Editor’s note: This article was adapted from a talk—The Dangers of Activation—given at the 2019 Product-Led Summit.
Activation—which occurs after a user has had their aha moment and realized your product’s core value—is arguably the most critical metric for SaaS companies to measure and optimize. Improving your activation rate doesn’t just impact the early stages of your users’ journey; a lift in activation has positive downstream effects on everything from customer satisfaction to retention to revenue.
And in the Product-Led Growth Flywheel framework, a higher activation rate eventually comes full circle and translates to increased acquisition, as activated users graduate through the flywheel to become advocates for your product.
In short, activation is important.
Yet many companies still don’t quite get it right. In this article, we’ll talk through some activation best practices—plus, 3 of the most common activation pitfalls and how to avoid them.
(If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out this step-by-step guide on how to identify your product’s activation metric.)
The 3 common pitfalls of activation
Before we dive into best practices for improving your activation rate, let’s go over a few of the most common mistakes that SaaS companies make.
Mistake 1: First session or bust
Yes, activation should occur early in the user journey. But it doesn’t have to happen during the very first user session. Products like FullStory and Drift, for instance, require you to install a script to your website before you’re able to see the full value of the product.
It can be helpful to think of activation like the domino that knocks down all the rest. Sometimes, some set up is required before you can set off that chain reaction.
And for more complex products, trying to onboard your users in a single sitting can be overwhelming and actually reduce motivation.
Mistake 2: Forcing users toward their aha moment
Once you’ve realized how important your activation rate is to long-term product success, it’s natural to want to drive your users to activate as soon as possible. But forcing people toward their aha moment is often counterproductive.
Twitter, for example, defines an activated user as someone who follows 10 people. But if Twitter forced you to follow 10 specific accounts as part of their onboarding experience, they’d have a lot “activated users” who didn’t care about the people they just followed.
A true aha moment has to feel natural. For activation to occur, their here needs to be a balancing act between making it easy for your user to activate of their own accord, and making sure you lead them down the right path.
Which brings us to our next point...
Mistake 3: A single path to activation
Whether it’s intentional or not, there are multiple paths to activation in every product. You’ve probably put thought into defining an ideal path for your users—but it’s worth looking out for alternative paths to value that you could be optimizing. This is especially true for B2B SaaS products with multiple features and functionalities—a user may come for one thing but identify your product fills another need.
Accounting software Wave, for instance, does a great job at directing new users to the features that they’ll find most relevant to them at the beginning of their user journey. At Appcues, this is called choose-your-own-adventure onboarding.
How do you improve your activation rate?
Avoiding the pitfalls above will help you design a better onboarding experience and improve your product’s activation rate.
But enough about what not to do—let’s now take a look at some best practices to help you improve your activation rate even further. In our experience, the 3 most impactful things that you can do to consistently drive activation rates up are:
It used to be that you could get by with personalizing the first name of an email and calling it a day. That’s no longer the case. People expect your product to deliver a completely personalized experience, from onboarding and beyond.
To consistently improve your activation rate, you need to identify the outcomes people want to get out of your product, and then focus your onboarding around driving users toward these goals (versus product features).
The trick here is not to overthink it.
If you’re not sure what your users want to do first in your product, just ask them. You might even consider reaching out to churned users to find out why they left:
Notice that this email is personalized, nonjudgmental, non-spammy, and accountable. These 4 characteristics make people more willing to help out, even though they may have already moved on from your product.
Always be teaching
Just because your users have completed onboarding doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to be happy customers forever. To keep users engaged and help them expand into new use cases, you should look for ways to continuously educate customers throughout their lifecycle, driving them to further value.
Joanna Wiebe, founder of CopyHackers, accomplishes this feat by hosting weekly webinars in which she teaches customers to be better writers using her product Airstory.
Whether you use webinars, in-product messaging, emails to educate your users is up to you. The important thing is to provide opportunities for ongoing learning to the folks who need it.
Identify drop-off points
In order to improve your user experience, you first need to know where it’s falling short.
If you’re relying on Google Analytics alone to understand how people are using your product, you’re flying blind. Investing in a robust product analytics platform like Heap, Amplitude, or Mixpanel can help you quickly identify drop-off points in your product using cohort analysis.
Once you’ve identified the rough in your product, use user journey mapping to strategize ways to smooth out the experience and reduce friction.
Tying it all together
“Activate” is the verb that moves evaluators through your flywheel and sets them on the path to becoming your product champions. Your activation rate is a measurement of how effectively you are conveying and delivering value to users during the early days of their product experience.
Mistakes at the activation stage of the user journey can seriously ground your product from taking off. That’s why accurately identifying your moment of activation and prioritizing its optimization is so critical.
Get activation right, and you can look forward to better conversion, higher customer satisfaction, reduced churn, and sustainable revenue growth. So what are you waiting for?
Still not convinced? Use the Appcues Pirate Metrics Calculator to find out the impact a lift in activation can have on MRR.