Welcome to your first lesson of the User Onboarding Academy! Over the next 5 lessons, you’ll learn each stage of the EMBED framework for user onboarding. EMBED stands for establish, map, brainstorm, execute, and do it again.
Today, the first lesson is about establishing 3 things.

First, we’ll establish the importance of onboarding. Since you’re here, signed up, and interested in learning more about onboarding, I bet that you’re already a believer. But this lesson will give you some additional talking points when championing the project internally.

Second, we’ll establish the difference between good and bad onboarding—and oh, is there a difference!

Third, we’ll establish who you should tap at your company to get involved for your onboarding team to make sure you’re set up for success.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

The business impact of user onboarding

In 2007, Dave McClure coined the term “Pirate Metrics” to explain 5 metrics that contribute to a product’s success. The Pirate Metrics include acquisition, activation, retention, referral, and revenue—or, as a pirate would say—AARRR.
Out of all of the Pirate Metrics, activation is the most important, as just a 25% increase can yield a 34% lift on MRR after just 12 months. Nothing to sneeze at.
And user onboarding is the number one thing you can do to improve activation.

It’s not just a ‘nice to have’ inside your product—it has a tangible, measurable business impact on your company.
“To improve activation, turn to onboarding.”
Casey Winters agrees. He says, “When we really dig into growth problems, we often see that enough people are actually coming to the products. The real growth problems start when people land…and leave. They don’t stick. This is an onboarding problem, and it’s often the biggest weakness for startups. It can also take the longest to make meaningful improvements when compared to other parts of the growth funnel.”

Remember: For a new user, onboarding is the product. They’re not thinking of it as a separate process like, “Ah, this is great onboarding.” They’ll just think, “Wow, this is a great product.”

Let’s take this one step higher. Samuel Hulick says that the goal of onboarding shouldn’t be to make the users better at using the product at all. But rather, it should be helping people be better at what your product lets people do.
“Proficiency with software is never the goal.”
-Samuel Hulick

There’s a difference between good user onboarding and bad user onboarding

Remember that time you hopped into an application only to play whack-a-mole with 20 pop-ups?

Or what about that time you excitedly joined a new app and saw… nothing? No onboarding experience, no sample data, nothing in the empty state. That’s also bad onboarding.

As consumers, we’ve all seen our fair share of bad onboarding experiences. Let’s explore some common attributes that make an onboarding experience good or bad.

Establish your onboarding team

Alright—you know the importance of onboarding and the difference between when it’s good and bad. Now, you need someone to take ownership of driving the user onboarding initiative ahead.

We’ve found that the best owner for user onboarding is at least a bit technical and can collaborate closely with developers. They also should deeply understand their users’ needs, emotional states, and the ins-and-outs of the product.

But, onboarding is a team sport, so it’s time to get some buy-in and build your team. First stop is your product team. Invite relevant PMs, UX designers, product designers, engineers, growth marketers, and product marketers. Oh! And you might want to bring in customer success and sales, too.

Every company is unique, so there’s a chance your onboarding team will look very different depending on your go to market strategy, team structure, and unique strengths. When in doubt, we recommend socializing the onboarding process widely. Just make sure that you have one leader to manage ideas, discussions, and next steps.

Invite your teammates to the Academy!

Because the truth is, onboarding needs to be holistic. You need to EMBED it into your company’s product design and development process.

If you don’t, users will get a fractured experience. Marketing won’t stretch beyond a few onboarding or product marketing emails. Product won’t stretch beyond UI tweaks. Sales will touch base with users every so often and try to convince them that they need to upgrade.
“A non-holistic onboarding process means a fractured experience for your users.”
While the specific tasks and responsibilities may vary slightly from organization to organization, teams need to work together to build a great user experience. (We’ll get to all of the onboarding experiences to consider in lesson 2 and 3.)

Last, and maybe most importantly, it’s best to avoid the dreaded executive swoop-in—or Jared Spool’s more colorful “executive swoop and poop”. You can do so by getting your leadership team on board (no pun intended) before you kick off your user onboarding project.

Encourage your executive team to regularly look at activation as a key business metric alongside acquisition, revenue, and retention. That way, you can truly EMBED user onboarding as a priority in the business and get it the resources it deserves.

Lesson 1 wrap-up

One of the most important things you should take away from this academy is that user onboarding requires so much more than just checking the box.

You will need to quickly test, measure, and iterate on each piece you set up, constantly monitoring to make sure you are providing users the value your marketing promised.

In order to work towards great user onboarding, you’ll need a holistic team to work with you. Your user onboarding process will become a unique thing for your team/company, but the EMBED framework will help you create that process.

Homework for lesson 1:

  • Talk to your executive leadership about tracking activation as a core business metric and your plans for onboarding.
  • Keep your eyes out for examples in your own life of good or bad onboarding. Consider keeping a journal/evernote/doc for tracking inspiration and ideas.
  • Invite the rest of the team to this academy! Try setting it up as a weekly lunch and learn. Forward it on each week. Or invite them to sign up themselves.

Invite your teammates to the Academy!

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