Motivation as a lever for improving activation
Taking a deeper look at the often ignored sibling of friction
Understanding the onboarding equation
You’ve launched a slew of onboarding improvements. You’ve worked hard to remove as much negative friction from your activation flows. You’re struggling to know where to focus next.
If you take a step back now and think about why users and teams are getting stuck or dropping out of the new user flows, there’s actually only one valid answer.
Thanks for reading The Product-Led Geek! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Users lack the motivation to overcome your friction.
When you think in those terms you understand that the likelihood of users/teams successfully completing onboarding and going on to reach your habit moment and activate is a function of two things.
Important note: I use the generic term friction here to simplify the equation, but it’s important to remember that not all friction is bad. For example, contrary to popular belief, carefully designed onboarding questions providing useful segmentation are powerful when used to tailor the user experience, give input to prioritisation, and provide data for PQL/PQA scoring models.
Every user signing up for your product starts their onboarding journey with an intrinsic level of motivation to get through whatever steps are ahead of them in order to realise value from your product.
Negative friction during onboarding erodes that motivation.
So you have two levers to pull...
Reducing negative friction in the onboarding flow
Increasing the motivation of the user to overcome friction
There's lots you can do to reduce negative friction. It's written about a lot.
Increasing motivation is a topic much less well discussed.
In this post I’ll share a number of methods across four main categories that you can use to increase user motivation.
First up lets look at fit.
1. Find the right users
There is an often overlooked relationship between acquisition and activation. To activate users and teams consistently well, three things are needed
They need to have problems and pains that are important enough to them to want to solve
Those problems have to be at this moment in time important enough to want to find a solution right now
Your product effectively needs to elegantly solve those problems and pains
Acquisition efforts should be focused on finding and bringing new users to your front door who have - or are likely to have - problems and pains that your product effectively and elegantly solves.
In PLG elegant solutions win.
And within those acquisition efforts, priority should be given to the subset of users who have (or their teams have) urgency in wanting to solve the problem.
Where growth teams focus on acquisition volume and not quality, then activation, engagement and subsequently retention all suffer, and the performance of your growth loops will be adversely affected.
So get this right first.
The next category is around trust.
2. Build trust
Assuming you are bringing the right new users to your front door, then the level of trust they have with you is a significant factor in providing and maintaining motivation. But remember, building trust starts before users ever touch your product. It’s nurtured through every interaction they have with your brand.
It can even come indirectly through association. I once spoke with a developer who had been reading the personal blog of a Snyk employee for several months, had come to trust the content, and subsequently when investigating solutions to his problem automatically associated that acquired trust with the Snyk brand.
It's really important therefore to have a presence where your ideal users hang out.
Have a presence where your ideal users hang out.
Not a selling presence. A helping presence.
Be a useful contributor to their community.
That's how you most effectively build trust.
And if you have a product that lends itself to it, invest in human driven loops (word of mouth, referral, invitation). People are much more motivated to overcome friction when someone they already trust is recommending you to them.
This is often someone they know, but can also be authority figures or companies.
A great example here is Tango who highlight that Google endorses their chrome extension as one of their 12 favourite.
Building further, leveraging reviews can be help elevate trust. Positive reviews from a happy user base are of course the foundation and overall sentiment across the set of reviews should be overwhelmingly positive for this to work in your favour, but don’t overlook the importance of your interaction with reviews (both positive and negative) in review forums. How you present yourself in those forums and communities sets the tone for how people anticipate you’ll interact with them should they become a user and customer.
Another tactic is to show relevant social proof (by relevant I mean appropriate to the concerns of the user and their context, problems, pains, typical objections etc).
“The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct.” - Dr. Robert Cialdini on Social Proof
But don't just show a list of logos as is most common. Use what you know about the user (via enrichment or direct capture) to ensure that the logos you present are ones the user is likely to care about.
And write them as testimonials. Feature real people.
Describe how your product has solved a problem (that this user cares about) for someone else.
The aim should be to humanise the logos - people empathise with other people, not with companies.
People first, not logo first.
One of my advising clients TryHackMe does this well by simply featuring a wall of testimonial tweets. The tweets speak directly to the use-cases, problems and typical objections of new learners.
The third category is around your value promise.
3. Improve your value promise upfront
So you’re bringing new users into the product with a strong problem-product fit.
But you still have work to do in communicating that to them.
Improving the value promise will lift motivation. You can and should do this by delivering more value through core product features over time, but that’s the long play.
In the interim, often low hanging fruit is available just by better positioning - table-stakes is solid positioning to your ICP, but it’s even better if you can further personalise messaging to make it highly relevant to why they are here and signing up for your product, today.
The more confident a user is that you can solve the pain the have right now, the more motivated they will be to overcome any friction.
Testimonials also serve to improve your value promise. Having it restated in the words of a happy customer is powerful reinforcement.
A great example is Gitpod.
Interestingly, Tom Preston-Werner was so impressed with the product later invested in the company.
Important note: it's critical that you can deliver on any elevated value promise or you risk at best irreparably damaging trust with the cohort of users you cannot serve well.
Something not to be overlooked in the context of your value promise and broader positioning is language-market fit.
Matt Lerner talks about this extensively in his article for First Round Review, so I won’t go into detail but suffice to say that when motivating users through a value promise it's critical that you as a brand are also talking about their problems and their domain in the same way that they do.
This needs to happen across all surfaces and communication channels, from the website to external communities, to nurture campaigns, to ads, to documentation, to the product itself. Consistency is key.
And last but not least you can build motivation through your onboarding experience itself.
4. Provide experiential motivation boosts
Experiential motivation boosts are the things within your product UX that serve to increase the level of desire to complete a flow (e.g. onboarding).
A few examples include…
🚀 Asking segmentation questions during onboarding
Not only do carefully constructed segmentation questions provide incredibly useful data, they can also serve to reassure new users that the specific problem they have is one that you solve for. The added confidence this provides can be a great motivation boost.
🚀 Progress bars, checklists and teasers
People like to feel that they are making progress toward completing a goal. Every step closer to completion provides a subtle motivational boost.
Progress bars and checklists provide a simple means to leverage this phenomenom. An evolution of this concept is the progress teaser. With a progress teaser you are actually showing in some form the users progress in building something real through the flow. It’s not suitable for all products and flows, but when it’s a good fit it can work extremely well. Check out the Airtable onboarding flow for an example of this.
If you can find the right reward, this can be a high impact method to boost motivation and likelihood to complete a flow.
Beware this being used as a crutch though and choose the rewards carefully - the primary motivator always needs to be the means to be the value your product can offer in solving the users (or their teams) pain. Choosing rewards that extend the core product value is usually safe ground.
This tactic is often used in B2B SaaS and B2C products with network effects in encouraging new users to invite their team / friends as part of onboarding flows. Rewards can be the promise of a better experience and more value, or more concrete (e.g. 200 more tests, $5 credit etc.)
🚀 Delightful UX elements
This is for all the little things in your new user experience that surprise and delight.
I recently onboarded to Clay and was struck by this progress animation.
And goodness me look at the aesthetics on the nurture emails they send 😍:
Let me know if you have any favourite methods for increasing motivation to improve activation - just hit reply to this email!
Lenny’s Podcast with Laura Schaffer, VP Growth @ Amplitude 🔥
Thanks for reading The Product-Led Geek! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Well structured and good read!
love it! also need to show user what great is - one other problem I see is the cold start problem - the work required to get to Aha moment requires approvals for data, etc - need to show them the dummy data of what great looks like to motivate them to take step with own credentials/data