Use Onboarding Guides to Increase Free to Paid Conversion

Use Appcues' 'Treasure Hunt' Framework to create user onboarding guides that convert

Ramli John
Ramli John
Director of Content, Appcues
Playbook Overview

When should you run this playbook?
You are trying to improve free user conversions.

Who to target?
All free product users. 

Playbook goal?
Improve adoption of features and accelerate user value during onboarding. 

Responsible team(s)?
Marketing and Growth.

  • Make your first impressions with users count. Apply onboarding best practices to delight users.
  • Create user guides (both human-assisted and self-serve) to get them to value quickly and increase your chances of conversion

Users getting stuck on the free plan?

Often you’ve reached product market fit and have users from your ICP consistently signing up to the self-serve version of your product. The challenge is when these users end up staying on the free version (even though they would benefit from paid packages) or become inactive or churn altogether.

How do you ensure that free users get to value quickly and stick around longer?

The 'Treasure Hunt' Framework

A carefully curated onboarding experience can improve conversion by helping users get to value faster. Make sure you are solving for their specific pain points with the creation of targeted guides for each segment.

Try this Playbook

What you'll need:

  • A self-serve freemium product
  • An outline of your onboarding steps
  • A CDP or Data Warehouse with product usage events
  • A tool like Appcues to build onboarding guides without code

#1 Ask questions that will allow you to find out "what the treasure is?"

Let’s first define “treasure” in this context. Treasure is simply your users’ goals for your product based on their segment.

Ask questions that will allow you to find out what the “treasure” is. A simple in-app survey early in the process will allow users to self-segment. A question like “What is your primary goal for signing up with our tools today?” will help you create highly-targeted messaging, quickly adding value and squashing churn. 

#2 Create a simple but effective treasure hunt

Make the “treasure hunt” as simple as possible. First, take a look at your product to see where tooltips can be added to “empty states”— product fields that are empty before a user adds their data to them. Take a moment to include some information describing what they can do in these states, what they can achieve by using these fields, and what they need to do to start entering information.

One tip is to 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.

#3 Segment users by their goals

Although this playbook is targeting self-serve free users (which can be considered a type of segmentation) it’s best to break it down even further based on their goals for the product.

For example, Appcues has several types of customer segments:

  • Developers that prefer to explore on their own
  • Everyone else who are more likely to walk through a product tour

These two sets of people can both come in from self-serve. Ramli says that’s why segmenting early on is very important. It should be product based leveraging user feedback on  what they hope to achieve. 

You can also set up segments based on your goals, whether it’s to improve activation, upsell, or convert from free to paid — those three business goals represent different onboarding journeys. 

#4 Create guides aligned to goals

Create your guides ensuring that users have the resources within the product and outside of the product to get value. Guides can be in the product (like the tooltips) or in the documentation,and they can also leverage a human-assisted approach (sales outreach).

#5 Define triggers for intervention

Define product signals for your team that either trigger an automated intervention or a human touch point to optimize conversions.

Ramli highlights two key moments that are primed for sales to intervene:

1. Moments of frustration: With Appcues, Ramli says frustration often happens while installing Javascript code. So, they’ve got a trigger set up: if after a few days a new user hasn’t installed the code, the sales team gets a notification to reach out.

2. Moments of celebration: These are also super important when moving someone along the buyer’s journey. In Ramli’s experience, those are very critical moments for sales to intervene and say “congratulations, you just did this thing… Make sure you’re on the right path, here’s some resources, happy to set up a call.” It’s the perfect opportunity to sell your product, because your user has already gotten value, you know what that value is, and you can nail your messaging and timing.

Frustration and celebration are triggered by the presence or absence of user activity within the product. Signals like repetition of a particular activity, usage of certain features, or a lack of engagement can be helpful. It’s important to use this product data to enrich conversations and not just depend on the user profile. 

Ramli says it’s all about first proving the value — sales should be there (like a sales-assist motion) helping users achieve their goal.The payment conversation comes next. 

About the Author

Ramli John is an icon in the PLG world.

Not only has he helped build the product led community to where it is today, he literally wrote the book on product-led onboarding. Currently, Ramli is a PLG advisor as well as the director of content at Appcues.

You can learn more about Ramli’s thoughts on product-led onboarding in this recap of the AMA session we had with him.

What our customer say...

I can log into Pocus and see a holistic picture of our users and insights about their product usage with a few clicks. It’s a game-changer having access to data that was previously locked in the data warehouse. 

Casey Bertenthal

Head of Sales

50% percent of our incremental sales revenue comes from our PQL leads. With Pocus, we’ve been able to reliably uncover high priority sign ups faster. These sales-assist leads convert 10% higher with a 32% higher ACV  because our team is able to reach out at the right time.

Giancarlo Gialle

Head of Sales and Success, OpenPhone

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