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How to move users through the activation funnel

Meera Kanani
2 min read

You know the importance of your business’s sales funnel. But have you begun tracking your business’s activation funnel?

It costs ~5-7x as much to acquire a new customer as it does to retain an existing customer. But customers don’t become repeat customers until they’ve received value from your product. If you focus exclusively on your sales funnel rather than your activation funnel, it means you’re focusing all your energy on acquiring new customers rather than retaining the customers you already have.

What is the activation funnel?

Activation refers to the moment your customers finally realize that you’ve followed through on your product promise. It’s not the moment of sale, or even the moment of receipt. It’s the moment that the item has real value to the customer.

Consider a mattress company, for example, that promises its customers a better night’s sleep. Customers may be motivated to purchase the mattress and bring it home, but it isn’t until they’ve woken up pain-free for the first time in ten years that they truly appreciate their purchase. That value realization is the moment of activation.

Your activation funnel helps customers stay motivated from the point of first trying your item to the point of activation. This matters, because until a customer has reached activation, they are unlikely to become a repeat customer.

The customer journey to activation

Understanding the importance of the activation funnel is one thing. But how do you actively encourage customers to reach that moment of value realization? If activation occurs only after customers have made a purchase or interacted with your product in some significant way, how can you control it?

Define your activation points and events: When do users first realize value?

Before you can begin to design your activation funnel, you need to define what the moment of activation looks like for your customers. Each moment of activation is called an activation point or activation event.

For example, imagine you are a bookkeeping software. An activation point for your customers might be when they upload all the relevant documentation and see their first draft budget created or you prompt them to start prepping for tax season earlier than they normally would have. 

On the other hand, if you have data analytics software, for data analysts the point of activation might be the first time they integrate their data and are met with a preliminary dashboard. For those reviewing the data, their activation moment could be when they’re using the software to gather insights with greater ease.

Once you have a list of these moments in mind, you can work backward from there to design a set of steps and experiences through your product that brings your customers to that point.

Create a killer engagement funnel: Contextualize and customize to activate customers

Once you’ve determined what your activation points look like, the next step is to put those events into context based on who the user is. 

Customizing the user experience for each of your customer personas allows you to pinpoint the moments that will matter most to them.  

If a user is self-serve, exploring your product independently, ensure the information they may want is available to them through your online presence, help center, and in-app guidance. For more hand-held customers, track their progress through your product and proactively set up touch points to help deepen their understanding. The process to help your customers realize value can vary between admin users, who are setting up the software, and secondary users, who are leveraging the software for a clear purpose. 

Track your activation metrics: Get actionable product usage insights

Determine your key performance indicators (KPIs) so that you can track your activation metrics. These KPIs will be different depending on your business. Some activation KPIs that may be worth tracking include:

  • The number of customers who have renewed their contract
  • The number of features being used
  • The number of times customers ask for help or report issues with the product
  • Social support (i.e., broadcasting their support on social networks)
  • Customer reviews left on G2

Once you know which KPIs you’re focusing on, you can adjust your activation funnel to directly influence those activities. For example, if you’re tracking the number of reviews you receive, then your activation funnel should include asking your customers to leave a review of recent purchases.

The work never stops: The basics of everboarding

The idea behind everboarding is that people need continual exposure to an idea to retain it and that learning never stops. This means that you can't ignore your customers — even if they've reached the point of activation. Continual engagement in the form of newsletters, promotional offers, and new feature announcements reminds your customers about your brand and ensures that they don’t forget about their moment of activation.

Everboarding can occur directly in your app. The key is to support your customers’ journey throughout their engagement with your software. Instead of just offering support when they’re first onboarding, your app should provide support whenever they explore new functionality or any time there are updates to the way your software works.

Use software to improve your activation funnel

Onboarding software can help you improve your activation funnel without spending hours reinventing the wheel. Great software can:

  • Group users based on persona’s / use case and move them through the correct experience 
  • Remind users of next steps to help them reach their activation point faster
  • Track user engagement and pinpoint activation metrics
  • Allow customers to save guidance for later and follow online breadcrumbs to their activation point rather than dismissing notifications and forgetting about them

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