Hartley Brody

Convert New Users to Evangelists: Understanding the Post Sign Up Funnel

clipboard-sign-upWhat do you want your users to do after they sign up?

While getting people into your product is obviously A Very Good Thing, it isn’t time to pat yourself on the back just yet. To build an awesome product experience and an engaged user base, you really need to carefully focus on what happens after a user has signed up.

Once they’re in the door, you want to show them value quickly. Help them avoid common pitfalls and show them how to get the most of your product. Walk them through the process of moving from beginner to power user to evangelist.

Not only does this make for happy users, but it also make it easy to ask for referrals, product reviews and up-sells, while simultaneously avoiding churn and abandonment. That all sounds pretty awesome, right?

I’ll walk you through a few basic ideas and then we’ll look at how some of the hottest startups have built out their post sign up funnels.

What Is All This Talk About Funnels?

The concept of “the funnel” is very common in business-to-business (B2B) marketing, where potential customers make slower, deliberate decisions – often taking weeks or months – before deciding to sign up for a product.

A B2B Marketing FunnelIn that context, the funnel helps businesses realize that there are stages consumers go through before signing up. In order to market and sell successfully, businesses need to move people through those stages, and not just jump right to the end by trying to sell, before the potential buyer is ready. Very rarely does someone show up on a B2B website for the first time and whip out their credit card, ready to purchase.

The funnel tapers because you expect to lose people along the way: not everyone who visits your website will become a good lead for your business, and not every lead will end up signing up. That’s totally expected. But you want to minimize the loss between each stage, so that a higher percentage of visitors become leads, and a higher percentage of leads become customers.

An Example Post Sign Up Funnel

For products that are tailored to consumers (so-called “B2C”), sign up is often much faster and less calculated. But there are still stages that a user goes through between when they first find out about your product and when the become an evangelical customer.

Let’s look at what an example post sign up funnel might look like for a typical B2C product:

The Post Sign Up Funnel

Stage 1: Receives Tour
We start by giving them a tour so they understand how things work. Hopefully, every user that signs up will go through the tour so we get a chance to show them all that our product can do. There shouldn’t really be any drop off at this early of a stage.

Stage 2: Performs Primary Action
Next, we drive the user to actually use our product. If there are multiple things a user can do with our product, we should drive them to the action that proves the “stickiest,” which we’ll talk about later.

If there’s a lot of drop off between stage 1 and 2 – that is, lots of people go through the tour but don’t perform the primary action – then you probably means you should tighten things up and make the tour shorter. Maybe even skip the tour altogether and drive them right into the primary action.

Stage 3: Receives Positive Feedback/Value
This is the most important stage you want to drive a user through – the moment where they experience the value of your product first-hand. If a new user doesn’t make to the stage quickly, you’re likely to lose them forever.

Maybe they started uploading their information, but it was taking too long so they never ended up getting your sweet analysis. Or maybe there were too many steps between taking the picture and sharing it with friends.

If someone starts performing your product’s primary action but doesn’t make it all the way, this is very bad. Sure, you might lose a few people for random reasons, but most people who start using your product should get to see the value for their effort. If they’re not, then you have a product issue and should probably address that before anything else.

Stage 4: Comes Back Later
At this stage, a user has already taken your product for a spin once. Some users might only ever use your product once, and never come back. And for some businesses, this might not be an issue. But ideally, the user liked it so much that they come back and use it again later. Encouraging regular, habitual use of your product is a great way to build a strong, loyal fan base.

Some startups only report on “active users” – that is, users who have come back to the product recently – rather than total users, since it gives a clearer picture of how valuable users find the product. In fact, looking at the percentage of “daily active” or “monthly active” users to total users is a great way to understand how loyal your user base is.

You’re going to have a hard time trying to encourage referrals or reviews or up-sells if people aren’t coming back to use your product regularly.

Stage 5 & 6: Invites Friends & Write Review
If a user is so excited about your product that they’re using it regularly, the next stage is to get them to share their experience. Encouraging them to invite their friends or leave a review somewhere is a great way to leverage your current user base to help bring in new users. This is where the “viral loop” kicks in and new users lead to more new users.

But, just like the B2B marketing funnel, you shouldn’t jump to this stage right away or it could come off as pushy. Make sure you’re walking your users through all the necessary steps from curious first-timer to dedicated power user.

Finding Your Own Post Sign Up Funnel

The above is just an example funnel, but I think it’s roughly accurate for a lot of B2C products. Ultimately though, you need to figure out what the funnel looks like for your product. Maybe it ends with referring friends, or maybe it’s simply getting the user to come back on a regular basis.

For a lot of freemium products, one of the main goals is to get a user to upgrade and start paying for premium features. But even once they do that, it doesn’t mean that the user has come all the way through the funnel. You could still potentially drive more upgrades if you have multiple price points, or encourage users to try new parts of the product.

Gum on the bottom of your shoe keeps you stuck to the sidewalkA good way to come up with your own funnel is to find the “stickiest” feature in your product – that is, the feature that’s mostly strongly correlated with low user churn – and drive the user to that. A sticky feature is one where, once the user starts using it, they’ll have a hard time stopping.

It could be that the value from the feature is unavailable elsewhere, or it could be that the switching costs of that feature are so high that users would rather stay put than move to another product.

Some people bristle at the idea of locking a user in, but it’s not necessarily about keeping their data. It’s about creating value they can’t find elsewhere.

For example:

Even if I found a better photo sharing site than Facebook, I still want to tag my friends in all my photos. Since my friends are all on Facebook already, I’m pretty much locked into Facebook for photo sharing.

Even if I wanted to switch from Gmail, I’ve given out my email address to so many people that the switching costs of moving to a new email address would make it nearly impossible.

I could export my data from either service, but where would I take it to get the same value? Once I start using those services, it’s very hard to stop. Photos and email are both sticky features for Facebook and Google, respectively.

The Growth Hacking Tool Belt

Just like with the marketing funnel, you want to constantly be helping your users move from one stage to the next, losing as few along the way as possible. Drive them from sign up to first use, then to regular use, then to becoming evangelists.

At any given point in time, you’ll have users that are at every stage of the funnel. This means it’ll be tricky to manage things manually, so you should think about ways to build encouragement into your product so that it happens automatically.

There are a few categorical ways to build growth into your product. We’ll go through some of them and then look at examples of hot startups that have successfully used these techniques to drive huge user growth.

Lifecycle or “Drip” Emails
Lifecycle emails are a series of pre-written emails that are automatically sent to users based on certain triggers. The triggers are either related to how a user is using the product, or simply keyed off a time delay where users receive an email every few days.

The time-delayed emails are the easiest to setup. Every user receives the same series of emails based on when they signed up. Here’s an example of a time delayed – or “drip” – campaign:

  • Day 0: Thanks for signing up!
  • Day 2: Here are some tips for getting started.
  • Day 5: Here's what other user are doing.
  • Day 8: Advanced tips for our product.
  • Day 12: Let us know if we can help.

To be a bit smarter about it, you can send these emails based on how users are interacting with your product. If you noticed they signed up but haven’t performed your product’s primary action with a day or two, you might send an email to see if they have questions.

If they haven’t logged in in awhile, let them know what they’ve been missing. Or you can use email to encourage users to keep doing what they’ve been doing.

Twitter does a great job of this with their “Suggestions similar to” emails. Clearly, they’ve discovered that a user is more likely to be active on Twitter if they follow lots of other accounts – following new accounts is a sticky feature for Twitter because it creates a ton of value (seeing what friends and celebs are saying) in a way that a user can’t find elsewhere.

When a user first sign up, Twitter is constantly suggesting other accounts to follow on their website. But once the user has followed a certain number of accounts, they’ve moved to the next stage of the funnel, and the on-site recommendations start to be less intrusive.

Twitter suggests who to follow

However, whenever when a user follows someone new, Twitter sends them an email with suggestions for similar accounts they might want to follow. I personally get a lot of these emails, but I don’t mind because they’ve helped me discover a ton of interesting people. It helps me get more value from the service as a user, and it helps Twitter ensure that I’m coming back again and again.

In fact, Twitter has a number of email notifications that are all designed to pull users back to the site. They offer tips on getting more out of the product, things a user has missed since the last time they logged in, as well as top tweets and stories from around Twitter.

Twitter email notification preferences

Lifting Restrictions
One of the best ways to encourage behavior is to reward it. If your product has a freemium version that comes with certain restrictions, lifting those restrictions is a super easy way to incentivize users to perform an action you’d like them to take.

There are tons of great examples of this but I think Dropbox’s is the most well-known. They give away free storage space for literally every single part of their post sign up funnel:

Dropbox offers a ton of ways to get free space, all of which pull me through their post sign up funnel.

  • 500MB for everyone I invite to Dropbox, up to 16GB
  • 250MB for taking a product tour
  • 125MB for hooking up both my Twitter & Facebook accounts
  • 125MB for following them on Twitter

By completing all of these steps, a user is not only unlocking more storage space, but also becoming both a power user (product tour + following Dropbox on twitter for updates) as well as an evangelist (inviting all their friends).

Performing each of these steps helps the user get more out of Dropbox, and helps Dropbox ensure that they have a well-educated user base full of evangelists.

If your product has any game mechanics built into it, you can use those to incentivize behavior that drives users through the post sign up funnel.

A site that does this well is Q&A site StackOverflow. While you can obviously win badges for asking good questions and providing helpful answers, they have a number of other badges that simply encourage users to become competent, regular users.

  • Analytical (bronze): Visited every section of the FAQ.
  • Autobiographer (bronze): Completed all user profile fields
  • Informed (bronze): Read the entire about page
  • Enthusiast (silver): Visited the site each day for 30 consecutive days
  • Fanatic (gold): Visited the site each day for 100 consecutive days

These badges don’t really involve any participation beyond just setting up your profile, reading about the site, and then checking back regularly. A simple but effective way to keep users coming back, even if they’re unsure about participating in the community just yet.

Have Your Active Users Do The Heavy Lifting
If your product has a strong social component, you can ask your active users to do the hard work of pulling other, less-engaged users back in.

Every once in awhile, Facebook shows an area on the side of the news feed that suggested friends to “reconnect with.” While the feature is ostensibly designed to help you refresh old relationships, it has the curious property of only showing profiles of users who hadn’t been active on Facebook in a few months.

Facebook is essentially encouraging its most active users to help pull back in the least active users. Presumably, the old friend will receive an email saying that you have written on their wall or want to reconnect, and they would want to click through to see what you had said – by logging into Facebook for the first time in awhile.

Very clever, and I’m sure it is very effective at pulling unengaged users back in.

Using the Metaphor

Getting a user signed up for your product is really only the beginning of your relationship with them. In order to build a viable business, the product needs to show value, pull users back, and create evangelists.

How each product does this varies widely, but the post sign up funnel provides a great metaphor for thinking about the relationship you want to have with new users, and how you want to grow that relationship over time.

Not every user will end up inviting all their friends, paying you money, or otherwise making it to the “bottom” of your funnel. But if you really think about each of the funnel stages and how you can gently nudge your users between them, you’ll build an awesome product experience and a highly-engaged user base.

Now that you now how to retain them, ready to attract new users? Check out my eBook Marketing for Hackers, the step by step guide to turning your weekend project into paying customers.

Discussion on Hacker News.