Lesson 3
8 mins

Guide users with effective triggers

Once you’ve removed onboarding momentum killers, it’s time to add effective in-app guides for 2 different types of new users, investigators and explorers.

Andrew Capland

Former Head of Growth at Postscript and Wistia

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Guide users with effective triggers

A simple experience is key for activating users quickly. But even with a fast time-to-value, the average SaaS product still has high new-user churn rates. To increase your activation rates more, you need to guide users who may have gotten lost, distracted, or stuck along the way.

How do you drive a new user to take action?

BJ Fogg created the (now) famous Fogg Behavioral Model to explain how behavior happens. The Fogg Model states that behavior = motivation * ability * trigger, often referred to as B = MAT.

BMAT Model

If any part of the formula is missing, a person will not take action—and the behavior will not occur.

Thinking about new user onboarding in light of Fogg’s model, we can assume that some parts of the equation are already figured out from our previous lessons.

Based on our research in lesson 1, we know that new users will be motivated to achieve a specific goal with your product. That’s why they’re signing up in the first place.

We also know that by removing all the friction and shortening time to value, they have the ability to do so.

What we’re missing is the appropriate trigger(s)—the right information, in the right place, shown at the right time—to influence user behavior.

In theory, this is straightforward. The challenge is there are 2 distinct types of users.

The 2 types of new users

Most SaaS products typically have 2 types of new users:

Number 1

The investigators

These are people who want to read every single word of your onboarding.They’ll read every single word in your product tour. Carefully read your docs. And run their cursor over every line of micro-copy. They seem like ideal users.

The problem? The investigators tend to forget everything they read when it's time to actually use the tool. They get stuck. Frustrated. They try to navigate their way back so they can re-read.

Number 2

The explorers

These are folks who ignore directions and want to explore on their own. They close your tours. Minimize your help docs. Skip anything optional. They get lost in every nook and cranny of your product as they explore at their own speed.

The explorers also seem like good users, except they usually aren't sure where to start after they’re done exploring. They get lost in settings, customizations, and integrations. They have a hard time navigating their way back and restarting the process.


They require different types of triggers

The challenge is finding effective ways to onboard each group.

The investigators need something they can refer to at the moment. And the explorers need something they can minimize and bring back later when they’re ready for direction.

Most companies only solve for one type of user. But that leads to extreme frustration from the other group.

For example, forcing explorers through a long-guided tour is a recipe for disaster. It’s no wonder people voice their frustration with product tours like Pedram on Twitter.


Here’s another example from Brendan Hufford, who was so frustrated he went with another tool.

Brendan Hufford quote

Here are some quick ideas that can help onboard both groups:

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Guided product tours

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Creating engaging empty state images

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Updating microcopy & CTA language

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Behavioral-based email flows

But, each of these ideas has its own challenges:

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Most product tours usually only appear once and then disappear forever, which isn’t providing help when the explorers need it.

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Microcopy isn’t very impactful on your activation rates.

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Email inboxes are increasingly crowded. Even the best onboarding emails have low engagement rates and tend to be received when it’s too late, instead of when users most need help.

Effective onboarding triggers that help both groups

The most effective onboarding flows provide direction that lives inside the product and is available on-demand when users need them. This type of trigger helps both user groups.

It helps the investigators at the moment they need it. And is available for the pokers when they’re done poking around.

Here are the most effective triggers, along with the pros and cons of each.

Number 1

New user onboarding checklists

These in-app checklists are great triggers to help your new user navigate through each milestone you’ve outlined in Lesson 2.

Survey monkey
Example: Surveymonkey
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Allow users to progress at their own pace. They can be minimized until the user is ready to move forward. They’re available on demand and they’re easy to build/manage with 3rd party tools.

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Tend to “cover” part of your product screen. They can be mistaken for a chat if a user is moving quickly.

Number 1

“Getting started” pages

An individual product page dedicated to helping a new user be successful. 

Survey monkey
 Example: Helpscout
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They’re available on-demand when users need them most. They make it clear what to do next and have more room for engaging design and video.

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Users may forget to navigate back to this page, limiting its effectiveness. Instructions are not within the context of the app.

Number 1

Use the product to onboard new users

Rather than have third-party tools or popups give instructions, you can use your product to teach people how to use your product. 

Survey monkey
 Example: Helpscout
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This is the cleanest of all the UI options. There are no specific onboarding tools or dedicated pages. The tool is simply designed in a way that it teaches users how to use itself.

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 It’s the hardest and most resource-intensive option for most companies to build.