This article was taken from a Fireside Chat between Sean Broderick and Nadav Charnilas, recorded at our Product Marketing MisUnderstood event in February 2022. Since the chat, Sean has changed roles and is now Director of Product GTM at Sitecore. Congratulations, Sean!

Every company must drive conversions and onboard as many customers as possible.

Sean Broderick, Director of Product Go-to-Market at Sitecore, and Nadav Charnilas, Director of Product Marketing at Namogoo offer their advice on how product marketers can optimize their sales potential, during a chat in which they discuss:

About our speakers

Sean: I'm delighted to be joined by Nadav Charnilas. We're going to be talking about how to drive conversion and improve your customer onboarding funnel. Before we get into that, Nadav, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Nadav: I'm currently the Director of Product Marketing at a company called Namogoo in Tel Aviv, Israel. Before this, I was the Head of Product Marketing for the funnel group at Wix, and before that, I was Director of Growth and Product Marketing for Vimeo in New York. I was also a PMM at Microsoft.

I’ve had a good few years in product marketing, and throughout that time I’ve been doing a lot of work on funnel optimizations, A/B testing, and things like that.

Sean: And I'm Sean Broderick. I'm Head of Product Marketing at eDesk and the host of the Product Marketing AI podcast.

Defining the funnel from a product marketing perspective

Sean: Nadav, based on your experience, how would you define the funnel for our members?

Nadav: In the classic definition of a funnel, it's basically the user journey from start to finish – even though there’s no such thing as the end of the user journey. It’s everything from the lead to the conversion.

In a broader sense, I like to think of the funnel as the steps that users take from the first moment they hear about you or your product, through to understanding your value, trying out your product, loving it, paying you for it, and then getting others to try it. So it's the movement towards becoming a fan.

Sean: How does this break down in your day-to-day role as a product marketer?

Nadav: It starts with your first interaction with a user, whether that's through an ad or a landing page. Your role here is to get your users to sign up, start using your product, and join your experience.

The most important part though is when users first meet your product and you start onboarding them. With a good onboarding flow, you can gather actionable information about your users and you can remove barriers to conversion.

You can also provide your users with relevant information about your product. All these things can help you get your users to success as fast as possible and improve conversion later on.

Who owns onboarding?

Sean: It’s likely to be a little different in each organization, but for you, where does the line sit between growth marketing, product marketing, and demand generation in that onboarding flow, and which area of the marketing team owns this? Or is it more of a collaborative approach?

Nadav: It has to be a collaborative approach. I don't think it makes sense for growth marketing, acquisition marketing, demand generation, and product marketing to work in silos because then the different parts of the funnel are disjointed and it feels weird for the user. You see that in a lot of funnels. There has to be a collaboration, but with clear ownership.

It’s important to collaborate with the product team throughout that journey too. Onboarding and the funnel are in essence marketing functions, but they can't exist without someone first building something, so product has to be involved.

Customer onboarding template
A customer onboarding template to help your new customers get off to a good start with your product.

If we're talking about funnel optimization, I think product marketing's ownership comes when the user lands on your owned assets.

The role of growth marketing, acquisition, and demand gen is to bring people to your assets, and once they’re there, product marketing needs to think about how to get them onboarded as quickly and smoothly as possible. You want users to sign up and start using and understanding the value of the product right away.

Product marketing's core responsibility is to make sure that we know what, how, and where we’re communicating.

It’s about whether we’re talking to the right people, what we’re saying, and if we’re saying it at the right time. That’s the bird's eye view that you need to take as a product marketer when you're working with the different marketing and product teams.

Funnel optimization tools

Sean: Product marketers use an awful lot of tools on a day-to-day basis. What does the toolset look like for you?

Nadav: Most of the funnel optimization tools I’ve used throughout my career were built in-house, but there are external technologies like Optimizely and Google Optimize that can do the same things.

The various outbound-looking teams generally use CRM. As a product marketer, you can take advantage of that by taking the information that's gathered about your customers and using that to get to know them better. It will also help you understand where we're losing, where we're winning, and where barriers exist.

A/B testing platforms are important too. You can't optimize your funnel without good testing. Not every product has enough users to run statistically significant A/B tests, but you can do other things, like look at directional information and talk to your users.

You need to do user interviews to generate hypotheses that are based on reality, and then, ideally, you can do an A/B test. You can also use user interviews to validate a test that you’ve created. Either way, you always have to be talking to your users and putting these questions to them.

I’ve also worked with different internal tools for injecting messaging at strategic points within the journey and within the funnel itself.

You also want to have a platform where you can insert messaging into the product. I've found that the most impactful messaging is delivered in-product. If it's in the right place, not too spammy, and if you use it at the right time, it's super impactful. And if you're not using that, then you're missing out.

The role of the product marketer in funnel optimization

Sean: Let's go a little bit deeper into the product marketer’s role in this funnel piece. In your opinion, what's the PMM’s role in optimizing the funnel and the onboarding flows?

Nadav: Once a user comes to your owned asset, whether it's a landing page or immediately into signup and onboarding, it’s the product marketer’s responsibility to make sure that they get through those different stages to the next place where they can find value.

It's important for you as a product marketer to understand what those steps are, what actions you need your user to take in each step, and what value you want your users to find. You might have different segments of users, who all have different values – you need to figure out how best to convey those values to them.

So first, you need to know the steps of your funnel. If it hasn't been defined already within your organization, you might be the one that needs to define what the funnel looks like and the steps involved.

And then you need to own the messaging within that funnel, from the bird's eye view right down into the specifics. When I talk about the bird's eye view, I mean the general message that you want your users to take away.

That could be something about your product or a certain message about the value; it might be that getting started with your product is complicated and you want to simplify that for them. Whatever the message is, it’s yours to own.

The next step is deciding how you execute that messaging. Is it a popup message? Is it a banner at the top of your product? Is it the way you word the questions in your onboarding flow? These questions tell the users what they're going to find in a product, so you need to own that part.

And then I think it's important for product marketers to have KPIs that they're pushing for in each step of the funnel. For example, you can have a KPI that signifies conversion and push for that along with other stakeholders.

Common pitfalls of product marketers in funnel optimization

Sean: I think sometimes product marketers get sideswiped when it comes to owning the messaging all the way through. It can be tricky to have that level of control over the messaging at the front-end site because it's so visible and everybody's got an opinion on what they want to see there.

Can you expand on the messaging side and tell us about some of the other pitfalls that product marketers need to avoid when trying to optimize their funnels?

Nadav: Isn't that the challenge of everything you do as a product marketer? Everybody has an opinion on everything. I always have to tell other teams “I own this.”

I think to be a good product marketer, you have to have broad shoulders and the ability to push back and say, “This is what I think should be on here, and it's my responsibility to define the positioning on this page or this part of the product.” However, there are always going to be other stakeholders who might disagree with you, and you have to be flexible and take that feedback.

At the end of the day though, if you as a product marketer don't have an opinion about what the messaging should be, then what are you in the room for? The bottom line is you should have an opinion on what we’re trying to say. It doesn't have to be the actual content and how we say the words, but the value that we're trying to get to our users should be a product marketing responsibility.

Is this a pitfall? Yeah, sure. People are gonna argue with you, but in my opinion, nobody's better placed than PMMs to have responsibility for the messaging. We're at the nexus of the product, the users, the market, and the competitors, so we should be able to have a strong opinion.

In my experience, if you have a strong opinion and it's backed up by data and experience, then people respect that even if they don't agree with you.

As far as other pitfalls in the funnel, I think onboarding itself has a ton. One of the big pitfalls I've seen is people asking too many questions of the users and trying to get too much information at once.

You have to understand that people have very short attention spans. I would say that you  should be asking three to five questions in an onboarding flow – that’s the max.

When you’re only asking a few questions, you need to be super selective and make sure you ask the right ones. I would define the right question as one that’s actionable for you, either at that moment or later on in the funnel.

Don't ask nice-to-know questions – those are things you can get out of surveys or user interviews. In the onboarding flow, you want to ask actionable questions, and if they’re not, they shouldn't be there.

Another pitfall is making the questions too complex. If your questions are too complex, your users will drop off right there and you'll either lose them in the onboarding flow or you'll lose them as a user altogether. A good rule of thumb is that if you, as a product marketing professional, can't answer a question in five seconds, then it shouldn't be asked.

Not doing A/B testing or not testing at all is another big pitfall, but so is just doing A/B testing, and saying, “Okay, B won. Let's go with B.” I can't count the number of times people have gone with B and then seen that it was the wrong thing.

I'm not a statistician; I don't know why this happens, but sometimes you get a clear winner in an A/B test, and then, later on, you find out that it's not as successful as you thought it would be.

Sean: I think you bring a great perspective when it comes to owning the messaging. You take all of those user interviews, you take the A/B test, and you bring that informed opinion. It's like that old Jim Barksdale quote: “If we have data, let's look at the data. If all we have are opinions, let's go with mine.”

That's what product marketers should do: bring in that informed opinion and hold onto it strongly with those broad shoulders, as you say.

The long-term benefits of an optimized funnel

Sean: Looking ahead, what are some of the long-term benefits of an optimized funnel?

Nadav: The most important part of any optimized funnel is a good onboarding flow because, as you said, it brings a lot of long-term benefits.

First of all, good onboarding allows you to learn about who your customers are and what they want to do with your product. We often have a lot of assumptions. We come in thinking that our product is one thing, but it turns out that it's actually something else for our users. A good onboarding flow is an awesome way to find out if you're right or not.

I've been surprised by the answers that I've gotten to pretty straightforward questions that we've asked in onboarding flows.

Either the balance between the different options was completely different from what expected, or we put in open-ended questions and got a bunch of answers that we hadn’t anticipated. So an optimized onboarding experience is a great way to validate and understand who your customers are and what they want to do.

As time passes, you can also identify trends in the responses to onboarding questions. You can see how your customers and your products are changing, and make changes to the onboarding flow based on the trends that you see. Users never stay the same, and this is a quick way to find out what the current trends are.

Finally, as I said, your onboarding flow gives you a good understanding of who your users are in real-time.

If you use that information right, you can create a streamlined user experience that leads to users finding success as fast as possible, increased product adoption, and a better conversion rate. Little changes in the onboarding flow that are optimized to your user experience can create pretty big changes later on in the funnel.

Speaking of the rest of the funnel, you should always be optimizing and A/B testing it. It never ends. If you've gone through all the steps, you've A/B tested, and you’ve improved your KPIs, don't stop there. Go back and keep doing it over and over again. It's part of your job, and it’s also a great way of finding bottlenecks and barriers and overcoming them.

Sean: Thanks, Nadav. Those were some super insights on how product marketers can navigate the journey across the funnel.