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Invest in helping new customers

You’ve got one chance to make a first impression. A cliché, but true. And your sales pitch doesn’t end with your sign-up form–it ends when a visitor decides to become a paying customer. That means you have to create a seamless transition and experience from visitor to trial user, and then to paying customer. That means investing deeply in your customers’ first-run experience and sales throughout the trial process.

First and foremost, you have to minimize the gap between visitor and “I can’t believe how easy that was.” There’s a point in the process of test-driving your software when the user should feel like they just accomplished something amazing with very little effort. That’s the crucial moment, and you should do everything possible to enable it quickly. It’s important to realize, however, that that moment may not be the one you think it is. Have conversations with users to find out what that moment is for them.

So how can you get your visitors to that moment as quickly as possible? While every application has configuration and settings, can you design these such that the default values work perfectly well for 80% of people? Push unnecessary configuration and settings off until the visitor decides it’s worth investing in those small tweaks. By providing a default configuration and educating users that it can be heavily customized, you remove the burden from their exploratory investigation, while ensuring they know that there’s much more flexibility available to them.

Another often overlooked approach is to treat your post-registration login pages as sales pitches. Until a visitor commits by providing payment information, you’re still in the process of selling them on your application. For instance, when a page loads in a blank slate, or when a visitor is on the settings pages for a given feature, check to see if they’ve added payment information. If they haven’t, display some additional details about the benefits of the feature. That could be as simple as bullet points or as complex as tutorial videos and links to customer stories showing how others have gained significant value from the feature. Don’t drown your visitors in sales materials, but remember that the sales process isn’t over after the sign-up form.

Another straightforward way to help people is to personalize their accounts and make them as real as possible as quickly as possible. For example, you could lean on Gravatar to populate their avatar in the application. You could also add realistic dummy data so they see how it works in action. Of course, you’ll also want to give them a way to remove the dummy data and start from scratch with minimal effort, but the more real the application feels, the more easily visitors will be able to relate to it.

And, contrary to my previous advice about pushing aside configuration and settings, you could also offer specific options to help people set up their account so it’s more relevant to their needs. For instance, you could ask them what industry they’re in, what features they’re most interested in, or how they hope to use your application. You can then customize the experience or guide them to information relevant to their goals. The bonus is that you also begin to gain some insight into potential customers, allowing you to improve your first-run experience to default to catering to the most common answers.

The single most important takeaway about helping new customers get started is that you never want it bolted on. Don’t design your application and then add some clunky guidance as an afterthought. Instead, design education directly into the application as a first-class citizen. Include first-run guidance in every design decision you make. Just as important, as your application changes, is to always reconsider that educational material in your design process. If you add or remove features, set aside time to think about the impact of those changes on your first-run experience.

It’s easy to forget, but you’ll never quite be able to view your application through a new user’s eyes. You know too much. Those first early interactions are the most difficult and painful for your potential customers. They’re likely looking at multiple other solutions, and they want quick and easy ways to eliminate options and narrow their choices. Work with people who have never seen your software, and quietly observe how they progress through your initial experience. No matter how polished you’ve made it, you’ll always be surprised by the opportunities for improvement.

Finally, enable connection. Visitors will have questions, and different people prefer different media for reaching out in different contexts. Make sure people know you’re available to help. Ideally, offer phone, email, and live chat. Remove as much friction as possible and let people get in touch with you. So many businesses these days do their best to prevent customer contact that simply offering these channels will set you apart–even if a given visitor doesn’t use them. For instance, with Postmark, we hear all the time that people choose us because we’re the only transactional email provider with a phone number all over our website; yet we don’t receive many phone calls relative to our traffic and the size of our customer base.

Personalized demos and training create another great way to enable connection with your visitors. On the surface, these help your visitors and customers learn more about the application, but they also provide an incredible research channel for you. The most important detail about demos is that you must make every demo conversation completely personalized. On any given demo call, you should only talk for 20% of the time. The other 80% of the time, your customer should be talking and helping you understand their needs. Steer the conversation and the demo to focus on the parts of your application that will help them meet those needs. I can’t stress this enough. The number one mistake in demo calls is relying on a canned demo without understanding what the customer is looking for.

Even when someone doesn’t have any immediate questions, there’s a good possibility they’re still interested in hearing news. Maybe you’re only one feature away from being the perfect solution for them. Let them know about ways to stay inside your product’s loop. Whether that’s following you on social media or signing up for newsletters, if a visitor doesn’t sign up right away, that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested enough to continue hearing from you. Make it easy for them to stay informed.

Remember, through all of this, you’re not just introducing customers to your application; you’re introducing them to your business and company. You’re communicating how you operate and do business, and you’re still selling them on the fact that you want to help them. Go the extra mile to help make the first-run experience enjoyable, and you’ll be amazed at the difference in quality of conversations and conversion rates.

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