This is the first in our 10-part Beyond the Product subscription series. In our next chapter, we’ll discuss market-leading ways to convert more one-time buyers into subscription customers, and more subscription customers, into life-long members.
When brands decide to opt for a membership and subscription model, the heavy lifting has just begun. To meet their business goals, subscription brands should focus on savvily and continuously retargeting customers, presenting them with relevant offers, and providing reminders on the value they enjoy with their subscription.
Welcome to the challenge of successful onboarding, a nuance of ecommerce and the shopping flow that will always be a strategic area for brands to strengthen.
Thanks to advice shared by customer retention expert Robert Skrob, we’ve compiled helpful insight into improving the subscription experience for customers. As is often the case, it begins with understanding why onboarding is important for subscription brands.
Onboarding is the first experience a customer has with any brand and, just like a first impression in a job interview, that experience should be as frictionless and compelling as possible to create a lasting relationship. Within subscription brands, buttressing that area of ecommerce growth is paramount.
It first begins with understanding customers. As a HubSpot blog post explains, “You should know your buyer persona in and out, which will naturally translate to knowing your customer. Make it a point to understand each unique obstacle, pain point, and challenge that your customer faces, as well as their ideal solutions and outcome.”
To ingrain best onboarding practices into the subscription flow, Skrob says brands can learn from an unlikely resource: charitable and non-profit organizations.
What charity:water gets right about onboarding
The Maryland-based non-profit charity:water aims to bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. Donors can give one-time transactions, or they can sign up for frequent donations, layered atop a subscription model.
“charity:water realizes the value of a subscriber is 20 times that of a single-transaction donor,” Skrob says, pointing to a powerful lesson from this sector: They don’t deliver anything of tangible value, so their appeal to customers has to be on an emotional level. Other brands can learn from that driver, he adds.
Look at how onboarding videos, similar to explainer videos, can clearly explain the value of the subscription business, as charity:water accomplishes with their videos on helping bring drinkable water to developing nations, Skrob says.
“A successful subscriptions onboarding video helps restate the sales process,” Skrobs says. “Walk through the benefits of your products or services, and also be sure to emphasize the short term and long term benefits.”
Executing a 100-day communication plan
Another recommended onboarding strategy is ensuring a 100-day communication plan is in place to activate, Skrob notes.
That on-ramp for new subscribers should be paved with consistent engagement, and it’s important to realize those first 100 days of adding a new subscriber to the fold requires a focus to improve customer retention.
“With our research, we found out you could lose more subscribers within those 100 days than at any point in the lifecycle of the member journey,” Skrob says.
That strategy first begins with producing an onboarding video, mentioned above, and then following up with onboarding communication that includes emails, SMS messages, social posts, and retargeting focused on paid subscribers.
“That communication with customers has to restate to them what they’re getting out of the subscription, or how to use the products you offer to them,” Skrob says.
The other elements in that relationship-building plan should include:
- Goals: Give customers something to accomplish, or ways to get further involved with the brand.
- Curriculum: Educate customers on how they can best leverage the offering, such as how an olive-oil subscription brand shares tips on how to manage an olive-oil tasting party.
- Focus: Clarify the single best outcome for using the product, which will “help close the back door behind customers,” Skrob says.
- Upsell: Lay out upsell and cross-selling offers to help reaffirm the subscription’s longer term benefits. “I’ve found that subscription brands that offer upsells to onboarded customers, the retention rate is much higher than if they didn’t make those offers,” Skrob adds.
Why personalization matters
Customizing the onboarding experience is another tactic that can pay off in the long run.
As a Bold Commerce blog post wrote, “The onboarding process is a great opportunity to reassure customers that all their needs are taken care of, even online. Personalization is the secret to any great subscription onboarding experience.”
Delivering added value could come in the form of a personalized onboarding experience that stands out for being far from the cookie-cutter messaging too many customers endure regularly.
“Creating an onboarding sequence tailored to your customers can have a tremendously positive impact on value,” Skrob says.
He recommends subscription brands regularly test their personalized onboarding formats, and consistently and measure track how customers engage with those experiences. Running A/B tests can be a future-ready way to experiment with different customized flows and sales funnels, Skrob adds.
What subscription brands should avoid doing
As much as it’s critical to know what subscription brands should accomplish to create a seamless onboarding experience, they should be aware of what to avoid, as well.
Don’t talk about yourself with your email and video messaging, Skrob says. “Some brands are all about ‘me me me’ with their communication, and I’ve seen this especially with meal kit companies who obsessively compare the retail price of their products to the deal the customer is enjoying. But really, this doesn’t make sense to customers.”
Rather, subscription brands should shift the focus away from how great the product is to how customers can improve their status or health or finances or lifestyle in some way with that product or service, Skrob says.
The statistics backup Skrob’s assessment: 80% of shoppers are more likely to buy from a business that offers personalized experiences, and more than three-quarters of consumers have chosen, recommended, or paid more for a brand that provides a personalized service or experience.
Overall, Skrob says onboarding shouldn’t be an area that brands neglect, despite how overwhelming their other responsibilities may be in running a business. When leading subscription brands maximize the opportunity to retarget effectively and avoid customer churn, they can equip themselves with the right tools to succeed in ecommerce.
About Robert Skrob
Robert Skrob is the #1 authority in subscription revenue growth. As a marketing expert for more than 27 years, Robert Skrob has helped thousands of businesses attract and retain their best target customers. Robert’s superpower is simplification. Simplifying your message to attract more customers, simplifying what you deliver to improve long term retention and simplifying how you deliver it to increase your profits as you scale. While he has worked with entrepreneurs in more than 100 business categories, today he specializes in helping businesses grow recurring subscription revenue.