A lot of subscription-based businesses are struggling with their trial-to-paid conversions, user activation, and user adoption.
Let’s say that you get around 200 trial users every month – but you manage to convert only 20 of them. That’s a 10% trial-to-paid conversion rate. If your average monthly subscription is around $25, that would mean that each month you will add around $500 in your monthly revenue. On the other hand, keep in mind that some at least 10% of those paying customers will probably churn in a course of 90 days. So, that leaves us with 18 paying customers each month.
So, what would you do in this example? Should you focus on:
- Acquiring more trial users? So for each 200 new trial users, you can get 20 new paying customers.
- Improving the retention of your paying customers?
- Focusing on onboarding and adopting more trial users?
Acquiring new users can cost much more than retaining existing users. On the other hand, focusing on retaining 20 people each month can be so time-consuming – not to mention that your churn, in this case, is super low.
So, the right answer would be:
Focusing on onboarding and adopting more trial users.
Why should you do that?
– Having 10% trial to paid conversion is very low. Some average trial-to-paid conversion is around 20%, but you should aim for at least 35 – 45%. With 200 monthly trial users, you can get around 70 – 80 paying customers – that’s around $1875 each month in MRR
– It’s almost not expensive at all – compared with user acquisition.
In this article, we’re going to see how to effectively onboard your trial users and convert them into paying customers.
Even more, this is not going to be “an average” user onboarding guide. Here, we’re going to present you Aaron Krall’s way of onboarding trial users.
For those who don’t know, Aaron Krall is one of the leading user onboarding specialists in the world and founder of the biggest SaaS related community on Facebook called – “SaaS Growth Hacks” with more than 16.000 members.
So, we at Userpilot team, sit down and collected all material Aaron Krall ever published on the web about how he onboards new users for his clients. We watched every webinar, podcast and read every article on that subject.
In this article, we’re going to summarize our findings and show you the ways and tactics he used to improve user activation and adoption rate for more than 400%.
In some particular case, he even improved his client’s activation rate from 20% to 80%.
So, if you want to learn how Aaron Krall onboard users effectively, continue to read this article.
But before we actually dive depth into his tactics and strategies, let’s first see some basic pillars of user onboarding so we can better understand what he actually does.
How Does User Onboarding Work?
In short, user onboarding is the process of adopting your new users to use your product.
In long, user onboarding is the process of changing the habits of your new users and making them addicted to your product by showing different sets of subtle product experience layers.
To break it down, the onboarding process of each new user is divided into three different segments (or main pillars):
- The “aha!” moment – this is the moment when your trial user perceives the value of your product – or in other words, he understands the benefits of your product but he didn’t experience them yet. You can unleash the “aha!” moment before or after the user signed up.
- User activation – this is the moment when your trial user actually experienced the value and benefits of your features/product. In other words, he fealed them on his own skin.
- User adoption – this is the moment when your user completely adopted your product and started using it regularly.
Depending on the type of your product, user onboarding flow can have multiple “aha!” and user activation moments. For example, if you have 5 different core features, you can have 5 “aha!”s and 5 user activation moments.
So, it looks like this:
To completely adopt the product, the trial user will need to go through consistent “aha!”s and activation points along the journey:
Now when we know the basics of user onboarding, let’s see how Aaron Krall onboard trial users.
Aaron Krall’s way of onboarding trial users
As Aaron Krall says, the ultimate goal of user onboarding is to create habit-forming products and increase the addiction-level so more users will stick around.
But, creating a habit-forming product and increasing the addiction-level have a couple of problems:
- If you’re forcing your users to change their old habits (habits can be for example moving to another tool), they will probably change their habits (but for a short time). After they realize that, they will probably leave. Changing habits is really difficult to do, especially when your trial users don’t see value in your tool.
- Creating addicting product is very hard – your trial user needs constantly to be reminded about the benefits and value of your product – which if isn’t done in the right way can be deadly for your business.
If your conversions are stuck, it means that you didn’t build addictive qualities.
According to Aaron Krall, the most important stages of building habit-forming and addictive product are:
- The “aha!” moment (or how he calls it: value switch) – sign-up for the product and get it immediately
- Use the product and love it – the process of using your product and building addicting qualities that will make your trial users engaged with your software.
- Increase usage – the moment when your trial users increased the usage of your product and built the new habit.
Furthermore, Aaron Krall divides his entire user onboarding philosophy into 5 key principles.
5 Key Principles of Aaron Krall’s user onboarding way
Let’s see 5 key principles that helped Aaron Krall effectively onboard trial users for his clients.
1. Focus on the 5%
The first step you need to take before you even start building your onboarding flow is to focus on the top 5% of your users who are using your product the most.
Depending on the type of your product, it can be either every single day, once a week, twice a month or however else. Some products are just not built for everyday usage.
But the key thing here is to focus on the 5% most active customers.
You can identify them by using various user onboarding and analytics tools.
Once you identify them, the things you should look for are:
- What are the things that are keeping your users every single day?
- What features are they using the most?
- How their usual flow through your app looks like?
- What made them addicted to your product?
- What forced them to change their habits?
Once you have answers to these questions, you will be able to create a killer user onboarding flow that will make your trial users addicted to your product.
2. Create the value path
Keep in mind that you’re going to have trial users that came to your product with a big intent of solving their pain.
Thus, it’s crucial to understand what are the core actions that made your top 5% of the users addicted to your product and what are the actions that created some specific habit.
There are multiple ways to create your value path:
- By using common sense – this is great for the beginning – but keep in mind that this is the worst tactic you can use – no matter how well you know your product. If you have nothing else to start with, it’s great to start with this strategy. Sit down and brainstorm with your colleagues, but keep in mind that you should iterate this as much and as often as possible.
- By supervision onboarding calls – this is probably one of the best ways to find out how are your users thinking and acting while seeing your product for the first time. Find out 10 of your most ideal user persona, reach out to them, and offer them some reward in exchange for checking your product (it can be an amazon gift card or 3 months free of your product). Set-up the video call and watch their moves through your app. By doing this, you will be able to understand the psychology behind your product and users and make better decisions later on while creating the user onboarding sequences.
- Look at analytics – Carefully monitor your trial users and see what are the key actions that helped them to form a habit and become addictive users.
Some general rules while creating the value path, is to showcase the value and benefits of your product as soon as your trial users open your dashboard.
Leaving a great first impression is great for motivation.
Further on, try to lead your trial users to the other activation points and “aha!” moments that will help them to form a habit and become addictive.
3. Grease the slide
Have you ever been on the rollercoaster? If you did, you know that feeling when you finished your first ride ever, you just wanna go again, again and again?
That’s the effect we should aim to create for our trial users as well.
Once they see the value in your product, they should be able to see it all the time.
Our mission as the product owners and creators is to make the process of achieving the desired outcome for our users as easy and as fast as possible.
The first thing your trial user needs to see after signing – up for your product is the value switch (“aha!” moment), after that, we need to lead him to the desired outcome (activation point).
But, in practice, it isn’t quite easy. There are always some friction points and things that are getting our trial users on the other way.
Here’s the image I created that explains how we, as the product owners, think about how our product looks and how it actually looks:
Friction creates resistance in our product, and resistance can be a big problem. Thus, we must have a tendency to simplify our UX/UI and build the best product experience layers as possible.
For changing user’s behaviour and habits with our product, we need to:
- Unleash motivation
- Increase the ability
- Include triggers that will make them adopted
Motivation is the question your trial customers are asking themselves:
“Why should I do this? Is there something valuable from me? How will I benefit from this?”
For unleashing motivation, we need to create a desire for performing some particular action.
When we take a look at psychology, we will see that the core human desires are:
- Seeking pleasure
- Avoiding pain
- Seeking hope
- Avoiding fear
- Looking for social acceptance
So next time when you want to motivate your trial users, let them know how will they avoid pain, avoid fear or find pleasure with your benefits.
Keep in mind that your product is not heaven island, your product is the boat that gets your trial users to heaven island. We’re not selling a product, we’re selling the solution to the problem.
Once you change this mindset, you will be able to unleash motivation and potentially create a habit-forming product.
The second thing is ability.
When it comes to the ability, trial users are asking themselves:
“How easy is this? How simple it is? Will it take too much of my time?”
While prompting your trial users to adopt your product and change their behaviours and habits, except for motivation, you also need to let them know if it is easy to do so. Is it easy to change your habits and to things in a better way?
As you can see, the core focus of your users’ first run through your product and user onboarding flow is motivating them and making it easy for them to get to heaven island.
4. Use the drug dealer method
Drug dealers know very well that they have a great product, and they also know that the delivery is in the process and on-promise.
The real reason why drug dealers are successful is that they know how to get their customers hooked.
Their products are selling pleasure, satisfaction, and a great occasion. It’s similar in the SaaS industry as well
We’re the drug dealers, but the question is, how to get our trial users hooked?
Real drug dealers give the best samples of his product for free to his potential customers. It’s the same tactic we, as the product owners and managers, can give to our trial users as well.
A common mistake we see is that a lot of SaaS founders are keeping their best and most important features in their highest plans, leaving them for the 1% of people to see.
But what will happen if you give your best features, for free, in a limited size to your trial users?
Ask yourself: “What’s my best feature, tool or widget that will definitely get my trial users hooked if they try them?”
Value metrics are great for improving trial-to-paid conversions.
Take Notion for example.
Notion is the all-in-one project management software that has a lifetime free package where you can store up to 1000 blocks of data, documents, messages, sheet lines, etc.
Once you get hooked in Notion, and from the moment when you pass 1000 blocks of data and import so many documents and information about your projects, it will get really hard for you to change the habit and go with some other tool.
At this moment, you will start paying for Notion without even thinking about it.
Or take Slack for example.
When you create a free account in Slack, you will get 10k message limit and 10 slots for Slack apps and integrations.
But once you reach this message limit and automate a lot of processes with Slack apps and get hooked to using Slack, it will be really hard for you to move to another team collaboration and communication tool.
At this moment, you will start paying for Slack as well – especially when you realise that every message that’s exchanged inside the team is important, so you won’t like to keep losing them.
That’s the power of using value metrics inside your pricing and getting your users hooked.
5. Iterate as much as possible
When you’re in the plane, a plane is making thousands of different small changed to make on the final destination.
A common mistake a lot of founders and product marketers are making is not testing anything enough.
You should always constantly be in the mood of iteration and changing things. Test and test often.
The real problem is that no one really tells you what to test. So you can for example test different motivation tactics, desires, activation points, UX elements, and many other things.
Onboarding flows are probably one of the most important things you should test. When someone logs in, you should aim to figure out how to create easier flows and processes, so you can deliver the first value and lead them to their desired outcomes as soon and as fast as possible.
Don’t create one user onboarding flow that will improve your trial-to-paid conversions for 5 or 10% and leave it there.
Test more and more, because you can always get better results.
Once you improve your metrics even a little bit, it’s hard for things to get worse. They can be only better.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, user onboarding is very important for your company’s sustainable growth. Not to mention that it’s not expensive either.
To sum it all up, let’s see once again the key pillars of user onboarding and 5 key principles of Aaron Krall’s way:
- The “aha!” moment – you should tend to unleash the “aha!” moment as soon as your trial users sign up. It’s great for improving their motivation and making the first step towards creating a habit-changing product.
- User activation – after your trial user feels initial “aha!”, it’s time for user activation. User activation is the moment when your trial user experiences the value and benefits of your product.
- User adoption – after multiple “aha!s” and user activation points, your trial user may be considered as adopted and addicted to your product.
When it comes to the way how Aaron Krall improves user activation and trial-to-paid conversions for his clients, here are the 5 key principles:
- Focus on the top 5% – research your top 5% most active users and find out what are the things that keep them addicted to your product.
- Create the value path – after conducting careful research, write down the most important benefits and values of your product so you can create your first onboarding flows.
- Grease the slide – make it as easy and fast as possible for your users to see the value of your product in the first-run and during the onboarding flow
- Use the drug dealer method – showcase your trial users the best samples of your product, in the limited size, during the trial phase.
- Iterate as much as possible – don’t forget to test things and iterate as much as you can.
About the Author
I’m a speaker, SaaS conversion strategist, storyteller and video marketing specialist. I work mainly with SaaS companies who are interested in converting more free trial users into paid users.
I’m an avid oil painter, triathlete, honorary library cardholder and non-competitive short distance swimmer. I live with my wonderful wife Natalie and two dogs in Salt Lake City, UT.