Yesterday’s signup flow won’t work today

Main illustration: Seth Lunsford

Even if your customer onboarding has a solid foundation and a proven thesis, it’s important to continually assess the contexts that informed the design in the first place.

Your customers don’t stay the same, so neither should your onboarding.

Nowhere is this clearer than the signup flow. Getting a savvy, technical engineer to sign up is completely different than getting whole teams of marketers, engineers and customer support reps, all of differing abilities, signed up to your product.

To illustrate this, I thought it would be useful to bring you through how our customers have evolved over time, how we adapted the design of the our signup flow to match these changes, and what we learned along the way.

1. Moving beyond a technical customer base

By letting people import data via CSV, as well as JavaScript, we minimised the friction of non-technical users signing up.

When customers sign up, it’s almost always better to let people keep moving and exploring.

For several years, signup with Intercom centered on one action: installing a snippet of JavaScript on a website or app. At that time, we had an almost entirely technical user base of developers and startups signing up, and JavaScript was the clearest and simplest way to get their data into Intercom.

Fast forward a few years, and our customers were changing. They were marketers or product managers, and they found it much harder to install the JavaScript required to create data. So we brought a simple CSV importer upfront in the sign-up flow, allowing non-technical users to get up and running with Intercom.

In the three months following this change, our conversion rate from marketing page to account creation rose dramatically – from 30% to 45%. By comparing users who signed up with JavaScript in the same timeframe, we discovered we were getting a totally new audience we’d previously been neglecting.

Now that we had excellent data to show our CSV importer was working, we added even more ways for users to get started with Intercom – with Mailchimp, Mixpanel, Stripe, Segment etc, with our conversion rate continuing to grow over the following months.


  • Define clear metrics and review them often. Weekly meetings with data analysts allow you to review the performance of the signup flow continually and use the insights to inform your design decisions.
  • But be skeptical about your data. Our data showed we had good results, but we could have missed some really important details – CSV importing could have cannibalised the JavaScript customers. Casting a critical eye over your data helps you understand if your improvements are truly a success.
  • Your customer support team is a great resource to understand your users. Without digging deep into customer conversations, there’s no way to find the blind spots in your signup flow. By diving into customer conversations, you’ll find find powerful and useful insights to work with.

2. Accounting for a more diverse user base

Not everyone has the ability to complete every step. Unblock them by providing ways to loop in colleagues and teammates.

Asking a VP of Marketing for a CSV file is unlikely to be a successful signup path

Getting a company to sign up for your product is different from getting an individual user to sign up – it requires many people across departments to get set up and to start seeing the value your product can provide.

As larger, more complex teams signed up, we needed to design new ways to accommodate their workflow. We redesigned our “Ask a colleague to install” flow (where non-engineers could send installation instructions to a colleague) so that new signups could:

  • create a secret link and invite any teammate via any communication channel (Slack, Hipchat, Google Hangouts, mailing lists)
  • open it up to a group, a role, or even the whole company, and didn’t have to to know exactly which individual to invite
  • send teammates directly to a specific setup guide step that needs to be completed instead of letting them figure it out themselves


  • Understand people’s behavior with user research. Don’t just focus on quantitative data about new signups – understand the “why” too. In one research session, a user would copy and paste the Javascript to a text file, then post to a Trello board for a developer to access. Observing these existing workflows helped us understand the the low success rate of our old “Ask a colleague to install” method.
  • Onboard a whole company instead of just individual users. For big companies, asking a VP of Marketing for a CSV file is unlikely to be a successful signup path: he won’t have the CSV file, and he may not even have the company credit card to finish the sign up. By enabling the collaboration of the whole team in signing up, you can unblock people from tasks they can’t finish and allow people choose their own ways to collaborate with teammates.

3. Showing people value as early as possible

By letting people experience Intercom right away, we gave new users that first taste of success so they kept coming back.

Our signup process has always followed a familiar path: install Intercom and import data, start a trial, create an account, and start using the product.

But as our customer base evolved, the people signing up were increasingly not the right people to perform the install or import options – they may want to explore Intercom and play around on their own first. For them, the signup experience was a significant roadblock.

We redesigned our signup flow so that, after entering an email address on our marketing site, people could jump straight to creating an account and start their free trial. Once they’ve selected a product and entered their credit card, they’re invited to continue to the setup guide. From there, they can play around with the product and invite their teammates to finish any task they couldn’t.


  • Learning by experience. When customers sign up to your product, it’s almost always better to let people keep moving and exploring. Don’t just tell people what to do. Give them the keys, and let them experience your product in their own time.
  • Create a platform that people can keep learning about your product. Tell your customers to complete every step at once, and they’re sure to stop listening. Instead, design a platform that your customers can come back to and learn more about your product. (We built our setup guide to aid the customer’s overall progress and comprehension of our product).
  • Identify customers who successfully onboarded. Talk to successful new signups (obviously Intercom is great for this ? ) about what worked well for them and see if it can scale for others. What issues did they work around? Why were they so highly motivated?

The temptation for any startup is to design a signup flow, ship it, and ultimately neglect it. But remember, shipping is only the start of the process. As we’ve seen, what worked for yesterday’s signups won’t always work for tomorrow’s. Your product is evolving and your customer base is changing, so make sure your signup flow is continually keeping pace.

Enjoyed this post? You might enjoy this book we published all about onboarding.