Alex Alexakis

Crossing The Chasm: Optimizing Time to Value

The best product teams become obsessed with helping customers realise the value of their product early on in the customer journey and without friction. Product teams know that, particularly in highly competitive markets (which is the case for pretty much every market nowadays), products have a limited amount of time to showcase their value before customers churn and go ahead to explore a competitive product. This is the reason why understanding and optimizing Time to Value (TTV) has become a priority and point of focus. 

The term Time to Value is used to describe the amount of time it takes a new user to realize value from a product. In general, the goal for every product is to decrease Time to Value, so that new customers find value faster and hence are much more likely to continue using the product.

So let’s deep dive on what are three key aspects when it comes to optimizing the Time to Value experience for new customers.

Understanding “aha” moments

Optimizing Time to Value is impossible without understanding which are the exact moments when a user receives value from the product. This is the starting point, which obviously is connected with the initial problem that a product is addressing in the first place. What can a product do that other products can’t do, or what can it do better? Why would people use this product rather than another? This moment is often described as the “aha” moment. The “aha” moment is the point when a user sees the proposed value of a product and how it will add value to their lives. The term is used because of the emotional reaction connected to value discovery inside a product and it’s extremely important for every team to identify. 

For instance, in a product such as LearnWorlds an “aha” moment could be when an edupreneur publishes their first online course or in Hack The Box when a cybersecurity enthusiast hacks their first machine. Of course, teams will say they know their product’s value, yet it’s crucial to recognize this from the user’s perspective too (talking to users, looking into usage data, etc). Moreover, “aha” moments are often connected with user activation, a business metric that indicates that a user has experienced the value of the product enough that they’re likely to retain and continue using the product. Of course it’s not necessary that when a customer experiences the value of the product for the first time, they will retain and convert, but oftentimes it’s a leading indicator.

Helping users reach “value”

After realising which are the moments of “value” from a user perspective (not what product teams think), the next step in optimizing Time to Value would be for product teams to make sure customers reach these moments as fast and easy as possible in their customer journey. The key is to facilitate value discovery. At the core of this exercise is the creation of a great product that can be used by any kind of customer with zero interaction from support or sales teams and without much friction. This might sound easier than it really is, as this is where many teams usually face challenges.

Here are a few ways to facilitate value discovery:

  • Great positioning and copywriting. This is a rarely discussed yet very critical aspect in guiding prospective users towards value discovery and it takes into effect from the initial user interactions: the very first pages where users land in their customer journey. That’s when a great product experience with emphasis on Time to Value starts. Julian Shapiro and his team have published two great guides (guide1, guide2), which are highly recommended for every team when it comes to building compelling and clear landing pages with the aim to grab user attention. Unless communicating user value properly, it is highly unlikely to succeed in converting top-of-the-funnel prospects fast, leading them to the product’s “aha” moments later.

  • A great onboarding experience. A great onboarding experience starts with a seamless registration process, where a new user can sign up without the need for complicated and friction-added actions. This might sound obvious, yet there are still products out there that ask for ten different fields to sign up or request a credit card upfront, etc. An important pillar of optimizing Time to Value is to remove any unnecessary steps from the customer journey towards value.

After registration, this is when the real fun begins! Instead of letting users figure out what all the different features, selections, buttons and other elements of the product mean, great product teams guide them directly towards value discovery, making it more likely that they remain customers. Others opt to do this by spending time with them during an onboarding call, showcasing the product and the “value” moments (e.g. Superhuman). This can be helpful especially in the early days when every call is really a discovery interaction. Nevertheless, this is a process that can’t scale. A much more efficient way is to build a self-serve process; a set of steps that users can perform on their own, without the need to talk to a human operator. In fact, this approach is becoming increasingly popular due to its efficiency.

Unless a product team really understands which are the moments that every different type of customer recognises as “problem solving”, onboarding is likely to fail. Therefore, a great onboarding process is once again closely linked to the first point mentioned: the deep understanding of “aha” moments for every user persona interacting with the product.

  • Introduce engagement methods. Sometimes even a great self-serve onboarding experience is not enough to hook users and guide them towards value discovery. There are many reasons why this might occur, including external triggers and the ability of the user to complete an action at a given time. Hence, in this case the introduction of other engagement techniques such as gentle reminders via emails to complete onboarding, could be useful and a valuable addition in the toolbox of product teams.

Follow an appropriate acquisition model

A question that often arises when discussing Time to Value is related to whether the acquisition or go-to-market model facilitates the user to realise the value of the product instead of deterring them. Two of the most popular models in the software world are the freemium and free trial models, as they enable users to explore the product free of charge before they commit to a purchase.

A free trial allows users to experience a complete or nearly complete experience, accessing all features and functionalities for a limited duration e.g. 7 or 14 days. On the other hand, a freemium model gives users access to a limited set of features and functionalities with no time limit. In this case though, parts of the product remain off-limits to non-paid users.

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to deciding which of the two is more appropriate. In fact, every product has its own specificities and goals. For instance, many viral products such as Calendly, Zoom, Slack have decided to follow a freemium approach that opens up top of the funnel and unlocks network effects, enabling users to invite other users to the platform and kick in a powerful growth loop. Other products such as Datadog are using the free trial method, which often optimizes for urgency to purchase, paid conversion and near-term revenue. Finally, there are products that combine the two go-to-market strategies, letting users experience the full experience via a free trial and then downgrade them to freemium.

Optimizing Time to Value and helping customers realise the value of the product is a continuous process that often requires reevaluation and tweaks as the product matures and the understanding of the different user personas evolves. 

Great positioning that communicates product value in a comprehensive and compelling way, a great onboarding experience and following a go-to-market strategy that facilitates value discovery are of utmost importance in optimizing Time to Value. 

Yet, as with most product challenges, it all starts from user research, analysing customer problems and a deep understanding of the unique elements that a product brings to the table. Optimizing Time to Value is about bringing users closer to these elements from their very first interactions. Please do reach out to exchange ideas and share more at alex@marathon.vc or Twitter.

Photo by Ian Cylkowski on Unsplash