Thursday, March 30, 2017

How to Succeed With Design Thinking

Design thinking is the idea that we can solve problems by practicing human-centered design—putting people at the centre of the problem solving process.

Core to the idea of design thinking is that we focus on an overall goal, rather than say a specific problem to solve. While it can help us solve some of the world’s most complex problems (think global warming), we can also use it every day in the web industry, to help us solve our own complex issues.

For example, a product manager may come to you and say ‘we need to improve our web traffic this month by 50%’. The traditional way of solving this maybe to increase advertising spend, to run a social campaign, or purely look at methods that are for traffic building.

The design thinking approach to this problem is to ask ‘why?’—maybe the 50% increase in traffic is expected to yield an increase in leads. Well, rather than going down the costly process of paid advertising to boost traffic and leads, maybe a better solution is to improve the conversion rate of the already existing traffic.

How design thinking looks in practice

AirBNB

A great example of design thinking in practice comes from the early days of AirBNB. Very early on, they realised that their apartment listings tended to have poor quality of photos—often from older camera phones. They believed that if more apartments had better photos, they would receive more bookings.

So what did they do? They flew out to New York (where the majority of listings were), rented a camera, visited some users and dramatically improved the photo quality of those listings. Straight away they doubled their weekly revenue, the biggest improvement they’d made in a long time.

How is this design thinking? Well, AirBNB knew that it was impossible in the long term to be able to treat every single user like this and fly to every destination. But, knowing how critical it was, they chose to employ a short term solution that wouldn’t scale, because if it worked, the outcome was overwhelmingly positive for the company.

Nordstrom

Another great example of design thinking in practice came from the Nordstrom Innovation Lab. Nordstrom, a top US retailer, hired a team of people to mine data that they gathered from sources like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter to create curated experiences for customers based off their preferences and in-store activity.

One of the activities that they undertook, was to go into a retail store and create a sunglasses iPad app on-site in the store. Rather than take a typical approach of collect data, design in their offices, and test the product on users, they physically brought designers and developers into their store and setup shop. This allowed them first hand access to real customers (not recruited users to study), and meant that at every step of the way they were able to test with real users. Rather than just the user researchers getting up-close access to customers, project managers and developers also had access and ideas could easily be tested and validated with customers in real-time, as they developed the app.

This ‘lean’ approach is central in design thinking. As with the AirBNB example, this idea doesn’t necessarily scale—not everyone can go on-site and build an app in this method—but Nordstrom used their resources to get close to their customers and to get something built, based on the direct feedback they received. Whether the app worked or not long term, their approach meant that they had something to test much quicker than if they had of taken a more traditional design approach.

‘Wizard of Oz’ Technique

Another great example of design thinking in practice, using a ‘lean’ approach, is the ‘wizard of oz’ technique. The term originates from the field of experimental psychology in the 1980’s. As ‘Universal Methods of Design’ puts it, the Wizard of Oz is “a research experiment in which subjects interact with a computer system that subjects believe to be autonomous, but which is actually being operated or partially operated by an unseen human being.”

It’s so-called because the user or test participant may think they are interacting with a computer or system, while in fact there’s a human ‘behind the curtain’ operating the computer (the operator is ‘the wizard’). While this specific employment of the approach originates in the field of psychology, there are many ways in which we can employ it in our web designs today.

Essentially the idea is for us to test if a feature is worth building, before we build it. This is the same reason we prototype, we want to build something quickly so that we can validate it with users. The ‘Wizard of Oz’ approach is different to prototyping, as prototyping tends to be something we build before we build a real product, whereas the ‘Wizard of Oz’ tends to be more of a minimum viable product (MVP) for an idea. 

So how does that work? Well, the ideas can range from simple to complex. On the simplest level, let’s say you want to add a newsletter to your website. You’ve heard this is a good idea, but maybe you’re worried that you’re going to have to sign up to an email service, like Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor, you’ll need someone to design your newsletter, someone to code it and then someone to create content—could be a costly exercise.

Well, one way of approaching it would be to strip that all back—use a free plan with MailChimp or Campaign Monitor, start with a basic template and focus on the content. However, how we could really strip it back is to use the Wizard of Oz technique—have an email signup and collect emails in a database, not attached to any service. Just collect email addresses to see if there’s actually a desire for this email list. If no-one signs up, you can divert your attention elsewhere. If a few people sign-up, you can manually send them emails and see if it gains traction. If a lot of people sign-up—well maybe you can afford to spend that extra money on implementing the feature properly!

The startup ‘CityPockets’ employed this method to come up with their MVP. In order to validate their idea (collecting users’ coupons for various stores in one central location), they told users to forward them emails so that they could do the sorting out. Rather than use back-end logic to implement this feature, Cheryl, the company’s founder, spent hours manually entering the coupons into a database herself. This meant rather than spending time and money on creating the back-end for her app, she was able to get a working product much sooner by doing some ‘heavy lifting’ herself.

Sure, this idea wouldn’t scale, but it let her find out very quickly what kind of changes she needed to make to her app, and therefore when she did get to creating a back-end, there was a lot less wasted effort.

True design thinking means putting people at the centre of your design experience. While people say they want things, using techniques like the ‘Wizard of Oz’ it’s easier to see if they actually will use the thing that they say they want, and makes it easier for us to design the right things for our customers.

Why design thinking?

As in the examples above, it’s clear that by applying design thinking, we’re solving the real problems of our customers, rather than focusing on business goals exclusively. The idea of a small company with not a huge amount of money flying to New York to take a few photos may not have floated in a lot of corporate board rooms, but there’s no doubt this decision changed the direction of the company. Not everyone can go into stores and build apps on the fly, but adding an email field to collect users’ emails for a particular feature is pretty doable.

Part of the reason this idea of design thinking is so good, is that we can look at problems in a different way—often reframing the problems, where maybe the traditional approach tends to prioritise the wrong things.

It also allows us to be agile and lean. It means that rather than spending a whole lot of time building a product or a website, then launching and seeing what happens, it allows us to build something smaller and launch earlier. Test it, pivot as needed. Analyse as we are building the product, not waiting until the end.

These benefits are endless. A design thinking approach means involving the users in the process. Not only does this provide better solutions, but it means that the users feel part of the process. They feel loved, like someone is actually caring for them. This will cause them to forgive potential issues more readily and in turn become promoters, who will encourage their friends and others to use our products and websites. This effect, is of course more popularly known as the ‘halo effect’.

Another great example is from the financial services company Fidelity . They sent some of their graduates to ‘design school’ to apply design thinking and here’s a quote from what they learnt:

Designs and project plans can…be adjusted or scrapped before the team has spent significant amounts of time and resources polishing a product offering. Perhaps most importantly, this methodology avoids the model of inviting customers to review a mockup website that is more or less fully functional, which leaves customers feeling as if their input is largely an afterthought.

Everyone can be a design thinker

While user experience designers, and indeed other web professionals, should be adept at practicing design thinking skills, design thinking can be practiced by any employees encountering a situation where they need to resolve a problem, not just those with the term ‘designer’ in their job title.

As designers, we have a responsibility to not only practice design thinking ourselves and apply it to problem solving, but to explain to others around us why we make the decisions we do and aid them in practicing similar methods in their work.

How to apply design thinking in web design

Talk to your users

Don’t just ask them questions, observe them. Use data, but make sure you back it up with real world observations and don’t rely on the numbers alone. Bear in mind that data tells us what people are doing, but talking to people tells us ‘why’.

Although, remember, with all of this, we have to remember who we are dealing with when we talk about ‘users’. 100% of users are people. People like you and me who have a lot of inherit biases. That means that it’s built in to us to think in a certain way in certain situations. Even the way we ask a question, can skew the answers in a particular way.

In short, you should 100% listen to people, but be careful what you ask them and the way you ask it!

Test ideas by prototyping, Try the ‘Wizard of Oz’.

Fail early, fail often. Don’t be afraid to try things that don’t necessarily scale. Make sure you’re agile enough to pivot ideas if they aren’t working out. Don’t be worried about perfectionism, just get things done and see if they work.

There’s plenty of tools out there to help us build things quicker than ever before (including pen and paper!) and test out ideas to see what is working, before spending lots of money on a ‘perfect’ product that works great, but nobody needs.

Feedback, feedback, feedback

Note this doesn’t say numbers, numbers, numbers. As leading advertiser Rory Sutherland has said, “as soon as a number becomes a metric, it loses all relevance as a metric”. This is to say that as soon as we become too focused on the one number or the one metric, it’s easy to lose sight of the overall goal.

Make sure you regularly seek feedback on your designs, from users, from analytics and internally as well. As I’ve mentioned throughout the article, there’s no single source of truth for this. Use a collection of all the feedback you can gather to make balanced, well thought out decisions.

Step back and reframe

If it’s not working, try stepping back and reframing the problem. Look at the context of your problem, is there something you’re missing? Make sure and get everyone involved in the solution. Your users, yes, but involve your developers. Involve the receptionist—anyone with a different perspective will have valuable feedback for you.

As I mentioned earlier, designers aren’t the only ones who should be practicing design thinking. In fact, if we try to do it all on our own, we aren’t doing our jobs correctly.

Summary

There’s plenty of literature out there on how to practically implement design thinking. The evidence all suggests that employing this new methodology for solving problems, is more creative and more effective than more traditional methods.

(Ref- the design process at Ideo)

As designers, we’re in a position to educate those around us to employ this methodology and lead by practicing it ourselves in our day to day work.

Whether this is in our hands on design skills, like building rapid prototypes, or at a higher level when communicating to our clients and stakeholders, using design thinking we can ensure that we are solving the correct problems and not wasting our time building unnecessary products and websites.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Designing with extreme prejudice

It’s a controversial third rail topic most people acknowledge, but do their best to avoid talking about: classism dominates our lives.

Most people mistakenly believe class is simply about how much money you make. There’s actually two completely separate ingredients at play here.

  1. Economic class. The amount of money you bring in and how you spend that money.
  2. Social class. How respectable and educated you are, the family you come from and the rules (e.g. values, beliefs, morals, etc.) you follow.

Changing your economic class is easy. Just make more money and spend it on the right things.

Social class is much more difficult to change. That’s because it’s based almost entirely on culture.

The best designers work with this prejudice

Social class is a classic example of In-group favoritism. If you’re part of the group you’re accepted and welcomed as part of the group. As people, we have a tendency to favor our own groups over everyone else.

We look down on those who aren’t part of our groups, treating those who aren’t like us as outsiders.

Every group has its own set of rules which typically includes…

  • Values and beliefs
  • Interests
  • Imagery and presentation
  • Colors and designs
  • Social norms

This isn’t everything.

Each class or group has hundreds of rules with specific right and wrong answers for each. These details create a group or class identity. “If you’re one of us you’ll do what we do.”

Your designs should cater to these details

Wait a minute!

Why do we need prejudice in our designs? Why can’t we design something good that’s free from all bias?

Because “good” is subjective.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not suggesting you should run out and do something unethical. I’m recommending that you work within the framework (e.g. values, expectations, etc.) established by the group you’re designing for.

Take these four sites for example:

Craigslist is an ugly site. But they serve 60 million people in the US alone, making 381 million dollars in 2015!

Hacker News isn’t beautiful but it’s a tight knit community, serving 200K to 300K users per day.

The Drudge Report is really ugly. Yet, they manage to generate 300K unique visits per day making its sole owner, Matt Drudge, more than a million dollars per year. It’s also one of the best designed sites on the internet according to Jason Fried.

4Chan is a passionate community of gamers. It’s a top 500 site with more than 98 million active users who are intensely loyal.

Did you see it?

The theme with these sites?

They’re collectively viewed as “ugly”. They reject modern design principles, make things more difficult for users and aren’t really intuitive to use. Yet these sites are all extremely popular.

So what rules are these communities following?

  • Form follows function
  • Utility > aesthetics
  • Knowledge > emotion
  • Pretty may be viewed as “selling out”

How do I know?

Digg.

Their readers were developers, designers, and techies. People who believe form should follow function. Somewhere along the line Digg lost sight of that.

They redesigned their site and changed their logo, losing 35 percent of their audience almost overnight. 

What about luxury car manufacturers?

Have you ever noticed that luxury products – cars, perfume, clothing, etc. Seem to use less words, but say more with their designs and marketing?

That’s no accident.

Presentation is an important upper class value.

They get their message across with imagery and presentation, using their design to speak directly to their customers – the less words used, the better.

What rules are these sites following?

  • Presentation > quality
  • Quality is assumed
  • History, the past impacts the future
  • They’re part of an elite/exclusive club

This makes sense when you realize the rich believe they’re better, smarter and more virtuous than everyone else. The designers who created these sites would probably disagree with that. 

They still worked within that prejudice to create something that serves their clients.

Here’s the part average designers miss

Average designers create designs based on their worldview and what they want. They focus on what feels good (to them), works best (for them), what looks good (to them). Often times they completely neglect the needs of the people they’re designing for.

Which almost always guarantees an unhappy client.

The best designers use their client’s prejudice to meet the wants and needs of everyone involved – clients, customers, partners, etc.

So how do you use classism in your designs?

First, start with your non-negotiable anchor points. Have a clear set of guidelines, know yourself. Follow your conscience.

Are you comfortable designing something, immoral or unethical? Are you comfortable creating something for someone with values and beliefs you find controversial, disgusting or extreme?

Where is your line? How will you handle it when others ask you to cross that line? Plan your course of action ahead of time.

Second, do your very best to understand those you’re designing for.

Every group believes other groups are inferior. The upper class looks down on the wealthy. Middle class workers resent upper and lower classes. Vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters resent each other.

Remember when I mentioned each group comes with its own set of rules? Take the time to learn those rules. Learn about their expectations regarding…

  • Values and beliefs
  • Interests
  • Imagery and presentation
  • Colors and designs
  • Social norms
  • Language, jargon and figures of speech

Learning about these details creates a design framework. Believe it or not, these limitations will improve your designs. But only if you’re aware of them.

Let’s say you’re designing for a group of developers. They believe form follows function, so using a beautiful cursive font like Wahhabi Script may not be a great idea.

Third, talk to people in each group.   

What does your client stand for? What do their customers expect? Take some time and interview them. Learn about their rules and expectations. Find ways to bridge any potential conflicts in your designs.

Finally, when you’re ready, design.

Create something that conforms to their worldview. Your job isn’t to change their minds, it’s to serve. Meet them where they are and you may get an opportunity to change hearts and minds.

Use force or coercion to get your way and rejection is virtually guaranteed. Average designers push for what they want. “I’m the expert!” they tell themselves. 

I don’t use classism in my designs and I do just fine

Ah, but you do.

It’s a foundational part of life. Standing for this excludes that. Brutalism can’t be Modernism, in the same way at the same time.

When you design, you make a choice.

Average designers are okay with mediocre results. The client’s happy so I’m happy.

Elite designers focus on outcomes. “My work changed the way customers looked at your business. My work changed an industry, product or service.”

Classism is the last socially acceptable prejudice

Each class or group has a list of rules with specific right and wrong answers for each. These details create a group or class identity. “If you’re one of us you’ll do what we do.” It’s certainly not ideal, but it is something we have to deal with as designers.

Want to become an elite, sought after designer?

Start with understanding and acceptance. Work to accept people as they are, respecting their boundaries, rules and expectations. Meet them where they are and you’ll find their prejudice stops mattering.

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How In-App Messaging Converts Trial Users Into Paying Customers

Communication.

It’s the only way to demonstrate your product’s value to potential customers. Your goal is to convey information about new features, successful case studies, and industry trends.

Converting B2B free trial users into paying customers involves lots of communication about why your product trumps competitors. In-app messaging is a powerful tool to send on-time, contextual messages to connect with users.

“Customers are focused on your product at the moment of [in-app] communication, and can be delivered immediate, direct information that is targeted specifically to them and their patterns of behaviour,” states Alex Cohen, managing director at Xander Marketing.

Take full advantage of in-app messaging. Here are five ways to gain more paying customers:

1. Upgrade Your Onboarding

Trial users are ready to get started with your platform. Convinced by your promises to deliver, it’s your responsibility to exceed users’ expectations.

First, let’s debunk the notion that it’s easy to transform free trial users into customers. They still need guidance toward the sale.

That’s why onboarding is so important to the success of the user. You want these initial interactions with your product to showcase the best of your brand. To keep them hooked, your team must continue to offer solutions.

With in-app messaging, you can pinpoint targeted actions to activate the user sooner. Send tailored messaging to help the individual learn how to gain quick wins from your platform.

The CoSchedule team executes this strategy well. During the trial period, users receive tidbits on how to improve their experiences.

garrett-coschedule-onboarding

What’s also vital is celebrating small accomplishments with the user. A note of congratulations makes them feel part of your brand family. While the achievement is fresh on their minds, you also can ask users to complete another action.

Delivering ongoing value means setting expectations and understanding the user’s business goals. When tackling the onboarding process, strive to guide the user to a positive outcome.

2. Feature Product Updates

Alienating trial users is one mistake businesses make when interacting with this specific group. Giving them limited information won’t help them become customers faster.

While you may attempt to create exclusivity, trial users don’t like hearing the phrase: “Oh, you’re just a trial user. That’s unavailable to you.” Instead, look for ways to involve them in your brand community.

Work with your team—product, marketing, and sales—to include trial users in announcements about your application. It’s an effective way to show these potential customers that your product is constantly evolving, and you want them to be part of your growth.

Broadcast new product features within the application to encourage immediate use. Make sure to give specific instructions on how to use the feature and how it will benefit the individual. If not, you risk them ignoring every message you send.

Try giving simple examples to exhibit the ease of use. Depending on the complexity of the feature, you may want to add screenshots or a short video tutorial.

Check out the example below from Slack. When the company announced its video call feature, the message contained simple steps for users to follow.

slack-video-calls-product-announcement

Moreover, invite users to ask questions or report bugs regarding the new feature. It helps your team improve the product, and trial users know that their concerns are addressed.

3. Provide Educational Training

Education is the foundation of converting trial users into loyal customers. You need to properly train users how to gain value from your product. Without it, people will get frustrated and decide to churn.

SaaS companies must ensure that the learning curve isn’t too steep for their audiences. No one wants to feel like they are taking an advanced math class. Plus, people don’t want to waste hours (or even days) learning how to get your platform to work correctly.

So it’s not good enough to just say your product is easy to operate. It actually has to fulfill that promise, or you risk losing your trial user to a competitor.

In-app messaging works as another distribution channel for your marketing team to teach trial users. You can deliver helpful content to guide people throughout the journey.

And you don’t have to explicitly say that your message is for educational purposes. In the screenshot below, Hint Health frames the message in a “Did You Know…” format.

mike-hint-health-in-app-messageImage Source

With the power of data, your team also can decide who needs more training. Segmentation is an effective strategy to personalize the learning experience. That way, the advanced user isn’t getting bored with beginner content.

“One of the main benefits of in-app messages is the capability of hyper segmentation, so why wouldn’t SaaS companies take advantage of that? Sending the same message to every user without even knowing if they’re interested can be a huge shot in the foot,” says Gabriela Tanuri, Content Hacker at Pipz.

Be ready to train your trial users when they sign up, and customize the education to fit the user’s needs.

4. Gather User Feedback

In-app messaging is one of the best channels to collect user feedback. It’s a chance to speak directly with the user inside your platform.

You can learn about user challenges in real-time. So your team knows exactly when the individual used the specific feature and how the problem is affecting the user’s progress.

You’ll also gain insight on which benefits matter most to the user. Then, you can target more content resources around those particular benefits.

“From VIPs to free trial users and more, in-app messages have quickly become the best way for our team to get feedback from customers in the right place at the right time — and we’re noticing that the feedback is better when we can get really specific with both our targeting and messaging,” writes Dave Gerhardt, marketing at Drift.

You can employ the 1-10 rating scale to get feedback from your users. It’s quick and easy for the person to participate, and your team receives qualitative data to improve the product.

stitch-product-rating-surveyImage Source

Part of the sales process is listening to your users. Therefore, pay attention to user feedback to boost your revenue.

5. Leverage Sales Opportunities

Most companies want to create new channels to gain sales. In-app messaging helps facilitate the sales conversations with the trial user.

Like any sales call, there’s an appropriate time to ask users to explore your pricing plans. Avoid solely using in-app messaging to just convert users. Your audience will spot this tactic immediately and will start ignoring your messages.

If direct sales doesn’t work best for your company, try using it to take the conversation offline. Message users about setting up an appointment for a tutorial to demonstrate the product’s value. You also can offer special discounts or bonuses to this targeted group to clinch the sale.

Train your support team to spot opportunities to show trial users benefits only for paying customers. It’ll spark the user’s curiosity about upgrading his plan.

Another idea is to send customer success stories via the messaging platform. Users will become inspired to achieve similar results as their paying colleagues.

If the user doesn’t seem interested in buying at all, experiment with using in-app messaging to ask for referrals. Read this message from the Nickelled team:

nickelled-favour-to-askImage Source

Messaging for More Conversions

Building quality relationships with your audience starts with communication. In-app messaging offers an opportunity to connect and support your trial users in the customer journey.

Strive to educate users about your product and respond to users’ concerns to improve the overall experience. In-app messaging is your pathway to more conversions.

About the Author: Shayla Price lives at the intersection of digital marketing, technology and social responsibility. Connect with her on Twitter @shaylaprice.

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The Two Customer Conclusions Every Product Launch Should Foster

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In our work with Research Partners, we often get asked about new product launches. Eric Ries talks about product launches in his book The Lean Startup. In that book, he introduces a concept called the minimum viable product.

According to Ries:

…the minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort…

In this video, MECLABS Managing Director and CEO, Flint McGlaughlin, talks about Reis’ idea and provides a simple, two-question framework for determining what your own minimum viable product should be.

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You might also like:

Download the free 30 Minute Marketer: Value Proposition – Learn how to identify and communicate your value proposition

Learn more about product development in the Communicating Value & Web Conversion graduate certificate program from the University of Florida and MECLABS Institute

Does Your Product Launch Call for a New Brand? 4 Tactics to Protect Your Reputation

How an Exhibit Manufacturer’s Product Launch Exceeded Aggressive Sales Forecasts by 38%

The MECLABS Conversion Heuristic Applied: How a single-product ecommerce site can optimize its sales with a tested methodology

Best Practices Are Often Just Pooled Ignorance: How to avoid this mistake by mapping your customer’s thought sequence

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Vivaldi Browser’s New Feature Makes History

Vivaldi Browser, the brainchild of Opera co-founder Jon von Tetzchner, is launching a new feature that’s downright historic. Today, the browser reveals its History feature, which provides users with detailed insight into their browsing behavior.

This isn’t just your average history record. Instead of users simply looking at what websites they visited—line-by-line and row-by-row, like other browsers—Vivaldi gives them visual clues instead.

According to the company’s latest press release, the new feature means users can conduct a full-fledged analysis of their browsing patterns, all supported by stats and a visually friendly interface.

As von Tetzchner puts it:

Instead of having to scroll through hundreds of lines, Vivaldi gives a comprehensive overview of history, presented in a visual way. This lets our users analyze their online activity and helps them find what they are looking for.

So say goodbye to the days of monotonously scanning your browser’s history until you finally find what you’ve been looking for. This new feature lets Vivaldi’s users efficiently locate what they’re searching for by allowing quick scans through visited sites and offering helpful hints when searching for older URLs.

The end result is a better user experience.

Users will also be pleasantly surprised by the use of a calendar view to present all this history data. Changing to a calendar view provides users with a more user-friendly interface that’s easier to look through than having to scan line-by-line, as with traditional history views.

In addition, a color-coded heat map and graphs to the right of the calendar give users a further layer of depth to their history browsing. Key browsing trends and the user’s online-activity peak round out the data that’s available for analysis.

These changes allow users to locate previously visited webpages even if they fail to remember the exact search term. That’s because this new feature puts searches in context. For instance, it will help users find an old URL if they see it show up on a specific day when they were more active on the web.

Users also have full control over their history search: They’re able to narrow down their search to a range of dates from the monthly view or just from the Day Picker Calendar. Just for good measure, users also have the power to filter their search results by title, date, views and addresses.

Perhaps the best part of this update is the emphasis on privacy rights. Vivaldi never collects the user’s history data because all of this data is local to a user’s browser.

Using the history feature is straightforward. Vivaldi has incorporated History into the browser’s Side Panel, so simply clicking on the History icon will show the user the list of previously visited URLs, right next to the open sites. This design allows users to efficiently search through their history without having to leave their current page.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How ‘Flipping the Funnel’ Helped Calendly Hit Double Digit User Growth for 24 Months Straight

Technical challenges aren’t the problem.

They might be a problem. A hurdle for sure.

But it’s rarely THE biggest problem responsible for traction or flaming out.

Likewise, churn is an issue. It can send you in a negative tail spin.

But again, top line growth masks all. Papers over enough cracks until you can get your head above water. You keep getting people in the door and you can get by with many other ‘leaks’ along the way.

No. The biggest problem is obscurity. Nobody knowing who the hell you are. And therefore not willing to give you the time of day (let alone, their email or credit card info).

Most companies struggle simply because they can’t get enough people in the door.

Not Calendly.

Here’s why, and how they had to ‘flip the funnel’ in order to scale growth to massive heights in only 24 months.

Calendly’s First World Startup Problems

I recently had the privilege to interview Claire Suellentrop with Brian Sun at Autopilot. We talked about her history and story. Where she came from and where she’s going. In my completely unbiased opinion, it’s super interesting. You should read it. 😉

But it was the admission that Calendly had over 10,000 beta users that stood out.

They amassed more users than most mature SaaS companies. While still in beta. (That alone probably deserves it’s own post. Tope, you readin’ this?)

anytime-u-want-to-talk-dog-meme

Calendly didn’t struggle with the first pirate metric that most others do. That was more or less taken care of initially. They could open up to paying customers and already see a nice chunk of them convert overnight.

Claire didn’t have to get knee deep in Facebook ads or pray to the SEO Gods at the beginning like most marketers do. Instead, she had to look deeper into the conversion funnel to figure out (a) who their most active customers were and (b) how to better tell their story.

Because that unsexy, unglamorous stuff buried deep at the bottom of the funnel is where the real money is made.

klientboost-conversion-funnelImage Source

Calendly’s built-in network effects means that each successful customer should bring in additional customers. So their unique position meant they could switch focus from top of funnel stuff you read about online everyday to the stuff that’s rarely (if ever) addressed: keeping peeps happy.

They spent a lot of time going backwards initially. Re-tracing their customer’s steps and getting a better understanding of who they were (and what they were trying to do).

That started with segmenting their user base by most active customers. They already knew people in sales and revenue-oriented roles loved the product. So those were easy.

But it was the ones they didn’t know about that surprised them.

How Calendly Discovered New Use Cases

Segmentation is one of those boring research things.

Everyone says it’s important. Starts with the basics like vertical/industry/demographics/role. And then stops. Because: MOAR SEOS!

True segmentation actually goes a lot deeper. There’s segmentation by purchasing occasion, for example. Or specific events, like Christmas, that act as a catalyst to buy certain products.

Use cases are similar. Exploring people’s daily lives to see how and when potential uses for your product pop up.

Calendly was already aware of a few obvious use cases.

Claire said that they initially “pictured it being a bunch of sales guys that would add it to their outreach emails”. You know, cold calling 2.0 and all that.

But they knew there was more. They were watching how actions people took in their software lead them to the most profitable customers. So they lined up dozens of customers interviews to uncover how the product was fitting into their day-to-day workflow.

The objective was to uncover the real reasons people used the product (vs. the manufactured reasons everyone internally believes) and use that to better construct landing pages or other site-wide messaging to drive faster Activation and stronger Retention.

Today Claire is doing much of the same work with Love Your Customers. She’s working with companies to find these ways to improve their onboarding flow to drive product adoption faster. Digging into existing customer behaviors and using that data to make Activation shorter or faster. And then coming up with new ways to re-engage those who abandon.

Calendly discovered new use cases they hadn’t even thought of during those initial interviews.

Case in point: marketing automation.

Marketing leaders and sales managers were building marketing funnels that were completely dependent on scheduling through Calendly.

Customer interviews helped Calendly realized that it wasn’t just a sales rep tool, but an essential piece of their ‘marketing stack’.

They were then able to turn around, write new support docs explaining this use case, create content on teaching others how to similarly use Calendly in their own marketing efforts.

Like this one from Sean McVey, Director of Demand Gen at Virtru.

“Only 25–30% of inbound leads were actually scheduling demos— which was a low conversion rate, considering people were clicking very specific CTAs like ‘See a demo.’”

So he decided to rethink the typically boring Thank You confirmation page, instead embedding Calendly directly to remove friction in the signup process while also removing the burden from his salespeople’s backs.

virtru-demo-scheduling-thank-you-pageImage Source

Sean told Calendly that even after this tiny change, he “saw pretty quickly that our conversion rate was nearing 50% or more.”

So he took it one step further, personalizing the Thank You page (and therefore, sales person + calendar) depending on deal size.

number-of-employees-selection-formImage Source

Then he also set-up Slack notifications to fire every time a new lead filled out their form. And another for when a Calendly appointment was successfully sent.

So he could easily count daily conversions – both the initial form submission and successful appointments booked – for reporting, analysis, and iterating.

The results?

“Within the first month of using Calendly, we jumped to 61% of leads scheduling a call,” said Sean.

schedule-your-demo-now-ab-test-resultsImage Source

Sounds cool, right?

Here’s how you can do it, too.

How to Create a Calendly-Driven Marketing Automation Sequence

Forms are the backbone of marketing automation.

They’re the springboard to triggering everything else because people are explicitly showing intent in something specific.

Here’s what HubSpot’s form fields look like:

hubspot-form-fields

  1. 1. The little infinity-looking sign indicates a ‘smart field’. So if someone fills this out once, they don’t need to fill it out again on your site. HubSpot will save the contact’s record and ‘bank’ these answers so that these ‘smart fields’ will disappear if it recognizes an existing contact’s email and IP address.
  2. 2. Qualifying questions, like Annual Revenue Range?, can be used to, well, qualify prospects. But as in the example we just saw, they can also be used to determine which funnel this prospect should be placed into. More on this in a second.
  3. 3. Biggest Marketing Challenge? is more of the same. Another example that can be used to both qualify a prospect but also determine where to send them (or who to send them to) after submitting.
  4. 4. The final hidden field changes this prospects lifecycle stage once they fill out the form. So they now go from being a general contact to a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) or Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) depending on their answers.

Next up, these contacts are added to a ‘smart list’ depending on their answer.

These lists are dynamic (as opposed to static), so they update continuously. And they control how these specific people will be ‘enrolled’ into automation workflows.

For example, here’s one my company uses for new applications we receive. People applying for jobs are then controlled and segmented based on which position they’re interested in.

marketing-pr-job-applications

So now someone who’s interested in a Marketing position can be sent over to the person in charge of Marketing (or, me).

But guess what? You don’t need fancy software to do this. Gravity Forms also works perfectly. They have conditional logic that allows you to determine the ‘thank you’ confirmation message someone sees depending on how they answer a question.

Let’s bring this back to Calendly.

Deal size is one easy answer. Depending on a company’s revenue (or number of employees in Sean’s case), you can usually tell if a customer’s going to sign up for $3,000, $30,000, or $300,000 worth of products and services. Qualifying questions can be used to determine who those people should speak to (or whose Calendly link they should receive).

Referral source is another. The Outbound 2.0 Bible, Predictable Revenue, says to specialize sales roles. So one person qualifies outbound leads while another for inbound.

Here’s how that might looks using Gravity Form’s conditional logic:

new-sales-opportunities

If their Source matches Inbound (or personal Referrals), they go to my calendar.

You can also extend this sequence with Zapier. (Here’s a previous article I wrote about hacking automation with Zapier for more background.)

Zapier lets you create filters that will determine whether or not this new submission should go somewhere else (to a new page, a new app like Calendly, etc).

For example, you can have a radio button or drop down that explicitly asks people if they’re interested in a Demo (or not).

set-up-filter-by-zapier

So if they answer yes, only filtered contacts get through. And you can instantly add them to a well-oiled workflow that also adds the new prospect to a series of other apps you might be using.

Remember: Processes > hacks.

For example, a new successful form submission leads to:

  1. Adding to your CRM
  2. Sending a Thank You / Welcome follow up email with Calendly link
  3. Sending a message to Slack about the new lead
  4. Creating a new deal in your sales pipeline
  5. And creating a series of tasks in your project management software to follow up.

codeless-lead-form-to-hubspot

And of course, like any good automation sequence, you can build this out depending on a few scenarios.

For example…

✅ Someone filled out a form but did NOT create a new Calendly appointment? Send follow up emails or texts with the appropriate link until they do.

❌ Still no answer after ~30 days? You can safely assume they changed their mind. You can have an automation sequence that will automatically unroll them as a lead.

✅ Appointment go well? Add them to your invoicing software and send it out!

For example, you can use the same info already submitted (like client contact, company name, etc.) to create and send a new Freshbooks invoice. Connect Stripe or PayPal to Freshbooks and you can now not only accept payments online, but also monitor payment status with Slack messages.

zapier-freshbooks-payment-slack-channel

The sky is truly the limit.

Conclusion

Traction is the #1 problem for most startup companies.
But not Calendly, who was able to ‘go live’ with thousands of beta users already in the pipeline.

Instead, their major hurdle was in making sure people not only converted but stuck around for the long-term, too. Increasing retention leveraged their network effects; empowering each existing customer to bring in brand new people.

So Calendly dove deeper into understanding what makes their customers tick. They lined up interview after interview. And used each new insight or tidbit of wisdom to better tailor their messaging.

Integrating their product into marketing automation use cases was one powerful example.

User stories, like Sean’s, allowed them to showcase how current customers were solving difficult challenges. How those customers were benefitting in both hard ($$$, %%) and soft (hours saved) terms.

And how their product was the only obvious, viable alternative for other people like Sean.

About the Author: Brad Smith is a marketing writer, agency partner, and creator of Copy Weekly, a free weekly copywriting newsletter for marketers & founders.

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