6 New Subscriber Success Strategies

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Adapted from “Subscription Marketing: Strategies for Nurturing Customers in a World of Churn” 

People subscribe to your solution for a reason. Maybe they believe it will save them money or make their lives easier. Perhaps it just seems fun. Whether for personal or business use, they expect some value in return for subscribing.

The simplest and purest expression of value nurturing is to help your subscribers realize this value, fulfilling the implicit brand promise of your marketing.

The strategies in this section involve parts of the business beyond marketing. Smart marketing organizations in a subscription business are interested in all post-sale subscriber conversations. Many of these strategies align with subscriber success management efforts in the business.

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Create a Subscriber Launch Plan

If you’re looking for the low-hanging fruit of value nurturing strategies, you’ve found it. Creating a subscriber launch plan makes sense for almost any business and works equally well for subscription-based and traditional business models.

Theres almost no excuse to have a new subscriber launch plan. A launch plan helps subscribers start realizing the value from your solution as quickly as possible. In B2B marketing, we call it accelerating return on investment (ROI)” or reducing time to-value.”

The software industry uses the term onboarding. I dislike the term, and it doesn’t make sense for all types of subscriptions, so I’m not using it in this book.

According to ServiceSource, provider of recurring revenue and subscriber success management solutions, if a subscriber doesn’t start using your solution within 90 days, theres only a 10 percent chance they’ll become a loyal subscriber. Although this data may be skewed toward technology solutions, the general concept holds true for nearly all subscriptions. If people don’t start using them, the reasons for subscribing in the first place may fade from memory. If it takes a few years for a subscription subscriber to become profitable, a subscriber that leaves early may cost you money. Something motivated the person to become a subscriber.

Marketing can help subscribers follow through and start achieving value before they lose momentum. Technology makes it possible, in many cases, to see what your subscribers are doing with your solutions and spot if they’re off to a good start or not. When operating at scale, find ways to automatically track usage and adoption. If it looks like the subscriber isn’t getting started well, reach out and see if you can help.

Your launch plan might start with a series of emails with links to videos or useful resources. Make sure to give people a way to opt out. For online solutions, embed tips and suggestions that show up the first few times someone logs in. Don’t go overboard. Remember Clippy, the helpful paper clip in an earlier version of Microsoft Office? Poor Clippy inspired violent thoughts in Microsoft users worldwide. Theres a fine line between being helpful and being annoying.

Don’t neglect the power of personal contact. The more high-tech your solution, the more powerful a personal connection can be, through email, a phone call, or even a handwritten note.

Orchestrate an Early Success

The high-end restaurant business is built on repeat subscribers and subscriber referrals. A restaurant cannot succeed unless its subscribers value the experience. Few high-end restaurants in America have the cachet of The French Laundry in Yountville, California. The restaurant has three Michelin stars and a waiting list measured in months.

The dining experience is fixed price (or prix fixe, since it’s The French Laundry). Once a subscriber walks in the door, they have committed to the fixed price menu. And what does this famous, impress your friends by saying you’ve eaten there restaurant do? It hands you a tiny cone with smoked salmon and crème fraîche.

I havent been to The French Laundry (yet, that is – I am an optimist) but I have heard the famed chef Thomas Keller talk about it. According to Keller, every guest is offered one of these little cones when they arrive. Keller calls the salmon cornet one of the most important parts of the meal. The unexpected and whimsical appetizer serves two functions:

  1. The gesture helps to relax a diner who may feel intimidated about entering this well-known dining mecca. What better way to break the ice than to give someone a treat that looks like an ice cream cone?
  2. The appetizer launches the dining experience with familiar reference points. As Keller says, it tastes like something people have experienced before (salmon and sour cream), so they tend to like it.

From a marketing perspective, it’s a subscriber launch plan wrapped neatly in a cracker; establish the relationship through a friendly gesture and create the first experience of success.

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Use Videos to Accelerate Success

If your solution isn’t intuitive to use, marketing should make it as painless as possible for new subscribers to get up to speed quickly. To meet the needs of subscribers with varying learning styles, provide instructions using different media. The more complex your solution, the more options you may want to offer.

In the business software world, subscriber relationship management (CRM) software doesn’t earn its keep until the salespeople use it. And in general, people in the sales role would rather spend their time talking to prospects than learning software.

To speed subscriber success, cloud-based CRM provider Insightly delivers a rich variety of resources for new users, including:

  • A Getting Started Guide delivered in PDF form (for those who still prefer to read)
  • A link to register for a Getting Started webinar held every week (for those who do better with scheduled group instruction)
  • A recording of the Getting Started webinar (for those who want to learn on their own time)
  • A series of recorded webinars on various topics, including “Three Things to Do on Day One” and “Rolling Out Insightly in Your Company”

Video may be the best way to show subscribers how something is done. People can access it on their own schedule. Even for relatively easy-to-use solutions, video can answer questions quickly and help people over initial hurdles.

Zipcar has a series of short videos in which a “Zipcar copilot” talks people through the processes of getting a car, extending a reservation, fueling the car, and returning it.

None is longer than a couple of minutes.

Help Subscribers Create New Habits

If your solution requires significant behavior change, you have the opportunity to help subscribers shape new habits. Guide them through the process of creating the habit, one step at a time.

As director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, B.J. Fogg researches how to use technology to change behavior. He suggests that lasting habit changes often start with small steps. You can support these small steps using simple technologies within or around your solution.

Consider the case of Headspace, makers of an online meditation app. Meditation is like exercise; making the time to do it each day is a challenge. For Headspace subscribers to be successful with the application, they need to make a habit of meditating regularly.

Headspace eases potential subscribers into the meditation habit by offering a free meditation course of ten days, ten minutes each, or the “Take Ten” program.

Once you subscribe for the free offering, the company sends a welcome letter with useful links and instructions, encouraging you to complete the ten days. At the conclusion, emails prompt you to continue with a paid subscription and more meditation courses. You can opt into meditation reminders, or ask to be connected with a meditation buddy.

Getting the reminders right is a delicate balance. As a business built to promote mindfulness and inner  peace the last thing the company wants to do is to irritate its subscribers. By guiding people through the start of a meditation practice and supplementing the software with reminders and social support, Headspace helps its subscribers build new habits.

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Encourage Adoption With Gamification

Software makers rely on free trials to promote their offerings. But if people don’t take advantage of the trial software, they cannot see the value of the solution. The more complex the solution, the more you need to motivate people to use the trial.

Autodesk, maker of powerful 3D design software, faced this dilemma with its free trial software. The company decided to encourage adoption by adding a layer of gamification as part of the trial.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines gamification as: “The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.”

Autodesk exchanged the usual software trial with an online game. In playing the game, Undiscovered Territory, contestants learned about the capabilities of the Autodesk 3ds Max 2013 software.The gaming approach resulted in increased adoption, both of the trial and the paid software. By turning the trial into a game, the company realized a 54 percent increase in trial usage and 15 percent increase in people purchasing the software directly from the trial.

From a value nurturing perspective, gamification can encourage subscribers to start using your solution quickly so they realize value.

Offer Great Training

In some situations, people need classroom instruction or hands-on training to learn to use a solution effectively. In the software world, administrators or power users may need intensive instruction or training, while everyone else can get by with a few videos.

Training programs represent a golden opportunity for marketing organizations to help subscribers get the greatest value from the solution.

Because training requires an investment of time, it deepens the individual subscriber’s commitment to your solution. If you do a terrific job of training, people are more likely to become loyal subscribers. And with massive open online courseware (MOOC), subscribers dont have to travel to classrooms to participate in training.

Amplify the impact of instruction by offering formal certification for those who go through in-depth training. Certification gives subscribers explicit evidence of their skills and makes the solution more valuable as part of their skillset. Many technology leaders offer certification training, including Apple, IBM, Google, Microsoft, Juniper Networks, Symantec, and countless others. Technology companies know that certified practitioners can become powerful advocates, particularly in industries in which people change jobs frequently.

Summary: Subscriber Success Strategies

These strategies apply to nearly every business. A subscriber launch plan can be as simple as an email or video, or as complex as an online guided tour or personal services.

If possible, track your subscribers’ success in the early days of their subscription and create processes to keep them on track.

Find a way to set subscribers up with an early success, even if it costs you something.

If a successful subscription requires subscribers to form new habits, break the habit formation into smaller, achievable tasks and guide subscribers through those steps. Use videos to help people virtually when you cannot do so in person. Use gamification features such as badges, points, and online competitions to make adoption fun. Offer great training and instruction in the format that your subscribers want. Work with your training and education teams to make sure that the program delivers on the promises of your marketing. Offer certification when it makes sense to do so.

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