Episode 329 | How to Make Your Customers Successful

Show Notes

In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about how to make your customers successful.  Just putting out a functioning app isn’t enough, the guys talk through some points to help your customers navigate the ins and outs of your app.

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Mike [00:00]: In this episode of ‘Startups for the Rest of Us,’ Rob and I are going to be talking about how to make your customers more successful with your product. This is ‘Startups for the Rest of Us’ episode 329.

Welcome to ‘Startups for the Rest of Us,’ the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching and growing software products. Whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.

Rob [00:25]: And I’m Rob.

Mike [00:26]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week Rob?

Rob [00:30]: Well, I finally broke down and I started listening to the book ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight. And it’s the story of Nike. Phil Knight’s the founder of Nike and I just kept hearing about it and I really don’t have much interest in the story of Nike from the outside. But it’s been on my wish list for probably – I don’t know – since the week it came out. And I just kept seeing it and I finally didn’t have anything else to listen to in the tech space and so I started listening to this book and instantly I was struck by how good of a writer he is. Just poetic. Like really amazing vocabulary. It just puts together very well. He’s not like a business guy writing a book. He’s like a writer writing a tale. And so it’s incredibly captivating from the start.

And then the other thing is, you get sucked into the startup story. And right now, I think he’s like five years into running Nike and it’s still like barely breaking even and he has a couple of employees working for him. But he works a fulltime day job as like a consultant like a Dloyd or one of those big three consulting firms. And he’s basically just pouring his money into this thing. And it reminds me of how quick everyone expects success these days with bootstrapped startups because that’s essentially what he was. And it’s – I’m trying to think if it’s the ‘70’s. It’s funny. Yeah. It’s got to be the late ‘60’s or the ‘70’s. And back then it just took a really long time to get traction. And so, all that to say, I’m about a third maybe half way through the book and I’m pretty riveted by the story. I begrudgingly kind of have to recommend it because it’s just a really good book.

Mike [02:03]: That’s interesting. I would imagine that for a company like that it takes a long time to kind of establish the traction. Plus, you’ve got all the manufacturing costs and everything else that as software people we don’t tend to have to worry about that stuff. Our biggest costs at this point are generally like the people who are building stuff not like the raw materials. And then on top of that, you’ve got to pay people.

Rob [02:25]: Right. Well, the trippy thing is he’s not even manufacturing at this point. All they’re doing is importing shoes from Japan. And he has an exclusive import of this brand called Tiger. He has exclusive for the western 20 states or something. And then someone else has the east coast. And that’s what he is. And he’s sold $1,000 his first year and then it’s $3,000 and then it’s $6,000. And each year is a doubling but he’s not actually making any money because he has three or four employees now. Most of them are paid way under market but they’re in it for the mission. That kind of resonated with me too.

I think of it as a bootstrapper. You know it’s funny when seven, eight months ago before the Drip acquisition we were paying people as much as we could and people were all in for us. And it was really fun to be working on Drip. And then when Leadpages acquired us they kind of told us, “Do you know that your people are under market and we should give then all raises?” And I was like, “I actually didn’t.” It never occurred to me because it seemed like a fair wage to pay. But when they actually look at big company’s salaries and they did a big comparison between what we were all making – that includes me and Derrick – we were just all under market.

The term I’ve heard for this. There’s a guy named Jason [Selby?] who I work with now. And he calls it combat pay. And he says those salary surveys are like if you work at HP or if you work at insert name of big fortune 500 company you don’t actually want to work for, then that’s where the salary ranges are. But if you’re actually working for a company that you love and it’s a small team and you enjoy your job, I know I’ve always been willing to take less money to enjoy my job a lot more. So there is a balance and you really see that. Back to ‘Shoe Dog,’ you really see that with them. There’s such a strong mission that people are kind of like, “Hey. Love the gig. Love working with you, Phil. And love what we’re doing.” And so, they’re just willing to work for basically whatever pays their rent. They’re not trying to maximize income.

Mike [04:08]: Sounds like that should be reversed as combat pay working for a large crappy company that you don’t want to be at.

Rob [04:13]: That’s the term, yeah. Combat pay is working for the big company meaning you get more pay because you essentially have a crappy job or a job that you hate is the idea.

Mike [04:23]: Cool.

Rob [04:24]: How about you? What’s going on?

Mike [04:25]: Well, I converted two more of my prepaid orders for Bluetick into paid customers. And then I also added another customer. And I did a demo a couple days ago for somebody who wants to add two or three different sales reps on it. We’re kind of going back and forth on that stuff now. And then, shortly after this call’s over, I have another demo. So, yeah. Things are moving forward in the right direction. It’s interesting using Bluetick to follow up with these people because I’ve had conversations with a bunch of people in the past and I basically throw them all into Bluetick and just let it go out there. It’s nice to see the product is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. It’s getting the responses then I just pick them up and go from there.

Rob [05:02]: That’s cool though. Well, A: first of all, congratulations and whichever ‘Startups for the Rest of Us’ listener has the first week of March in the pool as to when Mike’s going to hit 25 customers, I think you’re first or second week, I think you’re going to be on a roll there. But that’s cool, man. To get another customer.

Mike [05:18]: That would be an interesting contest to run.

Rob [05:20]: I know. And have a pool with a bunch of squares each day for the next month or something.

Mike [05:24]: Yep.

Rob [05:24]: Good. Well, that’s cool. Good for you. And I think it’s great that you’re dog voting Bluetick with this. I mean, it’s only going to make you notice all the kinks and all the things that are wrong quicker and fix them without people having to tell you.

Mike [05:38]: Yeah. Definitely. There’s places where I’m running into where I want to integrate it into other products like Drip and Pipedrive and Google Spreadsheets and things like that. So I’m using the Zapier integration pretty well. And that’s anytime where an issue comes up that I run into where it’s like, “This is harder than it should be. Let me go fix that.” Obviously, I’ll just wire it up the way I need it to work but then look down the road at how can I fix this and make it better for people.

That kind of leads us into what today’s topic is which is that in having conversations with people, I’m going back to them and saying, “Now that you’re signed on, what is it that you’re having trouble with?” and getting those people on boarded. I’m starting to notice places where I know the application extremely well and if I need to go do something, I can just go do it. But for new people who are getting into it, they’re not familiar with it. Not necessarily familiar with the terminology or things that they need to do or even things that I want them to do. So, part of overcoming that I’ve just been doing some personalized onboarding sessions with them. But at the same time, I wanted to talk a little bit about some of the stuff that I’ve kind of identified and realized like just putting that app out there and having it functional, clearly it’s not enough for a full blown SaaS app. So I wanted to talk through some of the things that you can do to help make your app more successful. And, don’t get me wrong, I will fully admit that there’s certain places where I’ve completely fallen down on this so far. But I also recognize we need to do this at some point and it’s more a matter of prioritization than anything else.

Rob [07:02]: Yeah. And that’s what I like about this episode and the outline you’ve put together is that it’s right from your experience. These tend to be kind of the best topics to talk about. It’s what you’re going through at that moment and you’re trying to gather your own thoughts to come up with a plan. And that allows us to share it with the listeners as you’re going through it which I think is really cool.

So, let’s dive in.

Mike [07:20]: The first one is that you kind of need to take a look at your app and identify three things that the user needs to be able to do or needs to have done in order to be successful within an arbitrary time period. Whether that’s three days, seven, 14 or 30 days. Something like that. Just kind of draw a line in the sand and say, “In order for this user to be successful, I need them to have done these three things by that time.” So depending on your app, it may be at one end of the timeframe or the other but, ideally, you would like to try and get them through that as quickly as possible. If you can get them through in the first 20 minutes, awesome. But for some of those things it’s going to take time. In Bluetick for example, they’ve got a connector mailbox they’ve got to create sequences and then they’ve got to add people into those sequences. Those are essentially the three things that I’ve identified that they need to do those three things in order to get any value out of the product. If you don’t do those things, you’re not going to get value. You’re going to cancel. So I kind of monitor those things. I get a daily email that tells me who has done what along those different things when they last log in. All sorts of other information. But I’m really keeping a close eye on who has done what so that I can reach out to them and kind of help push them along.

Rob [08:26]: I don’t think there are always three. So for an example with HitTail, there really was just one in the early days and it was getting people to install the java script snippet. Because then that collected data and then they were done. As long as they had that data, they were getting suggestions. Long term they needed to be writing articles and doing stuff. But just for onboarding and them seeing value, they needed suggestions. Once the – Google did not provided it – then it became not installing the java script but using the Google webmaster tools kind of OOF process where they had to kind of log it in and suck out the data from there.

So it was really one step with HitTail. Later we added automated article writing that people could do. So maybe you could say it was two. With Drip – I talked about this in MicroConf a couple of years ago. Remember, I talked about the minimum path to awesome. And it was kind of like figure out when your customers get the dopamine rush from using your product and then figure out what the minimum path to that is. And I like thinking in terms of threes like you said. I don’t think it will always be that. I think with more sophisticated products like Bluetick, like Drip it will be three or more. We actually had different paths where if you were sending emails to customers, it was installing the Java script; it was putting some emails in a campaign like an onboarding campaign. And then – I’m trying to think what the next one was. It may have been setting up conversions to see if they converted. I forget what it was. And then for other people it was like if they use Stripe then we had them wire up Stripe so there was actually this fourth optional thing.

But yeah. And then you want to tell people how to do those in the app. We had the little bar across the top that we used to use. We don’t use that anymore. But it was kind of like a wizard that showed up all the time. Then you want to tell them again via email. And then you’ve got to at a certain point once you start scaling up you’ll figure out what the timeframe is that people can most often accomplish these things. With HitTail we realized they can install this Java script within the first five minutes and then they’re on boarded. And that was actually kind of nice.

I want to build another app like that, Mike. Where the onboarding is so [?]. Because then you look at Bluetick or Drip and by the time someone writes an email course, which we of course help them with and offered all this stuff, it’s days and days and you have to keep reminding them. So we realized that even a 14-day trial was probably going to be too short for people to really get any value out of a tool like Drip. That is why we landed at the 21-day trial. That’s kind of where we found it.

So, I like your thought process here. It’s mapping out maybe one, two or three things they need to do. Tell them in app, tell them via email and then figure out how long it takes on average and then that becomes your trial length.

Mike [10:51]: You’re totally skipping ahead of my outline.

Rob [10:54]: Oh, am i? Sorry. I didn’t read your outline.

Mike [10:55]: No. That’s okay.

Rob [10:57]: I got that off the top of my head.

Mike [10:57]: I think it’s a great lead-in though because, as you said, you can send them emails; you can have those in app wizards. I think there’s other ways to get in touch with them too and it depends on what your app is and what information you have about them. You could use SMS messages, for example. One of the things that I talked about was a concept you’d come up with several years ago called the Concierge Onboarding. And I do that for Bluetick explicitly for one step because connecting your mailbox is actually fairly difficult to do. So if I send somebody instructions on how to do it then they very well run into problems getting it done. So the onboarding session is I get their mailbox hooked up for them and I kind of watch over their shoulder, “Do this, do this, do this.” And even having stuff in the app, it only goes so far because there’s certain things that we haven’t implemented yet to make it easier. And we’re trying to get those done but it’s hard to do them. So, for the time being, I’m manually doing that stuff because I have to. But once they’re past that, the rest of the stuff I can rely on other mechanisms. But that one, at the moment, I don’t have any good way around it.

But I think that, more to the point, this is about finding the best ways to communicate and interface with the user to get them to that next step. And the default mode seems to be send them the information and let them do it. And some tools kind of target this market like Intercom that basically sits there in front of the user inside the app and says, “Do you need any help?” Or, “How can I help you out?” But it’s not active. It’s not really pushing the user and not really showing them, “You haven’t done this yet. Let me help you.” Or, “How can I help you?” Or, “Here’s instructions.” Does that make sense?

Rob [12:26]: Yeah. It does. There’s a lot of different ways to do it. I think the simplest one that you should get set up first that doesn’t require any code is to set up the email pings. And I know that some apps take this too far and a lot of apps are doing it now so it’s a little irritating but this was the game changer when I acquired HitTail is that they didn’t have this. And as soon as I added it, it completely rocked the trial to paid conversion rate of that app and it allowed me to start scaling it up.

So adding emails in and this just requires a little bit of time to write some onboarding emails that are like, “Here’s the benefit you get. Here’s what you can do. Here’s the easy step. We’ll do it for you.” And that’s the big thing. You’re talking about this Concierge Onboarding concept that other people claim they invented but, remember, I got into a Twitter thing where I was like, “Dude, you did not invent this.” And you went back through our transcripts from 2012 because he’s like, “Well, I did it in 2013.” And then you were like, “It was 2012 in our transcripts.” So thank goodness for the transcripts to kind of prove we were talking about it.

I remember coming up with this idea and saying Concierge. I loved that word. I’d never heard anyone use it in the context of a startup before or of onboarding. And we combined that and if you imagine, I’ll use the Drip example because this is where we started and we had a bunch of success with it early on. Someone comes in, they install the Java script and then they’re like, “Okay. You need a three, four or five-day mini course. You have not content right now.” This person’s not going to onboard. How do we remove every possible barrier to them getting that course done? So, right in the app, we gave them three choices. Number one: You can click here and we gave them scaffolding. It was blue prints. And so, poof, it prepopulates. Kind of hydrates a five-day email course with the right delays in between them and it has scaffolding kind of built into the email and you can just fill in some content and you’re done. The second option was – I see you highlighting exactly what I’m saying right now. Four bullets down the line.

Mike [14:14]: You’re skipping ahead again.

Rob: But I feel like it works in this context. And the second option was for them to click the button and we would do it for them if they provided us a couple pieces of content. We could build out that course for them. And that’s the concierge part you’re talking about. That’s where you’re actually doing something for them.

And then the third one, they could pay $499, talk directly to a writer. We did not mark that up at all and they would write a course from scratch if the person didn’t have any content. And we found that those three avenues – especially in the early days – very powerful at getting our trial to paid conversion was extremely high right off the bat. Even for an app without product market fit we were over 50% asking for credit card up front with trial to paid. We got that close to 60% at a certain point. So it was definitely a successful effort based on how hard it is to get on boarded in an app like Drip or an app like Bluetick because there is a bit of work to be done.

Mike [15:08]: Yeah. But I think you plan out those interactions and maybe there’s some sort of an escalation process where first it’s something inside the app and then you follow up with an email and then maybe after that you call them or send them a text message. Or send them multiple emails over the course of several days and maybe they get more – I don’t want to say violent – but a little bit more aggressive in terms of the language like, “Notice you haven’t done this. Can we help you?” And you kind of escalate what it is that you’re offering to do for them. Or how they’re going to benefit from them.

And you can alternate between positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement, I think. But the core piece, I think, at that point is to really plan out what the interaction schedule looks like for those users. If they do this, then great. Kind of reward them and move them to the next step. But if they don’t, do this. If they don’t do that after that response to them, try something else. And you kind of escalate what it is that you’re trying to tell them or communicate to them to get them to that next level. And planning out those interactions, I think is really important at this point.

Jenna of ProdPad had spoken at MicroConf Europe about how they used Drip to achieve this with what felt like constant emails. Like if somebody went into the app, they wired it up to Drip to have tags and events fired, it would essentially queue up the next email in a campaign to go to them to move them through this onboarding funnel. And, to me, it looked like, “Oh my god. You are sending these people a ton of emails when they literally just signed up for your app.” And if they don’t do something within 15 minutes, then you send them an email. And, to me, it seemed like overkill but at the same time she showed these graphs and charts that showed definitively that their user engagement had increased and they had these graphs and data behind it to prove it that it really was working well for them. And, obviously, it impacted the bottom line and allowed them to do a lot of other things. But the core piece of it is they got those people engaged and got them to move forward in that activation process.

Mike [17:15]: The next thing – I think this is more of a side point than anything else – but I’ve found that there’s this concept called deep linking inside of an app which the basic premise of that is that if you’re sending people communication via email, then you should provide links to take them directly to where they need to go inside of the app. And this isn’t something that we currently are able to do. But I think that it goes a long way in being able to send the user a button inside of an email that says, “Click here to view this dashboard or this set of data that you need to pay attention to now.” Because otherwise they have to log in then they have to navigate to the page and they have to remember where the navigation is. And for new users, I think, that that’s a little bit tough or difficult for them to follow because they’re just not as familiar with where they’re supposed to be going. If I say, “Go to the reports section,” that’s fine. But if I have 10 different reports there, then they have to figure out, “Okay. I’ve got to log in, now I’ve got to go to the reports section, now I’ve got to figure out which report it was that I look at.” And I think that that is an impediment to them adopting it and in getting to where they need to go and getting in and out of the app quickly to do their job.


Rob [16:58]: Yeah. I think this is a nice to have. It’s certainly not an absolute requirement but I think it’s something that you’ll want to get in after you get the initial kind of onboarding stuff built out. Because if you have to get them somewhere and you have to tell them instructions to click here and click there, you’re kind of dropping the ball. So this is probably something I would do pretty early on.

Mike [18:57]: Along with that goes personalizing the messaging that you’re sending to them. You definitely want to use some sort of a transactional messaging like the direct one to one communication. If you can use their name, great. Also be able to include data from their account in the emails that you’re sending to them. So specify, “Hey. You either haven’t logged in since such and such,” or, “We notice that this piece is still not connected,” for example. But I think you really want to dive in and identify the specifics of what it is in their account that you’ve noticed or identified as potential problems or places where they could get over that hump that will actually start to provide them value. And then remind them, “This is why you signed up for the this.” So that might involve incorporating dated from earlier in the process where maybe you surveyed them and they said, “This is the reason why I signed up.” And then kind of remind them of those things. Like, “This is what you said that you wanted to achieve and you’re not getting there yet.” And provide that information back to them and let them remember why it is that they originally signed up.


Rob [18:17]: Yep. More personalization equals more results. There’s just no question about it. Every test I’ve ever run, that’s where it will get you. I would say start off with a v1 that is less personalized and using a tool like Drip or autoresponders maybe in HeyWeb or MailChimp. I mean, they’re okay but it’s harder to personalize. But if you use a tool that can personalize really well then it makes it almost easy and in v1 you can stuff some stuff in there. Custom fields and such that talk about their plan. Talk about how much is left in their trial and be very specific about it. If you don’t have that control and you do just need to put in a static four or five email sequence without personalization, it’s better than nothing. Do it and make a note to circle back and improve it.

Mike [21:56]: That’s a good point. You can always circle back and go through those pieces again. You can add a little bit more polish to them. But getting them in place and getting the basic system up and running that’s extremely important. And if you can’t get that then, obviously, you can craft the perfect email. But if it’s not actually getting sent it doesn’t matter. So kind of get something in place so that it will go out there and you can iterate on it from there.

One of the last things I noticed was that you almost need to make sure that the user feels good about what it is that they’re doing and it is the right thing to do. And I’m not sure what my thoughts are on an all clear message or everything looks good from our side. But I think that there’s a lot of value in providing testing mechanisms and keeping in mind that the tool itself is not enough. You have to make sure that the user feels confident about what they’re doing and they’re not sitting there thinking to themselves, “Okay. Am I done? Should I click on this? Is this really the right thing? Are all these pieces set up properly? What do I do here?” And if you don’t give that person that sense of confidence then it makes it very difficult for them to be confident in the value that it’s providing as well. And kind of going back to what you had said earlier about having blueprints and the templates and the formulas in place that when you log into Drip, for example, one of the things that kind of came to mind when I was talking to one of my customers was – he’s like, “I’ve got everything set up but I’m not entirely sure what I should be doing.” So he sent me an email that said, “Can you look at this stuff?” But it’s because I don’t really have templates in place. And I recall that when you go into Drip and you set up a new campaign, it walks you through and says, “Here’s options. You can either chose from this blueprint that’s kind of off the shelf or you can create your own.” I think there’s a third option as well. But it gives the user a sense of well-being and, “I’m doing the right thing,” when they chose that blueprint. Because they’re like, “I don’t have to think about this,” or, “I don’t have to build something from scratch where I don’t even have a baseline.” It gives them that baseline.

And the last thing that I would say about this process is that in talking to your customers about the specific things that they’re running into is extremely valuable. And specifically, if you ask them about, “When you logged in or when you first started trying to do this particular step, what were you confused about or what didn’t make sense?” Because, as I said, it’s obvious to you what needs to happen next but, if it’s not obvious to them, then they’re probably not going to do it or they’re going to ask for help. And it’s more of what you had just said. In order to scale up your efforts and get past that critical mass when you start inviting dozens or hundreds of people at a time in to use the app, when they sign up it’s going to be very difficult for them to get in there and use the product and be effective with it. And you’re just going to be overwhelmed with having to follow up with all those people and track them down and say this person didn’t sign up or this person didn’t do this. How do I get them to move to that next step unless some of that stuffs automated? But if you’ve done those manual steps up front, then you can automate it later. But you have to figure out what those things are first in order to get it right later on in order to automate it.

Something else I’ve noticed is that it’s not as important for them to actually do it, especially with the early customers as it is to understand why they didn’t do it. Because obviously you can typically go in and do anything you want inside of your app for them, but doing it for them or showing them how to do it is not going to solve your problems down the road. You really need to understand why it is that they didn’t do it or what didn’t you communicate so that they knew what to do. Because that’s your fault. That’s not the apps fault. It kind of is the apps fault because you designed it but it’s not the customer’s fault that they didn’t know what to do. It’s your fault for not communicating it well enough so that they understood what they needed to do next.

Rob [19:54]: Yeah. That’s right. And it’s basically taking to do’s off of your customer or your users list. And the more you can do that and the more you can make them feel like they’ve accomplished things even when they didn’t have to dig in and do a lot of their own work or do a lot of the work themselves, that’s a good way to go. And the further you can get them along that journey towards that dopamine rush, like I said, you’re going to be a lot better off and you’re going to have more retention.

This may all sound like quite a bit of work but the interesting thing to think about is really early on you literally do this manually. And you can send these emails out of your Gmail account. I did that for the first probably 15 or 20 paying customers in Drip. We didn’t have any onboarding built into the app. We didn’t have any of this stuff we’re talking about. And that got us to, like I said, around 20, 25 customers until we had a little bit of revenue. I think we had $1,000, $1,500 a month. But more importantly I then knew exactly what the onboarding flow should look like. And I had all these emails that I had been boomeranging and using and so then turning that into just an automated course that got spit out was a snap.

In addition, right before we sent the email to the first big chunk of people, which I think was either 300 or 600 people on our launch list, that’s when we realized, “We’re not going to be able to do this manual anymore.” That’s when we invested one week of engineering time. And Derrick and I sat down and we said what is the best way we think to guide these people through. And that’s where we came up with the do it in the app and email them and kind of try to move them through the flow.

So we did spend time building out this whole onboarding thing but you don’t have to do this before you start to scale a little bit. We had a launch list of 3,400 people and I knew that we had to have something in there or else our trial to paid would be abysmal and you don’t want to waste that. You don’t want to waste all those people who are interested about your product because they’ll come in, they’ll sign up. They’re interested, they’re curious. And then if they don’t do anything, then you’ve lost them. That’s the whole point of this episode is to show you kind of the steps to get there. But you don’t have to do this all up front. You should get – like we’re talking about – 10, 20, 30 paying customers and then think about, “What are my next steps? How do I scale this up?”

Rob [25:19]: So I think that wraps up this episode on how to make your customers more successful with your product. If you have a question for us call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or email us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from ‘We’re Outta Control’ by MoOt used under creative comments. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for “startups” and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode.

Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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