Different stages of an onboarding strategy showing an email, two conversational bubbles, a piece of educational content, another two conversational bubbles and a user profile.

How to improve your onboarding strategy

Creating an effective onboarding strategy has never been this crucial. Customers demand more from organisations and one mistake can make them leave you, even at the beginning of their journey.

To prevent this, it’s not enough with sending one welcome email and call it a day. It’s important to study the customer and plan what you’re going to communicate and how. It takes time to create a good onboarding.

You could approach it from the point of view of marketing project management. You should define goals, pinpoint the audience, create the messages and monitor the results. But most importantly, you should first look into what you are doing and why is not working.

Why onboarding fails and how to remedy

There are many reasons and probably more than one applies to any onboarding strategy you’ve put into practice.

No one is responsible for onboarding

One of the main reasons why customer onboarding fails is that most of the time there is no assigned person or department for onboarding. Both responsibility and accountability are not established. 

Often the sales function will do the delivery of the product, but no other team is assigned to make sure the customer completes the task and assure understanding of onboarding. 

If the sales team provides information on how to get started is often done in a rapid-fire manner. And this is a problem because the customer might not fully internalise it.

Assuming what the customer will do 

The other main reason is assuming the customer will read and contact you in case of need. Normally all these intro articles or how to get started have a low read rate. That is why in many places they offer an installation service. 

Onboarding should happen in the product as well as in the marketing, sales and communications touchpoints. But most importantly, it should also be adapted to the customer.

On top of that, you need to motivate them to perform actions for the sake of their success. That’s why companies use messages such as “avoid unpleasant surprises”, push a short but mandatory onboarding carrousel, or use gamification showing a bar with a percentage of completion.

Lack of transparency since day 1 

Another issue is that marketing and sales do not want to fully disclose product limitations. But by the time the customer is being onboarded and finds out about it, it’s too late.

They get a bad experience. and they feel cheated or tricked into something. Many customers are willing to sacrifice features or wait for product improvements, but when they start with a bad experience they feel like they are there only for the money. Eaten bread is soon forgotten.  

Focusing on the purchaser while neglecting the user

Finally, in B2B environments, it is very common that only the purchaser is educated, but not the actual user. Companies shouldn’t underestimate the user over the purchaser.

That leads to a bad experience where the users complain, give bad NPS and even push the administrator to change the product. It is important to understand who you are going to onboard.

Plan, execute and measure your new onboarding strategy

If you want to develop a good onboarding, you need to understand the process that your customer goes through. Think about your business model and the steps your users or customers have to go through.

You can start asking yourself the following questions: Where do the users come from? How long does it pass until the deal is closed? Do they first signup and then decide to purchase your software? Do they become customers prior to receiving their product? When is your current onboarding triggered and launched?

All these questions are aiming to create a strategy around the customer, not the product. This is about prioritising customer centricity to create a frictionless journey.

The customer a centre of everything in any marketing strategy, onboarding strategy or any organisational process.

Think of customer success for your onboarding strategy

The key to an effective onboarding strategy is to keep your customer at the centre of everything. Stop focusing on getting your users to complete the steps that mean success for your business cares and focus more on getting them to experience their own KPIs.

You need to understand the user’s definition of success. The best is to always ask the customer, whether you regularly talk to them or you handpicked some to interview. 

For instance, if you prefer to talk to all of them, you can do that by continually asking new customers what they are hoping to achieve with your product. You will learn their functional goals (e.g. optimise in my shipping process), their personal goals (e.g. feeling accomplished), and their social goals (e.g. impress my investors). You can onboard by asking questions.

Define your customers’ problems with stories

By using a mix of design-thinking and the jobs-to-be-done methodology, you can define these problems in stories. Persona A has problem X and buys your product so now Persona A can do Z. It could be your product gives them more time to do what they want, brings them more money or any other definition of success.

These stories should define your strategy. When you onboard a user, you should onboard them for success. To do so, you need to approach it with design thinking by trying to understand:

  • What job your product is purchased to accomplish.
  • What success looks like for each of these jobs.

At the same time, you must design journeys. This way, you can find out how to guide them through the features that help them accomplish these jobs. It’s about creating flows around features or products that answer your customer’s needs.

Then you would use all sorts of communication tools to help them get there. In this case, data is highly important, because you should track days passed, events and actions that will trigger this communication.

In addition, you can consider including an early warning system for when the onboarding is about to finish and they are more or less on their own. For instance, if you offer a free trial, you should start the conversation on how to reactivate them before the end of the trial.

How to execute your onboarding strategy

When it comes to fixing what’s wrong with your current onboarding, try to tackle one or two issues, not more. Otherwise, you won’t know what approach moved the needle.

It can be a problem with the product or with the communication. However, it can be that the UI or design is not right in either one or both, or the communication comes at the wrong time and place so it’s out of context. Pick one or two problems you are aware of.

If you are going to use tooltips, focus on the customer, not on the product. Instead of pointing to a button, make the button highlight itself. You can use deep links in an email or in-app message saying “change your settings” instead of pointing at that button in the left-upper corner and telling them to click on it.

Don’t forget that gamification could also be the key to the success of your onboarding strategy. For example, you can use progress bars. However, you should be careful because it can be understood as progress on what the business wants and not on what the user wants.

For small products, there is usually no difference between your initial KPIs and your customer’s KPIs. However, for more complex software this practice can be understood as force-feeding if your interest is different from the customer’s interest.

At the same time, you must define the channels that will onboard your newly acquired customers. There are no mutually exclusive channels, they just serve different purposes at different times in your customer’s journey.

Nonetheless, it’s important your onboarding is consistent with the purpose of each channel. For instance, if you use email to talk about your company and in-app messages to educate about your product, keep it like that to avoid confusion.

Measure the results of your onboarding

Ideally, onboarding should be conducted via an A/B test, and the test should be based on a customer problem, on already-known issues, or on new insights obtained through surveys.

Therefore, you should’ve defined what KPIs to look at when you were planning your onboarding strategy. The reason for this is to be aware of what is working in your strategy and how to measure it. 

Whatever indicator you choose, make sure you can compare the results in version A with the ones in B. If you are unable to A/B test it, then try to use historic data.

Remember, there are other KPIs beyond the purchase rate. When you measure the results you can also look into other indicators of the success of your onboarding strategy, for instance, reduced support volume or an increase in the NPS results.

At the same time, make sure your A/B test is statistically significant, meaning that the difference between your experiment’s original version and the test version isn’t due to random chance. Always give it time and try to obtain as much data as possible.

Start improving your onboarding strategy

Now you should be able to start running onboarding campaigns on your own. How they should look like or what results to get are not set. The most important is that they’re aimed at your customers. 

Remember to question your current strategy and figure out why is failing. In addition, think of the narrative you’ll use, and do it by figuring out what is success for your customers when they look for your product.

Once you start executing your plan, do it around that idea of success and stay consistent in your choices. These will be key when you need to measure the results so can easily compare the data. Et voilà, now it’s time to reap the benefits and think of how to optimise them even more.







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