Getting Past the Empty State: How 5 Popular CRM Tools Onboard Users

Written by: Julia Chen Julia Chen 

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The CRM system is the central nervous system of any organization that spends significant time communicating with customers. In its usual everyday state, it's a busy hub brimming with activity and information.

However, getting started with a CRM is a whole different story. Choosing a tool is a lot like picking a house—it is hard to imagine how the empty concrete box is going to fit around you to become a home. It is equally hard to imagine how a software tool will become the home for every piece of information and communication you have with your customers. Every company uses their CRM differently—managing leads, organizing sales pipelines, etc. Choosing a CRM is critical because it makes the difference between improving your existing workflow or making it implode.

The big challenge of onboarding to a CRM system is the huge cognitive overload for the person who's responsible for moving the team. All companies have their customer data stored somewhere, in a spreadsheet or another CRM tool. A large part of onboarding for a CRM system right is making it painless to move that data over to the new system.

There are different scenarios in which this can play out:

  • A new user might be checking out the tool while comparing alternative solutions. In these cases, it is important to show them how well the system works by using sample data, so they can understand the benefits and take it back to their team.
  • Different teams have different needs and use a CRM in different ways. By creating personalized onboarding flows, you can onboard users according to what they need.
  • It's really intimidating to look at an empty slate. Good CRM onboarding means making it as easy as possible to add data and populate the new tool.

To understand why some CRM tools take off while others don't, we look at how five of the most popular brands lower the cognitive overhead during onboarding.

Salesforce: Show users around during their first visit

Salesforce pioneered the CRM software category—when the company first got listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2004, it even used CRM for its stock symbol.

Salesforce offers one of the most sophisticated CRM solutions and uses the onboarding process to showcase its features.

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How Salesforce onboards users

  • Product tour: Salesforce uses a product tour to explain the basic features of the software to its users. The first screen during onboarding is an overview of this tour. However, the product tour is quite long and risks overwhelming users—it seems that Salesforce is trying to do too much with this flow.
  • Personalized onboarding: Users can pick what part of onboarding they want to start with. This allows them to choose the step that's most relevant to their skill level and context. In this particular case, Salesforce could use better copy to make it easier for users to pick a step.
  • Sample data to get users started during the free trial: Like a few other CRMs, Salesforce uses sandbox data during the free trial to demonstrate value with little upfront effort. This is especially important for products that require extensive set-ups and have limited zero-state functionality.
  • Multiple in-app messages: On some screens, users see multiple messages. This is risky because it might confuse them and lead them to leave the app during onboarding. It would be hard to persuade them to come back at a later point if they don't experience the value of Salesforce during their first visit.

Although Salesforce does a great job of highlighting all the features in its highly sophisticated product, some of the elements it uses are likely to confuse their users. A simpler and more straightforward process might yield better results for the brand.

HubSpot CRM: Make it easy for companies to get started

HubSpot CRM is a “free forever” product that helps generate demand for their premium sales and marketing team solutions.

HubSpot makes it easy to get started with the product, funneling users through surveys and product tours seamlessly. Power users of the CRM then become great leads for HubSpot's paid solutions.

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How HubSpot CRM onboards users

  • Onboarding survey: HubSpot uses a short survey to collect basic information about users like company size, team they'll be using the tool for, etc. This information helps HubSpot customize the platform to the role of the person who's using it.
  • Navigation sets clear expectations: The breadcrumbs on top make it clear how long onboarding takes and lowers the risk of annoying users.
  • Sample data helps users get through the blank state: Sample data should be used with care as it can confuse users. In this case, we see how HubSpot leaves no room for confusion by making it very clear that this is a sample contact.
  • Strong push to verify email: This is tied to the aha! moment of the tool — without this step you can't start sending emails, which is where you see the value of the HubSpot CRM.

The onboarding flow of HubSpot CRM focuses on ease-of-use and showcases more of its brand. 

Infusionsoft: Push users to build up their profile

Infusionsoft is a popular CRM and e-mail marketing tool, aimed at helping small businesses with up to 25 employees.

During onboarding, Infusionsoft aggressively pushes users to build up their profile and add their data with the hope that it will lead to a higher retention rate.

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How infusionsoft onboards users

  • Build up profile: Infusionsoft pushes new users to build up their profile — making them do the work increases the chance that they feel more invested to the product.
  • Mandatory onboarding: By making users click through every screen, Infusionsoft hopes that more users will add their data. However, this is a risky strategy because many people might leave before they even get to the core product. It also isn't clear how these steps are tied to the value of Infusionsoft — “If I add my details, how is this going to make the product better for me?”
  • Tutorials index: Next, new users see an index page with links to all the tutorials Infusionsoft has on how to use the product — this can be skipped, but it's not immediately obvious, so again it's a risk of overwhelming and alienating users.
  • Product drives users to Aha! moment: When users finally get to the dashboard, they're greeted with two CTA's that focus on the most important steps they need to take to get to the value of the product — add at least one contact and create and send an email campaign. The elements are also cleverly designed — implying there's some exciting piece of insight awaiting under, inviting you to click on the button and do what it's asking.

Making users work during their first visit is a risky tactic, which may result in a high dropout rate. On the upside, those who add their data and complete the process will be much more likely to stick with Infusionsoft.

Freshsales: Use sample data to demonstrate how the product works

Freshsales is a CRM tool with a focus on helping sales teams improve their workflow. The software is a result of the dissatisfaction that their parent company Freshworks had with alternative solutions.

Freshsales uses the onboarding flow to educate its audience about the functionalities of the product.

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How Freshsales onboards users

  • Tour of features: Freshsales doesn't teach users how to get started, but instead chooses to demonstrate the main features of the product through a modal series that reveal the basic functionalities of the app. The 7-part series can be overwhelming though.
  • Slideout to drive attention to help resources: Freshsales uses a slideout to drive new users to help resources. The way it's designed, this element gets a lot of attention. However, the copy used is neither clear, nor compelling — for example, it's not immediately clear what a “solution article” is, or why users should “request for demo.”
  • Sample data: Again, it's a good way to get over the intimidation of the “blank state” screen and teach users where they should look for important data like notifications.

Freshsales does a great job of using the onboarding flow to demonstrate all important features of the product. Demonstrating how they work with sample data is another great thing about this flow.

Zoho: Push users to link the tools they're already using

Zoho CRM is the main tool in the brand's suite of tools for businesses that also include tools for email, accounting, and more.

Zoho's focus during onboarding is to get users to link the services they're already using to manage their email, contacts, and calendar, and to import existing customer data.

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How Zoho onboards users

  • Build up a profile: Zoho's focus during onboarding is to get new users to add personal data and connect other tools they're already using — email, contacts, calendar, etc.
  • Onboarding checklist: A checklist helps users get through the onboarding process and pushes them to add important information. The checklist on the home screen serves as a call-to-action, which is constantly reminding users of the next step they need to take. It also serves as a catch-all for all types of relevant messages like the webinar announcement at the bottom of the screen.
  • Confusing banner message: Zoho prompts users with a message to adjust their API calls in order to avoid data loss. While this is clearly important for regular users of the product, new customers who're just getting started with the product are likely to find this message confusing. Using the correct tool, this message could easily be hidden from first-time users, who can't benefit from it.
  • Import data from another CRM: Zoho doesn't use sample data to get through the blank screen, but the last step during onboarding is to get users to import data from another service.

By getting users to import their existing data, Zoho improves the chances that they stick with the app for longer.

Great onboarding can win your product a loyal customer

Onboarding is extremely important to CRM tools because once an organization has picked a tool, imported their data, and created accounts for every team member, the chance that they switch to another tool is minuscule.

However, getting to that point is not so easy. Business customers are careful when picking a CRM tool because the stakes are really high. This is a good opportunity for companies that run such software to create a great onboarding experience that quickly delivers value to a user and generates a loyal customer.

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