Troubleshooting your Activation Funnel

Every product encounters this scenario: A person creates an account, and then does nothing (or close to it) within the product. Why? Your unique value proposition piqued enough interest to acquire them as a customer, but why did they disappear?

I’m going to focus on the activation funnel, the series of steps a person follows, from acquisition to experiencing the first value point with your product, and share a method for troubleshooting issues.

Two Categories of Issues
When diagnosing issues within your funnel, consider two different types: usability issues and motivational issues. Usability issues occur when the construct impedes the actions of the user, preventing, confusing, or frustrating the user to the extent they decide to drop out.

Motivational issues occur when the product’s “perceived value” isn’t high enough to induce action by the user. There can be a multitude of reasons that causes the drop out, and one often overlooked is simply that people like to have a look. This is common in products with a low barrier of entry (no payment needed, little information required for an account) as there’s less investment the user makes.

Whichever the case, let’s explore a process for measuring and improving activation.

Map the Activation Flow using Screenshots

Starting at the sign-up screen, take a screenshot at every user interaction through the end of activation. These screenshots build a step-by-step outline of the activation process. You don’t need fancy tools for this. I use my computer’s built-in snapshotting capability, and then assemble a slidedeck in Keynote.

As you’re going through the activation steps, don’t use lorem ipsum text or dummy data. If a step is creating a task, enter a real task you would do today. Make the content personal, and feel the required effort. It’s through the interacting, thinking, and clicking that you comprehend what the activation experience is.

Very quickly you’ll notice points of improvement: unclear or missing instructions, a button that doesn’t stand out enough, unnecessary fields, etc. Jot the ideas down for now, and continue mapping the entire process.

Establish the Baselines Numbers
Baseline the current reality

It’s time to add data into the mix. Doing so will give you a baseline of the current state, and serve as the baseline from which to evaluate results of future changes (experiments). This is an important component of troubleshooting, so don’t skip it. Not every change you make will have a positive impact on the activation rate.

Also, because activation happens at the top of the funnel, there is the risk of unintended consequences further down. It’s possible to optimize the activation rate, but at the expense of retention or revenue. Baselining the full lifecycle funnel helps empirically prove that overall progress has been made.

We use our own tool, USERcycle, and depending on your environment, do whatever works best, even if it’s manual calculation. The key is to ensure collection of data for the entire lifecycle funnel (acquisition –> referral).

Visualize the Current State

A bird's eye visualization
After collecting the flow and data, I build a bird’s-eye view that layers the two together. This visualization of the flow with the actual numbers helps clarify where user issues are versus your own perceived issues (what was jotted down initially in the mapping). I made mine in Photoshop but other options like Keynote or Google docs work. You can even go no tech via printed screenshots taped to a whiteboard (handy for group sessions).

In the first rounds of troubleshooting you will usually confront one or two “cliffs” in the activation flow where 15-30% of users drop off. You’ll also see several 2-9% percent drop offs across series of events. Deciding which issue to fix requires more than prioritizing based on severity. Take into account the implementation cost of the change and its projected impact. Tackling a 6% drop that can be fixed in 2 hours is a better return of investment than a 20% cliff that takes 3 weeks.

Our philosophy is to focus first on the low hanging fruit. Ask yourself:

“What’s the smallest, simplest change we can make that’s likely to keep people from having the problem.”

Steve Krugg

Think in terms of tweaks rather than complete redesigns as the reality is multiple iterations will be necessary.

Wrapping up
Cycling through the screenshot slidedeck, gathering baseline data, and finding where to start lead to uncovering and identifying “what” issues are in your activation funnel. With this information you are at the cusp of an experiment. One with a goal in sight, a baseline to beat, and a measurement to validate the outcome.

In my next post I’ll discuss getting to the “why” behind the issues and share techniques for identifying usability issues versus motivational issues.