Best SaaS Customer Activation Strategies That Drive Growth

Driving activation is a critically important skill for SaaS owners and product managers: in this article, we’re going to explore the most effective activation strategies for driving growth and engagement.

We’ll start by exploring what customer activation is and why it matters, cover the difference between a customer activation strategy and brand activation, set out how to craft a customer activation strategy of your own, and discuss the best tools for the job.

Ready to get started? Let’s dive in!

  • Customer activation describes the phase (typically in an onboarding process) where your users begin to experience value from your product. A customer activation strategy is about devising the most effective customer journey in pursuit of that aim.
  • Why is customer activation important? There are three critical reasons.
  • Firstly, because of the impact on revenue (an increase in user activation brings an outsized impact of a 34% increase in monthly recurring revenue).
  • Next, the knock-on impact on adoption: better activation means a wider array of features being adopted by your customers.
  • Finally, the impact on customer relationships and loyalty: helping existing customers experience value more frequently will help drive more revenue over the customer lifecycle.
  • So, what goes into crafting a customer activation strategy? You must start by using customer data to better understand your target audience (and how that breaks down into various user personas, each with different needs and pain points).
  • Build on that by mapping out the customer journey, understanding where the stumbling blocks might be, and figuring out ways around them. That’ll help you chart the shortest possible path to value (and a customer journey geared toward value maximization).
  • Minimum viable onboarding is an effective way of helping your customers start achieving their product goals and objectives sooner. You can drive your team and organization toward that outcome with a playbook setting out your strategy.
  • Don’t stand still: you should measure progress toward activation goals, and use what you learn to tweak, iterate and improve the customer activation journey. How? A/B tests are a fantastic tool to help you compare and contrast options across different customer stages.
  • What kind of measures and KPIs should you be monitoring? There is a dizzying range of options available, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Start with the activation rate, feature activation rate, and user retention rate.
  • Let’s get into some actionable tactics to improve user activation: personalize empty states with impactful user data. It’ll help shorten time to value dramatically by getting users off to a good start. Another tip is to directly prompt your users to take meaningful actions with in-app checklists (try adding a visual progress tracker to keep the momentum up).
  • One way to disengage users is by forcing them to sit through a boring product tour: interactive walkthroughs are far more engaging, relevant, and helpful. They’re even better if you can trigger them contextually!
  • Most SaaS UIs are busy and overwhelming. Use hotspots and tooltips to keep it clean and focused. These handy UI patterns will help your users navigate around quickly and easily. Finally, remember to offer your customers self-service support: it’s a proven way to unlock value sooner.
  • Userpilot is a powerful tool that’ll help you build experiences that boost activation: whether that’s targeting different customer segments, creating bespoke flows, collecting in-app customer data, and more.

In a nutshell, customer activation describes the phase where your users begin to experience value from your product.

Typically, to reach that ‘activation point’ customers have to engage in a series of key activation stages: first, to discover the core features of your product or service, and second to figure out exactly how those features help them solve their problems.

So, we know what customer activation is. But any product manager knows that prioritization is critically important in the SaaS game, and it begs the question…

Why should you focus your time and resources on improving the customer activation process?

We’ll explore three important reasons next.

Activation has a huge impact on revenue and the overall financial health of your SaaS. In fact, the data shows that a 25% increase in user activation brings an outsized impact of a 34% increase in MRR.

Visual of user activation impact on revenue metrics
Activation impacts MRR more than any other metric.

On top of the financial impact, there are direct links between customer activation rates and product adoption.

Why?

Because the faster your users experience value from your SaaS, the greater the chance of them formally ‘adopting’ your product (and you retaining them as customers).

Adoption is an enormous topic in and of itself — you can learn more about how to drive adoption specifically here.

Another benefit of an effective customer activation strategy?

You dramatically increase earning potential — not just immediately, but over an entire customer lifecycle. Existing, activated, and importantly loyal customers help add serious value to your brand (as they’ll typically spend more than new customers).

Before we get any further on, it’s important you understand the clear distinction between a customer activation strategy and a brand activation strategy.

  • Customer activation is all about tweaking the actual customer experience to help your users reach the activation point (i.e. getting value from your product) as quickly as possible.
  • Brand activation is a broader concept: a brand activation strategy will look to increase brand awareness with a focused target audience or market through diverse marketing efforts. The aim is essentially to attract new customers (and further engage existing customers).

This blog is primarily focused on creating a customer activation strategy, although of course building brand awareness is another important topic for product managers and SaaS owners to explore.

We’ve covered the foundational concepts that underpin customer activation. But how exactly do you plan and deliver a successful customer activation strategy?

First things first: you need to understand that your customers are not one homogenous group. In all likelihood, your customers will fit into broad groups or personas, each of which will have different aims and objectives (you can think of these as their ‘jobs to be done’).

Simply put, understanding and catering to their needs will increase activation.

Delivering a blanket service means you run the risk of disengaging your audience.

You can start to figure out these segments extremely early on: gather valuable insight during sign-up with clever questions.

Visual of sign-up process
Sign-up can be engaging, fun, and help you gather valuable user information.

Next, spend some time understanding customer behavior, mapping their journey, and understanding their path to value. This is by no means a simple process, but it’s certainly worth your while.

Here are some handy questions to ask yourself as you’re trying to build up an accurate view of the as-is customer journey:

  • What are the critical touchpoints your customers need to reach in order to get value from your product?
  • What features do they need to engage with?
  • What’s the shortest possible path to value for each of the user groups/segments you’ve identified?

If you can clearly answer these questions, you’ll have a much better chance of working out the actions your users should take at each step in the journey.

Visual of 'happy path' value mapping
This high-level process map for Tinder demonstrates how users can get value fast.

Next up, consider minimum viable onboarding. This is all about driving your users to the activation point as speedily as possible. Often, that starts with putting together a playbook outlining outcomes, key tasks, actions, and UX patterns.

A good onboarding playbook should tell you the why (what’s the purpose), the what (key workstreams and activities), and how (specific tactics and implementation patterns).

Here’s a good example focused primarily on low-touch onboarding.

Visual of user activation onboarding playbook
Remember, different playbooks will set you in a different direction.

If you’ve implemented the preceding steps, your users should be reaching the activation point frequently and consistently. But could there be more value to squeeze out sooner?

Remember the old adage from management expert Peter Drucker:

“What gets measured, gets managed.”

In this context, it means you should track progress toward specific activation goals. Why? Because it’ll give you valuable data you can use to iterate your customer activation strategy.

Visual of Userpilot goals
Track headway toward goals with Userpilot.

To develop the most effective customer activation strategy possible, you need to have a mindset of experimentation: for example, you could A/B test different in-app flows to see which drives the biggest impact toward your goals.

Visual of Userpilot goal setting
Userpilot makes it easy to launch product experiments.

Gathering data, implementing changes, and continuous learning will help you keep your activation strategy fresh.

How do you know if you’re headed in the right direction when it comes to the customer activation strategies you are implementing?

While there’s an overwhelming number of metrics you could start to look at, here are some of the most important to understand.

  1. Activation rate. This metric determines how many users that began a trial reached an activation milestone and helps give you a good understanding of your overall activation success.
  2. Feature adoption rate. A more targeted measure that helps you to figure out how a specific feature is performing.
  3. Retention rate. The user retention rate tells you the percentage of users you’ve retained over a given time period. It’ll help you work out whether your activation strategies are helping you keep your users over time.

In this section of the blog, we’re going to unpack some actionable activation strategies and tactics you can apply in your own SaaS to take your activation up a level.

Let’s dive in.

Don’t disengage your users with an empty screen. Every step in your onboarding process is an opportunity to engage your customers, share information, and get them heading in the right direction.

Shorten time to value by personalizing the empty state: it’ll not only showcase the best of your product in action but also teach users how to start using your main features.

Remember a blank screen is not only a missed opportunity: it might make your users concerned your product is frozen or glitching out.

Visual of empty state personalization
Loom does a good job of utilizing real estate.

Activation is about ensuring your users engage with your product’s core features. There are many levers you can pull to help drive them toward the necessary actions.

Visual of in-app checklist
Motivate your users to keep going.

Using checklists should be on your top list of activation strategies to try.

Populating these with dummy tasks is proven to improve engagement, and a visual progress bar can help incentive users to persevere (as they get closer to the finish line).

Screenshot of Userpilot dummy tasks with checklists
It’s easy to add these dummy tasks with Userpilot.

Another tool in your arsenal is interactive walkthroughs.

These are much more effective activation strategies than lengthy, boring product tours. Why?

Because they guide your users’ step by step through the exact process they’ll need to follow to get value from your product, shortening the learning curve drastically.

Animation of interactive onboarding tutorial
Interactive walkthroughs are a great way of imparting relevant information dynamically.

Interactive walkthroughs are even more potent when launched contextually: it helps ensure they’re as relevant and targeted as possible.

Utilize the visual real estate of your product to its full potential.

Hotspots and tooltips are two impactful UI patterns to make use of: draw your user’s eye to critical areas of the screen they need to engage with, then share valuable information as necessary without cluttering the interface.

Screenshot of Userpilot hotspot
Drive your users’ attention to where it needs to be Userpilot.

A vital part of the activation process is helping overcome barriers toward achieving value. That means solving your customers’ problems as quickly as possible. Self-service support makes that possible without needing a 24/7 customer success team.

Providing guides, videos, FAQs, product documentation and more in one handy repository gives your users the opportunity to solve their own problems.

Screenshot of Userpilot Resource Center
Give your users customizable in-app support on demand with Userpilot.

When it comes to actually implement these strategies, you’ve got to pick the right tool for the job. Userpilot is a powerful option to consider for many reasons, some of which we’ll unpack in this section of the article.

Read on!

It’s simple and seamless to gather customer insight within the boundaries of your app with Userpilot.

Use welcome screens for more than simply greeting customers: collect information that’ll help you build a better understanding of your user base.

Visual of customer data collection during signup
Don’t miss an opportunity to capture valuable data.

Using the data you’ve gathered, you can then start to leverage Userpilot’s powerful segmentation capabilities to deliver a personalized, engaging customer experience that will skyrocket activation.

Visual of Userpilot segmentation
Userpilot offers powerful in-app segmentation options.

You can easily target distinct segments with in-app messaging or onboarding steps to create a customer journey more focused on enabling them to complete their ‘jobs to be done’ (and therefore experience value faster).

Userpilot makes it simple to quickly build vastly different types of in-app flow to prompt user action.

Screenshot of Userpilot in-app flows
Userpilot is customizable, flexible, and powerful.

Checklists are a perfect example of leveraging this kind of capability: they’re pretty much a must-have during the activation stage. As a UI pattern goes, the way they drive and guide users in the right direction is unrivaled.

So, that was an exhilarating run through the world of activation. What have we learned? Hopefully, you now have a mental framework that’ll help you:

  • Understand what customer activation is and why it’s important
  • What goes into crafting an effective customer activation strategy
  • The most effective tool for the job (and how to use it)

Want to get started with customer activation? Get a Userpilot Demo and see how you can turn casual consumers into loyal customers today.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Userpilot Team

Userpilot is a Product Growth Platform designed to help product teams improve product metrics through in-app experiences without code. Check out userpilot.com