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How I was able to jumpstart our self-serve onboarding

Nick Pavlichek
5 min read

As the activation product manager at Ironclad, my team’s goals are to holistically think about how new users get to the point of activation. For context, Ironclad is a modern contract management platform that is used by in-house legal teams at companies like Mastercard and Asana to streamline contracting workflows.

Today, we think of activation as actions and milestones that are early predictors of a customer (and their users) being able to successfully adopt and integrate Ironclad into their workflows. It’s also really important for our business metrics because customers who activate sooner and more successfully lead to stronger Net Revenue Retention (NRR). 

Successful onboarding is of course the foundation to activation.

Not one size fits all onboarding

A couple of years ago, we realized as we were scaling the organization, that there’s a pretty linear cost to scale. An implementation consultant can handle maybe 10 active implementations at the same time. So as we’re growing, every 10 new customers we expect to bring on in a time period means you have to hire a new person. 

But more than that, we realized that while some customers need more resources because they have a complex use-case, others wanted to figure it out on their own and get to value much quicker. Many of these customers at smaller companies wore many hats, and needed a clear, prescriptive way to get started.

The self-start program was really spearheaded by the Customer Success team to allow customers to choose the kind of implementation experience they wanted. The program’s goals also dovetailed with the goals we had for activation. By getting involved in this program, I could holistically look at the data, analytics, the user experience, and explore solutions like core product changes as well as the guided experience in product. 

Bento was brought in to jumpstart a self serve onboarding experience

Today, Bento is used both pre- and post-sales. While the content and experiences are slightly different, we see success in both contexts.

For onboarding, Bento is not just another tool to augment implementation and help users get up to speed. Specifically, it’s used with customers in the self start program who don’t have an implementation consultant. For those customers, Bento is that implementation consultant.

To the extent an implementation consultant offers a tailored yet prescriptive path of getting started, that’s what Bento allows us to offer. Users can choose their use-case and from there, we can give them an engaging path that is governed by an onboarding checklist with educational content, videos, and tips along the way.

This helps in two ways.

  1. Giving users options in how they onboard helps them arrive at their version of value faster. There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to CLM (contract lifecycle management), so providing users with options in how they implement Ironclad gives them a tailored experience. We have seen activation times decrease by ~30%!
  2. Providing these options helps us at Ironclad better understand what our customers are looking for. We can track data between the onboarding paths to understand which are popular, which paths have high activation rates, or which paths have slower activation times, which helps us make decisions on where to invest in the product to better meet our customers’ needs.

From self start to free trials

While the main focus of Bento was on self-start implementation, we realized we could use it for pre-sales trials as well. In a trial, users need to make forward progress to see value. Just clicking around aimlessly and exploring features superficially isn’t as effective. 

Before Bento whenever someone wanted to try using Ironclad it required someone on the sales engineering team to walk them through how Ironclad worked because it was powerful but users faced a blank page problem.

Having pop up messages wasn’t enough to bridge this gap. Bento’s guides enabled new users to get started in a way that matched the speed of how users adopted the platform

The quality of the experience Bento powers is perceived by end users as just “part of the platform’s usability” vs clearly sticking out as a 3rd party tool.

Lessons learned, and how we iterated

  1. Keep it simple

In the early days, it can feel like you should use this powerful tool to expose everything in the product to the user. But that can feel overwhelming to the user, especially if you front load too much of it. In later iterations, we pared down the onboarding content to be a “straight line path” that keeps it simple and clear. Once the user has already made progress, we’re then able to offer more content or more paths without overwhelming the user.

  1. Step back and explore bigger experiments rather than just content iterations

For example, when we first launched, we only used Bento as a sidebar. The content wasn’t as focused on user action. And as such, we saw pretty low engagement. 

At the same time, we were exploring what a native onboarding landing experience would look like – a dedicated page that welcomed a new user and also kept them focused. That’s of course Bento’s core differentiator, so we got really excited about that direction and the ability to leverage the tool to bring our designs to life, and have pushed in this direction. 

When just using the sidebar onboarding experience we saw a ~15% interaction rate. After adding the “Getting Started” page this increased to 70% of new users interacting with our onboarding experience, creating more successful customers. 

  1. Incorporate lessons into the core product roadmap

Not all users will complete a full guide. So it’s important that we look at the drop-offs to understand where in the core product experience we may need to make changes, and even how to prioritize those changes. 

One part of Bento’s product strategy that works for us is their commitment to integrating with the full ecosystem of tools and data that we use. Bento's Amplitude integration started as just a way to pass Bento events to Amplitude, but now can also ingest events and cohorts. This integration approach allows our company to keep using the data and analytics tools we already have and ensures that the insights from Bento guides aren’t siloed or lost.

Ironclad's inline onboarding guide allowing users to choose their own adventure!

Path to success for self-serve onboarding

It’s easy to write a blog post about the state of things today, but getting to this moment took overcoming a number of concerns.

  1. Build vs buy

Like many product teams, we toyed with and actually did build some activation experiences in-house. You get a little more control and can construct the data however you want, but there’s a cost to it. But the work is so much more than it looks from the outside. When we built this in-house we had to think about scoping, architecture, building it out, supporting it, testing it, bugs come and you have to fix it and this whole time you’re relying on engineering. The initial build may seem trivial but any code you write you have to support, so over time, the cost grows.

But ultimately, the unlock was realizing that I could start experimenting before needing to get it prioritized on the engineering roadmap, wait for it to be built, find the things I want to change, and wait another 3 weeks for that to be. I can test and if I learn something, I can feel empowered to make changes.

  1. Getting to conviction that it can look and feel native

The design team also had concerns about whether Bento would fit into the product and feel like Ironclad because we don’t have precise control over every change. And it took some trial and error, but we were able to realize how much of the user experience we could control.

  1. Tool migration

Before using Bento we had a previous guidance tool and there’s always some fear about tool migration. The decision to bring in Bento was really to harness its more persistent user experiences (versus just tours), so we had the benefit of having both tools around for a bit. One thing we realized is that very little content actually needed to be migrated: experiences like onboarding and self-start needed to be rethought anyway. That was part of the goal of our team. 

Our previous in-app tool had been used to serve specific guides to some specific customers, and it was important to those customers that the same experience was preserved. The services team was thankfully about to get into Bento and figure out on their own how to create those experiences without any involvement from me. 

We were able to execute on a company priority of creating a self-serve workflow, and improving activation, quicker than imagined with Bento. Beyond initial implementation, the ability to experiment with content and form factor, measure the impact, and then continue to iterate drove the success of our efforts.

BentoAI - Auto-create guides from existing articles and recordings | Product Hunt