Market Broader, Gain User Insight, & Preserve Your Brand with this Onboarding Growth Hack


Falling short on your software promise is the worst. Your users are your lifeblood, and if you cannot provide them value, what once was growth will wither away.

Falling short on your software promise to a specific segment of your users is almost as bad. But you can balance this ailment with a healthy stream of users that do receive regular value from your product.

We’re guilty of this at Appcues.

Our third most common type of support ticket looks exactly like this:

mobile support email

Hundreds of users have launched into our application with the intention of using it for their mobile apps. The problem is, we don’t have a mobile solution yet, so when they expected us to fulfil our promise, we failed to deliver.

This failure was a problem for us for 2 reasons:

  1. We were frustrating certain new users by not setting expectations clearly and thus affecting their perception with the Appcues brand
  2. We were wasting our own time supporting customers we cannot immediately service

And it’s a failure that is easily avoidable. Just take a look at what you see when you look us up:

appcues google search results

We could make some simple copy changes to our marketing site and this problem would go away.

And if we never intended to launch a mobile solution, that’s exactly what we would do. But mobile represents a massive opportunity for Appcues, even though we are focused exclusively on webapps right now.

So that brings us to the dilemma: how can we continue to market broadly to get feedback on a potential mobile product without frustrating certain new users?

Onboarding to the rescue!

We love gainful data collection, so instead of clarifying our current offerings on our homepage, we chose to keep it intentionally ambiguous and not turn anyone away.

To minimize the frustration of an unsatisfied promise, however, we launched an onboarding experiment that segments mobile-focused users into a different flow immediately after they sign up. It looks like this:

branching onboarding flows

Users who select “Web App” follow a traditional onboarding flow, while users clicking “Mobile (iOS or Android)” are informed of our current limitations, and are told we will notify them when we launch our mobile solution.

The impact of our contextualized onboarding flow

Since we implemented this branch in our onboarding experience, 12.4% of users who sign up have selected Mobile. For them, we’ve immeasurably reduced their frustration and have therefore helped preserve our brand for these highly valuable potential customers.

In addition, support tickets related to mobile have fallen 46% since launching this onboarding experiment. This means we’re spending less time fielding questions about mobile and can instead focus our efforts on those who are able to get value out of Appcues today.

Digging for more treasure

But we didn’t stop at setting expectations. For those who select mobile, they see this 4-step flow:

mobile survey 1
mobile survey step 2
mobile survey step 3
mobile survey step 4

This has been like putting our customer development efforts on autopilot.

From the responses we’ve learned how people in different roles—marketing and engineering, for instance—think about mobile onboarding differently. We’ve discovered key differences in how a 3-person team and a 30-person team value code-free tools, and these responses have led to a handful of in-depth customer development conversations that are shaping the future of Appcues.

Balance your needs

For ambitious young startups, there will often be a gap between your product vision and your product’s current capabilities. This will be evident in support tickets, low engagement or conversion rates, and feedback from your users.

It can be disheartening to see the same issues come up over and over and know that you’re not delivering on your promise. But it’s critical to keep selling your product vision, even at the risk of over promising and under delivering. If you don’t, you’ll miss learning opportunities, and potential customers won’t be able to pull you toward growth.

Onboarding can be a device to balance these needs. In our case, it helps us measure demand and collect feedback for a potential mobile product, all while allowing us to focus on improving our current platform. How could this strategy help you?

Building @appcues, startup that will improve your user #onboarding | Learned @BucknellU & @HarvardHBS | Proud St. Louis native | Explorer | Made in the 80s

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