your customers is half the battle.

The other half is proving your worth.

I originally answered this question on Quora.

Read Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré's answer to How do I acquire SaaS customers? on Quora


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, Onboarding, Product Management, SaaS, Startups

How to Create Customer-Centric (Not Product-Centric) User Onboarding Flows ft. @Appcues

Onboarding is a magical time—magic in the sense that if your users don’t find what they need and get the results they want, they will magically disappear. Also, magic because of its transformational power to turn tire-kickers into loyal users.

Will your onboarding process lead to a disappearing act? Or will it enable you to build a lasting customer relationship?

It all depends on how you build customer success into your user flows.

Many onboarding user flows are designed to help the user set up their accounts and learn how to use the product. That’s all very useful. But these user flows are missing a step.

Account setup and functional learning are important, but only as much as they help the user achieve their ideal outcomes.

Your user doesn’t care about your interface. They don’t really care about your tool either. They care about achieving their ideal outcome in the simplest, easiest, fastest way possible.

That’s what your product is designed to deliver, isn’t it?

Yet, too often, we fail to include the actions that mean success for the customer into the very user flows designed to get them there!

It’s time we re-think product-centric user flows—especially in onboarding.

Read More on Appcues


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, SaaS

Podcast ft. @LincolnMurphy: The Secret to SaaS Retention: Cutting Time to First Value (+ other insights from @SamuelHulick, @patio11 & @statwonk)

If you’re charting customer success milestones into your user flow and/or onboarding processes, congratulations! You are way ahead of those who don’t. But before I can offer the panacea statement “You’re doing everything right!” – there’s one step you might be missing.

It’s easy to miss, because it’s counter-intuitive.

It’s counter-intuitive, because, being the very good CSM that you are, you’ve done ALLTHERESEARCH on your target customer. You know what they want to do and need to get done with your product. And you are building milestones into your product to keep them on track.

But here’s the missing link.

It’s easy to assume that time to first value is the same as time to first milestone.

It isn’t.

And understanding the difference is very… well… valuable.

It’s easy to assume that time to first value is the same as time to first milestone. It isn’t. Click To Tweet

We’re talking dollars and cents, make-or-break your company valuable.

First, a couple of definitions for the newly initiated:

Your Milestones: Typical milestones include trial period, sale, onboarding, product usage, upsell opportunity, renewal, etc. These are your milestones – the things you’d like your customers to accomplish so your product is successful. These are not your customer’s milestones.

Customer Success Milestones: The steps a customer has to take in order to reach their desired outcome. (Lincoln Murphy’s definition.) You can also think of them as the little successes along the way to reaching the customer’s ultimate success.

Time to first value (TTFV): Time to first value is how much time it takes for the customer to get real, tangible value from using your product. And this is “value” by their definition, not yours. This first value is probably going to be related to your value proposition – that promise that got your customers in the door in the first place.

The onboarding process, in particular, is where we really win or lose customers – and the surest way to win them is to show them value. In The Most Important SaaS Metric Nobody Talks About, RRE ventures connects the dots between the value proposition and time to first value in a nice, concise way:

Onboarding should emphasize and reinforce the value prop that drove the user to your product in the first place. Sign-up should be frictionless and deployment should be self-service to the point where the customer is up and running in minutes and, most importantly, getting value from your product a few moments right after.”

Onboarding should reinforce the value prop that drove the user to your product in the first place. Click To Tweet

A few moments isn’t much time to deliver value, and if your product simply can’t manage that – you’re not alone.

Lincoln Murphy has been noodling over the idea of time to first value for a while – and I particularly like what he has to say about including “quick wins” in the onboarding process. Quick wins don’t have to happen within the first “20 minutes” like the RRE Ventures article suggests, but they do need to happen fast enough to prove that your product is worth the time/money investment before the customer loses interest (or patience).

Reaching that first value quickly is easier in simpler SaaS products. But what if you have a complicated product, one which does a lot of things and has a steeper learning curve? I asked Lincoln Murphy, Founder of Sixteen Ventures to weigh in on time to first value, and what the TTFV process looks like for a more complicated product.

Time to First Value (TTFV) Podcast ft. Lincoln Murphy

Lincoln on Time to First Value

Since there’s some confusion over value versus milestones, Lincoln clears that up first.

I like TTFV because it forces us to think about value; milestones can quickly devolve into the typical inward-focused CX of just trying to get a customer to do what we want, not what they need to do.

The purpose of milestones is to get the customer closer to finding value – I might have to go through several milestones to reach first value. If a milestone isn’t value-based – if it’s not moving the customer toward their Desired Outcome – it isn’t a milestone. Or it isn’t a milestone in the context of Customer Success.

Also remember that “first value” may be actual value delivered (or received, depending upon your POV) or it could be when the value potential is first recognized by the customer outside of their interactions with sales and marketing.

More complex products often take awhile for value to be truly recognized, so the value potential is what we focus on initially.

Lincoln on First Value when it’s Complicated

Onboarding design is usually about prompting the new customer to complete “setup” tasks and/or learning how to use the product.

It’s a bit like creating a new character when you want to play your computer game – you pick a name, do some cosmetic surgery on the face, choose a species (I know I’m not the only RPG gamer here). The best games make that part fun too, because they know that fun is their customer’s desired outcome. It’s not that different for SaaS products, but with SaaS products – especially those adopted by teams and businesses, you also have to manage expectations.

Setting up the system is part of getting to first value, but you need to be prescriptive and manage expectations with them along the way, meaning you really have to understand what first value actually is [for the customer] and design a process to get them there quickly.

Structure begets trust.

The more we can help our customer set things up and manage expectations on their end, so they can plan for it accordingly, the more they’ll trust us. Often it’s the unknown that causes our customers to lose confidence in us.

The unknown is problematic because it’s confusing, hard to plan around. Sometimes, onboarding processes are even confusing on purpose.

For most vendors, the onboarding process is a total black box, at least throughout the sales process, and only then does it become more apparent that it’s… not actually that great.

You see this when vendors try to hide the details of onboarding from their customers until it’s too late for customers to back out. We need to be open, prescriptive and structured with our customers.

That said, very often, the setup, implementation, data seeding, integrations, etc., aren’t necessary to getting the customer to first value. That’s a huge idea, because vendors often don’t understand what initial value is for the customer. They think that in order for a customer to get value they have to have everything set up. The customer has to have all the implementations and integrations complete.

The reality is that’s not true.

It may be true for the customer to get ultimate value, but that’s not first value.
The critical piece here is understanding the difference.

Back to my role-playing games – sometimes the setup is more fun than the game. That’s doing it right. ie. finding the first value insta-fast. But in the serious world of SaaS, product development and sales folks are so concentrated on full adoption, that they miss opportunities to identify other, in-between ways in which their customers can get closer to their ideal outcomes.

Most vendors have an idea of value for their customers and that idea usually greatly varies from the idea of value that their customers have for themselves. The vendors’ idea of value is often full adoption, full breadth and depth. Customers must use all the seats and every feature or they can’t be successful, but your customers tend to have something else in mind. They have a business outcome that they need to achieve and that may not require what *you* think success really is.

The question is: do you care about what your customer sees as success? Or do you care about what you see as success?

You have to make a decision. If it’s all about you, all about that full depth and breadth of use, that’s fine, but know that’s not the same as your customer’s definition of success.

And that’s going to be a problem.

So how do we dig deeper and find out what first values to target?

We need to ask what is their ultimate business outcome and what would first value actually be?

Is it when they first get some real tangible value, or is it the first time, outside of sales and marketing, that they see the potential for value in their relationship with us? Figure out which one it is and that’s your onboarding goal.

Now we have to engineer a process to get them to that point.

Here’s the deal: We have this ultimate business outcome, and to get there we have to achieve these smaller outcomes along the way – an initial outcome followed by logical milestones.

If they don’t achieve those first few milestones, their ultimate goals don’t really matter because they won’t get there. This is why we see so much churn and non-renewal attributed to early lifecycle issues.

It’s your job as the vendor to know what that initial outcome is and help them achieve that in the appropriate way, and you have to know what those milestones are on the way to the next logical outcome.

But because software vendors often invest millions and millions into features, they want to shove those features on customers as quickly as possible instead of understanding what the customer needs and just giving them that.

Just that.

Instead, vendors tend to overwhelm their customers with too much stuff – features, tasks, integrations, enhancements, training, whatever – and the customer never gets any real value because they’re never really onboarded.

And how does timing work in this onboarding process? It’s not tied to the typical 30 days – that’s for sure!

I see a lot of vendors tie their onboarding to some artificial time frame, usually 30 days. And they say, “Well, they’ve been a customer for 30 days, check that box, they’re onboard now.” So even though they have an onboarding process, they have some arbitrary time frame, they overwhelm the customer, and then they say after that 30 days, the customer is onboard.

This makes no sense.

Then, of course, the customer complains they’re not getting any value and the vendor blames them for not finding value from this – obviously – super valuable product. There’s a mentality that has to change here.

Treat time to first value as a goal.

Every customer achieves success in their own timeline. We have to set a goal for them. We would like our customers, or at least a specific customer segment, to achieve first value either by getting actual value from their relationship with us, or, for the first time, see that real value potential in the product.

We want them to achieve that milestone in 30 days, but that’s a number we made up. It might take them 3 days, or three months. We might have to intervene, or it might be fine. It’s a goal. And we want to make sure that, if things aren’t fine, we intervene before those 30 days are up and get them back on track.

Instead of saying we have a complex product, we should start viewing it as a complex customer relationship. If they have a more complex goal, we’re going to have to work with them in various ways to help them achieve that goal. It’s not a complex product – the product is there to facilitate success through this relationship. It’s a different way to look at things.

But at the end of the day, you need to know what the ultimate value is, and you need to know what first value is, so you can design and engineer a process to meet them where they are and get them to that first value.

What other people are saying about TTV

Of course, Lincoln isn’t the only one talking about time to first value. Here’s what other SaaS industry insiders are saying.

How do you define TTV?

Samuel Hulick, UX Designer, UserOnboard.com:

“This is surprisingly tricky to define, because on the surface it would simply be “the amount of time it takes for someone to experience value from your product,” but HOW MUCH value is necessary for you to officially call it “finished”? Ideally, you provide some value in your product’s very first experience, but if that was also equal to all of the value someone COULD EVER get out of your product, you probably don’t have much of a product at all. Instead of coming up with a rule of thumb for when it’s “enough value to count”, I would instead focus on something like “value per minute”, wherein you focus on delivering more and more value more and more efficiently, kind of like this concept in video game design.

Of course, the people who NEVER receive value will skew that ratio way down, but, well… that’s sort of the point!”

Patrick McKenzie, Kalzumeus:

“Are you familiar with the character Walsh on Firefly and how he uses the word “Shiny?” When I’m thinking about this in my own head, I think Time-To-Shiny. You’re looking for a combination of both a) delight and b) either demonstrably improving someone’s life or credibly demonstrating that you have the capability of doing so.

Twilio, for example, has among the best Time-To-Shiny of any complicated, development-heavy software product you’ll ever use. You can credibly promise a massive improvement in folks lives as soon as their phone rings in response to code they have written; Twilio can have that happening in ~30 seconds or so for a new user if they’re being guided; perhaps ~5 minutes or so if they’re a motivated self-starter.

How to improve it? One, figure out a way to track it obsessively. Two, cheat like a mofo; ruthlessly defer as much as possible about the full experience until AFTER you have achieved that one moment of concentrated joy. Exact tactics for doing this depend a lot on the product at issue; often they involve (e.g.) having fake data pre-loaded in accounts so that someone doesn’t have to do weeks of data entry prior to seeing any improvement in their lives, scripted onboarding experiences, etc.”

Christopher Peters, Data Scientist at Zapier:

“Studying survival analysis taught me a great rule of thumb for this. The highest likelihood of TTV is always the moment after signing up. This is when the user is active, it’s only downhill from there. Having realized this, I’ve guided the team to really focus on onboarding well. Incorporating UX research is invaluable to get customers to TTV faster.

TTV is a curve. Some reach it in seconds, other years or even never. I think of it in terms of influencing a curve rather than a discrete point. The key is using statistics to measure TTV, but qualitative UX research to guide the improvements.”

How are you building value into your product or onboarding process? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you!


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, SaaS

How to Start a Customer Success Program From Scratch by @NikkiElizDemere

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

If your SaaS company hasn’t leapt on board the Customer Success train yet, it’s likely due to “focusing on other things,” or “we don’t have the budget for that right now.” But prioritizing Customer Success pays big dividends in returning revenue – so much so that it’s gaining the reputation as the ultimate growth hack. That’s not hype – Customer Success is how SaaS businesses raise retention rates and increase referrals while paving the road for cross-sells and upsells.

If you’re focusing most of your resources on acquisition, you’re missing out on one of the greatest growth engines at your disposal.

“Customer success is where 90% of the revenue is,” – Jason Lemkin, venture capitalist and founder of SaaStr

Acquisition may get the ball rolling, but retention is where the big money is. Big, sustainable money that costs less and less to make. And, this alchemy only works when customers achieve the successes with the product or service that they’d hoped for upon signing up.

Statistically, successful customers:

  • Spend more money over time
  • Are highly likely to consider additional products and services
  • Serve as enthusiastic brand advocates that reduce the Cost to Acquire new customers (CAC)

That last point, customer evangelism (aka. brand advocacy), is the most significant benefit of Customer Success and the one that leads to spending less on acquisition efforts, while acquiring more customers.

When your company understands what success means to your customers, then ensures they receive what they need to achieve it, those customers respond – on Facebook, on Twitter, on Yelp, on Linkedin, and in person. They become not just your fans, but your best salespeople, helping your company grow.

But how do you start a customer success program from scratch?

First, let’s start with what customer success really is, because any time a term becomes a “buzzword” it tends to lose its original meaning.

Read More on Wootric


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, Product Management, SaaS

Product Managers: Why You Should Include Customer Success Milestones In Your User Flows ft. @Wootric & @16v

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

As a Product Manager, you develop user flows to chart how customers move from signup to successfully using your SaaS product. Your colleagues in Customer Success are doing the same thing — mapping a flow of customer milestones to success.

But “success” can mean different things to PMs and CSMs. And, while both teams employ user flows (or customer journeys), what they put on them are very different, reflecting their very different goals.

You are responsible for making the product functionally work, with enough awesome UX so it’s relatively intuitive for the customer to use. For your team, “success” often means that the product works. It does what it says it will do, and does it well.

Customer Success is responsible for helping customers use the product to achieve their desired outcome. Most of the time, that desired outcome isn’t in the product – it’s outside of it. For example, if I purchase a budgeting app, my desired outcome is to save enough money to sun myself on a Caribbean beach, with a good-looking server to bring me fruity drinks with umbrellas in them. The Customer Success manager’s job is to get me there.

You might say it’s a conflict between focusing on the world inside the product and the wide, wide world outside of it.

And that conflict can bring about a deep divide between Product and Customer Success.

Yet, we’re all working towards the same goal: Creating a product people love, need and want more of.

What if you were to bring both user flows together, so the functionality inside the product meets the desired outcomes outside of the product?

Read More on Wootric


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.