Product-Led Sales (PLS) AMA: Ramli John

Appcues Director of Content and "Product-Led Onboarding" author

Ramli John
February 23, 2022
Product-Led Sales (PLS) AMA: Ramli John

Alexa, CEO of Pocus, hosts Product-Led Sales (PLS) AMAs with PLS experts to share best practices, frameworks, and insights on this emerging category. These AMAs are an opportunity to ask PLS leaders any question - ranging from hiring to sales compensation to tech stack - in a low-key, casual environment.

The PLS AMAs are for members of the Product-Led Sales community, the go-to-place to learn, discuss, and connect with GTM leaders at product-led companies. The goal of the community is to bring together the most thoughtful and innovative GTM leaders to build the next generation of sales together.

Interested in joining? Request an invite here.

Introducing Ramli John

In this AMA recap, we’ll break down our conversation with Appcues Director of Content, PLG coach at ProductLed, and "Product-Led Onboarding" author: Ramli John. 

Keep reading to see how our chat with Ramli unfolded as we discussed all things product-led onboarding, including: 

  • The three-step onboarding formula that drives retention 
  • Who owns and who informs onboarding in a modern product-led company 
  • How to deliver the best onboarding experience per customer segment
  • How to convince  your sales-led organization to adopt product-led onboarding 

Going Beyond The Aha: The 3 Steps For Product-Led Onboarding 

The first thing we wanted to dive into with Ramli was the topic at the core of our entire conversation —  what onboarding looks like in a product-led environment. 

Traditionally, when people think about onboarding, they think about getting users to the  “aha moment” as quickly as possible. But Ramli thinks that being laser focused on this specific moment is misguided — and that there are actually three milestones users should hit in the onboarding process to trigger repeat, lifelong customers. Because, at the end of the day, retention is the key to growth.

You see this long-tail approach to onboarding at Slack, where they define an onboarded team as one that’s sent 2,000 messages. They've found that, once accounts hit that point, they’re 93% more likely to stick around and continue using Slack going forward. 

“I hear this all the time. You can't bring up onboarding without bringing up the aha moment, which is this magical place where a user finally ‘gets’ your product. But I think there's a lot of misconception about that moment, and I argue that that misconception harms onboarding more than it actually helps.”  

According to Ramli, the three steps of onboarding are actually:

  1. The first time a user perceives the value of your product. This can happen when they read your landing page or hear about it from a colleague.
  2. When a user signs up for the first time and actually experiences the value of your product and realizes how it could make their workflows better. 
  3. When a user adopts the value they’ve experienced into their everyday life and forms a habit.

So the aha moment is part of the onboarding experience in a product-led company, but it’s not the be-all, end-all. 

Who Owns and Participates in Onboarding When It Crosses Multiple Teams? 

Product-led onboarding extends across product, marketing, customer success, and sales.  For those of you who are thinking that overlapping all these teams in the onboarding flow sounds a bit overwhelming, Ramli has examples and advice to offer. 

First of all, just one team should truly own the entire process — and that should be the team that’s in most direct contact with customers. At Drift it’s the product team, at Jungle Scout it’s customer success, and at Sprout Social it’s customer marketing. 

“My rule of thumb is whoever's closest to the customer — whether that's product or customer success or another team — is the team that owns onboarding.” 

Once you've decided which team is the best owner for your onboarding experience, you can start to figure out where other teams should contribute to the process. 

Ramli says it’s important for product marketing and marketing to be involved for the whole onboarding journey, to keep the promise and the messaging consistent across the board. 

Then, especially in larger orgs, there are multiple sales teams to consider. There’s usually a self-serve team and a sales-assisted team, and they must communicate with each other and other teams about user pain-points. Sales should be involved with product from the beginning when it comes to designing and improving the onboarding process. It’s the same story with customer success, as they’re often getting crucial feedback from users in the way no other teams do. 

We agree with Ramli that it’s imperative that onboarding should be a cross-functional effort, seeing as how it’s one of the most pivotal moments in the customer journey and where a lasting first impression will be formed. 

“It's like going to a networking event or going on a date or meeting a friend for the first time. You form that first impression with a person right away. It's the same thing with products. There really needs to be a cross-functional effort to make sure that first impression is really seamless, that the messaging and experience flows smoothly all the way through.”

How To Interact with Different User Segments in the Onboarding Journey 

A thoughtfully-designed cross-functional onboarding journey also must consider how different user segments prefer to move through the flow. 

Ramli talks about identifying product-qualified leads (PQLs) by zooming in on users with high user engagement and looking at the email they used to sign up to see how they and their company fit into your ideal customer profile (ICP). If a user is a good fit, they’re a good candidate for sales outreach during onboarding. 

And it’s even better if you can reach out with context. Saying something like “Hey we noticed you got stuck right here — do you need help?” Is a lot less cold and a lot more consultative than a generic message. It’s about helping them experience value, not necessarily closing a deal in the traditional sense. 

On the flip side, if the product engagement is high but the user doesn’t align with your ICP, Ramli recommends reserving your resources and letting that user keep exploring the self-serve onboarding flow. 

Then you have situations where product engagement is low. If you’re seeing this regularly in the onboarding workflow, you may want to see if there’s room for improvement in the self-serve experience. But if you’re able to tell that a low engagement user falls into your ICP, sales can still reach out and see what can be done to boost their product engagement — and report their findings back to product afterward.

“At what point is product engagement and customer fit enough for it to make sense to bring in the sales team? I think that's where there needs to be more conversation with product, to get that product engagement data, and with marketing to make sure that the right customers are coming into the door from the beginning.” 

Finally, Ramli advises product-led growth organizations not to hide from users. Give them a chance to raise their hand and ask for help — whether that’s through a contact form or a chat window — even in a self-serve workflow. 

“The other thing that I would suggest often is giving people a chance to raise their hands. I think often, especially with product-led, we hide. But hey, if they want to talk to somebody, that's actually a good signifier that they're more likely to convert! I think making it easy for people to contact somebody from your team is super, super helpful.” 

Convincing Your Company That Product-Led Onboarding Is The Way To Go  

Especially at a traditional top-down business, it can be hard to get leadership to invest in onboarding. The argument for these sales-led businesses is that they’d be undermining the efforts of their carefully-crafted sales team.

To address that argument, Ramli suggests careful positioning. Don’t go to leadership with statements like “We want to pour a bunch of money into onboarding.” Focus the conversation on something they can see the value in: "With smarter onboarding, we can deliver leads to sales that are better qualified, closer to conversion, and more likely to stick around.” It’s about acknowledging that sales is still part of the equation, and that product-led onboarding will only make them more successful.

Which leads us to quickly addressing the elephant in the room at many PLG organizations — sales teams can greatly boost effective onboarding. The idea that a “good” product or a “good” product-led onboarding experience doesn’t need sales support is a myth.

At Slack, 60% of revenue is generated by sales. Try plugging a human into your product-led onboarding process and see what it does to get retention trending upward.

“I think often our users don't want to talk to somebody. But, there are times where they want it, they need it, and they're actually looking for it. When adding humans adds value to the onboarding journey, then it becomes magical.” 

Community Q&A Time! 

During the AMA, we opened the floor up to the members of our Product-Led Sales community, many of whom raised some great questions and sparked thoughtful conversations. 

Here are a few of our favorite questions: 

What are Some Best Practices for Onboarding Tours?

🙋 Question: Are there any best practices for improving the product and using guided tours to optimize the onboarding workflow? 

📣 Answer: Ramli suggests that product-led companies first take a look at their product to see where tooltips can be added to what he calls “empty states”— product fields that are empty before a user adds their data to them. Take a moment to include some information around what they can do in these states, what they can achieve by using these fields, and calls to action to get them started entering information.

As far as product tours go, Ramli thinks the answer to whether you build it yourself or use a third party tool like Appcues really depends on your goals and how many resources you have. If you want the ability to experiment quickly, a third party tool designed for non-technical teams will be a lot more effective. If you want more data and insights from your onboarding process, it will be more effective to build it yourself, so you can have more control.  

And as for best practices, companies can set up different tours to align with different user goals. So if a user answers your in-app survey saying that they’re most interested in using your tool to send a marketing email, you can drop them into that onboarding flow, with a tour to match. 

Similarly, it’s OK to have different “levels” for tours which build upon each other and introduce the user to more and more value as they spend time with your product. 

Should I Invest in Onboarding with a Free Product?

🙋 Question: Are you aware of any successful PLG companies that have really overstaffed on onboarding, especially with a free product?

📣 Answer: In conversations with Danny Villarreal, Head of Customer Success at Jungle Scout, Ramli found that this is exactly what their company did.

According to Ramli, they noticed the product activation rate wasn’t where they wanted it, so they invested heavily in onboarding. They brought on more customer success staff. They poured money into their training academy. They held weekly Zoom calls to connect with onboarding customers live. And, this is the most interesting part, they even translated their entire onboarding journey into Chinese after realizing that their second biggest market is in China. 

Jungle Scout is a great example of a product-led company that’s really growing now because of their initial heavy investment in onboarding.

How Do I Reach Out to Customers Without Seeming “Salesy”?

🙋 Question: How do we get users to take us up on one-on-one time — without them thinking we’re just trying to sell them something?

📣 Answer: Ramli says there are two times when users are the most primed to engage in one-on-one conversation with your team: when they’re frustrated and when they’re happy. 

If they’ve reached a point of friction during onboarding and you’re able to catch that quickly, reaching out with a "Hey, I can help you get where you're trying to go.” is a great way to start a one-on-one conversation. 

On the other end of the spectrum, personally congratulating a user when they’ve hit a major milestone in the product is another way to open the door to a real conversation. 

Ramli shares that he would be more inclined to engage with an email from sales if it were catered to his personal win, such as: "Congrats Ramli, I saw that you were able to achieve this thing! I’d love to show you some other use cases or answer any questions you have…”

Keep the conversation going

While we’re going to wrap it up here, there was a lot more great conversation during our AMA with Ramli John. Interested in getting in on the conversation with more go-to-market leaders in the product-led space? Then request to join us over on Pocus’ invite-only Slack community, where we’ll keep you up to date on every upcoming AMA. 

It’s free to get involved, but we can’t promise you won’t spend some time getting sucked into conversations with the best minds in Product-Led Sales! 

About the author
Ramli John
Director of Content, Appcues
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