As soon as customers engage with a product, they’re asking the implicit question “How will this make my life better?” 

And most of us are (rudely) leaving them hanging.

We measure conversion funnels that end when a signup is complete, or a purchase made.  That’s not conversion.  Completing a signup flow isn’t value.  Completing your preferences or linking your Facebook profile isn’t value.  Downloading an app isn’t value. Entering your credit card number or handing over cash isn’t value, either.

(This doesn’t only apply to software. Customers expect hassle-free returns and money-back guarantees, so even if someone bought your physical product you’re not home free yet.)

Your customers aren’t really your customers until they’ve gotten (at least some) value from your product.

Facebook has said that their strong predictor of long-term usage is whether or not you’ve added 7 friends.  People who’ve added 7 friends stick around.  You can imagine that, among 7 people, the odds are good that someone has recently uploaded a funny photo, or announced a major life event, or revealed what your high school ex-boyfriend is up to.   That’s social value, and you get it pretty quickly.

For other products, the value will be different.  It might be sharing a photo, successfully creating a document, viewing a block of data, watching a video, finding that pair of shoes, using a physical product to drill a hole or brew some coffee.

You may not be sure what your customers would consider “value”.  Ask.  Pull out some active users and ask them how they’d describe your product to a colleague or friend.  The capabilities they mention will be strongly aligned with the value they’re getting.

Not all products are able to provide immediate value.  Social products, like Yammer, usually have to deal with a “cold start” problem (if you’re the first person in your company to sign up, or even just the first person in your department to sign up, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter valuable content on your first visit.)   In my previous job with KISSmetrics, we weren’t able to provide immediate analytics value because customers needed to add a bit of javascript to their websites or products in order to start measuring data.  There are plenty of business software products that are useful but not “everyday use” products – you may not need to create a PowerPoint deck or file your expense report or schedule a conference call right now.

If you can’t get customers to see value on the first visit, then a critical part of your onboarding flow needs to be “how do we bring them back?”  Unless your product is required to sustain their life or their job, people forget about it.  Email, push notifications, retargeting, in-product virality: somehow, you need to remind people to return to your product so they can get value.

  • Do you know what your customers consider valuable about your product?
  • Do you know what percent of your newly acquired users ever realize that value?
  • Do you know how long it takes your average customer to get to first value?


Customer says: “I’ve been meaning to try [feature] but I’ve been too busy”

The problem: It’s not clear what benefit I’ll get from using [feature] and therefore this fell below everything else on my to-do list.

Solution:  Find out what your customers are already doing to confirm that [feature] genuinely IS beneficial.  Demonstrate the feature and have them explain to you why it would make their life better.  Use their words in your marketing and your in-product copy.  Use the verbs they chose on your action buttons.

Customer says: “I’ve just been waiting to get some time to give this the attention it deserves”

The problem: Customer has NO IDEA what their next step should be. Not wanting to look foolish, she’s going to wait until she can fully concentrate, to try to decipher what is expected of her.

Solution: Identify the ONE action that you want the customer to take – whether that’s choosing an option, completing a purchase, answering a question, or scheduling a meeting – and visually highlight that action.  Downplay (or better yet, defer or delete) everything else on the screen.

Customer says: “Oh, I don’t have any questions, it’s really easy to use.”

The problem: Customer is only using the shallowest 5% of your product and has absolutely no idea how to use the other 95% where most of the value lies.  May not even realize that the other 95% of functionality exists.

Solution: Walk a customer through what I call an “opinionated demo”.  Invite them to interrupt you whenever you’re wrong, but tell them ‘here’s how I think you should use this product’ and walk through the functionality.  From their facial expressions, body language, questions, and interruptions, you’ll get a good sense for what parts of your product are valuable.  Consider killing the other parts.  Learn more about customers’ existing workflows to get clues on how to more effectively surface your product’s functionality.