Enterprise App Onboarding: Avoiding a “Shelfware”

by Lorena Bernal
Blog Post

In most cases, it takes a lot of work to get to the point where you’ve signed companies up for your enterprise app. Marketing has focused on honing their message and targeting the right audience, while sales has worked on the pitch and close.

Job done, right? Wrong. Not if you want long-term success for your app.

The adoption of new software involves change and change can be hard, particularly within larger enterprises. If onboarding is not handled carefully to ensure widespread adoption of your app, it may not end up being used. There was a term for this coined when buying software out of the box was more common “shelfware”, meaning the unused software just sat on the shelf.

The implications of this for enterprise apps are potentially more serious. The old days of boxed software involved sunk-costs, once purchased, the company was stuck with the product whether they used it or not. Today, most operate on a subscription basis to cloud-based apps. Companies who find themselves with a “shelfware” app will simply cancel their subscription.

This leaves enterprise software developers with a challenge; how do you ensure that onboarding is a success within the companies you sell to?

When Does Enterprise App Onboarding Fail?

Almost universally, good apps fail at onboarding when the actual end user of the product hasn’t entered the equation throughout design, implementation and selling the product to the company for use.

When salespeople pitch a new app to a business, they are almost always talking to someone higher up the chain who is not, in fact, the intended final user of the product. Successful implementation involves having the buy-in of the employees who are the end users how do you propose to get that buy-in in the first place?

Some apps suffer from lack-luster interfaces and overall UX in the first place, particularly where they may have been developed internally by people who are technically brilliant but don’t account for the user.

Let’s assume you’ve done your user-testing and ensured you have quality UX design and usability, you need to also consider that your actual onboarding is just as big a part of the user experience, at least initially.

If you haven’t come up with a low-friction (at least as low as possible) way to get users onboarded, if given an option, they’ll probably opt out of using your app.

Agile Methodology

Does your app have a lot of working parts? How do you make onboarding low-friction?

Consider End-Users First

What is it that the employees who end up using your app need it for? What problem does it take care of? What will compel them to keep using it? How will they use it? All of these questions need to be answered in order to create an appropriate onboarding experience.

You might be pitching to someone higher up the chain, but part of your onboarding offering, particularly concerning big contracts for larger workplaces, should be to talk with employees, learn about the needs of their particular department and understand what will, in fact, make their lives easier. The fact is, purchasing decisions are often made by people in managerial positions who aren’t necessarily in touch with what goes on day-to-day at the actual coalface. You don’t want to miss any nuances which could annoy, or alternatively, make employees lives easier.

Typically, employees may be swamped with work already, they have dozens of things competing for their attention at once and often struggle to keep up with emails. Your onboarding needs to fit in with how they do things and not add a new burden to their day.

Keep It Clean and Simple

Consider the apps which you use every day, whether in your personal or work life what characteristics appeal about your favorites? It is often those consumer apps which are kept clean and user-friendly that are the most popular as people don’t have the time or patience to sink into trying to learn something clunky.

The same expectation can be applied to enterprise apps. Employees want apps which declutter their daily lives rather than add new layers of debris to them. This goes for the UX of the app itself as well as the onboarding process. Ideally, you want to be able to push relevant information quickly and succinctly, while providing options for users to access more information if they would like it.

Work with IT Teams

If you’re coming into a firm as the external provider of an enterprise app, a huge roadblock can be getting internal IT teams onboard. Team members may feel threatened by an external developer usurping their jobs or may not initially see the value of what you are bringing in anyway.

You need IT on your side because:

  • They are the ones who will be responsible for running or hosting the app once it’s deployed.
  • Users within the company will turn to them for help if they have any issues with the app.
  • IT will influence what stays and what goes in terms of systems.

Consider how you can best work with IT as part of your onboarding package. Everyone wins if you’ve got IT team buy-in from the outset.

Consider Key Tasks

It’s always a good starting point for enterprise onboarding to consider the key tasks which users need to use your app to complete. These should be at the forefront of your app and should be accessible by simple, logical means. If employees have to click around and virtually solve riddles in order to find out how to do something, they most likely won’t do it.

While many apps help to take care of complex tasks, the goal should be to make the execution of those tasks as simple as possible. An app should be making life easier, not adding extra steps to an already busy day.

Can your app reasonably go through onboarding by easy, in-app prompts? When you think about the environment that most enterprise level teams work in, a simple way to self-onboard is appreciated. Training sessions can be time-consuming and costly, so look for ways that your app a) takes care of key tasks easily and b) communicates how to do so simply.

Orange Business provided a good summary for designing an enterprise app onboarding process to encourage adoption in enterprises, shown below:

  • List the most important tasks your users are likely to be using your app for.
  • Make these tasks clear and logical to undertake through simple, clutter-free interfaces.
  • Think ahead: Ideally a new user will receive clear, comprehensive and friendly in-app guidance to help them through each step from the get go.
  • Design for short bursts of activity reflecting that most people interact with mobile devices for short periods.
  • Focus on consistency across every platform you support – a learn once, learn anywhere, approach.

Keep things as simple as possible that tends to be the overriding mantra.

Avoiding “Shelfware”

As a creator of apps targeted at enterprises, you need to put the focus on the success of the app within the enterprise, far beyond simply pitching and making the sale.

Apps will become “shelfware” if they are perceived to be “difficult” by users or if there is not a good onboarding process in place to ensure a smooth transition to use. New apps are supposed to make lives easier for users in some way, not add extra work to their day.

Keep the end user in mind first and work closely with them and with IT teams who are likely to provide support. Getting buy-in should be a key task early on, remember, it’s probably not the end user who you’ve been talking to in selling them the product…

Koombea creates clean, intuitive apps for the enterprise. Talk to us today about how we can help.

by Lorena Bernal
Blog Post