How To Increase Activation By Building The Perfect Engagement Funnel

How To Increase Activation By Building The Perfect Engagement Funnel

“It’s cheaper to retain customers than acquire new ones”.

Sure.

But for people who care about acquisition, that’s not super helpful.

I would rather say: “It’s cheaper to maximize your funnel’s conversion than add more people into the funnel!”

In other words, focus on increasing your activation rate before you put effort into increasing sign-ups.

According to OpenView’s research, the best PLG companies activate 33% of their users.

Not there yet?

Keep reading. This blog post is all about building the perfect engagement funnel so you can increase your activation rate.

TL;DR

  • The activation point in the user journey is when the user actually gets to experience the value your product provides in getting their job done.
  • ProductLed’s bowling alley framework (developed by Wes Bush in his book Product-Led Growth) is a simple concept to help us understand the mechanisms in our users’ journey that get them to a strike, aka activation.
  • Product Qualified Leads are free users who meet a threshold of significant actions taken to qualify for sales outreach.
  • When you engage with your users focus on showcasing value, make resources available to them and help them when they get stuck.
  • Send messages based on how users are progressing through your product and in-app behavior (always use segmentation).
  • Collect data during the onboarding process and use it to personalize the in-app experience.
  • Sign up to Bliinx for free to help give actionable product, marketing, and conversations insights to your sales teams, to help them convert more users into customers.
  • Request a demo of Userpilot to build in-product experiences based on product analytics and guide users towards the activation point.

Why should you care about activation?

In short:

  • More activation = more conversions to paid customers.
  • More activation = more retention.

Before we begin, let me tell you a little story:

I recently met with the Head of Growth at a fast-growing PLG startup (Series B stage).

She told me that they had just gone through an experiment with their user engagement funnel.

What they did is they removed their onboarding email sequence altogether, to see if it would affect their conversions and user retention.

The result is mindblowing (like I could never have expected it in my wildest dreams mindblowing).

Removing the onboarding campaign had, wait for it….. ZERO effect!

How the hell is this possible, you might ask?

Because their engagement funnel was leaky.

Let me show you how to nail yours so you get more activations and paid conversions 👇

Identify your activation point

If you’re unfamiliar with ProductLed’s bowling alley framework, it’s a simple concept to help us understand the mechanisms in our users’ journey that get them to a strike, aka activation.

Basically, you want to combine your product’s onboarding experience, conversational bumpers, and product bumpers to get users to strike as fast as possible.

productled bowling alley framework
ProductLed Bowling Alley Framework (source: ProductLed)

Bumpers = user engagement funnel. Which is what this article is about.

But before we get into bumpers, we need to understand what a strike means.

What’s your objective?

Funny enough, it’s where a ton of SaaS falls short. They just copy what other startups are doing. Without reflecting on the intention behind it.

❌ Don’t just send an email

✅ Send an email because that email will bring a user closer to activation!

Hold on, what is activation?

Per OpenView:

Activation is the moment when your product delivers on the value that it promised. Sometimes referred to as the “aha!” moment. It’s when someone understands why they would use a product.

Example:

Typeform qualifies their activation metric as five unique responses to a Typeform.

How to find your activation point?

Ask yourself (by looking at data, not staring into the abyss):

  • What kind of value should my users receive from using my product?
  • What’s the #1 action that my users need to take to receive this value?
  • How many times do my users need to take this action to increase the chance of them coming back to my product?

Now that you have your activation point, let’s build an engagement funnel that helps users get to it ASAP!

How to craft the perfect conversational engagement sequence

1. Build your sequence like a consultancy service

Don’t use messages to show all the amazing features that you have in your product. Users will figure that out by themselves.

Ask yourself: What information do I need to communicate to my users to make sure that they reach their objectives in my product?

Your messages should focus on:

  • Showing users how to best use your product
  • Informing users about the resources available to them

Maybe do a lighter version of this email by Zendesk 😅 But you get the point.

• Showcasing how others are winning with your product

Making it easy for users to take crucial product actions, like inviting colleagues to the product.

Encouraging users as they progress towards activation, or when they get stuck

Here’s what Unstack’s CEO, Grant Deken, had to say:

“We focus less on selling and instead on where we can help the user unlock value. People don’t like to be sold things, but they love to buy when something is already solving a problem for them. When we engage with users, it’s always coming from a place of helping their customers achieve their goals rather than convert or upsell.”

2. Make it about them. And make it human.

Now more than ever, people want to relate to the brands they buy from. People look for human connection and a sense of belonging.

With the overflow of generic emails, showing your personality can turbo-boost your sales abilities.

A few tricks to add to your user engagement campaigns:

  • Introduce the founder, or the team
  • Use videos and Gifs
  • Reinforce a sense of community

From Ryan Sydnor, founder of Grow:

“We want to provide a personalized experience to our users and make them realize that we’re actual humans interacting with them. This is why I activate our onboarding drip campaigns manually and make the first email short, sweet and personalized. It has positively affected our reply rate and user retention”

3. Diversify your methods of engagement

Engage users where they are.

Try text messages, LinkedIn messages, and Slack messages.

Also, look for other ways to engage users, as this trick from Guillaume Moubeche of Lemlist:

Using Phantombuster to make your founder or sales reps’ LinkedIn account automatically send connection requests to users on LinkedIn. If they accept, you can send them a message to engage in a sales conversation.

4. Choose behavioral messages over time-based messages

Nothing worse than getting bombarded by emails when you sign up for a tools’ free trial or freemium version.

First, go for quality over quantity. That’s pretty straightforward.

Second, use tools like customer.io to send messages based on how users are progressing through your product.

For example, sending emails if users have missed some critical steps in the onboarding process (from Bliinx’s onboarding sequence):

email-onboarding-sequence-bliinx
Bliinx email onboarding sequence

5. Use your onboarding data to make your messages more relevant

As a product-led business, you have an advantage over other businesses: people tell you about them before you engage with them.

If your onboarding is great, you will have data about your prospects. Like:

• Their position/role.

• What they’re interested in doing with your product.

• The size of their business.

• The technology that they use.

With that information, you can craft a better experience and know when/how/what to engage users.

Here’s a great example from Unstack:

They knew from onboarding questions that I’m a founder who’s also running marketing campaigns.

They combined that knowledge with my increasing usage of the blog feature to send me some content on blog publishing.

Bonus: Use marketing signals to know the best leads to engage with and when.

When to automate and when to involve sales reps

1. Automation will only get you so far.

Having only automated messages can hurt your user’s experience and keep them from reaching success and becoming a paid customer.

You should engage early if…

  • Your product requires more complex integration and onboarding.
  • There are gatekeepers to pass before users see the value. Like requesting IT access to some data source.
  • Your new free user is working at an enterprise-sized account.
  • Users are unlikely to experience the “aha moment” during their trial.
  • Your ARPU is high enough to support a larger sales team. (Usually over $50MRR ARPU.)

You should engage later if…

  • Your product is simple enough for users to get immediate value from it.
  • Your product has simple expansion loops that allow users to invite others easily.
  • You need usage validation/data points from users before you engage with higher-level decision-makers.
  • You have a lower ARPU but can still convert free users into team or enterprise plans.

You want to have reps who focus on nurturing opportunities who could become great paid customers for your business.

The problem? Sales reps need to know who to focus on in this sea of users.

Enter PQLs!

2. What makes a PQL for your business?

From OpenView:

Product Qualified Leads are free users who meet a threshold of significant actions taken to qualify for sales outreach.

It usually combines a mix of:

  • Product actions
  • Account qualifications (Industry, company size, country)

Here’s a PQL example from a PLG SaaS company:

  • Account has over 50 employees
  • More than 10 users
  • The user has taken 10 key product actions (ex: create a board)
  • At least one board has been shared

3. Give sales reps product data insights

Sales reps need to know who to focus on to make the most out of their time. And they need to know when to engage leads to catch their attention.

With Bliinx’s product blindspots, your customer-facing reps know which accounts are the best to engage with based on product, marketing, and sales engagements from leads.

They receive actionable product usage insights that they can act on to convert PQLs.

Without any complex sales ops and devs ops, IT or loads of Zapier integrations 🤤

Set up your product-led revenue assistant for free with Bliinx.

“Getting actionable product data into the hands of sales reps is still one of the unsolved aspects of PLG today”

– Brendan Short, Ops & Enablement @ Zoom

Not anymore Brendan, not anymore!

In-product touchpoints

Remember that example I gave you at the beginning of the blog? It’s exactly why in-product bumpers are crucial.

Because users might completely ignore your messages.

So engage them directly from inside your product.

Let’s dive into what types of product bumpers you can use and when to use them 👇

This section won’t cover onboarding experiences but you can read this guide for some in-depth onboarding tips.

1. Use chatbots to help users through their journey

The more opportunities you give your free users to engage with you, chances are, the more they’ll engage.

For example, Pitch is using the chatbot to communicate with its users and qualify them further.

It’s also an opportunity to show off your amazing customer experience, which plays a huge role in retaining customers.

Here’s another example from Applinks:

You can use tools like Intercom, Drift, and Crisp to set custom messages when users visit certain pages of your product and them get the answers they need to progress through the journey.

2. Nudge Users Based on Segment or In-App Behavior

People hate tooltips and forced product tours.

And most end up skipping them.

You need to give information WHEN people want it, not all at once.

Slack is the absolute king of this.

❌ Instead of: Prompting you about their integrations, with Asana for example.

✅ They: Suggest their integration with Asana when you share an Asana link!

❌ Instead of: Prompting you about the send later feature.

✅ They: Trigger a tooltip when you’re about to send a message to another timezone.

It’s brilliant.

And you need to incorporate that into your product’s experience (you can do it with Userpilot).

3. Provide value to your users by announcing events & special offers

As a normal SaaS business, I’m sure that you produce content to help your users learn about best practices and help them succeed at their jobs.

One way to increase the speed at which your users activate your product is to share those learnings from within the app itself. *Mainly because your content will probably partly showcase your product, you sneaky you 😉

As you can see below, Userpilot prompts me to attend a webinar that can give me valuable knowledge to retain more of my customers.

Userpilot Slideout in-product announcement

4. Announce new updates in-app

As mentioned above, your emails might end up in archives as quickly as they were sent by your automation tools.

So users might now be fully aware of your awesome updates.

Updates that can help them activate faster.

So make sure that you prompt them in your product! You can even do it without code with Userpilot.

Pitch does a great job at this. 👀⤵️

Wrapping it up for you

Aaaaaaaand, that’s it! You now have a killer engagement funnel that will activate the maximum number of users and turn them into raving fans!

Important things to remember:

  • Always consider your activation point and build your funnel to help users get to it
  • Your engagement funnel consists of:
  1. Automated onboarding messages and actions.
  2. Sales interactions by your team for qualified leads and accounts.
  3. In-product messages and experiences.

To help you to get there even faster:

  • Sign up to Bliinx for free to help give actionable product, marketing, and conversations insights to your sales teams, to help them convert more users into customers.
  • Request a demo of Userpilot build in-product experiences based on product analytics and guide users towards the activation point.

Love those tips?

Have a wonderful day 🙂

Fred, founder of Bliinx

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