Getting on board with onboarding – Part 2

Ben Rowe

Ben Rowe

Designer. Dad. Defender of the Universe.

Welcome to part two of my post on User Onboarding. In part one, we talked about what good onboarding is and isn’t. And after showing some great onboarding examples, we talked about how understanding your user – and understanding the value that you’re providing them – is crucial to a successful onboarding experience, and making your customers happy. To get the most out of this post, please have a read of part one if you haven’t already.

OK – onwards to the second instalment!

Finding the shortest path to value

Once customers can see the value in your product, and how it can improve their lives, they’re much more likely to become active customers.

But new users can be fickle, and unless they’re wowed within the first few minutes, you risk losing them forever. 

Your goal is to get new users to their ‘aha moment’ – the moment when they grasp the value that your product offers – as quickly as possible.

If you can identify which tasks or steps a user needs to complete themselves in order to experience that moment, and focus your onboarding experience towards completing those steps, you’ll be on the right track.

In my first post, I spoke about Noom’s onboarding experience. 

You don’t need to create an account to see the value that Noom offers. In as few steps as possible, Noom presents you with a customised weight loss plan – including when you can expect to lose that weight. It’s a real ‘aha moment’ that you gets users hooked very quickly. 

Think about whether some steps can be removed from the initial onboarding sequence or deferred until later? You want to remove any friction in the process, so keeping it simple is best. 

Users should get to their aha moment well before they’ve handed over their money. So you need to be demonstrating value in the free version of your product (i.e. free trial / freemium model), before the paywall.

It’s even better if you can get users to their aha moment before they have signed up for a free account. That way you’re drastically reducing friction, and providing the shortest path to value for your users.


From activation to adoption


The onboarding experience shouldn’t just be focussed on new sign-ups – that’s just step one.

Step two is to move from activation to adoption. If you did manage to convince someone new to try your product, now’s the time to deliver on your promise. Prove to them that your product is easy to use, provides them with the value that they’re looking for, and that it’s totally worth paying for.

But of course, you’ll probably need to give people a few gentle nudges along the way.

Your product is a bowling lane

Wes Bush’s Bowling Alley Framework is a great analogy for thinking about your onboarding flow and provides a great framework to think about how to convert trial users into fully-fledged customers. Think of your product as a bowling lane.

Your overall objective is to get users to bowl a strike, that’s the “must-have” moment, where users are convinced that your product is worth paying for.

But many users never bowl a strike. Most users will churn, which is the bowling alley equivalent to a gutterball.

How do we reduce gutterballs? We put up bumpers, to stop the ball from going off track and we need to do the same to keep our users out of the gutter.

Wes talks about 2 types of bumpers that we can put up, to nudge our users back in the right direction:

Conversational Bumpers are typically out-of-app nudges which educate your users about what they can do, and in turn, bring them back into your app. They include welcome emails, usage tips and explainer videos.

Product Bumpers are usually in-app methods to make sure you’re helping people use the product correctly. Smart empty states, product walkthroughs, in-app messaging and usage checklists are all good examples of product bumpers.

Image courtesy of Wes Bush – The bowling alley framework


Make sure you understand where your users are churning, and specifically where they need some encouragement to stay the course. Then you can decide which tactics to use to increase the likelihood that users will knock down all the pins and score their strike.

Some final thoughts about user onboarding

It’s not easy …

I’d like to be able to tell you that user onboarding is easy. That you can “sprinkle a bit of onboarding” on top of your existing product, and that you can have it done in 2 sprints. But that would be a lie.

That said – it has become a lot easier to use 3rd party tools like Appcues or Intercom to add product bumpers and conversational bumpers into your product. This is a perfectly good option, especially for smaller teams.

Ever evolving, never finished.

The truth is onboarding cannot simply be a stand-alone project. You need to develop an onboarding strategy that’s baked into your product strategy.

Users need to understand every new feature that you release. So the onboarding experience should go well beyond the first 5 minutes. It needs to be tightly coupled and fully integrated with your actual product.

It needs to be deeply informed by user insight. Over time your customers’ definition of what ‘success’ looks like will change. Your users will evolve and so too must your onboarding. Which is why good onboarding is never complete.

You need someone to own it.

Often, multiple teams working on the onboarding experience. Sales and marketing might own customer acquisition, whereas product teams might be in control of activation and retention. Tech and product might also be in charge of analytics.

This can create silos that lead to a lack of cohesion in the onboarding flow, and more churn. Consider setting up ongoing, cross-functional teams that own the onboarding experience. Even think about roles in your company that are directly responsible for it, to ensure that your entire onboarding is consistent and cohesive.

Start today

User onboarding is a critical component of product-led growth. It’s the best way to reduce customer churn and increase product adoption. Without a solid onboarding strategy in place, you simply won’t convince many new users that your product is right for them.

The best time to start working on your product’s user onboarding was on Day One – from the very beginning. Ideally, every product starts with a sound onboarding strategy in place.

The second best time is today. Now’s the time to revisit your onboarding experience.

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