Inside Out

Notes on seeking wisdom and crafting software.

Understanding product signups

Signup and onboarding are the front door for an app. An inclusive and welcoming entry sets the stage for an engaging journey ahead. Recently I was part of a team hacking the signup flow for an enterprise subscription based product. We created a working prototype and ran a customer validation with more than 100 customer interviews.

My observations ranged all the way from being humbled to see the customer struggle to the moments of excitement seeing them derive value from the new experience. We learned at the end that customers are 2x more likely to actually use the product after completing signup in our prototype flow!

We use Signup to mean choosing a product, making a purchase and creating an account. Onboarding is the set of steps leading to you discovering the capabilities and actually using the purchased product.

Our customers are small and medium businesses. Some of them already have an IT department and others have leaders who act as (accidental?) administrators. We targeted businesses in India for this exercise. The service provider (Company) works in the enterprise space. It builds several subscription based products.

Creating complexity

The world’s best signup flow is one that doesn’t exist. E.g., just lets you draw right away, that’s it.

Every step we add in between the landing page and actual app takes the Customer one step far from the product. Why do we add any step at all? Let’s walk backwards from the purchase.

Company is selling a high value product. Trial is available only if the customer provides a card. We will need a payment step for all signups. This involves bunch of bookkeeping - save billing details, Tax information, and there are regional trade laws which determine who can purchase a product. All of that fits in this step of how to make a purchase.

Now a payment is always associated with an identity. We need an account to learn who can use the product. With an account comes the complexity of preferences, history, recovery of credentials etc. We need to support these too.

We also need details of what the customer is purchasing. It could be one product or a bundled plan.

A product, account and payment is usually all that is required to make a purchase. E.g., take Netflix or Hotstar, you can create an account with “phone number”, choose a plan that works for you and pay. You start binge-watching in the next minute.

Since we’re set out to create complexity, let’s step up a bit more 🙈.

Depending on the region Customer belongs to, the plans offered by the Company could change. This can be inferred from the location information, or we could ask the Customer explicitly. Additionally, where also decides a set of promotions etc. for the later purchase part.

What plans to purchase can be complex enough to require a separate workflow to choose one. I come to purchase an email service, and now I get to decide if I need those collaboration features too! Company may treat this as a way to make Customers aware of the greatest and best features. As a customer, I get drowned in decision paralysis.

Company needs to keep abusers away. Let’s add prove you’re a human to the Who part.

Now we have a conceptual model to work on.

Complex signup flow

(Conceptual model for signup consists of various steps indicated by WHERE, WHAT etc. we discussed above. Last three rows indicate the requirements on the flow by the three players - customer, company and compliance.)

Can we simplify this flow? Before that, what does a success look like?

Success is faster value for everyone

How do we measure success of a signup and onboarding flow?

  1. Completion rate: # of customers who complete the signup vs those who started it. Higher is better.
  2. Time to value (i.e., using the product). Lesser is better.
  3. Trial to paid conversion: how many customers pay after trial period. Higher is better. Signup and onboarding indirectly affect this long term metric. A customer who could never use the product will never pay.

I learned that a higher (1) widens the funnel, but if you widen it too much it affects (3) negatively since the denominator becomes larger. A trial customer who never pays is a sunk cost to the company. A better (2) hooks the customer early and they stick around longer.

In the next part of this series, we will focus on the problems in this conceptual model, few hypotheses and how we solved those in our prototype!