The Sales funnel series – No2. User Activation


The Sales funnel series – No2. User activation is the second of the series, attempting to examine all 5 stages of the sales funnel framework, separately, and stimulating with references and case studies business owners and marketers, how these apply in business making, no matter the company size or the industry. Borrow My Brain opens-up to guest authors and the Sales funnel series is the creation of Despina Exadaktyloy, which we welcome in our space. Despina is an experienced digital marketer with a focus on Inbound and Growth marketing

The Sales funnel series – No2. User activation

Originally put activation is that magical moment, when your prospect has landed on your website and has all the goodwill (hopefully) to become your next dedicated user. If you have done your homework and your activation techniques have not just been copy-pasted at large from a how-to article, chances are that this same user will end up bringing more users of the same kind (yes you got it right, your persona kind) in the future.

Having that said, I am pretty sure that if you are new to this, the terms acquisition and activation may seem related- or perhaps the same- to your ears. The truth is that they may overlap a bit but no they are not the same.

Acquisition acts like the bait on the fishing rope. It must be tasty and impressive so that the fish would take it in a matter of seconds. Activation, on the other hand, will let you know if the fish in question took the bait by accident- and so others will follow his fate too- or if it took it out randomly or out of luck. If successful your activation plan will make your user engaged with your product before and after his signup. That same plan -if designed and executed right- will transform a simple visit to a paid one.

Bear in mind that the typical conversion rates from visitor to free trial in SaaS are 2%. If you know your maths,  this means that when you have 10,000 web visitors, 200 of those visitors will become free trial users and best case scenario 30 of those will eventually become paying customers.

The strategy behind it

Before we dig into the strategic part let me promise you one thing. You are not going to get enough of this kind of tips. Ever. That’s a promise. No one can. No one ever will.

For two major reasons:

  • Those strategies are and will forever be agile- adjusting to any current trend, as your product and your customer evolve.
  • For a set of successful strategies today, you can expect three new of them to appear tomorrow. The ecosystem is too powerful nowadays, marketers – or should I say hackers ?!?! – are experimenting as we speak with new techniques so that they can innovate again and leave behind their competition.

Onboarding: One word a whole lot of tactics behind it

Personally, I strongly believe, onboarding is a word that hides magic within it. Its original term is defined as the set of top of the funnel activities you use to guide, nurture and convert your personas from visitors to trial users and finally to customers.


I get to say this a lot lately and in many different instances, but I will repeat it once again here too, just to make it crystal clear. If your onboarding has major holes in it, don’t wait to reach this ROI of yours no matter what budget you spend in every kind of social media ads, no matter how cool your product is or how competitive your pricing plans are.

Now that we have made that clear, highlight the following phrase on your mind, write it on a post-it to so that you can pin it on your fridge or even make a sign out of it to put it on on your office wall: onboarding is something like the holy grail of the activation stage. Every single action related to that stage starts and ends here. Inside your five to ten minutes your onboarding window lasts.

If you get it wrong you get to lose another yet valuable user. If you get it right though, it will mean one thing and one thing only: that you have mapped successfully your funnel and all the techniques you need to activate it. And trust me there is a whole lot of them to play around with.

Your “plug & play” activation playbook

On the practical side of this, there are many tricks you can get out of your hat. Their number is literally infinite. Some of the most successful ones though are:

  1. A solid drip campaign: Try not to make it too long. Six emails are enough to give to your users all the info they need to fall in love with your solution. Having that said, of course, you don’t want to send random emails without any structure. You should not make a rocket science out of it either though. A welcome email, a getting started resources, a benefits one, a couple of emails related to overcoming usual challenges while using your solution and a follow-up email is what it takes to make a successful drip campaign.
  2. In-app or on-site messages: That will make your user’s life much easier instantly. Highlight your solution’s key features with smart in-app messages that reward the user when he completes a milestone or shows him the process he has done. Ideally, add a replay option somewhere on your menu so that anyone can play them as many times as he needs to- and you will avoid unnecessary customer success requests.
  3. Explaining videos that can be used as a retargeting campaign also: If you already have a knowledge-base, you most probably have enriched it with the related video library too. In case you haven’t, it’s about time you consider doing it. Explaining videos are something very common when it comes to your user’s familiarization with your product. What about if you could use them on your retargeting campaigns too? One stone two birds as they say! Ideally, in case you know how to play the game with your segments, you would target each video to the related user- that, for example, abandoned your solution at the point the video in question refers to.
  4. Awesome customer success experience: Ok, I know this one is pretty self-explanatory. Only, that it isn’t. It is a passion of mine to experiment with any kind of automation tools, even when I leave them in the “dusty” pile, as they are of no use to me. Only, 1 out of 10 of them will use their customer success tools right. Sure, the value of live chat is priceless, but how many points of engagement have you created on your customer success strategy exactly? Are there different points when it comes to users that revisit your platform? Or they just see the same messages a newcomer does? What about when someone stumbles upon a specific page again and again, do you notify your sales reps to close a skype call with them or do you just wait to see if the user will take the initiative? All those concerns are just basic milestones, a customer success plan may have – not an advanced one, or one based on data and consumer mapping that I suppose you have in place in order to get the best out of your activation practices.
  5. Live demos: Especially, if you are at the beginning, where pretty much nothing is automated yet- or not automated in the way it should be perhaps- you must try to get by the hand as many users as you possibly can. Give them the attention and special care they need, to convince them that it doesn’t matter how immature your product may be, both it and them they are a match made in heaven. You will bleed perhaps in the beginning, by spending countless hours on skype explaining everything,  but you will convert much more users than you would think! Plus this will be the ideal exercise for you to realize if your aha moment lies where it should be.
  6. Scarcity done right: How many times has scarcity done miracles- both for you and the company that is promoting the offer in question? The answer is many- if the promo is offering something of value that is. Having that said if you have reassured that your product has its fit in the market and you have created your persona, scarcity will just add the cherry to the pie. So, if you have done a successful launch and you are looking forward to activating those first hundreds of users of yours give an amazing offer that won’t last long. Even more, do it only for those users that are closer to your ideal customer so that your conversions will indeed matter in the long term.
  7. Testimonials from satisfied customers: That can be used in more than one places. Capterra and G2crowd, for example, are sites where your user may often visit or stumble upon during a search, while he is looking for alternatives to your solution. If your satisfied customers have gotten into trouble to write a review there too, they will give it a second thought to come back and finally give some value to that free trial of yours.
  8. Freebies, free trials and related bonuses: If you want to get the ball rolling you will give at least a 14 days free trial to your future to be paid users. Now, there are many ways to play around with this. You can give one month free for example, instead of for a free trial, to tempt your prospects to switch to your solution or give 50% off out of your plans for the first six months. Those are solid techniques. I will give you that. However, psychology rule 101 says that nobody wants to be tied when he is falling into a new relationship, no matter the kind of it. Think it that way, you met your new mate and you decide to move on with him or her. Would you though be ready to move into the same house or make a lifetime promises day one? No, you wouldn’t. If on the other hand you take your time and see that this is going somewhere, you may yourself ask for more. The exact same phenomenon happens with your users. So, when it comes to their free trial don’t ask them to give you their credit card number day one- especially now that there is a particular sensitivity when it comes to personal data. Let them enjoy their new commitment and ask for more themselves.
  9. Optimised landing pages: How many landing pages have you created for your solution? One, two or more? Are they optimized? Do they have the right keywords? Is your form captivating? Do your colours match your brand identity to give a seamless experience to your user? Furthermore, have you created a landing page for all your personas- that is in case you have more than one of course- or does it apply randomly to any prospect, no matter how much qualified or not he is, out there? If your answers to all of the above are something else than yes, yes and hell yeah take a minute to reconsider why your activation metrics are failing.
  10. Infinite A/B testing: I will keep this one short. If you won’t test it, you won’t beat it. This goes pretty much for any activation practice your put your hands on. From your landing pages to the freebies you will give, down to your pricing.
  11. Anything else you may need it’s necessary: There are not enough playbooks out there to familiarize you with activation techniques that will WOW your users to convert into paid. Then again, none of them knows your product as you do. All these books, blog posts and how-to guides can only give you a taste of what success may mean. You, above everyone else, are the product’s creator and owner. You know, where your aha moment lies and where you are superior from your competition. So, act like it. Try to constantly think out of the box. Familiarize yourself with your user and think how you would like to be treated if you were wearing his shoes. If that now means a better pricing, a rockstar onboarding or a million other things, be ready to implement at least a bunch of them. After all, this is a never-ending game, where you set the rules.

In today’s business environment, a company’s website is the key to their entire business.

Marcus Sheridan

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What about those users that never convert?

Ok, that’s the trickiest and hardest part. Whether or not you ‘ve done all of the above, or you have achieved the targeted number of desired activated users, you will always have a percentage of them not ready to commit to you…yet.

So, you need to take a step back and revisit all your steps to know what to optimize and what to leave as it is- this is the moment, where if you have not yet mapped your funnel the time has come to finally do it. After that, just focus on the users’ characteristics you can retain and to those describing those that you cannot.

The short way to find map those data lies in two things

  1. Identify in core app actions between inactive and active users that make the difference in their behaviour. This fact by default will show you where you need to put more emphasis on your onboarding or customer success practices, to prevent users from abandoning your app in the future again.
  2. Analyze your data again and again and again before, during and after users’ activation. Whether that means that you will monitor your Google analytics (so close that you will know every action that happens on your website by heart) or that you will adopt activation analytics tools like Amplitude or Mixpanel that will give you digestible and to the point reports related to your users’ correlation between activation and retention.

Wrapping it up

There is no silver lining on how to activate your users. As mentioned above your product evolves as your users’ demands and needs do. Most of them they have come to a point where they filter out non-useful products to them subconsciously. They are bombarded with so many different solutions, daily in every kind of medium, that they have developed a defence mechanism in order not to lose their time anymore when it is not required.

If you have in mind that you will set up a couple of automation along with a live chat and you will be able to activate the better half of your prospects, you better think again. This is a bet you win only when you have mapped your journey right and created an awesome onboarding out of it.


Despina is an experienced digital marketer with a focus on inbound and growth marketing. She has an extensive working experience on the startup scene and her passion for SaaS is essentially what drives her passion for marketing. When she doesn’t create a strategy she writes about it on Medium. You can connect with Despina on Medium  |  LinkedIn  |  Facebook  | Twitter

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