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Last year PLG Company Appcues ran a survey finding that 90% of software users expect or want a trial version of a product instead of getting into a drawn out sales process.

This reality places a ton of pressure on modern software companies to deliver a stellar product experience for new users. And for a company like Appcues that makes software to improve product adoption, it's a challenge that hits a little close to home.

We talked with Eric Keating, VP of Marketing at Appcues, about how the company approaches self-serve growth–from discovering activation signals in their own product, to actively developing a fricitonless path for users to get there.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

Calixa: What can you tell us about Appcues as a product?

Eric Keating: Our goal at Appcues is to make increasing adoption of your products easy. We’re giving you the tools to measure and improve product adoption without needing a developer.

The whole product is no code with in-app onboarding, feature announcement surveys, as well as tracking of user behavior and analysis of that behavior. It’s all so you can make informed decisions about which parts of your product experience you want to improve and then make those improvements in real time without needing engineers.

What metrics or signals do you typically use to identify potential customers from your free sign-ups?

We have a moment in our product that we call activation or the “aha! moment.” For us, it’s when somebody creates their first content without cues; they actually design it, build it, and so on.

When we get people into our product, we’re typically looking at a combination of firmographic and demographic data; what company they work for, the size of that company, that kind of thing. Are they in software? How do they behave in the product? Then, once we have a sense of that, we’re talking about behavioral metrics. Have they installed Appcues? Have they invited other users?

Can you tell us a little bit more about that aha! moment?

Well, we want to make it very easy for users to build in-app guides and tours, and facilitate communications with users, without installing Appcues. It can be done without any technical skills. And so, when we have a new user of Appcues join, we will show them all of the different patterns, the UI patterns that can create what Appcues. And then, at each step of the way, we’re prompting them to create their own.That’s our call to action.

Users have to install our Chrome extension — which is very, very easy, very low friction — and then they can go about building an experience on top of their own product, on top of any site.It’s when they build that experience that they’re able to understand just how easy and non-technical it is to create content with Appcues.

The only blocker at that point from getting that content in front of their users is actually installing their software development kit and their product. That’s the biggest point of friction in adopting Appcues. That’s where sometimes our sales or support team will jump in and help get our customers over that line and give assistance to make sure they do it in the most effective way.

But when users create that first piece of content, that’s when we know that they’ve seen that they can build this stuff quickly and easily without any technical skills. That’s what we’ve seen to be the “aha! moment.”

How would you advise other businesses to find their “aha! moment”?

There are some pretty heavy data analyses you can do when you’re trying to identify your “aha! moment.” But if you’re just getting started with it, one of the ways I’d recommend going about it is to look at all your sales calls and look for that moment when the prospects are like watching a demo, and you can see the “aha! moment” on their face.

It’s that moment when they get really excited or when it really clicks for them. It’s more of a qualitative approach, but I think that’s one of the easiest ways to get started. We’ve looked at the data, and our hypotheses based on those sales calls actually have held true.

How do you balance the role of automated touchpoints with human outreach?

We try to make the experience for every new user as self-service-oriented as possible. We ran some surveys about nine months ago and found that around 90% of software users expect or want a trial version of a product, whether it’s a freemium plan or a limited trial of some sort, as opposed to talking to a salesperson or getting into a sales process.

The other stat we found, from a different survey, is that 89% of people said they actually give preference to brands who offer a self-service way to get into the product. And so, companies that don’t even offer a trial may not even be in the consideration for some of these folks.

That’s why it’s smart to — like we did — focus on making that initial experience as self-service as possible, with the sales team playing a complementary role. If you want to start building content with Appcues, to install Appcues, to buy Appcues, you can do it all, all of those things with no touchpoint. You can start using our product, learn about it, build stuff, publish it, pay, etc., all on your own, without talking to anybody.

That being said, like I said earlier, sometimes our installation introduces some friction because you need to ask a developer to install it, or you need to be thoughtful about how you install it. You may want to pass some existing data over from your system. So that’s when we in our product offer every user the ability to connect with somebody in real time, if and when they'd like.

Eric Keating has a track record of growing SaaS products at companies like Zaius and Kantar Millard Brown before joining Appcues as its VP of Marketing in 2019. You can find him on LinkedIn.